Author Archives: Andie

The Calvinist Methodist Tabernacle, Sea View Terrace, Aberdovey (built 1864)

Sea View Terrace Tabernacl

When the Calvinist Methodists left their 1828 premises in Chapel Square, now occupied by Dovey Marine (described on an earlier post together with a brief background to Calvinistic Methodism), they moved into new purpose-built premises in 1864 on Sea View Terrace, which were much more ambitious than their 1828 chapel in Chapel Square, which was somewhat overshadowed by the Wesleyan chapel that had been built in 1829.  In its new position it was sufficiently further up the hill to give it a dominant position.

Set back from the sea front, the new chapel was imposing, cut into the side of the hill with a high revetment wall and was reached via a long flight of steps.  The new building was much bigger than their former chapel, accommodating a congregation of 650 worshippers.  It was on a level with St Peter’s Church, which can be seen in some of the photos below, and one does have to wonder if the desire to put the Tabernacle on a level with the church wasn’t a significant factor in the decision to locate the chapel where it was, up a long flight of stairs that would have made it very difficult for some members of the community to reach.

Instantly recognizable as a Nonconformist chapel, the 1864 Calvinist Methodist building is a gable-entry type chapel with four bays, round-headed windows featuring radiating tracery, and doorways topped with fanlights that echo the design of the windows.  It was built from stone and rendered, has a slate roof, and the steps that lead up to the entrance from the seafront are also made of slate.  The iron gates at the base of the steps with spearhead finials were manufactured by the Coalbrookdale Company in Shropshire.  There are two inscribed tablets on the façade.  The one beneath the gable reads Tabernacl Adeiladwyd 1864 (Tabernacle built 1864) and the lower one reads Tabernacl ir Methodistiadd Calfinaidd yn y Flwyddyn 1828 (Calvinist Methodist Chapel established in the year 1828).  Before its conversion into flats the interior had a gallery with raked seating supported on  cast-iron columns.  The organ chamber was preceded by a segmental arch flanked by fluted Corinthian pilasters.    The scale of investment involved was quite clearly considerable.  The chapel was renovated in 1910 following a religious revival in Wales, which included the addition of heating, ventilators in the roof and the addition of a pipe organ.  The photograph below, loaned to me with great kindness by Dai and Helen Williams, shows something of the interior, including the decorative features at the top of the wall above the organ, the organ itself, the pews and the underside of the gallery at the left.

Calvinistic Methodist Tabernacl, 1864

It closed as a chapel in 1988 but the exterior of the building was preserved when it was converted to flats, some of which are rented out for holiday accommodation.  The building is Grade 2 listed.

The Calvinist Tabernacle in 1873, nine years after it was built. Source: Hugh M. Lewis 1989, Pages of Time, plate 3.

View of the Aberdovey seafront from Ynys Las, showing the prominent position of the Tabernacle, with St Peter’s at the far left and the English Presbyterian church at far right.

Side view of the Tabernacle from St Peter’s churchyard, showing the rooflights that were added when the church was converted into apartments in the 1980s.

 

The Calvinistic Methodist Tabernacle is set back from the seafront houses, reached via a steep flight of slate steps

If you have any more information, including information about and photographs of the interior, it would be great to hear from you.

A thin strip of cloud at floodplain level today on the way to Machynlleth

This is a poor photograph, taken through the side window of my car in a mad rush, whilst I was held up at the roadwork traffic lights on the Aberdovey to Machynlleth road, on my way to a dental appointment.  My closest friend Cheryll, to whom I emailed it, argues that I should post it in case no-one has been lucky enough to see this particular cloud formation.  So here it is, with the cloud in a thin strip hovering just above the floodplain on the opposite bank of the river Dfyi, with apologies for the poor quality.  I don’t know what this type of cloud formation is called (if anyone knows, please do let me know), but it happens around here quite often.  This, however, was the first time I have driven alongside it along the estuary and river all the way from Aberdovey to Machynlleth.  It was an amazing sight.  Every time I glimpsed right (south), it was still there in the 20 or so minute drive some time between 1120 and 1145.  So here’s the photo, and please remember to blame Cheryll if you don’t like it!  By the time I was driving back to Aberdovey it had evaporated completely.

The Calvinistic Methodist Chapel, Chapel Square, Aberdovey (established 1828)

Methodist chapel (now Dovey Marine), Copper Hill Street front entrance

The Calvinistic Methodist Chapel (or Tabernacle) in Chapel Square, now occupied by Dovey Marine, has had a rich history, as did the Calvinistic Methodists who built it.   The chapel was their first dedicated premises, before which they used a number of temporary meeting places around the village, their lives made somewhat difficult by anti-Methodist persecution from the important Corbet landowners of Ynysymaengwyn (just outside Tywyn) who owned most of Aberdovey in the 18th Century.

