In 1775 Bethania Baptist Chapel was founded here and built through the efforts of Rev. William Williams, J P (b.1732 near Blaenffos, Pembrokeshire), formerly of Ebenezer, Drefach, Carmarthenshire. It opened on 19th April 1776 with Rev. William Williams as the first Minister and 24 members. The chapel was originally subsidiary to Ebenezer Baptist Chapel. The site belonged to Thomas Lewis of Llwyngrawys, Llangoedmor – probably the father of Rev. William Williams’ third wife – Dorothy Lewis of Llwyngrawys, whom Rev. William Williams married at St. Mary’s Church on 21st October 1784. They had three sons and five daughters together. It is rumoured that the original chapel gallery began to collapse during a baptism! A ground plan exists for a Baptist Meeting House here in 1787 by J. William Williams. In 1790 there were 90 members. Rev. William Williams died suddenly on 13th August 1799.
In 1800 Bethania became independent of Cilfowyr Baptist Chapel, was admitted as a separate member to the Baptist Union that May and Rev. Evan Jones of Llandysul became the Minister in November. Regarded as a very gifted preacher, his initial success later declined due to his increasing drunkenness. In 1805-06 Thomas Williams, a miller by profession, was acting as an assistant Minister. In 1808 the South West Wales Baptist Assembly met at Cardigan for the first time. In 1810 Rev. Evan Jones was forced to resign due to his alcoholism.
Rev. John Herring succeeded him in June 1811. Rev. John Herring was widely regarded as one of the greatest preachers of his generation within the Baptist faith. In 1813 Rev. John Herring was twice fined for grazing animals on the Cardigan Common, as he was not a burgess. The chapel was renovated or modified in 1819. On 18th June 1821 David Mathias (b.1798) of Cardigan was ordained and elected joint Minister with Rev. John Herring. On 21st January 1823 Rev. John Herring received a license to marry Elizabeth Lewis of Crugmore.
In 1824 Rev. John Herring, the Minister, became Chairman of a Welsh language poetry and prose society formed that year in Cardigan at “The Angel”, St. Mary Street. Thomas Bowen of Llwyngwair was the President and the society was named “Cymrugyddion Aberteifi”. In 1827 Rev. John Herring was, briefly, the editor of ‘Greal y Bedyddwyr’ – a Baptist magazine printed by chapel member Isaac Thomas of St. Mary Street and jointly edited by Joshua Morgan Thomas of No. 3 Green Street. A letter from Rev. John Herring dated August 1827 describes the building of Castle Green House (Cardigan Castle). On 18th November 1829 a meeting adopted a set of rules for the running of Bethania. In 1830 David Thomas was the Treasurer and Joshua Morgan Thomas was the Secretary. Rev. John Herring and David Mathias were preachers, and the Deacons were Thomas Jones, David Jones, John Thomas and Benjamin Davies. In 1831 Rev. John Herring was the President of the Baptist Union, who held their Assembly at Bethania that year. Rev. John Herring died on 2nd April 1832 aged 43, following a long affliction of about a year. His widow died within a fortnight of him. The chapel then had 223 members.
Rev. William Jones succeeded Rev. John Herring as Minister. He had been invited by a majority rather than unanimously and his first act was to excommunicate all those members who had not supported his appointment. They took their case to the Quarterly Meeting and then to the Assembly, who ousted Bethania from the Baptist Union. In 1834 the “Meeting House” was marked on John Wood’s map of Cardigan. Rev William Jones left in early 1834 and soon afterwards converted to Anglicanism. In February 1834 the ousted members, who had held their own church called Penuel in an old Billiards Hall on St. Mary Street, returned to Bethania, and the chapel was re-admitted to the Baptist Union Assembly. In 1834-35 Rev. Morris Edwards was the acting Minister.
In 1837 Rev. David Rees became the new Minister. In 1838 there was a Baptist Revival in Cardigan. On 29th April 1838, 14 were baptised in the Teifi. Rev. David Rees baptised a further 31 on 27th May 1838, before a crowd of about 3,000. By that date another 14 persons had applied to be baptised. ‘The Baptist Reporter and Tracts Magazine‘ of 1838 reported the events as follows:
“…The Baptist Church at Cardigan during the last two years has been almost at a standstill. It is true the hearers were very numerous, but very few of them felt any concern for their immortal souls. About twelve months ago the church held a prayer meeting every evening for a week, to supplicate for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit for the conversion of the hearers, and the children of the Sunday School; and although their prayers were not answered immediately, they persevered to wrestle before the footstool of mercy, and God, out of His infinite compassion, has at last answered their prayers, beyond their expectations, and a great many have been aroused from their spiritual stupor, and willingly exclaimed, “What must we do to be saved?” Fourteen having professed repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, were, on Lord’s Day morning, April 29, 1838, baptised in the river, close by the town. The first candidate immersed was an old man, 82 years of age, and the others young people, mostly belonging to the Sunday School. The Rev. W. Roberts of Penypark, preached a very argumentative and eloquent sermon on baptism, and the Rev. D. Rees, minister of the place, administered the ordinance in the presence of two to three thousand spectators.
