Llanrhystud Church following its rebuilding by Richard Kyrke Penson, 1851-54.
Extract from “Journal of the Ceredigion Antiquarian Society” by Ieuan Gwynedd Jones 1973
For most denominations in most places throughout Wales in modern times capital investment in religion has invariably involved deficit financing. Loans and borrowings, mortgages and an anxious pre-occupation with the flow of money have been the inevitable con-comitants of religious adherence. Debt, when kept within reasonable bounds, has been regarded generally not with distaste but accepted as eminently respectable, at once the indicator of relative success, the cement in the community, and the strongest argument for community survival. Whatever might be the motive to invest, and whatever forms that investment might take, as, for example the decision to build a church or chapel, to rebuild and enlarge an existing one, to add a schoolroom or vestry, install an organ, or beautify the fabric, the commitment once undertaken would be a continuing one, and thereafter come to constitute a primary element in the life of the community concerned. This is true whether the community were church or chapel, for the difference in organization between the two was not, as polemicists on both sides tended to argue, as between voluntarism on the one side and of national endowments supple-mented by legally enforceable systems of local taxation on the other, but of the relative degrees of voluntarism in both. This was increasingly so from the mid-century onwards. By then, the £1,500,000 voted by parliament for the building of new churches in populous places had been used up-Old St Michael’s, Aberystwyth, had benefited from this to the tune of £1,289 in 1832 – and contempor-aneously, the traditional forms of local taxation for ecclesiastical.
A paper read before the Annual General Meeting, 27 April 1974 Mr. J.E.R. Carson, LL.B., in the chair I wish to express my sincerest thanks to Mr. W.A. Carter, Secretary to the Incorporated Church Building Society for making their records available to me, and for permission to reproduce the seating plan and the illustrations of the old and new church.
purposes the-Church Rate-was increasingly coming under attack.1 The established church, as a direct result, was becoming more ‘voluntaryist’ in its outlook, mare dependent than it had ever been before on the philanthropy of its members. Well might Bishop, Ollivant of Llandaff declare in 1854 that ‘There is no Church on earth more dependent on the voluntary principle than the Church of England was’.2 The bishop, of course, was thinking of the situation primarily in his own diocese, where ‘spiritual destitution’ was at its sharpest and the need for church reconstruction greatest. There the situation was of recent growth, for in Llandaff, as in other populous dioceses, the appalling inadequacy of church provision was the product of migration into the mining and manufacturing districts, the over-whelming of old provision by the new potential demands. But there was also another side to the way in which churchmen regarded spiritual destitution and church extension, namely, a still dimly apprehended suspicion that the roots of the trouble lay deeper back in time and in regions untouched by industrial development and urban growth, that is to say, in the deep rural parishes, in the countryside. If the problem in the rapidly expanding towns was a lack of churches, in the countryside it was dilapidation that caused concern, ruined and ruinous churches, cynically-regarded advowsons, over-large parishes endowments diverted from religion, and weary and disillusioned pastors. How to deal with this complex situation posed enormous difficulties: how in fact it was done in one small rural parish is the purpose of this paper.
Llanrhystud’s problem was relatively simple. It was not ‘Spiritual destitution’ in the sense of a lack of provision for religious worship. The four Calvinistic Methodist chapels, the one Baptist, and the parish church between them offered accommodation for nearly 1,400 people-this in a parish of only 1,516.3 To this total the church con-tributed 120, but there is no evidence that this was not considered to be sufficient, and long before the middle of the century the over-whelmingly Methodist character of the parish had been well established and come to be accepted. Nor was the fact that all the church room was appropriated, that is allocated to the exclusive use of named individuals or families leaving only a little free space under the tower for the use of children regarded as a grievance, Llanrhystud’s problem was simply that the church building was in a ruinous condition, dilapidated and depressed. From time to time attempts at repairs has been made, the latest in 1839 when £12 has been spent in an attempt to repair the roof. It may be that the contemporary print of the old church (Plate I) exaggerates the air of romantic decay, but it certainly does suggest that the roof threatened to collapse at any moment, and that large-scale restoration might be necessary. In this Llanrhystud was typical of many parish churches in rural Wales, all crying out for the same remedy.4
The fact that there was no spiritual destitution as such in the parish made the problem not easier to solve but more difficult, for it meant that the parish could not make any claim on ecclesiastical resources centrally administered, such as those of the Church Building Commissioners. The parish was thrown back on its own resources, and the story of what then transpired must be read against a background of a parish strained to the uttermost to provide itself with what the Fifteenth Homily called ‘a convenient place to resort to, and to come together, to praise and magnify God’s holy name’, like unto a house ‘having all things in order, and all corners sweet and clean…well adorned, with places convenient to sit in… kept clean, comely, and sweet’. For Llanrhystud was a relatively poor parish, embarking on the largest, financially the most exacting, undertaking ever contemplated in its long history, at a time when there can have been scarcely any surplus available for common use. Consider for a moment the people or the parish, their numbers, occupations, and probable incomes. In 1851 when the decision to build was taken, they numbered 1,516, of whom 712 were men and 804 women. If we exclude children under twelve years as being too young to contribute substantially to the labour force-though this is a very conservative estimate of the working age, for the census enumerator described the ten year old son of Pentre after as a shepherd-the working population is immediately reduced by 480. Exclude again the aged, say, over 6o years (there were only 13 aged 8o years and over), and you exclude another 125. Deduct the 14 paupers aged 12 years and over, and the so-called ‘poor women’ and we are left with an effective working population of not more than 900 people- that is, men, women and children over twelve and under sixty years of age. The new church would have to be paid for from the surplus production of these.
