1. Non-Conformity in Wales
2. List of Churches and Chapels in Ammanford
NON-CONFORMITY IN WALES
At the dawn of a new millennium Wales has 5,000 chapels for its 2.9 million inhabitants to worship in more than England and Scotland together, even with their combined populations of 55 million. The bad news though, at least for believers, is that these 5,000 chapels are currently closing at the rate of one a week. Of these at least 1,000 according to one authority are currently under threat of demolition, and the process is only just hitting its stride. Aging and dwindling congregations no longer have the financial means to maintain their once mighty places of worship and some chapels cannot even find a preacher to minister to the flock. Others are even resorting to sharing their Sunday services with members from other chapels, even those of different denominations. Wales has gone from being the most religious to the least religious region of Britain in just one generation and non-conformity is facing a precarious future as a result, if indeed it has a future at all. It might be wise, then, to document the history of non-conformism in Wales while it's still here to be documented. And if a smirk of schadenfreude is flitting over Anglican faces at this news, they'd do well to remember their own shrinking congregations and their own backlog of churches in desperate need of attention.
In the Beginning
It's a bewildering experience trying to make sense of the various forms Christianity takes, especially for the non-historian or non-theologian, and it seems sometimes as if there's a denomination somewhere for every person who's ever lived. But it shouldn't be so surprising once we realise that our belief systems, like our non-religious institutions, are products of historical forces, proceeding from the social, political and economic structures of the day, so there's no reason why religion should be any different from the rest of human activities. And it isn't.
Even in its very first centuries, Christianity was riven by schisms, heresies, leadership struggles, and disputes over what should become the cannon of the New and Old Testaments. Early Christians were often persecuted by the Romans until, in 313 AD, Christians were allowed to worship without restriction by the Roman Emperor Constantine. (In 391 AD, Christianity became the only permitted religion in the Roman empire, a radical departure for an empire which had shown toleration to other faiths until this.) When Constantine moved the capital of the Roman empire to Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) he merely laid the ground for the first of many other splits to come that between the Western (Catholic) church centred in Rome and the Eastern (Orthodox) church centred initially in Constantinople. In the Middle Ages there was even a split in the western (Catholic) church and for a while there were two Popes one Pope at Avignon in France, with another in Rome.
There are three distinct strands of modern Christianity Catholicism; the Orthodox (Greek and Slavonic) churches; and Protestantism. The great split that created the break from Rome in the sixteenth century produced the third of these strands Protestantism. But it didn't end there.
Almost as soon as the Northern European states broke with Rome they were splits in the new Protestant churches as well, resulting in a new division, that between the 'established' churches and the new or newer nonconformist or dissenting faiths.
The German Catholic priest Martin Luther famously made the break with Rome when he nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenburg Church in 1517 in protest at what he, and many others in Europe, saw as the degeneration of the Roman-controlled Catholic Church. What became known as the Reformation had begun. The English King Henry the Eighth initially took the side of Rome in this controversy, earning himself the title Fidei Defensor (Defender of the Faith) from Pope Leo X for writing a treatise against Martin Luther.
But when Henry the Eighth couldn't persuade the same Pope to grant him a divorce from his first wife Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn, he hit upon the novel idea of forming his own church instead, making himself head of it in the process, and was thus able to grant himself his own divorce. And so the English Protestant Reformation was born in 1536, in unique circumstances that owed nothing to the religious convictions that had steered other churches in this direction. Ever since William and Mary came to the throne jointly in 1688 all English monarchs have been Protestant, yet despite this the letters FD, standing for the Catholic-conferred title 'Fidei Defensor' (Defender of the Faith), are still engraved on the British coinage to this day, proving that English monarchs either have a well-developed sense of irony or are too stupid to notice the contradiction.
But it wasn't long before the new Protestant religion of Henry VIII was to experience splits of its own, eventually leading to the bewildering number of non-conformist faiths we see today, and even more which have since disappeared. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries a whole menagerie of weird and wonderful Protestant sects was loosed on an unsuspecting country. Within a century of Henry the Eighth's death in 1553 a bloody civil war would be fought between Royalists and Republicans with religion at its heart. Here, Puritans and Quakers; Presbyterians and Episcopalians; Arminians, Baptists and Anabaptists; Ranters, Levellers, Diggers, Independents, Fifth Monarchists, Millenarians, Muggletonions, and more, jostled for position and Henry's Anglican Church was in serious jeopardy for a while.
Some sort of order was finally restored only in 1660 when the monarchy, and with it the supremacy of the Church of England, was restored after twenty years of a Cromwellian interregnum. And it wasn't until 1688, when the English unceremoniously dumped the Catholic King James II in favour of a Dutchman, William of Orange, that the Protestant ascendancy was finally secured.
