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The 130th Anniverary of Primitive Methodists Ogmore Vale

(Original article published in 2007)

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Introduction

In Methodism 2007 is a year for much celebration. It is the 300th anniversary of the birth of Charles Wesley, the 100th anniversary of the Methodist Prayer Handbook, and the 75th anniversary of the Methodist Union, which formed the Methodist Church in Great Britain. 2007 is also the centenary of the opening of the ‘new chapel’ in Corbett Street Ogmore Vale Bridgend and the 130th anniversary of the original Primitive Methodist Chapel, on the same site, which building, after much alteration, is the vestry, schoolroom, kitchen and toilets for the Ecumenical Church of Christchurch Ogmore Vale. 2007 is also an International time for remembrance and reconciliation. It is 200 years since the ‘Abolition of the Slave Trade Act’ was passed. In line with these occasions this document has been created to try to remember, encourage and celebrate the work of the Methodist people of Ogmore Vale in their worship and service for God.

Notes on the History of Bethel Primitive Methodist Chapel, Corbett Street, Ogmore Vale.

Terry Parsons, 2007

Work on building the original Bethel Chapel commenced in 1877 for a Primitive Methodist Church already well advanced numerically and in financial resources, which enabled them to support their own minister the Rev. E. Powell. In that year, on the 27th August, the Rev. Powell laid the foundation stone. The building was fairly small and single storey with a seating capacity of 200. No record has been found as to where, in the Ogmore Valley, meetings were held before the chapel opened, but the congregation welcomed this modest building as suitable for their regular and well attended services. The Rev. E. Powell was later succeeded by Rev. J. T. Hinton who was named as the minister in 1891. The times of the services on Sunday were 11.00am. and 6.00pm. There was also a Wednesday service at 7.00pm.

However, during the space of approximately 30 years the membership and the attendances at the services had increased, in the fervent religious climate of those days, to such an extent, that the small chapel became inadequate for the size of the congregations which crowded inside.

Note this article from the Glamorgan Gazette of February 3rd 1905.

“The Ogmore Vale Primitive Methodists for ten weeks have been engaged in holding special services on behalf of the unsaved, and the young men of our church have sustained enthusiasm and devotion at all the meetings With commendable loyalty ….. and some very remarkable conversions have taken place…… a man, well known for his

impatience, and to whom manifold personal appeals had been made, and who treated them all with apparent

indifference, was prompted one evening to attend the service. His son, who Is one of our recent converts, and who has been rescued from a life of drunkenness, began to pray for his father ….. they wept together………… The congregation was fired at the sight of this glorious spiritual achievement and the shouts of joy and songs of praise will ever be remembered. Another young convert said, ‘Lord save my chum, we used to travel the downward road together. Now may he travel with me to heaven.’ A young bugler boy was also among the converts and prayed that he might have strength to enable him to preach and live for Christ in India, for which country he would shortly be leaving. A number of other great, but quiet conversions have also taken place.”

(this article may also be found In the 2003 Journal, quoted by Nesta Dean).

The need arose for a more spacious and accommodating home for the cause. Accordingly, and with some determination, the trustees borrowed £450 at 4 ½% annual interest from a Mr. T. Jones of Glenview, Blackmill and arranged for the construction of a larger, two storey building adjoining the existing chapel. In order to keep the building costs as low as possible, the trustees and the chapel leaders themselves cut and laid the foundations. Foundation Stones were also laid representing chapel activities.(See Appendix A). During the building of the Chapel a prominent member of the congregation sadly died. The obituary in the Glamorgan Gazette of February 1907 stated that “Mr. Thomas Evans, whose presence and kindly help will be sadly missed had died after a protracted illness. Mr. Evans lived in Dunraven Terrace”.

With the willing assistance of other members of the chapel the building was completed by June 1907. The original chapel, now attached to the new building, was afterwards used as the minister’s vestry and a Sunday Schoolroom. At the time of building the chapel leaders and trustees were:

John Gould     
George Baker
David Burridge
Fred Isaac
Daniel Evans
William Quick
Fred Hooper
Alfred Morgan
Edward George Capel
Frank J. King

Interestingly the loan for the new building had been repaid in full, together with the accumulated interest, by the 19th June 1909. The ensuing years were spent acquiring and installing those items indispensable to the complete furnishing of a non-conformist chapel. A new pipe organ, replacing the old one, was purchased and installed at a cost of £156 on 31st July 1912. Remarkably this amount too was repaid, in full, to the creditor in a very short period, less than one month, by 29th August.

