The first visit I made to Baran was in early spring. Coming via Pontardawe, I found the narrow lane called St Illtyd's Walk which climbs the side of Mynydd Carnllechart in a straight line from Rhyd-y-fro in the bottom of the Clydach valley; and I soon crossed the cattle grid that keep the sheep on the open mountain and was up on relatively flat open moorland. I was high above the mining villages of the Tawe valley a couple of miles or so away, and ahead stretched an open vista as far as the Black Mountain to the north. Soon I reached a cross-roads in the middle of nowhere, where the minor road connecting the two Clydach valley crosses Mynydd Carnllechart; and there beyond it, serene in the midst of wildness stood the little cream coloured square box that could only be barn, surrounded like a Celtic llan with the low circular stone wall of its burial ground. A few forlorn and stunted trees stood as sentinels seeking to shelter it against the icy blasts that sweep from the north across these wastes in winter time, bearing freezing rain or snow. That first visit I took a few photographs, but then a huge storm cloud bore rapidly and directly down on the chapel from the north-west. Initially the approaching cloud seemed potentially to be a portent of blessing; but a minute or two later, the heavens opened up with a deluge of hail accompanied by icy winds, and I had to bid a hasty retreat back up the rough track to the metalled roadway and the security of my car.

I've made other visits when the weather was a little kinder. Always the place seems lonely and desolate even on blue sky days, though today the chapel is very well kept, almost certainly because of bequests. Between my first and second visit Baran underwent significant restoration work, the painted plasterwork being hacked off the front of the chapel to return it to its original bare stone appearance. I noted that, unlike many other chapels, the burial ground is well tended, the grass close cropped, and the headstones tidy and upright rather than dropping at disparate angles in a tangle of brambles. On one visit there was actually someone else there, but he had just come to a lonely spot to practice flying small drones. The last occasion I went there I took two American pastor friends of mine to visit it when we were on our way to see Rees Howells' birthplace a few miles to the north in Brynamman. The weather was fine then, and skylarks sang in the heavens above the tiny chapel.


The roots of Baran Chapel go back a long way, for it came out of the early Congregation at Gellionen, on the uplands of the same name which are to be found to the north of Swansea. Gellionen was established as a place of worship as long ago as 1692. Initially the work was strongly associated with the chapel at Cwmllynfell, which lies several miles further north at the bottom edge of the gently sloping southern dip slip of the Black Mountain. But increasing moves towards Arminianism and Unitarianism cause Cwmllynfell to sever its links with Gellionen. Increasing disquiet and nascent division within the remaining congregation finally led to the break away of a group from within Gellionen itself. They were deeply concerned about the growing extent of unorthodoxy in the teaching of the minister Josiah Rees. So, at the very beginning of the new century, the cause which later built the small chapel called Baran a few miles north of Gellionen came into existence, some time before 1805 - that year marking the time the chapel building was actually licensed as a place of worship.

One historian of the chapel, a member of the congregation, writes of the history of the building itself thus:

As for the Chapel itself, when first built it had no gallery and no striking features. It was plain but practical, with two large windows, a high pulpit, a stone floor, box pews and a fire place. A lean-to was the stable which like the Chapel itself had a stone tile roof. At a later date a school room was built, and attached to the rear end of the Chapel which was later used as a vestry and a committee room. It is thought that the gallery was installed in 1830, and in 1894 further renovations were carried out at a cost of £85-10-0 when slates probably replaced the stone tile roof, and the ceiling level was raised. Further improvements were carried out in 1906 when the box pews were removed, and a wooden floor was laid inside the Chapel. For the first time the outer walls were cemented at a total cost of £184-12-0.

The attachment of a school room suggests that Baran Chapel was also used as a place of learning for the children of the local community, a tradition which continued until the opening of the new British School at Rhydyfro in 1844.

The early years after the split from Gellionen must have been very difficult and painful times, something that is testified to by an interesting memorial to be found pinned to the south-facing wall in the burial ground at Baran. It is a piece of inscribed sandstone which refers to two key members of Gellionen who were part of the Trinitarian group who died and were buried at Gellionen just before the split. They were John William Rhydderch, and his son-in-law, Roger Howell. Rhydderch had died in 1784 at the incredible age of 100, meaning that he had probably been at Gellionen for the entire duration of its history up to that point. Rhydderch would have been born in about 1684, and Gellionen was established in 1692. It’s almost as if the members of the new church found it hard to think that the remains of these brothers had been left behind rather than being brought with them, just as the bones of Joseph and Joshua were brought into the Promised Land by the people of Israel and laid to rest there.

