Cymdeithas Hanes Resolfen History Society

A web log for the Resolven History Society which publishes articles and stories related to Resolven and the immediate surroundings.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Melincwrt Chapel 1799 - 1870

A brief history of the Independent cause in Melincwrt and Resolfen

Part One – Melincwrt Chapel 1799 – 1870

In commemorating the Independent Cause in Resolfen we are dealing with the longest unbroken institution in the village, certainly at certain periods, the most influential.

The history of the cause here starts with the Rev. Thomas Bowen receiving a call to be the minister of Maes-yr- haf, Neath in 1795.

There were three members of Maes-yr-haf in the Neath valley at this time. They were Ann Davies, Cefn Gelli;William Griffiths, Bottle and Glass (a local tavern), and his wife Eleanor. Mr Bowen was invited to preach at Cefn Gelli and he came one Sunday afternoon. However, so many had gathered that he had to preach out of doors. A little later, he came to preach at William Griffiths’ house, and again found a goodly number present. He then came to Pentre-isaf, the house of Mary Cook (near the mill at Melincwrt) to preach.

At this time the Melincwrt ironworks were working and this had brought an in-migration of people into the rural Vale of Neath. Following the success of his early visits a licence to preach was taken out for both William Griffiths and Mary Cook’s houses. The Rev. Bowen called a “cyfeillach” (a fellowship meeting) in William Griffiths’ house.

Owing to the fact that Mary Cooks’ house was too small, later meetings were held in the coke house and the cast house at the ironworks. The congregation grew steadily but had no church in which to worship and it was therefore decided to build a chapel. Some wanted the building at Ynysfach ( Resolfen today), others wanted a site near the mill. Eventually, land was leased at Llwyncoedwr ( farm) from Morgan Jones for 500 years at half a guinea per annum.

The chapel ( which still stands and is open for burials , is currently a victim of health and safety legislation ) was built in 1799 and opened in 1800. The church then became independent of Maes-yr-haf and the Rev. Bowen became the first minister. Ironically, the Melincwrt ironworks closed shortly afterwards causing an out-migration of people from the area. The cause was saved by a religious revival in 1806 and many new members were added to the church. Among them were Gwenllian Jenkins, Nantygleisied; Jenkin David and Phillip Griffiths, who later became a minister at Alltwen, Pontardawe. A further revival in 1816 brought in another flood of members including Daniel Griffiths who later became minister of his home church. Interestingly, the records show that a stable was built in 1820 at a cost of £11.
Waterfall Terrace ( previously known as Y Ffwrnas -the furnace, a classic terrace of industrial cottages and home to the workers of Melincwrt ironworks
David Griffiths proved a popular co-minister of both Melincwrt and Maes-yr-haf, however a scandal ensued in 1825 when he was accused of fathering an illegitimate child and was subsequently banned from preaching. He worshipped at Melincwrt while his case was reviewed and a year later the deacons at Neath had not come to a decision. However the deacons at Melincwrt decided to exonerate him and asked him to preach again ( Thomas Bowen being an old man by this stage). When the Neath people heard of this many came to Melincwrt to worship on Sundays. Eventually, Soar Chapel was built for him ( now a warehouse for a garden centre – Zoar’s Ark), and it soon became the strongest church in Neath. David Griffiths died in 1846, and D.Rhys Phillips in his “History of the Vale of Neath”, described the occasion,

“He ministered with gracious power and eloquence. He received the burial of a prince; the whole valley – a sight never seen before or since – turned out to his funeral.”

In 1841, Melincwrt Chapel and the cemetery was walled for £7 -3 – 6 and in 1844 the seating was improved and the gallery was erected at a cost of £35-16-5.

The Sunday school had been started in 1815, and the infamous Report on Education in Wales (The Blue Books) in 1847 says that the building and furniture were in good condition. There were ten teachers: eight men, two ladies; fifty four scholars of which 24 attended day school and 25 were literate.

After being without a minister for a year, the church gave a call to the Rev. Joseph Jones, Bristol, by a majority vote. Zephaniah Evans, the church secretary laid the blame for the poor appointment on the influence of newcomers. Thomas Evans, the Mill, who was a deacon and a lay preacher opposed the call to Joseph Jones. The new minister had only been in post a few weeks when his intemperate ways became obvious. He was disciplined on many occasions for drunkenness and within a twelve month was asked to leave ( he became minister of the newly formed Baptist cause at Ynysfach, however again after a year he was asked to leave).

In August 1848, the Rev. John Ridge, Cendl was inducted as minister. His ministry was successful. He received 17 into membership on one Sunday alone. However, owing to the fact that he continued to reside at Swansea, the arrangement was viewed as far from satisfactory. He terminated his ministry on amicable terms in 1850.

A census was held throughout Wales in 1850 to ascertain the level of attendance at a place of worship. The total for Melincwrt was 180 for two meetings. It must be remembered that up until the 1920s, the overall congregation would be greater than the actual membership and the membership in 1854 stood at 54.

In 1850 a new lease had to be made as all the trustees of the original lease had died and not replaced. The new lease continued on the same terms as the original and new trustees appointed.

Throughout the first fifty years, the Independent cause had been in a very close relationship with the Calvinistic Methodist cause at Ynysfach, Zephaniah Evans writes ‘for many years ( degau o flynyddoedd) they had been as two sisters, Melincwrt and Ynisfach together in all things except the cyfeillach and the communion’. Joint prayer meetings had been held during the cholera outbreak of 1849, and for many years after that, a joint thanksgiving service was held once a month to thank the Almighty for his deliverance.

A call was extended to the Rev. John Thomas of Addoldy Chapel Glynneath to be minister of Melincwrt as well in 1850. His Sunday was certainly a very trying one by modern standards. On one Sunday each month he would walk to Hermon, Ystradfellte by 10 o’clock, then walk to Melincwrt ( some six miles) by 3 o’clock and deliver his final sermon at Addoldy ( some four miles away) by 6 ‘clock. However, the records show that he did have a loan of a horse on that day occasionally!! The minister attended the ‘cyfeillach’ ( fellowship meeting) on a Friday evening except when a preparatory meeting was held on the Saturday evening before communion. In those stricter days, anyone who did not attend the preparatory meeting without good reason would not be allowed to take communion the following day. However, John Thomas describes the nature of the church as lively ( ‘bywiog’ ) and warm (‘gwresog’) and the people were described as honest and godly people. John Thomas eventually accepted a call to minister in Liverpool in 1854, where he later became Dr. John Thomas and one of the leaders of the Independent ( ‘Yr Annibynnwyr’) denomination.

The next minister was the Rev. William Watkins of Maesteg. He walked over the mountain to get to Melincwrt on two Sundays each month. Not surprisingly to perform this feat in all weather proved very taxing on Mr Watkins and his ministry was ended after a year.

The minister of Zoar ( Neath ), the Rev.John Matthews, next took charge of the church and he proved very popular with the members in both churches , as his preaching style was similar to that of Daniel Griffith. The Rev. Rees Morgan came from Glynneath in 1865 and ministered at Melincwrt until 1870.

In the meantime the village of Resolfen ( not Ynysfach by this time) was developing as a sizable settlement and Melincwrt was no longer central to the population. The old chapel was now too small for its population and larger premises were needed. It was decided to build a new chapel at Resolfen.

This article is taken from an extended essay by Mr Phylip Jones


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very nice site.
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9:08 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great site!
Brings back memories of my childhood!
This was my playground!
Best Wishes
Anthony O'Carroll

3:49 pm  

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