Monday, 30 January 2017

89 Baptist Chapels

89 Baptist chapels

There might not seem any obvious connection between a large chapel in Swansea’s Kingsway, some ruins in the Ilston valley, and the NSPCC Service Centre.  The chapel is Mount Pleasant Baptist, built in 1825 in what was then Gower Street, on the edge of the town.  The ruins in the Ilston valley, a short distance from the Gower Inn’s car park, are of the first Baptist church in Wales, established in 1649 at the end of the English Civil War.  The Swansea NSPCC Service Centre is at the former Bethesda Welsh Baptist Chapel in Prince of Wales Road, built at a similar time as Mount Pleasant to accommodate Welsh-speaking Baptists. 

The Ilston valley ruins are more significant than merely the site of the first Baptist church in Wales, which the plaque unveiled by David Lloyd George in 1928 states; this was the second nonconformist church in Wales (the first being at Llanfaches in Gwent in 1639).  During the seventeenth century attendance at the Church of England was compulsory, and anyone desiring another form of worship – such as Independents, Quakers, Baptists and Roman Catholics - needed to meet secretly and to exercise discretion.  Following the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II in 1660, those who failed to conform – nonconformists like John Bunyan, author of “Pilgrim’s Progress” - faced fines and imprisonment. 

Like the Pilgrim Fathers nearly fifty years earlier, some of that Ilston congregation emigrated to the New World, establishing the colony of Swanzey, Massachusetts.  Other Baptists met in Swansea in Back Lane, at the top of Orchard Street on part of the site of Alexandra House, until under William of Orange in 1689 the Toleration Act allowed freedom of worship to protestant dissenters.

In the early nineteenth century the Baptists in Back Lane amicably divided into English and Welsh congregations: Mount Pleasant Chapel was built for English speakers, and Bethesda for Welsh. 

Mount Pleasant was opened in October 1826, when Rev. Christmas Evans was one of the preachers.  The £4,510 cost was a huge undertaking at that time when the chapel had just 54 members.  Subsequent enlargement in 1875 added the classical façade with four Corinthian pillars, similar to Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.  Mount Pleasant added a lecture hall in 1885, followed by class rooms and vestries in 1905.

Bethesda Welsh Baptist Chapel in Prince of Wales Road was built in 1831, subsequently enlarged and rebuilt in a neo-classical style with an elaborate Renaissance porch, with seating for a thousand people.  Rev. Christmas Evans, who preached in Welsh at Bethesda and in English at Mount Pleasant in the week before his death in 1838, is buried in the churchyard.  Now re-named Tŷ Findlay, the building has been adapted since 2004 into the Swansea NSPCC Service Centre.

Sadly as with any Christian denomination, schisms can occur.  Mount Pleasant, like Ilston chapel, was a Particular or Strict Baptist Church, admitting to membership and communion only those believers baptised by immersion.  Some members left in 1866 to establish Mount Zion Chapel, at the top of Craddock Street, as a General Baptist congregation.  Following the Second World War this became Capel Gomer when taken over by the congregation of that Welsh Baptist chapel, whose Orchard Street premises (now part of the multi-storey car park) were destroyed during the Blitz.  More recently Capel Gomer in Willows Place has become the home of Swansea Chinese Christian Fellowship. 

During the 1850s Mount Pleasant opened a schoolroom in Aberdyberthi Street in the Hafod, replaced in 1975 by the building now known as Hafod Baptist Church.  On the Sketty Park estate, Mount Pleasant opened a church hall in June 1971, which later became Parklands Evangelical Church. 

While the Ilston valley and Bethesda chapels are no longer places of worship, at Mount Pleasant and the chapels it initiated the challenge and relevance of the Christian message is clearly proclaimed.           






No comments:

Post a Comment