With the opening of the new chapel, Bethel now made expansive improvements in all departments. A strong Sisterhood was formed, and the Sunday School to an exceptional degree, developed rapidly. It was noted that it became necessary to allocate two full Sundays for the Sunday School Anniversary in order to give all of the children and young people an opportunity to participate in the event. An event which was greatly supported by the strong chapel choir

There was also an article In the Glamorgan Gazette of the 10th May 1907 to this effect.

“Last Sunday the Primitive Methodist Church held their annual Sunday School Anniversary, which proved a record success. Recourse was wisely made to the Workmen’s Hall, (BJD. Was this perhaps because the new sanctuary was under construction?) which was crowded to excess during the three services at which the children acquitted themselves admirably in the various recitations, solo’s, duets, etc. The conductor of the meetings for the day was Mr. E. Whone of Tonypandy, who was accompanied by a strong string band from Llwynypia under the baton of Mr. G. Farmer. On Monday the scholars of the Sunday School had their annual tea party. The children, led by the choir under the leadership of Mr. Frank King, paraded the main streets and thoroughfares and then partook of tea. The weather was delightfully fine, and everything passed off most successfully. In the evening an entertainment was held, which was well attended. Mr. Samuel Fox ably presided at the organ throughout the series of meetings”.

Another interesting chapel activity, frequently held throughout spring, summer and early autumn, weather permitting, was open air meetings on Sunday evenings on the mountainside at Caedu which attracted large crowds of listeners. One of the most popular and powerful preachers was a man named Durnal from the Rhondda valley. It was said that he had a voice like a town crier and people then living in Glyn Street, on the other side of the valley, related that if they were sitting in their front gardens they could always hear him speaking. His favourite opening hymn was;

“Hark the Gospel news is sounding,
Christ has suffered on the Tree.
Streams of mercy are abounding,
Grace for all is rich and free.
Now, poor sinner, come to Him Who died for thee”.

No record has been found of the name of the minister incumbent during the building and the first few years of the new chapel. In 1914 it was the Rev. Edward Hough who lived in Dunraven Terrace and in 1920 the Rev. Charles D. Borrett who lived at 3, Cuthbert Street.

In 1922 the Rev. David Smith of Wyndham Street became Bethel’s minister and under his ministry, which continued for 15 years until 1937, morning services were always exceptionally well attended and there were capacity congregation’s at most evening services. Large families were accommodated in the so-called ‘family pews’ then commonly in use.

These were also the years of the chapels munificent contributions to the Rhondda circuit to which it continued to belong throughout its existence, and to which Bethel was a source of spiritual as well as financial strength. Also in 1922 a far- sighted decision was made to introduce a Christian Endeavour Society. From its tentative beginnings astonishing progress was made and it came to comprise three strong, well-organised sections, senior, intermediate and junior, within the chapel. Like the Sunday School, Sisterhood, Band of Hope and the Youth Club, the Society made a substantial contribution to the spiritual and financial work of the chapel. The Rev. David Smith was considered by Bethel Chapel

to be the apotheosis of accomplishment when he was elected to the presidency of the Bridgend and District Christian Endeavour Union followed a few years later by the presidency of the Welsh National Christian Endeavour Union and eventually president of the British Christian Endeavour Union covering England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

Following the Rev. Smith’s ministry Mr. S. T. Evans, a member at Bethel and a member of the Christian Endeavour, was elected president of the Bridgend and District Christian Endeavour Union. In 1940 Mr. Evans was nominated by the Bridgend, Cardiff and Pontypool Unions as president elect of the Welsh National Christian Endeavour Union.

Unfortunately he lost by one vote to a famous preacher and lecturer, the Rev. R. J. Fenwick of Swansea.

Inside the Chapel, to the right of the pulpit is a memorial stone tablet dedicated to the Rev. David Smith. It was during the ministry of the Rev. Smith, in 1932, that the Methodist Union took place. The Primitive, Wesleyan and United Methodists came together to form the Methodist Church of Great Britain.

On the week commencing 4th September 1977 Bethel celebrated its centenary. With special services on Sunday 4th and 11th and a mid-week service on Wednesday 7th the celebrations were enhanced by a ‘Family Birthday Supper’ on Friday the 9th September.

Ogmore Memories

During the Second World War years a young trainee minister was appointed to the three chapels in Ogmore Vale. The Rev, Kenneth Greet, who later rose to very important and prominent positions in Methodism, served the people and gained much valuable experience. Here is a letter which he has kindly sent.

“I was accepted for the ministry in 1939 just as our theological colleges were closing for the duration of the war. The Home Mission Department sent me out to serve as a pre-collegiate, first to Herefordshire and then to Ogmore Vale.

