Yr Hen Gapel, Llwynrhydowen
Yr Hen Gapel is the third chapel of a cause which was the first Arminian congregation in Wales and the mother church of the Unitarian “Black Spot” of Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire, a radical tradition in an apparently unlikely rural setting that was to have both national and international reverberations.
The cause at Llwynrhyydowen started in 1726 and the first chapel was built in 1733, but as the congregation grew the chapel underwent extensions in 1745 and was completely rebuilt in 1791. The present, third, chapel, was built in 1834, a fine example of a long wall chapel of unrestored late Georgian character with a largely original interior.
In the mid 19th century, the congregation could number anywhere up to 600. It was a part of a radical Unitarian culture within a Welsh rural setting, resistant to successive waves of evangelical revival emanating from the epicentre of Welsh Calvinistic Methodism not far to the north. As such these communities became collectively known as the ‘Black Spot’.
In 1876 it was the scene of a national scandal when the congregation and its minister William Thomas (also known as Gwilym Marles) were evicted by the local landlord, John Lloyd of Alltyrodyn. Lloyd cited their ‘radical’ non Tory, Unitarian ideologies as a breach of their lease. After the closure, the popular minister addressed an outdoor congregation of about 3000, with his back to the locked and chained chapel. Due to the national interest prompted by the eviction, a fundraising campaign saw a new chapel created, but after the death of Lloyd his sister had the building returned to the congregation. Unfortunately by this time, Gwilym was in ill health and died before he was able to attend the opening ceremony of the new chapel. His remains were laid at the new chapel and it was subsequently dedicated to his memory. Gwilym Marles is also significant as the great uncle of the poet, Dylan Thomas. It is even suggested that the scandalously evicted minister was the influence for Thomas’s Reverend Eli Jenkins in the play, Under Milk Wood.
After these events, the original chapel was utilised primarily as a Sunday school and a place for concerts and Eisteddfodau, before becoming disused in c1960. It had a brief re-opening in the 1970s as a Unitarian museum. It was acquired by Addoldai Cymru in 2008.Read more about the History of Yr Hen Gapel Read more about the chapel Read more about the work to date Read more about Unitarians
Further InformationUnitarian Faith Trail Leaflet Yr Hen Gapel Listing Document Llwynrhydowen Listing John Hilling Report Adroddiad JH l Llwynrhydowen 2-9-05 David Barnes, Llwynrhydowen and Its Radical Tradition (2005) David Barnes Llwynrhydowen a Radical Tradition pages 1-8 David Barnes Llwynrhydowen a Radical Tradition pages 9-18 Yr Hen Gapel Conservation Statement Neil Sumner 2016 Yr Hen Gapel Conservation statement
David Barnes, People of Seion (Llandysul: 1995)
Elwyn Davies, They Thought for Themselves (Llandysul; 1982)
Elwyn Davies, Y Smotiau Duon (Llandysul: 1981)
Aubrey J. Martin, Hanes Llwynrhydowen (Llandysul: 1977)
Elfyn Scourfield, Carmarthen craftsmen and implement makers, The Carmarthenshire Antiquary XXVII (1991)
G & J Hague, The Unitarian Heritage (1986)