Intro: Dumisani Library (Church Building) Restoration Work Begins


IMG_3870.JPGOur plan is to blog about the way we are doing restoration work on the Dumisani Library building in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.  This is an historic late 19th century church known for many years by the name, St. Chad.  Our first task is to deal with mould and damp in the one section of the building before further work is done.  The goal is to improve the environment for study in the library and the long-term preservation and usefulness of the building.

Beyond its service to the college, the library has increasingly become a community resource as private users are welcomed for a modest annual fee.  We are pleased to house the finest theological library in the Eastern Cape and also pleased to be a meeting place where friendship and support are offered to many.  We will provide a brief overview of the history of the building and also its architectural details and style.

History of the building:

The building was built in the 19th century in New Town or Pensioner’s Village, King William’s Town, in what is now the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa.  It was primarily for British soldiers living in this new town and was founded as St. Chad’s Anglican Church. In time it would be used by a Congregational Church and also the Gereformerde Kerk and Dumisani Theological Institute. Also for a period one section of the church building (the main portion of the nave) was used by Seve Biko, one of the noted Black Consciousness Movement leaders as his headquarters and offices.

Since 1986 the work of Dumisani Theological Institute has been carried on from this building. First for staff offices, classes, and printing and then in 2015 it became the home of the Dumisani Library and Computer Centre, thus housing the theological library for the college.


It is built in the 19th century Gothic Revival style. It is a Latin-cross footprint with what was the original chancel area in the eastern portion and the arms of the transept in the north and west. It would appear that the nave running west had the baptismal font in a small apse in the western wall. There are three entrance doors all in Gothic styling as are all the windows. One door is at the back of the nave and the other two are about mid-way in the nave just before the transept. In the centre of the transept there is a short lantern/tower on the roof. The walls have a stone base with brick wall construction and covered with plaster both interior and exterior. The ceiling is varnished tongue-and-groove wood.

Interior Chancel area before current renovations


#1. The Problem—rising damp in the walls.(Chancel section).


The first task was to remove wood sheeting which had been put onto the walls in the 1980s. We were not exactly sure what we might discover once these sheets of thick wood panels were removed.

  • Removal of wooden sheeting
  • Bleaching of the walls of mould (the cleanse)
  • Allow the bleach to dry and do its work
  • Discoveries: mould, wet, and holes with missing bricks
mildew 1.JPG
wood paneling was deteriorating
Chris has his elbow into the wall where bricks are missing



#2. Dealing with loose plaster and cutting off plaster up three feet (about one metre) around the base of the wall.


plaster removed one metre around the base of the wall (more is some sections as shown)

We did this in what would have originally been the chancel in St. Chad’s Church in the eastern section where the worst damp and mould was to be found. The plaster had to be removed to allow the brick wall now exposed to “dry out” and breath. Within one week we noticed a vast improvement with most of the now exposed brick section. The smell was noticeably better and there was now no damp on the exposed bricks except in one area. In that area we discovered we needed to do exterior trench work and dig out the earth and cut down trees there which had accumulated and grown over many years creating a back-up for the water not to run away from the church wall. We also discovered a hole where the water was coming into the one corner. (More on this problem later and the resolution.)

  • Cutting the plaster at three feet
  • Exposing the bricks for drying
holes starting to be filled and base drying out


#3. The start of plastering.

filling major holes with plaster


Chris Forrester from Prince Edward Island

 The man doing the plastering is Chris Forrester a volunteer from Prince Edward Island in Canada. To give a few more days for the bottom three feet to dry out a little more he started filling in the holes in the top sections of the chancel walls. He put bricks in where needed and plastered around them. His technique was to “score” the plaster knowing that two coats of plaster would be needed. By scoring we would increase adherence when we would do later the second coat of plaster. In order to have the plaster adhere better to the bricks the wall was wetted down first with a brush then it was edged with bonding liquid and even some bonding liquid was added into the plaster.

  • Scoring of the first coat of plaster with bricks being added
  • Sealing of major cracks in the top section of the chancel walls
scoring 2.JPG
scoring on first coat to increase adherence



#4. The removal of old paint in the chancel walls


There were several layers of paint on the chancel walls. These were various types, some being more a white wash and others coloured chalk. It was interesting seeing the various colours emerge. We have decided to take it down to the stable layer of a light yellow paint which was solidly embedded into the original thin coat of finish plaster over the rough mortar-sand mixture of the original construction.

  • Scrapping off the layers of old paint
  • Seeing the first coat of plaster continue to dry and also the exposed three feet of brick continue to dry


paint colours.JPG
the various colours of paint that had been used were now exposed
the northeast corner would not dry out – more about exterior repairs in this area in post #8


#5. Adding the second coat of plaster in the chancel higher wall portions and starting the first coat of plaster in the now dried brick bottom three foot section.



Chris is examining the second coat of plaster. Notice this time there is no scoring. Also now he is starting on the three feet section across the bottom. The same technique is being used—wet the bricks first, then edge with bonding liquid before applying the plaster.

  • Chris doing the second coat of plaster
  • Chris doing the first coat now on the bricks across the bottom where dry



notice contrast between first and second coats – scoring on first only


#6 Starting to Deal with the rising water problem on the outside of the building

Tree roots and soil build-up blocked off the two breathing blocks on the exterior chancel wall.  Our college gardener, Samson, has now uncovered both of these.  Also, he has cut down trees to open up this area and allow for more air flow to the building.  He has also started to dig a trench to get down to the stone base of the building.  More on this in post #8.

two breathing blocks were found that had been covered over
the beginning of the trench
roots were growing into the brick and breaking it up

#7 Repairing the Exterior Chancel Walls

The chancel exterior corners were very unstable with water coming through the plaster and brick.  The cracked plaster was removed and concrete was added to stabilize the corners and east wall.   William Nel from Bedford, Eastern Cape and his son, Clayton, have joined the team of workers for this project.  William has many years of experience and Clayton is young and strong.


the brick had deteriorated significantly (in the corner areas especially)
forms were made from the wood paneling removed from the interior chancel walls
the base of the east wall and around each corner has been rebuilt with cement
removing the forms now that the base of the wall has been rebuilt


#8 A Trench Across the East Chancel Exterior Wall

It was decided that the best way to deal with the water problem was to dig a trench across the new retaining wall.  The retaining wall will serve as a buttress support and also one side of a new trench.  The trench has been graded with enough slope for the water to run.  Damp proof was laid first, then stone, covered by concrete.  Pre-fab long blocks were donated and have formed one wall for the trench.

You will also see by the photos that the northeast corner of the exterior chancel wall has been re-plastered.  This is the corner that was difficult to dry out on the inside.  Chicken mesh was used over the exposed brick before the plaster was applied to this corner.


William building the trench
making sure the trench is built up in the centre to allow for run-off in both directions
exterior condition of brick on northeast chancel corner


repaired northeast exterior wall