St. Theodore's Church, Kenfig Hill
Eglwys Sant Theodore, Mynydd Cynffig
History of St Theodore's
The Rev. John Bangor Davies
1883 - 1904
The life of Rev Bangor Davies and his family was made difficult for quite some time. He was mobbed, his wife and children were mobbed and people especially women, disturbed his services in Bryndu School by beating kettles and pans. Why the antagonism? I can only conclude that as Kenfig Hill was at that time a mainly non-conformist village, there was suspicion of Anglicanism, which was associated with the ruling class.
As the church in Kenfig Hill grew slowly, Rev Bangor Davies was determined to have a church built. He approached C.R.M. Talbot of Margam who promised a free site and a sum of £250. Then it was a case of soliciting donations. The foundation stone was laid on November 19th 1888. It was a wet and misty day when Miss Emily C. Talbot arrived to carry out the ceremony. Despite the weather a large crowd gathered to witness the event. The village of Kenfig Hill had been decorated with bunting and arches bearing messages, such as “Welcome Miss Talbot to Kenfig Hill” and “Long Life to Miss Talbot.”
A family letter of the late Mrs Janet Davies of Bridge Street, Kenfig Hill gives an insight into the building of St Theodore’s
The letter confirms the donation of land by C.R.M. Talbot – “Pencastle field” and the fact that the stone to build the church was quarried on the Ton. The letter was not dated but was written between the laying of the foundation stone and the dedication of the new church on Whit Monday June 10th 1889.
The new church was dedicated to St Theodore, in memory of Theodore Talbot heir to the Margam Estate who had died as the result of a hunting accident . The dedication service was conducted by the Lord Bishop of Llandaff. The opening service was largely attended with the local landed gentry being well represented and a large number of clergy. The Central Glamorgan Gazette of June 14th 1889 gave a very full account of the opening service and the luncheon which followed in Bryndu School. It is interesting to note that the final paragraph of the Central Glamorgan Gazette’s report announces that services in Welsh will be held on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings in St Theodore’s.
The Rev Bangor Davies became vicar of St James, Pyle in 1904. He was succeeded at St Theodore’s by the Rev Alcwyn Saunders Jones, formerly curate of Ogmore Vale, an old Llanelli footballer, who was one of seven brothers, all clergymen. He was described as a born organiser, a wonderful musician and a brilliant athlete.
Rev Alcwyn S.Jones, B.A
1904 – 1916
The Rev Alcwyn Jones had not been long in Kenfig Hill when he realised that the church was becoming inadequate to accommodate the number of worshippers, so he set about raising the necessary funds and succeeded in enlarging the church and the vicarage. He was assisted in the fund raising by an influential committee, the secretary being Mr Langford. Fete after fete was organised which helped in the fund raising. One such fete took place in July 1908 on Pwllygarth field by kind permission of Mr Jenkin Rees of Pwllygarth farm. Some of the competitions that took place indicated that Kenfig Hill was a coal mining village – the first starting at 3.00 p.m. was the timbering competition where all the adjudicators were local colliery officials. This was followed by the rock boring competition with teams from local collieries competing. There was tug of war, singing competitions, numerous entries for walking the greasy pole and competitions for the best dressed dog and bicycles!
The Glamorgan Gazette of the 22nd January 1909 reported on the dedication service of the new church extension, which had taken place the previous Wednesday. The dedication was carried out by the Lord Bishop of Llandaff, the Very Rev Joshua Pritchard Hughes, who as Vicar of Newcastle, Bridgend had been instrumental in establishing a church in Kenfig Hill.
The Glamorgan Gazette report states;
“The extensions, which more than double the size of the church, consist of a new south aisle, new vestry, and organ chamber with heating chamber underneath, and the lengthening of the nave in a westerly direction by one bay. These additions give accommodation for 161 extra sittings, the total number of seats now being 313.”
The report goes on to state, that “The work has been carried out to agree with the original design, and in the reconstruction of the west wall and the building of the new walls, the architects, (Messrs. Cook and Edwards, Bridgend) exercised special care in guarding against dampness by adopting hollow walls built in cement, this precaution being necessary because of the exposed situation of the church”.
All the dressed stonework is of Bath stone, the facings being from the local Pencastell quarry.
The report also indicated that an organ is to be built at a cost of £300 and this will be in place by the following spring.
The cost of the entire work according to the Glamorgan Gazette was about £1,430, to which Miss Talbot of Margam, contributed £1.200: Mr Sidney H. Byass J.P, Bridgend and Port Talbot, £50: the Incorporated Church Building Society, £50: the Llandaff Church Building Society, £10: Messrs. Cook and Edwards, £5
St Theodore’s following the building of the extension
Note that the vicarage had not yet been extended.
