Peniel Chapel is located at the southern gateway of the planned town of Tremadog. Its innovative gable front and auditorium plan proved highly influential in the evolution of Welsh chapel design, whilst its pedimented portico with Tuscan columns has made it one of Wales’ most iconic chapels. Tremadog was the project of London entrepreneur, William A. Madocks, who bought the marsh land in 1798 and envisioned it as a settlement on the trade route between London and Ireland. It is on of only five Grade I Listed Nonconformist Chapels in Wales, as an exceptionally early and accomplished large classical style chapel, unlike any Welsh chapel of the period, retaining a well-detailed interior with work of the later C19, and for its important contribution to the historical integrity of Tremadog.
Peniel chapel began with the opening of a Sunday School in 1805 in one of the few houses that had been already built in the embryonic new town. Madocks himself was not a dissenter, so his allowing a chapel within the town was a shock to some. However Madocks was not threatened by the idea of the construction of such a large Calvinistic Methodist chapel, observing that “the church is built on rocks, the chapel is built on sand.” The land for the chapel was leased from Madocks for a peppercorn rent, and he promised £50 for a portico, but only £10 was forthcoming (Board of Celtic Studies database). The chapel is an outstanding example of early classical architecture in Wales and provides a conspicuous contrast to the town’s Gothic St. Mary’s Church (NPRN 43788). The opening ceremony took place in 1810, presided over by the influential Welsh preacher the Rev. Thomas Charles of Bala.
The chapel as completed in 1811 was without the Classical portico that was to give the building its iconic character. Apparently, the pedimented portico with its Tuscan columns had been intended from the start (probably by Madocks as an adornment to his new town), but as the promised £50 towards its cost was not forthcoming, it was omitted. But, even without its portico, the chapel was unique in Wales at the time of its erection, both for its innovative size and for its unusual plan. Its gable fronted auditorium plan was in contrast to the contemporary trend of small chapels with long wall facades and the pulpit located between the two entrance doors. Gradually this style was generally adopted in Wales and Peniel is regarded as being of critical importance in the process, with congregations appreciating the advantages of an auditorium.
The distinctive three-bay Tuscan portico, was eventually added in 1849. The columns of the facade were put in place by John & Gershon Thomas, Porthmadog, Mr John Williams, agent to the Tremadoc Estate acting as ‘Archwyliwr’ (Plan – NLW Ms., CM Archive, E106115). As a result, it was possibly the most striking chapel in Wales, its temple front loosely based on Inigo Jones’ St Paul’s, Covent Garden.
The chapel exterior is of cream painted roughcast, with a slate roof above projecting eaves. Two full width slate steps lead up to the portico of two columns, the triangular pediment sporting a wheel window and panelled spandrels. At the rear of the portico are two entrances, flanking a nine-pane hornless sash window, with three further square-headed sash windows above. The side elevations are built of large, irregular blocks of stone and each have three further twelve-pane sash windows. The rear elevation has an offset three-light round-headed window with Gothic glazing bars.
The chapel interior has scribed plaster walls above a matchboard dado and a raked wooden floor. The cost of seating had not been included in the original estimate, but by 1809 it was decided to have seats along the two sides and benches in the middle and at that point, the interior was lit by candles. From 1857, the chapel was lit by gas and repairs of 1860 included the installation of pews, with the chapel being re-opened on November 2nd of the same year. Consequently, the ground floor seating consists of panelled box pews, divided into three main blocks with the outer blocks facing obliquely to the pulpit, and a fourth smaller block facing at right angles to the pulpit.
Further improvements in 1898 included the installation of the present Sedd Fawr and pulpit. The Sedd Fawr is enclosed by two tier pine panelling and reached only from the NW. A central projection incorporates a lectern, either side of which is a curved, cushioned bench seat. The pulpit is by the firm of Owen Morris Roberts & Sons, Porthmadog and is reached by 5 steps up to each side. The projecting pulpit incorporates some hardwood and the facing panel is framed by fluted pilasters with acanthus leaf designs, with reliefs of foliage and flowers to the centre panel. To the rear is a pine framed and cushion sofa, above which rises a plaster pulpit arch with fluted pilasters and a keystone decorate with a foliate motif incorporating ears of wheat.
To each side of the pulpit arch is a door. The door on the north side connects to the rear substantial, single-storey schoolroom, which was also added in the late 19th century. It has 2 semi-circular windows to the gable with three flat-headed sash windows to the SW elevation. The interior has panelled dado, perhaps reusing pre 1860 seating and gallery panelling. It has a flat ceiling with 2 circular plaster roses and a central vent of intertwined metalwork with a flower head. The door on the south side, now partially blocked by late 19th century match-boarding, formerly led to the chapel house, a two-story dwelling house at the rear of the chapel, which appears to have been built at some point during the middle of the 19th century.
In 1905, the Royal Commission on the Church of England and Other Religious Bodies in Wales and Monmouthshire recorded seating for 600 in the chapel and for 100 in the schoolroom; unfortunately1851 Religious Census figures for Ffestiniog District are missing.
In 1908-10 the present ceiling was inserted in the chapel. It is boarded with large panels, moulded ribs and a central ornate ceiling rose, the tracery of which replicates that of the wheel window to the pediment. Further 20th Century additions included the installation of a heating boiler in the chapel in 1952 and electric light for both the chapel and the chapel house, ‘Ty Capel’ in 1953.
Peniel was transferred to the Trust in 2010 for the nominal sum of £100, 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).
Beazley, Elisabeth, Madocks and the Wonder of Wales (1987)
Haslam, Richard, Orbach, Julian, and Voelcker, Adam The Buildings of Wales: Gwynedd (Pevsner Architectural Guide) (2009).
Jones, R.G.,Hanes Cychwyn yr Achos yn Nhremadog, Peniel M.C. (1960)