Pillars Of Faith
Remembrance of Nonconformist and other chapels in The Rhondda
What This Site Is About
The Rhondda is synonymous with coal. Coal brought the people to 'The Valleys'. The people brought their religion with them.
And almost as fast as houses were built to serve the ever increasing population, chapels were built to serve their faith. There is a most famous quotation that by 1905 there were 151 Nonconformist chapels with a seating capacity of 85,105 in the Rhondda Urban District.
But for the people of The Rhondda, the chapel was much more than a place of worship. Much of the social life of the people revolved around the chapel.
Yet it is not so easy to explain the reasons for the decline in chapel attendance. The decline in the mining industry played, I believe, only a small part in this. But what is for certain, one by one the congregations diminished and the chapels closed. Many fell into disrepair and many of these were demolished.The lucky ones were acquired by developers who retained the structure and put it to good use.
And this year (2009), I heard that several chapels with a close connection to my own family were forced to close and these could also vanish in the near future.
That realisation inspired me to create this site. To attempt to tell as complete a story as possible about the chapels, the people who served them and the people who worshipped there.
The focus is on Nonconformist chapels as that was the predominant force. Other chapels are also featured.
My journey to these locations is full of mixed emotions. Elation when I see the building still standing. Especially if it restored. Respect where I see a new building but named after the chapel that stood there. And total depression should I encounter an 'oasis' or an empty land plot.
So join me on this trip down memory lane. I hope you will enjoy the journey.
Some brief notes about dates, locations, site coverage and content.
When the site says 'The Rhondda', that means the area covered by the now defunct Rhondda Urban District. This was born out of the Parish of Ystradyfodwg (minus the Rhigos Hamlet) plus parts of the Parishes of Llanwonno and Llantrisant.
The entire village of Trehafod is also included although part of this was in the Pontypridd Urban District.
The main site content is accessed from the 'The Chapels' menu selection. These menus should work for the majority of browsers but if you experience any issues with them then please forward feedback.
The content is split into four sections. The first section you will see is the 'Overview' which includes photographs, past and present, of each chapel, basic information and some brief notes.
From this page you can select further content for each chapel beit its ministers or membership statistics - these tabs are only active where there is information to display. These statistics reflect a crucial period in the fortunes of Rhondda chapels - the affect of the 1904 Revival. General Five-Year statistics are also included. The problem with statistics is that you are at the mercy of the source documents - usually the denominational Year Books. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, they were not always up to date and quite often previous year's figures were carried over. In the cases where this is obvious - both sets of figures being identical - the later year is marked *. The Congregational chapels seem to suffer the most in this respect, as can be seen, which rather devalue their purpose. From 1950, the membership figures for the Welsh Independent Chapels are taken from their own publication - "Rhestr o'r tanysgrifiodau" - rather than The Congregational Year Book (which actually stopped publishing the Welsh statistics in the 1960s). Even so, figures are still being carried forward as it appears that not all chapels were responsive in providing up-to-date information.
The Calvinistic Methodists publish the richest set of statistics so these are shown in more detail, as available. Apart from the Year Books, they are also sourced from Annual Reports of the Monthly Meeting and, in some cases, the records of the individual chapels. Some years are not currently available so the records as published here are those of adjacent years.
For the Baptist denomination, I have also made use of the Annual Reports of the Associations. Not all years are available from this source so these are filled in by their YearBook/Diary. There are Association records for both the Welsh-speaking and English-speaking churches and I have included those columns that are common to both. The Welsh churches, for most years, did not show net totals but I have included these as if. Both Associations included special statistics reflecting the effect of the Revival and these are quite illuminating - for the Welsh churches one can now see that the reducion in membership during 1905 was generally much greater than the end of year figures suggest. Just one further comment. If you look closely at these figures, which I have transcribed without correction, they do not always 'add up'. It, I suspect, is possible that some churches were reporting their own year-end figures rather than the common year-end of the Association.
The fourth section - 'Extra Content' - is intended to include any other detail of a chapel as I discover it - alternative photographs of its exterior and photographs (unfortunately quite rare) of the interior. It is also hoped to include group photographs of the worshippers etc. engaged in chapel-associated activities, handbills, memoirs, newspaper articles etc. In fact anything connected with its history.
I have, wherever possible, quoted the actual date of construction. Most chapels in their histories, and quite rightly so, will quote the date of the founding of the cause. Unfortunately, confusion will arise as sometimes it is this earlier date that appears on the inscription plaque of the chapel. The date shown after the chapel name is either the founding date or the date of the official formation of the church which varies according to the denomination.
Another small issue is the exact town that a chapel is located in. The Rhondda has been described as 'The Long Street' where one town merges into another without any clear indication where one ends and the other starts. Also, town boundaries have shifted over the years. A good case in point are three chapels located on the fringes of Llwynypia and Tonypandy. The Baptist Handbook shows Caersalem to be in Llwynypia whereas directly opposite is the English Congregational and their Year Book shows this to be in Tonypandy (although early Year Books also showed this to be in Llwynypia). The Calvinistic Methodist (Bethania), very close to Caersalem, is also shown to be in Llwynypia. Yet all three , as the site now states, are in present-day Tonypandy.
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