About the Society
Historical Notes






There was a phenomenal rise of non-conformity in the county in these years, e.g.


Baptist Churches in county




Baptist Churches in county








Independent Churches




Independent Churches





This non-conformity retained its hold on the people until the early years of the present century and reached its numerical zenith during the revival years of 1904–05 but soon after a decline set in which has continued to the present day.

One feature that distinguished the non-conformity of the 18th century from that of the 19thC was that the former was aristocratic while the latter drew its strength from the impact of Evangelical Methodism and the French Revolution and in Wales, its great strength was the ‘Gwerin’. The result of this was that the Welsh Periodicals of the last century give a truer reflection of working class aspirations than any English counterparts


In England, the rift between the middle and working classes and the abandonment of the chapel by the latter was evident by 1850 Religious Census of 1851.


Published in 1853 Report on Public Worship pp 158–162

“While the middle and upper classes follow religious practices as a propriety that is essential for their social recognition, the vast numbers of labourers and artisans have become apathetic, if not actively hostile to church and chapel.”

In Wales, especially, non-conformity retained its hold on the people up to the early years of this century.

Returns of Religious Census in the Town of Aberdare, Spring 1877 Out of 1753 houses visited, only in 31 were canvassers refused information. Out of 8,271 persons interviewed 7,346 claimed to attend some place of worship and 753 did not. 2,884 children attended Sunday School and 655 did not. 468 people said that they used to frequent a place of worship but had ceased to do so. Of 1,753 houses, only 61 were without a Bible.

A similar census was held at Merthyr in the same year and a few over 4,000 did not attend a place of worship out of an estimated population of 70,000.

Development of non-conformity at Aberdare was influenced by the Great Religious Revivals. Some were national and some were local in character..


The Great Religious Revival swept over the Principality and 10 new chapels in Aberdare are an indication of the results and effects at Aberdare. Ebenezer received 53 new members at one service and nearly 80 at the next. Over 300 joined Ebenezer in 1859. The revival meetings lasted anything up to 5 hours each, e.g. revival meetings of Independents at Siloa Tuesday July 5th when the proceedings commence with a prayer at 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., 2 preachers at a meeting at 10 a.m., a young peoples prayer meeting at 1 p.m. A Public Meeting in the afternoon, an evening service at 6.30 followed by scenes of extraordinary religious fervour carried on till 10.30 p.m. 40 converts came to the penitential bench.

Some of these revivals were local and some confined to denominations. In 1879, there was a fervent revival among the Baptists:





Restored to Membership









Bethel, Abernant




Bethania, Cwmbach












Nebo, Cwmdare




Seion, Cwmaman









The Revival of 1904 affected all chapels. Its appeal was even more emotional than the previous revivals, vide Thomas Williams, ‘Atgofion am y Dywigiad yn Nhrecynon’, Dolgellau, 1913. Its effects were not as lasting as the revivals of the last century.


Bred a generation of sound Biblical knowledge in the local populace, but this did not happen after the 1904 Revival.


Led to intense social consciousness in chapels and this could be associated with the later agitation for electoral reform. 1859 could be said to be the end of the beginning of the political significance of non-conformity, while 1904 could be said to be the beginning of the end.


The Congregation Union of England and Wales met at Aberdare. This was the first time that this had occurred outside England. The meetings were held in Marquees on Tŷ Fry Farm and the Lord Mayor of London presided over one of these meetings. He presented the town with a wall clock to mark his visit and for some time this was kept in a back room of the Temperance Hall and later it was given to the hospital.


The union of Welsh Independents met at Aberdare in 1935, 1911 and 1886 when the Rev Dr Heber Evans made an address from the chair which provoked considerable criticism from the Anglican quarter.


The Union of Welsh Baptists met at Heolyfelin in 1915 and at Gadlys in 1886 when Jenkin Howell, Aberdare, was made official Printer to the Baptists Union.

There was a great love of sermon tasting, and meetings frequently extended for over two hours.


