Ystradgynlais & District

History and Heritage

Bethany Chapel, Ystradgynlais

Bethany Chapel used to stand on Brecon Road, opposite Derwen Road, facing where the Astoria Cinema used to be. It has now been replaced by a large private house.

Originally constructed as a Welsh Congregational Chapel under the name of Brynawel in 1911, it was renamed to Bethany when the Baptists purchased it in 1946. It closed in 1990, and was subsequently demolished.

As a legal entity, Bethany Chapel had existed since 1902, first meeting in the vestry of Ainon Chapel, then in the old I.L.P. hall on Brecon Road, before getting their own building of wood and corrugated iron in 1921, that served them well until their purchase of Brynawel Chapel building in 1946.



The English Baptist Cause in Ystradgynlais

While the Welsh Baptists in the Upper Swansea Valley had been established a long time, initially at Nant-y-Ffin Chapel and then later at Noddfa, Abercrave and Moriah, Coelbren, as well as at Ainon, Ystradgynlais, the English Baptists were a much later arrival.

Initially, the English Baptists had met in Ainon Chapel vestry, then they met in the I.L.P. hall - this probably stands for Independent Labour Party.

Ystradgynlais Heritage Society's publication "Y Daflen" describes a building that was located at the juncture of Club Lane (which runs past the current Constitutional Club, Ystradgynlais) and Brecon Road, though on what side of Club Lane is not clear. It is described as being a corrugated metal building, and today is "the site of a former petrol station". It is possible this means opposite Club Lane, where the petrol station has been converted to a car wash, and stands in front of the bus station.

From 1921 to 1946, the chapel occupied a building near Ystradgynlais cross, as had been discussed in the 1919 article below, and which came to fruition in the 1921 article below. This is probably what is being described in "Y Daflen", rather than the I.L.P. hall.

Extracts from the Llais newspaper from 1916 to 1919 discuss the desire to build a chapel of their own:-

From the Labour Voice newspaper, 22nd January 1916:-

NEW DEACONS AT BETHANY

There was a good attendance at Bethany English Baptist Church, on Sunday evening, when the Rev D J Davies, Ainon, preached the charge to three new deacons, namely: Messrs J Blewitt, G Gardiner, and Sergeant W Williams with Mr F Smith as elder. Four new members were also received into the church.


From the Labour Voice newspaper, 18th March 1916:-

SOCIAL AT BETHANY

There was a large gathering at the I.L.P Hall on Wednesday last when a social tea was held under the auspices of the Bethany English Church. Over 400 tickets had been sold for the occasion. There was a large band of willing helpers, and everything was successfully arranged. Messrs David Bowen and Arthur Jones were the secretary and treasurer of the committee.


From the Labour Voice newspaper, 28th June 1919:-

AN APPEAL

The members of the Bethany English Baptist Church are at present appealing for assistance for their building fund. Bethany is the only English Baptist cause in the Valley beyond Morriston, with the exception of the newly formed cause at Pontardawe, and an uphill struggle has been maintained through the years to keep the church alive. The members now worship at the I.L.P. Hall and have secured an admirable plot for building on Brecon Road, near the Cross. The appeal, which is meeting with a ready response, is being made to all Christian friends, and it is hoped that a Baptist church worthy of the cause and of the denomination will soon be erected at Ystradgynlais.


From the Labour Voice newspaper, 17th September 1921:-

NEW BAPTIST CHURCH OPENED AT YSTRADGYNLAIS

To the members of the Bethany English Baptist Church, Sunday last was an auspicious day, and the opening of the new church was welcomed with deep satisfaction. It has been a hard task for this small community to build a new church but with praiseworthy perseverance they have courageously kept their ideal insight and at last they have achieved their main object and they now possess a church worthy of the denomination.

Their old meeting place the ILP Hall has served them well but the dominant thought always existed that a meeting place which was used for other purposes, was not a fit sanctuary to hold divine service.

It is practically 19 years since the Bethany English Baptist Church had its birth at Ystradgynlais and through that period, they have passed through many trials and vicissitudes. The majority of the members have remained staunch; some of the old faces have left but new ones have taken their place.

This new edifice has been erected on the land just inside Brecon Road and is a wooden structure, faced with corrugated iron and built on a concrete foundation. The church has a holding capacity of roughly 250.

The interior decorations are not quite completed but the building itself has been well constructed. At the far end of the room is a pulpit on a closed platform. The walls are varnished and electric light is being installed. The whole of the labour has been carried out directly and by voluntary assistance of a number of enthusiastic members of the church. The whole of the construction is been in the hands of Mr Ives of Abercrave, who is one of the deacons of the church.

It is proposed to add ante-rooms later on and the church, when completed will be a fine edifice.

