Part 1: 1880-1950
HISTORY OF CALVARY ENGLISH BAPTIST CHURCH, OGMORE VALE.
Read by Mr. William Pope at the Seventieth Anniversary Service of Calvary, October 23rd 1950.
Brothers and sisters,
I have much pleasure in giving you a brief history of our church, and before I start I must pay tribute to our late brother, George Richards, who helped me in compiling the very early history.
The English cause of the Baptist Denomination started in the Ogmore Valley in 1877 (not 1880), and was a branch of the mother church, Bethlehem, with between twelve to fifteen members.
The founders were – Mr and Mrs David Rees (undertaker), Evan Kinsey, Henry Phillips, Thomas Jones (weighman), Thomas Rees, John Howe and wife, Richard Jones and wife, Charles Pevot and wife, Mr Mitchell and William Edwards.
The first deacons were – David Rees, John Howe, Thomas Jones (weighman), Richard Jones, Charles Pevot (who walked from Bryncethin), and Evan Kinsey (Nantymoel) was the first Precentor. Bert Williams was the first organist. These, with a few members, formed the first church.
Having no building they started worshipping in the two bottom houses on the left hand side of Llanharan Hill; a temporary Shepherd was appointed in the person of a Mr Hilton from Llantristant, who was an inspector on the GWR. At this period there was a large influx of miners from the Forest of Dean, among whom were several Baptists who joined the church, and with a membership of about thirty and a fairly large congregation, the temporary building became too small to hold the worshippers.
It was now necessary to find a site on which to build a church, and after much discussion, this was the chosen spot, and the chapel was built in 1880 – seventy years ago. While the building was in course of construction, worship was held in the old Bethania Vestry, and then when Calvary was completed, worship was commenced here, and Mr Hilton still had the oversight of the church. He was a very sincere lay Preacher and did much good.
Early in 1881 the church gave a call to Mr E. Aubrey, a student from Haverford West College. His was a very successful ministry, and the membership more than doubled during his little over three years stay at Calvary. He married Miss Evans (Beehive) Nantymoel, and was the father of the Rev. M. E. Aubrey, who was the General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland for several years and is this year’s President.
At that time Mr James Williams (Forest of Dean) was appointed Manager of the Tynewydd Collieries. He and his family were ardent worshippers at Calvary, and proved a great asset to the church, and, as I have said, his son Bert Williams was the first organist.
At the end of 1881 Mr Aubrey called a special church meeting to consider the advisability of enlarging the building, but the church, at the recommendation of the Deacons, decided not to rebuild for a few years, and in 1882 Mr Aubrey tried again to induce the Deacons to reconsider the question but the adamant. In 1883, with the membership more than doubled, and the Sunday evening service more than comfortably full, Mr Aubrey once more begged that something be done, but again the Deacons decided against enlarging. At this time, he received a call to Ton Pentre early in 1884, and much to Mr Aubrey’s and the church’s regret, he left Calvary and went to Ton Pentre. His was a very, very successful ministry. He died in America in 1930 at the end of seventy.
After a period of eighteen months without a pastor, a call was given to the Rev. W. J. John from Kenfig Hill, in 1885. Mr. John was a very able minister, and several members were added to the church during his ministry. He delighted in singing and was also a very able Bard, his Bardic title being ‘Gwilym Cynfig’. He baptised a received several members into the church. In passing, I would like to say that I was one of the first three whom Mr John baptised. Mrs Fox was actually the first, her brother was the second, and I was the third. Mr John left in the latter part of 1886 for Carmarthen Road Church, Swansea. His, again, was a very successful ministry, during which C. H. (Herbie) Williams joined the church, but he was baptised by his uncle in Dowlais, the Rev. James Williams. Later, in 1897, Herbie went out to Punjab, North India, as a missionary. He died several years ago. During Mr John’s pastorate, Mr Fred Pevot was elected organist, and Mr Lewis Kinsey Singing Conductor, and occasionally when Lewis Kinsey would be absent, Mr John would take his place in the singing practice on Sunday nights. David Rees I referred to as one of the founders of Calvary, was living in the Square close by, and Mrs David Rees was one of the Kinseys, and she was a beautiful singer and strangely enough she was a fine tenor, and Mr John often called upon her to help the tenors when they were few in number. The late Rev. Thomas Morgan, Skewen, told me he met Mr John in America some years ago. He was then an old man, but quite hale and hearty.