On 26th June, Charles H Spurgeon visited Merthyr where he was to preach in the open air at Ysgubor Field. The weather was unfavourable and so he delivered two discourses at the Market Hall Aberdare. Commercial life ceased in Aberdare at 12 noon and there were special trains to Abernant.


The Rev J.D. Williams of Cardiff delivered a notable sermon at Cwmbach on the “Eternal Punishment of the Ungodly”. In spite of the exciting nature of the meetings, there were some who were inattentive. At a joint meeting of Trecynon Chapels in 1885, a complaint was made that many of the congregation were sleeping. A suggestion that they should be fined was rejected. A notable feature of chapel life was the stern measures taken to enforce discipline. The chief misdemeanours punishable by excommunication were


a) Intemperance
b) Keeping licensed premises
c) Theft

Other prohibited acts were
1) to cut the hair short and part it down the side
2) to wear any emblems belonging to the Ivorites or Oddfellows in chapel
3) to work on Communion Sunday
4) to attend Sunday Funerals
5) to marry a non-believer
6) to wander from chapel to chapel “to the neglect of their own congregation”


Those guilty of these misdemeanours had to stand in the aisle during the administration of Holy Communion and had to seek readmission into the church fellowship at a weeknight meeting. The idea behind excommunication was that the church was a community of believers whose actions should measure up to their professions of faith. The code of church discipline, however, made no provision for the more covert sins of pride, avarice and cruelty etc. Social activities of chapels centred round schemes for raising money for

(a) philanthropic purposes and,
(b) reduction of church debts.

The usual method of raising money was to hold gigantic tea parties. It was not unusual for 1,000 or 1,500 people to partake of refreshment. Other methods might seem more dubious to later generations of chapel-goers.


September 21st, A Prize Draw will be held at the Vestry of the Baptist Chapel in Trecynon in aid of David Griffiths aged 20 who lost both legs in a Swansea Tramcar accident last year. 1st Prize £10 in cash, 2nd Prize a silver watch, 3rd Prize A Tea Service.


Tabernacle Congregational Church found a new way of making money. A Sunday School Excursion was organized for August 3rd of that year and it was to be via the Vale of Neath line via Briton Ferry Road to Swansea Wind Street. 1,304 people travelled on the Excursion and Tabernacle was able to reduce the debt by £57..1..0d.

Intense Theological Controversies took place.

When the Independents took over Bethel, Gadlys, and Soar, Wind Street, from the Wesleyan reformers, the cat was truly set among the pigeons. The Rev Tegai Hughes was in the thick of the fight. The leading and most prolific writers were Unitarian, Thomas Evans (Tomos Glyn Cothi), John Jones and Rhys Jenkin Jones who has 10 books to his credit and innumerable letters to the weekly press in defence of the Unitarian position.


Jenkin Howell published a Welsh Translation of the “Manual of Unitarian Belief”. The question, which raised the greatest furore, was that of the Baptist; the great antagonists were William Edwards of Ebenezer and Thomas Price of Calfaria. Nothing illustrates better “Odium Theologicum” than the writings of these two men.


William Edwards wrote an article to “Gwron Cymru” on the subject of Infant Baptism. This led Thomas Price to answer in a book, “Bapto and Baptiso”.


Edwards countered with another book called by the same title, whereupon Price again replies with “Trochiad Y Bedydd Christnogol”. The works themselves were fairly reasonable and fairly courteous but the reviews in the “Annibynnwr” and “Seren Gomer” pulled no punches. The debate continued into the 60s.


Rev Tegai Hughes entered the fray with a compromise, suggesting baptism at a later age than infancy. He was attacked by both sides.


D.J. Thomas, a local printer, published a Welsh Translation of a sermon on Baptism by Beecher Ward Stowe.


Jenkin Howell published a debate on Baptism that had been held at Ruthin. The controversy dragged on through the century becoming so bitter at times that it is amazing that the opposing denominations were ever likely to agree on anything. They were, however, united in their opposition to the Anglican Church.