Simon Sandbrook, J.P. (1850-1922)

Today we look at another of Merthyr’s prominent citizens, Simon Sandbrook, who died 95 years ago today.

Simon Sandbrook was born at Dolpwill, Pembrokeshire in 1850, the fifth son (of six) of Mr John Sandbrook. At the age of 18, he was apprenticed to Mr Levi James, an ironmonger in Cardigan, and following the expiration of his apprenticeship, he moved in 1872 to Pontypool to work with his brother William at the hardware business Davies and Sandbook.

In 1879, Simon Sandbrook moved to Merthyr and acquired the failing South Wales Ironmongery Company which had been established in the High Street. Within a short time, he had reversed the fortunes of the business, and established it as one of the foremost businesses in the town. In 1896, he took over the business of Mr John Sibbering, his father-in-law, a timber merchant which was located at the Great Western Station Yard. In addition he also became the agent for an important Midlands firm of builders and contractors.

Upon his arrival in Merthyr Tydfil, Simon Sandbrook became a member of Zoar Chapel, and within time was elected Treasurer, a position he held for 21 years, and later became senior deacon and trustee of the chapel, and throughout his life he made many gifts to the chapel, always quietly and unobtrusively, sometimes without his fellow deacons knowing. As well as his duties at Zoar Chapel, Simon Sandbrook also served as Treasurer of Brecon College and Treasurer of the Welsh Congregational Union.

Simon Sandbrook had five children – a son and four daughters. His son, Captain Rupert Sandbrook, served with distinction during the First World War, and fought with the 5th Battalion Welch Regiment at Gallipoli. His eldest daughter Gwladys became the wife of Henry Seymour Berry (later Lord Buckland) in 1905.

On 13 September 1922, just a month before his death, the deacons and members of Zoar made a special presentation of a solid silver salver to Simon Sandbrook in recognition of his service to the chapel. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to attend the service due to ill-health, but he was represented at the service by his son.

Simon Sandbrook died on 12 October 1922 and his funeral service at Zoar Chapel a few days later was attended by hundreds of people, the chapel being packed to its capacity and with people lining the streets. The service was conducted by Rev H E Rogers of Zoar Chapel; Rev Jacob Jones of Bethesda Chapel gave the eulogy saying:-

My dear friends, we are met under a shadow. He was a loving father, and an affectionate relative has crossed the bar. A friend whom we all loved is with us no longer. Our loss has been great. Mr Sandbrook of the Hawthorns is dead, and all Merthyr today is in tears, because we have lost one of our best and most influential citizens.”

Simon Sandbrook is now best known through the name ‘Sandbrook House’. Simon Sandbrook’s daughter Lillian moved into a house called Brynteg. In the mid 1930’s the house was converted into a rheumatic fever hospital and renamed Sandbrook House in honour of Simon Sandbrook.

Councillor Isaac Edwards, J.P.

Today we look at another important Merthyr resident – Isaac Edwards, business man, magistrate and mayor, who died 74 years ago today.

Isaac Edwards was born in Dowlais on 10 May 1872. Educated at the Dowlais Works School, at the age of thirteen he began working at the mill manager’s office at the Dowlais Ironworks.

At the age of 25, he left and opened an accountancy and auctioneering business in Dowlais. Within two years he was joined in the business by his elder brother and they began trading as Edwards Bros. As the business grew they purchased the practice of Mr Henry Lewis, auctioneer in Merthyr and opened a branch office in Market Square Chambers, Merthyr.

In 1910, he accepted an appointment as district valuer for the Caernarvonshire, Anglesey and West Denbighshire area in the Wales Division Board of the Inland Revenue. He remained in the position until 1916 when he returned to Merthyr and acquired the business of Messrs J M Berry & Son.