“I am delighted to respond to Mr Dallimore’s invitation to contribute to the history of the Bethel Church as it celebrates its centenary. I was given charge of the Bethel and Wesley churches and Blackmill. I used to say, “If ever I drop dead, it will be half way between Bethel and Wesley.” I learn with interest that several congregations now meet together on the Bethel premises.

“My memories of Ogmore Vale are legion. The Bethel congregation included many fine characters. Will Culliford (who once took me on a walk for two miles underground at one of the mines) led the accomplished choir. When he conducted the Hallelujah Chorus he nearly fell over the gallery rail in his enthusiasm.

“Alf Davey brought immense energy to all that he did (before going off to Canada). One Christmas he insisted on decorating the tree with the sort of fairy-lights which go on and off. As a result some members of the congregation went home with splitting headaches!

“One elderly steward prayed in the vestry before the service. He had a voice like a Town Cryer and always went on well beyond the starting time of the services. I had to put a stop to that.The Bethel congregation filled the ground floor of the church and overflowed into the gallery. This was a great challenge to me as a preacher. There was an aged member of the congregation whose Shiny bald head always seemed to be nodding in vigorous agreement with what I was saying. At least I thought so until one Sunday – when the nodding had been especially noticeable – he said “Didn’t understand a word of that, lad.”

“Every afternoon was spent visiting. I often had a theological conversation with a miner as he sat in a tin bath in front of a roaring fire, his black body turning glistening white under the soap suds.

“One evening, on my way home from a church meeting, I passed a long queue outside the Workmen’s Hall Cinema. With great temerity I went in to the manager’s office and said, “you’ve got more people in your queue than I get in my church”, “Well”, he said “that’s your fault: you should put on a better show”. I asked if I could go in and give a three minute talk between the short film and the long film. The manager said he would be prepared to try this out the following Thursday. I turned up, feeling very nervous. The film before my talk was “Tarzan and the Apes”. Some misguided person had left a trap door open in the dark region behind the silver screen. I fell down the hole and sprained my ankle. However, I hobbled on and gave my talk. This was greeted with thunderous applause. The manger met me afterwards and said, “Boy, this is box office stuff”. Thereafter I went every Thursday and delivered a three minute talk. It made me many friends.

“What warmth and kindness the people of the Valley showed to their young minister. I recall with great gratitude Mr and Mrs Len Evans of 31, St John, Street who took me in as a lodger. My two years in Ogmore Vale were a wonderful preparation for the later demanding ministry at the Tonypandy Central Hall. From there, of course, I was called to Westminster and tasks that took me all over the world. I remember those early years with deep thankfulness for all that the warm-hearted people of the Valleys taught me about ministry. May God bless those who carry on the work today”.

During 1978 and 1979 Mid Glamorgan County Council conducted a detailed survey of all 612 non-conformist chapel buildings then remaining in the county. As part of this project Bethel Chapel was surveyed in 1979 by Philip Hartland. Information outlining the history of the chapel was also supplied to the County Planning Officer by Miss P. Capel of 1 St. John Street, Ogmore Vale, with some additional notes provided by Mr. S. T. Evans of Brooklet House, Ogmore Vale, CF32 7DG. Sadly Mr. S. T. Evans died in May 1980, and the notes that he and Miss Capel created, like so many other records seem to have disappeared.

Christchurch United Chapel came into being in 1991 when the former Primitive Methodist Chapel, Bethel, and the English Congregational Chapel signed a sharing agreement and moved into the Bethel premises. Prior to this the Wesleyan Methodists had joined with Bethel in 1973, also into the congregation, on the 17th April 1991, due to the closure of their chapel, had come members of Ogmore Vale Presbyterian Chapel. Later, in November 2001, members of Blackmill Methodist Chapel and on 5th October 2003 members of Bethany Presbyterian Chapel Nantymoel. All have happily joined with the former members making a truly united congregation.

Ministers names to date:

1877Rev. E. Powell.
1891 Rev. J. T. Hinton.
1914Rev. Edward Hough.
1920Rev. Charles D. Borrett.
1922-37Rev. David Smith.
19XXRev. Owen Johnson.
1939Rev. Kenneth Greet.
Until Aug 1953Rev. A.E.Ray
1963Rev. A. Spencer Little.
1963-67Rev. D. Swales.
1966-68Rev. David Nixon.
Rev. Terry Smith.
Rev. H. Evans.
1974Rev. H. Bent.
Rev. William Johnson.
1994-2002Rev. Alison Davies.
2002-2007Pastor Brian Dallimore.

