Saturday, 10 February 2018

143 The Underground Chapels

The Underground Chapels
Mynydd Newydd road runs past Penlan Comprehensive School’s playing fields and takes its name from the colliery that was once on that site.  It was opened in 1843, and taken over by Vivian and Sons in 1866.  What makes it unique is that it contained in total three underground chapels.
Mining coal has always been a hazardous occupation, often in dangerous and cramped working conditions to extract coal from the seams.  If injury or death occurred, there was no expectation of receiving compensation.  Men would climb down ladders to the level where they were working, as there was no cage for them to go up and down until 1888.  Even some women and young children might work in the mines, and after a day’s shift, long before pithead baths, the miner would wash off the coal dust in a bath in front of the kitchen fire.
Yet it was work, and miners of Christian faith sought to follow the Biblical instruction to serve their masters to the best of their ability.  Several miners at Mynydd Newydd colliery worshipped at Mynyddbâch or Caersalem Newydd Chapels, and permission was sought from the colliery manager to hold a prayer meeting on Monday mornings before the week’s shift.  The suggestion was approved, and from August 1845 a group of miners would meet to pray at 6.30 a.m., while the pit ponies were kept in the stables.  A rough chapel was formed underground in the 5ft seam at a depth of 348ft; the ceiling was low but pit props were used to form benches.  Candles provided limited lighting, and the walls were whitewashed to make it brighter - the chapel measured about 16 by 6 yards (14m x 5m).  Instead of a liturgy, prayers would be extemporary, as at many nonconformist chapels today, and in Welsh, with two or three hymns being sung, the words of which would be familiar to most miners present.  There was usually a reading from the Bible, with perhaps a short comment or exhortation. 
At first, meetings took place irregularly, until an explosion in 1846 killed four teenage lads - prompting prayer meetings every Monday morning before the working week commenced.  Community spirit was fostered by the meetings, and after two years an all-day preaching festival (Cymanfa Bregethu) was held one Sunday near the pithead.
A second chapel was opened in 1867 in the 6ft seam - a depth of 774ft.  But by 1904 the original chapel had to be abandoned since the roof was cracking, so a new chapel was opened the following year in the 5ft seam.  In total there were three underground chapels in Mynydd Newydd colliery.
These underground chapels were featured in November 1916 in an article in the South Wales Daily Post (now the Evening Post), and the 80 years since the first underground chapel opened were marked with a preaching festival - Cymanfa Bregethu in 1924.
The late Mr John Hayman had fond memories of the meetings, recalling, “It was a simple, Welsh prayer service - just hymns and readings.  There was a great religious fervour at the time.  One of the readers was the oldest man in the pit - he was 69 years old and still working underground.  The service normally lasted about half an hour, at 6.30 in the morning.”             
In 1896, 311 men worked at Mynydd Newydd, and the workforce increased to 419 by 1908.  But the Vivian family relinquished the colliery in 1926, and the 6ft seam was closed through rising water the following year.  BBC radio broadcast a service from the 5ft seam at a depth of 350ft in October 1929, but the colliery closed a few years later. 
Most readers may not have worked underground, but the privilege of starting the day with prayer and praise to God in any language need not be the prerogative of miners of Mynydd Newydd colliery.    

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