Having arrived in the Aberdovey area in around 1790, it took the Calvinists nearly 30 years to a built a chapel, a significant accomplishment.  They were the first denomination to build a chapel in Aberdovey, although the Wesleyan Methodists were only a year behind them. It isn’t the prettiest or most impressive of the chapels in the village, but the Aberdovey Calvinistic Methodists have a very interesting history.

Portrait of John Calvin (1509-64)

The Calvinistic Methodists were a mainly Welsh movement that built on the 18th Century revivals of 17th Century Protestantism.  Calvinistic Methodism sounds like a bit of an oxymoron.  Methodism, or Wesleyan Methodism, began at Oxford University, where Charles Wesley (1707-88) and George Whitefield (1714-1770) formed a group to discuss religious ideas and methods, particularly the power of evangelism.  It was joined by Charles’s brother John Wesley (1703-91) and became known as the Holy Group, and later, based on the importance of procedures and methods in their approach, Methodists.  The three, all of whom were ordained, went to America in 1738 to  become missionaries, but George Whitefield returned a year later to focus on doing religious work in England, preaching extensively indoors and out, making himself very unpopular with the established church.  John Wesley returned three years after his departure to America to bring his ideas into the Church of England in an attempt at Anglican reform.  Like Whitefield, he found himself unpopular with the Anglican authorities and was denied preaching  access to some churches, so followed Whitefield’s example and began preaching out of doors, and began to travel extensively.  Wesley and Whitefield parted ways in 1741 over Whitefield’s  belief in Calvinist predestination, foreshadowing the later split between the Welsh Calvinistic and Wesleyan Methodists.  It was only after John Wesley’s death in 1791 that Methodism withdrew from the Church of England and became a doctrine in its own right.  The key difference was that John Wesley retained the Arminian (as opposed to the Calvinistic) belief that salvation is available to all.  In Wesleyan Methodism, the living of a good, altruistic, and selfless lives and absolute belief in and dedication to God is not a means of winning salvation but is actually a product of salvation.  Salvation is therefore by God’s grace alone, rather than something that can be achieved by human endeavour.  This is one of the core differences between Methodism and the Church of England.  In Wales a group of Welsh reformers had very similar ideas

The founders of Calvinistic Methodism. Clockwise from top left: Griffith Jones, Howell Harris, WIlliam Williams Pentycelyn and Daniel Rowland

The reform movement in Wales is thought to have begun in Carmarthenshire with Griffith Jones, the rector of Llanddowror, who was responsible for establishing circulating schools in 1731.  These schools taught the Welsh to read by studying the Bible and other Christian scripture.  Griffith Jones became something of a legend and an inspiration to other influential early preachers, like Howell Harris (1714-1773), Daniel Rowland (1730-1790) and William Williams Pantycelyn (1717-1791), all of whom had experienced spiritual awakening and became evangelists for a reformed church that had a high level of evangelism and an emphasis on hard work, moral behaviour and education of the poor.  William Williams became famous for his hymns, song and prayer being important in the religious practices of Calvinistic Methodism.

When the two groups met up they had so much in common that they initially joined forces under the heading of Methodism.  They shared belief in the burden of sin, the need for personal knowledge of God and the ability to feel him, assurance of salvation, recognition when or if sins have been forgiven and the knowledge that this had been felt.  They also believed that rebirth on Earth in the form of a better way of living life was fundamental.  There was, however, a fundamental point of doctrine on which the two branches differed.  Whereas Wesleyan Methodists believed that all people could be redeemed by faith, spreading the word of God and good deeds, the Welsh preachers followed Calvin, the radical French Protestant, who believed that the original sin of Adam made it impossible for people to redeem themselves, and only those who had been selected by God before Christ was sent to redeem them, the elect, would be raised to Heaven.  Because they still retained many of the other Methodist ideas about doctrine and felt just as strongly as the Methodists about the way in which religions should be practised, disseminated and organized, the Calvin followers separated from the Wesleyans and became Calvinistic Methodists.

Distribution of Calvinist Methodists pre-1851, showing the low levels of representation in Meirionnydd. Source: Welsh Religious Buildings Trust

Calvinistic Methodists put enormous emphasis on itinerant preaching, either indoors or in the open, considered song and active prayer to be important to developing a personal relationship with God, and believed that God would arise and display his glory. Hard work was a core component of their religion because only by hard work and business success could the elect be known and recognize themselves.   By 1750 there were over 400 gatherings of converts who became groups or fellowships known as “seiadau.”