What were they? What occupations did they follow? How did they support themselves and their children, the widows, orphans end the hopelessly poor? All, with the exception of the 12 mariners and some of the craftsmen employed in building and repairing ships, were either directly or indirectly farmers, rearing live-stock and tilling the land. The largest single occupation group were the farmers: 127 heads of families were thus described. In addition, there were 67 labourers (including agricultural labourers), a groom, a woodsman, a stone-setter, and a shepherd (the ten-year-old boy), all of these living in their own houses and most of them, though not all cultivating small plots of land. The labour force was made up of the families of the farmers themselves, supplemented by a total of 151 resident servants (74 male and 77 female). Scattered about the parish. Though mainly concentrated in the village, were the craftsmen-the black–smiths (9) the saddlers (2), the carpenters (9), masons (8), the glazier, and the painter. There were the trades using the products of the land, like the spinners (7) the wool-carders (3), the tucker, and the stock-inger, There were the makers of clothes, such as the tailors (5), the dressmakers (5), the shoemakers (13). The villages contained three shopkeepers, a butcher a hatter, and a tea-dealer, and in addition there were three inns. Finally, there were ministers of religion, the sexton, and the policeman.5
How well off were they? We can only surmise that they were on the whole pretty poor. Consider the facts from which we can infer an answer. The vast majority of the farmers were tenant farmers. There was only one estate, organized as such, in the parish, and that-Mabws-was only 2,021 acres. S. D. Davies of Moelifor owned about 870 acres, and the Hughes family of Alltlwyd 536 acres. To all intents and purposes there was only one large proprietor, and, judged by county standards, he was of a minor magnitude. What is important to consider is the way in which the 8,491 acres of cultivated and cultivable land was divided out among the farmers. The Tithe Survey of 1841 depicts a parish morcellated into a patchwork of every small farms and holdings. If we take the total area held by farmers of more than ten acres, we find that there were no less than 139 of them, giving an average farm size of about 54 acres. But the bulk of these-84 of them-were well below the average size, in fact, averaging about 29 acres. There were 35 farms of an average size of 68 acres, 14 of 120 acres, 5 of 180 acres, and there was only one farm of more than 250 acres. In addition, there were the smallholdings, more than 40 of them of an average size of 6 acres. These, as we have already observed, belonged to craftsmen, or were held by labourers, agricultural or otherwise, or attached as grazing to the inns. Many or them, no doubt, had originated as ‘tai un-nos’, particularly in the north west of the parish. The pattern of land-owning and of land-holding and usage was, in fact, very similar to that described by Dafydd Jenkins, and I suspect that it would not be difficult to distinguish the various categories of holdings according to his classification.6
Inevitably, for the bulk of the community, this was a subsistence economy. Money would play a relatively minor role in the complicated nexus of economic and social relationships in it. Yet money was a necessary part of the working of the parish. Rents had to be paid in cash, and so did the local taxes. The Poor Rate – the heaviest financial obligation of the parishioners – for the year 1850-51 amounted to £545.9s, raised by four rates or 6d in the pound.7 It is interesting to note that Llanrhystud Mefenydd-the coastal area, including the village and the best agricultural land-was assessed at 9d for one of these rates. The Poor Rate, of course, was administered centrally by the elected Guardians of the Aberystwyth Union, and a proportion of it would have been spent within the parish, for example, main-taining the 31 paupers. Money for other, purely parochial purposes, was raised annually as it had been from time immemorial. Highways not under the control of Turnpike Trusts required to be maintained, bridges kept in repair, the overseers’ expenses covered, and above all, the church and church-yard kept in a state of repair. Repair or the church required its own special rate and it was customary for a special rate of 1d to be raised as and when required. Finally, there was the burden of tithes, which had been commuted for a rent-charge of £620 payable annually, the vicar’s share of this being £170. Thus, local government of one kind and another made considerable financial demands on the parishioners, and one suspects that the extraordinary complicated system of land-holding -the morcellation of farms, the complex renting out of fields to neighbours by even minor farmers- was determined not only by farming needs, but also by the necessity actually to raise cash for these parochial purpose.
