STORY, from 1849 onwards
as a Welsh Independent (Congregational) church in what was then a rural
and predominantly Welsh-speaking area in the parish of Whitchurch.
Nonconformist families in the locality had considerable distances to
travel to their places of worship and would sometimes meet together in
one or other of the farmhouses. The Reverend Griffith Hughes, minister
of Groeswen chapel, is known to have conducted services from time to
time between 1812 and the 1830s at Briwnant, Rhiwbina and Ton-yr-ywen
farms, and no doubt at other places too. The move towards establishing a
Congregationalist church seems to have emerged from a group of families
meeting in this way at Cornel-y-waun farm, Wauntreoda, Whitchurch, where
the Revd John Jones of Bethlehem (Gwaelod-y-garth) and Rudry frequently
officiated. In 1848 this group acquired a cottage, previously used as a
smithy, at a rent of four pounds ten shillings per annum. The first
sermon was preached there on Christmas Day 1848, and in 1849 Beulah
Church was formed with John Jones as its minister in addition to his
other two pastorates.
By 1850 the congregation felt confident enough to embark on a building
project and obtained a 999-year lease at £1 per annum on a site
adjoining the cottage for the purposes of a chapel and graveyard. On
Whit Tuesday 1851 the new chapel, which cost £138, was opened. The
trustees appointed by the church were named as:
Edward Daniell, Whitchurch, Yeoman
William Brown, Whitchurch, Tin Packer
William David, Whitchurch, Labourer
George Pike, Pentyrch, Forgeman
William Russell, Pentyrch, Forgeman.
The occupations listed reflect both the agricultural character of the
immediate area and some of the industry already established around it.
1851 Census of Religious Worship
In 1851 an
official Census of Religious Worship was taken throughout the country
(for the first and only time), recording attendances on Sunday 30 March.
Beulah, Dissenters. Erected: 1848
Space: free 60; standing 40.
Present: afternoon, 80; evening 60.
Average (over 12 months): afternoon 80; evening 60
[Signed] John Jones, Minister, Rhudry.’
Some comments on this entry:
(1) In the returns from South Wales, most Independent churches are so
described. It is interesting that John Jones chose the term
‘Dissenters’, which had been used since the 17th century for worshippers
outside the established church. Was he making a point of emphasizing his
own and his congregation’s long tradition of nonconformity?
(2) The date of the census was shortly before the opening of the new
chapel, and the details given (including the 1848 date) presumably apply
to the adapted cottage, which must have been rather crowded! Sunday
School would have been held in the mornings.
was succeeded as Minister by William Russell, who was already a deacon
at Beulah and a recognised local preacher before being ordained; but in
August 1857 be suffered a ‘paralytic seizure’ which deprived him of
speech and so ended his ministry. However, he continued to attend Beulah
until his death in 1891, and was buried in the Beulah graveyard.
The religious revival in South Wales 1858-59
there was a religious revival in South Wales and Beulah felt its
influence. In 1860 the membership stood at 49 (the attendance figures in
the Religious Census must have included a number of adherents), and in
February of that year a young man from Carmarthen College, John Lloyd
Jones, was ordained as Beulah’s third minister. He was an author and
poet under the nom-de-plume Clwydwenfro. Soon after his arrival it was
decided to extend and refurbish the church, which was reopened in April
1861. He remained in Beulah until October 1869, when he moved to Dowlais.
From this time on, a prominent figure in the life of the church was John
Phillips of Cornel-y-waun farm, who was elected Treasurer in October
1869 and held that office until his death in June 1894. He also served
as a deacon, as precentor, and as Sunday School superintendent, and was
generous in his financial support. In addition he was an influential
In 1872 Beulah extended a call to ministry to a student of Brecon
College, W Meurig Rees, who was ordained on 4 July. However, he was to
die of consumption (tuberculosis) in June 1874.
In 1875 further improvements were made to the church and a call was then
extended to the Revd D Gwernydd Rees of Witton Park, Durham, and a
native of Swansea. Thus began, in January 1876, a ministry which was to
last until March 1917. Gwernydd Rees also served Watford Church from
1877 to 1919.
From the mid-1850s to the early 1880s, some of the Beulah congregation
were associated with a Sunday School held somewhat spasmodically, along
with occasional services and prayer meetings, on the premises of the
College Ironworks in the district then known as Llandaff Yard.
Expansion and new chapel 1891
In 1879 the
freehold of the chapel site was acquired, the old cottage demolished,
and a new vestry and caretaker’s cottage built. Then in November 1889 a
church meeting was called for the purpose of ‘discussing whether, having
regard to the fact that the present building has become quite
insufficient to accommodate our present congregation and also to its
very dilapidated condition it is not advisable for us to have a new
chapel built’. The meeting, attended by 30 members, decided in favour of
a new building. A lease of 999 years was negotiated on a plot of land on
the opposite side of the road from the old chapel, building began in
March 1890, and the new church opened in February 1891. One of the
foundation stones was laid by John Phillips who contributed so much to
the life of the church until his death in June 1894.