Hugh M. Lewis describes Aberdovey as suffering “a certain amount of religious deprivation” prior to the last decade of the 18th Century.  The main centre of social and economic activity in the area was Tywyn, where St Cadfan’s Anglican Church, dating back to the 14th Century, was the main centre of religious life.  Even itinerant nonconformist preachers who were very active in other parts of Meirionnydd did not reach Aberdovey.   In about 1790, however, a group of Calvinistic Methodists established themselves about a mile outside Aberdovey at a building called Hen Felin, which has since become a ruin.  They next moved to lodgings in a building that belonged to the Raven Arms called The Store House on Sea View Terrace, which was used as a warehouse facility and had an upper room that could be used for Calvinistic meetings.  Unfortunately, Edward Corbet who “feared them as radicals if not revolutionaries” (Lloyd, A Real Little Seaport) was informed of their activities and evicted them, throwing all their property including benches and bibles out onto the road.  The Calvinists were lucky to find a sympathizer in Mr Scott, the owner of the row of three cottages now known as Penhelig lodge, who from 1796 gave them the use of an outbuilding called Ty Coch on the edge of the ravine where there is now a road called Nantiesyn, in Penhelig.  In 1811 the Calvinist Methodist movement established its (Yr Hen Gorff – The Old Body) formally, detached itself from the Anglican Church, and became the leading nonconformist Meiryonnydd religion, giving the Aberdovey preachers a solid foundation.

Calvinistic Methodist Chapel, New Street rear entrance

Aberdovey’s population increased in the late years of the 18th Century and the early years of the 19th Century.The discovery of copper and lead in the mid-18th Century and the importance of the port for handling imports of wheat, barley and corn significant contributors to the growth the the village. As Aberdovey prospered, the Calvinist congregation also grew, making it necessary to look for premises that was not owned by the Ynysmaengwyn estate.  In 1827, recognizing the growth of Aberdovey, the Turnpike Trust finished a road that linked Aberdovey with Machynlleth, raising its importance, and increasing the number of visitors.

In 1828 a plot of land in what is now Chapel Square was acquired on a 99 year lease, and volunteers built their chapel to seat 124 worshippers in 1828, at a cost of £400.00 (c. £27,120.52 in today’s money, or 26 horses/74 cows, according to the National Archive’s Currency Convertor website).  It did so well that in 1855 a gallery was added at a cost of £120.00 (c.£8,136.16). The Coflein website says that the new chapel, which they named Tabernacle, was designed by Reverend Richard Humphreys of Dyffryn.   The façades are characterized by large rectangular windows beneath dripstones (mouldings to shelter windows from dripping water), a line of three on the first floor on the Copper Hill Street (front) side and two on the ground floor and two on the first floor at the New Street (rear) side.  The arched Copper Hill Street doorway is lined with stone blocks and a keystone.  The New Street entrance door has a stucco frame.  Stuccoed quoins (masonry corner blocks) are on all four corners of the building and there are wide recessed strips in the gables of both frontages.  A plaque reads: “Tabernacl/adeiladwyd ir Methodistiaid Calfinaidd yn y flwyddin 1828” (Tabernacle / built by Calvinistic Methodists in the year 1828).  Once they had established their chapel the Calvinist Methodists set up a Sunday school.

Calvinistic-Methodist Chapel of 1864

In 1864 the Calvinists left the building in favour of new, much larger premises on Sea View Terrace, also called Tabernacl, which will be covered on future post shortly.  The original 1828 building was immediately adopted as a temporary school whilst a new school was being built.  When it was again vacated the former chapel was renamed the Assembly Rooms and became a resource for villagers and a central location for village activities.  Shops were later established on the ground floor, the first floor was used for meeting space, and the building became know as the Market Hall.  In 1920 it was renamed the Imperial Hall.  In 1931 Roman Catholics, who had no premises of their own in the village, used one of the meeting rooms.  During the Second World War the building became the headquarters for the Home Guard.  Today, the has been occupied for over two decades by the excellent Dovey Marine.

 

Main sources:
Welsh Calvinist Methodism is usefully described on the Welsh Religious Buildings website.  Wesleyan Methodism and some of the features that distinguish it from Calvinistic Methodism are described in straight forward terms on the Welsh Religious Buildings website and on the BBC Religion web pages.  Hugh M. Lewis, local resident and collector of Aberdovey information and images, is the source of most of the information in this post about the early activities of the Aberdovey Calvinistic Methodists, telling the fascinating story of the establishment of the chapel in his book Aberdyfi, Portrait of a Village (his best book, in my opinion).  Lewis Lloyd’s A Real Little Seaport was also useful, and Hugh M. Lewis’s Aberdyfi, Pages of Time added some additional information.