It was thus a poor community already pressed for ready money which undertook this relatively enormous commitment to rebuild its parish church. How did the parishioners go about it? The decision was taken by the Vestry, in which the leading figures were the vicar, the two churchwardens, and the leading farmers. The incumbent of the vicarage of Llanrhystud and the rectory of Rhosdie was John Lewis, a native of Llangwyryfon, who had been appointed to the living by its patron, the bishop of St. David’s, in 1834.8 In 1851 he was fifty years of age and lived at Rhiwgoch with his wife, six children, four farm–servants, a dairy maid, and a housemaid -a household, it should be noted, containing as many servants as Mabws. As livings went in Cardiganshire it was rather above the average, being worth £170 a year (excluding other minor sources of income) which was the amount allowed him by the appropriators, the Precentor and Chapter of the cathedral, out of the £620 for which the tithes were commuted.9 As vicar, he was the ecclesiastical ruler of the parish and presided at the vestry meetings. Assisting him were the two wardens, elected annually by the parish, and who were therefore men of quite considerable influence with whom he would have to co-operate closely and without whom nothing of importance concerning the ecclesiastical govern-ment of the parish could be done. In 1851, these were Richard Thomas, one of the village shopkeepers, and Even Herbert of Brynffosydd, a farmer of 6o acres, the farm being rented of the Reverend James Morris.10 These two had been wardens for a number of years and had been responsible for raising and spending a penny rate (which brought in a little more than £9) on the church fairly regularly during that period. The last rate had been raised in March 185l shortly before they had been confirmed in office.11 These ordinary meetings of the parish seem never to have been heavily attended, and it does not appear that the most substantial families put in regular appearances.
The decision to rebuild was taken at a special vestry held on 30 April 1851 when it was ‘unanimously resolved that the present church being in a dilapidated state and not fit to be repaired, it should be pulled down and re-built -and that the Parish should contribute £500 to be raised by a rate during the present year and the remaining Four Houndred Pounds to be borrowed and repaid by annual installments of no less than One Houndred Pounds to be levied on the Parish by rates’. It is interesting to note that a specific sum of £900 is mentioned, and in the absence of further information one must assume that this was based on some kind of estimate of the cost of rebuilding supplied locally, or else was thought to be the greatest sum which the parish could be expected to contribute. The Diocesan Building Society was not formed until 1883 so that there was no local body poseessed of the essential expertise to whom the committee could have turned.12 To get the sum proposed into perspective one has only to recollect that £560 was what was currently being levied for the Poor Rate, so that the parish were committing themselves to a sum equal to the Poor Rate with the additional sum of £110 per annum over a period of four years. At that same meeting John Hughes, Esq., of Alltwyd, the vicar, Mr. Davies, Ffynonhywel, Mr. David Jones, Tregynen, and Mr. Davies, Pentre Mawr, along with the two wardens, were nomin-ated as a Building Committee. John Hughes, as the squire of Alltlwyd, was obviously the most influential person on the committee, and it is likely that it was his drive and generosity which made the rebuilding possible. The absence of any member of the Mabws family is striking: Captain Phillips, the head of the family, was to take a minor part in the closing stages of the proceedings, but initially he appears to have had nothing to do with it. David Jacob Davies, of Pentre Mawr, a farm of 110 acres, was a Llanddeiniol man married to a Llanrhystud woman who appears to have settled in the parish some ten years previously. The important thing to note about him is that he was a Methodist. William Prydderch, the Methodist minister lodged in his house, as did John Roberts, a teacher in the British School. This requires to be stressed as illustrative of the unanimity of the parish with regard to the project, and the readiness of nonconformists to tax themselves heavily in behalf of a church from which they were formally separated. David Jones, of Tregynan Isaf, a farm of 150 acres was a widower aged 64 years who may (on the tenuous evidence of a very common name) have acted as a church-warden in the past.13
