St Mairs Church

St Mair’s Church Aberdare
St Mair’s Church Aberdare
Origins of St Mary’s Church

The development of the mineral resources of the Valley gave an impetus to religious as well as commercial matters. Chapels were built, re-built, and enlarged, and the friends of the Church were aroused to action. An active, able, and zealous Vicar (the Rev. John Griffith, M.A.) seized the reins in Aberdare, and quickly stretched forth an arm strong enough to serve the occasion. He found here a Church with sittings for 176 hearers, and he left the parish after having built one of the finest churches in Wales (St. Elvan’s), and provided accommodation commensurate with the wants of the day. To help them other church the parish church, St. Elvan’s was built; by the munificence of the Right Honourable the Baroness Windsor, the fast-increasing neighbourhood of Mill Street was provided with a neat and useful edifice; Hirwain was favoured with a church, and Mountain Ash mainly through the liberality of J. Bruce Pryce, Esq., and the Right Hon. H. A. Bruce, M.P has since been fully provided with church accommodation.
During this time the parish Church was devoted to Welsh services alone, and these, for the past 8 years, have been conducted with great ability and success by the Rev. David Davies. Indeed, so successful has Mr David’s been in his ministration that the Church has been filled to repletion with hearers for years past.

Before leaving here Mr Griffith, the present esteemed Rector of Merthyr Tydfil, had become fully sensible of the inadequate accommodation which the old parish Church afforded the Welsh hearers who flocked there weekly. He had come to the conclusion that it was necessary to meet this want with all promptitude; and had already determined to rebuild or enlarge the Church. With this end in view, Mr Griffith had commenced exerting himself to obtain subscriptions towards this good object, when circumstances called him away to his present field of usefulness. His successor, however, the Rev. Evan Lewis, B.A., our present excellent Vicar, was nothing loth to saddle himself with the good work which his immediate predecessor had commenced.

Between the time at which Mr Griffith had resolved j upon extending the parish Church, and the ad- vent of Mr Lewis to the parish, the population of the place had vastly increased. Moreover, Mr Lewis has a habit of doing what he thinks necessary to do thoroughly and well; he at once there- fore determined upon building the splendid edifice which, amid solemn grandeur, was opened for public service this day, Thursday, November 10th 1864.
From the time he undertook the task until the present moment the Rev. E. Lewis has been most indefatigable in his efforts to raise the necessary subscriptions, and crown the whole undertaking with success. The contract for the building was let to our respected townsman, Mr. Philip Rees, builder, for £2,797, but, including the cost of the promenade, railing, &c., by which the church is surrounded, the edifice as it now stands is likely to cost about £3,500. The substantial and really magnificent character of the building may be partly gleaned from the following facts:-
The first stone of the new building was laid on the 2nd of July, 1863, by Mrs Thomas Wayne, of Glan Dare, and the church was at the same time dedicated to St. Mary. The church was designed on the most economical principles consistent with strength and durability, and the preservation of a sufficient amount of ecclesiastical character. The style is French Gothic freely treated. The edifice is built of stone taken from quarries near the town, with bonds and dressings of Bath stone. The details are of a plain and massive character; the church is divided into nave, side aisles, chancel, side chapels, and vestry under the tower. The nave-arcade is carried on coupled iron columns.

The engraving above the main door (Picture courtesy of RCT)
The engraving above the main door (Picture courtesy of RCT)
The shafts in the chancel are of green Bridgend stone with carved Bath stone capitals. From motives of economy, a clerestory was dispensed with, but this does not involve a diminution of light as there is a considerable gain to some of the side windows in throwing up the gables in the aisles. The communion stands on a foot-pace seven steps above the floor of the church. A sedilia and credence niche are provided. Sittings are provided for 700 adult persons. The carving, of which there is a considerable quantity distributed over the building, is of that style professionally termed conventional. In the caps under the chancel arch we see the fern carved in its conventional form. In the tympanum over the principal entrance, western, is sculptured a subject from the Ascension of our Lord, showing the three Marys, and an angel from the tomb. In the cornice, which is of conventional foliage, at the angles of the tower, are carved four massive figures emblematical of the evangelists. The whole of the carving and sculpture has been creditably done by Mr. G. Whittington, of Newport, Salop. The side walls and arcade are 2 feet 6 inches in thickness and the gable walls. The whole of the sittings are free, and the wood employed in their construction is stained to imitate oak. They are all open and measure 2 feet 9 inches from back to back.
Inside St Mair’s Church
Inside St Mair’s Church