The Bear of Amsterdam, a ship of the Spanish Armada on the Dyfi in 1597

The story of the Bear of Amsterdam is probably the best known of all local stories, apart from the Bells of Aberdovey.  Unlike the Bells, this is not a matter of myth but a slice of Elizabethan history.

Philip II at his marriage to Mary I in 1552. Elizabeth I in 1592

The Bear of Amsterdam was a ship in the Third Spanish Armada, which took place between October and November 1597 during the Anglo-Spanish War of 1585–1604.  The war, which consists of a series of naval episodes over this period, had its origins in both religious and commercial disputes.  Philip II, King of Spain, defender of the Catholic faith, was under pressure to tackle the rise of Protestantism in Spanish territories in the southern Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and northern France, collectively referred to as the Low Countries.   At the same time Queen Elizabeth had reinstated the Act of Supremacy that established the Church of England as the national religion, detaching England from Catholic Papal authority.  This was naturally a source of tension between England and Spain.  This relationship became even more strained when the English crown supported the activities of English ships trading with Spanish outposts in the West Indies.  Spain held a trading monopoly on these colonies and English activities were condemned as smuggling.   Spanish retaliation at the Battle of San Juan de Ulúa resulted in the capture and sinking of English ships under the command of Sir Francis Drake.  The English retaliated with an escalation of privateering, which not only aimed to undermine the Spanish monopoly, but to line the pockets of the crews involved.  When England came out in support of the Dutch against Spanish military action to squash the rise of Protestantism in 1585, Spain considered this a declaration of war.  A number of skirmishes took place, but the final straw came with Elizabeth’s execution of Mary Queen of Scots in February 1587, leading to Philip II’s decision to invade England in order to place a Catholic monarch on the English throne, a plan for which he received papal authority in July 1587.

Spanish ships in a storm

On 28 May 1588 the first Spanish Armada (armada meaning a fleet of warships) set sail for the English Channel and were met by the English fleet.  A battle of attrition succeeded in preventing the Spanish from reaching any English port and the Spanish withdrew to Calais to regroup. The English pursued them, using fireships to break through the defensive formation, forcing another battle on the Spanish, who were defeated and forced to retreat.  The second Spanish Armada took place in 1596, Philip II’s next attempt to tackle England, this time by invading Ireland, but the fleet hit a storm that annihilated it, and it never reached the English channel.

The third and final Armada took place between October and November 1597, aiming to surprise the English fleet in the English Channel as it returned from a failed expedition to the Azores, whilst another part of the Armada would land an invasion force in Falmouth or, if this proved impossible, Milford Haven, both of which were important Elizabethan ports.  136 ships set out from Spain with 8,634 soldiers, 4,000 sailors, a total of 12,634 men and 300 horses, but storms again led to the failure of Spanish plans.  With their fleet dispersed, only a few ships were able to land troops in England and Wales.  The returning English ships had also been disrupted by the storm, but still managed to capture several Spanish ships.  The third Armada was again defeated and remaining Spanish ships were captured.

Spanish caravels.  Source: Encyclopedia Britannica

The last ship from the third Armada to be captured was the c.120 ton caravel, The Bear of Amsterdam.  Having headed for Milford Haven she overshot and eventually weighed anchor in the middle of the river Dyfi on 26 October 1597, probably to acquire stores.  The prevalence of Westerlies stranded the ship for until 5th November.  Aberdovey was very isolated at this time, with only a few houses that served the ferry from Aberdovey to Ynyslas.  A survey of ports, creeks and other landing places on the Welsh coast from earlier in the century stated that only during the herring season when fishermen arrived from elsewhere was there any activity in Aberdovey where there were only three houses, and no local boats.  Local militia from both sides of the river gathered on the banks of the Dyfi and prepared themselves for a fight, but there were no suitable boats with which to board The Bear of Amsterdam, and no canons with which to hole her.  Muskets had some impact, killing three and wounding others on board the ship, but the ship moved out of range during the night.  D.W. Morgan (Brief Glory) quotes a contemporary document that describes how the ship landed about six men ashore in a cockboat (a small rowing boat used as the ship’s tender), with two more remaining in the boat, but these were ambushed by the Merionethshire Militia, with two killed and four captured.  The Vice Admiral visited the camp of the Cardiganshire militia “but could do nothing except helplessly watch the Spaniard swinging to his anchor in midstream. Of little avail were the plans of the Merionethshire men.”  A plan by the Merionethshire milita to build wooden fire rafts and float them down the river on an outgoing tide in the hope that it would set fire to the ship failed when the wind turned.  In spite of intentions to capture The Bear of Amsterdam, the ship left without challenge or further incident when the winds changed.

