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Going, Going, Gone –

First published in      The Welsh Connection / Y Cysylltiad Cymreig    #59 April 2006

There was a small chapel at Saint Bride’s, Pembrokeshire, but the sea has taken it.

When St. Bride’s Chapel a salt-house was made
Saint Bride’s lost the herring trade.

The herrings are said to have disappeared when this blasphemous use was made of the building.

The nonconformists had a cause in Neath, Glamorganshire in the form of an Independent church, and it is almost certain that this cause started as far back as St. Bartholomew’s Day, 1662.  They gathered to worship in a room behind Melincrythan at a place called “Chwarelau Bach”….a place fairly hidden, although not far from the road that was the main road at that time.  History tells us that hidden places were an advantage for worshipping at that time especially if worshipping in the nonconformist manner.

Licences:  A protestant dissenter was required to obtain a certificate in order to receive the protection of the law.

11th January 1748.  Quarter Sessions in Carmarthen ordered that a licence to preach in the house of Hopkin John, called Argoed, in the parish of Bettws, be registered as a place of worship for dissenting protestants, and that a certificate be given thereof.

“Oct. 1797, Mr Hopkin Bevan having taken the Oaths and subscribed the Declarations required to be taken by Protestant Dissenters,  Glamorganshire, at the General Quarter Sessions of the Peace of our Sovereign Lord, the King, held at the town of Swansea in and for the said County, Tuesday, the third of October, in the thirty-seventh year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord George the Third, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain and Ireland, King Defend of the Faith, and so forth, before Thomas Morgan, Richard Crawshay, Edward Snead, Richard Bevan, M.D., Esqrs., and others their associates His Majesties Justices assigned to keep the Peace, in the said County and also to hear and to determine divers Felonies and trespasses and other offences, done and committed in the said County. 
“I do hereby certify that Hopkin Bevan, of the parish of Llangyfelach, in the County of Glamorgan, yeoman, hath this day in open Court taken the Oaths and subscribed the Declarations required by the several Acts of Parliament, to be taken by Protestant Dissenters.  Wood, Clerk of the Peace”

A certificate was also issued to obtain the protection of the law for Bethel chapel, Llangyfelach, for the purpose of worship.  Issued 9th January 1810.

Meeting places:   The first meeting place for the nonconformist cause was often a room in a private dwelling made available to the worshippers.

The cause in Penclawdd, (Browyr) Gower peninsular was non-denominational and appeared to begin at the time of the arrival on the peninsula of Lady Barham. The Rev. Rees Jones of Anglesey (Union of Calvanastic Methodists) was appointed by Lady Barham to minister to the congregations.  After the death of the Rev. Jones in 1829, the congregation were called upon to choose another minister from among the Independents, which was against their ideals.  As they chose to remain Methodists, they had to vacate the chapel.  For a long time after this the brotherhood gathered to worship in a room in a tavern in the village as no other place was available.  They had to leave this place at short notice not knowing of another place to go.  A lady from among the Baptists took pity on them and offered a small room in her house, until they could find a more convenient place.  The brotherhood were there for nearly 7 years.  Collections were made in most of the chapels in Glamorgan to assist in covering the cost of raising their own chapel in 1836.  At the opening of a chapel, care was taken to request the presence of well known Reverends whose sermons would draw many worshippers.
One of the pioneers of Methodism in Flintshire was born at Ysgeifiog.  John Owen (1733-1776) – his farmhouse home Y Berthen Gron, became a centre of worship in the area.  Owen was the object of frequent persecution, especially in Holywell, despite this the cause continued and gathered support. A Chapel was built on land close to Y Berthen Gron in 1775, with almost the entire cost being borne by Owen himself.  He rode all the way to Llangurig to ask Daniel Rowland if he would be prepared to deliver the first sermon, to which he agreed.  Sadly, on his journey back to Ysgeifiog, Owen died suddenly.