It appears that it was intended at first to demolish the old chapel and
use the materials in the new building. Fortunately, however, the church
was dissuaded from this course of action by Dr W T Edwards, a prominent
Congregationalist and a public figure of considerable standing in
Cardiff and, indeed, farther afield – among other things, he served as
President of the British Medical Association. Although Beulah was not
his own church, he himself contributed the estimated value (£25) of the
materials that might have been used, and so saved an historic building
which, with successive adaptations through the years, has been of great
service to the church and to the Rhiwbina community.
When the new chapel was opened the church had 112 members, a total
congregation of about 200, and a Sunday School of 160. By this time,
only Sunday morning services were entirely in Welsh, while the afternoon
Sunday School and the evening service were mainly in English. In 1898,
for an experimental period of three months, morning sermons were
preached in English and at the end of that year it was decided to make
this a permanent arrangement. In 1904 Beulah transferred to the East
Glamorgan English Congregational Association. However, it has always
kept something of the ethos and character of a Welsh chapel, even though
many of the congregation come from quite different backgrounds. Until
the later decades of the twentieth century the tradition continued of
holding a Welsh service once or twice a year on a Monday evening; and
the occasional Welsh hymn is still sung with enthusiasm on a Sunday.
In 1903 or 1904 a few members of Beulah began to take steps towards
establishing a Congregational church in Llandaff North, a developing
suburb of Cardiff and adjacent to Whitchurch. The Revd D Gwernydd Rees
agreed to oversee this development and Beulah made a contribution of
£80. Initially, services were held in the local Infants’ School, and a
committee was set up to find a site for a church. Quite early in these
discussions there seems to have been some dissension in Beulah about
their minister’s involvement and the financial implications, and the
Llandaff North people were told that Beulah could not undertake any
further responsibility. A small chapel/schoolroom was nevertheless
opened in 1905 and named Christ Church. Gwernydd Rees relinquished his
oversight of this church in 1906.
Revival of 1904-5
revival had its effect on Beulah. The minister’s annual message to the
church for each of these years refers to the fervour manifested and to
‘the earnest and strenuous spiritual life amongst our members,
especially amongst our young people’. However, at least in statistical
terms, these results do not appear to have been long-lived. In 1903 the
church membership was 114; in 1905, 143; in 1906 it reached a peak of
178; then fell each year to 109 in 1910.
Rhiwbina Garden Village
In 1912 a
Society was formed to establish a garden village on a site described as
‘Rhubina Fields’, adjacent to Rhubina Halt on the Cardiff Railway and
Rhubina Road, later called Heol-y-deri. (This is not the occasion to
discuss local place-names, their spelling, or their derivation!) This
site was on Beulah’s doorstep, and the scheme augured a substantial
expansion of the local population. Perhaps in anticipation of this,
Beulah embarked on enlarging and adapting the old premises and
installing electricity in the church. This work was completed in
December 1914. By that time the first batch of Garden Village houses had
been built, and by the end of the First World War the total had reached
In May 1915 a
new set of trustees was appointed for the church premises. Their
descriptions perhaps reflect some changes in the nature of the church
community by that time:
James Henry Hicks, Tinplate Worker.
Thomas Hicks, Tinplate Worker.
John William Jenkins, Commercial Clerk.
Margaret Ann Jones, Spinster.
Wm. Samuel Jones, Schoolmaster.
David Llewelyn, Quarry Owner.
Ernest Victor Parsons, Builder.
Elizabeth Ann Phillips, wife of Wm. Phillips.
Edward John Price, Poor Law Clerk.
Sarah Hannah Price, wife of E.J. Price.
Theodore Salmon, Tinplate Worker.
George Edward Samuel, Assistant in Corn Stores.
William Hamer (Llanishen), Gentleman.
David Williams, Colliery Proprietor.
The arrival of the organ
Gwernydd Rees having retired in 1917, a call was extended in 1919 to the
Revd Samuel Jones, who started his ministry in August of that year. In
1925 a long-cherished plan was realised when an organ chamber was added
to the church and a pipe organ installed. There was a new spate of
house-building in the 1920s, and Rhiwbina changed from a rural to a
suburban community. In 1918 the membership of Beulah was about 120 while
its total income was only about £200. When Samuel Jones died in 1940
after a fruitful ministry of 21 years, the membership was about 200 and
the various church funds amounted to some £600. That the church was by
no means inward-looking at this period is illustrated by the fact that
in 1934 Mrs Lilian Oldfield-Davies formed a Junior Branch of the League
The Early Ministers
The growth of
Rhiwbina led to the opening of other places of worship: All Saints
Church, Rhiwbina Baptist Church, Bethany Baptist Church, Bethel
Methodist Church (now, though not originally, Welsh-speaking), Bethesda
Chapel, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Over the
years, good ecumenical relationships have been formed between Beulah and
a number of these churches, together with others in Whitchurch and
Samuel Jones was succeeded as minister by the Revd Elfed Jones, inducted
in November 1941 following a pastorate with the Union of Welsh
Independents. Under his leadership the church continued to make
progress; he had particular success working with young people and
started a Junior Church. In 1946 he moved to a post with the YMCA, and
subsequently to a lectureship in Religious Education.