As a boy and young man, Isaac Jones was a member of Bethania Chapel, Dowlais where he continued to worship until he moved to North Wales. Upon his return to Merthyr he became a member of Zoar Chapel where he was elected as a deacon and became a Sunday School teacher. He was also elected President of the North Glamorgan Association of Independents; president of the Glamorgan County Association; chairman of the Independent Union Sustenation Fund, treasurer of Bangor College and in 1930 was elected president of the Welsh Congregation Union – only the fourth layman to be elected to the position since its formation.

He also made his mark outside the chapel. He was elected president of the Merthyr Chamber of Trade, as well as serving as secretary South Wales and Montmouthshire Federation and vice-president of the National Chamber of Trade. He was also appointed as a magistrate for the county in 1922. An Independent councillor since 1921, Isaac Edwards was elected as mayor in 1938.

Isaac Edwards died on Sunday 19 September 1943.

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.

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

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.

The Cymanfa Ganu

In years gone by, the most important event for the chapels of Merthyr (and indeed all of Wales) was the annual Cymanfa (literally translated as assembly or festival). As well as the Cymanfa Bregethu (preaching festival) there was also, more significantly and more famously the annual Cymanfa Ganu or Cymanfa Gerddorol (singing or music festival).

The first ever Cymanfa Ganu was held in Aberdare in 1873, and was inaugurated by Rev John Roberts (Ieuan Gwyllt) formally of Bethlehem Chapel, Caepantywyll, and the first Cymanfa Ganu was held in Merthyr Tydfil by the Calvinistic Methodists in 1874 at Pontmorlais Chapel.

Rev John Roberts (Ieuan Gwyllt)

The Welsh Baptists held their first Cymanfa Ganu in 1886 at Zion Chapel, Twynyrodyn and the Welsh Independents followed two years later holding their first Cymanfa Ganu in 1888 at Zoar Chapel.

Traditionally, the Welsh Baptists held their Cymanfa on Easter Monday, alternating between Zion Chapel, Twynyrodyn and Tabernacle Chapel; the Independents held their Cymanfa on Easter Tuesday at Zoar Chapel (and later at Gellideg Chapel) and the Methodists held their Cymanfa on the first Monday in May at Pontmorlais Chapel until it closed and then at Zoar Chapel until 1984 and afterwards at Hope Chapel.

As well as this, the Dowlais Baptists and Independents held their own separate Cymanfa’s, with the Independents holding theirs on Easter Monday and the Baptists on Easter Tuesday – both Cymanfa’s being held at Bethania Chapel. This continued until the 1960’s when both denominations amalgamated their Cymanfa’s to hold a joint Cymanfa on Easter Tuesday.

The Treharris and district Baptists and Independents also held their own Cymanfa’s – respectively on Easter Monday at Brynhyfyd Chapel and Easter Tuesday at Tabernacle Chapel.

Below are copies of: the programme for the 1911 Cymanfa Ganu held by the Methodist Chapels of Merthyr at Pontmorlais Chapel 106 years ago today; a programme for the Merthyr Independent Cymanfa of 1918; a programme for the Merthyr Baptist Cymanfa of 1937 and a programme for the Dowlais Joint Cymanfa of 1972.

Methodist Cymanfa 1911
Independent Cymanfa 1918

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baptist Cymanfa 1937
Dowlais Joint Cymanfa 1972

 

Joseph Williams – ‘Y Tyst’

by Carl Llewellyn

Joseph Williams was born at St Clears, Carmarthen, and came to Merthyr as a boy in 1842 to be apprenticed to his cousin Rees Lewis as a bookbinder. After serving his apprenticeship, he left Merthyr and went into business as a grocer at Llangattock. In 1872 he bought the printing business of Mr Thomas Howells (who had died the previous year) in Glebeland Street, which formed part of the block of buildings erected for Merthyr Express.

