WESLEYAN METHODISM IN KIDWELLY
Methodist Church Centenary Brochure 1866-1966
by W. H. Morris
IN 1761 Thomas Taylor, a Yorkshireman, was appointed by the Wesleyan Conference to travel in Wales which at this time formed one, vast circuit. He travelled only in the South-West and was, according to his own testimony, the first of Wesley's preachers ever to enter Carmarthenshire. He did not, however, expend much effort in preaching in this county. He knew no Welsh and the people were in great measure Welsh-speaking. Not surprisingly, he concentrated his labours on South Pembrokeshire and Gower where there were communities who spoke only English. Here he reported some success in setting up societies. Conference sent him back to Wales in 1762 and he spent the winter, a severe one, travelling between Pembrokeshire and Gower and fostering the growth of his little societies. To shorten his journey he made use of the ferries across the Loughor, Towy and Taf rivers but this route often proved a hazardous one. Unfamiliar with local conditions and travelling alone, he was several times nearly trapped by rising tides. On one occasion, after landing at Llanstephan in darkness, he lost his way but was unable to obtain help from the country people who, he reported regretfully, 'would or could not speak English.' Straying helplessly, he blundered into a deep bog from which he extricated himself and his horse only by the most strenuous efforts. 'Wales,' he wrote to Wesley, 'is not the most pleasing part of the world for a stranger to wander in, expecially on the errand Which I was upon.' The following year he was sent to Ireland and Wales knew him no more. Many years later, after a lifetime of itinerancy, he became President of Conference.
His valiant, pioneering work was followed up by Wesley himself who in August of 1763 made his first journey into Carmarthenshire entering it by way of the Towy valley. After a brief stop at Carmarthen during which he preached on the Greenan open strip of ground at the end of the castle courtyardhe pressed on to Pembrokeshire where he spent about four days. Intending to include Gower on his return, he was advised to use Llanstephan ferry but found the tide out and made for Carmarthen. After three or four miles he recollected being told of a ford across the Towy and with the willing help of an old man crossed safely. He had scarcely resumed his journey when his mare dropped a shoe and by the time this was rectified.the rising tide made it impossible to attempt the crossing of the sands of the Burry estuarya route which would have taken him through Kidwelly. He was forced to go inland and after a tedious journey arrived in Swansea at dusk. In the summer of the following year (1764) he was back in Pembrokeshire, having entered it from Cardiganshire. On his return he again made for Gower, the other main centre of his activities in West Wales. This time he succeeded in using Llanstephan ferry, although enduring much discomfort from the mud, and so came to Kidwelly between one and two on a Tuesday afternoon (July 31st). The road he followed over the hill from Ferryside, 'the Portway,' was an ancient one, used by the saints of the Celtic church, by Medieval kings and their armies, by pilgirms to the shrine of St. David, and by Archbishop Baldwin and Gerald the Welshman seeking recruits for the third Crusade. Kidwelly itself retained much of its Medieval character in Wesley's day. The original township founded by Roger of Salisbury in the early 12th century as part of the defences of his castle was still enclosed by its fortified walls, gateways and ditch, although the main focus of town life now lay outside it. Just across the river stood the 14th century parish church dedicated to St. Mary and close by it the crumbling walls of the Benedictine priory of Black Monks established by Roger as a cell of Sherborne Abbey. Since the Middle Ages, the town's importance as a trading centre had declined but its prosperity was being revived by several industrial undertakingsA Tin Works, an Iron Works at 'The Forge' and the mining of anthracite in the Gwendraeth valley by Thomas Kymer who two years after Wesley's visit started to build a canal for the more convenient shipment of the coal from a quay at Kidwelly
Wesley did not pause to preach here. He was bent on reaching Gower by the short cut across the Burry sands and because he was unfamiliar with the route he wanted ample time for the crossing. Thus, although he had eaten nothing since leaving Pembrokeshire and had already endured seven hours in the saddle, he and his companions pressed on, having been assured by 'an honest man' in the town that the crossing offered little difficulty. After using the ford across the Gwendraeth Fawr at a point about a quarter of a mile below the present bridge, he followed a road, now long forgotten and buried under many feet of silt, which crossed the marsh, skirted the sand dunes and brought him close to Penbre village. From here they took to the wide expanse of the Burry estuary. Unaided, they would have been in serious difficulties but a guide who had volunteered his services shortly after leaving Kidwelly skilfully negotiated the treacherous patches of quicksands and brought them safely to Oxwich between five and six o'clock in the evening. Of the people of Gower he wrote warmly that they all spoke English and were 'ready to receive the word with all readiness of heart.' Within a few years of this visit a West Wales circuit was formed which covered Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire. In 1769 Conference stationed the first men, James Dempster and William Whitaker. The membership was given as 80 in 1770 and 112 in the following year. By 1775 the circuit was called the Pembrokeshire circuit but included Carmarthenshire as before.
