Early religious history of Porth, Rhondda Valleys

It was estimated that in the 19th century, one chapel was built every 8 days. In 1905, there were 151 chapels seating 85 000 people in the Rhondda Valley, which is nearly 75% of the population. These chapels had great influence in the local community, and played a large part in the lives of everyday people, as they were involved in many social activities. There were chapel choirs, bands, drama groups, the holding of local and district eisteddfodau, singing festivals, known as ‘Gymanfa Ganu’, and the organisation of Penny Readings. There were also annual Chapel Walks and Processions. The ministers were very often involved in politics, and the chapels were a great source for the Welsh language as very often the services were held in Welsh. Most of Sunday was spent at Chapel, and it was regarded as the highlight of the week when everyone put on their ‘Sunday best’. The Chapels held very strict beliefs; in the 1860s, they were heavily involved with the Temperance Movement, and supported groups involved in it such as the Band of Hope. This movement lead to the Welsh Sunday Closing Act in 1881.

A great revival in 1904-5, lead by an ex-miner, Evan Roberts from Llwchwr, succeeded in encouraging many people to attend chapel, but by 1914, attendance at chapel had started to fall again.

 Cymmer Bridge, circa 1933 Cymmer Colliery Cottages, 1900 south view of Cymmer Colliery

Porth Square from Cymmer Hill

Image courtesy of The Rhondda Cynon Taf Library Service Photographic Archive

Cymmer Colliery Cottages, 1900

Image courtesy of The Rhondda Cynon Taf Library Service Photographic Archive

Cymmer Colliery

Image courtesy of South Wales Coalfield Collection, Swansea University


Religion in general and non-conformity in particular is synonymous with the Rhondda, and the religious and social importance of 'the chapel' cannot be overstated. The development of the villages of the Rhondda followed a familiar pattern upon the opening of a local mine, and the influx of workers to an area. Invariably the religious needs of this burgeoning community were one of the first to be met. Thus in Porth at the end of the nineteenth century, the residents had a large number of options in terms of sects and places of worship, some of which are detailed below:


The Primitive Methodists
Records show that Porth was 'missioned' by the Aberdare Primitive Methodist circuit in 1867 and in 1868 a Sunday school was formed with the 'infant church' then assembling at 9 Mary Street. By 1870 the Porth Church had a membership of fifteen and was part of the Pontypridd circuit. By 1877 Porth became a separate 'station' with the Rev. C.T. Harris as its first superintendent, a chapel was erected in 1879.

The English Congregationalists

Cymmer Chapel - Click for Larger Picture Back view of Cymmer Chapel Cymmer Chapel, Cymmer, Porth. Here were buried victims of the 1880 Naval Colliery disaster

Cymmer Chapel

Image courtesy of The Rhondda Cynon Taf Library Service Photographic Archive

Rear of Cymmer Chapel

Image courtesy of Jill Muir

Cymmer Chapel

Image courtesy of Jill Muir

The history of the English Congregationalists at Porth dates back to 1881, when services were held at the 'Old Chapel' Cymmer. In 1882 the Church was incorporated and in 1883 a Vestry was built at Pontypridd Road where worship was carried out for some years. In 1885 a new chapel was built, with a large hall and classrooms added later, and in 1912 the chapel was extended and a pipe organ installed. In the graveyard here were buried victims of the 1880 Naval Colliery disaster.

On Monday 11th July 2005 work will commence in the cemetary of Cymmer Chapel to remove the graves and any remains of those interred to a location next to the chapel prior to construction work for the new Porth relief road. The remains of those laid to rest will be re-interred in a grave next to the chapel and as many headstones as possible will be saved to be re-erected around the chapel and the wall surrounding it. A garden of rememberence will be created around the chapel at the end of the construction work.

The Welsh Wesleyans
Ebenezer Rees 1900 - Click for larger pictureThe early 1880's witnessed a depression in the slate industry in North Wales, and the lead mining industry in Cardiganshire resulting in a number of workers from these areas migrating towards the industrial areas of South Wales. As there was no established Wesleyan Church at Porth for them to worship at, permission was sought to erect a vestry here. This was erected in 1882, but with the continued influx of population a larger building was needed to accommodate worshippers, thus 'Ebenezer' was erected in 1903 at a cost of £2,000.


