Welsh Chapel Book Review

Wales’s Architectural Heritage.

‘For too long Wales has been reluctant to take pride in some of the best examples of its native architecture,’ so says Huw Edwards in his foreword to a new book from Y Lolfa, and the architecture to which he is referring is that of the Welsh Chapel. The truth of his statement is echoed within this lovely book simply called Capeli-Chapels, where every page displays the highly individual and unmistakeably Welsh character of  its Chapels. Though many, in a way, have been eclipsed by modern, secular life, they remain standing, nonetheless, as a powerful testament to the nation’s spirit.

Manchester artist Tim Rushton, travelled Wales, capturing images of a remarkable one hundred and twenty chapels, and has created, in this book, a piece of beautifully conceived heritage art. From the smallest and humblest building to the biggest and most ornate, every one of the sizeable plates capture in their clarity the differences between them, from the subtle to the obvious. Some strike one as being a standard shape of building, but look again and one may see the variations are in the type of doors and the number and shape of the windows, or the designs of the decorative paintwork. Some of them are small, almost cottage like with a pitched roof, and window either side of a central door. We learn from the excellent background notes in the book, provided by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales that this style is the ‘Gable-Entry’ and that others with wide frontages, often  deep-stepped and pillared, may on entering prove to be ‘Long-Wall’ where the pulpit faced crosswise to a wide semi-circle of congregation. We also discover  why the earliest of them is the plainest and that much of the variety is down to the fact that the practising faiths varied : Baptist, Methodist, Unitarian, Moravian, Plymouth Brethren and Quakers and more still. These variations in faith, account for why in any town or small village in Wales there will be more than one chapel where hundreds of people attended at their particular favourite on Sunday.

Not every example of chapels is a beauty, but they are all interesting and there are some stunners in this book. Their importance is not only that they are examples of Welsh native architecture, but that they are a major part of the socio/spiritual history of all the communities in which they are sited.

Capeli-Chapels by Tim Rushton is published by www.ylolfa.com

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