The Church for Welsh-Speaking People in Cardiff

The present Eglwys Dewi Sant is the parish church for the Welsh-speaking people of Cardiff and the surrounding district but this has not always been the case.

Historically speaking, Cardiff is a very recent city and it is easy to forget that, in 1800, it had a population of only some 2000 people – little more than a large village. However, with the advent of industrialisation in the hinterland and the growth of the docks, the town grew rapidly until, by 1850, the population had become nearly 20,000. By this time a movement was growing to establish a Welsh church in Cardiff and a central site was sought and duly located in Tyndall Street. The initial hurdle was overcome when the Marquis of Bute provided the capital to acquire the land but it was also clear that raising the funds to build the church would be a long and arduous process. At this point the Marchioness of Bute informed the organisers that she would build the church at her expense. The Marchioness, it should be noted, was extremely interested in the provision of Welsh services throughout the parishes located in her large estates in South Wales and followed progress on the project with close interest. The outcome was the establishment of Eglwys Holl Saint (All Saints’ Church) in Tyndall Street which opened in 1856. .However, as a result of industrial development the church became surrounded on three sides by railway viaducts and on the fourth by the docks, while the surrounding population was largely Irish. Additionally, the Welsh-speaking community was now largely located in other parts of the town and there was an inevitable decline in the congregation.As a result, by 1870, the church had become All Saints’ Church with English services only.

After 1870 Welsh services were held in various locations in the town, including St. Andrew’s, but by the late 1880s, the strength of feeling was such that a renewed effort was made to re-establish a Welsh church. As the first stage, a new church hall – Capel Dewi Sant – was opened in Howard Gardens for this purpose in 1889. Rapid progress was now made towards construction of a new Eglwys Dewi Sant and this opened , adjacent to the church hall, in 1891, with the land for the hall and church being given by Lord Tredegar.

Eglwys Dewi Sant remained as part of the Parish of All Saints until 1922 when it became an independent parish whose boundaries were, most unusually, limited to the church’s precincts.

In 1941 Eglwys Dewi Sant was severely damaged by an air-raid and services were transferred to the church hall.

After the end of the war, there were numerous and varied discussions over many years as to whether the old church should be rebuilt or a move made to a new location. During this period, the population of the inner city declined sharply, with houses being adapted for offices and other purposes. This led to the closure of Saint Andrew’s Church, whose remaining congregation moved to Saint Teilo’s Church in 1954 while the congregation of Dewi Sant agreed to the proposed move to Saint Andrew’s. Before this took place, however,various modifications were made to the interior of the church, including the shortening of the nave to provide a church hall, and the removal of the rood screen and its incorporation into the west wall of the nave.(While this work was in progress, a bundle containing a number of sticks of dynamite and some detonators was found underneath the lectern but the underlying circumstances and the individuals responsible remain a mystery to this day).

On All Saints Day – 1st November 1956 – the new Eglwys Dewi Sant was reconsecrated by the Archbishop of Wales and remains the parish church for the Welsh-speaking people of Cardiff and the surrounding district to this day.

As the population of the residential centre of Cardiff increased in the second half of the 19th century, so there became a need for an additional church.The architects John Prichard and John Pollard Seddon drew up designs for the new church and work commenced in 1860. However, funds ran out and work had to be halted with the church half-built.The intended tower and spire never materialised and the church was completed in a less elaborate and less expensive manner by Alexander Roos, the architect for the Bute Estate, who had also designed the earlier Tyndall Street church. (The walls are of local stone with Bath stone ashlars and Pennant sandstone bands). In 1886, C. F. A. Voysey, who was a close associate of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement, executed some fine murals on either side of the sanctuary recess but these disappeared when the oak altar and the reredos were installed in 1924.

Originally the church was the apex of a vista starting from Queen Street and leading up through the broad, tree-lined Windsor Place to the church itself , located in an oval crescent. Although this is now a conservation area , adaptations for modern traffic requirements, including a dual carriageway, have effectively dimished the effectiveness of that vista and isolated the church.