Roger Howell's grave and the Prydderch memorial stone
The latter has since been moved to the front of the chapel

The inscription on the stone reads:

A Cenotaph in remembrance of JOHN WILLIAM RHYDDERCH who was born, lived and died at Nantmole, Feb. 14th 1784 at the age of 100 years. And of HOWELL ROGER, son in law to the above, who died April 20 1801 at the age of 84 years, whose bodies lie interred at Gellionen.
Mae cofio y rhai cyfiawn yn fendigedig fyth ond enw y drygionus a bydra yn ein plot am hynny byddwn ddiwyd Tra'r bywyd yn parhai i mofyn am yr alwad Mae angau'r agoshau

[transl: 'Bessed it is to remember the righteous, but even the name of the wicked shall be forgotten. As long as we live, we shall diligently hold to our calling, for death is approaching.']

After leaving Gellionen, the Trinitarians, under the leadership of another Roger Howell of Nantymoel, worshipped for a few years at Llwyn Ifan and Nantymol farms, in the Lower Clydach Valley before they built their simple barn-like chapel called Paran on the mountainside above Nantymoel. (Incidentally, the form Baran is a Welsh mutation of Paran because the full name of the place was Capel y Baran - the Welsh vowel 'y' requiring the mutation).

A plaque inside the chapel in Welsh reads:

'Baran Meeting House, Nantmol, erected in the year of our Lord 1805, from donations of the members and others under the supervision of Evan Hopkin, Penlanne and their Minister the Reverend Roger Howell; given on a lease for 999 years by John Howell at 5 shillings a year, to commence at the beginning of the holiday of the (angel) of the same year. Masons William Evan / William Jenkin. Sculptured by Evan William'. 

The Ministry of Roger Howell

Roger Howell (1774-1843) was the son of John Howell Roger of Nantymol Uchaf (1743-1809) and Rebecca Jones of Baglan, the grandson of Howell Roger (1717-1801), and the great grandson of Roger Howell, the one-time minister of Gellionen (from 1712 to 1742) and of Cwmllynfell. He is described by Thomas Rees as being ‘notably handsome, of normal stature, of light colour, & with kind & cheerful look.’ He began preaching while still a member at Gellionen; and then studied for a time in Swansea before going to theological college in Carmarthen in about 1795. In 1804 he married Sarah Elizabeth Price of Penyfan, Llanelli. They went on to have six godly children, of whom two died in infancy.

Nantymoel Uchaf

At the age of 31, he was appointed the first minister at Baran and served in that role for 38 years. He is said to have been one of the best theologians of his day in South Wales, and had some renown in the wider local area as a teacher of biblical truth, though he is said by some not to have been a particularly great preacher. He did succeed in having great influence in the region round about, as the following paragraph about Roger Howell from a brief history of the chapel written for its bicentenary celebration indicates:

His fame as a preacher spread far and wide, and worshippers flocked to Baran Chapel from every direction. They came from such diverse communities as Cwm Gerdinen, Llandremoruchaf, Llwyngwenno, Penwaunfach, Cynghordy Fach, Cefn Parc, Llwyndomen, Craig Trebannws, Alltwen, Clydach, Hendregaradog, Ynysmeudwy, Pentwyn, Blaenegel and Betws to mention just a few. It must have been quite a sight to see people in their Sunday best and Bible black attire, crisscrossing the mountain landscape on foot, on horseback or by whichever means possible in order to attend a service at Baran Chapel. Indeed, the membership swelled to such a degree, that the Chapel was becoming too small for its rapidly growing congregation, and in order to accommodate everybody during this initial period of expansion, Baran Chapel was extended in 1830 when as previously noted, the gallery was installed.

