A look in­side some of the Val­leys’ eerie for­got­ten chapels

Cynon Valley - - YOUR NEWS - TOM HOUGHTON Re­porter tom.houghton@waleson­line.co.uk

THESE are the eerie, fas­ci­nat­ing im­ages from in­side some of Wales’ for­got­ten chapels.

As part of a wider pho­tog­ra­phy project tak­ing in the chapels of Wales, Barry Eveleigh has re­leased these im­ages af­ter get­ting per­mis­sion to ac­cess sites that have been aban­doned or for­got­ten for a num­ber of years.

Barry said: “See­ing the va­ri­ety and styles of chapels I re­ally wanted to doc­u­ment these pho­to­graph­i­cally as it was clear that the rate of chapel clo­sures meant that a great part of Welsh His­tory was be­ing lost.

“There are some peo­ple who think that I’m crazy and can’t un­der­stand why I’m do­ing this be­cause they think that one chapel is the same as the rest.

“That cer­tainly has not been my ex­pe­ri­ence over these two amaz­ing years.

“Chapels vary in size, struc­ture and con­tent. Each has its own char­ac­ter. What struck me was how these build­ings were gen­er­ally paid for by each com­mu­nity.”

Barry’s photographs from Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT) chapels show the in­side of Bethany in Ton Pen­tre, Jerusalem in Ynysybwl, Cal­faria Bap­tist Chapel in Aber­dare and Ebenezer in Tony­pandy, the lat­ter which is be­ing ren­o­vated by group Rhondda Resur­gents.

Barry de­scribed why, in his view, the RCT chapels are unique.

“I think what sets Rhondda aside was its pop­u­la­tion size and its in­dus­trial set­ting.

“Sub­se­quently chapels had to be re­built for the grow­ing con­gre­ga­tions es­pe­cially dur­ing the great re­vival pe­riod be­tween 1904 and 1905.

“From my ex­pe­ri­ence so far, what has set chapels in Rhondda from oth­ers has been the grandeur of these - rang­ing from highly or­nate ceil­ings, beau­ti­fully carved pul­pits, to iron Art Deco balustrades [sup­ported rail­ings].”

He said as op­posed to be­ing a dif­fi­cult process, con­tacts had been “re­ally help­ful” in al­low­ing him ac­cess to the old build­ings.

Barry, who is orig­i­nally from Liver­pool but now lives in Gwynedd, said: “While it has been sad to hear of their loss, I have been blessed to hear their lovely and some­times funny sto­ries of their times as chil­dren through to mar­riage in their chapel.

“I think what sparked my in­ter­est in the Welsh chapel was the de­ter­mi­na­tion of a few to break away from the es­tab­lished church and build some­thing that had mean­ing to Welsh peo­ple.

“Chapels sig­nif­i­cantly in­flu­enced the cul­tural, ed­u­ca­tional, po­lit­i­cal and so­cial, as well as the re­li­gious life of Wales.”

He said his in­ter­est piqued when he found a “tiny, aban­doned and bat­tered” chapel near his home­town.

“Grow­ing up on Mersey­side, I was sur­rounded by amaz­ing build­ings, the­atres, cin­e­mas, clas­si­cal build­ings from the days when Liver­pool was a busy trad­ing port, in­dus­trial sites and churches and cathe­drals.

“Sadly, as the city de­vel­oped and grew a lot of these build­ings were sim­ply de­mol­ished.

“Some of these build­ings I pho­tographed dur­ing my ado­les­cence.”

Af­ter mov­ing to Wales and telling peo­ple about his in­ter­est in pho­tograph­ing the build­ings, he was ad­vised to visit the ‘tin chapel’ near his home in Cor­ris, Gwynedd.

He ex­plained: “The di­rec­tions were vague and af­ter a year I fi­nally found this tiny lit­tle chapel sur­rounded in a jun­gle of rhodo­den­drons. Walk­ing into this aban­doned and bat­tered build­ing I was struck by the peace that em­anated from this place and I wanted to find out more about.”

The more Barry spoke to peo­ple, the more he learned about his vil­lage, namely that there were once six chapels serv­ing the slate min­ing com­mu­nity.

He said he was cu­ri­ous to dis­cover what happened to the build­ings, and was told for so many to be left un­used was “not an un­com­mon across Wales”.

He said he was par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested at how pews in the chapels are num­bered, so the more a per­son con­trib­uted fi­nan­cially, the nearer to the front they got to sit.

He added: “It is amaz­ing to see the skills and crafts­man­ship that went into these places, which sadly is now be­ing lost due to age­ing pop­u­la­tions and sub­se­quently de­clin­ing con­gre­ga­tions.

“Meet­ing the peo­ple who were mem­bers of pic­ture these chapels has been a real eye opener. Yes you can study the ar­chi­tec­tural de­tail, but it’s been these peo­ple and their sto­ries that brought these aban­doned build­ings back to life.”

Now, Barry is think­ing of pub­lish­ing a book on the fate and the fu­ture of the Welsh Chapel.

Any­one with any per­sonal rec­ol­lec­tions of Welsh chapels, or de­tails on them is asked to con­tact him via his web­site, www.eveleigh­pho­tog­ra­phy.net

Jerusalem Chapel, Ynysybwl

Bethany Chapel, Ton Pen­tre

Ebenezer, Tony­pandy Barry Eveleigh

Cal­faria Bap­tist Chapel, Aber­dare

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