Groups and Societies active at Bethel and Christchurch.

Sunday School, Christian Endeavour (Junior, Intermediate and Senior), Christian Citizenship, Youth Fellowship, Women’s Work and Sunshine Fund (Pastoral Visitation), Adventurers, Band of Hope, Men’s Bible Class, Choir.

We now look at a little history of the congregations who have come together to form the Local Ecumenical Partnership at Christchurch.

Wesley Methodist Chapel.

In 1886 in Tynewydd Row on the site of the present Gwyn Clack’s Furniture Store a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was erected.

Article found in the Glamorgan Gazette May 10th 1907.

“Mr. Roger Bennett, formerly leader of the Wesley Choir, Ogmore Vale, and now colliery agent at Midsomer Norton Somerset, recently had a musical success. His choirs had the distinction of taking two first prizes and one second in the open choral competitions in the three day eisteddfod held there”.

In 1973 it was decided, after sharing many services and joint activities, to unite the two congregations at Bethel. After much prayer and deliberation a new name was decided upon; Christchurch.

English Congregational Chapel.

The “English Congs”, was established in 1901 in the High Street not far from Bethania Row. It was, in fact, an offshoot of Bethania Welsh Congregational Chapel or Capel y Graig which had been erected in 1846 where Independents and Methodists met. At the turn of the twentieth century a group from Bethania believed that the time was right for an English branch of congregationalism to be established. Meeting first in Bethania vestry and then at 15 Glyn Street the group rose to 50 members and so began meeting at the Aber Boys School. On 20th October 1901 the group had grown to such an extent that it was established as the English Congregational Chapel. Ground was leased and later purchased in High Street, an architect, Mr. J. Rees of Ton Pentre was commissioned to draw up plans, and Mr. Jenkin Phillips of Nantymoel was given the contract, at a price of £2,030, to build. On October 5th 1902 Mrs. Dr. Parry of Pontycymer, and Mrs. D. C. Williams of Ogmore Vale laid the foundation stones. Two years later the Rev. Griffith J. Evans was ordained and inducted as the first minister. The Congs. was built to accommodate the English Language speakers who had come into the valley with the development of the coal industry. For the next 90 years it was used in various capacities to faithfully serve the community

In the May 10th 1907 Glamorgan Gazette accolades were heaped on the church when this article appeared.

“The English Congregational Church gave their annual tea to their Sunday School and Band of Hope scholars on Tuesday evening, and they are to be highly commended upon their wisdom in selecting the time for commencement of the treat at 5 o’clock after the children had left the elementary schools. Much complaint has been found with the evil effects that Sunday School treats, singing festivals etc., have had upon the day school attendance, and thousands of pounds have undoubtedly been lost to the county exchequer on this account. Probably other churches and Sunday Schools will follow the excellent lead of the English Congregational Church, and fix their treats after school hours. The hour did not militate against the success of the treat, for a record number of scholars partook of the good things so generously provided”.

Throughout the Second World War services and activities continued ably supported by the ministry of Rev. William J. Jones. Early in 1940’s Rev. Jones moved on to another pastorate. After a time without a minister the work, in 1946, was taken up by Rev. Emlyn James. He was followed in the mid 1950’s by the Rev. Byron Clements who was then followed for over twenty years by the Rev. Doris Leyshon. Rev Leyshon before her ordination had served for many years on the mission field in India, and she was also a local girl living in Bryncethin. The membership was always active and the activities always lively and well supported During the late 1980’s the fabric of the church deteriorated and eventually the building became unsafe and had to be demolished the congregation joining with the “Prims, Wesleyans and Presbyterians” to form the Local Ecumenical Partnership of “Christchurch” in Corbett Street in 1992. When challenged, the congregation of the “Congs” were heard to say “We are not closing … we are just moving!” The name plaque from the original building is now set on the site where the “Congs”. once stood.

Blackmill Wesleyan Chapel

In November 2001 Mary Jones, Margaret Jones, Margaret Lawrence, and Ivy Davies, the remaining members at Blackmill Chapel joined the Congregation at Christchurch Ogmore Vale. More than a century of worship and service had come to an end; a simple, un-ostentatious stone-built chapel held its final service of closure. “It was a lovely, very moving occasion, filled with former members returning to join in for the last time” reflected Mary Jones the chapel’s longest serving member who had been taken to the chapel as a babe in arms.

