Ystalyfera

History and Heritage

History of Soar Chapel, Ystalyfera (Zoar)

HISTORY OF YSTALYFERA WELSH BAPTISTS

BUILT 1847 by W NICHOLAS, L REES and W THOMAS of YSTRADGYNLAIS
REBUILT 1858-1867-1899
CLOSED in 1979

Known as Capel Soar in Welsh, or Zoar Chapel in English, this lost landmark of Ystalyfera was closed in 1979 and subsequently demolished. In our commentary we will refer to it as Soar, since that is the Welsh name. Quoted articles may refer to it as Zoar.


The following article comes from the South Wales Voice newspaper, Saturday 10th July 1943.

The article is written to celebrate the centenary of the start of what would become Soar Chapel, but also serves as a complete history of its building, reconstruction, and personalities.

ZOAR CENTENARY CELEBRATIONS

The Baptist cause at Ystalyfera was started on Monday 17th October 1843; this week centenary celebrations are being held at Zoar Chapel. The history of the cause is a romantic one, it tells of struggles against difficulties and of triumphs over obstacles.
In connection with the celebrations, Mr Maurice Davies, former secretary and present treasurer, has written a book giving the history of the cause. This task has entailed a great deal of work and while the book provides an attractive memento of the occasion, it is also an official record, of the birth and growth of the Baptists in Ystalyfera.
The name "Ystalyfera" did not become popular until after the Ystalyfera railway station was built: local people and newcomers knew the place as Graigarw and called it such.
In the year 1837, a John Lewis, overseer of the local iron ore mines came to Ystalyfera and gathered all the Baptists to his house, Danygraig. It is interesting to give the names of the ten people present at this notable meeting:
John Lewis and his wife Maria; Isaac Jones block layer; Morgan Griffiths, Thomas Williams, John Kinsey and his wife Margaret; Jane Davies (who later married David Davies Post Office); Gwenllian Lewis; and the Rev John Davies Llandyssul, who officiated at Beulah Cwmtwrch, the previous Sunday. Prayer meetings were held at Danygraig and preaching services at Beulah. After some time it was decided to hire a house from Mrs Gwenllian Lewis for 5sh a month. The house stands today opposite the entrance to Holy Trinity Church. This place became too small and the Ark was removed to Morgan Rhys's house - a thatch roofed cottage in Cyfyng Road. The next move was to a basement in a house owned by Mr Jacob Gabe, Cyfyng Road. A small pulpit and wooden forms were fitted. In later years when search was made for these relics, it was found that they had been burned as firewood. The cause was so successful, that after two years, permission was sought of the Gymanfa, at Cwmtwrch, to build a chapel. This was granted. Difficulty was at first experienced in securing land but eventually the Squire of Yniscedwyn gave them a plot of land at Twynyrysgol. This site was reached with difficulty on account of the steep approach. Before building operations were started, a service was held when the Rev D M William Llandyfach preached.
The building was started in October 1846, the builders being William Nicholas mason; Lewis Rees Carpenter; William Thomas and Sons, roof and plaster. The first chapel was very plain and cost £350, towards which the fraternity collected £95 15sh 8d. It was known as "Capel Pen Steps" as it was reached by climbing 80 steps.
Before the building was completed the members decided to appoint a pastor and on the advice of Dr Davies, the blind preacher, the Rev W Lumley Evans Moorfields London, became pastor of Zoar, Beulah and Ainon. His stipend was £80 a year and he commenced his ministry in October 1847.
The chapel was opened on Sunday 11th February 1848, although it had not been completed. There was an unfortunate occurrence in 1850 when Zoar and Beulah had to dispense with the services of their pastor. It was at this time also that the district was swept by cholera. A call was extended to the Rev Rhys Evans Neath, in 1851, but his ministry was not successful. In about 14 months, 49 of the members left Zoar, leaving, 32. The one who were left started a cause of their own: Caersalem. Although there was a split at the time, there had been co-operation between the two churches since 1878, when it was agreed that services be suspended in the one while "cyrddau mawr" [Large Meetings] are held in the other. This agreement still holds good. It was about this time that Mr Charles Williams, a promising young man, was asked to take charge of the church. During that time he followed his occupation as weigher at the Ystalyfera Works and became full time minister in 1864.
The little chapel became the worse for wear on account of its exposed position and steps were taken to build a new and larger one, and the site upon which the present edifice stands was secured, at a yearly rent of 5sh for a term of 99 years from March 25th 1858. The new building cost £561 and the first service was held there on 17th 1858. A baptismal service was held the same day. A sum of £156 11sh 10d was collected, while the debt owing on the old chapel was £180 0sh 10d. Gifts were made to the chapel of a clock and Bible for pulpit use.
A contract was signed for £350 with a Neath contractor to enlarge the chapel in 1866, but he became bankrupt. The members agreed to proceed to pay the workmen and the pastor was asked to supervise the work. The total cost amounted to £902 18sh 2d. The chapel was re opened on 15th May 1867, while a vestry was also built. After considerable expense, it was decided to clear the debt and a Jubilee was held in May 1903.