In their travels through Carmarthenshire Wesley and his preachers paid most attention to Carmarthen and Llanelli. It was only in these places that they could expect to make headway because they contained small but often influential groups of English-speaking people: Wesley, who early in his ministry had determined, 'not to strike one blow in any place where I cannot follow up the blow,' received particular encouragement at Llanelli from Sir Thomas Stepney. The first of his eight visits was in 1768 and in the following year a society was established the leaders of which were Sir Thomas's butler Wilfred Colley and two brothers called Deer. The death of Sir Thomas in 1774 and the departure of Colley threatened to break up the society but fortunately Colley's loss was made good by the arrival of a Lieutenant Cook who came to manage the estates of Colonel St. Leger residing at Trimsaran. In Carmarthen, although his success was not as marked as in Llanelli, Wesley preached several times, once in Peter Williams's chapel, and a society was set up. Kidwelly, however, did not offer such favourable prospects for success and it is evident from a study of Wesley's journeys that he must, on several occasions, have passed through it without. recording the fact in his Journal. It had a tradition of hostility to Dissenters and Methodists alike and Howell Harris in the 1740's had been so roughly handled by the inhabitants that he feared to pass through it and whenever possible skirted its boundaries. None of the local gentry, such as Thomas Kymer and Lewis Rogers, the owner of the Tin Works, offered any encouragement. Many of the members of the Common Council of the Borough were actively hostile and the officers of the Borough courts, by resorting to legal 'technicalities,' made it difficult for Dissenters to obtain licences to register their meeting houses. The Independents finally succeeded in 1775 in securing registration of the house in which they met but had to build 'Capel Sul' (1785),outside the town. The Calvinistic Methodists encountered the frustration of the 'law's delays' for the registration of their meeting house ('Hen Dy Cwrdd') in the eastern part of the town on land leased to them, so tradition claims, by William Brigstocke of Llechdwnny.
Against this background, Wesley's preachers on their rounds of the circuit sought to gain a foothold. Two of them, Samuel Bradburn and James Wood, were destined to become Presidents of Conference. They were all handicapped not only by the prevailing hostility and their lack of Welsh but also by opposition from the Calvinistic Methodists in the town. James Hall, a Manchester man, stationed in the circuit in 1777 and 1778, complained strongly of 'the secret as well as open opposition from the Preachers of the horrible Calvinian Decrees. They ridiculously appropriate to themselves the title of Gospel Ministers.' He reported listening to a sermon by one of these preachers at Kidwelly. It was given in English and afterwards in Welsh, the preacher apologising to his Welsh hearers, 'that it was designed to open the eyes of the English present.' Nevertheless, the work of these men bore fruit and Wesley was sufficiently encouraged to pause long enough to preach here to what he described as, 'a very civil and unaffected congregation.' This was in August 1779, fifteen years after his first visit. The third and last, time he came here was in 1788, almost at the end of his long ministry. He reported spending a pleasant night at Carmarthen and preaching at Kidwelly at nine o'clock the following morning (Tuesday, 26th August). Between these widely spaced visits a society had been established but it is a matter of regret that the names of the members have not survived and that the house in which they met cannot be identified.
At the close of the 18th Century Wesleyan Methodism in Carmarthenshire was confined to he societies at Llanelli, Carmarthen and Kidwelly. Up to 1794 they still formed part of the Pembrokeshire circuit which in that year had a total membership of 162. In the following year a Haverfordwest circuit came into existence in which they were included until 1805 when a new 'Carmarthen circuit' was created with William Thoresby as Superintendent. They were mere outposts of the English cause in the midst of a large, predominantly Welsh-speaking community beyond the reach of Wesley's preachers owing to the barrier of language, 'the heavy curse of the confusion of tongues,' which Wesley had so often deplored. It was a community too which was, according to one of the missioners, 'passionately attached to the Welsh tongue, and look(ing) upon the English as a poor, dry, insipid language.' But this barrier was soon to be penetrated. In 1801 Dr. Thomas Coke, a Brecon man, persuaded Conference to begin Welsh preaching and under his direction a Welsh mission was created, which within a few years made rapid progress throughout Carmarthenshire. Under the inspiration of Edward Jones of Ruthin and William Davies, destined to end his days at Kidwelly, societies were set up in the Towy valley. By 1808 a Welsh society had been formed at Carmarthen and Edward Jones became Superintendent of a 'Carmarthen (Welsh) Circuit.' The mission spread eastwards. There was preaching at Penbre and societies were established in Mynydd Bach (1813) and Llannon and Pontyberem (1814).
