St Fagan’s Church

It is the centenary of the consecration rather than that of the building of St Fagan’s church that
we celebrate on July 31st 1954. The Church had been ready for well over a year. The altar
plate and the altar missal bear the date 1853. In the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian for April
9th 1853, there is an account of a meeting of the “Society for Additional Pastoral Supervision
and Church Accommodation in the Diocese of Llandaff” at which the Bishop reported “a
church was being built and endowed at Aberdare by the Honourable Robert Clive at his own
St Fagans Church
That the building was complete early in 1853, probably as early as March or April,
is borne out by one of the prize-winning essays on local history at the famous “Carw Coch”Eisteddfod. This was held at the old Stag Inn in Harriet Street on August 29th 1853. The essay was published in “Gardd Aberdar” on February 1oth 1854. It states “Mae yr haelionus Arlwydd Harriet Clive wedi adeiladu Eglwys ar ei hystad ei hun yn Heol y Felin, ac ar ei thraul ei hun”. The long delay before the Church was consecrated is probably to be accounted or by the untimely death of its co-founder the Hon. Robert Clive.
A full account of the consecration is contained in the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian for
August 4th 1854. The church is described as being capable of holding 700 persons. If that if so then there must have been a gallery at the West end. A walled-up doorway to the West of the South porch which can be seen on old photographs dating from 1880 or thereabouts led to it from the outside. The description of the new church continues, “the nave is 68 ft. in length and 22 in width; the chancel 19 by 29 ft. and the aisles are 11 ft. wide and the same length as the nave. At the east end of the south aisle is a chapel which will accommodate sixty children” (the day school was held there).

“The walls are built of squared Duffryn stone, the chancel is paved with black and red tiles, the roof is constructed of the best Memel timber, stained and varnished as are also the seats. The cost of this church has been unusually small.

Without the warming apparatus, bells and some fittings the amount expended is under £1800.
The work has been well executed by Messrs. James and Price, of Cardiff. The Architect is
Mr. Talbot Bury of Weibeck St., Cavendish Square, London. We regret that the Hon. R. H.
Clive was not spared to witness the opening of the church, towards the erection of which he
had so munificently contributed.

At the consecration the service was conducted by the Revd. John Griffiths, the Vicar of
Aberdare. Psalm 24 was sung in procession and the lessons were read by the Revd. 1. D.
Jenkins, (later to become the first Vicar) and the Revd. D. Griffith. The Epistle was read by
the Revd. Roper Tyler, Rural Dean. After consecrating the church, Bishop Ollivant
consecrated the churchyard as a burial ground.
The Bishop’s text was taken from Micah chapter iv verses 11 to 13 and he concluded his
sermon with these words, “May it please God to grant that the time may speedily arrive when
the church may be purified of every remaining imperfection and all who profess to love our
Lord Jesus Christ instead of biting and devouring each other shall be thoroughly joined
together in one heart and mind”. A theme to which he was to return on another occasion in
the history of St. Fagan, as will be seen.

The collection taken at this service was devoted “to the erection of schools.”
At a dinner held in the upper schoolroom of St. Elvan’s Church it was announced that Lady Harriet Clive would endow the living and make provision for a house so that St. Fagan’s
could become a separate parish.

Before that could come about however, the church was burnt down on January lih 1856. The inside was completely gutted and the roof fell in. Lady Harriet, (who had now become the Right Hon. Lady Windsor), came to the rescue once more and restored the church at a cost this time of £5,000. The gallery at the West end was not replaced.

The church was reopened by Bishop Ollivant on August 26th 1856.

