Ponterwyd Primitive Methodist chapel

Primitive or Calvinistic Methodist?

Basil Twigg has been looking at the three varieties of Methodist chapel at the eastern end of what was the vast Llanbadarn Fawr parish, within a few miles of each other and in a lead mining area – Cwmergyr Primitive Methodist chapel Ponterwyd Calvinist Methodist chapel and, to a lesser extent, Ystumtuen Wesleyan Methodist chapel.  You can read about Cwmergyr here

In respect of Ponterwyd, at the time of the 1851 Religious Census (published in two volumes by the University of Wales Press), there was only one chapel in the village. (Given the size of the village, it seems unlikely that there ever was another.) This would be the one that is there today and described then as ‘Calvinistic Methodist’. I notice that, under Ceredigion / Blaenrheidol, britishlistedbuildings.co.uk, citing CADW as its source, mentions its supposed origins as being Wesleyan and the 1891 O.S. map reference to it as being Primitive Methodist. The 1886 / 1886 6-inch map does refer to it as such but the 1904 / 1906 map simply says ‘Methodist Chapel’ (as does the 1948 / 1953).

Whether this represents an accurate history of the chapel may be hard to fully establish. There may be inaccuracies (e.g. in the map) or varying interpretations (e.g. the Wesleyan origin). However, there are a few other details that can be added to the picture.

An early standard denominational history of the Calvinistic Methodists in Wales, ‘Methodistiaeth Cymru’ (1854), records that preaching began in the area around 1765 with small groups meeting at various places from around 1777. By 1797, the cause had increased to the extent that a chapel was required and a plot of land was purchased primarily on which to build it. A Sunday School followed in 1805 and gradually the building became too small. The ‘present chapel’, according to the denominational history, was built in 1821. There is no mention of Wesleyan origins although this is not entirely surprising.

The 1797 land purchase was said to be by one William Morgans of Cwmesgyr. While this is perfectly possible as a place-name, it does seem rather a coincidence. (‘Cwmergyr’ would be much less common and may have been taken to be a mistake.) Indeed, there is a document at NLW which records Cwmergyr as being in the tenure of a farmer named William Morgan in 1802.

As regards the origins of the Ponterwyd chapel, the original congregation being Wesleyan seems quite plausible. According to ‘John Wesley in Wales, 1739-1790’ [U.W.P. 1971] – principally extracts from his journal – he visited Wales 35 times and, while there is no record of his being in Ponterwyd, he preached not so far away in Strata Florida in 1769, for instance. He preached at the meeting house of a Calvinistic Methodist in Carmarthen the next day – not particularly unusual as his associations with Welsh Calvinists seems to seem to have been quite cordial.

The early years of the Methodist cause in Ponterwyd may well have encompassed various strands of opinion. However, the chapel was clearly Calvinist by the 1850s. Even so, the chapel in Ystumtuen remained Wesleyan but, being only a few miles away in a sparsely populated area of farms and mines, there may well have been an overlap in congregations (and later with Cwmergyr also). Ystumtuen is assumed to have been Wesleyan because of the number of Cornish miners employed there. (Nevertheless, at the time of the 1851 Religious Census all services were in Welsh.)

It would be interesting to know if the suggestion that Ponterwyd chapel was Primitive Methodist at some stage is confirmed by any source in addition to the O.S. map reference. A mistake in the map is not impossible (as there are in the 2015 map of the area).There are potential confusions with the other chapels in the area and their different denominations, Also, Cwmergyr appears in various documents as ‘Cwmergyr, Ponterwyd’ – to say nothing of what is probably a Morgan(s) family connection between Cwmergyr and Ponterwyd. Even the plaque on Ponterwyd chapel makes no reference to the denomination, unlike most Calvinistic Methodist chapels.

In essence, it would be interesting to know if there are other sources which suggest that the Ponterwyd chapel may have once been Primitive Methodist.

Comments about this page

  • I have been transcribing the List of places of meeting for public religious worship, 1867 and so can confirm that at that date Ponterwyd Chapel was a Calvinist Methodist cause. Ystumtuen was Wesleyan. Cwmergyr had yet to be built.

    By Philip Thornborow (16/10/2020)

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