One of two iron columns are at the
Dare Country Park
The architect is Arthur W. Blomfield, Esq., of London; the builder, our fellow- townsman  Mr Phillip Rees; clerk of the works, Mr G. Bates, of Stevenage, Herts.

It is scarcely necessary to add that the building has been completed to the utmost satisfaction of all concerned, and reflects the highest credit upon the skill of the builder. The ground, which includes space for a parsonage and school, in addition to the church was kindly given by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who were also liberal enough to hand over a donation of £500. The Trustees of the late Marquis of Bute have also given the munificent sum of £500 towards the building. The Vicar, manifesting his usual generosity in these matters, has given a handsome donation and the parishioners, some out of their fullness and some out of their poverty, have subscribed most liberally.

The beautiful pulpit, which is an ornament to the church, was presented by Mrs and Miss Wayne, Plasnewydd; the splendid communion service, altar cloth, cushions, &o by Mrs Wayne, and the Misses Wayne, Glandare, and Mrs Davies, Bryngolwg. A handsome font was also presented by James Lewis, Esq, Tydraw.

An unusual feature of the baptistery below floor level with steps leading into the water. One of the vicars there the Rev T.E. Lewis who introduces Gregorian plainsong into the services, a practice which continued until the church was closed in 1964.

The expense attending the formation of the promenade outside, and the handsome railings, which form the boundary, and which, together with the cast iron pillars inside, and the railings just added to St. Elvan’s, were made by Mr Chivers, the Mill-street Foundry, will be borne by the congregation of the old church.

The Opening Ceremony

The town itself had quite a holiday appearance, groups of artisans clustered round the railway stations. The trains brought numerous bodies of strangers from the neighbourhood; the bell was boiling for the morning service, and streams of people from different localities were wending their way to the New Church, and some time before the commencement of the service, the building was filled in every part. Soon after the arrival of the various trains, the Clergy, headed by the Lord Bishop of the Diocese, who was accompanied by the Chancellor, moved in processional order. At the western door they were met by some of the principal inhabitants of the district, and the Bishop was presented with the petition praying him to consecrate the church. His Lordship handed the petition to the Registrar, Mr Huckwell; that gentleman having read it, and the Bishop having assented to its prayer, they marched up the centre aisle, the Bishop took his seat within the Communion rails, and read the usual consecration prayers; the sentence of consecration was afterwards read by the Chancellor, and the morning service commenced the Bishop read the Communion.

When St Mair’s church closed, two of the stained glasses were moved to St Elvan’s church and the one of the stained glass showing St Anna, and was replaced with the face of Martha Eglwys. The other glass from St Mair’s went to St Mathew’s Church, Abernant)

The stain glass of St Anna (St Elvan’s Church)
The stain glass of St Anna (St Elvan’s Church)

Martha Eglwys (1808-1903)

Martha Edwards was popularly known as “Martha’r Eglwys, was the Sexton of St John’s Church for 47 years, she knew all the story of all the graves and their family history of all the families there buried at St John’s.

She lived somewhere near the bottom of Gadlys Hill, and was known to children of the day as “Martha Black” because she dressed always in black. She was said to be very deaf and fond of stuff, she died about the turn of the century.

