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.

Dr Dyke of Merthyr

Today marks the anniversary of the death of another very important in Merthyr’s History – Dr T J Dyke.

Dr T J Dyke

Thomas Jones Dyke was born in Lower High Street in Merthyr on 16 September 1816. His father, Thomas Dyke, a pharmaceutical chemist, had moved to Merthyr from Bristol in the early 1800’s and set up a business in the town, first in partnership with D S Davies and then on his own at a premises at Court Street.

Thomas Dyke Jr. attended the schools of William Shaw in Gellifaelog, Taliesin Williams in Bridge Street and William Armsworth in Swansea, before finishing his education at the Bedminster House Academy in Bristol. In 1831 he began a three year apprenticeship with Mr David Davies, the surgeon at the Cyfarthfa Works, before going to London in 1834 to further his medical studies. He attended Granger’s School of Anatomy and Medicine and also Guys and St Thomas’ Hospitals, and passed as an apothecary in 1837 and as a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons the following year.

Returning to Merthyr, the now Dr Dyke set up practice, and in 1842 bought ‘The Hollies’, a cottage in Albert Street where he lived until 1894.

During the cholera epidemic of 1849 (see previous blog entry http://www.merthyr-history.com/?p=123), Dr Dyke was appointed Medical Officer of Health of one of the districts into which Merthyr had been divided due to the epidemic. Dr Dyke actually contracted cholera himself, but after battling the disease for six weeks, he eventually pulled through. Cholera hit Merthyr again in 1854 and 1866, and Dr Dyke was at the forefront of the fight against the disease.

In 1863, Dr Dyke was appointed as the first permanent Medical Officer of Health to the Merthyr Tydfil Board of Health, a position he retained until his death, the Board of Health being replaced by the Merthyr Tydfil Urban Council in 1894.

In 1876 the Hospital for Sick Children was founded in Bridge Street, and Dr Dyke was put in charge of the medical care there. The Hospital for Sick Children would grow and eventually become the General Hospital in 1888.

Dr Dyke’s services were recognised when he was appointed High Constable of Caerphilly Higher (which covered Merthyr at the time) in 1876 and 1877; and in 1886 he was appointed as a Justice of the Peace of Glamorganshire.

The above facts do not give justice to the immense service he provided to Merthyr. Throughout his life Dr Dyke fought to improve medical and sanitary conditions in the town, and as Medical Officer to the Board of Health, he used his influence to facilitate many of these improvements. Through the auspices of the Board of Health, Merthyr received a reliable and clean water supply in 1861, and between 1865 and 1868 a system of new sewers was built in the town leading to a new sewage farm ensuring that very little sewage was deposited directly into the River Taff.

Thomas Dyke died peacefully in his sleep on 20 January 1900. In his obituary in the South Wales Daily News on 22 January 1990 was written:

“He was closely identified with Merthyr and all its works for the greater part of a century. The public came to recognise him as one who did something to the benefit of the community at large. No man did better life saving work in South Wales”.

The 1849 Cholera Outbreak

In 1849 a deadly outbreak of cholera hit Merthyr Tydfil resulting in hundreds of deaths.

The summer of 1849 was a long, hot one, in which drought conditions prevailed. This caused many normal supplies of fresh water to dry up, and forced people to use much less safe sources of water. In cities and towns this often meant using water from sources which were seriously contaminated, like rivers and canals. Conditions were therefore just right for the serious spread of cholera. The 1849 outbreak began in Edinburgh in October of 1848, having arrived there from a German port. This outbreak would cause over 53,000 deaths in England and Wales. It reached Wales in May of 1849, the first outbreak occurring in Cardiff.

Lady Charlotte Guest wrote in her diary on 31 May: ‘There is great alarm at Cardiff about the cholera, which has broken out there with great violence.’

Meanwhile, The Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian began reporting the outbreak shortly after this, and gave advice to the people of the district how to deal with the outbreak:

‘THE STRICTEST CLEANLINESS SHOULD BE MAINTAINED – in person and in habitation – and having done all that can be done to effect this object two should calmly proceed with our usual occupations, placing firm reliance in the merciful providence of an All-wise deity. The circumstances in which we are placed should induce caution, but not nervous agitation or faithless misgivings. In the year 1832, when the cholera committed sad havoc in Swansea, a little boy told his mother that he had discovered an effectual remedy for the complaint in the 91st Psalm – a portion of scripture which we commend to the perusal of our readers.’

 In late May, cholera appeared in Merthyr. A four year old child caught the disease, and by the end of the month, six people had died. On 7 June, 22 deaths were reported in Merthyr and the same number two days later. In the following month, 349 deaths were reported.

On 31 July, Lady Charlotte Guest wrote in her diary: ‘I am sorry to say the accounts of the cholera at Dowlais are fearfully bad. They are beyond anything I could have imagined, sometimes upward of twenty people dying in one day, and eight men constantly employed in making coffins …one of our Infant School Mistresses is dead. One of the medical assistants sent down from London is dying, and the whole place seems in a most lamentable state.’

cholera-deaths

In July, 539 people died in Merthyr, and in August, the death toll reached an average of 36 a day. The infection continued to rage in the town until November when the winter rains helped to dispel the conditions in which the cholera thrived. At the end of the epidemic, Merthyr had experienced the second highest death toll in England and Wales (second only to Hull), with 1,682 having succumbed to the disease.

merthyrtydfil_town_sttydfilshospital_choleracemetary
St Tydfil’s Hospital and the Cholera Cemetery courtesy of Old Merthyr Tydfil (http://www.alangeorge.co.uk/index.htm)

If you have any information you would like to share, please leave a comment to the left or email me at merthyr.history@gmail.com