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The Royal Commission aka The Welsh Church Commission

  A little historical background

One long-standing grievance of the Welsh Nonconformists was the role of the Church of England as the ‘established’, i.e. official, Church for the whole of England and Wales. The argument was that, as Nonconformity was the main religion of Wales, there should not be an ‘established’ Church. For its part, The Church would argue that it was the largest single denomination in Wales. There were other arguments but these are beyond the scope of this review.


It took a new Liberal Government in 1906 to finally sow the seeds for the disestablishment of the Church and a Royal Commission was appointed to obtain the evidence to support the views of the Nonconformists. The Commission finally reported in November 1910. The report and subsequent lobbying resulted in the Welsh Church Act being laid before Parliament. Twice rejected by the House of Lords, the act finally received Royal Assent in 1914 but its implementation did not take effect until 1920 because of the First World War.

  The work of The Commission

The Commission was appointed on the 21st June, 1906:


“……Whereas We have deemed it expedient that a Commission should forthwith issue to inquire into the origin, nature, amount, and application of the temporalities, endowments, and other properties of the Church of England in Wales and Monmouthshire; and into the provision made, and the work done, by the Churches of all Denominations in Wales and Monmouthshire for the spiritual welfare of the people, and the extent to which the people avail themselves of such provision, and to report thereon:………”


A ‘Central Evidence Committee’ was 'convened' to arrange for the collation of the Nonconformist statistics that the Commission would require. The original idea of the committee was to obtain these statistics on a parish basis. However, this basis proved rather impractical (more on this later) for the counties even though some did attempt it. Glamorgan was one of the first, if not the first, to adopt a chapel basis and many counties followed suite.


Having obtained the statistics, the Commission then met in public to question selected witnesses about them and other relevant matters.


For the Rhondda Urban District, the following Nonconformist witnesses were examined:


(1) 27th/28th  February, 1907 – The Reverend William Morris (Noddfa, Treorchy) – representing the Baptist Chapels.

(2) 1st March, 1907 - Mr William Evans Thomas – representing the Congregational Chapels (Well atleast, that was the idea).

(3) 1st March, 1907 – Mr Thomas Thomas , secretary of Bodringallt, Ystrad – concerning his chapel report.

(4) 1st March, 1907 – Mr. Rhys Samuel Griffiths – representing the Calvinistic Methodist Church.

(5) 16th/17th April, 1907 – The Reverend James Whittock (Zion, Llwynypia and superintedent of the Rhondda Primitive Methodist circuit) – representing the connexion.

(6) 15th October, 1907 – The Reverend John Humphreys – generally about the Wesleyan Methodist organisation in Wales, statistics, doctrine…..

(7) 31st March, 1908 – The Reverend Henry Adams – concerning the statistics of the Cardiff (English) Methodist District.

(8) 1st May, 1908 – Mr Edgar Rees Jones – overall statistics of the Nonconformist denominations for the Rhondda Urban District.


A Unitarian witness was also examined who had brought with him statistical information concerning the churches in Glamorgan and other counties. However, the Chairman refused to take this into evidence as the information could not be verified by other sources e.g., yearbook.


If you should wonder why such a large number of witnesses represented what is really quite a small area in terms of the total area of Wales and Monmouthshire, a few clues can be gleamed from the various comments made during the initial sittings of the Commission, before the public examination of witnesses, and various comments made in the early months of the public examination. It seems that the intention of the Comiision was not to consider every county in Wales, just typical ones. Glamorgan was singled out as firstly its population was the largest and add to that the population being migratory. Only three districts in Glamorgan acted on their own in the collation of statistics - Cardiff, Swansea and the Rhondda and I suspect that this was done under the influence of the Central Evidence Committee being aware of the wishes of the Commission to consider such typical places which encountered quite specific challenges due to the rapidly increasing population.


I do not intend to copy every single word of these witnesses. Merely to give extracts which add value to these pages or the site in general or illustrate specific points. However, the evidence of Mr Edgar Rees Jones is quite enlightening, at least for this reader, so that will be reviewed in detail.


Now, although this site places its emphasis on the Nonconformist chapels, the work of the Commission was to inquire also into the Church of England. It would be somewhat biased to completely ignore the role of the Church in the Rhondda. Its witnesses also had some most interesting things to say.


For the Rhondda Urban District, the following Church witnesses were examined:


(1) 12th/13th February, 1907 - The Reverend Canon William Lewis, Vicar of Ystradyfodwg.

(2) 12th February, 1907 - The Reverend William Thomas, Vicar of Porth.

(3) 13th February, 1907 - Mr William Hutchings - on the work of the Church in Porth.

(4) 13th February, 1907 - The Reverend John Rees, Vicar of Tylorstown.


The printed evidence that follows is transcribed in blue for a question (and comment from the Commission) and  red for an answer to further distinguish it from my own comments (in green). Links to other evidence or detail are shown in Bold type. The evidence is supplemented by selected images of the text, specially edited extracts from the denominational Year Books and various schedules and other documents as published or reconstructed to make following the arguements a little easier.


These documents are presented alongside the verbal evidence. To move to the next section (or even the previous one), just use the two navigation buttons - you can, quickly, return to this page by selecting 'Home' from the main menu.

  The Report and its 'fallout'

The Report occupies some 73 printed pages. I will just copy some selected extracts to give a flavour of it or where the Rhondda is specifically mentioned.


The rest of the volume is taken by notes and memoranda by various Commissioners whom, it seems, felt that the Report did not deal fully with its terms of reference or sought to clarify and even correct other matters. Some of these memoranda occupy even more pages than the Report itself. Again, with one exception, as it provides more value, only extracts of these memoranda are copied (Other memoranda or 'reports' do not provide any additional value so are not copied):-


Memorandum by Archdeacon Owen Evans and Lord Hugh Cecil, M.P.

Memorandum by J.H. Davies on Chapel and Church Statistics

Memorandum by J.Morgan Gibbon (Full text)