This Building Committee now worked very quickly -so quickly that one suspects that much of forward planning had already been done, probably by Mr. Hughes and the vicar, before the meeting of the Vestry. First, the wardens would have petitioned for a faculty to rebuild: these documents have not survived: and for a licence to perform divine service in the school room in the interim. This latter was granted on 24 July.14 Second, fairly firm decisions on the size and type of building to be erected must have been taken, an estimate of the costs, and an architect chosen. It is clear that it was a simple rebuilding that was envisaged: the old church would be taken down and rebuilt substantially in its old form, consisting, as it did, of a nave, chancel, tower, porch and belfry. The architect chosen was Richard Kyrke Penson. This was a very remarkable choice. Thirty five years of age, he had only recently settled in Oswestry after training in London, where he became F.S.A. and F.R.I.B.A., in this following his father, Thomas Penson, F.R.I.B.A., the Wrexham architect. He had already achieved some distinction as a painter, and was a founder-member of the Water-colour Society. Later he was to be responsible for rebuilding many Cardiganshire churches and houses, among them Llanfihangel-y-Creuddyn, Llanilar, the National Schools at Aberystwyth, alterations and additions to Bronwydd, and Llidiardau, the new residence for F. R. Roberts near Aberystwyth. But at this point in his career he was relatively unknown, and it may have been through his father, who was Surveyor for the Central Wales counties, that his name was brought to the attention of the Building committee. The rebuilding of Llanrhystud church un-doubtedly helped to establish his reputation.15 From the beginning, the Building Committee relied a great deal on the Incorporated Church Building Society. Founded in 1818 as ‘The Society for Promoting the Enlargement and Building of Churches and Chapels’, and incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1828,16 it was the premier voluntary Church of England society, one of the three philan-thropic organizations authorized to issue the Queen’s Letters (the successor to the Royal Briefs) in support of its fund-raising activities. In 1851 its resources were strained to the uttermost, and in that very same month when Llanrhystud’s case came before it it was preparing to petition the Queen for permission to issue her Letter directing collections to be made in churches in its behalf.17 Between 1829 and 1851 the Society had made grants totaling 1,835 to Cardiganshire churches, so that its operations were well-known and well-publicized. -Its secretary, the Reverend John Bowdler, was the son of the famous John Bowdler, one of the founders of the Society, and nephew of the even more famous, if not notorious, Thomas Bowdler, whose expurgated edition of Shakespeare had given the phrase ‘to bowdlerize’ to the English language and who had lived for many years before his death at Oystermouth, Swansea. John Bowdler was a typical Evangelical churchman deeply involved in the philanthropic movements of his age, an unbending anti-Tractarian, and an outstanding example of the new ecclesiastical bureaucrat which church reform was producing at that time.18 There were two reasons why the committee should have turned to the Incorporated Society. First, because they hoped for a grant in aid, and second, because the Society could give them expert advice at all stages in what was an undertaking of major importance. Perhaps it was advice that was most needed in the early stages -advice, for instance, as to where to raise a mortgage and on what terms.19
By the end or May Penson had visited Llanrhystud and had sent his plans and estimates to the Society, followed a few days later by a formal application for a grant by the vicar.20 Penson’s plan was for a church in the Decorated style, consisting of nave, chancel, vestry and porch, with a tower, bell-turret and a spire. It was designed to provide seating for 174, all of them appropriated, with additional space for 72 children under the tower. If the vicar’s calculations as recorded in his application were correct, this represented an addition of 54 seats-though according to his second application a year later the old church had contained room for 160, of which 60 were Free. The estimate for the cost of the building and fittings was £1,630, plus the architect’s fee of £80 and £52 for the clerk or the works- a total of £1,762 or £1,732 after deducting £30 as the value of the old materials. Well might the vicar plead for a generous grant from the Society. The total moneys received or promised to date was only £960.- £500 from the rates and £460 in subscriptions-leaving a deficit of £772. Of the money subscribed, John Hughes of Alltlwyd had given £200, the bishop £100, and the remainder in smaller sums collected or given by well-wishers such as the Reverend Sir George Prevost, the eminent Tractarian and friend of Isaac Williams who appears to have been known to John Hughes.21
