Penybont and District History Group Notes 2nd March 2015 Main Topic: “Penybont Calvinist Methodist Chapel 1822-1989” Mary Davies

Geraint welcomed another almost full-house to the meeting with particular reference to some new members. I did not get all of the new members but they included:
Gwnyedd Gay from Kington. Geraint referred to her as having an academic background but her interest in this session stemmed from the fact that her father had been a Chapel Minister.
Geraint reminded the group that the next session will be led by Nigel Topley on the subject of: “Early Cruck Houses”. The Monday has been changed to the 2nd Monday of the month – 13th – due to Easter.
Geraint said a few words about Tom Price who recently “passed away” at the age of 91 years. He had been the blacksmith in the village almost from birth. He was a fountain of local knowledge who will be sadly missed. Geraint has enquired of Carad about a recording they had made with Tom on the history of the local area and is hopeful that he can gain access to this. He has already got a recording of Tom talking about being a blacksmith in Penybont. Tom passing is a great loss to our community, a character with a gift for generous engagement with everyone.
Derek read from ‘Rhayader and District Newsletter’ a wonderful article by Bryan Lawrence: “A local character: George the Bus”. The article is reprinted in full below:
“Back in the Thirties, when a charabanc outing was often the highlight of the year, Mr George Davies, known locally as ‘George the Bus’, became one of the pioneers of “modern day” public transport.
The first charabanc he drove around the villages and market towns of Mid-Wales was a ‘Traffic’ and later the more modern ‘Willy Knights’. He got soaked if it suddenly rained when he had to rush out to pull down the folding hood while the passengers sought shelter from the rain. Steps were carried to help passengers on and off the bus.
Pub and club outing to the seaside supplement the Monday market runs and the Saturday excursion to the pictures or dance in Builth Wells. If the Guinness book of records had been published in those days he would surely have warranted an entry through carrying 111 passengers on a 32 seater to the annual Builth May Fair.
On market days passengers with large baskets of farm produce, hampers of live chickens, etc were transported and even a couple of calves were carried once, though they were charged at double the adult fare.
To keep the bus mobile an old paint can was slung underneath the back axle to catch the leaking lubricating oil. After every twenty miles or so a stop was made and the oil poured back in again.
On outings that necessitated climbing up steep hills all the male passengers got off and helped to push the bus whilst two stalwart fellows walked alongside carrying a large stone apiece to jam under the back wheels in case it started to run backwards down the hill.
The charabanc was started by turning the engine over rapidly with a handle. In winter time a good hour was often needed before the first scheduled pick up time, just to get it started.
He boasted that he always got his passengers home safely, even when, on one occasion, a back wheel started to come loose as they were ascending the Sugar Loaf (a very steep hill between Llanwrtyd and Llandovery) and eventually the wheel came off and overtook the bus. Another time the foot brake assembly fell off disappearing through the floor and was left lying on the road halfway up the hill.
Anothger time the carbide lamps failed after midnight when he was 40 miles from home. The rest of the journey was negotiated by the light of the moon and that sometimes disappeared behind a cloud.
He had to cope with all this being the driver, conductor and mechanic all rolled into one, all for the princely sum of £2 per week, providing
That he had taken enough money from fares that week to cover his wages.
The day before his boss took delivery of a second-hand-single-decker Leyland a message awaited his return from a trip to Aberystwyth, telling him to take the charabanc up to ‘Dai the Eggs’, a local poultry farmer, and leave it there. By the next day Dai had converted it into a chicken coop. T.G.B.L”
Geraint asked Richard to report on the opening of the new Radnorshire Society Library at Dolmynach House, Bridge Street, Rhayader. About 100 people attended the Opening on St. David’s Day. There was a nice family atmosphere with tea being served in the Schoolroom. Mr Lloyd Lewis’s family had donated the building to Rhayader and Lloyd will be over-seeing the opening of the Library, which will, at this stage, be by appointment only. It is worth a visit if only to see how the building has been lovingly restored – even the wallpaper has been peeled off carefully and put back. Geraint agreed to see if it might be possible to arrange a visit by the group.
