EnglandSophy and her two sisters were raised in an affluent family, owning estates in North Riding and Durham. They were well-read and proficient riders from an early age, qualities that helped foster their friendship with the young Robert Gray. Sophy married Robert Gray in 1836 after a six-month engagement, when he was rector of Whitworth, Durham. Their honeymoon gave young Sophy a taste of things to come when she and Robert set out on a lengthy horseback trip, visiting the family holdings in two counties. For nine years their lives at Old Park and Whitworth, and the urban parish of Stockton remained fairly untroubled, but all this changed dramatically when Robert was placed on a shortlist for one of three new colonial bishoprics. He was chosen for the Cape of Good Hope.
South AfricaIn 1847 Sophy and Robert travelled to Cape Town where he was to establish a new colonial diocese, increase the number of clergy and establish new churches and schools. There were only ten Anglican churches in South Africa at that time. With his death 25 years later, this number had risen to 63. Having grown accustomed to the high standard of living enjoyed by bishops, including an episcopal palace, the Grays emigrated to the Cape with a retinue of servants, furniture and even an episcopal carriage.
The couple settled on the farm Boschheuvel, originally named Wijnberg and later renamed Bishopscourt, the original owner having been Jan van Riebeek, first Dutch Governor of the Cape. The farm lay on the slopes of Table Mountain, well-watered and with dense woodland. Here Sophy, using the old slave quarters, started a school for her five children and those of the community. Despite disliking social engagements, she kept open house to a constant stream of church officials and dignitaries, as well as managing Robert's diocese that included the Cape, Orange Free State, Natal and the islands of Tristan da Cunha and St. Helena.
Sophy Gray had brought along architectural plans of churches that could be adapted to the design of churches and schools for the new Anglican parishes that were to be established throughout South Africa. Both Sophy and her husband favoured the neo-Gothic style of church architecture which was fashionable in Britain at that time and advocated by the Ecclesiologists, and disliked the Romanesque style. Even so, Sophy and Robert Gray felt that church design should not stick slavishly to the Early English Period, but should show some diversity.
She not only filled the role of architect, but kept records of the synods, their meetings and official ceremonies. She also kept records of correspondence and church chronicles. Being a competent horsewoman, she joined her husband on all but two of his extended trips. Her artistic skills were shown by the numerous water-colours and sketches she did, frequently used to illustrate her husband's journals. In all, the bishop would hardly have managed without her able assistance and knowledge. As if in recognition of her contribution, there is a stained glass window in St George’s Cathedral, depicting her wearing a green riding habit and bonnet, though usually she wore a felt hat and plain riding dress, beneath which were close-fitting riding breeches of chamois.
Capetonian Desmond Martin's doctoral thesis dealt with the churches established by the Grays. Of more than 50 churches built in South Africa during Robert Gray's bishopric, at least 40 were designed by Sophy. In 2005 Martin published a book titled "The Bishop's Churches" and illustrated with his water-colours and line drawings of her 40 churches, including St Paul's, Rondebosch, St Saviour's, Claremont, St Peter's, Plettenberg Bay, St James, Graaff-Reinet and St Jude's, Oudtshoorn.
Churches designed by Sophy Gray
- St Paul's Church, Eerste River 1848
- St James' Church, Graaff-Reinet 1848
- St Paul's Church, Rondebosch, Cape Town 1849
- St George's Church, Knysna 1849
- School Chapel, Beaufort West 1849
- Christ Church, Colesberg 1849
- St Mark's Church, George 1849
- Holy Trinity Church, Caledon 1850
- St Saviour's Church, Claremont, Cape Town 1850
- Holy Trinity Church, Belvidere, Knysna 1851
- St Peter's Church, Pietermaritzburg 1851
- Christ Church, Swellendam 1852
- Christ Church, Beaufort West 1852
- St James the Great Church, Worcester 1852
- St John the Baptist Church, Schoonberg, Langkloof 1853
- All Saints Church, Somerset East 1854
- St Paul's Church, North End, Port Elizabeth 1854
- St Matthew's Church, Riversdale 1854
- School Chapel, Mossel Bay 1855
- Newlands Chapel, Newlands, Cape Town 1856
- Armstrong Memorial Chapel, Grahamstown 1856
- St Peter's Church, Cradock 1857
- Church of St Mary the Virgin, Woodstock, Cape Town 1859
- All Saints Church, Bredasdorp 1859
- St Andrew's Chapel, Ceres 1860
- St Jude's Church, Oudtshoorn 1860
- Constantia Chapel near Cape Town 1860
- All Saints Chapel, Durbanville 1860
- St Mary's Church, Robertson 1861
- St Thomas' Mission Station, Rondebosch, Cape Town 1864
- St John's Church, Clanwilliam 1864
- St Mark's Chapel, District Six, Cape Town 1865
- St Patrick's Church, Umzinto, KwaZulu-Natal 1868
- St Augustine's Chapel, Fraserburg 1869
- St Luke's Mission Church, Swellendam 1869
- St John's Church, Victoria West 1869
- All Saints Church, Uniondale 1869
- St Mildred's Chapel, Montagu 1870
- St Peter's Church, Plettenberg Bay 1879
- St Matthew's Church, Willowmore 1880