Hen Dŷ Cwrdd History
Hen Dŷ Cwrdd (The Old Meeting House) was originally known as Tŷ Cwrdd Godre Hirwaun. It was the earliest nonconformist chapel in the Cynon Valley and the Mother Church of Unitarianism in the Cynon Valley. Its origins extend back to the Dissenting Meeting Houses at Cwmyglo and Blaencanaid Farm on the mountainside between Aberdare and Merthyr Tydfil. As a result of divisions appearing among dissenters Hen Dŷ Cwrdd, Cefn Coed was founded in 1747 and Hen Dŷ Cwrdd, Trecynon was established in 1751. Thomas Lewis, its first minister, was dismissed in 1756 for his Calvinist views and was replaced by an Arminian, Owen Rees. In the course of his ministry, from 1756 until his death in 1768, Rees made the transition from Arminian to Arian. Edward Evan, who ministered at Hen Dŷ Cwrdd from 1772 to 1796, penned the two acrostic verses in honour of Owen Rees that appear on Rees’ tombstone in the chapel’s burial ground.
The agent of the change from Arianism to Unitarianism in Wales was Thomas Evans, better known to the Welsh as Tomos Glyn Cothi (1764-1833). Evans was a Teifi valley weaver who had come into contact with the Jacobin bards of Glamorgan, including Iolo Morganwg, in the course of marketing his cloth. In 1796, he established the first avowedly Unitarian chapel in Wales near Brechfa where his enthusiasm for rational Christianity led to his being dubbed “Priestley Bach”. He fell foul of the authorities when he sang Jacobin songs in public, including his own Welsh version of the Marseillaise. For these provocations, he was pilloried, subsequently languishing productively in Carmarthen Gaol from 1803 until 1811 where he authored a number of radical pamphlets, poetry and hymnals. Following his release, Evans accepted an invitation from the congregation at Trecynon to take charge of Hen Dŷ Cwrdd as a Unitarian. When Evans died in 1833, having ministered in Trecynon for more than twenty years, he was interred at the northern pine-end of the chapel.
In Evans’s footsteps there followed a succession of Unitarian ministers variously active in the radical politics of their day and exercising an influence out of all proportion to their numerical strength. John Jones (1802-1863) is a representative figure. He ministered at Hen Dŷ Cwrdd for the last thirty years of his life. Openly sympathetic to the Chartists in the early years of his ministry, he contributed a number of articles to the Welsh Chartist newspaper, Udgorn Cymru. He also conceived the idea of a Unitarian denominational magazine in Welsh and was one the founders of Yr Ymofynydd, the first issue of which appeared in 1847. Hen Dŷ Cwrdd was rebuilt by Evan Griffiths, Jnr., in the last year of Jones’s ministry.
A local eisteddfod was held in the Mount Pleasant Inn on 9 October 1837, the adjudicator of the essays was the Rev. J. Jones of Hen Dŷ Cwrdd. This was advertised in Seren Gomer in that year.
E.R Dennis (1882-1949) was invited to Hen Dŷ Cwrdd in 1916 and his ministry lasted over thirty years. Keen on the creative arts, Dennis encouraged local music and drama and was one of the founders of Aberdare’s Theatr Fach. D. Jacob Davies (1916-1974) succeeded Dennis in 1945, remaining at Trecynon until 1957. A poet and pacifist, Jacob Davies made a notable contribution to Welsh public life as a journalist and broadcaster. He served as the editor of Yr Ymofynnydd for over twenty years and is the author of the bicentennial history of Hen Dŷ Cwrdd. The congregation of Hen Dŷ Cwrdd merged with that of Highland Place Aberdare in 1988. It was transferred to the Trust in 2005, under its status as a prescribed charity under the Redundant Churches and Other Religious Buildings Act 1969, (as amended in Schedule 5 of the Charities Act 1992).