In Kidwelly a 'Wesleyan Brotherhood' came into existence which, with the older English cause, was soon strong enough for its members to consider building a chapel. On March 20th, 1816, the Common Council of the Borough received a petition from Thomas Jones, William Lloyd and John Morris, on behalf of the brotherhood, to build a place of worship on Corporation land lying 'between the dwelling house of Mr. Arnold Evans and Bank Shobart,' a site close to the massive main gateway of the castle. The Council received the petition favourably. The old animosity against Dissenters was passing away and not a few of the new generation of Council men were themselves Dissenters. A committee recommended the letting of the site for a term of 99 years, at an annual rent of one shilling, and a lease was drawn up in the names of Thomas Humphreys of Dan y Lan in the parish of St. Ishmael and William Mansell of Kidwelly, as trustees for the society. They were men of substance. Humphreys was a merchant and one of the eleven owners of the brig 'Margaret' built at Kidwelly in 1815 by William Raynor a member of the Council. Mansell, a former Mayor, owned. property in the town and shared in the ownership of the sloop 'Eliza.' The chapel (Bethesda), a simple, box-like structure was built in about three months and was ready for worship on June 9th, 1816. Some members of the Council contributed to its cost and also housed visitors who came for the opening services. The Welsh Wesleyan ministers present were John Davies, John Jones, Morgan Griffiths and Owen Rees and representatives from the English circuit also shared in the services. The collection came to almost £20. Bethesda greatly strengthened the cause of Wesleyanism in the town but the English society seems for a time to have continued to use its meeting house. Within sixteen years the chapel was greatly in need of renovation. The opportunity was also taken to extend it and on June 6th 1832 David Gravell, a shopkeeper, petitioned the Council for a new lease to include more ground. It was granted for a term of 999 years but the rent was increased to 2/6 a year. The work of rebuilding took about 7 months, two new galleries being added. A total of £51/6/10 was collected in the form of contributions to the cost, Carmarthen giving £12/5/0, Llanelli £3/7/2 and St. Clears £1/19/3. The reopening services on December 9th, 1832 were conducted by the Revs. John Davies, William Evans and John Williams (the First). Two Ministers from the English circuit also took part, one of whom was James Bond, Superintendent at Carmarthen. The other was an old stalwart of Methodism, James Buckley, who was then resident at Llanelli as 'Supernumerary' He had been minister at Carmarthen between 1827 and 1829 and had married the daughter of Henry Child, agent to the Stepney estate, who had built the Llanelli society a chapel in 1792. Within the next decade membership rose to about fifty. One of the most revered of them was William Davies (Africa) who with Edward Jones had pioneered the cause in Carmarthenshire. He had served as a missionary in Sierra Leone between 1814 and 1818, the first Welsh Wesleyan minister ever to go abroad, but had returned much broken in health and settled in Kidwelly where he died in 1851. The Parish Registers reveal that in 1846 he had married Mary Joseph, also a Wesleyan, who lived in Shoe Lane Street the lower end of the present Ferry Road.
A Circuit Plan of 1855/56 shows that Kidwelly was one of eight churches in the Carmarthen (Welsh) circuit, the others being Carmarthen, Llanelli, Penbre, Mynydd Bach, Pontyberem, Llanstephan and St. Clears. Welsh Wesleyan membership throughout the county was 458. The resident minister, Thomas Morgan, was granted a lease of Bethesda in 1857 but in the following year (August 11th) the property was assigned to ten trustees: William John, D. Jones, D. Davies, J. Harries, David Nicholas, William Thomas, D. Harries, J. Morgan and Francis Randall. A Trust Schedule of 1859 signed by David Nicholas the Treasurer, who held a private school in the chapel, shows that Bethesda had cost a total of £270, including the rebuilding of 1832, and that the annual income was reckoned to be £10/16/9. There was however a heavy debt and the fabric, according to Nicholas, whose correspondence has survived, was in a 'wretched state.' There is some evidence that the trustees were searching for another site on which to build a larger chapel but this project was abandoned and a fund was started to wipe off the debt and put the building in complete repair. This task was now becoming all the more necessary because, as Nicholas stated in a letter of July 1860, the prospects for Wesleyan Methodism in the town were better than they had ever been. His optimism was soundly based. In 1858 the Tin Works, which under the ownership of Crawshay Bailey had been idle for some years, was bought by Jacob Chivers, a Herefordshire man and a Wesleyan Methodist. Chivers took up residence at Velindre house shortly after his purchase and with his partner Thomas Bright started a programme of expansion and alteration. Steam was introduced in place of water drive. The old puddling and balling furnaces were augmented by a charcoal forge, with hollow fires and a helve hammer, and two new mills were added to the existing one. Work was re-started in 1860 and the local labour force was increased by the arrival of English workers, chiefly from the Forest of Dean, many of whom were Methodists. At first their spiritual needs were met by the introduction of English services once a quarter but as their numbers, and influence, grew the practice developed of holding these services on alternate Sundays. By 1865 it had become clear that Bethesda was too small to accommodate the membership and Chivers declared his intention of building, at his own expense, a more commodious chapel for the Society. A group of members, headed by David Nicholas, was however becoming dissatisfied with the arrangement of English and Welsh services on alternate Sunday. They welcomed the spread of English influences, a process already started with the coming of the railway in 1852, and believed that closer contact with the language offered the best opportunity for the encouragement of education in the community and for the widening of its horizons of thought and taste. In May 1866 Nicholas, on behalf of this group, wrote to the Rev. John Philp, Superintendent minister at Carmarthen, informing him that it was the wish of the majority of members to join the English circuit at the next Conference. The needs of those few members who preferred Welsh services were to be met by requesting Conference to invite the resident minister, Thomas Thomas, to join the English circuit and then to station him at Kidwelly. This compromise undoubtedly met with the approval of Chivers who, according to the Rev. David Young in his 'Origin and History of Methodism in Wales,' had no wish to keep the chapel, he was about to build, exclusively for the use of the English members and those Welsh members who preferred English.