Main Topic
Mary Davies – “Penybont Calvinist Methodist Chapel 1822- 1989”
Mary felt a certain sadness about talking about a building that is no longer there. However there is a fascination around this sadness. The building was by the bridge and consisted of the Chapel and a Schoolroom. The Calvinist Methodists were one of the smaller non-conformist religions and the dominant language was surprisingly, for Penybont, Welsh.
A photograph of the Chapel can be found in the photo gallery of our History Group website:
Mary’s Nain, her grandmother, was a Calvanist Methodist from Llandinum. She thinks that her grandfather may have met her Nain in Cross Keys, South Wales, and they may have worshipped together there.
Mary made reference to the complicated nature of Christian revivalism at this time – in the Rice family from Rhayader there were three brothers. One was a Calvinist Methodist, another was a Congregationalist, and the third was Wesleyan. There must have been some interesting discussions over lunch on a Sunday in that house!
Mary confessed that despite her Calvinist Methodist background she had had to do quite a bit of research to find out about the church of her grandmother. To do this she turned to Wikipedia and to friends who had other interesting insights. E.g. Penny Everett had told Mary that she remembers being told that in Switzerland the Calvinist Methodist priest was entitled to go into one’s home every week to check if the housework had been done properly! Mary’s daughter studied Sociology and was somewhat embarrassed, on admitting her Calvinist Methodist background to be told of the philosophy on the pro-creation of children – suffice it to say that pleasure did not seem to be part of the proceedings.
Wikipedia describes the Calvinist Methodists as a body of Christians who form the Presbyterian Church of Wales and who claim to be the only denomination of the Presbyterian Order which is purely of Welsh origin. Calvinists are expected to follow moral law, to love God and their neighbours and to obey the Commandments. They must be truthful and not live in sin and they must speak out against all kinds of sin. They must live in hope, despite life’s difficulties, and have humble and holy hearts. Faith may be shaken but believers must not give in to despair nor fall into sin. They must attend Chapel, love each other as brothers and help each other as best they can. However they may not relieve any other church member of his possessions or goods. Calvinists must obey ordained kings, honour their laws, pay whatever taxes or tribute they impose without murmur or concealment or fraud. The early Calvinists could be very narrow minded and in 1834 there was a suggestion that dairymaids should not be baptised as they worked on a Sunday. There was some discussion by members about the things that were not allowed in their childhood. There was to be no sewing, reading newspapers, etc. Richard remembered hiding a magazine and taking it into the toilet to read. Members remembered going to Chapel or Sunday school 3 times a day. Sermons were often extremely long and boring. Geraint told us of Tom Price’s routine of opening the shutters from day-break to dusk every day of the week except Sunday when they resolutely remained closed. Tom even maintained this routine even after the Smithy was closed.
In 1856 it was decided that Calvinists should avoid debt, especially in trade. Mary remembered her grandfather who applied the principle of ‘never a borrower or a lender be’ within his running of the Thomas Shop.
In 1871 a new ruling allowed for people to marry outside the Church and to not be expelled, however individual Chapels could over-rule this.
When Charles ll came to the thrown in 1660, after the Cromwellian period, dissenters were allowed to meet and by 1672 there were ‘licensed houses’. The Toleration Act 1689 led to Chapels being build and Caebach in Llandrindod, built 1715, and, Rock Chapel at Crossgates, built 1722, were early examples. Revivalism had taken hold across Radnorshire in the late 17th century and the Baptists and Quakers had become well established. Vavasor Powell, a Baptist from Knucklas, who had left the Established Church in 1649 was appointed to a committee that ejected clergymen from their living in Radnorshire. (Many Clergymen were drawn from the youngest sons of the gentry and had little or no interest in the spiritual lives of their flock.)