“The good work did not rest here, for on Lord’s Day, May 27th, thirty one more followed their Lord and Master into the watery grave. On this occasion it was computed that upwards of three thousand were present, At eight o’clock in the morning, a prayer meeting was held at the chapel, where all the candidates met, and at nine o’clock walked to the river side, where a stage had been erected for the minister to officiate; Rev. W. Owen commenced by reading and prayer; and the Rev. W. Thomas, Blaenywaun, preached an admirable discourse from ‘To the law and to the testimony’, etc., and after singing, the worthy pastor of the church immersed the candidates with great ease and pleasure. The chapel being too small to contain half the hearers the Rev. T. M. Thomas preached again in the same place from ‘Jesus Christ the same yesterday, to-day and forever.’ After the service, the church assembled at the chapel and between four and five hundred partook of the Lord’s Supper; many members from neighbouring churches being present. The gallery was completely filled with spectators who seemed interested and deeply impressed. And it is pleasing to reflect that although forty five persons have been added to the church so lately there are yet remaining fourteen candidates for immersion and a prospect that many others will soon follow. Several backsliders have returned also. We have great cause to bless God for what He has done here. It ought to have been remarked that two-thirds of those baptised were young people belonging to the Sunday School…”
In 1839 the Deacons were brothers David Jones, John Jones and Thomas Jones and Benjamin Davies. Thomas Jones had a son who was later a Deacon – John James Jones. On 10th March 1840 David Jones, ship’s carpenter of Bridge End, St. Dogmaels, died aged 87. For 30 years he had been a Deacon of the chapel and a member for 48 years. In 1842 a number of special sermons were held here in celebration of the Jubilee of the Baptist Missionary Society. Repairs were conducted in 1843. In 1846 work began on a new Bethania Baptist Chapel on the newly-created William Street. It was completed in 1847 and Old Bethania ceased to be used for services.
In 1857 the Cardigan British School opened in the old chapel here. In 1861 Abraham Morgan, 57, farrier, may have traded working from the cottage at the front of the property and lived here with his wife Margaret Morgan, 64. In 1861 William Harries, 24, was the British School master. On 22nd November 1867 the following item appeared in the ‘Pembrokeshire Herald‘:
“…BRITISH SCHOOL.—On Friday last the children of the above school had their annual feast or tea party. In the afternoon a procession was formed of the school children amounting to about 220, headed by the principal dissenting ministers of the town and a brass band. After parading through the chief streets, waiting at intervals, when they sang different pieces of music they returned to the schoolroom, when an ample supply of tea and cake awaited them, and after partaking of the good things prepared, they were dismissed. A meeting again was held in the evening at the Baptist Chapel, when several addresses were delivered by the Revds. E. Thomas, Newman Richards, Mr Williams, inspector of British schools, and others, and the children were examined in geography, English grammar, arithmetic, &c. Great praise is due to Mr Hughes, the schoolmaster, for the manner in which the children answered the different questions, which shows that unwearied exertions have been used towards them...”
In 1868 Edward Hughes was the master of the school and Gwynne Hughes was the mistress. A School Board consisting of five members was elected on 2nd December 1870, comprising Rev. Evan Thomas, Minister of Bethania Baptist Chapel, William Street (residing at No. 56 Pendre); John Thomas, surgeon; Richard David Jenkins, solicitor, Priory; Thomas Davies, Bank House, High Street; and Asa Johnes Evans of Penalltcadwgan, Cilgerran. The pulpit of the old chapel was installed at the new Penybryn Baptist Chapel, Bridell, in 1871. In 1871 Edward Hughes was the schoolmaster. In 1873 William R. Edwards was engaged as the Master of the Board School. William R. Edwards resigned in October 1874. The school closed and was moved to a new site in 1875.