Like many other chapels, it is not known where people met to worship prior to the opening in 1885. But the occasion was marked by the presentation of a Bible by the Wesleyan navvies employed by a Mr. Fairclough on road building projects in the nearby Garw Valley. (The Bible is in the archives kept at Christchurch). These men worshipped with the Blackmill congregation.

Serving the English speakers of the area, including Pantyrawel and Lewistown, the chapel thrived until the gradual demise of regular church going in the 60’s and 70’s. Large Sunday School numbers are recorded, as too the attendances at the Sisterhood. Even now surviving members can remember services with attendances in excess of 100. Unique for its time the pews in the chapel were movable to enable space to be used for other purposes; harvest suppers when trestle tables groaned with teas, open spaces for the children to follow their activities and to play games. “The chapel was the focal point of the Village”, commented Mary, who from the age of 13 years until its closure, was the chapel organist.

Fond memories are also held of a chapel stalwart Mr. Evan Parry who died in 1997 at the age of 103. “He appeared to hold the chapel together with all the work he did”. Margaret Jones, another long serving member noted. He was the Sunday School Superintendent, the Chapel Treasurer, et al, and he always arrived early on cold days to ensure the fires were lit. After his death and until they moved away Mr Parry’s niece and her husband helped the members to keep things going.

The ministry at Blackmill was supported by ministers who served the Methodist Chapels in the Ogmore Valley. Unfortunately, due to high maintenance costs and low membership numbers the decision had to be taken, with the sad agreement of the Methodist Circuit to which the chapel belonged to cease to worship and to close the chapel.

Ogmore Vale Presbyterian Church.

Fifteen English speaking members of the Welsh Methodist Chapel at Hermon, left and established an English Presbyterian Church. A site was chosen in St. John’s Square, the chapel being completed in 1911. During the time the chapel was being built the congregation met in the old Workmen’s Hall. The building, which became known as “The Pres” is no longer used for religious purposes but as a youth centre by BCBC.

On the 17th April 1991 a service of dissolution was held conducted by the Moderator of the Presbytery. During this service Mr. A. J. Tuck gave an account of the history of the cause and Mrs. Evelyn Hopkins read a lesson.

Bethany Presbyterian Church Nantymoel

On October 5th 2003 a closing down service was held at Bethany. Due to a drastically reduced membership and remedial work needed on the building the regretful but inevitable decision was made. Bethany Presbyterian Chapel had reached the point where it had to close. Opened in December 1896 by members from Gilead Presbyterian Church Nantymoel, the initial oversight was by the minister of Gilead. The first Church Secretary was Mr. E.R. Adams the treasurer being Mr. Lewis Morgan. The opening services lasted for a full five days.

In 1911 the church had its first pastor Rev. Sidney Evans, but unfortunately his ministry lasted for only three years. In 1914 Rev. Glanmor Jenkins became pastor serving valiantly for many years. February 1926 saw Rev. A. E. Roberts inducted as pastor and he remained in that position for eighteen years, long being remembered for his loyal and devoted service not only to the church, but, in many different ways, to the valley. His bright disposition and joyful Christian demeanour endeared him to everyone.

Bethany’s membership was never very large but its devoted and good workers for many years kept a flourishing Sunday School, and always willingly gave financially to support the Church’s work. Happily at the Golden Jubilee celebrations in 1946 the members were gratified to know that fifty years on they were totally debt free.

The post Second World War years brought the ministry of Rev. Leslie Jones and Rev. Gwilym Evans, both pastors remembered with a great degree of respect and affection, but as the twenty first century drew on a gradual decline in membership meant that the church was now without a pastor but the pulpit was always occupied due to the hard working efforts of the church secretary Mrs. Mary Barnett.

By the beginning of the twenty first century the membership was drastically reduced and the brave but inevitably sorry decision was made – closure.

After the closure service the members had agreed that they would transfer to Christchurch, Ogmore Vale. There they received a warm welcome and have become invaluable in the ecumenical work and worship there. Long may the association continue and the worship be enhanced by their presence.

Moira James & Mary Barnett.

Appendix A: Foundation stones. Laid by Bethel Chapel representative’s circa 1906.

  • Mr. Thomas Evans – Sunday School.
  • Mr. AIfred Morgan – Band of Hope.
  • Mr. F. J. King – Choir.
  • Mr. G. Baker – Men’s Bible Class. Mrs. Elsie Hooper.
  • Miss Paula J. Watts.
  • Mr. E. G. Capel.
  • Mr. G. H. Davey. Mr. Daniel Evans. Mr. F. Isaac.
  • Mr. Jenkin Williams DC.
  • Dr. R. A. Williams MB JP.
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