A Training Centre

Perhaps Roger Howell's greatest achievement was in the realm of training. He established a free school for children and a training school for the ministry high on the mountainside at Baran, which prepared many young men from the surrounding district for the ministry. Initially, the teaching of these disciples took place in the home of Roger Howells at Nantymoel farm, just down off the upland on which the chapel is situated, in a more sheltered spot on the upper slopes of the Upper Clydach valley. This proved too small and inconvenient after a short while, and the small lean-to was constructed at the back of the chapel for use as the school. It can still be seen there today, though it no longer has just a beaten earth floor!

The young men Roger Howells trained at Baran went on to lead churches across a wide area, extending across the whole of Glamorgan and the neighbouring counties of Carmarthenshire and Breconshire. One of them would even plant a Welsh church in Pennsylvania, USA. The setting up of this training school shows Howell to be a man of both passion and vision, who was determined to do what he could to extend the kingdom of God. In a relatively isolated place like the mountainous area around Baran with its attendant harsh and basic way of life, it would have been very easy to become isolationist, and at best as a church leader simply to serve the spiritual needs of the local area.

Baran in its wilderness

The Amazing Revival of 1828

Revival broke out powerfully in Carmarthenshire in 1828, starting at Caio and spreading eastwards to the area around Llandovery, and into Breconshire and Glamorgan. The revival was brought over The Black Mountain from the north into west Glamorganshire via an Association of the Independents at Cwmaman, not far from Cwmllynfell. At this gathering of the churches, many were heard to cry out ‘What must I do to be saved?’ The Revival continued in Cwmaman for two years. Often after Christian gatherings, people could be heard making their way home singing and rejoicing in the grace and favour of God.
W.M. Davis, the minister of Salem Chapel Llandovery wrote the following description of the effect of the revival:

Upwards of thirty-five churches of the Independent Denomination, in the eastern part of Carmarthen, and the adjoin­ing parts of Glamorgan and Breconshire, have, during this year, been graciously vi­sited, beyond common, by the divine in­fluences and very copious effusions of the Holy Spirit. A moderate calculation has been made of the number of new members added to the above churches since February last, which amounts to upwards of three thousand hopeful converts; and seldom have we a society without reason for rejoicing at the happiness of new converts, and have as yet little or no occasion to lament the unhappiness of their walking unworthy of their profession. Several places of worship are now become too small by far to accommodate our increasing congregations. For several months previous, our Sunday-schools, and public and private meetings, were numerous and very well attended; the style of preaching was generally pointed; our elders aimed at unanimity, and church disci­pline was not neglected. Many, in different stages and periods of life, particularly the rising generation, are brought to the knowledge of the truth, and are promising to be­come useful in the Redeemer’s kingdom, in their day and generation.

William Griffiths, the Apostle of Gower wrote the following description:

It is much like a great river overflowing all its banks, or a mighty cloud full of rain & the shower falling more general & copious, than any thing ever remembered before in those parts – It first began in Cayo & Kilcwm, but is now spread to more than 20 different societies, and over more than 40 miles of the country between Carmarthenshire & Breconshire – most all these societies have received very large additions of new members, since the commencement of it about 4 months ago – by a rough calculation from one of our preachers, I understood that the number between all the societies, already amounts to about 2500 – It is also in some districts as powerful with other denominations – the whole country where this is going on is wonderfully altered, – the people appear serious, with a degree of solemn cheerfulness & meekness, wherever you meet them – The children are converted by scores – & are anxious themselves to attend all the means of grace – hundreds of them weep under the word – most of the young people of both sexes have joined the societies & are very tender hearted, few of them can hear a sermon to the end without being overpowered with their feelings – many of the old professors have been wonderfully refreshed – & most of the places have very frequently of late been filled with shouts of praise for hours together –’

It was on Christmas Day 1828 that the Revival broke out at Neath, and impacted the whole area. Over 2,000 people were added to the churches in that region, which would have included Baran Chapel, just a few miles away to the west.

Thomas Rees estimates that overall some 30,000 members were added to the four main denominations in Wales during that time. Proportionally that is equivalent to the number of people saved in the 1859 and the 1904-5 Revival.

Baran and the area around were among those greatly impacted by this Revival which continued for over two years. By 1830, as a result of the revival, Baran chapel had become too small and it was necessary to enlarge it. They must have been remarkable times, and were the high point in the chapel’s story. The growth that resulted positioned the chapel to begin to have influence beyond its immediate area, even to the extent of the planting of a church in North America from the congregation.

