The growing strength of Nonconformity in Wales, and the dramatic increase in population, especially in the industrial areas, were reflected in the 1851 religious census which recorded almost 80% of worshippers in Wales attending a non-conformist chapel. The 1851 census also recorded more people were employed in industry than in agriculture. Each industrial community had its own cluster of places of worship in the centre of each village or town. The golden age of chapel building in Wales coincided with the country's position at the time as the first major industrial society in the world.
The port of Barry flourished in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, as the south Wales coalfield provided fuel for the navy and supplies to much of Central European industry. Large new chapels and schools were built here; at one time there were over 30 chapels in Barry (including Barry Island) and at least 7 of these were Welsh chapels.
In Barry many of the first chapels to be built were iron corrugated buildings. When the congregation grew and more money became available these were replaced by larger, more permanent buildings, often placing the pulpit on the rear gable, facing the entrance at the front gable. Other integral elements were the unadorned communion table and the seating immediately in front of the pulpit, where the elders or deacons elected by the members sat. A powerful theatrical atmosphere in such a closed auditorium would always be an opportunity for an eloquent preacher.
David Davies was a Calvinistic Methodist, the railway contractor and industrialist who founded Barry’s port and Ocean Company Collieries in the Rhondda. He helped to finance many chapels including Bethel Chapel built in 1872-73 in his home town of Llandinam. In 1903, Davies’s son, Lord Davies of Llandinam, gave a large donation to the Forward Movement who were then able to build The Mission Hall, seating 400 on the ground floor and 300 in the gallery. A school hall was also built with accommodation for 300 and in gratitude for the donation it was named Dinam Hall.
Tabernacle Congregational Chapel was first built in 1890 as a temporary corrugated-iron structure for £380. The two existing Welsh chapels in Barry at the time – Bryn Seion in Cadoxton and Bethesda in Barry – were expanding their congregation as more workers moved to Barry and it was decided that a third chapel was needed somewhere in between, near Barry Docks. The Tabernacle’s congregation also outgrew the iron structure and a new chapel was built in 1894 for £2100. (The corrugated iron structure was sold to Tynewydd Road Congregational Church in Wyndham Street for £120, then moved to Weston Hill in 1900 and later bought by the Barry Amateur Boxing Club.) The architectural style of the new Tabernacle is ‘Sub-Classical’ with a gable-entry type, two storeys and flat-headed leaded windows, and was designed by architects Seward & Thomas of Cardiff.
From 1899 the Rev. Ben Evans was the minister, and during his first 15 years the congregation grew to 393. In 1914 the chapel was modified to seat 400, and extended at the back to create a large space for Sunday School. The pride and joy of the chapel’s interior is the pulpit, carved by Mr John Phillips, milk-seller on Holton Road, whose hobby was wood-carving, and which he gifted to the church.
The Tabernacle closed in December 2019 but the congregation continue to meet at the St Francis Millennium Centre (which was once an Independent chapel). Watch the film to meet some of the members and hear their stories and memories of their time at the Tabernacle.
Barry has a busy programme of annual events ranging from open-air cinema, triathlons, Gwyl Fach y Fro and artist-led events.