Yr Hen Gapel History
The Unitarian cause began in Llwynrhydowen in 1726, when Jenkin Jones is said to have preached to the first Arminian congregation in Wales which sprang from Pantycreuddyn church. The first chapel was built in 1733, and after Jenkin Jones’ death in 1742 he was followed by his nephew, the Rev. D Lloyd of Brynllefrith. He was a very popular preacher and the congregation increased enormously under his care making it necessary to extend the chapel in 1745. This was completely rebuilt in 1791 on a slightly different site. In the early 19th century the congregation progressed into Arianism and on into Unitarianism. The present, third, chapel, was built in 1834. During this period, up until 1876, 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 to a hostile Methodist historiography as the ‘Black Spot’ (Y Smotyn Du).
Yr Hen Gapel’s land was leased from the local Alltyroden estate, and the mid century saw increasing tension between the Tory landowner and the radical congregation and its minister. The Alltyrodyn estate had been notorious for evictions during the ‘Hungry Forties’; Anna Lloyd Jones, Unitarian mother of the celebrated American architect Frank Lloyd Wright was evicted at that time. Rev William Thomas, better known by his bardic name Gwilym Marles, became minister and served as the champion of political social and religious freedom on behalf of the poor and oppressed. Eventually, the landowner John Lloyd of Alltyrodyn evicted the minister and congregation from the chapel in 1876, citing their ‘radical’ non Tory, Unitarian ideologies as a breach of their lease. After the closure, the popular Gwilym Marles 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, known as the “Troad Allan”, a fundraising campaign saw a new chapel created in Rhydowen. Unfortunately by this time, Gwilym Marles 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.
On the death of John Lloyd his sister Mrs Massey had the original chapel returned to the congregation. It was subsequently utilised primarily as a Sunday School and a place for concerts and Eisteddfodau, before becoming disused in the 1960s. It had a brief re-opening in the 1970s as a Unitarian museum.
What is also culturally significant is that Gwilym Marles was 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.
Yr Hen Gapel was transferred to the Trust in 2008, 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).
Click here: An account of the ‘Troad Allan’ at Yr Hen Gapel, Llwynrhydowen By Mallie Thomas
Read by the author’s granddaughter, Heini Thomas. (Currently only available in Welsh).
The account is called “Yr oeddwn i yno” translated it means “I was there”
Click below for the transcript in English and copy of the handwritten version in Welsh