Chivers.had already found a site for his chapel. In April 1866 he acquired from the Corporation the freehold of a cattle pound near the town bridge, an area occupied in the early years of the century by William Raynor's ship-building yard. At the same time he obtained a reversion of the Tin Works lease in order to further extend his operations. For both transactions he paid £200. A condition of the sale of the freehold of the pound was that he had to re-erect it on another site, at his own expense. Work started on a small reading room, afterwards the schoolroom, in which services were held during the completion of the chapel. Both were designed by T. W. Angell Evans, a Kidwelly architect, who gave his professional services free. Four years earlier he had finished his own Rumsey House named after his mother's home in Wiltshire. The provision of a small, ornamental tower, and porch seems to have reflected the desire of Evans, a prominent Anglican, to give his creation something of the dignity of a church but, these rather spurious features apart, he succeeded in designing a plain Nonconformist preaching house in which the pulpit was the focal point for the attention of the congregation and the simple structure and decoration emphasised that its function was to provide shelter for those who gathered, primarily, to hear the Word of God expounded by His appointed preachers. The construction was carried out by Francis Randall, a member of the Kidwelly Society. The building material consisted of Bodmer's patent stone brick, relieved on the side facing the road with red Gloucester brick. The woodwork was stained and varnished, the roof ceiled between rafters, the iron ties and straining pieces painted blue. There was seating capacity for 200 and a gallery was provided for the choir. The estimated cost was given as £650 and the estimated annual income as £18/10/0, according to the 13th Report of the Wesleyan Chapel Committee.
The Dedicatory Services were held on Friday, October 19th, 1866, and on the following Sunday. The Friday Service was conducted by the Rev. W. R. Rogers, Chairman of the District, and on Sunday by the Revs. Joseph Higham, Thomas Thomas (in Welsh), and John Philp of Carmarthen. Higham, an Englishman, had been appointed resident minister some six weeks before the completion of the chapel and had conducted services in the reading room. Chivers supplied him with a house and paid his salary. His appointment meant, however, that Conference had utterly rejected the compromise put forward by Nicholas and his group whereby the wishes of those who preferred services in Welsh might well have been satisfied by the stationing of Thomas Thomas at Kidwelly. A split now took place in the Society. The older members, in particular, resented English influences and were unable to give up their loyalties to the Welsh cause and the Welsh circuit to which they had belonged for forty years. They continued to worship in Bethesda. In some instances families were divided. But the younger members, including nearly all the officers, threw in their lot with the new chapel and the English cause. According to the Rev. David Young who Wag stationed in the circuit a few years later, it was a split which left a legacy of bitterness not only in Kidwelly but also in the relations between Welsh and English Wesleyanism throughout Wales. He deplored the clumsy handling of a delicate situation and apportioned the blame equally between Conference, the ministers of the circuit, and the members at Kidwelly.
The Schedule Book of the Carmarthen (English) circuit which up to 1869 included Llanelli, Carmarthen, Laugharne, Llanstephan, Pont Amman and Penbre, shows that the society at Kidwelly in the last quarter of 1866 consisted of 10 members with 5 on trial. The smallness of these numbers may have reflected the immediate consequences of the split but they rose rapidly reaching 32 by 1868. This increase was probably caused by the arrival of more English workers at the Tin Works. The Llanelli Guardian reported in 1867 that the alterations undertaken by Chivers were almost complete and that over 300 men were likely to be employed.
A new trustee body was appointed and assigned the land on which the chapel and schoolroom were built by a Deed of Conveyance dated the 25th of April 1867 and costing £50. The measurements were given as 65 feet 4 inches by 29 feet 7 inches. Shortly afterwards Chivers gave the rest of the ground, although no Deed of Gift was executed until after his death. His son Thomas, who shared in the management of the Works, was one of the trustees. Four of them were employed at the Tin Works; Joseph Tench (Annealer), Alfred Bright (Mill Wright), William Gravell (Packer), and Richard Randell (Washer). The others were: David Nicholas, who in 1860 had been appointed the first Head Teacher of the new British and Foreign School, William Morgan one of his assistants, John Morgan a Railway Inspector, Richard Chappell a mason, Thomas Thomas a builder, George Smith an Engineer, and John Hughes a Tailor.
Congregations increased and the chapel began to exert a strong influence in the religious life of the town. As the place of worship of the chief provider of employment in the district, it shared in the esteem with which he was regarded and also acquired a certain degree of social prestige enhanced by the attendance of influential people such as Astley Thompson of Glyn Abbey who became High Sheriff of Carmarthenshire in 1872 and who owned several industrial undertakings. But the health of a Methodist society depended not only upon large congregations meeting for worship on Sundays but also upon nurturing a corporate life of fellowship during the week. One of. the means of achieving this fellowship, particularly at this period, was the weekly Class Meeting into which members of the Society were divided under Leaders who were expected to give them instruction and advice on spiritual matters. Membership tickets were ussued quarterly and every registered member was expected to contribute one penny a week towards the general funds of the Society and something extra when he received his Class Ticket. Membership of the class always carried with it membership of the Society. The first Leaders were David Nicholas and John Morgan, the schoolmasters. The former created a 'juvenile male' class and in 1872 a 'female' class was formed with Mrs. Shrimpton, wife of the resident minister, as Leader. The subject of instruction was generally the Bible but Nicholas had an interest in music and trained a chapel choir which became one of the best in the district. He and John Morgan were also in charge of the Sunday School. The scholars, once a year, went in procession through the town and Nicholas refers to one occasion, a Whit Monday, when 112 took part. Their 'treat' took place frequently at Velindre House where the Chivers family entertained them to tea on the lawn. Afterwards they played games in a field on Broadford farm. On July 18th, 1870 they went to Garreg Lwyd on Pembrey Mountain. One item of expense on this excursion was the purchase of an ensign for 15 shillings.
