Ystradgynlais & District

History and Heritage

Bethel Chapel, Cwmtwrch, Ystradgynlais

When Bethel Chapel was built it was within the parish of Llangiwg, before the creation of the separate parish for Ystalyfera, but only yards away from the parish boundary of Ystradgynlais. Geographically it was within the boundaries of Breconshire, and is now part of Powys, hence its being located within Ystradgynlais History, rather than Ystalyfera History.


Bethel's history began around 1850, in a dwelling house called Middle Mill, the residence of William John Thomas, who was a deacon of the church in Cwmllynfell. It was established as a branch of the church in Cwmllynfell, and sometimes Mr Pryse of Cwmllynfell would preach there, and sometimes Mr B. Thomas of Gurnos Chapel, Ystalyfera, would do so.

In 1861, before Bethel Chapel was completely finished, it was established as a church independent of the mother church in Cwmllynfell when communion was held in a service officiated by Mr Pryse, assisted by several deacons of his church.

Mr Thomas Griffiths, a trader, and Mr H Rees, of Ystradgynlais both had a big hand in the building of Bethel Chapel. Mr Rees also cared for the chapel as Minister for a few months, but had to give it up due to the abundance of his other work.


Further information about the Reverend Harry Rees (the H Rees above) comes from the South Wales Voice's 3rd December 1932 edition, focused on the centenary of Sardis Chapel, Ystradgynlais:-

In 1869 the Reverend Harry Rees, emigrated to America and ministered for many years in Eniporia, Kansas, where he passed away in 1897. Mr Rees was regarded as one of the most striving ministers of his day. It was said of him, concerning Godre'rhos and Ystrad that he was an evangelical preacher and completely immersed in his work. He never endeavoured to take part in any of the prominent Welsh festivals. He formed branches at Cwmgiedd, Penrhos, and Glantawe. He was chiefly responsible for the foundation of Bethel Chapel, Cwmtwrch, and the church was in his care for 2 years. During that time he preached 3 times on Sundays. Another picture of him is revealed in the story of how Godre'rhos chapel was renovated in 1855. It was decided that all the stones were to be worked from a quarry and to be conveyed free of charge by the neighbours. The minister obtained a suit of working clothes and worked side by side with the members in the quarry until the renovations were completed.


Built in 1861, Bethel Independent Chapel was rebuilt in 1925. When offered for sale in 2010, its physical attributes were described as having 3 opaque windows on each side of the chapel, and two doors at the rear of the chapel which lead to the vestry. There is a large vestry and hall, as well as the chapel, along with boiler and tank rooms, and external outhouses. The Chapels grounds have pathways on both sides with a gate for access to the riverside and woodland.

When you enter the main door of the chapel, stairs on either side give access to the first (upper) floor where there are four windows along each side of the walls.


  
Photographs of the Interior, courtesy of the Vendor


From a Welsh text, in translation:-

This chapel is within the parish limits of Llanguwg, in Glamorgan, but within a few dwellings into the parish of Ystradgynlais in Brecon. It lies on the banks of the river Twrch, about half a mile above the Gurnos chapel. This cause was started around 1850, in a dwelling-house called the Felinganol, the residency of William John Thomas, one of the deacons of the church in Cwmllynfell, and he and William Llewellyn prevailed and raised for years like branch of Gwllllynfell. Mr. Pryse, Cwmllynfell occasionally preached to this branch, and Mr. B. Thomas, Gurnos preached there monthly for several years. In the year 1861, before the chapel was completely finished, this branch was formed as an independent church of the mother church in Cwmllynfell, when the sacrament of the Lord's Supper was administered by Mr. Pryse, assisted by several of his church deacons. Mr. Thomas Griffiths, trader, Ystalyfera, and Mr. H. Rees, from Ystrad had a big hand with the construction of the chapel. Mr. Rees also cared for the church as the minister for a few months, but due to the abundance of his workload, he had to take up his care there soon enough. The work and faithfulness of William Thomas, Isaac Williams, John Jones, Owen John, Owen Owen, David Owen, and others, with the construction of the chapel also merit a memorial


Bethesda Chapel, in Ynysmeudwy was clearly of the same denomination as Bethel, Cwmtwrch. In 1901, Bethel's then minister, Rev Joseph Evans, moved to Bethesda, and was there until 1905.



As of 2010, Bethel Chapel has been up for sale as a Grade II Listed Building.



Views of Bethel Chapel, Cwmtwrch, taken in March 2016 show the chapel in greater detail.

