Merthyr’s Chapels: Elim Chapel, Penydarren

In our regular feature on the chapels of Merthyr, we next take a look at the history of Elim Baptist Chapel in Penydarren.

In 1841, Rev William Robert Davies, minister at Caersalem Chapel in Dowlais decided that a new Baptist cause should be started in Penydarren to cater for the ever growing population there. Land was leased from the Penydarren Iron Company and the chapel, named Elim was built in 1842.

In 1849, the infamous cholera epidemic struck Merthyr which caused the death of 1,682 in Merthyr and Dowlais alone (see previous entry – www.merthyr-history.com/?p=123). On 4 August, cholera struck Rev Davies’ household, when his daughter died of the disease. Despite his grief, Rev Davies continued to visit the sick and comforted their relatives. One of the results of the cholera was a sudden upsurge in chapel attendance, and on the last two Sundays of August alone Rev Davies baptised no less than 150 people.

By this time he had begun discussing with the deacons the possibility of appointing another minister to help him continue the work at Caersalem. However, before this could be acted upon, Davies was himself struck down by the cholera on 1 September. He became suddenly ill at nine o’clock in the morning, and by seven o’clock that same evening he was dead. He was buried in the same grave as his daughter at the graveyard at Elim Chapel. He was 51 years old.

Elim continued to be considered as a branch of Caersalem until it gained its independence in 1852. The congregation continued to grow however, and the chapel was rebuilt in 1858.

By the 1930’s it had become obvious to the members that the chapel needed a new schoolroom to accommodate the burgeoning Sunday School at Elim Chapel. The materials necessary to build the school room were offered to the chapel at a very reasonable price on the condition that the members of the chapel could collect them. As this was the time of the Great Depression, and the Dowlais Works having recently closed, most of the men at the chapel found themselves unemployed, so they collected the materials, and built the school room themselves. The women of the chapel organised many activities to raise money towards the building. The schoolroom was opened on 18 July 1933.

Elim Chapel, Penydarren in 1933 showing the recently built new schoolroom

On the night of 23 December 1977 Elim was severely damaged in a storm, the roof was blown off. The chapel was beyond repair and had to be demolished the following year. Services were subsequently held at Williams Memorial Chapel until that chapel closed, and the remaining members of the congregation rejoined their mother church at Caersalem.

Elim Chapel following the collapse of the front wall as a result of the storm

A development of flats for senior citizens has now been built on the site of the chapel and is called Hafan Elim.

The End of Caersalem

On 23 July, Caersalem Chapel closed its doors for the final time – 200 years after the cause was first started. The history of Caersalem Chapel was covered in a previous post – http://www.merthyr-history.com/?p=575

The closing service was taken by Steven Barnes of Aberdare, and all but one of the remaining members of the chapel attended the service as well as representatives from Ivor Chapel, Dowlais; Horeb Chapel, Penydarren and High Street Chapel; as well as a number of others who went to mark the occasion.

The only member who wasn’t at the service was Eira Ward, who had been a member of the Chapel since 1977. She was prevented from attending the service by ill-health, and sadly passed away two days later.

Below is a photograph of the last members of Caersalem Chapel taken at the last service.

Back Row – Denise Callahan (Deaconess), Gwenda Powell, Audrey Humphries, Leona Francis (Deaconess)

Front Row – Beryl Davies, Hilary Hodson, Myfanwy Jones, Glynis Williams, Mary Simms, Marion Healy, Betty Furlong (Deaconess)

Many thanks to Carl Llewellyn who attended the service, and provided the information.

Merthyr’s Chapels: Bryn Sion Chapel, Dowlais

Bryn Sion Chapel

In our continuing section on Merthyr’s Chapels, we look at one of the many chapels that once stood in Dowlais but have disappeared in to the ether in the name of re-development – Bryn Sion Welsh Independent Chapel.

Following a disagreement at Bethania Welsh Independent Chapel in South Street, Rev Thomas G Jones and several members of the congregation left the chapel to start their own group, and began worshipping at the old Bethel Chapel at the bottom of Dowlais.

There were, already at Bethel, a group of Baptists who had left Caersalem Chapel, but the two groups worshipped separately (see previous article – http://www.merthyr-history.com/?p=575).

