A look inside some of the Valleys’ eerie forgotten chapels
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