History and Heritage

Benjamin Thomas, Minister of Gurnos Chapel

The Reverend Benjamin Thomas was the first minister of Gurnos Chapel, inducted in 1858. He served for 26 years until ill health forced himto resign in 1884.

The article from the Labour Voice newspaper, Saturday 7th July 1923 covering the induction service of Rev. D J Moses also covered the history of the Gurnos Chapel and the tenure of the first minister, Benjamin Thomas:-

Early in 1858 a "call" was extended to the Rev Benjamin Thomas, of Walker New Castle on Tyne, to become pastor and it was accepted and the induction services were held on Whit-Sunday and Whit-Monday of the same year. Mr Thomas laboured very successfully for 26 years, resigning on account of old age and failing health in 1884. Within the first 6 years of his ministry the chapel had to be twice extended in size to cope with the increase in the numbers of the congregation.

During his ministry, also, 2 young men, members of the church, were induced to enter the ministry and both became famous throughout the length and breadth of the land, the Revs E Gurnos Jones and Penry Evans.

It may be interesting to recall the story of the first minister at Gurnos, the Rev Benjamin Thomas. Happily the Rev Benjamin Thomas is still with us and the time has not come to write his biography. Although the Rev Phillip Griffiths supervised the church at Gurnos for the year 1857, he only did so probably as the minister of the mother church at Pantteg and so it is quite correct to speak of the Rev Benjamin Thomas as the first regular minister. Mr Thomas was born at Cefnllwynhir in the parish of Llancrwyn, in 1814. In his early days he was a shoe maker by trade and left his native place when quite young, along with his parents: when about 16 years old he then became a member of the Baptist Church at Caersalem Dowlais. In 1836 or 1837 he came to live at Graig Arw, as Ystalyfera was then called and was admitted as a member of the church at Pantteg. He was 31 when he preached his first sermon at the request of his minister, the Rev Phillip Griffiths. He was so successful in his first and later efforts that the church persuaded him to enter the ministry. He was for a time at the National School Swansea, under the tuition of Dr Evan Davies.

After acting as a schoolmaster near Beulah Chapel Cwmtwrch, for a while and also as a local preacher, he was ordained a minister of the Welsh Church at Walker Newcastle on Tyne in 1855. His health giving way he was obliged to resign his pastorate, although quite popular with his flock. After this he kept a "British School" at Pantteg and there are a few even now living who were his pupils there.

In January 1858 he accepted a "call" to become the pastor of Gurnos Church and his induction services took place on Whit Sunday and Whit-Monday of the same year. As related elsewhere in this issue, he resigned his pastorate here owing to ill health on 6th July 1884, 39 years ago almost to the very day. He died 3rd November 1890 and was buried at Ystradgynlais.

The late Watcyn Wyn, in his biography of the Rev Penry Evans, one of the ministers raised at Gurnos, referred to the Rev Benjamin Thomas as a man of "outstanding Genius". He was a good preacher and a poet of considerable merit. With his disadvantages in early life and especially his lack of regular college training, it is a wonder that he attained such a high level. Amongst his manuscripts there were three bundles which he evidently meant to publish, but was not able to do so. One was a volume of poems and the other two contained a selection of his sermons. A large number of his poems and a few of his sermons are to be found in old numbers of the "Diwygiwr" and the "Dysgedydd". One of his poems perhaps the best of his work was composed while he was a minister at Newcastle on Tyne and is an expression of his longing for "Cwmtawe".

The History and Heritage of Ystalyfera is put online by Swansea Valley researcher Val Trevallion and Wolfian Design. All copyright remains with the original copyright holder, and all original research is copyright Val Trevallion, YEARGroup.

You can contact Ystalyfera History by emailing: contact@ystradgynlais-history.co.uk or Val Trevallion by emailing yeargroup@hotmail.co.uk.