Mrs. Maria Mathias lived here in 1875. In 1881 the following persons lived here: Stephen James, 26, saddler; Margaret James, 23, his wife; and John Albert James, 11 months, their son. In 1891 the following persons lived here: Evan Jeremiah, 65, mariner; and Hannah Jeremiah, 65, his wife. The former chapel was advertised for sale on 7th August 1895, then used as a warehouse by R. Cunningham, and a separate cottage adjacent was included, but both failed to reach the asking price at the auction of 6th September 1895. In 1901 the following persons lived here: Griffith Thomas, 39, haulier (grocers); Harriet Thomas, 39, his wife (b. Manordeifi); Joshua Thomas, 15, their son, apprentice grocer; Frances M. Thomas, 9, daughter; and George Thomas, 5, son. Except where noted otherwise, all were bilingual and born at Llechryd. In June 1902 James Davies opened a cabinet-maker’s business at Old Bethania. In 1908 James Williams demolished two cottages here and Davies & Morgan, contractors, erected two new shops at Nos. 8 & 9 Pendre to plans by John Teifion James Williams, architect, Bryngogarth, Napier Street.
By 26th March 1909 the two new buildings at Nos. 8 & 9 were completed. By 30th July 1909 this was Evans’ Central Tea Rooms. In 1909-14 Margaret Ellen Evans & Agnes Evans, confectioners, lived here and kept a shop. On 17th April 1911 John Roger Leitch of London married Jennie Evans, daughter of Mrs. Evans, Central Restaurant. On 8th April 1912 Margaret Evans of Central Tea Rooms died aged 74. In 1914-26 this was the “Central Tea Rooms” run by Margaret Ellen Evans & Agnes Evans. On 17th November 1915 Miss Margaret Ellen Evans of ‘Central’ married Captain John Griffiths. In February 1924 No. 9 was advertised for sale as part of the former Stanley House estate. On 10th February 1925 Catherine Morris of No. 9 married Henry Williams of No. 58 Pendre. On 23rd November 1926 Miss Hannah Jane Davies of No. 9 married William Edwards of Nantyferwig. In July 1928 and April 1929 No. 9 was advertised for sale and was sold in August 1929.
In 1929 David Lewis Jones & Mrs. Agnes Jones bought No. 9 and opened the ‘Central Café’ on 9th November 1929. In 1929-52 Mr. & Mrs. David Lewis Jones lived here. On 2nd September 1949 Norman G. Llewelyn took over the café and was the proprietor in 1949-55. In 1955 Mary Jones, Margaretta Jane Llewelyn and Norman Llewelyn lived here. In 1957 this was a venue for Cardigan Chamber of Trade meetings. In 1990 the owner of the ‘Central Bakery’, sought planning permission to convert the rear into a maisonette with garage below. By 24th September 1997 the old Central Café had closed was advertised for sale.
In 1999 the building became ‘King Kebab Burger‘ – a kebab shop and burger bar. Plans were approved in 2001 to convert the former chapel into flats. In 2001-09 this was ‘Cardigan Kebab House’. In January 2007 the property was advertised for sale. The building was vacant in 2010, awaiting refurbishment. In February 2013 plans for the demolition and replacement of Old Bethania with 14 flats were approved by Ceredigion County Council and building was demolished soon afterwards.
FORMER CHAPEL – In 2001 the building appeared as follows:-
Cement rendered west wall, openings to ground floor only, with C20 boarded timber door with small rectangular overlight, offset to left with external access steps, small windows to left and far right , with rectangular lower, later window right of door. N wall in squared rubble banded with blue lias, double gabled with cemented bargeboards. Single opening to each gable end at first floor level. West opening has 4-pane sash with timber lintel and stone sill. East opening has plate glass sash with slate sill and cut stone voussoirs.
NLW Maenordeifi MS 25
Map of Cardigan, J Wood 1834
The Baptist Reporter and Tracts Magazine, 1838
Census Returns 1861; 1881; 1891; 1901
Slater’s Directory 1868
Cardigan & Tivy-Side Advertiser 1870-71; 1895; 1902; 1909; 1911-12; 1914-15; 1922; 1924-26
1928-29; 1934; 1937-38; 1941; 1943; 1949; 1957; 1968; 1994; 1997
Hope Chapel Records
List of Voters – Cardigan 25/07/1910
Register of Electors – Cardigan 1912; 1955
Kelly’s Directory of South Wales 1914; 1926
All About Cardigan, Cardigan Chamber of Commerce 1923
Bethania, Aberteifi, R Edwards 1947
Annual Report – Bethania Baptist Chapel 1952
Post Office Telephone Directory 1953; 1955
Planning Application – Central Café 10/08/1990
The Gateway to Wales, W J Lewis 1990
Those Were The Days Vol. I, Donald Davies 1991
Those Were The Days Vol. II, Donald Davies 1992
© Glen K Johnson 27/08/2013