The Church of St Mary Magdalene -a brief history

1850: The National School in Cwmbach is opened on an acre of land on the Tirfounder farm. Services were held here as part of the newly formed parish of Aberdare (1849), alongside the life of the school. Attendances were small. Services at this time would have been held in Welsh as well as English.

1851: The Valley saw a rapid increase in population and a period of church building throughout the valley began. Work on the church in Cwmbach was an act of faith. There was little money and the number of worshippers was still small, nonconformity attracting much larger numbers to the various chapels. The foundation stone was laid on 1st November 1881 by Lady Aberdare. Despite a number of generous donations it would take 10 years for the parish of Aberdare, of which Cwmbach was part, to pay for the building.

1882:The building was completed by June, having cost £950. The Church was consecrated on 18 August 1882 by the Bishop of Llandaff, Dr Ollivant. The first service of the day, at 5.30a.m. was a celebration of the Eucharist in Welsh, followed at 8.00am by a celebration of the Eucharist in English and at 11.00a.m Mattins. The day ended at 7.00p.m. with Evensong in Welsh.

1883: The Early Years: Services were held in Welsh and English. Evensong was best attended, with Mattins being for the most part the main morning service, although a Eucharist was celebrated weekly from Advent Sunday 1883 at 8.00a.m, alternating Welsh and English. Concern continued about paying the debt on the Church building but the life of St Mary Magdalene’s quickly developed. A small but keen congregation, led by a series of curates in charge worked to develop Sunday School, the work of the Church School as well as a wide range of activities. The most distinguished curate Dr Charles Green (1888—1893), later Archbishop of Wales, started a Church Club for Men and a Girls’ Friendly Society.

1914: With the outbreak of war 125 men went to war from the village of Cwmbach. During these years a layman, later ordained, Frederick William Mellor, was responsible for pastoral care in Cwmbach, under the direction of the Vicar of Aberdare.

1919: Cwmbach became a conventional district and a curate in charge appointed. On 26th April 1921 the first confirmation service was held in St Mary Magdalene’s Church, and later that year the war memorial was dedicated. But these were difficult times. The strike in the coal industry of 1921 was followed in 1926 by a six month lock-out and Cwmbach saw a number of its young people leave the village in search of work. In fact Cwmbach would suffer more, numerically, than any other parish in the Aberdare area as a result of the depression.

1923: On 31 March 1923, Cwmbach became a parish in its own right. The population of Cwmbach was 3848. In his address to the his first annual vestry meeting the new incumbent, Arthur David Collier outlined the challenges the parish faced namely, the need to raise money both to meet the running costs and also to deal with the problem of damp in the building. The seriousness of the financial state is evidenced by the failure of the parish in 1926 to pay its quota to the diocese. But there was good news too. Numbers were rising; there was a new Mothers Union Branch, a choral society and a Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1926 a Wednesday morning Eucharist was started and Sunday School was attended by both adults and children. In 1927 the parish recorded a record number of Easter communicants.

1928: A difficult period for the Church in Cwmbach which saw a decline in the number of Easter communicants as more people left the village in search of work. Nevertheless, the parish rose to the challenge, and despite the shortage of money, donations to missionary work increased. Repair work was undertaken on the Church School and a new infants department opened in 1933.

1939: At the annual vestry of 1939 numbers attending church were described as sparse with a low attendance at Sunday School, as a result of both depopulation and, increasingly, men serving in the forces. On 30 May 1941 the Church was damaged by enemy action. The Aberdare Leader for 7 June 1941 does not name Cwmbach explicitly (for security reasons) but does mention the loss of life (4 members of one family being killed). At the end 1942, the Vicar, Thomas Lloyd died followed a few days later by the death of his wife. The present pulpit was given in their memory in 1948. In 1943, William Thomas Dodd was appointed Vicar and work began, but because of the financial situation, not completed, on repairs to the church which were finished only in 1948.

1946: Because of a shortage of manpower, the Bishop of Llandaff, John Morgan, told Cwmbach the next priest would be a curate in charge rather than incumbent. In 1948, the Diocesan Conference decreed that parishes would need to be grouped because of a shortage of clergy. Two groupings in the Aberdare area were suggested Aberaman with Abercwmboi, and Aberdare with Cwmbach. This decision was not received favourably by the parish of Cwmbach and an agreement was reached that while Cwmbach would share an incumbent with the parish of Aberdare it would retain its wardens and Parochial Church Council and still have the services of a resident priest. The new priest in charge was the Revd John Vernon Payne. During this period a new organ was bought, the offertory envelope scheme was introduced to encourage church members to give on a regular basis. Falling numbers and a need to maintain the buildings meant that the Church School was under the spotlight. It weathered the storm.

