NESTLED IN the Overberg, the little town of Napier owes its existence to a dispute between two neighbours. In the earlier part of the nineteenth century, as the little farm villages of the Cape became more firmly settled, the Dutch Reformed synod had to choose which towns were deserving of their own church. In 1833, the congregation in Swellendam decided to build a church further south to meet the needs of its members there, but couldn’t decide between two locations. Michiel van Breda wanted the church sited on his farm, Langefontein, while Pieter Voltelyn van der Byl wanted it built on his property, Klipdrift. Neither van Breda nor van der Byl would give way, so churches were built in both places, the town of Bredasdorp growing around van Breda’s church and the town of Napier founded around van der Byl’s church.
The town is named after Sir George Thomas Napier, the Governor of the Cape from 1837 to 1844, but it is usually pronounced bi-syllabically, as “na-peer” rather than in its usual tri-syllabic English form. Napier has a wagon monument built in 1988 commemorating the hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of the Great Trek, and the largest vertical sundial in the Cape, built by a townsperson in 1965.
The most prominent attraction in Napier, however, is the Dutch Reformed Church built in 1927. The architect was Wynand Hendrik Louw, one of the two most prominent early-twentieth-century proponents of an Afrikaans gees (spirit) in architecture — the other being his sometime business partner Gerard Moerdyk. He studied at Stellenbosch University as well as at the school of the Architectural Association in London.
In the course of his practicing years, Louw completed several buildings at Stellenbosch University, was co-architect of the Old Mutual building (the Mother City’s most famous skyscraper), and planned the handsome home of De Nederlandsche Club at Keeromstraat 16 in Cape Town. He designed dozens of churches for the Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk, including this handsome example in the Overberg town of Napier.