Thursday 18 May 2017

109 Pantygwydr Baptist Church

109 Pantygwydr Baptist Church
This year sees the 125th anniversary of Pantygwydr Baptist Church, which stands at the corner of Ernald Place and Gwydr Crescent in the Uplands.  The name means “stream of crystal”, taken from the book of Revelation in the Bible.
It was founded in 1892 as Gorse Lane Baptist Church, before the street was re-named King Edward Road following Edward VII’s 1904 visit.  Originally it was a daughter church of Mount Pleasant Baptist, 26 of whose members transferred to the new work.  The corrugated iron chapel was opened in May 1892 by Rev. James Owen, Mount Pleasant’s minister from 1870 to 1907, and a Sunday School was started, which enrolled 62 children on the opening Sunday.  Mount Pleasant Church met the £600 cost of the building, but subsequently Gorse Lane Chapel became self-supporting, building and furnishing a schoolroom the following year at a cost of £225. 
Though generally the Welsh Religious Revival of 1904-05 had less impact on English congregations than among Welsh-speakers, the Gorse Lane congregation soon outgrew their premises.  In September 1905 the name was changed to Pantygwydr Baptist Church, and the need for a new building was agreed.  Ship owner J.C. Richardson’s former mansion Pantygwydr on the corner of Beechwood Street and Pantygwydr Road had been demolished, so land was purchased from the estate.  Pantygwydr Church’s architect was Charles Tamlin Ruthen, who had lived in Gorse Lane when first married.  He also designed the Mond Buildings, the Carlton Cinema (now Waterstone’s bookshop) and the Exchange Buildings; he lived in the mansion Derwen Fawr, now the Bible College of Wales, and was later knighted.  Pantygwydr Church was built of Pennant sandstone and Bath stone, with a Gothic tower and spire.
Mrs William Walters of Ffynone, whose husband gave his name to Walters Road, opened the new building in 1907.  The “tin tabernacle” was dismantled from Gorse Lane and set up next to the church for use as a meeting hall.  This was eventually replaced by the church centre, which opened in April 1994 adjoining the main building. 
From 1901 to 1911 Rev. William Thomas of Gwydr Crescent was church pastor, and when the new building opened there were seven deacons (all men), three of whom had served since 1892.  Among special meetings to mark the opening, two were led by the prolific preacher and author Rev. F.B. Meyer, who at that time was President of the Baptist Union.  The new building cost around £4,750, of which nearly £1,000 was collected in 1906, though the debt was not finally cleared until 1946.
The new premises were soon in use throughout the week for various meetings – on Monday evenings there was Band of Hope (originally a temperance organisation for children under 16) for “training in the principles of sobriety and thrift”; the Women’s Pleasant Hour was on Wednesday afternoons, followed later by a meeting for prayer and praise, described as “An oasis in the desert of the week”.  On Thursdays there was first Junior Endeavour, described as religious instruction for the young, with later Boys’ Brigade - founded in 1883 to combine activities like physical drill, swimming, first aid, and rescue from fire and water, with Christian values.  Along with choir practices, Pantygwydr Church, like many chapels, was well-used in those pre- and inter-war days, before the distractions of television, and when there was less cynicism towards the Christian faith.   
The evangelical ministry of Rev. Phil Hill, who was pastor from 1988 to 1995, built up the congregation, demonstrating the reality and relevance of Christ.  This continues under the present minister, Rev. Pete Orphan, who is from Newport.  He began as Pantygwydr’s youth pastor, and now serves on the University chaplaincy team and as chaplain to Swansea Rugby Club. 
Pantygwydr Church’s 125th anniversary is being marked on Sunday 9th July by a service of celebration at 11am, followed by a barbeque to which all are welcome.    


Wednesday 10 May 2017

108 The Colonial Building

The Colonial Building
The Strand in central London is a major thoroughfare that runs for ¾ mile from Trafalgar Square to Temple Bar.  By contrast Swansea’s Strand - the street below and running parallel to Wind Street - is completely different in character.  That area near the old docks used to be given a wide berth by respectable citizens, being the haunt of seamen of diverse nationalities, with pubs and brothels, and the scene of frequent fights and disturbances of the peace.  The mayor in 1852 described Swansea “outside the Strand and its environs” as an orderly town: most of the 199 known prostitutes in 1877 were operating in “the Strand and its environs”.
The Strand ran along the western bank of the original course of the river Tawe, an area subject to flooding, especially before the river was diverted by the New Cut to produce the North Dock in 1852.  Yet at the bottom of the Strand is an impressive grade II listed building formerly known as Colonial Building, which is shown on the 1748 engraving of Swansea Castle and the Strand by the brothers Samuel and Nathaniel Buck, and is the subject of a deed of conveyance from 1806. 
A six-storey building, the Colonial used to be that of Ace Electrical, whose owner Mr Don Ace said the name came from that of a Cardiff firm - though not Home and Colonial!  Originally it was a sail loft and a dwelling-house, then it became a flour warehouse and a tea warehouse, with part used by a sail-maker.
Swansea’s Scandinavian residents worshipped in part of the building before acquiring the Norwegian Church.  Services were led by Pastor Sivertsen (whose son Werner was a later Mayor of Swansea) in the sail-maker's loft at the bottom of the Strand.  As the congregation grew, Pastor Sivertsen, along with ship’s chandler Lars Knutsen, applied to the Seamen's Mission in Norway for Swansea to have a Norwegian Church, as Cardiff and Newport had.  The Newport Mission closed in 1910, whereupon its corrugated iron building was dismantled and brought to Swansea docks, being re-erected off Fabian Way, near New Cut Bridge.  The Mission was open each day, and became the focus for the Norwegian community, being used as both a place of worship and a social club, and remaining open day and night during the last war.  It closed in 1998, and was moved six years later the short distance to its present location near J Shed, beside the former Prince of Wales dock.  It is currently used as a day nursery, with the words SjĮŋmanns Kirken on the wall of the foyer entrance.
During the last war the Colonial Building was an annexe for the naval headquarters HMS Lucifer at the Old Guildhall (now the Dylan Thomas Centre).  It was used as a dormitory for seamen on minesweepers or coastal defence vessels.  When interviewed by Jill Forwood of the Evening Post, Don Ace, who had been a second engineer in the Royal Navy, suggested that marks in the beams indicate that the naval men slept in hammocks: each of those beams of Oregon pine came from an entire tree. 
The interior retains the original structure, with brick arched basement vaults supported by inverted T-girders on cross-shaped stanchions.  Likewise cast iron pillars support pitch pine cross-beams under timber floors.  The building’s exposed flank faces east to Quay Parade, and contains an oculus (circular window) to the attic, two windows to the top floor, and three windows to each of the lower floors at that end.  A boarded lift tower breaks the line of the slate roof at the centre.                                   
Amid the night-time exuberance of nearby Wind Street, the Colonial Building stands proud as a reminder of the heyday of Swansea Docks.

