Wednesday, 15 February 2017

The Chapels of Cwmorthin

Capel Rhosydd, seen from the Rhosydd tip.
The second of my occasional photographic wanders around Cwmorthin, this time focussing on the chapels. Yes, there are two!

The first needs no introduction and is almost, in the current parlance, an "iconic" feature. Capel Rhosydd (also known as Capel y Gorlan and Capel Conglog), is a gaunt shape sited by the track where the tramway diverts across the fields, behind a slate slab fence. It hasn't always looked so neglected. Many local folk  remember the chapel with a roof (some even profess to know who stole the slates).

Photograph of Capel Rhosydd in June 1995 by kind courtesy of Dave Linton.

Given that the quarrymen at Cwmorthin were for the most part a civilised, educated and god-fearing band of workers, it isn't surprising that a chapel was built for the families and children as well as the men themselves.  The building was paid for, not by the quarry company (of course not, why would they do that?) but by subscription from the men themselves, costing between two and three hundred pounds.

A school for the children of the quarrymen in the valley was founded in 1855 by Thomas Jones and Griffith Evans, based in Cwmorthin Uchaf farmhouse, although the accomodation was less than satisfactory. It found a permanent home at the chapel in 1867.

I won't plagiarise the excellent research done by Cofio Cwmorthin, but refer the interested reader to their site for much more detail on the chapel. Suffice to say that the chapel has appeared on book covers, calendars, numerous web sites and albums and is a much-loved landmark.

It's something of a milestone for me, as I usually have a cup of coffee from my flask, sitting in the shelter of the walls, when returning from an expedition in the cwm. On my most recent visit, I had intended to go up the flanks of Foel Ddu, and had followed a track marked on the map, going up the slopes to the north of the chapel. This was obviously a right of way remembered by the OS, but in 1890-  before Rhosydd had started tipping so energetically. By now, it had become more of a scramble/severe climb near the top.  At this point the wind was so fierce that I could hardly stand! I ended up wandering around the relative shelter of Rhosydd that day.

But back in the chapel on my return, I sat and savoured my flask of "Grumpy Mule",  listening to the wind howling round the walls. It was hard to imagine the bank of pews, or the minister giving a sermon amid the ruins and yet, there was something of an atmosphere. I've mentioned Jan Fortune's poems about the cwm before now, and her lines about the wind singing hymns in the walls was never more true. I felt somehow as if I had been granted asylum for a small time, out of the wind which was now becoming very strong indeed. A party of walkers passed outside, bent like soft alloy against the forces of nature, yet there I was, sipping coffee like a gent. Luckily, no stones fell off on me, and I walked out into the gale, the elements harrying me down the cwm and out to the car park for the short drive home.

The second chapel is an interesting one. It predates Capel Rhosydd by a year and was built to hold a hundred devout souls. It must have been a tight squeeze, because that seems an optimistic estimate to me. Capel Tiberias, as it was known, was an independent congregational chapel, built at the same time as the cottages of Tai Llyn, the barracks at the threshold of the cwm. There are no records as to how it was funded, but it was used by Cwmorthin and Wrysgan men and their families as far as I can ascertain. There is still a reasonably defined track leading to it and it holds a good position in a sheltered lee of the hillside. These days it is little more than a pile of stones and no photographs have yet been discovered showing how it might have looked during it's use.

Some Further reading:
Cofio Cwmorthin Remembered

Some interesting photographs on my learned colleague Alen Mcfadzean's blog, "Because they're there"

Slate Voices: Islands of Netherlorn and Cwmorthin by Jan Fortune and Mavis Gulliver, Cinnamon Press, ISBN 978-1-909077-24-9

A final shot from 1995, courtesy of Dave Linton


Anonymous said...

Nice one, Iain!

Anonymous said...


It is ages since I last trekked along there. Thanks for re-awakening the memories.


Iain Robinson said...

Thanks very much, Graham!

Geoff, glad to have revived some old memories :-)

Anonymous said...

Love the first pic with the moody clouds and colours. Capel Rhosydd looks impressive and beautifully situated.

The wind singing hymns is a lovely evocative touch. That sounded like a wonderful moment sheltering and drinking coffee.

Iain Robinson said...

Thank you Alex...I am sorry for the delay in responding, I have only just had this comment through! I am delighted you liked the post and thank you for your kind comment.

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