His sermon on that occasion was an important contribution to the “Blue Book” controversy in which the vicar of Aberdare had taken a prominent part. His text was taken from Haggai chapter i, verse 5,”Thus saith the Lord of hosts, consider your ways”. Its theme is “the moral and spiritual condition of the Welsh families resident in London with suggestions as to the possible causes and remedy of the evil”. After establishing, with a great wealth of documentation, (much of it from Welsh language periodicals such as “Y Traethodydd” and “Y Drysorfa”), that Welsh families on going to live in London tended to abandon the practice of religion altogether. He goes on to suggest that the fault lies at home in the life and work of the church here in the parishes of Wales. He challenges his hearers to look first to their own personal practice of religion, then to the moral and religious condition of their homes and lastly to the disunity of the Church. His words on this last point are as relevant and fresh today as then. Incidentally this sermon must have taken about an hour to preach! It was afterwards published by John W. Parker and Son, West Strand.

St. Fagan’s Church was built as a parish church to serve the needs of all sorts and conditions of men within the district, which was assigned to it. The Services were therefore held in both Welsh and English from the first. After the school was built in 1858, in order that both services might be held at the more convenient times of 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. services were held in the school. In 1879 for example, morning services were in church, Welsh at 10 a.m. English at 11 a.m. while the evening services were held at 6 p.m. Welsh in church and English in the school.

From June 30th 1880 the Welsh morning service was held in the school
at 11 a.m. that being a more convenient time. The church was presumably locked all week for
the weeknight services were held in the school. On Monday evenings there was a Welsh
Prayer Meeting; Evensong on Tuesday in English and on Wednesday in Welsh. There was at
one period a Young Men’s Bible Class on Saturday evenings.

Some mystery surrounds the appointment of the first vicar. The Revd. 1. D. Jenkins one of
the curates of Aberdare was responsible for the district ofHeol y Felin but the man
recommended by the vicar of Aberdare for nomination to the living was the Revd. W.
Williams, curate of Neath. He accepted in March 1855 and he preached at St. Fagan’s on
April 15th That is the last we hear of him! Although the newspaper report describes it as “his
first sermon as vicar”, he was never in fact inducted to the parish. It is fascinating to
speculate about what happened. Did he like the founder of the church die before he could
take up the appointment? Or did something happen on that 15th day of April 1855, which
caused his nomination or his acceptance to be withdrawn? Fifty-nine years later the present
vicar was to be born on that date and had not Mr. Williams disappeared from the scene,
neither his portrait nor those of his predecessors would grace these pages! In the event the
living was offered to the Revd. Isaac Domere Jenkins and accepted by him in July 1855. He
remained vicar for twenty-one years or if we are to be strictly accurate, for twenty; for it was
not until July 1856 that the “District and Chapeiry of St. Fagan’s” was formed into a separate
parish. He left to become Vicar of St. Andrew’s in 1876.

He was followed by the Revd. Charles Jones. He did not enjoy very robust health for the
greater part of his incumbency. It is a singular fact that his signature does not once appear in
the Marriage Register. His son-in-law, the Revd. H. 1. Williams, who was his Curate from
1877 to 1888, seems to have borne a great deal of the responsibility of the parish during that
time. Soon after the Revd. Charles Jones arrived in the parish, it was discovered that the
fabric of the Church was in need of urgent attention. This was the first of a series of costly
repairs, which had become necessary during the hundred years the Church has existed. There
is no doubt that the damage caused to the walls by the fire was far more deep seated than was
suspected at the time especially at the West end, where the burning gallery must have caused
an inferno. Over £300 was spent on restoring the Church. Lord Windsor contributed £50, and
the remainder was raised locally some of it by means of a Bazaar held at Aberdare. The Vicar
of Aberdare was chairman of the Appeal Committee probably because of the illness of the
Revd. Charles Jones. The Church was reopened on Thursday, May 8th 1879 the Vicar of Aberdare, the Revd. 1. W.Wynne Jones, and Archdeacon John Griffiths taking part in the Service.
It may be of interest to note that there were 55 communicants at Easter 1882 and an average
attendance of 150 in the Sunday school. There is no indication that there were separate
En~lish and Welsh Sunday Schools at this time. A Morning School was started on August
20t 1882 at 10 a.m. the children being marched to church for the Service at II a.m. This
service was in English. 34 children attended. The morning school was probably for English
children, the afternoon school for Welsh. The Balance Sheet at Easter 1882 shows that
receipts were £60-15-0 and expenses £61-14-4. Collections amounted to £28-10-2. It was
after Easter 1882 that the custom of taking a weekly collection in church was resorted to.
Previously a collection was only taken at the Offertory at Holy Communion.

