Early mission stations in the Free State, and elsewhere were humble structures, sometimes nothing more than an extended cottage, typical with clay walls and pitched thatch roofs.

In 1833 the Wesleyan Mission Society undertook an expedition to the Caledon River Valley, intending to settle there. James Archbell and John Edwards arrived near to a mountain that resemblesTable Mountainin size. Chief Moseme gave his permission that the missionaries could settle in the Thaba’Nchu area and soon afterwards they arrived with approximately 12 000 people. Thus, the founding of Thaba’Nchu and the role the church played in the community form an integral part of the history of the town and its inhabitants.

The church forms part of a religious centre that also include Reverend Archbell’s house (proclaimed a national monument in 1973), the St. Paul’s Primary School and other structures that were erected over the years. St Paul’s Church is probably one of the oldest, if not the oldest, surviving structure of missionary religious architecture in the Free State. The church was home to many famous South Africans, including Reverend ZR Mahabane (President of the ANC for 2 terms), Dr James Maroka (first African doctor in Thaba’Nchu), and Chief Fenyang (ANC Provincial President). Many also received their schooling at the missionary church.


Public Works in the Free State made funds available to repair and renovate the church structure that by 2006 had become seriously dilapidated. Parts of the walls had collapsed and problems with water penetration were evident everywhere. The situation was exacerbated by the removal of the plaster that exposed the sundried brick walls, as well as the missing downpipes and gutters. Most of the glass panes were broken and pigeons were nesting in the roof space.

The nave walls were also leaning dangerously outwards with the result that the roof structure sagged. Door and window frames had also deteriorated due to exposure and a lack of maintenance.

If one considers that the church was probably constructed under difficult circumstances, without skilled labour and materials, its survival is a near miracle.


The approach to the renovation of the church was based on two stages:
Stage 1: Gaining an understanding of the church and its surroundings.
Stage 2: The preparation of a Conservation Policy and its implementation.

An investigation of the T-shaped structure indicated that the walls were built with different types of bricks and probably over a period of time as funds and material became available. The original section of the church was completed in 1838, whilst the cross section was added in 1956.

The main objective of the conservation strategy was to ensure the survival of the structure, and furthermore, to retain as much of the original material as was feasible. The way that the building was constructed is a tangible document of the early struggles of a community to establish itself, and later on accommodating members of a community planning their political freedom. This meant documenting the remaining material, establishing paint colours, investigating the structural deficiencies and possible consolidation of the cracks in walls, and other minor issues.

After many alternatives were investigated, it was concluding that the leaning outwards of the nave walls probably occurred much earlier in the history of the building. It is likely that the original section of the church had a thatch roof that was much heavier than the later roof of corrugated iron. The existing roof trusses were strengthened with steel and the original roof sheeting inspected for minor leaks and repaired. The mud brick buttresses were also not strong enough to keep the thick walls upright, and as the walls were to be re-plastered, it was decided to construct the buttresses in concrete to stabilize the structure. In repairing cracks and replacing collapsed sections of the wall, short concrete bridging elements were used to tie-in the new work to the existing. The walls were re-plastered using a soft lime plaster, after thoroughly wetting the mud brick walls.

The architects wish to acknowledge the valuable practical advice received from Dr Gawie Fagan.


Today, the building has once again being re-incorporated into the activities of the community, where the structure now accommodates community-based workshops, seminars and other events.