Merthyr’s Chapels: Shiloh Chapel

The next chapel we are going to look at is Shiloh Welsh Wesleyan Chapel – one of Merthyr’s grandest chapels, but now probably better known as the Miners’ Hall.

In 1807 Rev Edward Jones came to the English Wesleyan Chapel in Pontmorlais to work alongside Rev J T Evans and to serve the needs of the Welsh speaking congregation there. That same year a group of worshippers left the English chapel to start a Welsh cause, and by 1811 they had built a small chapel in John Street.

By the 1850’s the Great Western Railway Company asked to purchase the land on which the chapel was built for their new railway station, and an agreement was made to provide a new chapel for the Welsh Wesleyans in Church Street. This new building was reputed to have been designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, though no documentation has been found to substantiate this, and it was opened in 1853.

Shiloh Chapel

In 1859 a religious revival took place in Wales, and in Merthyr the revival began at Shiloh Chapel under the guidance of Rev Watkinson, the minister there at the time, “where with great demonstrations and emotional excitement the converts were overcome by strong preaching and hymn singing”.

One of the most prominent ministers to officiate at Shiloh was Rev Thomas Aubrey (1808-1867). Born in Cefn Coed, Thomas Aubrey became a Wesleyan Methodist minister in 1826, and between then and 1865 travelled Wales as a minister at various chapels including Shiloh between 1846-1849. Rev Aubrey went on to be one of the most important preachers in Welsh Wesleyan history.

Rev Thomas Aubrey

Unfortunately, the new chapel proved too large and too expensive to run, so it was reluctantly decided to close it in 1912 and the Welsh and English Wesleyans amalgamated at Wesley Chapel. Shortly after this, plans were formulated to build a grand Central Wesleyan Mission Hall on the site of the old Drill Hall, but the plan never came to fruition due to the advent of the First World War.

The building was sold to the Miners’ Welfare Committee, and it was opened as the Miners’ Hall in 1921. It later became a nightclub and was destroyed by fire in 1992. The shell of the building now lies derelict.

The remains of Shiloh Chapel

Abermorlais School

The article transcribed below appeared in The Monmouthshire Merlin 150 years ago today.

LAYING THE FOUNDATION STONE OF THE BRITISH SCHOOLS

The foundation stone of the British Schools now in course of erection on Newfoundland-tip was laid on Thursday se’nnight, by Lady Charlotte Schreiber. About half-past two the school children belonging to the different chapels of the town assembled in the Square, and having formed in procession marched flags and banners to the ground. They arrived there about half past three, by which time from six to seven thousand people had assembled.

Lady Charlotte Schreiber arrived shortly afterwards from London, accompanied by G. T. Clark, Esq., of Dowlais House. Her ladyship, who lived many years at Dowlais, Lady Charlotte Guest, was warmly received. The ceremony was performed with a silver trowel, which was presented to her by the contractors, Messrs. Williams, of Swansea. The stone having been laid, Mr. C.H. James returned thanks on behalf of the meeting to her ladyship for having come down to perform the work. Mr. Clark returned thanks for Lady Schreiber in an admirably appropriate speech, and then expressed a hope that her ladyship would speak afterwards herself. Lady Schreiber responded by addressing the meeting herself in a clear and distinct voice, being frequently interrupted by the cheers of the audience, especially at her reference in the vernacular to “Yr hen wlad” (the old country).

In the evening a meeting was held at Zoar Chapel, at which G. T. Clarke, Esq., took the chair. Capital speeches were made by the Chairman, the Rev. John Thomas, C. H. James, Esq and others. It appeared from the secretary’s statement that since April over £1600 had been subscribed, and at the close of the meeting he announced that one gentleman who had already subscribed £100 had doubled his subscription, an announcement which was greeted with loud cheers. We believe this gentleman is Mr. Clark, the chairman of the meeting.

The schools are rapidly progressing, and are expected to be opened before winter.

Monmouthshire Merlin – 20 July 1867

Abermorlais School. Photo courtesy of http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/index.htm
The foundation stone at Abermorlais School. Photo courtesy of http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/index.htm

Merthyr Memories: Tramroadside North Memories

by Christine Brewer (née Williams)

I was born on Tramroadside North during the War, and I spent all of my early life there. The Tramroadside North I remember from that time bares very little resemblance to the same area today – it has been developed beyond recognition.

The part of Tramroadside North that I am talking about, or ‘The Tramroad’ as it’s more commonly known, is the road that runs between Church Street and what was known as Harris’ Hill – roughly where the Tesco roundabout is today. When I was growing up, the road was much narrower and was lined on both sides with small houses and cottages.

A map showing Tramroadside North (marked in yellow)

On the side of the road nearest the Railway Station were also several ‘courts’ of houses: Joseph’s Court, Vaughan’s Court and Rosser’s Court. There was also a pub, The Tydfil Arms, and we also had a green-grocer’s shop and a small ‘front-room shop’ in one of the houses.

An aerial view showing the top part of the Tramroad. The Tydfil Arms is at the centre of the photo (the larger white building). Photo courtesy of http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/index.htm

When I was a child I clearly remember the old tram-lines running down the middle of the road, the trams had stopped running years before of course, and I also remember the air-raid shelter near the lane up to Thomas Street. I often wondered how effective this would have been in an air-raid as it was quite a flimsy brick-built building just built at the side of the road.

The Tramroad decorated for the coronation of King George VI in 1937. Photo courtesy of http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/index.htm

Most of the families who lived on the Tramroad had lived there for generations, and we were a community all of our own. Everyone knew everyone else, and I could tell you who lived in almost every house. I was born in a very small two up, one down cottage – the youngest of five children, so when I was young I went to live with my aunt who had more room. She lived at the bottom end of the Tramroad, and had huge garden which stretched all the way back to the Station Yard. I clearly remember the animals being brought into the Station Yard before being taken to the abattoir, which was near the present day Farm Foods store.