The collection taken at the opening of a new chapel went a long way to reducing the debt incurred in erecting the new building.  The chapel Nazareth, Birchgrove, Glamorganshire, completed in 1872 at the cost of £600.00.  The debt was cleared in a few years, almost half of it …£300, being cleared during the opening services through many persons contributing £5 each.
The lack of electricity had no effect on Chapel services and their doors were thrown open during Morning and Evening.  They would put lumps of clay at the ends of the seats and place candles in these.
David Thomas a member with the Independents in Mynydd Bach, built a small place of worship.  For many years he had lived in the lower part of the parish of Llansamlet and was a native of that region, but he moved to live in the upper part of Swansea where he bought a piece of land called Crug-Glas.  He decided to join Mynydd Bach because of the inconvenience of crossing the river, which was great during that period.  In 1795 there was a disagreement in the church and as a result of this split, David Thomas built a chapel on his own land. In 1799 about 200 people of various denominations co-worshipped there.  It was a sort of schoolhouse and it had a small gallery at one end. The chapel was built at his own expense and being non-denominational gave freedom for preachers of the various denominations to come there to minister according to the manner of the worshippers who were free to make whatever arrangements they wished. 

Bethel – Welsh Wesleyan Chapel, Brymbo, Denbighshire. For a time the Welsh Wesleyans worshipped at the same place as the English Wesleyans. In 1804,  Mr Stephenson, a lay preacher bought a parcel of land and had three houses and a Chapel built on it.   When the Welsh Wesleyans were approached by Mr Stephenson to buy the Chapel, they refused as some of the members of the church had themselves contributed towards its building.  Later the Chapel was sold to John Edwards, Gyfynys, who charged the church members an annual rental of £8 which became too much for them to pay. The membership eventually left the Chapel and worshipped in an upper room at Blast Furnace. Three members loaned the money required to build another Chapel and this was opened 1837.  Then by 1863 permission was sought to build a new Chapel on the same site, this one opened in 1864 at a cost of £800, this heavy debt took years to reduce.  Yet another new Chapel built in 1890, seating 600 with a large schoolroom and smaller rooms.  It was in use until about 1972 and was sold to the owners of Brymbo Steelworks.  The Chapel, situated at the foot of the ash tip from the Steelworks, suffered damage from time to time by falling clinkers.

Bethel, (Llangyfelach) Glamorganshire.  The brothers publicly considered that the cause would benefit from a new building and they regarded the building as too dull.  The old inhabitants thought it more than enough and fairly comfortable to hold their meetings.  The falling down of part of the ceiling on top of one of the sisters during Sunday service had the greatest effect on the old brothers to convince them of the need to pull down the old building.  Many times it was feared that a part would fall and kill someone and bring a verdict of manslaughter on the respected deacons.  Within a year of the new chapel opening, Llangyfelach had been reborn in chapel, congregation and everything else.

There are a variety of reasons for the demise of a Chapel.  The English Congregational Church, Harwd Road, Brymbo, 1905-1978 – the congregation began to dwindle and the Chapel was closed.  Another factor which contributed to the demise of this Chapel was a fault, probably from the underground pit that caused a fracture in the centre.

Chapel House:  It was necessary to have a house for a family to care for the chapel and also a stable, because in those days, preachers travelled on horseback when they could. It was the work of the chapel house family to see to the care of the animals.  There was more work with the horse than the preacher.  If the preacher had no horse of his own, the churches took care to provide one, in particular the churches at either end of the journey.

David Parry of Bethania, (Glynneath), was considered to be the main lead of the cause, although he was not ordained to the full work of the ministry.  He had to borrow a horse on one of his long journeys in Breconshire.  He left home on Saturday night and returned on the Monday morning having preached in three places, earning 2/6d in each place, which was standard practice in most chapels at that time.  He returned home and paid 5/- as agreed for the loan of the horse, leaving him with 2/6d for the three sermons and the long journey.  This occurred many times.

In a small graveyard in front of the old Gyfylchi chapel, a gravestone inscribed: ‘In memory of Mary, wife of Phillip Morgan of Pantygelli in this parish, who died April 15th 1829, aged 66 years.  Mary, our sister, servant of the chapel of Penydarren church.”  The word ‘servant’ was given to one who opened and closed the chapel, and kept the place tidy.

Sunday Schools / Sabbath Schools.   Provided instruction in a variety of subjects for people of all ages, including history, astronomy, geography and science to name but a few.

Bethlehem Green, (Neath), Glamorganshire, set up a Sunday School in 1810.  All age groups from cradle to grave were catered for.  The success of the Sunday School, encouraged the Rev. John Edwards, Berthen Gron to pen a letter to the editor of the ‘Drysorfa’.  October 1836……Timothy Canty, age 82 could not recognize a single letter of the Welsh language.  After a year of hard work he and Mary Davies, age five were reciting a chapter before the school.  Timothy Canty, now 84 years old reads well without assistance.

