• Hen Dy Cwrdd

Hen Dŷ Cwrdd Trecynon

Blaencanaid Farm Courtesy of Alan George, Old Merthyr Tydfil

Hen Dŷ Cwrdd (The Old Meeting House), is listed Grade II, as the earliest Nonconformist cause in the Cynon Valley and represents the continuity of radical thought and action since the 17th century. It was originally known as Tŷ Cwrdd Godre Hirwaun – and is the Mother Church of Unitarianism in the Valley.  Its origins extend back to the Dissenting Meeting Houses at Cwmyglo and Blaencanaid Farm on the mountainside between Aberdare and Merthyr Tydfil. As a result of divisions appearing among dissenters Hen Dŷ Cwrdd, Cefn Coed was founded in 1747 and Hen Dŷ Cwrdd, Trecynon was established in 1751.  

Artist impression of 1751 Hen Dŷ Cwrdd; Courtesy of Rhondda Cynon Taff Photography Library

The first chapel was built in a field belonging to the old farm of Gadlys Uchaf, the lease granted on the 5th March 1751 by Theophilus Richards and revised by his son Richard Richards on 12th December 1796. The building was a cottage-like meeting house, small and simple, described as having a porch entrance with outside stone steps and a tiled roof. Accommodating 50-100 people, in 1782 there were 43 members, and by 1853 there were 60.

Thomas Lewis, its first minister, was dismissed in 1756 for his Calvinist views and was replaced by an Arminian, Owen Rees. In the course of his ministry, from 1756 until his death in 1768, Rees made the transition from Arminian to Arian. Edward Evan, who ministered at Hen Dŷ Cwrdd from 1772 to 1796, penned the two acrostic verses in honour of Owen Rees that appear on Rees’ tombstone in the chapel’s burial ground.

Iolo Morgannwg; Courtesy of Rhondda Cynon Taff Photography Library

The agent of the change from Arianism to Unitarianism in Wales was Thomas Evans, better known to the Welsh as Tomos Glyn Cothi (1764-1833). Evans was a Teifi valley weaver who had come into contact with the Jacobin bards of Glamorgan, including Iolo Morganwg, in the course of marketing his cloth. In 1796, he established the first avowedly Unitarian chapel in Wales near Brechfa where his enthusiasm for rational Christianity led to his being dubbed “Priestley Bach”. He fell foul of the authorities when he sang Jacobin songs in public, including his own Welsh version of the Marseillaise. For these provocations, he was pilloried, subsequently languishing productively in Carmarthen Gaol from 1803 until 1811 where he authored a number of radical pamphlets, poetry and hymnals. Following his release, Evans accepted an invitation from the congregation at Trecynon to take charge of Hen Dŷ Cwrdd as a Unitarian. When Evans died in 1833, having ministered in Trecynon for more than twenty years, he was interred at the northern pine-end of the chapel.

Hen Dŷ Cwrdd opposite the Mount Pleasant Public House. Courtesy of Rhondda Cynon Taff Photography Archive c1910

After his death, the chapel remained active and other radical ministers followed in his step, variously active in the radical politics of their day and exercising an influence out of all proportion to their numerical strength.  John Jones (1802–1863) is a representative figure. He ministered at Hen Dŷ Cwrdd for the last 30 years of his life, dying in 1863, after a period of contributing to articles in the Welsh Chartist publication, Udgorn Cymru. He also conceived the idea of a Unitarian denominational magazine in Welsh and was one the founders of Yr Ymofynydd, the first issue of which appeared in 1847.

A local eisteddfod was held in the Mount Pleasant Inn on 9 October 1837, the adjudicator of the essays was the Rev. J. Jones of Hen Dŷ Cwrdd. This was advertised in Seren Gomer in that year.

Seren Gomer 1837

Translation-Seren Gomer 1837

The current chapel was rebuilt in 1862, during the last year of John Jones’ life. The work cost of £753-15s-4d and it was built to the design of architect Evan Griffiths Jnr of Aberdare, designed to be “simple and strong, reflecting Unitarian beliefs in liberty, tolerance and forbearance”. It is a medium sized chapel which seats 250-300.

The symmetrical cement rendered front is built in the Italianate style with a gable-entry plan. The bottom half of the facade is channelled, with a round arched doorway to the centre which has stone steps up to panelled double doors. Above is the inscribed stone plaque, while to either side are square-headed sash windows. At gallery level is a pair of round-headed windows over which arches the moulded stringcourse, and to either side are two further sash windows, those to the centre narrower than the outer openings. In the pediment is a round attic window. The square interior has a pulpit at the rear wall, accessed to either side by steps from the Sedd Fawr and with an arched recess behind. A gallery runs round three sides, supported by cast iron columns and with an unusually deep gallery front, the ceiling has a simple cornice, a central rose and octagonal ventilation panels.

E.R Dennis (1882-1949) was invited to Hen Dŷ Cwrdd in 1916 and his ministry lasted over thirty years. Keen on the creative arts, Dennis encouraged local music and drama and was one of the founders of Aberdare’s Theatr Fach. D. Jacob Davies (1916-1974) succeeded Dennis in 1945, remaining at Trecynon until 1957. A poet and pacifist, Jacob Davies made a notable contribution to Welsh public life as a journalist and broadcaster. He served as the editor of Yr Ymofynnydd for over twenty years and is the author of the bicentennial history of Hen Dŷ Cwrdd.  The congregation of Hen Dŷ Cwrdd merged with that of Highland Place Aberdare in 1988. It was transferred to the Trust in 2005, under its status as a prescribed charity under the Redundant Churches and Other Religious Buildings Act 1969, (as amended in Schedule 5 of the Charities Act 1992).

Read more about work to date

Archive – Hen Dŷ Cwrdd

Read more about Unitarians

Further Information

Listing Document

Further Reading

Dr Jacob Dafis (ed), Crefydd a Gweriniaeth yn hanes Yr Hen-dy-Cwrdd, Aberdare 1751-1951, (Gomer Press, Llandysul, 1951).David Leslie Davies, They Love to be Dissenters: The origins and history of Hen Dŷ Cwrdd Aberdare 1650-1862 (2012)R Jenkins Jones, The Origin and History of the Old Meeting House, Hen-dy-Cwrdd, Aberdare , Transactions of the Unitarian History Society, Vol 1 pt 2 (1918) p 155-176.Alan Vernon Jones, Chapels of the Cynon Valley (Cynon Valley History Society, 2004)

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