THE BEULAH STORY, 1849-2000
Beulah began 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.
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. The
returns listed under Whitchurch Parish include:
Space: free 60; standing 40.
Present: aft. 80; even. 60.
Average (12 months): aft. 80; even. 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
(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.
John Jones 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.
In 1858-9 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 local citizen.
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.
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.
The 1904-05 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.
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
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 Revd 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 of Nations.
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 Birchgrove.
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.
Beulah’s next 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
Mrs Lilian 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
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 over Cardiff.
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.
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 overseas.
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
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 capacity.
In 1990, two members of the Beulah church family were ordained and inducted to
the ministry: Gethin Rhys at Brecon and Philip Webb at Blackburn.
A new 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
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.
As the 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 Rhiwbina community.
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. As this brings us to the start not
only of the twenty-first century but also of a new and on-going chapter in the
story of Beulah, it seems an appropriate point at which to pause, for now.