When St Mair’s church closed, two of the stained glasses were moved to St Elvan’s church and the one of the stained glass showing St Anna, and was replaced with the face of Martha Eglwys. The other glass from St Mair’s went to St Mathew’s Church, Abernant)

The Ceremony

The ceremony of consecration was performed on Thursday by the Bishop of the Diocese. The day was delightfully fine, and from an early hour in the morning the town presented an animated though holy-day like appearance. The shops were closed and all business seemed to be suspended as thoroughly as if it had been a Sabbath. At intervals the bells rung merrily and the streets were lined with well-dressed visitors. The clerical element; was almost everywhere perceptible, and as the clergy were enjoined to bring their surplices and to meet in the Parish Church at 10.40 a.m., gentlemen who, happily, are mostly occupied in better work than bundle-carrying might be seen hurrying to the venerable Church of St. John, shortly before 11 o’clock, burdened with a parcel.

Having enrobed themselves they marched in procession to the number of thirty-two to the new Church of St. Mary, at the principal entrance of which they were met by the Lord Bishop of Llandaff, the Rev. Chancellor Williams, and other Church dignitaries.

The choral part of the service was most effectively rendered by the choir of St. Elvan’s. The Epistle and Gospel having been read, his Lordship ascended the pulpit.

After a short but fervent prayer, the Bishop gave the words of the text, and preached a very admirable sermon from the 20th, 11st, and 22nd verses of the 71st Psalm.

On the conclusion of the sermon, which was listened to with great attention by the very crowded congregation? A collection was made which amounted to nearly £100.

The glass of Samson (St Elvan’s Church, next to St Anna)
The glass of Samson (St Elvan’s Church, next to St Anna)
The Luncheon

Shortly after the morning service a large number of the clergy and laity repaired to the Market-place, where an excellent luncheon had been prepared by Mr and Mrs Dyke, of the Boot Inn. From the large number of persons expected, there J was no room in the town sufficiently large for the purpose, and the centre of the market, which is covered in, was gracefully surrounded with carpet to prevent draft, and they also served by their crimson hue to impart an air of warmth to the place.

The stained glass of David and St Celia at St Elvan’s Church Aberdare
The stained glass of David and St Celia at
St Elvan’s Church Aberdare
About 300 persons sat down, among them were the Bishop of Llandaff, Archdeacons Denison and Blosse, the Right. Honorable H. A. Bruce, M.P. the Revs. Chancellor Williams, E. Lewis (vicar of Aberdare), H. J. Thomas, J. Griffith (vicar of Merthyr), J. Lewis, A. F. Logan, T. Gilbertson, David Griffith (vicar of Resolven), David Davies (curate of the New Church, Aberdare), &c., &c. J. Bruce Pryce, Esq., J. C. Fowler, Esq., G. T. Clark, Esq., R. Fothergill, Esq., Rees H. Rhys, Esq., E. W. David, Esq., W. Powell, Esq., Morgan Williams, Esq., Thos. Davies, Esq., Gwilym Williams. Esq., Dr. Price; Walter Smyth Esq., Captain J.B. Powell, Thomas Wayne, Esq.;Dr. Davies, R. T. Roberts, Esq.;&c., &c.; besides a large number of ladies.

The tables were spread with a profusion of substantial viands and others of a lighter character were intersperse J, forming not only an excellent, but tasteful display, sufficiently tempting to the appetite, although the atmosphere of the building was not of the most agree able temperature. The chair was taken by the Right Hon. H. A. Bruce. Grace having been said by the vicar of Aberdare, thevarious joints quickly assumed a different aspect. On the conclusion of the lunch, Archdeacon Denison returned thanks. Soon after this, the Chairman gave the health of the Queen, which was cordially responded to by the company in the usual manner. After that on the health of the Prince and Princess of Wales, which was also cordially acknowledged?