Another means of fostering the corporate life of the Society was a function called a 'Congregational Soiree' the first of which was held on Monday, January 10th, 1867. The Chairman was the Rev. Joseph Higham who gave an address on 'The essentials of a successful Christ.' This was followed by speeches from Jacob and Thomas Chivers, David Nicholas, John Morgan, and George Boulter a lay preacher from Llanelli, who was one of the founder members of the Burry Port chapel in 1866. Miss Chivers and Miss Combie, daughter of Hugh Combie a mining Engineer in Kidwelly, sang solos. The meeting concluded with the presentation to David Nicholas, by members of his Singing and Bible Classes, of eleven, large volumes of Biblical Exegesis, Ecclesiastical History, and Poetry. Other popular functions were the public meetings to promote Home and Foreign Missions` which were the subjects of a revived evangelistic fervour in Methodism at this period. Charles Prest, the energetic administrator of the Home Mission Fund, came here in 1870 to advocate the cause.
Jacob Chivers participated closely in all the activities of the Society, sharing with his son Thomas the office of Chapel Steward and later becoming a Circuit Steward. Not infrequently he addressed the trustees on spiritual matters. He was also active in municipal affairs. He had been elected a Burgess in 1864 and Mayor in the year in which the chapel was built, holding the office for three, consecutive years and afterwards from 1872 to 1874. As Mayor and Justice of the Peace he continued the work of his immediate predecessors, Dr. John George Roberts and Edmund Blathwayt, in bringing firm and wise rule to a governing body which in 1847 had been bitterly attacked by certain prominent townspeople for gross incompetence and corruption. He contributed too in providing the town with a slaughter house, a Town Hall and a piped water supply. The population of the borough had risen from 1600 in 1861 to about 2000 in 1877 and a period of prosperity began much of which was dependent upon the Tin Works. Wage rates in 1874 showed that the Tin Worker was the most highly paid of industrial workers. Chivers resigned from the Mayoralty in 1874 but continued. for a few years to hold the office of Alderman. His attention was becoming concentrated upon the construction of his Hawkwell Tin Works in Cinderford and he allowed the direction of the Kidwelly works to pass to Thomas with Alfred Charles Bright, a member of the Society, as manager. Under Thomas, the Works continued to expand and the Parish Vestry Book Minutes reveal that in 1882 a total of 9 mills was assessed for rating purposes. He also embarked on a housing programme for his workmen, building ten houses at Newtown (Mynydd y Garreg) in 1879 and, between 1880 and 1881, forty houses at Gwendraeth Town. The town's prosperity was reflected in an increase in the membership of the chapel, and its annual income rose to £31/19/21/2d. for the period April 1884 to April 1885. Nearly half of this was obtained from the renting of pews, a system often criticised because it was believed to divide the worshippers according to their station in life but stoutly defended on the grounds that it provided an essential source of income for a Church which had no endowments.
Jacob Chivers spent the remaining years of his life at his home, 'Rheola,' in Cinderford and died there on March 31st, 1883, at the age of 68. The memorial service at Kidwelly was conducted by the Rev. Sampson Cocks, Superintendent at Llanelli, who recalled his untiring devotion to Methodism not only in Kidwelly but also throughout the circuit all the churches of which had benefited from his generosity. His interests had extended to other circuits and he had laid the foundation. stones of new chapels at Aberystwyth and Swansea. As an employer, his attitude to his workmen was paternal. He was firm but just in his dealings with them and interested himself personally in their welfare. His place in the history of the town, and of Methodism within it, is secure.
Thomas Chivers became the first Mayor under a new Charter granted to the Borough in 1885 but the family connection with the chapel was soon to be ended. In 1888 the Tin Works were purchased by the Gwendraeth Tin Plate Company the chairman of which was David Evans of Llangennech Park. Chivers, although still retaining a financial interest as a director, removed to Plas Newydd, Burry Port. He resigned as a trustee when a new Trust was formed in May 1891 but confirmed his father's Deed of Gift thefollowingyear. Of the original members, David Nicholas, John Morgan, William Gravell and John Hughes were now dead, and William Morgan had resigned. Eight of the new Trust were employed at the Tin Works; John Randall, Alfred Jones, George Evans, Robert Connop, Thomas Hughes, Thomas. Thomas, George Bish and Charles Blackmore. The last, an accontant, was Superintendent of the Sunday School and also a member of the Town Council. The others were, Richard Isaac the Stationmaster, James Truscott the Headmaster of Castle School and a Town Councillor, and John Jones of Gwendraeth Stores who was an Alderman at the time of his tragic death in an accident in 1909.