The Revd T George Phillips followed in 1948 until in 1950 he accepted a
full-time hospital chaplaincy in Carmarthen.
Some of the Beulah members of 1949
minister, from 1952 to 1958, was the Revd Clifford O Thomas. He had
served as an Army chaplain in the Second World War, including a period
as a prisoner of war, and was a committed supporter of the Toc H
movement. He earned great affection and appreciation from his
congregation before moving to his next pastorate in Hinckley. During his
time at Beulah, in October 1957, a weekly Men’s Meeting was started. To
facilitate the work of the Sunday School and of organisations meeting
during the week, extensions were added in 1957 to the Assembly Rooms on
the site of the original church.
In 1959 the Revd T Glyndwr Jones, minister of Christ Church, Rhyl, and
Secretary of the North Wales Congregational Union, accepted a call to
Beulah. He was well known as an eloquent preacher of liberal outlook,
wide reading, and considerable originality, and he contributed to the
work of the wider church by serving on some of the central committees of
the denomination and the Council for World Mission.
Welsh Friends of Refugees and Kindred in Need
Oldfield-Davies was an active and much-loved member of the church who
took a leading part in the Sunday School, in drama productions, and in
numerous other activities. In 1960 she introduced Beulah to the work of
the Welsh Friends of Refugees, a charity which had recently been set up
in support of an international effort to meet the needs of many people
throughout Europe who were still displaced and dispossessed as a result
of the Second World War. Beulah agreed to ‘adopt’ Frau Magdalene
(Helene) Krobath and her young daughter Waltraud in Austria, and formed
a Refugee Committee to organise fund-raising and keep in touch with this
little family as they gradually settled into a new home. Friendships
were soon formed through correspondence, and in the summer of 1963
Helene and Waltraud were invited to Rhiwbina and spent a month with Dr
Alun and Mrs Margaret Jones. Many members of the church shared in
various outings and activities during their stay, and personal contacts
continued through the decades that followed. (Helene died in 2010).
The Refugee Committee expanded its remit in order to help other
charitable causes and by 1963 had adopted the name Kindred in Need
(KIN). This has developed into Beulah’s major outreach organisation.
Wilfred Lee, church organist and deacon, died suddenly in 1963. At
Christmas 1965 an organ screen was dedicated in his memory; this was
made by another member of the church, John Weston Thomas of
Gwaelod-y-garth, a skilled carpenter and harp-maker.
March 1968 saw the start of a Luncheon Club in the Beulah Assembly
Rooms, organised by members of the WRVS. In 1971 the Youth Fellowship
undertook for the first time what was to become an annual Christmas Day
dinner, tea and entertainment for elderly and lonely people from all
In 1970 a programme of renovation and redecoration was carried out in
the church. After long planning and preparation, May 1972 saw the
opening of a further extension and adaptation of the Assembly Rooms,
which included installing an upper floor.
The United Reformed Church
Over a number
of years the Congregational Church in England and Wales (formerly the
Congregational Union) and the Presbyterian Church of England had been
developing a closer relationship, and in October 1972 the two
denominations joined to form the United Reformed Church. Beulah
celebrated this union in two services on Sunday 15 October.
The disused burial ground behind the Assembly Rooms was constantly
overgrown and difficult to keep in good order. A proposal was made in
1974 to turn this land into a garden as a memorial to James Horsburgh,
formerly leader of the Youth Club for 12 years up to 1961. The necessary
consultations took place, a fund was organised by past and present
members of the Youth Club, and the first shrubs and roses were planted
in December 1975. Since that time, the garden has become well
established as a peaceful and valued space, cared for by volunteers from
the church and open to the community.
In 1975 a member of Beulah, Miss Gaynor Rees, was commissioned to serve
the Council for World Mission on the staff of Moeding College, Botswana,
and so provided the church with another opening for its outreach
All in all, the 1970s proved to be full of challenges, responses and
achievements in the life of Beulah’s own fellowship and in its wider
relationships. As the decade drew to a close, so did Glyndwr Jones’s
pastorate. He retired in 1979, after several years during which he had
suffered periods of illness, along with the grave and progressive
illness of Anne, his wife, who died in July 1978. He remained in
Rhiwbina after retirement until his death in July 1984.