Church Planting in the Valley

It was as a result of this amazing revival that prayer meetings were begun in the village of Rhyd-y-Fro down in the Upper Clydach Valley, about two miles south-east of Baran itself. There had been a number of believers living in the village for generations, who had worshipped at Gellionen and later at Baran.
A man named Will Hopkin came to the area at the time of the 1828 outpouring. He was God’s man in God’s time, for he formed a prayer meeting in his home to which many others in the village gathered. They would pray together in homes in the week, and walk up the mountain to worship at crowded Baran on Sundays.

Baran was so full that it became necessary to hold preaching meetings in Rhyd-y-fro itself every Sunday evening. It also provided an excellent training ground for some of the young preachers being trained up at Baran. However, when a number of the group a short while later emigrated to America, the prayer meetings in the village lost their impetus and almost died out. Nevertheless, a seed had been sown.

Then in 1832, another faithful believer called Dafydd Jones came to live at Gellionen Mill. It was as if God saw the need and sent a man to ensure that the work that had been started in the place would continue. Jones not only revived the prayer meetings, but also started a Sunday School in the village especially for the young, but for older folk as well. This grew with the result that the number of home-based prayer groups multiplied, and the vision to establish a church in the village intensified. This finally happened in 1844, just after the death of Roger Howell, with 40 members of Baran ultimately leaving to establish the new work in the valley under the leadership of Rhys Pryse (1807-1869) who was also the minister of Cwmllynfell. The old chapel of Saron was built in that year. The work rapidly grew after the building of the first chapel and reached a membership of 100 in just a few years. It was replaced by a much bigger chapel on the other side of the road in the early twentieth century.

Old Saron, Rhyd-y-fro

Rhys Pryse, originally from Llangammarch Wells in Mid Wales, became the minister at Cwmllynfell in 1835, and served the churches in the area for 34 years. When he died in 1865 at relatively young age of 58, the ministry of Rhyd-y-fro was combined with that of Gwyrhyd Chapel, another small Independent church high on the mountain ridge above, a little further to the north. In fact the situation of Gwrhyd is one very similar to that of Baran. It's another chapel on a mountain wilderness the other side of Cwm Clydach, though it was formed very late in 1856 by 35 members of Carmel, Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen who lived relatively nearby in the upland area, Carmel being down towards the Amman valley. Numbers were subsequently added from Cwmllynfell and Pant-teg so that the membership grew to about a hundred. Gwyrhyd and Rhyd-y-fro remained under the same ministry for most of the rest of that century.

Church Planting in Pennsylvania

Just after the revival which broke out in 1828 had run its course, in 1831 a Welshman from the locality of Baran called David Williams, who had emigrated to Pennsylvania in about 1824, returned home to the area. He spoke to many of his wider family and friends about his life in the former colonies, saying that was much better than the one they lived back home in western Glamorgan. He persuaded many to return with him, including his widowed mother and his two brothers.

There was thus a mass migration to Pennsylvania in 1831 of fifty-three adults, most of them members of the congregation at Baran, together with thirty-three children. They made the two month journey from Swansea in a small brig called the Elizabeth Clark, captained by one Robert Adler. Having left Swansea on 10th September 1831, they arrived in New York on 5th November. From there they travelled up the Hudson River and via the recently opened Delaware and Hudson Canal into Pennsylvania and through the Pocono Mountains, completing their journey from Honesdale on horse-drawn sleighs. Many of them settled in Bradford County, forming a Welsh settlement; and immediately established a church they called Neath in the township of Pike.

The initial membership of the church at Pike was about twenty, and they held their first meetings in log houses and barns. The first church and schoolhouse were built In 1833, and another larger building in 1848. This building still survives, though the present structure was put up in 1872.

The first minister of Neath Welsh Church was the young and unmarried 23 year old Rev. Daniel Jones, who had travelled out with the migrants. Daniel Jones was originally from Pentwyn Farm in Llangwig, which is high up on the Garth Mountain. It is no more than a ruin today. Jones later returned home to marry Mary Williams at Llangyfelach church in December 1832. Then he sailed back across the Atlantic to Pike, Pennsylvania with his new bride to continue to serve the church there. Sadly, he died in 1849 at the young age of 42, his bride later remarrying.