Calvinism however was not as strong in Radnorshire as in other parts of Wales but the fervour spread in the early part of the 19th century and between 1810 and 1840 at least a dozen Chapels were built in Radnorshire, Penybont in 1822. By 1870 nearly every village had at least one chapel. Llanon, in Ceredigion, where Richard came from, had 3 chapels, a church, and the Roman Catholics went by bus to Aberystwyth.
Mary’s personal knowledge of Penybont Chapel is limited as she was raised as a child in London, only coming to Penybont for holidays. She drew upon the accounts written up by Geraint in his excellent book; “Penybont, A Village History”. In these notes I have included three chapters from the book below:
Penybont Calvinistic Methodist Chapel
The Welsh Methodist cause was promoted in the Penybont area through the visits of the evangelist Howell Harries of Trefecca in the period 179 to 1747. Harries records in his diary on July 23rd 1739: ‘came today to Bayley Shon Llwyd’ and on August of the same year he records preaching at the meeting’ Dol Swydd in Llandegele’ at which Robert Newell and Thomas Sheen, both to be important leaders in the new movement, were converted. On May 28th 1742 Howell Harries ‘came to John Harris in Llandegle…. I had an amazing power to pray in Welsh and to discourse in English. It is suggested that further growth was hindered by the fact that Methodist preachers were primarily Welsh speaking and that English had by this time become the spoken language of most people in the locality. There appears to have been a period of inactivity until an evangelist from Carmarthen came to hold meetings at Dol Swydd, then the home of the Bowen family.
He was David Charles, a rope maker from Carmarthen, and brother of the Reverend Thomas Charles of Bala, one of the most prominent leaders of the movement (especially well known for his links with Mary Jones and her quest for a Welsh Bible and subsequent founding of the British and Foreign Bible Society).
David Charles was converted in 1771, and later ordained, and after visiting Llandrindod formed the South Wales Home Missionary Society to send Ministers to work in the neglected areas of Wales. In 1819 he met Miss Sarah Thomas in Llandrindod and agreed to work with her to establish a Calvanistic Methodist Chapel in Penybont. The RTeverent David Howells came to assist and, we are told, ‘worked hard in the district’.On Sundays he preached in English at Llanfiangel Nantmelan at 10 a.m., New Radnor at 2 p.m. and Penybont at 6 p.m. He also preached in meetings at Cefnllys, Llandrindod Wells, Wrenddu, the blacksmith at Llanddewi and at Dolbertog. He appears to have moved on before a chapel could be built because when land was conveyed in 1822 another Minister signs the Trust Deed. On July 8th 1822 a ‘plot of land was leased by an indenture between William Thomas (the shop) on the one part and Revd. David Charles and Revd. Ebenezer Williams on the other part for 990 years at one peppercorn rent’.
This Chapel was the first Calvinistic Methodist Chapel in Radnorshire and the first to hold services in English in the connexion. From 1822 to about 1856 the work was led by Revd. Ebenezer Williams. In those early years the children of the Sunday School met at 9.30 a.m., the main preaching service was in the afternoon and there was a Prayer Meeting in the evening. During the week there was another Prayer Meeting, with long extempore prayers, and a Church Meeting at which people were invited to share their religious experiences. There wer 8 erlders who sat in the ‘big seat’ and in 1882 the Chapel could record 54 Commicant Members, 120 scholars in the Sunday School and 212 ‘Sabbath hearers’. In the same year a new County Auxiliary Bible Society was started, holding its first meeting in the Severn Arms.
Reverend Ebenezer Williams married Miss Wilde, and in 1847 the Manse was built (known first as the Mission House) on a ‘lease of land between John Cheesment Severn Esq., and the Trustees for 99 years for rent at £1 per annum’. Mrs Williams then kept a day School in the Chapel for some years. On January 21st `1852 an examination of the .Penybont British School’ was held, the children being examined in ‘the history of England, Geography, English Language and Grammar, and Arithmetic’. We are told that ‘after the examination upwards of 200 sat down to tea’. Also in 1852 the Chapel started a Circulating Library of over 100 books as well as having on sale Bibles purchased from British and Foreign Bible Society. A house-to-house collection raised £26 for this cause.
