Karl-James Langford

WHEN asked: “How many churches and chapels does Barry and the District have?” the answer seems to change weekly.

So many have been either demolished or converted into flats. But we still have a number of churches and chapels that are still in use for their original purpose.

It can't be said that god had forsaken the Barry and District before the construction of the Docks after 1884, in fact efforts had been made to rebuild a more accommodating church at St. Nicholas (Barry) 10 years earlier, with Cadoxton and Merthyr Dyfan still holding well attended services. Cadoxton had in fact welcomed a new wave of Christianity after the early 1800s, such as the building of the Bethel, Philadelphia, Sion and Tabor chapels.

This week we briefly look at the now stone built Bethel Baptist Church on the corner of St. Nicholas Road and Harbour Road. Barry was seeing a revolution in terms of a population explosion. In the 1881 census the combined human population figures for Barry, Cadoxton, Merthyr Dyfan and Porthkerry, was a little more than 500, by 1921 the population of the Barry and District was around 39,000.

Through this period Christianity saw a huge building program in the Barry and District. Bethel English Baptist Church (Harbour Road); as it was once known as, did not see it being constructed out of the Blue Lias Limestone (towards the rear), with frontage of Pennant sandstone, and finely dressed sandstone for detail as we see illustrated today.

The original church was erected in haste and opened by 1893 in wood and corrugated iron. But it would not take long before the popularity of the church changed its fortunes. It was another 10 years before the Bethel church would see its permanence in stone as you see today.

Although we have seen many such churches and chapels in the Barry and District turning their backs on Christianity, Bethel Baptist Church as it is today goes from strength to strength. 2008 sees a new change to Bethel Baptist church long term future, a new investment of faith with the extension of the church, that matches perfectly the 1903 construction.

Well done is what I would say, they obviously have seen tradition continuing. Bethel Baptist church saw its sister church built in 1898 in the centre of Barry along Holton Road opposite King Square. Unfortunately the fate of this church has taken it into a direction away from being a church.

One question that always makes me wonder about churches such as Bethel Baptist, is why they don't have burial yards surrounding the building? In short most of these 'new' churches and places of worship were constructed after 1889; when the Merthyr Dyfan cemetery was opened for its first interments.

The need for burial grounds around churches was no longer required, and the full area occupied by the church could be used for buildings, in a town that was now restricted in space for such structures.

We hope this week to have offered another gem of our Barry and District for interesting reading. More from our beautiful location next week.