The Committee of the Society, having studied the plans and con-sidered the correspondence decided on 23 June to make a grant of £50 towards the cost or condition that additional accommodation for 126 persons be obtained including 72 seats for the use of the poor for ever’.22 This was by no means a very generous grant, and the local committee could not have been particularly impressed. The Society, however, were certainly impressed by the case itself and in their Third Quarterly Report they drew attention to it as illustrating perfectly the basic problems or rural religion and the need for sub-stantial aid for such places-more than the current state of their finances permitted. ‘Many of the Churches in Wales are in a much more deplorable condition than any in England, and yet, like those in the latter country, are susceptible of complete restoration. The Church of Llanrhystud – – is now in a very dilapidated state, with the exception of the tower, which is of massive construction’, and indeed the drawings of the old church and the projected new one illustrated vividly both the problem and the possibilities.23 These illustrations and this publicity, however, had quite unexpected results: they came into the hands of two important figures in the church at that time, namely, the Reverend John Allen, Archdeacon of Salop, and the Reverend Isaac Williams, vicar of Stinchcombe, near Dursley. The latter’s concern is understandable. He was a Leading Tractarians, it is true, but on the issue of church-room Tractarians and evangelicals saw more or less eye to eye, and his criticism of the projected building was, first, that it was too small for a parish of 1800 people, and, second, that the rules or the Society were being contravened insofar as all the seats would be appropriated. Isaac Williams had gone so far as to inform the vicar that he would assist them ‘only on the supposition of there being room for the poor and [would] do nothing for them unless this object were provided for’. Coming from the famous son of a Powerful local family -the Williamses of Llanrhystud and Cwmcynfelin- this was a serious blow to the Building Committee, and more importantly reminded the Church Building Society of Rule 8 of their ‘Laws and regulations which stated quite unequivocally that ‘no grant be made unless one half, at least, of the increased area and accommodation proposed, be secured for additional free and unappropriated sittings for ever’.24 The other objection -that of Archdeacon Allen- was perhaps less fundamental but was even more bothersome. John Allen was one of those archetypal mid-Victorian churchmen -of good, landed family, highly educated, extremely well-connected, zealous in all good works, the apotheosis of the new managerial type of archdeacon. He was the personal friend of bishops, poets, writers, architects, politicians and in ecclesiastical affairs, therefore, one whose views could not be ignored, least of all by a philanthropic society so dependent upon the hierarchy for its success. To boot, he was a Welshman, and his objection was to the style of building proposed for the new church- ‘You must know’, he wrote, ‘that I am a Welshman, and miserably dilapidated as I doubt not that Llanrhystyd church is, yet what person with any sense of fitness and local character can view without regret the proposed transformation that your paper depicts so vividly? -cannot the old Tower be retained? -must it be pierced with freestone windows of the newest pattern of sham antique? Why, the proposed restoration appears like the last erection of Turnham Green or some other sub-urban school of the revival of Gothic architecture, instead of being fitted for the bluff position of the old weather-beaten and venerable structure. The prettiness of the ornaments of the wall of the chancel arch and the affectation of buttresses for the support of the new porch seem to be, for such a situation, considering what at present exists absolutely detestable’. Beneath this fine aesthetic rage, of course, were some hard, combustible motives which the Society could least of all afford to neglect and which its secretary would warm to, namely a distrust of the Gothic revival as all expression in stone of Anglo Catholicism, and a concern for prudence in money matters. Preserving the ancient character of Llanrhystud would perhaps (though he did not say this in so many words) preserve the parish from the infection of Llangorwen, and ‘save the outlay of much needless cost ‘ Penson’s design, he added, with more bitterness than charity, would be ‘an enduring monument of [the parishioners’] having more money than wit.
