Heol Awst Congregational Church, Carmarthen
It is not certain when the Heol Awst Independent Church was established in Carmarthen. It is believed that it was around 1660, or a little before then. It is known for certain that Stephen Hughes, the ‘Apostle of Carmarthenshire’, was responsible for establishing the church. At the beginning, the members met in a residential house on Priory Street, apparently under the care of Stephen Hughes, until his death in 1688. The members moved in 1726, when Thomas Perrott was a minister with them, to Lammas Street (Heol Awst), building the first chapel and calling in the Meeting House (Tŷ Cwrdd), as the plaque outside the chapel shows. A second building was built in 1802, and the present building was built in 1826 and opened on 4 April 1827, and it is likely that it is one of the handsomest Independent chapels.
This is the oldest chapel not only in town, but in the area, and the chapel itself is very important historically and architecturally, and people come on occasion to see the buildings. Inside (to the left of the pulpit) there is a memorial window to Stephen Hughes, the only memorial to him, and it was unveiled during the Union’s Jubilee Meetings in 1922. There are other stained glass windows in the building, including one to commemorate Dyfnallt, one of the past ministers; and two that perhaps date to the time of the building that was built in 1826. The present chapel was registered by Cadw as grade 2*.
Dyfnallt described the pulpit as a ‘witness box’ as it is entered into from the back, and the door must be closed before finding a seat. The pulpit also is an unusual shape, and initially it was much higher than ot is now, with the big seat much closer to it. On the right hand side of the pulpit is a door that lead, at one time, to the old cemetery at the back. Now it is the door to a cupboard.
Some of the most prominent ministers in Wales have been ministers her and during the time of William Evans, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Seminary was established in the building, which developed later into being the Presbyterian College in town. For a period of time, the church minister was the principal of Academi which was situated above what is known today as the ysgoldy (the school) and is bigger in size than many chapels in Wales. On the left as you go into the chapel gallery is the door to the old Academi, which is now locked and the key has long since been lost.
The Annual General Meetings of the Union of Welsh Independents were held for the first time in 1872 at Heol Awst, under the chairmanship of Gwilym Hiraethog. When the chapel where Gwilym Hiraethog has been a minister in Liverpool closed for the last time, his chair was transferred to Heol Awst, and it is used every Sunday. The Union was here also in 1922, during the fifty years celebration and has been here many times since then until this year (2022) when the Service of Celebration ‘Undeb 150’ will be held in the chapel.
It must be said that the lockdown has affected us, and we were shut for a long time. We have started services on a Sunday, but have not yet started all other activities as yet. The Cultural Society, held monthly during winter has been very successful. These meetings were open to all, and it was lovely to welcome people who were not members, to join us, and to be given the chance to socialise over a cup of tea at the end of the meetings.
In the same way, children and young people would come to the Sunday school. They would take part frequently in MIC events [Youth Work in Carmarthenshire] organised for the children and young people of Carmarthenshire, and in our family services, that have recommenced.
We work with other churches in town on many events and services, in Welsh and bilingually. Since we have been without a minister, an arrangement was agreed with the members of Elim, Ffynnon-ddrain to worship together, this has been a successful arrangement that continues regularly from week to week.
We collect for the local food bank and also for groups that help people in need, at home and abroad e.g. with Christian Aid, as well as for local charities. Our members also volunteer with different charities in town, and with the Newspaper for the Blind and Talking Books Wales.
We are a Fair Trade church and one happy family that meets weekly, with many of our members willing to take part in services when called upon. We hold various services and we welcome visitors warmly as they join us in worshipping our Lord.