He continued at the premises for a few years before moving to other premises in Glebeland Place, extending his offices and putting in new machinery which helped with the journal publications. Some time after moving to the new premises, Williams took over the printing and publishing of the Welsh Congregational Newspaper. The newspaper had previously been published in Liverpool from its inception in 1864 under the title “Y Tyst Cymreig” (The Welsh Witness) then at Dolgellau, under the name of “Y Tyst a’r Dydd” (The Witness and the Day), but in the year 1892 the latter part of the title was dropped and it became known as “Y Tyst”.

Joseph Williams’ ‘Tyst’ Office in Glebeland Place

Joseph Williams also published two monthly periodicals – the religious magazine “Cenad Hedd” (Messenger of Peace) from 1880, and “Cronicl Cenhadol” (The Missionary Chronicle) established in 1897, recording the work done in the foreign mission field by the London Missionary Society, both magazines were well known throughout the Welsh Independent denomination.

He was a life-long teetotaller, and from his earliest years in Merthyr Tydfil was closely associated with the temperance organisations which came into being in later years. Notably he was indentified with the well known society “Cymmrodorion Dirwestol” a literary society devoted to the preservation of the Welsh language, his connection enabling him to render great service to Welsh literature. He was for many years a most zealous and efficient secretary of “Cymmrodorion Dirwestol”, and in that capacity he had a good deal to do with the promotion and production of the long series of successful Eisteddfodau held at the Temperance Hall on Christmas Day.

In religion Mr Williams was a Congregationalist. He was a member of Zoar Chapel, until 1850 when Joseph Williams with 59 other members of the chapel transferred themselves to Ynysgau, due to the demise of the minister Rev T. B. Evans, who’d lost the respect of his congregation through his persistent indulgence in intoxicating liquors. As a result Ynysgau Chapel almost became extinct. With the influx of members from Zoar, the congregation began to increase, giving the chapel a new lease of life. Only two of the 60 members of Zoar remained at Ynysgau – Joseph Williams and William Powell. Joseph Williams never coveted office or position, but his remarkable faithfulness to the church won him the foremost positions in Ynysgau Chapel – where he was prepared to lead others were willing to follow. In 1875 he was elected a deacon; he became the chapel treasurer from 1880-1892 and he also became the Sunday school superintendent.

In politics Joseph Williams was a Liberal and was ardent in the maintenance of his principles. He was regarded not to be extreme or bigoted, or self-opinionated in the slightest degree. He was a fair minded man ready to hear the other side, and meet it with kindly discussion. Through being an active member of the Nonconformist Committee he was co-operated in the political organisation of the Liberal party in Merthyr Tydfil.

In 1899 Ynysgau Chapel celebrated the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the cause plus the clearance of Chapel debt. The chairmanship was given to Joseph Williams who gave an account of his connection with the church during his 50 year membership, and he called upon his son D. D. Williams to read out a very ably written history of Ynysgau Chapel from its establishment.

Joseph Williams died in July 1903, and at his funeral service at Ynysgau Chapel was remembered as a naturally able man, and his acquaintance with Welsh literature was extensive. He possessed a large amount of knowledge which was very accurate, and was a man of sound judgement, an upright character and a credit to the community.

Merthyr Express – 22 July 1903

Merthyr’s Chapels: Bethesda Chapel

Over the years, Merthyr has been home to over 120 chapels, and they became one of the mainstays of life in the town. Every month I would like to post a history of a different chapel. Let’s start with one of the most famous of Merthyr’s chapels – Bethesda Welsh Independent Chapel.

Bethesda Chapel

In 1807, the minister at Zoar Chapel, Rev Daniel Lewis, embarked on a visit to London and other large towns to solicit gifts of money from sympathetic benefactors to help clear the debts at Zoar Chapel.

Even though this was the custom at the time, some members of the congregation took exception to the trip and to the expenses incurred by the minister, and instigated an investigation into the affair by senior ministers from surrounding areas. When the investigation exonerated Rev Lewis, his accusers, unhappy with the outcome, left to start their own church.