The year 1891 was the centenary of Wesley's death and it was commemorated by the proposal to build an extension to the School room which was becoming inadequate to deal with the increase in the number of scholars. It was decided to provide an infant school, a classroom, a vestry and a kitchen, at an estimated cost of £250. Subscriptions and a bazaar had already contributed £146 towards this. The ceremony of laying the foundation stone was performed by James Hansard of Llanelli deputising for Alderman David Evans of Llangennech Park who at short notice had been called to London on business connected with the Burry Port and Gwendraeth Valley Railway. A stone was also laid by Charles Blackmore on behalf of the children. Donations received at the ceremony brought the fund to £190. One for £5 was from Daniel Stephens the owner of the Brick Works and a County Councillor. The Methodist ministers present were Neville Andrews, Chairman of the District, and Arthur Aldington and Thomas Kirkby of the Llanelli circuit. All the other Nonconformist ministers in the town attended: W. C. Jenkins of Capel Sul, John and George Reynolds of the Baptists, and William Peregrine Jones and D. Geler Owen of the Calvinistic Methodists. Under the chairmanship of Captain Daniel Harris, manager of the Tin Works, a public meeting was held in the chapel, at which a string band performed 'Jerusalem my glorious home' and 'Bethlehem.' The chapel choir sang the anthem 'Awake.'
The remaining years of the century were, however, to be lean ones in the history of the chapel, and the town. The very year in which the members had shown their confidence in the future by building the extensions to the School room proved to be a turning point in the fortunes of the British Tin Plate industry. The successful establishment of tinplate manufacturing in the U.S.A. and the enactment of the Mackinley Tariff in 1891 caused the expansion of the home industry to be halted. Prices began to slump and production fell off. The effects were soon felt at Kidwelly. In 1895 there was work for only three months. In the following year the Works closed down and the men were paid off. The next fourteen months brought many families to the verge of starvation. The Mayor, E. V. Davies, formed a Relief Committee and opened a fund to which the 'Western Mail' contributed generously. Many of the skilled workers, despairing of the reopening of the Works, emigrated to the pioneering tinplate districts of America, and to Glasgow and Italy. Inevitably, membership of the chapel declined sharply and the cause was threatened with extinction. By 1899 the annual income, which had averaged £18 in the early nineties, had dropped to £6/5/11d. After three years of complete idleness the Works were purchased by a syndicate headed by John Thomas of Llangennech and a company was formed under the name of the 'Kidwelly Iron, Sheet and Tinplate Company, Limited.' In 1901 this went into voluntary liquidation and the prospects for the chapel and town became bleak. Hope revived with the purchase of the Works by the 'Kidwelly Tinplate Company' in 1904. Within a few years about 350 men were employed. Chapel membership began to rise, the gaps being worthily filled by a group of Pembrokeshire men attracted by the prospects of employment. In 1906 it was possible to carry out a renovation of the building and to install Gas lighting, the whole costing £122. By 1914 the annual income had risen to £34.
A substantial number of new trustees was appointed between 1909 and 1914. They were: Richard Randall who with his family had left for Barry during the depression, Arthur John, an Annealer, Isaac James, an Annealer, David Davies, a Tinplate Boxer, Francis Jones, an Annealer, William Phillips, a Store Keeper, Glyn Jones of Gwendraeth Stores, Frederick Northcote, a Millwright, James Palmer, a Fitter, James Rocke, a Baker, Henry Gibbard, a Collier, Frank Evans, a Furnaceman, William Smith, a Collier, David Nicholas, a Doubler, George Crouchman, a Blacksmith, Samuel Bevan, a Chemical Manufacturer of Llanelli, John W. Jones, a Dentist of Llanelli, James Hansard, a commission Agent of Llanelli, and Robert Loosemore of Kidwelly.
The Jubilee celebration was held in October, 1916, when the cause was flourishing. A full account was given in the 'Carmarthen Weekly Reporter' and the names of those who appeared in it deserve to be brought to mind, particularly those who had striven to keep the cause alive in the years of depression. Arthur John was the secretary of the committee entrusted with the arrangements. The ladies in charge of the refreshments in the School Room were: Mrs. T. C. Thomas, Mrs. T. J. Hughes, Miss Nicholas, Headmistress of the Hillfield Girls School and daughter of David Nicholas, Mrs. T. A. Morris, Mrs. Northcote, Mrs. Ted Gower, Mrs. F. Evans, Mrs. H. Evans, Mrs. I. James, Mrs. W. Williams, Miss Bertha Isaac and Miss Maria Isaac. A public meeting followed under the chairmanship of R. J. Jones of Carmarthen, a well known figure in the circuit and a popular local preacher, who had held all the leading offices which a lay man could possibly hold. The memories of some of the speakers spanned more than fifty years. T. J. Hughes of Swansea recalled Mary Williams the chapel keeper in the eighties, whose devotion to her duties was absolute. 'Woe to anyone who showed any disrespect to the chapel.' He recalled too that he was one of the members who in the years of depression had to leave the town to obtain employment. T. H. Jones of Sketty recollected the period before the chapel was built, when Welsh and English services were held at Bethesda. James Hansard, an acting circuit Steward, spoke of the pleasure it had given him to lay the foundation stone of the extension of the School room a quarter of a century earlier. The ministers present were, T. C. Hilliard, Superintendent of the Circuit, and Vincent Taylor of Carmarthen who later became a distinguished Biblical scholar. Nearly all the Nonconformist ministers in the town were present: William Castellau Jenkins who had come to Capel Sul in the year following the erection of the chapel, D. Geler Owen, and E. J. Herbert of the Calvinistic Methodists. The latter recited a short poem he had composed for the occasion:
temple by the sweeping tide
fifty years the Gospel Bells
This was followed by 'Somewhere a voice is calling,', sung by John Evans of Alstred Street.