At this time the choir of St. Fagan had a good reputation. There were 80 members present at
the Diocesan Welsh Festival in September 1882. Eighty in the choir, and 55 Easter
communicants in the whole parish.

In 1885 St. Winifred’s Church was built and from then until 1909 the services in the Parish
Church were in Welsh.

In June 1890 the Revd. Charles Jones died and was succeeded by the Revd. Evan Bevan. He
accepted the pastoral care of Cwmdare and Llwydcoed and these districts were added to the
parish in 1891. St. James church was built in 1895. The Curate at this time the Revd. H. R.
Roberts 1888-1903 was a great exponent of “muscular Christianity” and the Institute was
built in 1894 as a centre for his work with young men. There was no significant change
affecting the Parish Church during Mr. Bevan’s incumbency. The order of services remained
unaltered, and no work was done on the fabric apart from an attempt in 1891 to cure the
troublesome damp in the West wall.

The Revd. Richard Jones became Vicar in 1903 and remained until 1921. He had to face two
major problems at once. The fabric of the church was in very had shape and the West wall
showed signs of buckling. In addition the schools were far below the standard required by the
new Education Act of 1902 and had been “black-listed”. It was decided to tackle the schools
first, but as a precaution the bell turret and weathercock which surmounted the west gable
were dismantled. It was not until 1908 that the work of restoring the Church could be
undertaken. As St. Winifred’s was also in need of extensive repair, and the congregation of
St. Fagan was finding difficulty in paying its way it was decided to abandon the plan to build
a new church in what is now Trefelin for the English congregation and to make the restoration of the Parish Church a combined operation. A plebiscite of the communicants of both churches was taken and over 80% signified their approval of holding dual services in the Parish Church. The restoration included rebuilding the West end and the placing of a tower at the West end of the South aisle thus changing the whole character of the outward appearance of the church from the Windsor Street approach. The two bells were re-hung in the tower. A low-pressure heating system, still functioning, was installed together with new gas fittings and the Church was redecorated throughout. The work cost £1200 of which £766 had been raised by March 31st 1909, when the Church was reopened. The remainder of the debt was not cleared until 1916.

At the opening of the Church the Lord Bishop of Llandaff held a Confirmation Service at
which 47 candidates were confirmed. One of them was Mr. Evan Hughes who recently
retired from the post of organist. A Mr. Jacob Treharne, whose bardic name was “Tiberog”,
wrote a series of five “englynion” to commemorate the restoration. Here is the first,

“Hoff agwedd dlwe Sant Ffagan yn gywrain
Adgyweiriwyd weithian;
o le’r gloch hyd loriau glan
Y celloedd, fewn ac allan”.

A feature of the life of the parish at this time was the strong and active branch of the Church
Defence League, which existed to counter the disestablishment campaign then in progress.
Mr. David Morgan of Cwmdare was a stalwart of this movement, throwing himself into it
with characteristic vigour. It is not recorded if he was the member who had a bucket of water
poured over him by an equally enthusiastic member of Heolyfelin Chapel on the occasion of a door to door canvas! A slight dose of similar enthusiasm on behalf of religion would not be misplaced today.
While the exterior appearance of the Church was now quite different from that of the original
the interior had remained essentially the same from the time of the rebuilding after the fire.
The first alteration was made in 1921 when a carved oak screen was dedicated on September
13th as a War Memorial. It was designed and erected at a cost of £474 by William Clarke of
Llandaff. Other changes were planned, but before they could be carried out, the Revd.
Richard Jones left to become Rector of Llanvaches.