Ystradgynlais & District

History and Heritage

Construction and Expansion of St Cynog's Church

The Voice newspaper for December 15th 1961 celebrated the centenary of the current St Cynog's Church with a large article detailing its history, including the history of additions, and repairs made to the church, as well as an addition that was never made because Adelina Patti fell out with the vicar!

CENTENARY OF YSTRADGYNLAIS PARIS CHURCH

On Monday, the Parish Church of Ystradgynlais will celebrate the centenary of its Consecration by the Rt. Revd Connop Thirlwall, Lord Bishop of St. David's, on December 18, 1861.
Of course the church at Yastradgynlais has a much longer history than that of a mere 100 years. It is generally assumed that there was a church here as far back as the fifth or sixth century.
There are however remains of a church that was built about the 13th century and which was demolished when the present one was built 100 years ago.
This old church was situated a little nearer the main road than the present church. According to descriptions, it was a small rectangular building with a porch entrance on the west side and a gallery across the middle of the nave.
With the great increase in the population of the parish during the first half of the last century this building proved completely inadequate.
Thus the Rector at the time, the Rev. Thomas Walters began to make arrangements for its extension and renovation.

NEW CHURCH
However, it was generally agreed that it would be far more satisfactory to build a completely new church. This was decided at a meeting of the Easter Vestry on December 1, 1859.
The specifiction of the new church drawn up by Benjamin Ferrey, Charing Cross, London, and the contract for the building of it was given to John Gabe, Merthyr Tydfil. The cost was to be £1340.
It was originally agreed that a sum of £1000 should be borrowed and that this should be paid by a levy of a Church-rate. But there was severe opposition and eventually it was paid for by public subscription.

THE OPENING
There is an interesting account of the opening of the church reported in the 'The Cambrian' dated June 7, 1861:
"1st and 2nd Class Return Tickets at a single fare for the double journey will be issued at all stations on the Swansea Vale Railway by the 8.15 and 12.43 up train to Ynysgeinon from whence there will be omnibuses for the conveyances of passengers to Ystradgynlais."
The Railway Company were thus running excursions to the opening of the church. These lasted two whole days. Highlights were the visit of the Bishop to preach in English and of the Rev. David Parry, Vicar of Llywel, who preached in Welsh. A report in the same newspaper comments on this Welsh service as follows:
"The last evening , mot only was every sitting in the church occupied, but the forms and benches that could be borrowed were procured and placed in different aisles.
Notwithstanding all this, a great number of people failed to procure admission in the service"
"Mr Parry of Llywel - considered to be one of the best and most popular preachers in Wales - nearly 80 years of age: highly gifted and eloquent (doniol, as the Welsh would say) preached for one hour and a quarter."
Although the church was opened for services in June 1861, for reasons that are not known it was not consecrated until December 18 of that year.

TOWER AND BELLS
In the specification of the new church which is still extant, provision was made for a tower to be built on the north-west side in which was intended to be hung a peal of bells.
Tradition has it that Madam Patti had promised to be responsible for half the cost of both the tower and the bells. It is said that on account of a difference of opinion which she had at the time with the Rector her generous offer was withdrawn. There is, however, still to be seen in the porch of the church a doorway that was to lead up to a spiral staircase to the tower.

LOCAL IRON WORKS
A new feature in the architecture of the building was the use of short cast iron pillars supporting the arcading along the south and north aisles. It is probable that these pillars were made at the local Ynyscedwyn Iron Works. The object of using them was to enable everyone to have an uninterrupted view of the clergyman.
In days gone by the parish had a very close association with the Gough and Aubrey families of Ynyscedwyn House. There are several memorials to the families in the church, the oldest dating back to 1648.
The most recent is the beautiful stained glass east window in memory of Fleming Richard Dansey Aubrey Gough and his wife Cecil Clare.