I would like to say here that during the ministries of the Rev. E Aubrey and the Rev. W J John the church was practically full every Sunday, and very often we had to borrow chairs to put along the aisle. Both these ministers did a lot of visiting; they both devoted Monday for that work, and visited everyone, especially those who failed to attend church on the Sunday.
In 1887, the Rev. W Bassett was given a call. He was an excellent scholar, and a fairly good minister, although the church suffered a decline during his stay. He was pastor here when the Aber Explosion took place in 1888, and he took part (read and prayed) in the service at the graveside. He was a very able shorthand writer, and held a class at his house on that subject, but as I have said, the church suffered a decline during his ministry, and I always think with gladness of those old stalwarts who were the founders, especially Brothers Richard Jones and Charles Pevot, who clung to the church in the years of plenty and famine. Mr Bassett left for Devonshire at the end of 1889.
In 1890, the church (although in rather a weak state financially and numerically) gave a call to the Rev. W E Robinson. He was ordained on the Good Friday of that year, 1890. The church was rather hard pressed about fixing his salary, and after some friendly discussions, it was agreed that for the first eighteen months Mr Robinson take all monies given by envelope, and the church take all the loose collections. That system worked well indeed. I should like to say here that Mr Robinson was one of the happiest men I had ever met. His ministry was one of joy and happiness throughout come well or woe, he always met things with a smile. There were many additions during his little over two year’s ministry. He worked chiefly among the young people and I will always remember the large Bible Class of young men taught by him. The average attendance of this Class was between fifteen and thirty, and according to his own words he was as successful with this Class as with anything he did at Calvary.
Another thing – Mr Robinson believed that every member should have some work to do in the church, and I think everyone, old and young, male and female, was in some office or other in the church or Sunday school, and had to report on their work at the Church Meetings which were held monthly on the Wednesday before Communion. Mr Robinson married during his ministry at Calvary, but his wife did not enjoy good health. In May 1892 he left for Llantarnam, where he did a noble work until his death. There was always a very happy feeling between Mr Robinson and the church, and everyone was sorry when he left. He spent forty years at Llantarnam and his ministry was one of much joy and prosperity.
From 1892 until 1899 we were without a Pastor, but in 1897 or 1898 a Rev. William Parry, a retired gentlemen from Tongwynlais, used to preach with us almost every Communion Service. He was a fine Christian Gentlemen, and a means of much blessing to the church at that time. It was during his Ministry that Mr W. T. Colewell joined the church.
I would like to say that it was during this time, 1898, that a special Church Meeting was called to consider moving the little mountain of earth and stone that was behind the Chapel. It was unanimously decided that it be done, so about twenty young men banded themselves together to do the work. We engaged carts to take the earth away, and walled the stones one side. In those days one could jump from the earth to the top of the Chapel. We quarried enough stones from there to build the Vestry, as well as to build a large part of the road wall on one side of the road.
After being without a Pastor for seven years, in October 1899 we gave a call to the Rev. W. D. Young of Radnorshire. Mr Young was a very godly man and a fine preacher. During his Ministry the debt incurred on the building of the church, £180, was cleared. There were several additions to the church at this time, among whom was the late Tom Thomas, far better known as Tom Fosa, and although Tom was baptised in Calvary, he took his membership to Bethlehem, and the church was very sorry indeed. Mr Young left for Radnorshire after a four and a half year’s successful Ministry. Mr Young not only cleared the debt, but when he left, the church had £80 in hand.
In 1906 the church gave a call to Mr J. W. Treharne of Pembrokeshire. His was a fairly successful Ministry. During the first year he baptised several and drew large crowds to the services, so large, that at one time Calvary was too small to hold them, and the Sunday evening services were held in the Old Workmen’s Hall (now University Buildings) for a few months. After a pastorate of three years, Mr Treharne left owing to the ill-health of his wife from Cardiff.
After a period of three years without a Pastor we decided to give a call to the Rev. D. J. Davies, Garnant, late of Ton Pentre. This was in 1912. Mr Davies left for Argoed after nine years. This was the longest pastorate in the history of the church. He was a very able preacher, but it was a very lean time in the history of the church, especially during the latter part of his ministry.
Although the Sustentation Fund came into being in 1913, and helped us considerably, with the 1921 strike and other things, the church suffered very badly indeed. We paid Mr Davies’s full salary during the strike; that, and other reasons, left us with a debt of over £400. As I have said, Mr Davies left for Argoed in 1921.