Roger Howell Honoured

Of Roger Howell himself, Thomas Rees writes;

Because of his manner, he was uncommonly loving & gentle, & because of his behaviour there was no man more gentlemanly & unassuming walking the earth. Although he was a landowner, comparatively wealthy, & better educated than nineteen out of every twenty preachers of his era, he was as humble & unpretentious as the lowliest amongst his brothers. He did not possess popular talents as a preacher, but his sermons were always full of sense & educational material for his listeners. His generosity & hospitality were proverbial. He, his wife & children were always ready to welcome strangers, & their luggage house was a wayfarers lodging for tens of years. He extended hundreds of pieces of money to the hands of his pauper brothers in the ministry when they passed by him on their journeys. He kept school throughout his life, not because his circumstances made him do this, but because the beauty of his life was to impart learning to children & youngsters. He gave free education to scores of children of the locality, & some tens of young preachers took their education from him. 

Rees also wrote an honouring testimony to the peaceable character of the church which he felt derived from the nature of its first minister:

Mr. Howell, the first minister, & one of the founders of the cause, left the impression of his gentle & loving manner on this church, as no discord or disturbance was ever heard here. The same Christian mood continues to rule here while stone upon stone of the building stands & men assemble in the place.

Roger Howell died at the age of 69 from what sounds like a brain haemorrhage. His ministry was effective so that by 1841 the membership of the chapel was a not inconsiderable 181 adults.

The repositioned Rhydderch memorial

The now extremely eroded inscription on his grave apparently once read:

In memory of the Rev. Roger Howell, Nantmole in this parish and was Minister at this place upwards of 38 years, died April 29th 1843 aged 69 years.
Byw i mi yw Christ a marw sydd elw. (For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain; Philippians 1:21)
Also Sarah Elizabeth relict of the above Rvr. Howell died June 17 1844 aged 70 years.
I have fought the good fight.

A year after Roger Howell's death in 1844, his surviving wife Sarah also died and was buried with him.

The combined effect of the death of Roger Howell and the church's vigorous church planting activities had the effect of greatly weakening the mother church, and it is probably the case that the heyday of the chapel came to an end soon after the midpoint of the century.

Roger Howell's Successors

At the onset of his last and fatal illness, as it's impact gradually wrested effectiveness from his ministry, the leaders of the chapel invited Rhys Pryse minister of Cwnllynfell to come alongside to assist their leader, which he did. He continued to lead the work after the great man's death until 1844, when he went gave up Baran in order to lead the work of the daughter church at Rhyd-y-fro. He seems from census entries to have lived at Corsto, a small community which once existed on the western edge of Gwaun Cae Gurwen. 

Rhys Pryse was replaced at Baran by Carmarthenshire born John Davies (1806-1886), who had responsibility for Cwmaman up to that time, and he continued for a few years to look after both. Clearly, Baran, with it's membership largely made up of poor upland farmers, was unable to afford a full-time minister of their own. John Davies served here faithfully for 15 years until he was called to lead the work at Ammanford in 1859. 

The next minister at Baran was Thomas Davies who was from Morriston. He served here from 1859 until 1888, and it was under his ministry that a further church plant took place at Craig-y-Parc in the 1860's.

The Chapel in the Valley

In the mid-nineteenth century there was a huge shift of focus in South Wales in economic and social terms as industrialisation gathered pace, and the coalfields were opened up. Effectively it transformed the whole area from a rural one into an urban one, and shifted the population more and more into the narrow ribbon-like valleys of the upland areas. It meant that chapels like Baran up on the ancient mountain roads and trackways became increasingly isolated, even though they were not that far away from the new centres of population that sprang up in the Tawe valley.

People were no longer prepared to walk miles up the mountain to Baran in the days of heavy industry when the working week was no longer sufficiently flexible to allow it. Instead, numerous new chapels were started by all the denominations in places like Clydach, Trebanos, and Pontardawe.

