The Church of St John, Weston

StJohnsWestonCurrently maintained in caretaker status, this quaint brick building with its traditional lych-gate (now relocated to St Paul’s, Mooi River) and designed by a famous ecclesiastical English Architect, is easily recognized on the main road to Greytown, at the Helen Bridge, just before Weston Agricultural College. Weston preceded Mooi River as the area’s first established community owing its position at the only passable drift across the Mooi. Helen Bridge was built as a matter of emergency in 1866 and St John’s, the first church in the area, was consecrated on the 17th July 1872 by the Bishop of Pietermaritzburg, the Right Reverend William Kenneth MacRorie, as part of the Parish of Estcourt / Weenen.

St John’s played its first historical role during the Langalibalele rebellion in 1873 so that women and children could be given protection. It was again fortified during the Zulu Rebellion of 1879. The first rector of the parish was a brave and famous character the Rev George Smith, who during the Zulu War gained fame at Rorke’s Drift when he exhorted the British soldiers to “praise the Lord and pass the ammunition”, thereafter being known as “Ammunition Smith” . A stained glass window was erected in his memory. Another local hero Edward Way had his third daughter baptized at St John’s while he and his wife stood on ammunition boxes!

In 1906 the Parish was split and thus St John’s became the first church in the new Parish of Mooi River.

Treeless at its construction, the present trees in the churchyard were planted in 1876 by parishioners commemorating the first Arbor Day. The striking lych-gate was erected in memory of Harriet Julia Turner in 1914. The following year during the vestry meeting, women communicants were allowed entry for the first time and were permitted to speak and vote!

During the Boer War (1899-1902) Weston became the remount depot for the British and a tented hospital of 1500 beds erected. Some military men were buried at St John’s but the official cemetery was located on the hill above St John’s and remains an historical tourist destination.

St John’s and Weston decreased gradually in importance after the railway arrived in 1884 to cross the river two kilometres north of St John’s. The growth of Mooi River saw the population of Weston steadily decrease and in 1952 St John’s ceased to be the official parish church and the focus of Anglican worship moved to St Paul’s in the centre of Mooi River.