Tuesday and Wednesday
We visit the next town of Aberdare where in 1865 a few of its people also left in search of the promised land in Patagonia. We head straight to the library and dive into the Wesleyan world ( and other denominations ) of chapels. Staggeringly, there were a 180 in the Cynon Valley alone at one time.
I imagine that the central part of the PATAGONIA150 scenography will be a porous architectural composite of four actual chapels from each of the locations, therefore a suitable local site needs to be found ( as well as the main location to stage the show !) . I find the perfect book ‘The Chapels of The Cynon Valley’ by John Vernon Jones and the Cynon Valley History Society, its incredibly detailed with original plans, drawings and photos, including a few original corrugated iron clad chapels, one in particular draws my attention known as Zion Zinc.
Sian has her head in another chapel book and discovers that many of the valley dwellers held weekly gatherings in their homes called Noson Weu/ Knitting assemblies, where friends and neighbours would meet to….knit one , purl one and pray.
Clearly faith played a fundamental part in their lives and the chapel an integral role within society as they offered education and comfort and helped people cope with the tough conditions under which they lived and worked. The Chapels were centres of social and cultural life and through Sunday schools many in the community were educated. Chapels also played a part in fighting the bad behaviour found in the towns. A Temperance Movement was also started to stop drunkenness.
I never new this fact but from 1850 onwards Aberdare became a centre of Welsh language printing. Between 1854 and 1865 many printing presses opened and the town boasted
‘What we think today, Wales will think tomorrow’.
Many learned journals and papers were printed in the town. Most of these publications gave a chapel viewpoint on life and politics. From the late 1860’s the publications became more political, as industrial problems become more important in people’s lives. Around 1900 the printing industry began to decline, because fewer people spoke Welsh and religion was less central to everyday life.
A trip to the museum in Aberdare, and we are welcomed by a ‘Yaba dabAbadare’ from the person behind the front desk, it’s a gem of a place which has a great section on William Hager, a local true pioneer of early silent films and the subject of Good Cop Bad Cop’s wonderful performance ‘Phantom Ride’. It also has a great caffi where we meet up with the writer Roger Williams who will create the ‘script’ for PATAGONIA150′. We had an incredibly fruitful collaboration on our last show Tir Sir Gar, so I’m keen for this relationship to continue. We bombard him with the concept thus far and immediately he suggests great ways of how to shape the narrative.
I would like the typical structure of a Chapel service ( of the Congregationalists kind) to somehow dictate the dramaturgical arch of the piece – It’s the faith that moved them, literally.
To discuss this notion further we meet with the author of
‘The Chapels of the Cynon Valley’, John Vernon Jones who gives us a fascinating insight and breakdown of the chapel infrastructure. I’m particularly interested in the Congregationalists as Michael D Jones was a fervent minister of this particular denomination. Actually, I was also christened as one.
This is how John describes them.
Individual congregations manage their own affairs with church government ( The Congregational Union). Maintains the right of each gathered community of Christians to govern its own affairs and choose its own minister, independent of outside control . Congregations are governed by principles of congregationalism. System of doctrine and ecclesiastical government in which each congregation is autonomous and self- governing, and maintains bonds of faith with other similar local congregations. ‘
This is fascinating and reaffirms my understanding of how the original settlers managed to survive; that the their Congregationalist methodology and its associated infrastructure held them together, influenced and shaped the community that subsequently formed and in fact still exists today.
On our way home, passing through Abercwmboi, we see a huge building in the distance with a three worded sign in familiar red lettering but in a totally incongruous location …it is indeed a sign, we divert, persuade them to let us in and get given a tour of an amazing space… I think we’ve found our final location… Hallelujah!!!!!!