This protest against the destruction of a genuine antique in order to erect a sham antique was not to be ignored, and Bowdler was clearly shaken. With Allen’s permission he sent his letter to an architect in whom the committee of the Society (and Allen) had every confidence – namely, to James P. Harrison, one of the leading ecclesiastical archi-tects of the time, much employed by the Society. Predictably enough, Harrison agreed with Allen. He could see no good reason, when funds permitted, why experiment in building new Welsh churches should not be attempted, but in the case of Llanrhystud he felt that ‘the old Tower.. would feel both indignant and uncomfortable in its English clothes. A pyramidical Tower does not require buttresses and its very form guides the eye with sufficient grace & ease to the point of an ordinary Welsh spire’. The bellcote he thought pretty and appropriate on the old building but pretentious on what was virtually a new and much taller building. There were other criticisms too: the gables did not suit the elevation, and the sides or the porch roof rose above the eaves of the nave, and he was doubtful whether the old church could ever have had a spire. Harrison sent a sketch of his idea for the new church, and when this was forwarded to Allen it was received with rapture -‘a work of real genius’. Unfortunately, this sketch has not survived, and we are left wondering what Llanrhystud would have looked like if Harrison had had his way.26
Copies of this correspondence -without, of course, disclosing their origin- were sent to Penson who, in his characteristically brusque way dismissed them out of hand. Had Harrison known that the floor of the church would have to be raised by at least four feet he would not have gone on about the elevations, and the archdeacon should not let his feelings for things Welsh run away with his judgment.
With the exception of the Bellcott no building [i.e. the existing building] can be poorer in an Ecclesiological sense, and I really cannot persuade myself that one ought to tread In the steps & adopt the uncouth ideas of the rude village masons who built so many of the Welsh Churches when their dilapidated state renders it indispensable to restore them rather than to reconstruct them’. On a more philosophical note he could not agree that while it was generally accepted that a church should reflect the character of a district it should not equally be acceptable that a church should give character to a district. Allen would accept none of this and could see no prospect of agreeing on any point with a man who insisted on pretty details and who was blind to the beauty of Harrison’s sketch. Let Penson read T. (sic) G. Scott’s, Plea for the Faithful Restoration of our English Churches, and in the meantime he would withdraw from the contest.27
In the event, Penson’s designs had to be altered, but not on grounds of aesthetics. It was Isaac Wiliams’s point about free accommodation -with which Allen heartily concurred- which weighed with the Society, and six months later new plans were submitted by Penson. It was substantially the old building but with a South Aisle added in order provide free sitting for an additional 141 adults and 114 children.28 The new church was thus to be double the size of the old one, not at the request of the parishioners, not in response to actual parochial needs, but merely in conformity to currently accepted doctrines in high places. It was increasingly becoming apparent that the original objective of church extension as practiced in the early decades of the century -to remedy spiritual destitution- was being displaced by a mere competitive urge to out-do the dissenters. For the parishioners doubling the size of the church meant a relatively enormous increase in costs. The new church was now to cost an estimated £2,207, plus the architect’s commission, etc., amounting to £160 -a total of £2,367. By March, the vicar had collected promises of £1200 in addition to the £500 to be raised by a rate, so that he was left with a deficiency of £645. In a sense, it was the Church Building Society which had been responsible for this unexpected and un-welcome additional expenditure, and they recognized this by voting a grant of £160. But it is clear also that the parishioners were very perturbed by these developments. and possibly also resentful of the fact that decisions of such fundamental importance were taken without consultation, The Building Committee was thus very vulnerable, and at a vestry in July they solemnly gave a guarantee, carefully recorded in the Minute Book and signed by all four members, that they would not involve the parish in any expenditure on the new church over and above the £500 voted in April 1851. ‘We will’, they declared, protect and indemnify the said Parish for all claims and demands whatsoever which may be made upon it in respect or by reason of the rebuilding of the said Church’. In these circumstances, and bearing in mind that one of the Building Committee was a Methodist deacon, it is not surprising that the good will of the parish should have shown signs of strain. Church rates were ever the Achilles heel of church extension.29
For the time being, however, all was well, and the foundation stone was laid by the vicar on Tuesday, 11 October 1852. The builder chosen by the committee was Thomas Roberts, of Llanstephan, Carmarthenshire, who signed a bond to complete the building by September 1853. There was a penalty attached for non-completion of contract, but as no date had been specified in that particular docu-ment, there would in fact be no means of enforcing it. Nor is it clear that the contract was such as to allow his dismissal by the architect who, of course, was finally responsible for the building. Meanwhile, the vicar was hard at work trying to raise the additional money required. He now acted on the vestry resolution of 30 April 1851 to raise an additional £400 by mortgaging the rates, and a rate of six pence in the pound was voted at a vestry in October to enable them to borrow this sum as soon as possible. The local gentry were also brought into parish affairs more closely: Captain Phillips of Mabws began to attend the parish meetings in November, by which time also the Lloyds of Bronwydd and the Williamses of Cwmcynfelin were being asked to exert their influence.30
The reason for this was three-fold. First, by late summer of 1853 it was becoming obvious that the builder was not going to complete the work by the specified date. By then, some of the Building Committee though not all, had lost confidence in him. This was a very serious matter for the vicar. Not only did they have no church but the raising of funds was made more difficult: in a parish where Anglicans were In a minority it was important not to lose the impetus given by the original enthusiasm. But second, John Hughes of Alltlwyd, the chairman of the committee and the church’s main benefactor, had died.