The non-conformist denominations came into being from the seventeenth century onwards as a result of differing theological interpretations of scripture and consequently of worship and church government. The main seventeenth century sects in England were the Baptists, Presbyterians and Independents, together with the much smaller Society of Friends, or Quakers. Most of these sects played a part in the religious history of Wales, although the principal ones were the Baptists and Independents (also known as Congregationalists). The eighteenth century saw the rise of Methodism, which broke from the established Church and in turn split into several divisions, the two most important being Wesleyan and Calvinistic Methodism. In Wales, the Calvinistic Methodists are the most numerous, later changing their name to the Presbyterian Church of Wales. In England Wesleyan Methodists are in the majority.
The first Baptist church in Wales was established at Ilston on the Gower peninsula in 1649. Baptist churches are generally self-governing within a Baptist Union. There are separate Baptist Unions for English and Welsh speaking congregations.
Welsh Independent chapels have for the most part remained separate from the English-based Congregational Union of England and Wales and the United Reformed Church (created in 1972 from a union of the English Congregational and Presbyterian churches). They belong instead to a loose association, the Union of Welsh Independents (Annibynwyr).
The history of nonconformity in Wales is one of steady growth in the eighteenth century and explosive expansion in the nineteenth, with communities having at least one chapel, often several vying for prominence in inter-denominational rivalry (see the page on Llandyfan church in this section). Baptist and Independent congregations are self-governing, whereas the Wesleyan Methodist and Welsh Presbyterian Churches (formally the Welsh Calvinist Methodists) have a central administration. This affects both the form and the survival of their records. Apart from registers, typical records include contributions books and other accounts, deeds and trust papers, minutes and Sunday School records. Many chapel histories have been written, particularly in celebration of the centenary of a chapel building. A chapel photographic survey, undertaken during the early 1990s, includes internal and external views of surviving chapels in West Glamorgan, including chapel buildings now used for other purposes.
A number of nonconformist registers were surrendered to the Registrar General under the Non-Parochial Registers Act of 1840, and a second series in 1857. These volumes are now in the Public Record Office and the Archive Service holds photocopies of the originals. (Restrictions on access: None for registers. 30 year rule applies to records other than registers.)
1. Non-Conformity in Wales
2. List of Churches and Chapels in Ammanford
AMMANFORD CHURCH AND CHAPEL BUILDINGS
Most of the places of worship in the Ammanford area are in fact chapels, indicating the rapid growth of the non-conformist faiths in Britain from the eighteenth century onwards, and in particular the nineteenth. Farmers and the gentry, along with their employees, and later the middle classes, tended to worship in the churches. Non-conformiity was the preferred mode of worship by the newly emerging industrial class and their employees, reflecting the increasing trend to universal suffrage that came with the industrial revolution. Many of the chapels were, and are, run by their own congregations through the elected deacons who manage the affairs of the chapel, including the appointment of new ministers. Contrast this with the Church where the vicar is appointed from outside by the Church authorities.
The strength of non-conformity can be demonstrated by the fact that dozens of chapels were built in Ammanford in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Most are still standing, though some have been demolished or have fallen into disuse since. No new church, however, had been built in the area since St David's Church, Betws in the thirteenth century, and whose origins probably go back to early Celtic Christianity after the Romans withdrew their legions from Britain in the fifth century. Llandybie church is also medieval with probable origins in the fifth century. It was only in 1885 that this situation changed when St Michael's Church was built in Wind Street followed by All Saint's in 1915, though without its clock tower which was added in 1923. The town's Catholic Church, Our Lady of the Rosary, wasn't built until 1926 and completely rebuilt in 2004.
Here, in chronological order, are the dates for Ammanford's main churches and chapels. Following are the churches and chapels for nearby Llandybie and Betws.
Christian Temple (Welsh Independent), High Street. Founded in 1748. Rebuilt and enlarged in 1782, 1836, and 1865.
Ebeneser Chapel (Welsh Baptist), Baptist Lane. Built in 1849-50. Rebuilt and enlarged 1877 and windows and interior remodelled 1924 to the design of J O Parry of Ammanford.
English Wesleyan Methodist, Wind Street. Church built ca. 1875 in Gothic style, gable entry type. Date of present building ca. 1905. Closed around 1990. Purchased and re-opened in 2003 by Ammanford Evangelical Church (founded 1977).
Bethany (Welsh Calvinist Methodist), Wind Street. Built 1881, and significantly enlarged in 1929 to seat 800. Vestry for 300 built at the same time.
St Michael's Church (Welsh-language Anglican), Wind Street. Built 1885, with a hall added in 1900.
Christadelphians. Founded around 1892. Currently in Pontamman, soon to move to Foundry Road.
Pisgah Baptist Chapel, Penybanc. Sunday School/vestry built 1893/4. The church (chapel) formed & built 1911 in simple gothic style, gable entry type. Sunday School/vestry added/replaced 1921.
Tabernacle (Welsh Independent), Pantyffynnon Road. Built 1894. Disused
Gwynfryn (Welsh Independent), College Street. Built 1902/03.
Bethel Baptist Chapel, Pantyffynnon Road. Built 1904.