In 1833, Rev Joshua Thomas of Adulam Chapel in Merthyr had been given oversight of the growing congregation, and it became obvious that Bethel Chapel was no longer adequate for either group of worshippers there.

A new chapel called Bryn Sion was built and both congregations moved there in 1834. The Baptist congregation applied to join the Baptist Association, but were refused, so they decided to join the Independent congregation at the new chapel. Some staunch Baptists were unhappy with this and returned to Caersalem, but the majority stayed and the new church began to prosper.

Rev Joshua Thomas continued to have oversight at the chapel until 1836 when Mr Daniel Roberts, a member of Zoar Chapel in Merthyr, but a resident of Dowlais was asked to be Bryn Sion’s first minister.

As the congregation grew it was decided to build a new chapel. The chapel was designed by Rev Benjamin Owen, the minister of Zoar Chapel, Merthyr, and was completed in 1844 at a cost of £1,281.16s.11d. The chapel, as designed was built back from the street and incorporated four houses built in front of the chapel, which was approached by a paved area.

In 1876 a large schoolroom was built at a cost of £320, and a pipe organ was installed in 1894 at a cost of £280. Major renovations were carried out to the chapel during 1901-02. It was at this time the classical porch was built over the paved entrance way. The total cost of these renovations was £953.3s.7½d.

The pipe organ at Bryn Sion Chapel

When Dowlais was redeveloped in the 1960’s, Bryn Sion Chapel was not amongst the many buildings listed to be demolished, and was not included in the Compulsory Purchase Orders. By 1968 however, all the streets around the chapel had been demolished and the congregation had to walk through mud and debris to reach the chapel, and also the chapel was being badly vandalised, so the congregation reluctantly decided that they couldn’t carry on worshipping at the chapel, and they sold it to Merthyr Tydfil Borough Council.

The chapel was demolished in 1969.

Bryn Sion Chapel during the demolition of the houses around it.

Merthyr’s Chapels: Caersalem Chapel, Dowlais

Our regular feature on the chapels in Merthyr continues with one of the oldest chapels in Dowlais – Caersalem Welsh Baptist Chapel.

Old Caersalem Chapel in Well Street

At the beginning of the 19th Century, the Baptists of Dowlais had to travel to Zion and Ebenezer Chapels in Merthyr to worship.

In 1817 a Baptist Cause was founded and met in the old Bethel Chapel in the Lower High Street in Dowlais. In 1820 it was decided to build a new chapel, so a plot of land in Well Street, just under 300 square yards was leased from the Dowlais Iron Company for 99 years, at an annual rent of £1.14s.11d, and the chapel was built at a cost of £500. Within three years of opening, the congregation had increased and a gallery had to be built at a cost of £150. Caersalem was still considered as a branch of Zion until 1829 when it gained its independence.

As the congregation grew, a larger building was required and a new chapel designed by Mr William Lewis, foreman carpenter at the Dowlais Ironworks was built in 1833 at a cost of £509.9s.3d.

The congregation grew to such an extent that three new churches were established, originally as branches of Caersalem:- Elim in Penydarren, Hebron and Moriah in Dowlais, and Caersalem was itself refurbished in 1852 at a cost of £650. In 1863 a cottage situated underneath the chapel was converted into a vestry, and in 1873 a baptistery was installed.

By 1883 it became obvious that extensive repairs were needed to the chapel. The exterior of the chapel was redesigned and the interior refurbished and a new pipe organ installed in the gallery. Whilst the renovations were carried out, the congregation met at Tabernacle Chapel in Ivor Street (later Elim Chapel).

In 1906, as a result of the 1904 revival, the vestry beneath the chapel was extended by converting the chapel keeper’s cottage which was next to the original vestry. This work was done by members of the congregation at a cost of £245.

On 30 June 1924, the freehold of the chapel and the three cottages beneath the chapel were purchased from Messrs Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds. The chapel freehold was purchased for one shilling as it was a religious building, but the three cottages were bought for £30 each.

Caersalem Chapel was forced to close and was finally demolished in 1977 due to the redevelopment of Dowlais. A new chapel was built in 1977 in Pant and is still in use.

New Caersalem Chapel in Pant