Talk of the Town
The baffling beginnings of a gutted Bathurst landmark
It came as an almost physical shock to many Bathurstians to wake up one morning in February and find the Centenary Hall, one of the village’s iconic landmarks, had burnt down during the night.
A decision is still to be made on the future of the charred exterior, now emptied of all contents, at the time of writing. But one positive consequence of the tragedy has been a surge of interest in the venerable building’s history.
And amid all the reminiscences of its long service as a community venue for anything from village council meetings to 21st birthdays and concerts to matric exams, fascinating mysteries about its origins have emerged.
The hall’s surviving façade shows that it was built in 1920 to mark the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the 1820 Settlers – but is that the whole story?
Apparently not. Look at the cornerstone, which is inscribed on its two visible sides.
The still clear inscription on one side tells us that Mrs Amos
Timm “re-laid” the stone on April 20 1920 (100 years from the month in which the Settlers began disembarking in Algoa Bay). But why “RE-laid”? Where was the stone laid before?
The inscription on the other visible side, by contrast, is very faded and barely legible – and only deepens the mystery.
This inscription commemorates the arrival of the Settlers, but also, the Coronation of King Edward VII.
This event happened in August 1902. And the reference here to the Settlers’ arrival makes no mention of a centenary or any other anniversary. So could this stone have been originally laid in 1902?
And it’s not only the hall’s date, but also its intended site, that may be in doubt.
A surveyor’s map of Bathurst, dating back to the early 1900s, has the “Site of the Proposed Town Hall” just across what is now Nico Malan Drive from where the hall was actually built. This proposed site lies amid pristine bush to this day.
It may be that the foundation stone was actually laid somewhere in that bush at about the time of Edward VII’s coronation in 1902; that the building of the hall was then shelved for almost 18 years; and that the project was revived in time for the Settler centenary celebrations in 1920, with the new edifice accordingly becoming the Centenary Hall.
The Timm family presumably donated part of their land, perhaps because the original intended site had passed into private hands.
But this is all speculation. Historic Bathurst and the Lower Albany Historical Society haven’t yet managed to find any more information on the origins of the hall from reports and documents of the time.
The future of what’s left of the hall is to be decided after a public participation process conducted by Ndlambe municipality (see Talk of the Town, September 8).
That should provide more clarity than we have on the building’s beginnings.