In the same year, centenary celebrations were held in Bethesda. The Welsh cause, however, had for some time been steadily declining is spite of valiant attempts to keep it alive. It has now become extinct and the last tangible link with early Wesleyan Methodism in Kidwelly vanished when the chapel was demolished in 1962. The English cause too endured its times of depression between the First and Second World Wars. The Tin Works upon which it relied for a large part of its membership was idle for long periods in the thirties and many workers were unemployed or employed on short time. In 1941 the premises were requisitioned for storage purposes. The end came in 1946 when the Works were dismantled under the Tinplate Redundancy Scheme and the site offered for sale the following year. Membership in the post-war years has however, recovered and now stands at 78.
Judged by the size of its membership, the cause at Kidwelly has always been a small one but this has been a source of its greatest strength. It, has produced a closely knit community with keen loyalties and an intense corporate life. These characteristics are as strongly marked as they ever were in the past. The formidable financial burden of carrying out a complete renovation of the chapel is being borne with determination and courage. It is a splendid act of faith, a generous gesture to a rising generation which undoubtedly will be faced with decisions, as profound as any the Methodist Church has ever had to take.
W. H. MORRIS
ENGLISH CIRCUIT MINISTERS 1866-1966
(In 1866 Kidwelly was in the Carmarthen and Llanelli Circuit but in 1869 the circuit was divided to form two separate circuits, Kidwelly being placed in the Llanelli circuit. In 1902 the two circuits amalgamated to form the Llanelli and Carmarthen Circuit).
|1866||John Philp, Arthur Ransom, Joseph Higham (stationed at Kidwelly).|
|1867-68||Jabez Palmer, Arthur Ransom, Nehemiah Smith (stationed at Kidwelly).|
|1869-70||Wm. S. Snow, Jabez Chambers (stationed at Kidwelly).|
|1871||Edwin Thorley, Jabez Chambers (stationed at Kidwelly).|
|1872||Robert Bond, Joseph Shrimpton (stationed at Kidwelly).|
|1873-74||John B. Dyson, Joseph Shrimpton (stationed at Kidwelly).|
|1875||John B. Dyson, Samuel W. Beard (stationed at Kidwelly).|
|1876||Samuel W. Beard, John Turner.|
|1877||Samuel W. Beard, Enoch Biscombe.|
|1878||Enoch Biscombe, John Taylor.|
|1879||Enoch Biscombe, James Etchells.|
|1880||Nathaniel Stevens, James Etchells.|
|1881||Nathaniel Stevens, Edward Bowman.|
|1882||Sampson,Cocks, Robert W. Pordige.|
|1883-84||Sampson Cocks, George Gibson.|
|1885||George Gibson, James C. Brewer.|
|1886-87||James C. Brewer, J. Hetherington Cleminson.|
|1888-90||Thomas Kirkby, J. Arthur Aldington.|
|1891-93||James Shearman, James Picot.|
|1894||William Hunter, William May.|
|1895-96||William Hunter, Reuben R. Simons.|
|1897-98||Thomas Pinfield, F. H. Hooper Labbett.|
|1899||Thomas Pinfield, A. Perry Gill.|
|1900-01||Edward A. Wain, A. Perry Gill.|
Edward A. Wain, Edwin Owen, Clement A. West.
|1903-04||John Crawshaw, Edwin Owen, William J. Hannam.|
John Crawshaw, T. Nevison Phillipson, Thomas Roberts.
|1906-07||William J. Britton, T. Nevison Phillipson, Thomas Roberts|
|1908||William J. Britton, John H. Newby, Sydney P. Jacoby.|
|1909-11||John V. Sutton, John H. Newby, Thomas Roberts.|
James Bryant, Christopher Whitfield, Robert F. Atkinson.
James Bryant, Vincent Taylor, B.D., Robert F. Atkinson.
|1915-17||Thomas C. Hilliard, B.A., Vincent Taylor, B.D., William E. Thomas.|
|1918||Thomas C. Hilliard, B.A., Ernest W. Fitch, William E. Thomas.|
|1919||J. Albert Dixon, Ernest W. Fitch, John B. Lee.|
|1920||J. Albert Dixon, Garnham G. West, John B. Lee.|
|1921||W. Oliver Lake, Garnham G. West, John B. Lee.|
|1922-23||W. Oliver Lake, David C. Griffiths, G. Rowland Owen.|
|1924||Thomas W. Bray, David C. Griffiths, G. Rowland Owen.|
|1925||Thomas W. Bray, William G. Jones, Harold A. Bishop.|
|1926||Thomas W. Bray, William G. Jones, James L. Smith.|
|1927||R. H. Colwell, Ph.B., William G. Jones, Reginald C. Stonham.|
|1928||R. H. Colwell Ph. B., David J. Williams, B.A., Reginald C. Stonham.|
|1929||R. H. Colwell, Ph.B., David J. Williams, B.A., Thomas Metcalf.|
|1930||W. R. Roberts, W. Horace Dowling, John R. Peniston, BA|
|1931||W. R. Roberts, W. Horace Dowling, William J. Roberts.|
|1932-34||W. R. Roberts, J. T. Jones, M.A., William J. Roberts.|
|1935||E. Ivor Humphreys, B.A., B.D., J. T. Jones, M.A., Goronwy JonesDavies.|
|1936||E. Ivor Humphreys, B.A., B.D., W. George Grifths, Goronwy JonesDavies.|
|1937-39||E. Ivor Humphreys, B.A., B.D., W. George Griffiths, Wilfred Trinder.|
|1940||E. Ivor Humphreys, B.A., B.D., W, George Grifths, Goronwy JonesDavies.|
|1941||E. Ivor Humphreys, B.A., B.D., Donald A. Davies, E. Clifford Hind.|
|1942-43||E. Ivor Humphreys, B.A., B.D., Donald A. Davies.|
|1944||H. Ingamells Powell, Donald A. Davies.|
|1945-47||H. Ingamells Powell, Ivor Trigg.|
|1948-49||G. Stuart Cann, Donald V. P. White.|
|1950-51||Alexander C. Blain, Donald V. P. White.|
|1952||Alexander C. Blain, Donald A. Davies.|
|1953-55||Donald L. Collings, Donald A. Davies.|
|1956||Donald L. Collings, Maurice Cartledge, B.D.|
|1957||Harold Evans, Maurice Cartledge, B.D.|
|1958-59||Harold Evans, George Lovell, B.D.|
|1960-61||Wilfrid J. Hill, M.C., B.Sc., H.C.F., George Lovell, B.D.|
|1962-65||Wilfred J. Hill, M.C., B.Sc., H.C.F., Lewis J. Hayward.|
|1966||F. Peacock, Hedley Huxtable.|
CHURCH OFFICERS 1966
Mr. G.W. Jones, B.E.M., Messrs F. Menghetti, W.L.Watkins, A.C. Morris.