Description of Church

Stone of the new building was adroitly performed by Mrs Thomas Wayne, a lady whose kindness of heart and geniality of disposition had made her beloved by the people, who stood crowding around, and gave the ceremony a still greater interest in their minds. Rapidly has the work grown beneath the workman’s fingers, and we now behold a handsome building enclosed with four low stone walls, surmounted with a light and elegant iron railing. The building is a handsome one, the style of architecture being what is called French Gothic, rather freely treated. The edifice is constructed with the Newbridge stone with Bath stone dressing. The details are of a rich and massive character. It is divided into nave, side aisles, chancel, side chapels, and a vestry under the tower. The nave arcade is carried on complete. Iron columns separate the aisles from the naves.

The shafts on the responses and in the chancel are of green Bridgend stone with carved Bath stone capitals. No clerestory is employed, and the roof, which is of an open wooden construction, springs nearly from the centre of the arches. The Church is, however, sufficiently lighted from the additional height gained by some of the side windows being placed in the gables, of which there are six on the South and North sides, the usual windows being in these cases aided by beautiful circular heads. Most of the glass employed is of a greenish hue, and this gives a subdued tone to the colouring of the interior. The chancel end is lighted by a massive window, with a beautifully ornamented head. The communion is raised above the floor by seven steps richly carpeted. A sedilia and credence niche are provided. Both nave and aisles are filled with open benches painted in imitation of oak, and calculated to hold about 700 people. The carving, which is very profuse, is in the style peculiar to the era. The capitals under the chancel arch are in the form of Ferns. In the tympanum over the principal entrance is sculptured a subject from the Ascension of our Lord, showing the three Marys and the Angel at the tomb.

Stain glass portraying Ascension (St Mathew’s Church Abernant)
Stain glass portraying Ascension (St Mathew’s Church Abernant)
(In memory of William Thomas, Esq, who died 6th from March 1903
Donated by Mrs Jayne Thomas, widow, Brynawel, Aberdare)
The exterior has a peculiarly handsome appearance, partly derived from the peculiar colour of the Newbridge stone and the profuse Bath stone dressing, as well as from the number of gables thrown up on the South and North sides, breaking up the roofs and relieving it from the monotonous appearance of the slated roof. The tower springs from the south side of the building, and is an elegant structure, 90 feet high, surmounted by a deep roof, topped with ornamental iron work. In the cornices at the angles, which are of a conventional foliage, are carved four massive figures, emblematical of the Evangelists.

The length of the building is 100 feet, with a breadth of 52 feet, and enclosed in a court yard, surrounded by four low walls, with ornamental iron railings at the top. The interior of the yard is very prettily planted with trees and shrubs. The whole of the carved work, both wood and stone, has been creditably done by Mr G. Whittington, of Newport, Salop.

The above stained glass from St Mair’s at St Mathews Abernant ChurchThe above stained glass from St Mair’s at St Mathews Abernant Church
The above stained glass from St Mair’s at St Mathews Abernant Church
The architect is Arthur Bloomfield, Esq., of London, son of the late Bishop Bloomfield. The builder is Mr P. Rees, of Aberdare. The design and the manner in which the work has been executed reflects the highest credit on the architect and builder, as the edifice is undoubtedly one of the handsomest modern ecclesiastical structures in the principality.
The cross which was on St Mair’s Church now at St Mair’s Day Centre Aberdare
The cross which was on St Mair’s Church now at St Mair’s Day Centre Aberdare
The contract was taken at £2,990, but the total cost will be about £3,800. Although at the period when the rector of the old church of St. Mary’s, in Cardiff, was excommunicated by Laud, Aberdare took part in the movements with Merthyr Tydvil in the dissemination of views, from which the various bodies of Dissenters date their origin. At the present time while a number of dissenting places of worship are opened, yet the pre-dominant religious tone of the people is evidently in favour of the Church. Scarcely an important place of business was opened on Thursday, when the ceremony of the consecration of the new church took place, and the crowded congregations on all occasions evinced the great desire the people had to take a part in the religious services of the day. Scarcely my other proof in needed of the deep sympathy existing in the hearts of the people.