Monday 1 May 2017

107 Oystermouth Cemetery

107 Oystermouth Cemetery
The mortal remains of a philanthropist, a gifted musician, members of the crews of three lifeboat tragedies, and Wales’s first VC of the 1914-18 War, are among those buried in Oystermouth cemetery, which covers an area of 28 acres with 14,000 grave spaces.
When the large cemetery opened in 1883 near Callencroft quarry in Mumbles, the cemeteries of All Saints Church in Mumbles, Paraclete Chapel in Newton, and Bethany Chapel in West Cross were closed.  Oystermouth Burial Board had been set up after the 1875 Public Health Act empowered local areas to take charge of burials, along with other responsibilities.  When Oystermouth Urban District Council was disbanded in 1918, the cemetery became the responsibility of Swansea Corporation, with Mumbles becoming a ward of Swansea.
Along the avenue of yew trees is the grave of 55-year-old William Rogers, from the 1883 “Wolverhampton” lifeboat tragedy – the gravestones of the other three crew members who perished are outside All Saints Church.  The next grave is that of James Gammon, aged 51, from the 1903 “James Stevens” lifeboat tragedy; a little further away is the grave of Daniel Roger Claypitt aged 42, also from that disaster.  In the higher part of the cemetery all the crew of “Edward, Prince of Wales”, which sought to help the “Samtampa” at Porthcawl, are buried following the 1947 disaster, whose 70th anniversary was commemorated last 23rd April.
From the end of the yew avenue at the north-west corner is the grave of Welsh mezzo-soprano, musician and composer Morfydd Llwyn Owen, first wife of psychoanalyst Dr Ernest Jones of Gowerton.  She died in Thistleboon in 1918 aged 26, through chloroform poisoning after an appendix operation.  The dates on her gravestone are of her birth (incorrect by two years), marriage and death. 
Opposite the end of the yew avenue is the large chest grave of William Walters of Ffynone, after whom Walters Road is named.  The gravestone states that he was ‘taken from us suddenly’ - he died in 1911 aged 71.  His much-enlarged home is now Oakleigh House School.
Several sections are for the ashes of those who have been cremated, and there is a woodland burial ground. 
The Hebrew cemetery is reached through the Plosker Memorial Gates, erected in memory of the six million Jews who perished during the Holocaust 1939-1945.  A Memorial Wall just inside displays plaques from various Jewish historic sites – one being the Ffynone Synagogue, which replaced the Goat Street Synagogue destroyed during the 1941 Three Nights’ Blitz.  A tablet commemorates the consecration of the new cemetery in 1975.  The years given on the uniform gravestones follow the Hebrew not the Gregorian calendar.
Near the entrance from Slade Road is the grave of 27-year-old Private JP Patterson of the Machine Gun Corps, who died on 23 November 1918.  One wonders if his death was from wounds received during the conflict, since he died twelve days after the Armistice which concluded the First World War.
The first person to be buried in Oystermouth cemetery was Alfred Gelderd of Waterloo House in March 1883.  The first cemetery keeper was Henry Harris, a member of Castleton Chapel, who had been farm bailiff for Henry Crawshay’s Langland residence (later part of the Miners’ Convalescent Home).  His weekly salary began at one guinea, less two shillings for accommodation.  After 29 years in charge, he died aged 85 in 1911.  His successor, also named Harris, started at 25 shillings weekly, including accommodation.
On the north side of the higher part of the cemetery, by the gate, is the grave of Wales’s first VC of World War One, Sergeant William Charles Fuller, of the 2nd Battalion the Welsh Regiment.  He died in 1974 aged 90 in Westbury Street. 
The philanthropist Roger Beck, who lived at Rhyddings in Southward Lane, is buried with a typically unostentatious gravestone, on the right of the steep path to the newer part of the upper cemetery.