History and Heritage

Wern Chapel, Ystalyfera


"The Community Mag" of August 2014 ran a double page to announce the celebration due that September of the Chapel's 150 years of worship and service to the community. It was a week, beginning on 6th September 2014 of a series of events to commemorate this milestone in the Chapel's history.

The programme of events arranged for the celebrations began with a Grand Concert on the 6th, featuring Côr Dathlu Cwmtawe Male Choir with guest artists Helen Gibbon (Soprano), John Davies (Tenor) and Eirian Davies (Baritone).

On Sunday morning 7th, a special service was conducted by the Rev Bernant Hughes (Rhuthin) formerly the minister of the Gurnos Chapel Ystalyfera and the author of the two Ystalyfera Books - Ystalyfera Memories and Stepping Stones in the History of Ystalyfera.

Wednesday 10th a concert was performed by the local young talent of the Swansea Valley thus (in the words of the programme) uniting the 'Old' with the 'Young'. During Tuesday and Thursday the Chapel was opened to enable the public to view the Chapel's exhibition.

The evening of Sunday 14th September, to close the week, a Hymn Singing Festival or the traditional Cymanfa Ganu was conducted by Mr Conway Morgan (Côr Dathlu Cwmtawe Male Choir) and Organist Mr Douglas Roberts (Resident Organist of the Wern Chapel).

Back in the 1860's it was felt the need for a chapel to be built in the centre of the district and services for this purpose were held at the home of Thomas Walton, grocer, Wern. Two deacons from Pantteg, Mr John Dafydd Evans and Mr James Clee were appointed to assist the Wern people to achieve their object.

In 1915 Mrs Elizabeth Rees related her recollections of these events to the Llais newspaper.

Wern Chapel Early Years

Wern Chapel was officially opened on Sunday 14th September 1864. On 5th June 1866, Mr Owen Jones was ordained as the first minister. In July 1870, the Rev Owen Jones had left and two years later the Rev J H Jones took up the ministry continuing until 1877. Mr H P Jenkins was ordained on 14th April 1880 and he ministered there for five years. This was followed by two of the longest ministries, of twenty-six and thirty-five years at Wern.

Wern Chapel Ministers

The organ was installed in 1899 and between that date and 1947 there were only 3 official organists, though there were official deputy organists, and during the First World War the offiial organist being called to the colours, a long-term deputy was in place.

Interestingly 3 of the official organists were women, although the first is only recorded as the wife of the minister, i.e. as Mrs John Davies.

Wern Chapel Organists

The Llais newspaper article about the 1932 renovations includes the line that "The building has been fitted with electric wires in readiness for the time when power is provided at Ystalyfera", inidicating it still had not got electricity in the early 1930s.

In addition, the chapel was fitted with new swing doors, a new boiler for the heating, and new carpeting and fittings. The reopening ceremony was on the 3rd January 1932.

Wern Chapel Renovations

Wern Welsh Independent Chapel Ystalyfera was officially reopened at an open-air ceremony in the main road in front of the chapel in September 1958. As well as many repairs and renovations, work carried out included the result of several donations which had specifically in their turn paid for new glass-pannelled swing doors, a stained glass window, and a memorial tablet to the late minister, Rev E T Evans.

Wern Chapel Renovations

To celebrate its centenary on Friday 4th September 1964, special services were held not only on the Sunday but throughout the following week as well.

In that year 1964, the Chapel was the eighth place of worship in Ystalyfera to celebrate its centenary and as the Llais put it, "a record for any village the size of Ystalyfera in Wales".

Indeed the other chapels were also Welsh chapels i.e. Pantteg built in 1821; Gurnos in 1839; Holy Trinity in 1844; Soar in 1848; Caersalem in 1855; Jerusalem in 1857 and Sion in 1962.

Today of course only 3 remain Pantteg - Jerusalem - Wern.

Additional details about Wern Chapel can be found at www.welshchapels.org which includes architectural information in some detail.

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.

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