Foundation stone near the rear door on Gough Road, recording dates of building, reconstruction etc.
 

At the rear on Gough Road, we can see the old vestry, now private housing, photo March 2013.

Two houses were purchased near the chapel with the object of building a manse, but the plans did not mature. The cost was £315 13sh 6d while the freehold of the land upon which the chapel stands, together with the burial ground was bought for £60 9sh. The manse was erected in 1925 at a cost of £1,225 3sh 6d.
An individual Communion set was purchased for £60. Internal heating was introduced in 1933, this costing £207. The cost of installing electric light was defrayed by Mrs Elvira K Lewis, who donated £100 in memory of her mother, Mrs Mary Evans and grandmother, Mrs Margaret Richards.
The history contains a long reference to the building of the new vestry, consequent upon an offer by the late Mr D W Davies to contribute 10sh for every £1 collected by the members up to £300.



Soar Ysgoldy 1934
 

Soar Chapel-School House, Gough Road to Penywern Rd.

PASTORS

In its 100 years of existence, Zoar has had only five pastors, The Revs W Lumley Evans (1847-1850); Rhys Evans (1852); Charles Williams (1853-1888); William Jones (1890-1923); and the Rev Ifor Jones, who was inducted on 20th April 1925. There are memorial stones to the late Revs Williams and Jones in the chapel.
Among the ministers produced at Zoar were the Revs Isaac Williams, Cefncoedcymmer; John Lewis, New York; William Williams Jamaica; Henry Harried (Afanwy); Arthur T Maddocks Ramsbottom and Matron May Williams Brixton London.

It is worthy of note that the annual singing festival held every Easter Monday at Zoar, was founded in 1890, by the Revs William Jones and R/B Price of Beulah and Mr Thomas Charles Williams (Cerddor y Dyffryn). The churches concerned then were Zoar, Caersalem, Beulah and Pontardawe. The last two named have dropped out since.

The first baptism took place in the Tawe near Ystalyfera Works in April 1848, the next being in 1849, when 73 candidates were baptised in the Twrch. Since then the total number of baptisms is 761. Membership in 1849 was 80, which dropped to 32 after a split occurred which led to the formation of Caersalem. During his pastorate of 18 years Mr Ifor Jones has baptised 164 persons. The present membership is 308, an increase of 98 since Mr Jones came here.
Attached to the church are the following organisations which are active and virile: Sunday school, Band of Hope, Young People's Society, a Sisterhood and Urdd y Seren Fore.

The West Glamorgan Baptist Gymanfa has been held at Zoar on three occasions, 1867, 1898 and 1922.
In its 100 years of existence, Zoar has had 41 deacons; 5 treasurers; 10 secretaries; 2 assistant secretaries; 7 precentors and 10 organists. The first organ was installed in 1890.
The present treasurer, Mr Maurice Davies, was elected in October 1931; and Mr J Powell Thomas, son of a former secretary, David Thomas Y Gof, was appointed to the office of secretary on 1st January 1940. Mr E J Evans, precentor was elected on February 1911 and appointed as deacon in 1916. Miss Mary Jones, daughter of the Rev and Mrs Ifor Jones, is the present organist.



 
 

South Wales Framers - picture framing