Dartmouth Castle as it is thought to have looked in c.1550.  Source: English Heritage.

The Bear of Amsterdam headed south, but she did not manage to return to Spain.  Rounding the Cornish peninsula The Bear of Amsterdam suffered damage in another storm and surrendered on the 10th November to an English squadron.  She was led into Dartmouth with no ammunition on board and almost no supplies.  The crew consisted of 62 Spanish sailors, 3 Flemish and 2 English (one acting as a pilot, the other a known pirate who was immediately gaoled).  Morgan says that the Captain of The Bear of Amsterdam “was a man of note and was sent up to London under guard to be exchanged for 2 Englishmen who were Spanish prisoners.”

Back in Aberdovey, Morgan describes how the local magistrate was in trouble.  Ednyfed Griffith found himself under investigation when complaints were lodged against him about his handling of the Bear of Amsterdam affair:  “Although he lived within a mile of the scene he failed to repair thither with any men, arms or weapons;  nor did he raise any manner of force to resist the Queen’s enemies.  He, being remiss, slack and careless thus greatly discouraged those that were eager.”  It does not seem to have done him much harm, because in 1608 he was appointed Sheriff of Gwydgwian.

The reconstruction of The Bear of Amsterdam built for the Coronation of Elizabeth I, 1953. Source:  Hugh M. Lewis 2001. The Past Recalled. Dinas.

As with all good history, an unverifiable story emerged from the incident, which is that a handful of Spanish sailors swam ashore after dark, vanished into the hills and eventually integrated with Welsh inhabitants.  Unless they were fluent Welsh speakers, which is improbable, it seems unlikely that the presence of foreign accents in the area would have gone unnoticed in a period of heightened awareness and fear of Spanish invasion, but it is a nice story.

In 1953 both the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the Elizabethan story of The Bear of Amsterdam were celebrated by fitting out a local ship to represent the Spanish caravel.  She was moored mid-river and set on fire.

Today the episode is preserved in a popular restaurant on the sea front in Aberdovey named The Bear of Amsterdam.

Oystercatchers on the foreshore at Aberdovey this afternoon

I was so lucky this afternoon to see two wonderful oystercatchers on the foreshore.  I was on the members’ terrace of the Literary Institute (I promise that I am a member and wasn’t trespassing!) and heard a high-pitched peeping noise coming from below.  And there they were.  Squinting into the sun, I suddenly saw two absolutely perfect little waders rushing around on their spindly pink legs picking up mussels from amongst the seaweed and bashing them with their long, strong orange beaks against the stones.  You can hear the peeping and bashing noises on the video below.  The camcorder did a remarkably good job, given that I was shooting straight into the sun.   Oystercatchers also target cockles, limpets, small crabs and shrimps, all of which are available in the area.  Although oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus) are common on coasts, and I have seen them at the mouth of the Dysynni, I have never seen one at Aberdovey before.  I was utterly charmed.  Wonderful to watch and to listen to them.  When they took off, startled by some people walking along the foreshore, the lovely white streaks against the black of their wings were clearly visible.

January in Aberdovey

Wednesday last week was one of those rare but gorgeous January days that provides a welcome reminder that spring lies ahead.  Almost too good to be true. The tide was on its way out, always a beautiful sight as dips in the sand fill with still water reflecting the blue sky, and the millions of deeply scored fractal patterns in the sand are revealed, with the contrast of the dark shadows and bright surfaces always a sensational feature of the low winter sun.  Apart from a few dog walkers the beach was almost empty, sensible people remaining in the warm.

My garden continues to be a source of wildlife activity, all the local species filling up on solid carbohydrates to see them through the bitterly cold nights.

The goldfinches, which turned up in my absence over Christmas, are now a daily presence, between two or seven of them at a time, four on the nyjer feeder with the others bouncing up and down in frustration in the tree. When they first arrived I was very taken by their beautifully minimalist movements and intricate eating habits, but when there are more than four trying to get onto the feeder at a time there can be real jockeying for position in a great thrashing of brightly coloured feathers, with some of the angelic looking little things chasing off others quite ruthlessly.  A gaggle of goldfinches is called a “charm.”

Since I moved here in August, all the feeders have been popular, but in the last month the mixed seed feeder has been completely rejected, no matter where I hang it.  Instead, most activity is concentrated on the fat ball, mealworm and peanut feeders.  Do note that I put a soundtrack on the following video, just to get used to the software that I am using, but it is a really lovely piece of Bach, so hopefully not too intrusive.