The Glamorgan Gazette of the 4th June 1909 gave a very full account of the dedication of the new organ in St Theodore’s. Following the dedication service” a recital was given by Mr D.J. Thomas organist of Margam Abbey, sometime of St Paul’s Cathedral and of the Guildhall School of Music, and solos by Miss Kate Eaton and Mr Arthur D. Llewellyn, a member of Newcastle Church choir”.
The organ, was built by Hill and Son of London. Previous to the installation of the organ, the church only had a harmonium. The Gazette article gave a full report of the specification of the organ. The organ is still in use today.
The pages of the Glamorgan Gazette are a rich source of information on the life of St Theodore’s during the ministry of the Rev .Alcwyn S. Jones.:
Easter 1910 –“The church was decorated for Easter with much taste with exquisite flowers from the gardens at Margam (through the kindness of Mr Milner, head gardener to the Talbot family). The choir rendered special music – the anthem “Therefore with angels” by Vincent Novella……. There was a record attendance of communicants, the number being 116. The Rev. A.S. Jones, curate is to be congratulated upon the increase of communicants and worshippers at St Theodore’s.”
The edition of the 14th October 1910 had the following report:
“Harvest thanksgiving services were held at St Theodore’s Church on Sunday and Monday. On the former day the Vicar of Aberavon preached in the afternoon and evening, and on Monday an interesting sermon in Welsh was delivered by the Rev. E Jones, Penclawdd. Special anthems were finely rendered by the choir. A willing band of helpers had worked enthusiastically to make the church look beautiful and their work was greatly admired.”
The wider life of the village was also reflected in reports in the Glamorgan Gazette.
The edition of 23rd December 1910 reported on the foundations of new temporary buildings for a Council School being laid in the field above Pwllygarth farm. Apparently these building were needed, “for dozens of children are now running wild about the roads, the accommodation at Bryndu being over taxed”.
The same report talks about the state of the road between Kenfig Hill and Pyle, it being “a quagmire, inches deep in slush and mud!”
The previous week according to this Glamorgan Gazette report there had been a great storm with considerable damage to property. Bryndu School was severely damaged, “large rents being made in the roof”.
At Cefn, children returning from school “were astonished to see the roof of a pig sty being carried high above their heads!”
During the Rev. Alcwyn S. Jones time in Kenfig Hill he no doubt had to comfort families who lost loved ones during World War 1. The pages of the Glamorgan Gazette testify to the young men lost during this war. The edition of 28th April 1916 reports that “Private John Howell, son of Mr Mrs John Howell of Kenfig Hill, is reported missing in action, since the engagement at St Eloi on March 7th. He was in private life a mechanical electrician, and was a promising young man.”
As well as being recorded on the Roll of Honour to those from Kenfig Hill, who died in the First World War, which now hangs in the porch of St Theodore’s. Private John Howell is also personally commemorated in another plaque hanging in St Theodore’s porch. He was the brother of Gwladys Twist, (nee Howell), who married Dr Twist. Their daughter Millie was a lifelong communicant at St Theodore’s and lived all her life in the family home in High Street, just a stone’s throw from the church.
St Theodore’s – the 1920s and 30s
The Rev. Alcwyn S.Jones was succeeded as curate in St Theodore’s, in 1917, by the Rev D. Eden Davies who came from Gorslas, where he had previously served. His ministry was short and he left in 1919 for a “better curacy” in England. He eventually became Vicar of Cilfynydd.
The Annual Vestry meeting for St Theodore’s, which was still part of the parish of Newcastle, Bridgend was reported on in the Glamorgan Gazette of May 2nd 1919.
“The Bishop had at last consented to carve out a conventional district, - practically a new parish, which would comprise the greater part of Pyle and Tythegston, and would run from Pyle following the line to Tondu and from Laleston along the Great Western Railway to Pyle and through the main road to Cefn on to Bryndu Works. The population of the new district would be about 4,000. The Bishop of Llandaff had offered the new district to Rev John Francis of Fochriw, who had served at Nantymoel and Aberavon with decided success.”
The Rev John Francis did indeed become curate-in-charge of the Conventional District of Kenfig Hill. In 1923 the status of the Rev Francis was changed to that of Vicar and Kenfig Hill became a parish in its own right.
Rev. John Francis L.D.
1919 – 1939
Much was achieved during Rev. Francis’ time at St Theodore’s. During his ministry a Church Hall was built on land in Margam Row, Kenfig Hill. The official opening of this new hall took place on the 11th October 1922. The following day there was a Sunday School tea party to celebrate the opening of the new Church Hall.
Sunday School children outside new Church Hall with Rev. John Francis prior to tea party
12th October 192
All ready for the tea party!
Electric light was installed in St Theodore’s in 1926, Mr H. Langford, Head Electrician of Messrs. Baldwin’s, being responsible for the work.
