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Tuesday, 22 September 2015

RCAHMW Foyer Display: Chapels

We have a brand new foyer display so thought it a good idea to share it on the blog for those of you unable to visit.

The Welsh chapel is one of the most distinctive and iconic building types in Wales, often known as 'The Architecture of Wales'. Chapels contribute greatly to both our urban and rural landscapes. Go anywhere in Wales and you will see these often imposing buildings at the heart of every community. The Royal Commission has been at the forefront of recognising their cultural, social and architectural importance at a time when they have come under increasing threat from closure and demolition. Working with volunteers from Capel, photographic societies and interested individuals, we have run a nationwide project to record, survey and gather information on them before they disappear. We are very grateful for the invaluable help of these local volunteers and for all the information and photographs they have provided.

The latest part of this work has been with Addoldai Cymru over the past year. Addoldai Cymru (Welsh Religious Buildings Trust) is a charity set up to take into ownership a selection of redundant chapels that are historically and/or architecturally significant to the story of chapel building and Nonconformity in Wales. Together we have created a website for people to access this information and to be able to contribute their own photos and memories of the chapel/s they know.

We have held community days at four of the Trust's chapels and gathered information from people for whom that chapel was central to their lives.

© Betsan Haf Evans: CelfCalon

The display includes a remarkable audio recording, contributed at one of these events, of Elizabeth James talking (and singing) to her grandson about the Great Revival of 1904–05. It was recorded in 1984 when she was 100 years old and describes her experiences as a young teacher in Maesteg when Evan Roberts came to preach. A new revival may start here among staff who have started humming the songs!

Listen here:

With the wealth of material held in the National Monuments Record of Wales archive on chapels of every denomination and from every part of Wales it was hard to choose what to include in the display, especially as we have only a small cabinet. In the end we decided to focus on the richness of chapel interiors, those decorative details, fixtures and fittings, which tell their own story about, for example, the importance of the pulpit and Sedd Fawr, how the need for more seating space was solved with balconies, and how chapels were heated and lit.

We have a Bible from 1874 as well as a number of key books held in our library on Welsh chapels and their significance to Wales.

Finally, we have two scale models lovingly crafted by members of staff for the display.

If this has sparked an interest in discovering more, or you have material to upload about your chapel, please visit the website:

By Helen Rowe

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