The congregation originally met in an upstairs room of a smithy near the spot where Salem Chapel now stands in Newcastle Street, and called it Philadelphia. After two years larger premises were necessary and the congregation moved to another blacksmith’s forge between Zoar Chapel and the Morlais Brook and called it Beth-haran.

It was while they were at Beth-haran that the congregation extended an invitation to Rev Methusalem Jones to come and preach at their small meeting. He eventually became their minister and the congregation decided to build their own chapel. They obtained a piece of land on a lease from Mr W Morgan, Grawen, for £5 per annum rent. They built the chapel at the start of 1811, and Rev Jones licensed it at Llandaff court on 23 July 1811.

Under the guidance of Methusalem Jones the congregation had grown from 90 to almost 300, thus a larger chapel was needed, and a new chapel was built in 1829 at a cost of £1,002. Whilst under Rev Methusalem Jones’ ministry, Bethesda became mother church to many other chapels including:- Bethania, Dowlais; Saron, Troedyrhiw; Ebenezer, Cefn Coed; Salem, Heolgerrig. Rev Methusalem Jones continued to minister to the congregation at Bethesda until his death on 15 January 1839 at the age of 71.

Following Rev Jones death, Rev Daniel Jones was invited to become Bethesda’s minister in 1840. At the time that Daniel Jones became minister, there was an influx of people coming to Merthyr from Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire seeking work in the various iron works; as Daniel Jones was known in those counties, a large number of the people coming to Merthyr started going to Bethesda Chapel thus greatly increasing the congregation.

Two years after becoming the minister however, Rev Jones had to have his right arm amputated, but because of the support and kindness he received from the congregation, he made a swift recovery and continued to preach at Bethesda until he left in 1855 to join the Anglican church.

It was at this time that the world famous composer Dr Joseph Parry was a member of Bethesda Chapel. He attended the chapel with his family until he emigrated to America in 1854. Indeed, Dr Parry’s mother, Elizabeth, had been working for Rev Methusalem Jones as a maid in her youth, and moved with him to Merthyr when he became the minister at Bethesda.

Following Daniel Jones departure, Bethesda was without a minister for three years, but the cause continued to flourish, and it was at this time that a number of members of Bethesda started a new cause at Gellideg Chapel.

By the late 1870’s it was decided to build a larger and more comfortable chapel, and on 24 June 1880 the foundation stone was laid by Mrs W T Crawshay, wife of William Crawshay the owner of Cyfarthfa Ironworks.  The architect was Mr John Williams of Merthyr and the builder was Mr John Francis Davies of Dowlais. The chapel was completed in 1881 at a cost of £1,200.

Following its closure due to a diminishing congregation in 1976, Bethesda Chapel was used as an arts centre for several years. The building then began to fall into dereliction until it was finally decided to demolish the building in 1995.

The site of Bethesda Chapel has now been landscaped and a mosaic by Oliver Budd based on a painting by the renowned local artist and historian Mr Dewi Bowen has been erected as a memorial to the chapel.

 

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to everyone.

As announced in the previous post, this blog is under ‘new management’.

My name is Steve Brewer – most of you know me, but for those who don’t, here is a bit about me.

I was born and bred in Merthyr and attended Cyfarthfa High School. I’ve been interested in local history for many years, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have several articles published in the Merthyr Historian, and I’ve had two books published in their own right.

I’m very excited about taking over this blog and I hope I am up to the task of continuing the good work of my predecessor. I would be delighted if everyone continues to enjoy the blog, and if you wish to contribute any articles to the blog – please get in touch at merthyr.history@gmail.com.