The country people travelled two or three miles to the town to worship, and it was too much to expect them to do that journey three times on Sunday.  It was suggested that in order to avoid some of those journeys, the Sunday school should be held immediately after the morning service, and the morning service to begin at half past nine.  The suggestion to have an hour of school starting at 11 o’clock after the morning service was welcomed by the brethren.

In the parish register of Llandybie there is one entry only of a non-conformist baptism.  ‘John son of John & Anne Hopkin was baptised August 6th 1809 by John Davies dissenting Minister at Cross Inn.  Aged 16 days.  John Williams, Vicar of Llandybie.’

Omissions from West Glamorgan parochial registers in the eighteenth century was the existence within the area of vigorous non-conformity. The communities, most of which for certain periods and for some ceremonies at least were outside the realm of the Anglican registration system.  It is estimated that by the second decade of the century, these dissenters formed about 7 to 8% of the population of Glamorgan. It is very difficult to determine the extent of losses to the church burial register because of dissent.  Not one eighteenth-century on-conformist burial register appears to have survived for the area.  There can, however, be little doubt that non-conformity had by 1800 placed a sizeable part of the population outside the baptismal registers of the Church of England.

People:  Travelling to chapel, could be a very hazardous journey. Yr Ynys is surround by water…the canal and the river Tawe, the two waters are close together at the upper part of the district, as well as being close together on the southern end. A chapel was built alongside the canal and not far from the river.  It was decide to be the best, taking into consideration the distance of travel for the worshippers, and for the chapel to be central for the scattered community.  Even the best parts of the road to the chapel were rough in those days, and from the south they were also dangerous because the shortest way to reach the chapel was alongside the canal.  Before Yr Ynys chapel was built the worshippers attend the services in Cwmgiedd and some coming even longer distances from the upper part of Penrhos.  Mention is made of two faithful and intelligent sisters who shared each others company on the long journey to the meetings.  Prudence Levi, (lived in Waenton above Penrhos)  the mother of the Rev. Thomas Levi, and Gwenny Griffith James.

19 persons were drowned when a boat overturned in the river in Swansea.  They were crossing on their way to Capel-y-Cwm to hear two famous men who were preaching there.

Where the faithful would worship was often decided by the difficulties, which presented themselves in the form of a river.  There was a small society in Dafen, a district between Llwynhendy and Llanelli.  There were obviously difficulties for this little flock to pay regular visits to the flock in Loughor - - the difficulties of crossing the river, so they drifted towards Llannon.

The Cholera epidemic of 1849 brought carnage to the district of Ystradgynlais and the neighbourhood with 1200 dying in that year.  Everyone was in terror and preachers were afraid to come to Ystradgynlais.  The Rev. Thomas Levi, preached on five consecutive Sundays in Cwmgiedd at that time, and when the congregation parted in the evening to return home, some of them would be buried by the next morning.

The old faithful preachers would walk many miles because of the distance between the chapels. Some would start from their homes early on Sunday morning walking the journey between the chapels, and arriving back home after midnight.  The Rev. David Anthony tells of walking about 20 miles from morning to night on a Sunday.  He was a tall, slim man with a long stride.

The Passing of a way of life  -  contributed by Gwen Wells

For many years now I have witnessed large Welsh chapels being closed, boarded up, turned into bingo and dance halls.  In 2004 I watched the destruction of Siloh, a Methodist Chapel at the bottom of the street where I lived as a child, and I started to really grieve for a way of life that has almost gone forever.

Almost! My own family chapel is Carmel, an Annibynwyr (Independent) chapel, just up the main road from Siloh.  Not only is it still standing, but it is in very good condition thanks to the efforts of one of its deacons to get grants to preserve it.  The congregation is small and elderly; three of them will celebrate their 100th birthday in 2006.  I don’t know what the future holds for Carmel, but I do know that is survival has become very precious to me.

From the moment I was old enough to be aware of my surroundings, Carmel played a large part in my life.  I attended Carmel 3 times every Sunday: the morning service 10.00 – 11.00, Sunday school from 2:00 – 3:00 and the evening service 6.00 – 7:30.  As young children we look forward to the monthly morning services when we were asked to gather in the long front seat and recite our Bible verse to Mr Huws, our minister.  How proud we were to be able to stand and recite the shortest of the verses for little people, “Duw cariad yw.” (God is love) and to have Mr Huws say to each of us, “Da iawn” (very good.) And when we could memorise longer verses we felt so grown-up.