The renewed front of Baran with its unusual external stairway

Baran did its bit during this period of development by planting Pant-y-Crwys Chapel at Rhyd-y-gwin just north of Clydach in the lower reaches of the Lower Clydach Valley in 1866. A Sunday School had been started here as early as 1842, which met in a private home known as the Mount. It was the only provision for education in the valley at that time. A building for worship was put up twenty years later in 1862, and the first communion, establishing the separate church work here, was in 1868, making it no longer necessary for the people of the lower part of the Upper Clydach to walk to Baran or Rhyd-y-fro, or Clydach itself to worship. 

The first minister there for the first four years of the church's existence was Thomas Davies of Baran Chapel, who was also responsible for Horeb in Morriston. By 1872 the membership here had risen to 50, at a time when the population of the community consisted of 119 families and 657 people, and membership had reached 110 by 1880. The present chapel building was put up there in 1896.


Baran in the Late 19th Century

Meanwhile, the work at Baran itself was increasingly being centred on a smaller loyal following from the farms of the more immediate upland area around Baran and the upper reaches of the Lower Clydach stream.

After Thomas Davies left in 1888, the next minister appointed was John Henry Davies, the minister of Alltwen near Pontardawe. He was known as Davies Bach, presumably because of his size; but also as Davies Haleliwia, presumably because of his enthusiasm while preaching. He served the church faithfully until 1916.

Murder Most Foul

In February 1908 the chapel was overwhelmed by the death by murder of one of its younger members in a case which grabbed the headlines all over the country for several weeks. Sarah Elizabeth Roberts was a bright and intelligent 24 year old daughter of John and Mary Jane Roberts. Her mother, Mary Jane, was a descendent of Roger Howells who now lived at Talgarth in Breconshire. Sarah, had been brought up by her uncle and aunt, Mr & Mrs Thomas and Sarah Elizabeth Owen of Brynwith, the farm close to Baran. Thomas Owen was by now an old man in his seventies. Sarah was engaged to be married to Isaac Jones of Cynghordy in Llangyfelach, a few miles south of Baran. However, Sarah had another admirer who lived relatively close by on a farm just off the northern slope of Mynydd Carnllechart, at Nantygwyn farm. He was 25 year old John Thomas, otherwise known as John Nantygwyn, the son of Henry Thomas, a farmer and butcher. John Thomas was described in the press as 'a typical son of the soil - short, but of stout build, whitish complexion, and sandy-haired.' though he had an unfortunate appearance due to the smallness of his eyes, and their expression. Thomas had been spurned by Sarah, whose engagement put her behind his reach. Nevertheless, driven by jealousy, he still tried to pursue her. 

Newspaper drawing of John Thomas

On a day in February, John Thomas was returning home from the market in Alltwen. He had a bunch of grapes he had bought and was determined to give them to Sarah. He arrived at Brynwith and presented them to her with pleadings, but she declined his advances, saying he should stop trying to see her as she was already engaged to be married. Enraged, Thomas left, and walked the half mile or so to Nantygwin. An hour or so later at around six o'clock he arrived back at Brynwith with a loaded double-barrelled shotgun. It was pitch dark. Breaking in to the house through a window, he confronted Sarah and fired at her at point blank range, fatally injuring her in that arm and chest. She managed to crawl from the room out into the farm yard trying to escape the second barrel, when her aunt and uncle confronted the armed lad. Thomas Owen wrestled the gun from him as his wife belaboured him and managed to wrest the gun from his grip, and unloaded it. Mrs Owen then ran out into the yard and found Sarah lying on the ground, bleeding profusely. It was John Thomas who carried the dying girl back into the house before leaving. He was later arrested.

Looking up towards Brynwith from the north.
Baran lies beyond it.

A few days later, on 13th February, her situation deemed from the start to be hopeless, Sarah died. John Thomas was charged with her murder. Sarah's funeral took place five days later on the 18th at Baran Chapel. Predictably  the weather was bad. Despite the remoteness of the place and the terrible weather, it was attended by a crowd estimated to be 2,000 strong. The funeral was taken by Baran's minster John Henry Davies. A reporter describing the scene wrote:

A gale blew across the mountain, causing a continual and monotonous wail and moan. The sadness of the occasion, the melancholy surroundings, and the sorrowful appearance on every countenance were all in unison with one another. 