His death came at the crisis in the rebuilding, for, third, the architect and the builder had fallen out. It is highly improbable that Penson had chosen Thomas Roberts in the first place there are ominous indications that he was the nominee of his friends on the committee. However that may be, by mid-November relations between them had become so bad that Penson had resigned He had already hinted to the Society that this might very Well be the outcome. He had accused Roberts of Certain malpractice’s, of refusing instructions, of acting in defiance of instructions, and of playing off one faction against the other on the Building Committee. The Society, he averred, should support him and the vicar by threatening them with the loss of the grant unless the contractor worked strictly according to the plans and specifications. Roberts should be dismissed immediately. But it was Penson who went. not the builder.31 The vicar was now in desperate straits. Winter was approaching, and the church only half completed: the building was not roofed and work on the spire had been in suspended. He himself had every Confi-dence in Penson and was unwilling to proceed without him, and this was also the opinion of Thomas Lloyd of Bronwydd and Isaac Williams. But this was not the opinion of a majority of the Building Committee: they wanted to choose another architect, or failing that, wanted the Society to choose one of their own architects to arbitrate. Penson’s allegations against Robert’s were quite specific: contrary to instruc-tions he had used timbers for the roof ‘off the ground’ the roof had been up ‘for months’ without a single slate being laid with the result that the stonework within the church was dripping with water; the Bath-stone dressing had not been cased up against damage by the weather and other accidents; materials had either not been ordered on time or been allowed to lie about deteriorating. He had consulted his solicitor on the builder’s contractual responsibility, had given him and the committee due warning, and had resigned (along with the clerk of the works) only when the committee had over-ruled him and instructed Roberts to proceed.32
For his part, Roberts was equally certain that the allegations made against him were unfounded, and on the face of it it is extremely unlikely that he would deliberately defy the one man who could block his periodical payments. His situation was also pretty desperate: he had received no money and had been unable to pay his workmen for three or four months. He made a special visit to London to deliver a plea from the committee for the appointment of another architect, but to no avail, and early in December he wrote to Mr. Bowdler pleading for some action. I have applied to the Llanrhystud Com-mittee for my installment until Mr. Penson Resigned he had the Blame as he Refuse to come to the work now it is the Society for not naming one in his place. . .I am the person who Suffers… Mr. Lewis and Mr. Penson has Refused to send me what fault is on the work I have their Refusal in writing’. Compared with the polished professionalism of Penson there Is an air of puzzled and pathetic innocence about the letters of Roberts, but it is obvious also that the somewhat haughty and cosmopolitan architect had more than met his match in the rustic parishioners of Llanrhystud and the country builder of Llansteph.33
Faced with this deadlock the Church Building Society was forced to act on the request of the committee, and late in December, with the agreement of Penson they invited Henry Kennedy to report on the state of the building. Kennedy was architect to the Bangor Diocesan Building Society, a man eminent in his profession, and acceptable to both sides. He invited Penson to join him in the inspection, and Penson agreed, but at the last minute withdrew on the advice of the vicar who, wisely enough, judged that his presence would be resented and might be made a pretext for refusing to pay their expenses. But he was able to consult Mr. John Lloyd who had been clerk of the works until his resignation in October 1853.34
Kennedy’s Report, dated 27 January was far more encouraging than the Society had been led to expect by Penson. Exposure to the rigours of two winters had not affected the masonry, and the Bath-stone dressing had not cracked. The builder, by Some strange mis-construction of the drawings had inserted only two belfry windows in the tower instead of the four required by the architect, and the corbels under the moulding at the springing of the spire had also been omitted but subsequently inserted so far as he could tell, in a satis-factory manner. The only real criticism he had to make of the masonry concerned the way the spire had been constructed. Evidently stones from the beach had been incorporated at its base, and this, with some doubt as to the quality of the mortar used, and insufficient scaffolding which was not in position when he made his inspection, led him to judge that the spire was probably unsafe. Because the roof timbers had already been stained he was unable to pronounce categorically on their quality, but since they bad been erected under the supervision of the Clerk of the Works he was prepared to pronounce them satisfactory. But some of the roof timbers were deficient in thickness, and he thought the builder should make an allowance for this. He thought the slating was efficiently done, though he drew attention to the fact that the rows had not been marked out very straight and that the ornamental ridges had not been put on with sufficient precision. He had some minor criticisms to make of the plastering, lead flashing and guttering. He refused to arbitrate on the question of the non-com-pletion of the contract within the specified time, ‘ the causes given being so various and contradictory’. As a way out he suggested that since the building was now virtually complete it would be unnecessary to employ an architect to supervise what remained to be done, and that the task should be given ‘a competent, non-professional person (say a respectable builder) residing in the neighborhood’, and that finally a dignitary of the Church should be asked to certify completion.35