View More - Bethel Chapel views




People of Bethel Chapel

From the South Wales Voice newspaper of 23rd January 1932 came the news of the death of William D Owen, organist and deacon of Bethel:-

Mr Owen was the first organist of Bethel Chapel, a post he held for 25 years and he was also a deacon whilst he was secretary from its inception of the Cwmtwrch United Gymanfa Ganu.


From the South Wales Voice newspaper of Saturday 3rd August 1935 came news of the induction of Reverend W E Llewelyn as pastor of Bethel, Lower Cwmtwrch:-

CWMTWRCH INDUCTION SERVICE
REV W E LLEWELYN TAKES OVER BETHEL PASTORATE

The Reverend W E Llewelyn was inducted to the pastorate of Bethel Welsh Congregational Chapel, Lower Cwmtwrch on Thursday.
There was a very large gathering, over which the Reverend W D Roderick, Rhiwfawr, presided. The president congratulated the church on having cleared the debt so that the new pastor could start without having to shoulder the burden.
The history of the call was given by the corresponding secretary of the church, Mr J D Howells, ME, who read letters from several ministers and laymen who were unable to attend.
Mr Howells said that Mr Llewelyn's first visit came about by accident. He deputised for a preacher who was unable to fulfill his engagement. Soon afterwards he was invited to accept the pastorate and it was announced to the church amid rejoicing, that he had accepted. It was originally decided to hold the jubilee services in September, but the date was changed in view of the induction services in order to make the event auspicious in the history of the cause.
In his reply, the new pastor said that when he first preached at Bethel there was nothing further from his mind than the thought of his becoming pastor of the church. His coming to Lower Cwmtwrch was welcomed to the district by the president, who gave him the right hand of fellowship.
Speaking on behalf of Bethel Chapel, Mr James Powell, JP, senior deacon, said he hoped the union between Mr Llewelyn and the church would be a long and prosperous one.
The Reverend W Glasnant Jones, Dunvant, offered the prayer of consecration.

THE CHARGE TO THE PASTOR

The Reverend Samuel Williams, Landore, gave the charge to the pastor and spoke on Romans 1,1, "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an Apostle, separated unto the Gospel of God". Paul's description of himself touched upon a number of essential attributes towards making a preacher. He had been separated for the work of God, to declare the glad tidings of the Creator.
Paul had acquired a personal knowledge of Christ, which was an essential attribute to help him carry on His work. Other essentials that made a preacher were the urge to serve, an early insight and talent for the work. Everyone had a talent but there was a difference in the way in which it could and was being used.
A preacher could be a great influence outside the church and pulpit. There were instances of ministers who had gained renown through their work as musicians and poets. If it were true of any minister that he was of no use outside his church, it was a compliment to him that he was immersed in his work. Some people thought that church had no part in politics; the truth was that ministers could create such an atmosphere that would unite the political parties for the good of society.

THE EFFECT OF DIGNITY

Pride, conceit, and boast should not have any room in the make-up of a minister. Matthews (Ewenny) had described dignity as being lowly; the effect of dignity over more lowly; while to be nothing was its last stage of perfection. Paul had said that he was the least of the Saints and even went so far as to say the head of sinners. There was no need for a minister to wear a long face but it was very necessary that he should be serious.
The Reverend James Davies, Mynyddbach, spoke on behalf of the West Glamorgan Congregational Union (of which he is secretary) and the Reverend W P Jones, Bethania, for the churches of Lower Cwmtwrch.
The meeting closed by prayer, which was offered by the Reverend E D Lewis, Caersalem, Ystalyfera.
There were preaching services on Thursday morning and evening when the preachers were the Reverends W Glasnant Jones, Dunvant; T Llynfi Davies, MA, BD, Swansea; and J J Williams, MA, Morriston, Chairman of the Welsh Congregational Union.



Bethel Chapel in the Llais

The Llais newspaper had always included a round-up of happenings at local churches and chapels, even when these were not part of any particular story. Sometimes they advertised forthcoming events, and at other times who was preaching, or had preached there recently.

This article is from the Labour Voice newspaper, April 1st 1922. Interestingly, it refers to the lowest part of Lower Cwmtwrch, where Bethel Chapel is located, as Glantwrch:-

Half-yearly services will be held at Bethel, Glantwrch, on Sunday next. The Rev E Jones, Llanwrytd Wells, will be the special preacher. The rev gentleman is a brother of the Rev Glasnant Jones, Dunvant; Rev D G Jones, Pontardawe; and Mr T Jones, manager of the GCG Collieries.



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