In October 1923 we gave a call to Mr Samwel Jones of Cardiff College. He was one of the most inoffensive men I have ever met. A man of irreproachable character, and a Bible Student to the fingertips; a man who loved all brethren equally. It could be honestly said of him – ‘an Israelite indeed, in whom was no guile.’ A very strong man spiritually, but rather delicate physically. After a short illness he died in July 1929. This cast a gloom over the whole Valley, and was a sad blow to the church. During his Ministry the debt was reduced from £400 to £300. The church paid his Widow his full salary for twelve months, the Ministers of the District nobly coming to our aid. At the end of that period, by a strange coincidence, we held our Jubilee.
It was during Mr Jones’s Ministry that John Davies, our present Secretary, at the age of twenty one (I am sure he won’t mind me giving his age away!) was appointed Secretary of the church; this was in 1927, and I know that I am voicing the opinion of the whole church when I say that John has done a grand work, especially during the long trying period during which we were without a Pastor, and it is our hope that he will carry on for very many years – until our Centenary is reached in 1980, at any rate!
I should like to mention here the Singing Festivals which were held annually on Easter Monday in turn at Blaengarw, Nantymoel, Pontycymmer and Ogmore Vale. We had happy times practicing on Sunday Nights, and as Calvary was too small to hold these Festivals, we always borrowed Bethania for the purpose, holding lunches and teas in this building. We always hoped for a fine day when the Festival was held in the Garw Valley, to enable our party to walk over the mountain, and I shall always think with joy of our walks over. Unfortunately, the attendances at the Festivals diminished during the late 1920s, and they were discontinued in about 1930 after being held by the four churches for at least twenty years.
From 1929 to 1947 we were without an earthly Shepherd. We kept together very well, and achieved materially many things. Our debt was cleared, and we also purchased the ground rent of the church. It was during this period that we had the services of Students from the Cardiff Baptist College, and the Rev. Emlyn Stephens, whom we have us tonight, was always a favourite of ours.
The Deacons were approached by our young people in 1936 to get a marriage licence for the church as they felt that it was in Calvary, where they were reared, that would like to be married, so early in that year a licence was obtained, and the first marriage was solemnised on March 1st 1936, fifty-five years after the erection of the church. The first four contracting parties were – Lewis Lewis and Margret Pope, John Davies and Clarice Lloyd, Bryn Reed and Dill and Oliver Morgan and May Palfreman.
It would appear from this brief history that women have not been prominent in the spiritual life of our church – but let me hasten to reassure you. We have had fine characters worshipping with us, who have enriched the life of Calvary with their godliness, faithfulness and gentleness. May I name a few – Mrs Palfreman (mother of brother Alf Palfreman), Mrs Evans (Washington), old Mrs Darby, Mrs Waters, Mrs Mark Hole, Mrs Wilkinson (wife of our brother A. Wilkinson), Mrs Reed, Mrs Coombes (Fronwen), and that very remarkable woman Mrs John Milton, who worked so hard for the furtherance of the Lord’s Kingdom. While we slept on a Sunday morning, Mrs Milton would be writing texts and verses on the road at the Workman’s Hall Square – big bold hand writing to catch the eye of the passersby. How well we got to know that writing.
Let me say here that Calvary has reared large families during her seventy years. Mrs Palfreman and her eight children were baptised here, and in yet another case, a mother, father, and eight children have been through the waters of baptism here.
Need I mention John Cabble – a man, who, in the presence of God, would be so overcome with emotion and wonderment at His Blessings, that he would be unable to finish his prayer. John Locke, W. T. Colewell and John Emanuel. We here tonight remember them so well and their love for the Lord and this church. ‘Old Faithfuls’ whose presence in this Corner always inspired us.
Gifts that have been made to the church? Many! The chair in the pulpit from Mr Palfreman, this chair from Mrs Davies (mother of John Davies), this table made by Mr McNab, the organ stool made by Mr Marks, the chapel house in Glyn Street from Mr Colewell, the pulpit fall, hymn board, and tablet on the wall outside from Mr Reed, and this Bible from the late Mrs Simmonds.
Now I am on my last phase. You all know the history from October 1947 when our present Pastor accepted this Ministry. You all know the character of himself, his wife, and children and his preaching and teaching abilities. Our Pastor is a godly man, and one to whom we should be loyal and loving, and I know that with the help of the One above he will carry on the good work of the Men of God of whom you have heard tonight.