Visiting Salem Baptist Chapel, Hay-on-Wye, Wales: Established 1649, Rebuilt 1878
An historic site
Although Wales's first baptist congregation is recorded as having been established at Ilston (Welsh: Llan Illtyd), Glamorgan (Welsh: Morgannwg), this building at Bell Bank, Hay-on-Wye (Welsh: Y Gelli), Powys, Wales, recalls baptists establishing themselves here in 1649 (1), under the leadership of John Miles (c. 1621-1683). Indeed, the schoolroom is said to date from 1647 (2).
The current building dates from 1878. Executed in stone, it exhibits some strongly Gothic features in the shape of pointed window arches and a similarly arched doorway. Some of the gravestones in the churchyard in front of the building exhibit a similar, Gothic arch motif.
Another striking feature is the hexagonal window situated above the arched doorway.
The roof of the building is made of slate.
This single storey building set back from the road effuses an almost ramshackle solidity and a peaceful somnolence, which belies much of the doctrinal urgency which erupted in past centuries in tumultuous vitality in association with the origins of Nonconformist witness and Biblical interpretation in the British Isles.
Some years ago, the local authorities were willing to grant some funds for repairs to this building necessitated through storm damage; somewhat oddly, they had difficulty in discovering who owned the building because the building's deeds, formerly held at a local bank, had disappeared (3).
February 16, 2018
(1) Interestingly, Hay-on-Wye, situated close to the border with England, is sometimes classified as being in the English county of Herefordshire. See, for example: http://www.hay-on-wye.co.uk/info/hay-on-wye.htm and http://www.visitherefordshire.co.uk/explore/hay-on-wye.aspx The Ilston congregation, mentioned above, was also associated with John Miles — sometimes written 'Myles' — who also later served as a baptist minister in Swansea, Massachusetts.
(2) The Hay-on-Wye History and Tourist Information site even classifies it as probably the oldest schoolroom in Wales. See: http://www.britainexpress.com/wales/mid/az/hay-on-wye.htm
(3) I am somewhat marginally familiar with a state of affairs which sometimes occurs in relation to Nonconformist religious buildings in the United Kingdom, many of which are held in trust by a sometimes small number of individuals, having been co-opted many years in the past, some of whom having departed this life without co-opting others to fulfil their role. Overseas visitors could even say that this represents almost a leitmotif for significant aspects of life in the British Isles, whereby a metaphorical sign might read: "Somnolence: Please do not disturb". (All rather endearing, no doubt.) This contrasts greatly with the earnest intensity association with early Nonconformist history in the British Isles.
Also worth seeing
In Hay-on-Wye itself — known as a book town for the profusion of bookstores — other noted buildings include a ruined castle and a 19th century clocktower.
Cusop (distance: 0.5 kilometres), Herefordshire; the churchyard of St. Mary's Parish Church has some magnificent old trees, including yew; and the gravesite of Methodist preacher William Seward, killed in 1740; the building itself, which contains some Norman elements, was restored in the 19th century.
How to get there: United Airlines flies to London Heathrow Airport , from where car rental is available. London Heathrow is approximately 247 kilometres from Hay-on-Wye. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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