To mark the New Year, here is a copy of a New Year’s Card that was given to every member of Zoar Chapel Sunday School in 1939….

zoar-sunday-school-1939
Zoar Chapel Sunday School New Year Card 1939

The Birth of Non-Conformity in Merthyr

by Steve Brewer

Religious dissent in the Merthyr area has existed since the middle of the 16th Century. In the 1540’s, a man called Tomos Llewellyn of Rhigos translated William Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament into Welsh. Llewellyn travelled widely across North Glamorgan and left the seeds of his dissenting beliefs in what was then the village of Merthyr Tydfil. A number of the villagers adopted these beliefs and clung stubbornly to them when the persecution of the Dissenters got underway under the Stuart kings. No matter how stubborn they were in their beliefs, they still had to be converted. If they were found practicing their beliefs, they were given sentences of imprisonment or death.

It is unclear when exactly Non-Conformity started in earnest in Merthyr but we can be sure that it had firmly taken root by the beginning of the 1600’s. The most conclusive evidence regarding the birth of Non-Conformity in Merthyr can be found in the papers of Rev Nathaniel Jones, the rector of the Parish of Merthyr Tydfil between 1640 and 1662. Amongst his papers was found a manuscript, written at some time in the early 1650’s giving a history of the troubles in the town at the time of the Long Parliament – the English Parliament summoned in November 1640 by King Charles I to raise the money he needed to wage the second Bishops’ War against the Scots which eventually led to the English Civil War.

In the manuscript Rev Jones states: “We have, in Merthyr Tydfil parish, a fellowship of men and women, who have for some time been in the habit of holding conventicles, in which some have formulated an ecclesiastical constitution according to their own wishes, contrary to the prevalent laws and regulations of the State Church”. The document emphasizes that this had been going on for about 30 years, so it is safe to argue that the Non-Conformists started holding regular meetings in about 1620. It was then that Non-Conformists from both Merthyr and Aberdare started meeting at Blaencanaid Farm.

blaencanaid-farm
Blaencanaid Farm

Under the aegis of Oliver Cromwell, Parliament relaxed the laws against the Non-Conformists and they began to meet openly. Following the restoration of Charles II to the throne however, new stringent laws were passed against Non-Conformity, foremost amongst these was the Conventicle Act of 1664. The Non-Conformist worshippers, who now numbered between 300 – 400, had to return to meeting in secret at Blaencanaid. They were in constant danger of antagonism and arrest, so a number of men were elected as ‘watchers’ to keep watch whilst the meetings were taking place and warn the worshippers of any imminent danger. Despite all of their difficulties the congregation flourished, so a new meeting place was found at a barn belonging to Cwm-y-Glo Farm. As well as being larger, the new meeting place was more secluded and thus safer than Blaencanaid.

In 1689 the Toleration Act was passed which granted freedom of worship to all Dissenters. As a result the worshippers at Cwm-y-Glo decided to build a proper chapel for themselves. The landowner, Captain David Jenkins, granted them permission to build a chapel at Cwm-y-Glo which was completed in 1690. The congregation at Cwm-y-Glo at this time comprised of many different groups – Quakers, Presbyterians, Arminians and Anabaptists.

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The Ruins of Cwm-y-Glo Chapel

For many years, all went peacefully at Cwm-y-Glo until disputes arose over points of religious dogma, and a bitter argument followed. This is not surprising since the congregation of Dissenters comprised many different denominations. The main split came in 1741 when the Unitarians left to establish their own church at Hen Dy Cwrdd, Cefn Coed. In 1752, Cwm-y-Glo itself was closed when the remaining congregation moved to their new chapel in Merthyr town – Ynysgau.

ynysgau
Ynysgau Chapel

Non-conformity was firmly established by the end of the 18th Century. The Baptists established Zion Chapel in 1788 and Ebenezer Chapel in 1794, the Calvinistic Methodists established Pennsylvania (Pontmorlais) Chapel in 1793, and the Independents managed to establish Zoar Chapel in 1798 and Bethesda in 1807 as well as having acquired Ynysgau. Lastly, the Wesleyans established their chapel in 1796.

Between 1789 and 1850, at least forty places of worship were licensed in Merthyr, Dowlais and Penydarren alone.