Messrs. F. Hart, H. Burt, T. Davies.
Mrs. A. Lewis.
Mr. A. C. Morris.
Sunday School Superintendent:
Miss R. James.
Mr. W. L. Watkins.
Mrs. A. Lewis, Miss R. James, Miss J. Chubb, Messrs G. W. Jones, W. L. Watkins, A. C. Morris, F. Menghetti.
Messrs. T. J. Evans, W. Johns.
Miss J. Chubb, Mr. I. Jones.
Home Missions Secretary:
Mr. H. Burt.
|New Trustees appointed on 16th June, 1930:|
|Thomas Arthur Morris; David Randall Hughes; Edgar Harries Stephens; Gerard Wilfred Jones; Bertha Isaac; Lily Ann Walters.|
|New Trustees appointed on 13th August, 1948:|
|Ernest Harold Cole; Thomas John Edwards; Frank Hart; Albert Charles Morris; John Pearce; Beatrice Irene Evans; Maria Isaac; Rosalie Margaret James; Margaret Nicholas Morris.|
|New Trustees appointed on 22nd October, 1957:|
|Thomas John Evans; Cromwell George Edwards; Margaret Myra Gravell; William Hill Morris; Elizabeth Ann Lewis; Frederick Menghetti; William L. Watkins; Henry William Burt; David William Johns.|
November 2nd, 5th, 6th, and 7th, 1966
2nd November at 7 p.m.Reopening of the Church followed by DIVINE SERVICE conducted by Rev. MALDWYN L. EDWARDS, M.A., D.Ph., Chairman of Cardiff and Swansea District.
5th November at 7 p.m.Public Meeting. Speaker: Rev. GEORGE LOVELL, B.D., London. (former Minister of the Church).
6th November at 11 a.m. 2.30 p.m. and 6 p.m. Services to be conducted by Rev GEORGE LOVELL, B.D.
7th November at 7 p.m. GREAT RALLY
|Members and friends of the Church in the Circuit are cordially invited to support the above Centenary Celebrations and those who belong to local Churches.|
|All collections and proceeds for the CENTENARY FUND. Every contribution will be gratefully received.|
|THE Church was reopened on Wednesday, November 2nd at 7 p.m. The ceremony of opening the door was performed by one of the oldest members, Miss Maria Isaac, aged 90. The service which followed was conducted by the Rev. Maldwyn Edwards, Chairman of Cardiff and Swansea District. A number of gifts were dedicated:|
|the striplighting by Miss Maria Isaac (installed voluntarily by Mr. T. J. Evans), a pulpit fall by Mrs. T. B. Gravell in memory of her mother Mrs. J. Edwards, a christening font by Mrs. Ken Morgan, Communion kneeling pads by Mr. Fred Menghetti and a pulpit hymn book by Mr. and Mrs. James Loosemore (formerly of Kidwelly).|
|The service was attended by the Mayor, Councillor Miss C. L. Squier, and the Deputy Mayor, Councillor Emlyn Williams and Mrs. Williams. Ministers present were:|
|the Rev. F. Peacock (Superintendent of the Circuit), the Rev. W. Hedley Huxtable (Carmarthen) the Rev. Douglas L Walters (Vicar of St. Mary, Kidwelly) and the Rev. G. D. Jones (Morfa).|
|On Sunday (November 6th) the afternoon service was conducted by junior and senior members of the Sunday School. Those who took part were: Mavis Jones, Janet Watkins, David Mexsom, and Carol Edwards, reading portions of Scripture; Prayer offered by Heather, Watkins; duet by Gloria Fisher and Carol Edwards and solos by Cerris Morgan and Janet Watkins; recitations by Mary Watkins, Odette Charlton, Meryl Nash, Vanessa Nash and Cerris Morgan, Items were given by the Sunday School choir.|