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Monday, 13 July 2015

Welsh Unitarians Celebrate Reopening of historic Hen Gapel Llwynrhydowen

Huw Edwards with Rev Eric Jones, Derek McAuley and Martin Gilbraith
Last Friday was an important day in the history of Welsh Unitarianism and indeed of the Nonconformist Chapels in Wales. It was a pleasure to attend the reopening of Hen Gapel Llwynrhydowen after its restoration by Addoldai Cymru, the Welsh Religious Buildings Trust. The well-known BBC broadcaster Huw Edwards, Patron of Addoldai Cymru, handed the keys to Rev Wyn Thomas and later spoke to the packed Chapel.

The Grade II* listed building has now been repaired and consolidated and will be used as a centre for activities for the local community.

Hen Gapel has a significant place in the religious, political and social history of Wales. The Congregation’s radical tradition goes back to its opening in 1733 as the first Arminian Chapel in Wales.

 Heini Thomas read a powerful personal  account of the events of 1876 written by her grandmother, Mallie thomas.

In 1860 Gwilym Marles was called to the ministry at Llwynrhydowen. He was radicalised politically during the “Hungry Forties” which were years of evictions and emigration provoked by agricultural depression. He was a strong advocate of the secret ballot. On 29 October 1876 the squire John Davies Lloyd, from whom the Unitarians rented the land upon which the chapel stood, evicted them citing their ‘radical’ non Tory, Unitarian ideologies as a breach of their lease. This was a national sensation and the following Sunday Gwilym Marles preached to some 3000 people on the road outside the chained gates.  A nation-wide fundraising effort saw a new Chapel opened in 1879. Following the squire’s death his sister, Mrs Massey (having challenged the Will) gifted the Old Chapel back to the congregation.

This was seen as an important test of religious and political freedom - the right of individuals to exercise their vote freely in a democratic society and to worship as they saw fit. These remain ongoing Unitarian values.

It was good to return to the "Black Spot" (Y Smotyn Du"), the small area of twenty square miles which resisted Calvinistic Methodist revivals, and the Unitarian stronghold in Ceredigion.

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