DONATED ORGAN
Another benefactress to the church was Miss Elizabeth Ann Thomas, Castle Bank, who gave the fine organ, the oak Altar and reredos as well as som very well designed stained glass windows.
During the last 100 tears the parish has been served by a succession of devoted clergy. The Rev Thomas Walters who built the church was a native of Trallong, near Brecon, and was the Rector for 18 years. In 1874 he left to become Vicar of Llansamlet and it was he who also built the parish church there.
Rev. ELD Glanley who followed him was incumbent here for 38 years and saw Ystradgynlais grow from a small village to a small township. The streets opposite the church and Rectory are named after him.

DEVOTED PRIEST
In 1912, Rev James Jones became the Rector. He is still remembered as a devoted parish priest and left in 1923 to take a small country living in Pembrokeshire.
He was followed in 1924 by Rev Ilar Edwards whose social work among the poor during the hard days of the depression is still recalled with gratitude. Unfortunately after only six years his ministry was cut short and he died in January 1930. His daughter is the wife of the present Archdeacon of Gower (Mrs DM Luther Thomas). She spent most of her young days in Ystradgynlais.
Rev DL Williams was inducted Rector in 1930 and remained here until his retirement in 1958. He was an Honorary Canon of Brecon Cathedrak and Rural Dean of East Gower.
During his incumbency the church was enlarged and beautified by the addition of the well appointed clergy and choir vestries, the organ, the Altar and reredos. He was also responsible for the gift of the magnificent Church Hall by Mrs Colonel Gough, Ynyscedwyn.

(picture is of REV HYWEL HUGHES)

PRESENT RECTOR
In 1959 he was followed by the present Rector, the Rev Hywel Hughes who was inducted on June 24 of that year at a memorable service when the church was filled to capacity and a sumptious supper of welcome was provided afterwards in the Church Hall.
In the Churchyard there are some very interestinng ancient monuments. Built into the East wall of the present church are two stones of great antiquity.
They are the hic iaicit stone and the adiune stone. Experts claim that they are parts of two grave stones that date from the fifth or sixth century. There is also to be seen in the Churchyard the grave of Owain Dafydd, a celebrated local bard of the early 19th century.
There is too, the memorial to John Thomas Reese, a local doctor surgeon who was killed by lightning on the Drum Mountain one Sunday as he was on his way to attend to a patient. The cost of this stone was paid for by the people of Ystradgynlais as a mark of their esteem and respect for him.

DESCENDANT
The Rev Dr Thomas Walters is also buried here. His body was brought back from Trallong, where he had retired, to be buried in the Churchyard. It is interesting to note that the present Vicar of Pontardawe, the Rev Canon T R Walters James is a descendant of Dr Walters and is a native of Ystradgynlais.
The people of Ystradgynlais are proud of the long and distinguished history of their parish and church.
At thge moment they are concerned with the restoration of the Parish Church. The roof and west wall are in urgent need of attention. This work is being carried out in three stages.
The first has already been completely, namely the bringing down of the bell and b ell turret (How everyone is missing the Bell, and not least the churchpeople themselves!)
The second stage of the work which will be begun after Christmas is the strengthening of the interior of the rood with tie-beams.

NEW BELL TURRET
In the summer it is hoped to pull down the whole of the west wall and rebuilt it as well as a new bell turret where the bell will be rehoused. The estimated cost of this work is in the region of £7000 and every effort will be made to clear this debt as soon as possible.
There are I'm sure many friends of Ystradgynlais who wish us well as we celebrate this important mile stone in our long history.
The churchpeople here are very conscious of their wonderful heritage and are determined to hand over to the generations to come a church that is "full of the beauty of holiness" and worthy of the worshiop of Almighty God.

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Special services will be held at the Parish Church on Sunday. At a family communion service at 10.30 am the Archdeacon of Gower, the Ven. DM Luther Thomas will preach
Festal evensong will be at 6.15 when the Lord Bishop of the Diocese, the Right Rev JJA Thomas will be the preacher.
A centenary parish social will be held in the church hall on Monday
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The West wall of St Cynog's Church, after rebuilding in 1961-62 with the new bell turret on top.

 
 


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