A purpose-built Nonconformist chapel
This Chapel was registered at the Easter Quarter Session of the Assizes at Presteigne in 1697, thus making it the earliest purpose-built Nonconformist chapel surviving unaltered in Wales and predating other buildings by nearly 80 years. Minor alterations have in fact been carried out but none have altered the basic rural character of the building. The roof was renewed in the 18th century when the walls were found to be spreading and the present system of posts and tie-beams was inserted to prevent this.
The original earth floor was covered in flagstones in the early 19th century. The simple solid furniture, some dating back to the late 17th century, would have been added bit by bit as the congregation could afford it.
The little house adjoining the Chapel was probably built in its present form in the first quarter of the 18th century and was to house a caretaker. But neither the Chapel nor cottage were built from scratch - both were adapted from a building that had already existed and which had probably been used for clandestine meetings of Dissenters following the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 and his subsequent intolerance of anything outside the Established Church. Tradition has it a ‘Beudy’ or byre/cow house was used for worship in this area even during the Commonwealth.
Evidence for this earlier building stands in the wall between the Chapel and cottage, where there is a timber ‘cruck’ truss formed by splitting a curved oak trunk into two to form a pair. This timber-framed building may have been a ‘long house’, with a dwelling house and a byre built in a single continuous range, with a door leading through from one to the other. This house would have had no chimney, only a central fireplace. Around 1600 a chimney was added and the walls built up in stone. The ‘post and panel’ partition that can be seen between the kitchen and the store room may also date from this period but it is not in its original position and its finer side faces the store room. This Jacobean house may also have continued slightly further to the west than the present wall, which is of later masonry.
When the byre was rebuilt as the Chapel, the doorway (now under the stairs) between it and the house was blocked up. It is possible that a caretaker was already living there, looking after the secret meeting place and making sure that evidence of it was hidden from the authorities. One would certainly have been installed in 1697, and in a deed of 1720, a 'little house' is mentioned, which implies that the existing cottage was already in existence rather than the quite substantial house which preceded it.
The last caretaker to live in the cottage was Mrs Annie Lewis who looked after the Chapel for 52 years. She and her husband George, moved in a few years after their marriage and she gave birth to 15 children here. The house was obviously too small for all of them and so when a new baby arrived one of the older children would be sent away to live with relatives, a practice that was quite common in large families then. She had to carry water from a well in the wood until the arrival of a stand pipe at the bottom of the lane. As caretaker she kept the Chapel clean, lit the black stove and opened the door for members of the congregation and visitors.
Mr Lewis died in 1974 and in 1979 Mrs Lewis moved out to go and live with her sons, until her death in 1985 at the age of 88.
A short history of Maesyronnen Chapel
Read the full history album for Maesyronnen Chapel
Download the children's Explorer pack for Maesyronnen Chapel
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Monday 13th February 2014