The Civic Trust for Wales were present at the launch of a new digital resource ‘show-casing’ the Nonconformist heritage of Wales that took place in the former Pembroke Terrace Welsh Presbyterian Chapel, in Cardiff – one of the buildings featured in Cadw’s 1999 publication ‘Chapels in Wales, Conservation and Conversion’.
There has been a steady flow of books published on the chapels of Wales since Anthony Jones’ ground-breaking ‘Welsh Chapels’ published by the National Museum in 1984. Like Simon Jenkins’ 2008 publication ‘Wales: Churches, Houses, Castles’ and D.Huw Owen’s ‘The Chapels of Wales’ published by Seren in 2012 these books include representative samples of buildings that cover the whole of Wales. Huw Edwards’ ‘Capeli Llanelli, Our Rich Heritage’ published in 2009 and Jean Rose’s ‘Cardiff Churches Through Time’ first published in 2013 are now providing more localised histories of nonconformist buildings and causes.
The new website ‘Welsh Chapels or ‘Addolai Cymru‘, by the Addoldai Cymru (Welsh Religious Buildings Trust) and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW), is a rich source of information. At the official launch in October, Manon Antoniazzi, Chief Executive Officer, Tourism and Marketing for Wales (Welsh Government), referred to it as a “Virtual Museum” in reference to the computer generated images that better illustrate the chapels included in the website. In addition the cross referencing to important data on the origins and history of their development over time will be welcomed by those who share the enthusiasm and concerns of Addoldai Cymru for the stock of over six thousand recorded chapels recorded on the RCAHMW database.
Extract from the website
‘Capel’ (the Chapels Heritage Society) confirm that chapels are closing in Wales at the rate of one a week. This gives a sense of urgency to the need to study and preserve the Nonconformist Heritage of Wales and to encourage sympathetic conversion of chapels no longer required for their original purpose. In England, research into the problem of redundant urban church buildings was published in 1995 as a report entitled ‘Spirit of Place’, by the Comedia consultancy who had in 1991 completed a study of town centre decline and renewal that attracted a great deal of interest.
The emphasis in Spirit of Place was on the buildings of the Church of England, partly as a result of its legal position as the established church, and the rights this confers on local people and partly because it was responsible for 80% of listed buildings used for religious purposes. The report considered the causes of redundancy arguing that if the causes of redundancy lay in the changing nature of the neighbourhood in which each church stands, than it is likely that the solution to the problem represented by each building will be located in the same place. They stressed that what looked like a national crisis was, in fact, a series of local problems and that a redundant church building should be envisaged by the community at large and local authorities as a resource of potential benefit to the urban community rather than a liability. This point of view is reflected in Addoldai Cymru’s spring newsletter that refers to their website as developing an interactive and accessible resource telling the story of Nonconformity more generally with the aim of widening participation and engagement with communities. In this they resonate with the work of the Civic Trust for Wales in its support for local civic societies and Characterisation studies.
Article by Siarlys Evans, Trustee of the Civic Trust for Wales, and retired architect.