It is no surprise that the Chapel needed to be enlarged and largely rebuilt in 1885 to accommodate the increased attendance and other ac tivities. A schoolroom was not addeduntil 1938 although the project had been under discussion for some time before. In 1914 the Chapel returns show that there were 45 Communicant Members, 6 teachers, 40 scholars and`112 ‘hearers’ in the congregation.
In the autumn of 1988 it was decided, at the request of the four remaining people in the Chapel, that the Cause be closed. On February 11th 1989 a meeting was held at Penybont of the Executive Committee and the Finance and Building Committee of the Presbytery, together with 2 representatives of the County Council. It was decided to demolish the building free of cost as part of the road and bridge project then in operation.
It was also agreed to accept an offer of £750 for the pews and pulpit together with chairs and tables in the schoolroom.It was decided to take photographs of the interior and exterior of the Chapel before demolition and also of the chalice which had been transferred to Trefecca for use in the annual Presbytery Service. It was agreed to give the wooden collecting box to Ithon Road Chapel and some Hymn books were given to Rock Chapel, Llanfaredd. The organ stool was sold for £20. A register of burials for 1823 to 1837 was sent to the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth.
The building was demolished later that year and the name p[late from the front of the Chapel with dates of its foundation and rebuilding and the addition of the date of demolition was placed on the roadside to mark the site of the former Chapel.
Penybont Chapel Ministers
Reverend David Howells C. 1821
Reverend Ebenezer Williams 1822 – 1855
Reverend Moses Williams 1855 – 1857
Reverend Evan Williams 1857
Reverend Simon Roberts 1857 – 1891
Reverend P.D. Morse 1891 –
Reverend Ben Evans 1914 –
Reverend A.E. Roberts 1917 – 1919
Reverend O.D. Jones 1919 – 1935
Reverend S.T. James 1936 – 1938
Reverend T. Richmond Williams 1945 – 1948
Reverend A. Gordon Roberts 1949 – 1953
Reverend R.L. Williams 1954 – 1975
*Some of the Ministers also served Cornhill, Tanhouse or Heartsease.
(Note: Most of the above is taken from “Meanderings into Methodism: A History of the Churches belonging to the Brecon, Radnor and Hereford Presbytery” by Reverend Raymond W.J. Webb 1989.)
Memories of Penybont Chapel – Tom Price 2004
I was born in 1924 just across the bridge from Penybont Calvinist Methodist Chapel, and from a very early age the Chapel was an important part of my life. The first Minister I remember there was Reverend O.D. Jones. He lived at the Manse in Penybont with his wife, son and three daughters. From about the age of five I attended the Sundaty Scahool every Sunday afternoom and from my early teens I also went to Chapel every Sunday evening. In those days there was also a service on Sunday mornings but not many more than 20 people went at that time of the day.
Each Sunday afternoon forty or fifty children gathered in the Chapel for the opening prayers taken by one of the Sunday School leaders. Our Minister took the service at Cornhill Chapel on Sunday afternoons so he was rarely there. We sang a hymn together and some read a passage from the Bible before the leader led us into prayer. We then dispursed to our classes in different corners of the building for lessons taken by the adult leader. My teacher for many years in a class of 10 or 12 boys and girls was Miss Violet Jones, who was also the main organist for the Chapel.
We sat around our teacher who gave each of us a printed text from the Bible on a card. This was read and committed to memory and the teacher explained the meaning of the passage to us. We ended Sunday School all together for a closing service taken by one of the leaders. The whole session lasted something over an hour. When I was about 17, I was asked to lead a class of eight to ten year olds and I did this for many years. From that time I also attended the evening service which was attended by 30 or 40 people. This was usually taken by the Minister. He was joined by a few of the Deacons who sat in the big seat under the pulpit and stood up facing the congregation for the hymns. One of them was Mr William Thomas from the shop who came to Chapel dressed in a long black coat with a skull cap on his head. The Chapel was heated with a coal burning stove housed in a shed attached to the building, heating a water boiler gravity fed to iron radiators around the building. After this system was damaged by frost it was replaced by a tortoise stove inside the Chapel with a chimney going through the roof.