1950: This was a period of great change in Cwmbach. The Llettyshenkin Housing development saw the building of 350 houses on a site of 42 acres and saw many people from outside Cwmbach come to live in the village. Although 53 church families had moved into the new development, few attended church. The curate in charge, Glyn Williams who arrived in 1953 organised a parish mission, led by one of the Mirfield Fathers. Although the response at the time was good, there was no lasting increase in church attendance. In 1959, the idea was mooted to once again separate the parish of Cwmbach from the parish of Aberdare. The PCC agreed to accept an increased quota to pay for the increase in stipend due to the arrival of new incumbent.

1960: Peter Goulstone Lewis is appointed and inducted as Vicar of Cwmbach. This was a period of growth, especially in the Sunday School. In 1962 further work was done to renovate the Church school and the Pant Farm housing estate saw another increase in population and in church attendance. In 1963 a new organ was bought, and in 1965 the old vicarage was sold and work on a new vicarage begun.

1966:David Richards is appointed Vicar of Cwmbach. The parish introduced the experimental rite of the revised Eucharist. A parish magazine, Cwmbach 1968 work begins on the Rose Row Housing Development and in 1972 a new block of buildings is added to the Church school.

1977: With the arrival of Raymond Bayley, the Holy Eucharist in Welsh is again celebrated. Work is done in 1979 to tidy up the grounds around the church.

1982: Jeffrey Gainer the new parish priest leads the parish in the celebration of its centenary. A history of the parish is produced.

1985: A new priest, Ronald Lloyd, continues to a pattern of growth in the parish and oversees the building of a new church hall behind the church. Church groups, such as the Men’s Society and Mothers’ Union continue to flourish.

1992: Bernard Sharp is appointed as Vicar and will stay to become the second longest serving incumbent of Cwmbach. Close links continue with the Church School and schools within the parish. In 2006 a new organ is given in memory of Peter Goulstone Lewis the much loved former incumbent.

2007: A new priest Christopher Smith is appointed in a dual responsibility role being also the Archdeacon of Morgannwg. Again the parish faces the challenge of restoring the church building and ensuring its financial stability. Strong Sunday school work produces large numbers of confirmation candidates and the congregation continues to grow.

2011: he work begins on restoring St Mary Magdalene’s Church. The bell-cote is removed, the exterior walls are re-pointed and the roof extended to address the problem of water ingress which the building has faced over a number. The bell rehung in a newly designed bell-cote. Interior works including re plastering and complete redecoration are undertaken.

2013: The grounds are relaid and the paths of the church are redesigned to improve safety and allow greater disabled access.

One of the most notable features of the history of the parish of Cwmbach has been the faithful service given by all members of the congregation and especially by those who served as officers of the parish, be it as wardens, secretaries to the PCC or as treasurers. Their contribution has been enormous and no history would be complete without acknowledging that.

The material in the leaflet is a shorted version of A Short History of St Mary Magdalene’s Parish Church Cwmbach by the Revered Jeffrey Gainer, M.A.We are grateful to him for allowing us to use this material.

Clergy in Cwmbach

Before 1923 Cwmbach was part of the parish of Aberdare and served from there by a number of curates.

From 1923 onwards the following priests served as Vicar of Cwmbach

1923-1937: Arthur David Collier B.A.
1938-1942: Thomas Lloyd L.S.T.
1943-1946: William Thomas Dodd B.A.

Between 1946 and 1959 the parish was served by a number of Priests-in-charge, resident in Cwmbach, the parish being grouped with Aberdare in 1948.

1946-1949: William Rowland Hughes B.A.
1949-1952: John Vernon Payne B.A.
1952-1953: Morley Thomas
1953-1959: John Glyn Williams B.A.

In 1960, Cwmbach was de-grouped from Aberdare and became a parish again in its own right and the following priests served as Vicar

1960-1966: Peter Goulstone Lewis B.A.
1966-1976: David Richards B.A.
1977-1980: Raymond Bayley M.A.
1981-1985: Jeffrey Gainer M.A. LL.M.
1985-1991: Ronald Lloyd
1992 -2005: Bernard Harold Sharp

Serving as Priest-in-Charge of Cwmbach and Archdeacon of Morgannwg

2007: Christopher Smith B.Mus B.D. LL.M