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
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
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
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
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
contributed by Gwen Wells
For many years now I have
witnessed large Welsh chapels being closed, boarded up, turned into
dance halls. In 2004 I watched the
destruction of Siloh, a Methodist Chapel at the bottom of the street
lived as a child, and I started to really grieve for a way of life that
almost gone forever.
Almost! My own family chapel
is Carmel, an Annibynwyr (Independent) chapel, just up the main road
Siloh. Not only is it still standing,
but it is in very good condition thanks to the efforts of one of its
get grants to preserve it. The
congregation is small and elderly; three of them will celebrate their
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
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 –
the evening service 6.00 – 7:30. As
young children we look forward to the monthly morning services when we
asked to gather in the long front seat and recite our Bible verse to Mr
our minister. How proud we were to be
able to stand and recite the shortest of the verses for little people,
cariad yw.” (God is love) and to have Mr Huws say to each of us, “Da
good.) And when we could memorise longer verses we felt so grown-up.
We had to dress up in
clothes to attend chapel, with females having to wear hats but males
allowed to wear them. Our grandmothers,
dressed in their fur coats or fox fur stoles, would bring along a
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
eagerly awaited the small cubes of bread the small glasses of what we
was red wine.
I was privileged to
play the chapel organ. The organist sat
to the side of the organ high up on the level of the pulpit during the
from this vantage point I could watch the entire congregation and, of
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
children’s welfare. The deacons
organised an annual outing to seaside resorts such as Barry, Porthcawl
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
singing festival) where the congregation of Carmel joined with those of
neighbouring Independent chapels, who took it in turns to play
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
received a reward of a ribbon or a beaded little bag on a ribbon.
We tried our best to
in the village, because people of my grandmother’s generation seed to
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
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
I must confess that
went away to University, I suddenly realised that I no longer had to
chapel 3 times every Sunday and I felt a great freedom from a
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
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
land. One of my great grandfathers, John Evans (Cwmbach) was born
and raised on Cwmbach Farm, so I suddenly felt a personal connection to
discovered that my
great grandmother, who was raised on the Gwrhyd Mountain beyond
Mountain above the cemetery, used to walk all the way to this chapel
family every Sunday. This is probably
where she met John Cwmbach. Old Carmel played an important part in
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
for the area. After reading about its
history, I hastened to have a closer look at the building on my next
Gwaun Cae Gurwen, but the ruin itself was long gone by then.
And now the more
2-storied chapels of my childhood and my parents’ childhood are
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
day and age. But, the rocks of my Welsh
community are disappearing and with them, so much Welsh history and
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
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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Last Updated 25 October 2006
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