Both systems were effective in heating the building even in the coldest weather as long as they were lit on the Saturday evening. The Chapel was for many years lit with paraffin lamps and then later by electricity. Our organ was a foot pedal harmonium. Miss Violet Jones of Caely was the regular organist for many years and she was later joined by Miss Freda Thomas and Miss Nellie Bufton.
One of the highlights of the year was the Big Meeting held in June. Mr. Thomas would try to ensure that the field behind the Chapel was cut and the hay gathered before the big day. This was held on a weekday and there were Preaching Services in the afternoon and evening with noted preachers coming often from great distances to take part. Between the two services tea was provided for everyone in the houses around the village. Large numbers attended from near and far and it was always a day to remember. When the schoolroom was built in the 1930’s the teas were served there, but one of our members was so opposed to this change, that he withdrew his membership from the Chapel.
Hrvest Festival, also held on a weekday with services in the afternoon and evening, and continuing on the Sunday following, was another very well attended occasion. As was especially the Children’s Anniversary Festival held on a Sunday in the summer. Again there were two services, afternoon and evening, and arrangements for tea between them. A carefully chosen chairman presided and just about every one of the Chapel children took part, either singing or reciting or reading a portion of scripture. There were alsoa few invited soloists from neighbouring villages but the majority of items were by our own members. A choir made up of Chapel members and led by Mr David Evans, a signalman at Penybont Station, prepared anthems and special music for the event, meeting for many weeks before hand to practice.
Regular Sunday worship was maintained throughout the Chapel’s history. A succession of faithful Ministers living in Penybont, or more recently in Dolau, maintained the tradition of visiting around the sistrict and conducting worship.
We were also visited by students from the Theological College at Aberystwyth who came to stay for the weekend and to preach in the morning and evening and also speak to the children in the afternoon. I cannot remember many names but I do remember that many of them left a deep impression on us as young people. The students were given hospitality by Miss Nellie Bufton and also given food in different houses around the village.
The Schoolroom was used for meetings and lectures and, during the war, to feed soldiers in the evenings and also during the day to house a Roman Catholic School from Bootle who stayed in the village. Because of the blackout restrictions our Sunday worship was also conducted in the Schoolroom during the war years. It is only after the war that numbers attending the Chapel started to decline before the very sad removal of the building when the road was widened in 1989.
Cornhill Chapel
Cornhill Chapel was built in 1843 and closed in 1949 – just exceeding its century of witness in this sparsely populated area of Llanfiangel Nantmelan parish. The Chapel seems to have started as a private initiative by a congregation linked to the Primitive Methodist movement, but early in its history it became part of the Calvinistic Methodist Church and closely associated with the C.M. Chapel in Penybont. For most of its existence the Minister resident in Penybont also served the congregation at Cornhill.
At the time of the religious census of 1851 Cornhill was a flourishing Chapel. The building then contained 70 free seats and 40 others reserved by subscription. 60 people attended the morning service as well as 35 ‘scholars’ in the Sunday School. In the afternoon there is an average attendance of 80. This compares very well with an average attendance of just 40 at only one service each Sunday at Llandegley Church. The Minister at Cornhill in 1851 was Reverwend Ebenezer Williams, The Mission House, Penybont, who was alsoMinister at Penybont Chapel.
A number of people still living still remember attending worship at Cornhill in the early part of the 20th century. The organist for many years was Mrs Gwen Edwards, who was also organist at Llandegley Church. Evan Richards lived nearby from 1936 to 1942 and his family cleaned the Chapel and lit the heating stove. At that time the Chapel had just one Deacon and a regular congregation on a Sunday afternoon of about 12 people. Mrs Gladys Lewis remembers an occasion when ducks from the nearby pond came into the Chapel during the sermon!