The interior of St Theodore’s before the installation of electric light and the major work carried out on the church in the 1930s.
Those who know St Theodore’s will be aware that a similar light fitting to that shown in the above photograph, presently hangs in the south aisle. However this is a replica which was donated to the church by the late Keith Morgan.
The Rev. John Francis seems to have been successful in increasing the number of people attending worship in St Theodore’s. A report in the Glamorgan Gazette of October 27th 1933 states:
“Complaints from all over the country respecting empty churches have an exception to the rule in St Theodore’s Church, Kenfig Hill, where a remarkable good attendance is to be seen every Sunday. For many weeks past there has been only standing room at service time. The excellent singing has given the choir more than local fame, and it is seriously contemplating enlarging the church!”
During the 1930s there were also attempts to have a burial ground attached to St Theodore’s. Tythegston Higher Parish Council gave their unanimous support for the scheme. The trustees of the Margam Estate made a grant of a piece of land for the purpose of a burial ground adjoining St Theodore’s. As reported in the Glamorgan Gazette it seems as if there was widespread support locally for the scheme. At that time the population of the ecclesiastical parish of Kenfig Hill was approximately 3,000. However the Representative Body of the Church in Wales refused permission for the land surrounding St Theodore’s to be converted to a burial ground. The short paragraph in the Glamorgan Gazette reporting this decision, gave no reason for this refusal!
During the 1930s substantial additions and work was carried out to beautify St Theodore’s. Thanks to the efforts of the Mothers’ Union a new pulpit was installed in memory of the Rev. John Bangor Davies. The members of the Mothers’ Union also donated a brass lectern (the Eagle) and oak stand in memory of those who fell in the Great War.
On December 23rd 1934, the Right Reverend Timothy Rees, Bishop of Llandaff dedicated an altar in memory of Mr. Mrs David Francis Jones, Pencastell Farm, given by their children. The Bishop also dedicated a reredos and renovations to the chancel.
Glamorgan Gazette December 28th 1934:
“The improvements in the church are really remarkable, and “the little church on the hill” now ranks as one of the prettiest churches in Mid Glamorgan. The chancel floor has had a new foundation laid in mosaic work; the chancel has been exquisitely coloured in turquoise blue, speckled with gold and the lower part of it is in leather coloured work. The body of the church has been coloured in old gold, relieved by stencil work excellently executed in ecclesiastical design…….”
The Terrazzo floor was laid by Messrs. Bersani of Cardiff. The late Mrs Megan Inglesant remembers the workmen who installed the floor, lodging with local people whilst the work was being carried out.
The Jubilee booklet of 1939 records that: “The adorning of the chancel was a labour of love on the part of Messrs. A Jensen, D. J. Player and the late A.H. David – all of Port Talbot. Mr Charles Angell and Mr Robert James assisted. The chancel was dedicated on completion, to the memory of the late Miss Olive Talbot.”
The interior of St Theodore’s following the improvements and additions.
In 1939, the Rev John Francis was appointed Vicar of Margam. A large number of people attended an event to mark his departure. According to the Glamorgan Gazette: “Speeches eulogising the Rev. Francis were made by Dr J.W. Cooper, and the Revs. T.M. Williams, Pisgah, Pyle, D.R. Williams, Elim, Kenfig Hill, Canon Rees, Swansea and Mr W. Jenkins, M.E. Kenfig Hill. Councillor Bruce Cameron (Peoples’ Warden) on behalf of the members and friends, presented to Rev. and Mrs Francis and armchair and tables, and Mrs Powell, the oldest member of the church, presented to Mrs Francis, entrée dishes and a lady’s handbag, on behalf of the St Theodore’s branch of the Mothers’ Union”.
The movement to have a church in Kenfig Hill began over 10 years before the building opened.
According to the booklet produced to celebrate 50 years of St Theodore’s, prior to 1878, occasional church services and Sunday School were held in Bryndu School. This school situated on School Road, Kenfig Hill had been established by the National Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, an Anglican organisation. There had however, been no serious attempt to secure regular church services.
This all changed in 1878 with the visit of the Vicar of Newcastle, Bridgend, the Rev. Joshua Pritchard Hughes to Kenfig Hill, then a village of under 800 inhabitants. The Vicar stated that he had set his mind on having regular Church services in Kenfig Hill. Having received permission from C.R.M. Talbot of Margam, to use Bryndu School for regular Church services, these commenced in the autumn of 1878, with a small band of worshippers.
The Rev. Hughes soon saw that it was necessary to have a curate resident in Kenfig Hill and proceeded to Lampeter College to search out a likely candidate. He was of the opinion that the successful candidate would have to go “through fire and water” as he believed that the “virtue of tolerance was sadly lacking in the district”.
The Rev. John Bangor Davies was appointed and moved to Kenfig Hill with his wife and four children.