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The main form of religion in Wales since the 17th century has been the Nonconformist Chapels. These chapels are democratic organisations, built with the savings of people, who select and pay the minister and elect the deacons. There are four groups of nonconformists, known collectively as The Big Four; Calvinistic Methodists, who are the largest in Wales based mainly in rural areas, Congregationalists, who are strong in South Wales, Baptists, who are the smallest of the four and the Wesleyans. The chapels are part of the Church in Wales, which was, until 1920, part of the Church of England. The influence of non-conformist politicians in the early 20th century brought about the Act of Parliament to separate the two churches.
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.
Herbert Trevor and Jones, Gareth Elwyn (eds). People and Protest: Wales 1815-1880. (Cardiff, 1988).
Jenkins, Philip. A History of Modern Wales, 1536-1990. (London, 1992).
Jones, Ieuan Gwynedd. Communities. (Gomer, 1987)
Jones, Ieuan Gwynedd. Explorations and explanations. (Gomer, 1981).
All items listed in the further reading are available for consultation in either the South Wales Miners’ Library or the Library and Information Centre, University of Wales Swansea. Click here to link to the library catalogue.
LINKS TO USEFUL WEBSITES:
Data Wales A picture of the oldest Nonconformist Chapel in Wales.
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