History of St Catherine’s church building

By the middle of the
nineteenth century the population of 
Pontypridd had increased rapidly until there were between four and five
thousand people living in the area. 
Pontypridd had by then developed into a market town with its own gas and
water works, a county court hall, a workhouse, several banks, a synagogue and
eight chapels, but there was no Anglican church within easy distance for the
inhabitants, the nearest being St. Mary’s Glyntaff.

 

 

 

            In the early 1860’s members of the Church of England, as
it was then, were still holding cottage services in Taff Street, below the shop
of John Charles, and later in Morgan street. 
When the new Penuel Chapel was opened in 1860 the building this
congregation had used in Temperance Place (which later became part of the site
occupied by Greatrex Builders’ Merchants Yard) was no longer required and it
was offered to the Church people for their use. 
This ‘Church’ in Temperance Place was the last in which Church people
worshipped before St. Catherine’s was opened. 
There is an extremely interesting description of it by Mrs. Gertrude
Hughes-Williams, former Pontypridd librarian, who said :

 

            “My father described this as unsightly and
unimposing.  There was a boys’ school in
the lower part, and the church and girls’ school above.  Inside the church a large stove supplied the
warmth and a privileged few sat near. 
The seats in front, being velvet-cushioned, were reserved for the
aristocracy who walked to their seats with quick and deliberate steps, while
the old dame serving as verger very respectfully curtsied acknowledgment of
their entry.  Wearing a turnover shawl,
black apron and lace cap, and clasping a handkerchief in one hand, and as prim
as the pewter collection-plate of the day, she looked, could we but see her
now, the last of her race.”

 

 

 

            For a number of years people had felt the need for a
permanent building for church worship in the town.  The Rev. George Thomas of Ystrad Mynach often
expressed a strong desire to assist in the erection of a church, and his
brother the Rev. G. Thomas also owned land in the town.  Unfortunately, they both died before a site
offered by the Rev. G. Thomas could be accepted and plans drawn up for it by
his brother.  It was left to the children
of these two,  G.W.G. Thomas, the son of
the Rev. G. Thomas, and Miss Clara Thomas, his cousin, to fulfil their parents’
desire.  It was in 1866 that the present
site was jointly offered by them for a church.

 

 

 

            The foundation stone was laid that year in 1866, but it
was to be another three years before even part of the building was to be used
for worship.  Like many of the
ecclesiastical structures of that time, the style selected was Gothic or very
Early English and was to be composed of what was known as “Newbridge Stone”,
with dressings  of Bath stone.  The day when the foundation stone was laid
was eagerly awaited by  church and
townspeople alike.  The whole town was in
festive mood;  the Union Jack was flown
from the New Inn, streamers and bunting waved everywhere and the principal
shops were closed.  A well-known Jewish
trader at that time,  Mr. Goodman,  had put up outside his shop banners which
read:  “SUCCESS TO THE CHURCH” and “MAY
DIFFERENCE OF OPINION NEVER CAUSE BAD FRIENDS”. 
Shortly after this occasion a carpenter working on the church was killed
and buried at Saron churchyard, Treforest. 
The Bishop of Llandaff had said at the ceremony of laying the
foundation-stone that they should trust and have faith no matter what might
happen.  He mentioned that accidents
might happen to workmen and strangely enough his words came true.

 

 

 

The church was later lit by
massive gas lights that hung from the roof and the aisle walls.  Arrangements were made that the church should
be opened for public worship on 7th September 1869 and people came
from Merthyr, Aberdare and Rhondda and a special train came up from Cardiff
bringing people interested in church extension work.  In its early years the church was only a
skeleton of what was originally planned because a lack of funds had forced the
parishioners to leave much of the building to a later date.  In 1885 the church as it is known today began
to take shape but still differed from the present St. Catherine’s.  The building of a vicarage was completed in
1890.

 

 

 

            One of the chief events of the Sunday service in the
church’s history was the “Grovers’ Parade”. 
This consisted of Colonel and Mrs. Grover, their three daughters – all
of whom had beautiful long flowing hair, five boys, visitors to Clydach Court,
as well as the governors, who would usually make their entrance between the
Venite and the Psalms.  The Rev. D. W.
Williams, Fairfield (or the “Squire of Fairfield” as he was sometimes called)  had a passion for punctuality and one Sunday
morning, seeing the procession of the Grover family making its entrance, he
could contain himself no longer.  He left
his position and walking into the aisle stopped Colonel Grover and in a loud
booming voice said:   “Grover, it’s
ten minutes past eleven!”

 

 

 

            In 1951, the church spire was fully restored after a
public appeal was launched when an alarm was raised over the depredations in
its structure by death-watch beetles. 
Centenary services were held in September 1969, when the preacher was
the oldest surviving incumbent of the church, the Rev. George Shilton Evans,
then in semi-retirement at Weston-super-mare. 
Celebration services continued until St., Catherine’s day (November 25th)
at which preachers included the Archbishop of Wales, Dr. Glyn Simon, and the
Bishop of St. David’s the Right Rev. J. R. Richards – a former vicar of St.
Catherine’s.

 

The interior of the church was repainted to it’s Victorian design in the 2000s and at present a building project is extending the church itself towards the church hall, creating a foyer area as entrance to both facilities.