Peniel (Welsh Calvinist Methodist), Pantyffynnon Road. Built 1905. Disused.
English Baptist, Brynmawr Lane. Originally a barn, Ysgol y Gwynfryn (also known as Hope Academy) was founded in 1880 as a preparatory school for Theological and other colleges; The Baptist cause founded in 1905. New building 1910; building style is Arts & Crafts, gable entry type. Date of present building 1910.
Elim Calvinist Methodist, Llandybie Road, Tirydail. Opened 1906. Closed 2001.
Apostolic Chuch, Iscennen Road, Ammanford. The church was probably built ca. 1910-15. Built in the Simple Gothic style, gable entry type.
Welsh Wesleyan, College Street. Founded 1911; closed 1970s. Demolished 1980s.
St John's Church (Anglican), Station Road, Tirydail. Built 1911, closed 1974.
Ammanford Plymouth Brethren (Gospel Hall), Lloyd Street. Opened 1911.
Seion Baptist Chapel (Zion Zinc), Llandybie Road, Tirydail. Built 1913. Closed 1970s. Demolished 1990s
English Congregational Church, Iscennen. Church (chapel) built 1913 in Gothic style to the design of Henry Herbert of Ammanford, architect and mine surveyor. Date of present building 1913.
All Saints (English-language Anglican). Built in 1911-15. Opened 1915. The architect was W.D.Jenkins of Llandeilo. The tower, added 1924-26, was designed by C.Mercer of Swansea.
Ammanford Catholic Church (Our Lady of the Rosary), Margaret Street. Built in the Vernacular style, 1926, short wall entry type. Demolished in 2003 and new church built on same site 2004.
Salvation Army, Margaret Street. Built 1926. Rebuilt 1995.
Ammanford Apostolic Church, Iscennen. Built 1920s (?).
Pantyffynnon Plymouth Brethren (Gospel Hall), Pantyffynnon Road. Built 1920s (?).
Ammanford Evangelical Church, Wind Street. The cause was first started in 1977 when several members of Ammanford's Gospel Hall (Plymouth Brethren, see above) left to found their own Evangelical church. After a peripatetic existence in several rented venues they purchased the abandoned English Wesleyan church in Wind Street (see above) which opened for worship in 2003.
Ammanford Bible Church (Pentecostal), Wind Street. Founded 1995 in the former West End Guest House.
St Tybie Church, Church Street, Llandybie. 13-14th stone church on the site of 5th century Celic church. Dedicated to St Tybie, 5th century martyred saint. Watch/clock tower, probably 15th century. Restoration of the church was undertaken in the mid-C19 under the leadership, and largely at the expense, of Mrs Caroline DuBuisson of Glynhir. The main restoration was carried out by [Sir] George Gilbert Scott, c1856. The windows were first to be restored, c1852. The ceiling and gallery were removed c1861. The tower clock was installed in 1920 by Joyce and Company, as a war memorial.
Waenllan Welsh Methodist Church (Wesleyan), High Street, Llandybie. Chapel built 1809, rebuilt/modified 1841 and renovated 1851; it was rebuilt 1884 in the simple Gothic style, gable entry type. In 2007, a senior citizens' hall.
Gosen Calvinist Methodist Chapel, Blaenau Road, Llandybie. Chapel built 1829; rebuilt/modified 1873, 1902 and 1912. Building style is simple round-headed, long-wall entry type. Status (2007): in chapel use.
Salem Welsh Baptist Church, Campbell Road, Llandybie. The church (chapel) was formed in 1900 and built 1905 in simple round-headed style, gable entry type, to the design of L. Rowe Williams, Tumble.
Peniel Welsh Independent Chapel, Cae'r Bryn, Llandybie. The chapel was built in 1910 in the Vernacular style, gable entry type. Status (2007): community centre.
Ebenezer Apostolic Chapel, Ammanford Road/Rawlings Road, Llandybie. Built in 1922 in the Arts and Craft style. The Chapel is of the gable entry type. Status (2007): Chapel in use.
St David's Church, (Welsh-language Anglican), Betws Road. 13/14th century in origin on a 5th/6th century site. 17th century roof. Substantial restoration in 1872, following a fire, by J Harries of Llandeilo.
Capel Newydd (New Chapel), Welsh Calvinistic Methodist, Betws Road. The original Methodist Chapel (called Capel Seion) was built 1795. Rebuilt and enlarged 1829. Completely rebuilt across the road in 1898. The original Capel Seion demolished in 1930s for road-widening.
St Thomas Church (Anglican), Wernoleu. Built around 1890 with a wooden frame, clad with corrugated iron sheets. Rebuilt 1995 with more conventional materials.
Siloam Calvinist Methodist Sunday School, Maesquarre Road, Betws. Built 1905. Demolished 1999.
Any additions or corrections to the above list of Ammanford's churches and chapels are welcomed. Brief histories of Ammanford's places of worship can be found in the 'Churches and Chapels' section of this website.
Date this page last updated: October 1, 2010