Fire Down Below

In which The Author revisits an old building

Yesterday afternoon, scrolling through Facebook as usual, I spotted a rather worrying status and photo on a friend’s timeline. Smoke was billowing from Ebenezer Chapel in Trecynon, two minutes’ walk from my house.
For once, it seemed as though our area’s familiar torrential rain might have had an unexpected benefit. I assume that the building had been too wet for the fire to take hold properly. Also, it was mid-afternoon, a time when the streets are busy with families pouring out of Park School. The blaze wouldn’t have gone unnoticed for long, and I imagine that the fire service were on the scene fairly promptly. More heavy rain overnight would have helped to quench any last smouldering timbers.
Out of interest, I walked past the chapel this morning. There was a strong smell of smoke in the air, but it seems as though remarkably little damage occurred yesterday. The wrought iron entrance gates were open, and I took the opportunity to go into the courtyard. One of the windows at the front was broken, and I managed to grab a couple of photos of the interior. The door to one side was ajar, but I didn’t venture inside – I’ve seen far too many episodes of Casualty to dare to enter an unsafe building.

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I referred to the already sorry state of Ebenezer Chapel a few months ago, in Last Chance to See…? At the time, the exterior was even more dilapidated than my original photos suggested. Bits of timber were piled up outside the frontage, and some of the windows were broken. I expect the building will be surveyed to assess the integrity of the structure. I’ve got a fair idea what will happen after that, too. It’ll probably go the same way as the many Workmen’s Halls I listed in that entry: pulled down after a mysterious (if convenient) fire.
Ebenezer was established in 1811, which makes it one of the oldest chapels in the Cynon Valley. The existing building was built in 1829, renovated in 1852, and substantially refurbished in 1902. This last wave of building work gave it a grand façade, quite unlike the majority of austere chapels which punctuated the streets of our valley and its neighbours.
Photo by Tom Bevan
Photo by Tom Bevan
It’s important to me because this was where we held our Xmas Carol Service when I was in Comin Junior School, and for a couple of years when I was in the Boys’ Comprehensive School. Rather unexpectedly for an incipient atheist, I always enjoyed the carol service. I loved the annual visit to Ebenezer, which was a chance to see the huge interior, with its beautifully carved timbers, ornate ceiling, the pews ranged in rows downstairs and tightly-packed tiers upstairs. With a seating capacity of eight hundred, it was little surprise that the Boys’ School used it for their services too. It also had a mighty organ (794 pipes, two manuals), which my friend Richard D. once played with considerable skill during a carol service.
I remember a service during which one of the lessons was read by Mervyn Prowle, an Old Labour Party stalwart from Trecynon. By a twist of fate, his passage included the words ‘He will be called wonderful counsellor’. Dad and I adopted that saying, and whenever Mervyn’s name came up in conversation, he was referred to as ‘Wonderful Councillor’.
I’m not a religious man, as my regular readers already know, but I do love architecture and local heritage. If Ebenezer goes the same way as so many of the historic buildings of the Cynon Valley, it will be much more than just another act of industrial vandalism. It will sever another connection with my childhood, and leave a gap in the landscape like a missing tooth in the face of an old friend.

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One thought on “Fire Down Below”

  1. I am not religious whatsoever and I loved the carol service too. I missed the girls school one in St Elvans, 1991 as I was giving birth ha ha! Plus I live in a grade ii listed chapel. There is so much history and wonder about these buildings, it is sad to see them slowly dis-appearing (or indeed, burning to the ground)

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