The opening took place on Sunday last and large congregations were present. The Rev D J Davies Ainon and first pastor of the church officiated at the morning service and his inspiring address was attentively listened to.

The present pastor the Rev T Griffiths Rees officiated at the afternoon service was assisted by the Rev D J Davies.

Mr Griffiths eloquently referred to the new church which they were all proud to see opened. He appealed to the members to subscribe to the building fund as generously as possible. A heavy debt has been incurred and until this was wiped out, the future work of the church would be seriously handicapped.

The Rev T G Rees again preached to a large audience in the evening.

The formal opening took place on Thursday when the Rev Owen of Llanelly preached. Commencing on Saturday next, a special 10 days mission is to be held and meetings will take place in the church every evening at 7 o'clock. The mission will be conducted by Mr David Matthews, a well-known speaker. It is hoped that now the church has been opened, the membership will greatly increase.

The supposed drawback is now removed and all English Baptists of Ystradgynlais are accordingly invited to join the church.


Holman Hunt

Holman Hunt was probably fully-named William Holman Hunt, in honour of the famous early 19th century painter. He was involved with the running of Glendale Bakery, Ystradgynlais, and married Rita [Veronica] Kingston in 1931. By 1939, the family were living at Glendale, Ynyscedwyn Road, Ystradgynlais.

Holman was also a highly respected pastor of the English Baptist Church in Ystradgynlais for 35 years.



The Opening of Bethany Chapel

From the South Wales Voice, Saturday 14th September 1946:-

OPENING SERVICES OF BETHANY ENGLISH BAPTIST CHURCH YSTRADGYNLAIS
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SPEAKERS AND OTHERS AT THE FORMAL OPENING [pic title]

The opening services of Bethany English Baptist Church, Ystradgynlais were held last Wednesday. The first meeting was held outside the new church, formerly known as Brynawel, and was conducted by Mr G F Austin, President of the West Wales Baptist Association. The opening prayer and scripture reading were taken by the Rev T Trevor Evans, B.A., B.D., Briton Ferry, Secretary West Wales Baptist Association. An appropriate hymn was sung and the key was handed by the honorary pastor, the Rev W Holman Hunt, to the oldest member Mrs J Havard, Church Terrace, Ystradgynlais, who spoke of the early days of the English Baptist cause at Ystradgynlais, when meetings were held at Ainon Vestry. She was happy to think that the little cause had grown, and wished every success to the new Bethany. Mrs Havard then turned the key in the door and entered, followed by the pastor, the president, and deacons, Mr Walter Melville and Mrs James Mallows.

At the 3pm service, the pastor formally presented the new Baptistry to the Church as a token of his love for the cause and all it stands for. The Rev T Trevor Evans then dedicated the Baptistry to the Glory of God. The president for the afternoon service then called upon the pastor to give the opening address. Mr Hunt recalled the early days when services were held at the old I.L.P. hall, and how as a boy he was introduced to Bethany by the late Mr Fred Smith, a deacon and founder of the cause. Having been brought up in Bethany, he had learned to love the little church. He referred to the several moves the church had made during its history, from Ainon vestry to the ILP hall, where only Sunday services could be held. The prayer meetings were held in the homes of the members. The next move to the building near the cross, where they had spent 25 years and before leaving were able to clear the outstanding debt. The pastor then pointed out that if a line was drawn from the vestry to the old ILP hall and a line drawn from old Bethany to the new church it would form a perfect Maltese Cross, typifying that the cause at Bethany was on the right foundation, namely The Cross of Christ.

The following speakers extended their congratulations and best wishes to the pastor, deacons and church members on their achievement: the Rev Hubert Davies, Ainon Welsh Baptist; Rev Eric Dainton, Bethany, Seven Sisters; Rev W Thomas, Beulah, Cwmtwrch; and the Rev T Trevor Evans, B.A., B.D., Briton Ferry. The service concluded with the singing of an appropriate hhymn. Tea was provided for all visitors and friends at Old Bethany.

At the evening service, the pastor presided and in the course of his remarks referred to the Gift Day that was held recently and he was pleased to announce that the amount received to date was £120. He thanked all that had helped to make the effort a success. Thanks were also due to the children who had collected 17,000 capital-ship half-pennies, amounting to £35 to be used on the repair of the pipe organ. A hearty invitation was given to all to attend the services at Bethany. The special speaker for the evening was the Rev A C Noble, Maesteg, who delivered an eloquent address.

Mrs Margaret Morgan was at the organ.


The Baptistry was a full-immersion font, situated near the front of the chapel.



The photograph for the opening of Bethany Chapel in the former Brynawel building, 1946


The photograph below shows where Bethany Chapel (and formerly Brynawel Chapel) stood, the large reddish house facing the road at the left-hand far end of the photograph.

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