We had to dress up in our best clothes to attend chapel, with females having to wear hats but males not being allowed to wear them.  Our grandmothers, dressed in their fur coats or fox fur stoles, would bring along a supply of mints or other sweets designed to keep young mouths silent during the (sometimes long) sermons.  The services were, and still are, In Welsh, and the singing of the congregation was wonderful.  Communion was given once a month and when we were old enough to have been confirmed into the chapel, we eagerly awaited the small cubes of bread the small glasses of what we thought was red wine.

I was privileged to learn to play the chapel organ.  The organist sat to the side of the organ high up on the level of the pulpit during the sermon; from this vantage point I could watch the entire congregation and, of course, they could watch me, so I had to be very attentive to the sermon.  It was a wonderful feeling to practise in this large empty chapel in the evenings, filling the building with the tremendous sounds of those huge pipes.

Carmel looked after its children’s welfare.  The deacons organised an annual outing to seaside resorts such as Barry, Porthcawl and Tenby.  These were eagerly awaited.  We also acted in plays and little operettas, which encouraged a love of acting. Every Easter we had a Gymanfa Ganu (a singing festival) where the congregation of Carmel joined with those of neighbouring Independent chapels, who took it in turns to play host.  We practised for this, weeks ahead.  Eisteddfodau were also held in chapels; my Mamgu would take me around them to play set pieces on the piano, for which you received a reward of a ribbon or a beaded little bag on a ribbon.

We tried our best to be good in the village, because people of my grandmother’s generation seed to be always on the watch for bad behaviour and reported it to Mr Huws.  Mr Huws was like a God to us; we didn’t want to do anything wrong in his eyes.  And, of course, we did learn right from wrong in our Bible classes, where we learned the Bible stories and their morals and , as we got older, discussed these.  We also learned that there were always children worse off than us, so we were encouraged to collect for the ‘genhadaeth’ (missions). 

I must confess that when I went away to University, I suddenly realised that I no longer had to attend chapel 3 times every Sunday and I felt a great freedom from a routine.  However, Carmel had done its work by then; it had instilled social values into me as well as religious ethics.

There was a small old chapel, call Hen Garmel (Old Carmel), in my village, within the walls of the local cemetery.  I knew that it had been the original Carmel and it was already becoming a ruin in my childhood.  It is only since I started research my family history that I have learned that Old Carmel is situated on Cwmbach land.  One of my great grandfathers, John Evans (Cwmbach) was born and raised on Cwmbach Farm, so I suddenly felt a personal connection to this old building.

  I then discovered that my great grandmother, who was raised on the Gwrhyd Mountain beyond Penlle’rfedwen Mountain above the cemetery, used to walk all the way to this chapel with her family every Sunday.  This is probably where she met John Cwmbach. Old Carmel played an important part in community life in the 18th and 19th centuries, being situated on what was the main road at that time, as this small building was also a school for the area.  After reading about its history, I hastened to have a closer look at the building on my next visit to Gwaun Cae Gurwen, but the ruin itself was long gone by then.

And now the more recent 2-storied chapels of my childhood and my parents’ childhood are disappearing, too.  Siloh has been replaced by housing.  Yes, Siloh was in a very bad condition and quite unsafe, and this is probably better use of the land in this day and age.  But, the rocks of my Welsh community are disappearing and with them, so much Welsh history and social values and even the Welsh language.

History of the Methodists in West Glamorgan by The Rev. W. Samlet Williams (English Translation by Ivor Griffiths)    The History of the Parish of Llandybie by Gomer M. Roberts (English Translation by Ivor Griffiths)
Brymbo and its Neighbourhood by Graham Rogers    The Story of Montgomery by Ann & John Welton
The Old Villages of Denbighshire and Flintshire by Dewi Roberts    About Pembrokeshire – The Land of Enchantment by John Seymour
Glamorgan Historian  Volume Twelve    Early Victorian Usk by David R Lewis
Further Reading
A Short History of Wales – A.H. Dodd    The Parish Churches and Nonconformist Chapels of Wales – Vol. One. Cardigan, Carmarthen, Pembroke by Bert J. Rawlins
A History of Gwynedd – Dorothy Sylvester    New Tredegar in Focus – Hilda M Evans
Parishes of the Buzzard – Ruth Bidgood    Nonconformist Registers of Wales
Rhayader People of 1829, 1844, 1891    Ceredigion Volume X Number 3 1986

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