Sarah's grave can be seen in Baran burial ground today. Her uncle Thomas Owen was laid to rest in the same grave when he died in 1921 aged 84, and his widow, also called Sarah died in 1930 aged 86, and was also buried there. Sarah's murder must have been a great and demoralising blow to the church. 

The grave of Sarah Roberts

Death in the Snow

Sadly, Baran's minister John Henry Davies  himself died in tragic circumstances when he was seventy years of age, while he was returning home form a weekend's preaching at Baran early in1916, having stayed overnight with Thomas and Sarah Owen at Brynwith. The following newspaper report announced his death:


We regret to record the death which took place under tragic circumstances on Monday, of the Rev. James H. Davies, who had acted as pastor of Baran Chapel, Baran Mountain, near Pontardawe, for the past 25 years. Deceased who was about 70 years of age preached at Baran on Sunday, and spent the week-end as the guest of Mr and Mrs. Herbert Roberts, at Brynwith farm. On Monday morning the deceased got up as usual and appeared to be quite well. After partaking of breakfast, he left the farm, and went in the direction of Bettws for the purpose of catching a train at Ammanford to take him to his home at Llanelly. Nothing further was heard of him at Brynwith until about two o'clock, when the news came that the rev. gentleman had been found dead on the roadside above Penlanau Farm by Mr. Jones, of the latter farm. Dr. Dahne was sent for, and examined the body. Death is believed to be due to heart failure. It will be remembered that the weather on Monday was exceedingly cold and rough, and these conditions probably accelerated death. Deceased who was greatly devoted to the church at Baran, had lived at Alltwen for several years. He leaves a widow and two children. The inquest was held at Baran Chapel on Wednesday. 

James H Davies

The story reveals how difficult it must have been to serve and maintain the chapel at Baran throughout the century since it was established because of the remoteness and in winter, at least, the harshness of its situation. In the summer, or when it is fine, the area around Baran is very beautiful, but in winter or in stormy weather, it's an entirely different story. Brynwith was one of the more exposed homes on the mountain that fiercely brave the elements. Today it is surrounded by a screen of trees to provide some sort of windbreak. Penlanau, near which James H Davies was found, is likewise in a very exposed position. The visiting ministers of the time after Roger Howell would have had to brave the elements in reaching Baran, staying overnight before and after the Sunday meetings, at one of the farms closest to the chapel - Brynwith being the closest of all, just a quarter mile away. It was a walk of several miles that James H Davies was undertaking to the railway station at Bettws that winter morning that he died, on the roadside, just above Penlanau Farm, about two miles from Brynwith. It is to his credit and that of the others mentioned here, that most of them served faithfully served here for many years each.

Baran looking rather run down - 20th c
What was the schoolhouse can clearly be seen.

Up to Date

After the Great War, a number of ministers served Baran for a while. The following two men are mentioned in a recent brief Welsh history of the chapel:

John R Price of Rhyd-y-fro chapel served Baran for fourteen years. He was originally born in Aberdare in 1872. He served Baran from 1917 until his health failed when he was 45 years old. That brings us down to 1931. For the next nine years the church was without a minister. Then in 1940 a John Thomas James was  responsible for the care of Baran as a frequently visiting lay minister. He had first preached at Baran in 1914, when John Henry Davies was the minister. He was ordained at Baran in 1940 when he was 54 years old, and served faithfully down to 1963, when he died suddenly at the age of 77. He had served Baran for a period of 23 years, and was greatly loved and appreciated by the congregation.

James R Price

After that in 1964, Henry Jones, Danygraig served the church as minister for ten years until he died. He is remembered affectionately as a warm and caring shepherd of the flock. 

The following picture showing the chapel with the people was probably taken during the time John Price was the minister. I think it could be him standing in the middle, just to the right of the doorway: 

The church has been without a minister since, relying on visiting preachers and the faithfulness of its deacons and members to keep going, like so many works in Wales today. Today there is just a small handful who worship here, at the last count at the time of the chapel's bicentenary ten years ago in 2005 they numbered just nine. However, on special occasions the number is swelled by those many supporters who take an interest in the work. Though its membership is tiny the chapel recently underwent a complete renovation which included the removal of the exterior plaster from the front of the building, which had been added in 1905, returning the chapel to its former appearance. However, you wonder how much longer the place will be able to keep functioning, and what will happen to it in the near distant future.


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