This was an eminently satisfactory report, precise in its criticisms, wise in making recommendations which avoided all possibility of recrimination or involvement in parish politics. A copy was sent to the vicar who immediately called a parish meeting. Twenty-four parishioners attended and, with Captain Phillips in the chair, Ken-nedy’s recommendations were accepted. But the vicar’s troubles were by no means at an end, and again money was his main preoccupation. It was now necessary to raise more funds, and it was resolved to borrow an additional £300 at 5 per cent of Mr. David Davies, Rhydias, to be repaid in three annual installments of £100 together with interest. Even with this sum safely accounted for, there would still be a deficiency of £300 exclusive of an estimated £88 for furniture and fittings. More immediately there were Mr. Kennedy’s expenses amounting to £18. 18s which, although reduced from their original £21 in response to the vicar’s desperate importunities, had to be settled without delay. The Society paid his fees, but he utterly refused to allow the settlement of his expenses to wait on the result of a bazaar at Aberystwsyth!
These negotiations were highly embarrassing to the vicar as to all concerned for the sufficient reason that Kennedy’s association with the church was not likely to cease with his inspection. The Society’s rules laid down that any grant voted would become payable only on pro-duction or a completion certificate signed by the architect, and the vicar was in a quandary as to who should now certify in order to gain the grant. Kennedy had suggested that a church dignitary should do so, but as late as August Mr. Bowdler was sticking to the letter of the law and demanding that Penson should do so. With a debt of £350 hanging over him the vicar pleaded with the Society and with in-fluential friends hat Kennedy should be again called upon to sign: ‘I should prefer paying Mr. Kennedy a 2nd visit than that there should be any risk about the grant. I am sufficiently involved already without risking that also. Pray, can you do anything for us among your rich friends -I want at least £350 independently of the grant’. Eventually in October, this was allowed, and Kennedy came down to make another inspection. There were still minor things to complete, and he left the certificate of completion in the hands of Captain Phillips who was to deliver it to the Society when these had been done. Meanwhile, on 19 October 1854, the church was consecrated by the bishop, and a few weeks later the completion Certificate returned. All that now remained was to pay the builder the balance due to him, but alas, there was yet another rule which had to be satisfied before the grant could be paid, namely, the production of a ground plan setting out the location of the free accommodation. By now, the vicar was in a state of distraction: he had no plans; Penson had them; they must write to him. But Penson was seriously ill, and it was late in November before the sitting plan reached the Society [Plate 3], and only after another short and sharp letter from the vicar was the cash forthcoming. With what relief must John Lewis have written out a receipt for £160 on 8 December!36
Only one more thing required to he done, and that was to receive the Society’s plate recording their grant and the conditions under which it was given. Few people now, perhaps, as they read that iron plate on the north wall of the porch, realize what a labour had been involved in the re-building. Behind its iron print, as I have tried to show, lies a story of great effort and considerable sacrifice on the part of a whole parish. Opinions may differ as to the appropriateness of the architectural style of the church; we may side with Allen or with Penson as to the propriety of its spire and its decorative buttresses, Or we may regret that strident arguments about ecclesiological niceties should have silenced the instinctive good taste of an ancient com-munity. But in the end it is not the structure alone that survives to gain our admiration and excite our wonder: rather is it the consistency of effort which was involved and the coherence of a small community in which good neighborliness counted for more than sectarian zeal. Twenty years previously, the building of St Michael’s Chapel, Aberystwyth, had ended in bitterness and denominational strife. Llanrhystud had taken on a far greater burden than the parishioners of that town, and had carried it through with dignity, good-sense and tolerance. Those who laboured in the parish, alike with those who gave them assistance from afar, are long since silent and laid to rest. We who inherit the beauty of their labour can but pay tribute to their faith and dedication.