The Welsh Baptists
Salem Baptist - Click HERE for a larger pictureEarly Baptists using the river for immersion - Picture courtesy of Jill Muir The beginnings of the cause at Salem can be traced back to 1852, when the Rev. W. Lewis from Zoar Ffrwdamos preached to the residents of Porth. The few Baptists were at that time members of Zoar, later associating themselves with Carmel (renamed Tabernacle) Pontypridd. However in 1853, 22 members of Carmel were released to form a branch church at Porth, the members meeting in a house at 'America Fach'. In 1855 the first chapel was formally opened and the church incorporated, this was subsequently replaced by a larger building, opened in 1879. In the latter years of the nineteenth century the Baptist cause flourished in Porth leading to new chapels being built at Ainon, Ynyshir, Pisgah, Cymmer, and Seion, Birchgrove Porth. Salem Welsh Baptist Chapel 1855 Hannah St, Porth (now demolished);


The Tabernacle, Porth - English Baptist
Tabernacle Baptist PorthIn 1872 the few English Baptists at Porth attended Wesleyan services, the language barrier making it impossible for them to join the Welsh Baptist services. By 1874, with the increase in their numbers they were able to form their own English Baptist Church that met at the Llanwonno Board schoolroom. A vestry was built later in Hannah Street and formally opened in July 1875,a new chapel later being opened in 1877. In the 1890's new churches were inaugurated at Bethany, Ynyshir and Penuel, Trehafod. The chapel was enlarged, and a new wing added in 1903 at a cost of £1,800.



The Welsh Congregationalists
Caersalem Welsh Congregationalist Cymmer - Click Here for a larger pictureThe Welsh Congregational Church at Cymmer was founded in the year 1738 and can therefore claim to be the parent church of Nonconformity in the Rhondda. In 1740 there was an enrolled membership of 63, and in 1743 the old Cymmer Chapel was erected. This was rebuilt on its current site in 1834, with branch churches erected at Ynyshir and Porth in 1879. In 1855 Cymmer Chapel was extended with space for a thousand worshippers. Nine branches were formed from Cymmer Church at Castellau, Dinas, Gilfach, Porth, Sardis in Pontypridd, Tonyrefail, Saron in Williamstown, Bethel in Hafod, and Saron in Ynyshir.




Pugh Memorial Church
The Pugh Memorial Church belonged to a section of the Welsh Presbyterians known as The Forward Movement, founded in 1891 by the Revs. Dr. e Pugh and Seth Joshua. A number of members were released from the mother church at Bethlehem, Pontypridd Road in 1892 to inaugurate the cause and met at Wilke's hall on the corner of Cymmer Road. Dr. Pugh sent the first pastor to the church in 1893. A permanent site for the church was acquired and a hall built to cater for 700 people near 'The Old Pit' in Pontypridd Road. During its erection the Church worshipped at the Old Town Hall. Subsequently in 1908 a new building was erected and opened, and officially named 'The Pugh Memorial Church'.

The English Wesleyan Church
The original building appears to have been opened in 1867, the certificate of its registration as a place of worship bearing that date. It was further enlarged in 1880 with land being acquired from Messrs. Idris Williams and others. English Wesleyan Chapel 1876 Porth St, Porth (now changed to flats)

The Church in Wales

St John's 1909 - Click HERE for a larger image CYMMER, St. John the Evangelist (1889)

St. John (1889) Floor Plans

Image courtesy of The Trustees of Lambeth Palace Library

Originally Cymmer was in the Parish of Llantrisant and Porth in the Parish of Llanwonno. When the National Schools were built at Cymmer in 1857 the Rev. Morgan, the Vicar of Llantrisant began to hold services in the schoolroom. This served as a place of worship for the districts of Ynyshir, Dinas and Trehafod as well as Cymmer and Porth. In 1874 a committee was founded to look into building a Church at Cymmer, however a number of prospective sites had to be abandoned leading to considerable delay in the church's building. However in 1886 the Rev. Moses Lewis, the then vicar of Llanwonno, succeeded in having built and consecrated St. Paul's Church at Porth. Later in 1887 the difficulties involved in the site for a church in Cymmer were finally solved. A piece of land on the Bedw Estate was gifted to the Church, and St. John's Church was built and consecrated in 1889. In 1894 Cymmer and Porth were made a separate parish with the Rev. William Thomas appointed as its first incumbent.


Various text on this page courtesy of Rhondda Cynon Taff Library Service


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