The organ has always been a feature of the NGK Tafelberg. It was installed in 1892, and has 1164 pipes and a walnut case. The innards have subsequently been renewed.
Is it a house? From the pavement on Buitenkant Street, this extraordinary building looks like one of those overwrought, high-Victorian mansions you see at the heart of somewhere like Graaff-Reinet, built when cash was flush and taste was a scarce commodity. In fact, it is an NGK church, built in 1892 to a design by the architect HT Jones who, in the process, seems to have mixed most of his design metaphors. The exterior hides a most unexpected interior.
Its richly pedimented facade is simply a massive screen hiding an enormous, high-roofed hall running at right angles to the street. You enter up a short, wide flight of steps that stretches between two high bay windows topped by neoclassical pediments buttressed by florid Flemish scrolls, into a narrow ceramic-tiled foyer that leads to the main hall. More ecclesiasticallooking within than without, its interior comes as a complete surprise. Driving past, you’re simply not aware that it exists at all; could it be one of the unsung treasures of this city? A high cast-iron gallery that’s reached by a wooden spiral stair overlooks the massive hall, its roof supported by timber king post hammer beams and trusses with trefoil motifs. High windows lining the hall filter the light through simple, colour-blocked stained glass – notable if only because they’re a singular note of colour in an interior that’s brown, brown and brown again.
NGK Tafelberg is a huge hall-like church that began life as a mission hall, the Cornelia Zaal. Along with the adjoining Cornelia House (for needy women), the William Frederik School (which closed in 1907), and an apartment along the front on the second floor, it was given in trust to the Nieuwe Kerk by Susanna Maria Hertzog in memory of her parents, William Frederik Hertzog and Susanna Cornelia Hertzog (born Hiddingh), with the stipulation that when a self-supporting congregation came into being in the area, it would be transferred to them Dr JJ Kotze, Dr Andrew Murray and Professor Marais conducted the inauguration ceremony on 27 January 1893. Miss Hertzog had the privilege of unlocking the door. Although services were held here regularly, the Tafelberg Congregation was only founded in 1944, 47 years after the death of Miss Hertzog, and it is thriving today. A footnote to the history of NGK Tafelberg is this: the Revd. JD (Koot) \brster, brother of the former Prime Minister and State President, Advocate John \brster, was the congregation’s minister from 1935 until his death in 1982.
A complex, ornate high-Victorian cake of a place, NGK Tafelberg is more homestead than church. Way larger than life, the great bay windows house both Cornelia House and the William Frederik School.
The entrance foyer, where the faithful congregate before entering the church, is paved with ceramic tiles incorporating biblical references, amongst them symbols of the Agony, the Crucifixion and Judas’s Betrayal of Jesus.
The church interior: in reality, just a high hall whose roof is supported by timber king post hammer beams and trusses.
The gallery is supported by cast-iron pillars and there’s a cast-iron balustrade along its front. The original furniture, which is still in situ, came from Boston in the United States of America.
The vestry on the Commercial Street side of the church is just one of a range of associated buildings that are still in use, among them a school and meeting rooms.