The Chapels of Wales

Mike Hedges says the decline of the local chapel is a detriment to Wales.

In recent decades, we’ve seen a gradual and continual decline in what can be referred to as the two great traditions of nineteenth and early twentieth century Welsh society; that being the tradition of attending the local chapel and the local public house.

Wales is often considered the land of castles but we have substantially more chapels, churches and other religious buildings across Wales. We have some great church buildings and chapels such as St David Cathedral and Tabernacle chapel in Morriston, which has been described as the cathedral of non-conformity, as well as many others with historical significance and architectural merit.

Wales’s ecclesiastical heritage is a very significant part of the nation’s built and cultural heritage. Many who do not attend the chapels of Wales attach a huge significance to their architectural merit and the status they carry within their local communities. As you look around Wales, it is obvious that, in this day and age, Wales now has a huge excess of chapels for its current religious needs. What we have seen in response to this excess is the closure of many in an attempt to not only save money, but also save some of the really magnificent buildings of the same denomination. The upkeep of these remarkable buildings has fallen on the shoulders of the remaining members of the congregation, most of whom vary from the elderly to the very elderly. As one deacon said to me, ‘We inherited this chapel from our parents, but our children do not want to inherit it from us’

The congregations are declining and you’ve got to remember how many chapels there are. According to ‘Blwyddiadur Undeb yr Annibynnwyr’, there are 668 independent chapels in Wales and four Welsh independent chapels in England but at the time of writing that number will almost certainly have declined. We have witnessed former chapels being sympathetically adapted or converted for a number of different uses, ranging from flats, which are the most common, to houses, businesses, restaurants, offices, community centres and, in some cases, converted to places of worship for other religions. Unfortunately others have become derelict, burnt or fallen down.

One notable example of a former Swansea chapel that has been sympathetically adapted is the chapel of Christmas Evans, which now hosts the NSPCC Swansea offices, but they allow people to visit it and see its plaque commemorating Christmas Evans. It is amazing, how many people visit despite the fact it’s not advertised and you have to engage in substantial research to find out where it is, what it is now and arrange to visit

Then there are the people such as Daniel James (Gwyrossydd) composer of Calon Lan buried at Mynydbach chapel and Evan Roberts the preacher who led the great revival from Moriah chapel in Loughor these were just two of the great preachers and hymn writers from Wales.

Wales has got a huge reputation for its preachers, church and chapel buildings which is something we need to build on. I think that, if we’re looking at the American tourism market we need to produce denominational tours in Wales.

It is not just America but countries in the Far East such as Singapore, We have got the situation where New Siloh in Landore, one of the largest 19th century chapels, has been taken over by a church in Singapore.

So, the question is should we in Wales be when aiming at the American tourist market, should we be aiming some of tourism advertising to promote our great religious history its people and buildings.

I think there’s a huge opportunity to promote tourism relating to our chapels, churches and the great preachers and hymn writers of the past.

This is an opportunity that we in Wales need to take before it is too late.

Mike Hedges is AM for Swansea East.

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