Ystradgynlais & District

History and Heritage

Callwen Church, Upper Tawe Valley

Callwen Church is in the Upper Tawe Valley, opposite the Dan Yr Ogof National Showcaves of Wales. If heading towards Sennybridge and Brecon, it is on the right-hand side of the road, after The Gwynne Arms and before you get to the Tafarn Y Garreg.

There had been a chapel here for a long time before the current church was constructed in the nineteenth century. Rebuilt in 1840 and then in 1892-3, Callwen Church benefitted from the influx of workers to the quarry and brickworks at Penwyllt, seeing a large growth in its congregation.



Saint John The Baptist Church, Callwen, came under the Vicar of Abercrave in Cwmtawe Uchaf, along with Coelbren.

After the reorganisation, it is part of the Ministry Area that reaches from Ystalyfera, through Ystradgynlais to the Upper Tawe Valley.



The memorial stone reads:-

Erected by the Southampton Training Aviation Company in gratitude to the men of this village
Who risked their lives and time in searching for one of their aircraft lost on the mountain 17th January 1939

Read more about the loss of Anson L9149


A view of the rear of the church.



When the church is not open for a service, the only parking is in the lay-by area in front of it, alongside the road.




Looking along the side of the church across the graveyard



Looking across the frontage of the graveyard, up the valley, in the direction of Sennybridge.




In the graveyard of Saint John The Baptist Church, Callwen



Across the graveyard of Callwen Church




From The Voice newspaper, 30th December 1955:-

THE VICAR WITH ONE ARM SETS A FINE EXAMPLE
Have you ever tried preaching wholeheartedly to a congregation of six? Have you ever tried playing billiards and bowls with the use of only your left arm? Have you ever tried making stars of infant toddlers in plays which grown-ups would have difficulty to perform well? Have you ever tried - entirely on your own - making beautiful costumes for a cast of 25 out of old materials without spending a penny?
Most people would consider a challenge of this sort and impossibility but not the Rev D Bonsell Edwards, 57-year-old vicar of St Callwen Church Glyntawe near Craig y Nos and his schoolteacher wife, Mrs Edwards. For many years these tasks have become everyday habits for them.
Mr Edwards vicar of Callwen for 21 years, lost his left arm on active service with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in France in the first World War, not long before Armistice Day.
But that in itself was a challenge to him. He felt that the loss of an arm had been for a worthwhile cause - peace. He set out determined to benefit the valley with his 10 Fusiliers and fighting spirit to help an equally important cause as a Minister, restoring peace and goodwill among fellow men.

15th CENTURY CHURCH
He was ordained curate at Sennybridge and later served in the same capacity at Ystradgynlais. Then he got his full test - his appointment as vicar at Callwen, the only place of worship in the cold wind swept mountains of the upper reaches of the Swansea Valley.
Crowds flock to the ancient church, the record of which date back to the 15th century, but in bad winter periods it is no respite to see only six people comprise the congregation because there is no means of transport for people living in remote farms and houses in the mountains and villages of Penwyllt.
One would think Mr Edwards might cut his service short when confronted by only six people. But he doesn't. He appreciates the circumstances which prevent his numbers from attending and spares no effort in his sermons to those able to attend.

CHAMPION BOWLER
And while Mr Edwards perhaps takes most of the limelight during services, his wife is playing the quaint little organ, her crystal-clear voice blends harmoniously with others.
Outside Callwen Church, which services the smallest and most sparsely populated area in the Valley, Mr Edwards excels as a fine and reputed horsemen. At the Ystradgynlais Welfare Hall, he has a tremendous repertoire for his skilful and sometimes crafty play in billiards and snooker. He has a special "rest" to perform his feats. He has now been appointed a member of the selection committee at the hall, and Ystradgynlais top both the West Wales billiards and snooker league.
In the summer, Mr Edwards spends a lot of his spare time on the Ystradgynlais bowling green. Captain of the Ystradgynlais bowls team he has won many championships and has countless friends in this sphere.
Both Mr Edwards and his wife are well-known for their bright outlook on life. There is never a dull moment for their associate, for Mr and Mrs Edwards are pleasant and cheerful at all times.
Mrs Edwards has been a teacher in the local schools since 1922 years ago she was appointed first headmistress of Glyntawe Infants and Juniors CP School Craig y Nos.
In the Second World War she was the chief lay a is an officer of the Red Cross in Ystradgynlais. She did tremendous work in this direction.

COSTUMIER
She has always taken an interest in drama and won a prize in the drama competition in the Ammanford National Eisteddfod in the 1920s. This is obviously the reason the youngsters at Glyntawe School are such star-studded attractions when they perform nativity plays at Callwen Church.
Mrs Edwards as well as being the tutor who gets the youngsters to perform to near perfection, makes all the costumes for the plays at her home in Ystradgynlais. She says it's no trouble really but one can imagine the amount of work and patience that goes into creating costumes for a nativity play. It takes months to prepare them.
On Sunday, endeavours were in evidence when the whole school took part in a nativity play, "The Stain Glass Window". The church was filled to capacity.

STAR PERFORMANCE
Average age of the cast was eight. It was plain to see that they have had the right upbringing by Mrs Edwards. There was no sign of nervousness and they spoke fluently and clearly. I heard every single word from the back of the church.
One girl, in my opinion, was the star in the mountains.
She was 10-year-old Ifron Morgan, Farmer's daughter who lives at Pentre Cribarth Farm Craig y Nos. dressed in rags as Make, a little girl selling matchsticks in the streets to stave off hunger from her and her mongrel dog, she had an unusual air of confidence. She whimpered, cried and lost her temper when people refuse to buy her matches. When kind lady came along and bought all matches and gave her through she had the audience spell bound with her words and expressions in gratitude.
Other members of the school taking part were: Vera Davies, Patty Hibbert, Elaine Hales, Elaine Williams, Elizabeth Evans, Mary Williams, Ann Watkins, Gladys and Valerie Morgan, Sheila Doyle, Gillian Thompson, and Maureen Smith.



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