Glyndwr Jones was succeeded in September 1980 by the Revd Kenneth
Graham. For the first time, Beulah had a minister whose roots were not
in Wales or in Congregationalism: he had been ordained in the
Presbyterian Church of England, had ecumenical experience, and
introduced Beulah to some fresh approaches to worship. During his
ministry close bonds were formed between Beulah, Bethany Baptist, and
All Saints’ Churches in Rhiwbina.
There were already friendly informal relations with the other two United
Reformed Churches in North Cardiff: Bethesda (Tongwynlais) and North
Llanishen (later named Bethel). In January 1981 a Steering Committee was
formed to further the intention of working more closely together. This
led to a strengthening of ties until, in 1992, a North Cardiff Group of
churches was formally inaugurated.
Early in his ministry Ken Graham initiated a Midweek Meeting Point: an
informal opportunity to meet in the church on Wednesday mornings for
prayer, reflection and fellowship. This has become an established
feature of every week for the church and the village.
In July 1984, largely inspired by Ken Graham, a Rhiwbina Festival was
held for the first time and with great success, culminating in a joint
service of worship in Beulah. The Festival has since been an annual
event, though not without its difficulties and changes, and is one
example among many of how the life of the church and of its surrounding
community can be integrated.
The process of dismantling barriers continued over the years in a
variety of ways, some of them quite literal. The stone wall and gates
which had surrounded the church since its construction were removed,
merging the forecourt with the public pavement. Glass doors were
installed at the main entrance and clear and engraved glass in the
vestibule screen, bringing the interior of the church into view. From
October 1985 the church has been open each morning for private prayer
In May 1987 the URC General Assembly met in Cardiff in St David’s Hall
and many Beulah people participated in the organisation, stewarding,
information desk, Traidcraft stall, hospitality, music, and especially
in an inspiring evening’s ‘Celebration’ when the hall was filled to
In 1990, two members of the Beulah church family were ordained and
inducted to the ministry: Gethin Rhys at Brecon and Philip Webb at
The New Extension
extension to the church building was initiated in 1991 and completed in
June 1992. This was the Margaret Whittaker Lounge, named in memory of a
faithful church member who left her house as a bequest to the church,
enabling this and other projects to take place. The work involved
reconstructing and enlarging the area previously occupied by the organ
chamber and two small vestries and installing a purpose-built coffee
lounge, toilets, a utility area, a vestry room, and a small upstairs
office. The alterations also created the opportunity to have a more
flexible interior space at the front of the church, with moveable
platforms and pulpit. A committee was set up to organise and manage the
use of the lounge, and a large number of volunteers joined a rota to
keep it open to the public and serve light refreshments for five
mornings a week. From the outset it has proved its worth as a friendly
and comfortable meeting place for members of the church and the
community. The room originally intended as a vestry was in fact made
available to the Rhiwbina Good Neighbours scheme as an office.
Starting at Christmas 1991, volunteers from Beulah and other local
churches took part in a ‘Bread Run’ each Saturday to collect unsold
bread, rolls, buns, cakes and savouries from bakeries and deliver them
to the Cardiff Action for the Single Homeless hostel. In due course this
scheme was succeeded by others such as the Paradise Run helping to feed
homeless and other needy people.
In 1992 the North Cardiff Group, already mentioned above, was
established by the URC District Council. The three churches maintained
their separate identity while sharing the services of a ministerial
team, including two stipendiary ministers, Ken Graham and Kristin Ofstad
(who served until 2000 and was succeeded in February 2002 by Patricia
Clamp). The Group continued to function till 2006, when it was wound up
because of increasing pressure on ministerial resources and the three
churches reverted to their individual status.
Another community development encouraged by Ken Graham was the formation
in 1997 of the Rhiwbina Civic Society, which has used the Beulah
premises as the base for its meetings and activities.
millennium approached, the church decided to embark on a major community
project starting in 1997 involving further substantial development of
the Assembly Rooms. Fund-raising was put in hand in all kinds of ways,
including the efforts and donations of many individuals. A notable
example was Nance Leaver, a church member who, like Margaret Whittaker a
few years before, left her house to the church and was commemorated in
the naming of the upper hall in the refurbished building. The project
was still proceeding when the church celebrated its 150th anniversary in
1999, and was completed in September 2000. The building was re-named
‘Canolfan Beulah – Church Community Centre’ and has since been in use
every day of every week for activities of the church itself and of the
This community project was a fitting climax to the ministry of Ken
Graham, who retired in January 2001. Later that year, the Revd Dr Peter
Cruchley-Jones succeeded him in the North Cardiff Group.
(Nov.2022 - Formatted and amended by Anne James)