There were, of course, some characters living on the Tramroad. One of our neighbours had a garden full of fantastic cabbages, and whenever anyone asked her about them, she would say that she had buried her husband’s ashes there, and that is what made them so big. Another lady, actually another one of my aunts, had a menagerie in her house. Whenever she came across an injured animal, she would take them in and care of them. Over the years I remember her having many wild birds, hedgehogs etc. At one time I even remember her having a fox-cub!

At the top of the Tramroad was Adulam Chapel. The chapel actually faced Lower Thomas Street, but the cemetery was on the Tramroad, and there was path to the chapel through the cemetery. I went to Adulam Chapel every Sunday, and I remember going to Sunday School in the vestry underneath the chapel and being taught the Lord’s Prayer in Welsh by the teacher Evan John Peters.

The Tramroad in the 1960’s with Adulam Chapel in the middle of the photo. Photo courtesy of http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/index.htm

Also underneath Adulam Chapel were two very small houses that shared a kitchen and toilet. When I was a little older, my sister married and moved into one of these houses. I dreaded going to see her as I would have to walk along a path through the cemetery to get to the house; I remember one occasion walking down the path and a boy jumping out at me from behind a grave – he thought it was one of his friends and wanted to frighten him…..he certainly frightened me!

Adulam Chapel. Left is the front of the Chapel on Thomas Street. Right is the back of the chapel on the Tramroad, showing the cemetery with the path (left) leading to the houses

So much has changed. Most of the houses have been demolished, and all of the courts, the Tydfil Arms and Adulam Chapel have all gone. It’s sad to look back and see all I remember disappeared.

Vaughan’s Court being demolished. Photo courtesy of http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/index.htm

Alderman Thomas Williams, J.P.

Today marks the anniversary of the death of one of Merthyr’s most important residents – Thomas Williams.

Thomas Williams

Thomas Williams was born in Merthyr Tydfil on 11 November 1823, but when he was five years old, his parents, David and Susannah Williams moved to Hirwaun to open a grocery business.

At sixteen, Thomas returned to Merthyr as an assistant to Mr David Rosser, grocer; and in 1842 he became a member of Zoar Chapel. Within two years however, he returned to Hirwaun to open his own grocery business, and he remained there until 1852 when he moved to Aberdare to larger premises. Throughout this time, Williams remained a faithful member of the Welsh Independent movement and joined Nebo Chapel in Hirwaun where he became a deacon.

During his time in Aberdare, Thomas Williams joined Ebenezer Chapel, Trecynon where he eventually became secretary, and he was elected to a number of eminent positions in the community – Poor-law Guardian; member of the Burial Board; member of the Board of Health and High Constable.

Following the closure of the Penydarren Ironworks in 1859, several schemes were initiated to re-start iron production. One such scheme occurred in 1864, and Thomas Williams decided to sell his business and invest in the scheme, and thus moved back to Merthyr. Within a year he and his business partner, Mr Davis sold the works, making a handsome profit and invested in the College Lock Iron Works in Llandaff. Over the next few years, Thomas Williams proved to be an astute business man and soon amassed a large fortune, buying large parcels of land in Merthyr. Upon returning to Merthyr, Williams renewed his membership at Zoar Chapel and was immediately made a deacon.

Within a short period of time, Thomas Williams was elected to several important positions in the town. As well as continuing to serve in the same positions of authority that he had occupied in Aberdare, he was elected Chairman of the Merthyr Building Society and Vice-Chairman of the School Board and was elected Justice of the Peace in 1874. Through all of this Thomas Williams remained a staunch member of Zoar and became secretary of the chapel and a Sunday School teacher there and was a life-long supporter of the temperance movement. In 1872 he was instrumental in the formation of the Welsh Congregational Union, and was appointed treasurer at its commencement.

Throughout his life, Thomas Williams was a great philanthropist and many organisations benefitted from his generosity, indeed his last public engagement was at meeting to discuss the building of a new English Congregational Chapel in Penydarren, where he arranged the lease of for a plot of land for the new chapel at a nominal rent, and he made a gift in trust towards the building of the chapel. Within two months of this meeting however, Thomas Williams died on 9 July 1903. His funeral on Monday 13 July was one of the largest Merthyr had seen, with ministers and representatives from every church and chapel in the town, and indeed from all over Wales, as well as dignitaries from Merthyr and the whole of Wales.

In his will, Thomas Williams made a number of bequests to the Trustees of Zoar Chapel:-

“a) £500 for investment, and annual income thereof to be applied in defraying the cost of such Lectures on theological, social, temperance, travel (including Mission work) abroad, and such like subjects as the minister and deacons of Zoar Chapel shall think of interest and benefit; b) £700 for investment in aid of the support of the ministry of such chapel; c) £150 for investment, the income to be applied towards the support of the Sunday School of such chapel; d) £150 for investment, the income to be applied towards the support and assistance of such poor and deserving persons, members of Zoar Chapel, as the minister and deacons of such chapel shall from time to time in their absolute discretion deem worthy of aid; e) £150 towards the fund for building a schoolroom in connection with such chapel.”

Thomas Williams’ legacy was felt throughout Merthyr for many years. The English Congregational Chapel in Penydarren was finally completed in 1906 and was named Williams Memorial Chapel in honour of him.

Williams Memorial Chapel, Penydarren

The Thomas Williams Memorial Lectures became an institution in the town until the 1980’s; Twynyrodyn Sunday School was built due to the bequest and Zoar Chapel itself managed to keep functioning as a place of worship for many years despite the dwindling congregation due to Thomas Williams, legacy.