When Cornhill Chapel was closed in 1949 the Communion Cup and many items of furniture were given to Penybont Chapel. When that Chapel closed in 1989 the chalice was placed for safe keeping at Dannycastell, Crickhowell. The burial yard at Cornhill remains open but there have been no burials there in recent years.
Calvinistic Methodists in London
Both Mary and Richard were brought up in London and only Mary only visited Penybont for holidays. When Mary’s mother first went to London she belonged to Charing Cross Chapel, where the services were in Welsh. Mary’s mother coming from Penybont and therefore being English speaking must have found this quite difficult!. Mary remembered sitting patiently through services in Jewin Chapel that were entirely in Welsh. Jewin Chapel was the cornerstone of Richard’s life in the City. Mary remembers meeting Father Christmas at Charing Cross Chapel. He gave her a set of knitting needles and a ball of wool. Her excitement was subdued when she noticed he was wearing brown pinstriped trousers under his red robes. It was clear to Mary that great efforts were made to involve Welsh believers in the life of the Chapel. Mary and her siblings were given bi-lingual copies of the New Testament – somewhat larger than the purely Welsh version that Richard was given.
Mary quoted more detail of the Calvinistic Methodists in London from a document as below:
“The Welsh Churches in London have a long and interesting history, and in their growth and development is seen the history of the London Welsh Community. Established originally to provide a religious service in Welsh for many whom the English language was strange, they have, in the course of the years, not only increased in size and numbers, but have widely extended the the field of their activities. They are primarily religious institutions and no estimate is possible of the work done in this one channel, but concurrently with their purely religious functions, the Churches have also done an immense amount of work ofa socialand national character. They have provided for the young man and young woman coming to London from Wales something more than the shadow of a home, for they furnish a Society which in its standards of life and conduct has much more in common with the village life of Wales, thus forming a link with earlier conditions of life…….. The particular Mission of the Welsh Churches in London is, to safeguard the moral character…..,.,.
Some years previously the London Presbytery of the Calvinistic Methodists had sent a letter to the denomination’s Chapels throughout Wales urging them to notify the secretary of the Welsh Exiles in London of any of their congregation who might be about to move to the City……. There was concern that about 4000 young Welsh people migrated each year to London , but only about 1000 of these attached themselves to a church or chapel……
The earliest Calvinistic Methodist cause was founded in at Cock Lane in 1774 under the leadership of Edward Jones of Llansannan and Griffith Jones of Pentre Uchaf……. By the early nineteenth century there were small causes at Deptford and Woolwich, in an area where many Welsh artisans were to be found, and during this same period the visits of the Welsh Baptist Leaders Titus Lewis and Samuel Breeze to London encouraged the formation of groups of Baptists who shared meeting houses with other congregations…… Quiet growth continued ….. in June 1912 the Caxton Hall at Westminster provided a venue for a Welsh National Bazaar in aid of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Chapels in London….. There were 50 Chapels altogether, some were bombed in the war and by 1945 there were 19, and 9 by 2000….Premises were shared with Chinese, Dutch Reform, Korean, and even a nightclub.
References taken from: “Confessions of Faith of the Calvinistic Methodists”; Published by C.M.Book Agency, Cararvon
Members reminisced about their experiences:
John remembered someone falling in a lake!
Jean had wedding photos at the Chapel
Sermons were too too long!
No Sunday newspapers, no sewing, no nothing!
Richard remembered how there was a gradual easing of the strict Calvinistic code over his youth as Saturday evening gatherings eventually became Saturday night dances.
Mary also remembered going to different Chapels and Churches with the less spiritual intentions of checking out the young men in the congregations.
Derek drew attention to the fact that some members were sitting on chairs that had been in Penybont Chapel and that one of the pews in the café had been in the Chapel.
Geraint thanked Mary for an excellent talk.
Next Meeting: 13th April after Easter – Nigel Topley on the subject of: “Early Cruck Houses”