When I moved to Wales people in the village kept telling me that I should visit the tin chapel. Despite the advice I could never actually find this place so often talked about. Then one day hidden beneath a swathe of rhododendrons I finally came across this little chapel. Despite it’s simple construction I was overwhelmed at the atmosphere still contained within it’s wooden walls. This led my on a discovery of the chapels of Wales and a passion to bring their beauty and plight into the spotlight.
In the 1800s religion in Wales was dominated by services held in English or Latin. Ministers paid very little attention to their congregations and funds given to the church by the community stayed within the church. Tired of these affairs a group of people decided enough was enough. Under threat of the law, these people began to hold services in their own home, farmhouses, and barns in Welsh and were given the name of the Non Conformists. Their faith spread and in the first part of the 19th century it is estimated that a chapel was being built every 8 days. By the beginning of 1900 there were 6500 chapels across Wales and 80% of the population had turned to Non Conformism. Chapels were funded and built by the community for the community. They were not just places of religion but were the foundations for community centres and schooling.
In 2016 I approached the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and asked if they would be happy for me to update their database of Welsh chapels, something which hadn’t been done since 2011. They agreed and so my work began. Two years on and I have researched the status of 4000 chapels. Of these I am said to say that 25% of these have now closed and have been converted into dwellings or demolished. Chapels in Wales boast some of the most amazing pieces of architecture and construction. When I first started this project I found an article published in 2012 by the BBC estimating that chapels were closing at the rate of one a week. From my research I feel that this number is closer to 3 a week, with many chapels also being used in rotation by a dwindiling congragation desperate to keep the chapels open for as long as possible. This project has not just been about updating a database but photographing the interiors of those that have closed so that there is a record of truly amazing piece of Welsh history, religion, culture and architecture.
Welcome to The Lost World of the Welsh Chapel. I hope my images provide you with as much pleasure I have had from photographing them.
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