By Islwyn Davies, 1999/2000
The article that follows is not intended to be a full and complete history of the Baran chapel, but it contains my views on some aspects of the early history of the chapel and also information gathered of the area whilst pursuing family and local history.
The Baran chapel is situated on a windy exposed hillside in the upper reaches of the Lower Clydach river valley in what was once part of the parish of Llangyfelach. Nearby one finds the derelict farm Brynchwyth formerly Tywyth, testifying to the windiness of the area. One finds Brynchwyth also written as Brynchwith but chwyth meaning 'wind' rather than chwith meaning 'left' is far more appropriate
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the dissenting Non-conformists living west of the river Tawe in the parishes of Llangyfelach and Llangiwg, in what was and still is mainly an upland agricultural area , would have worshipped either at Mynyddbach, Gellionnen or Cwmllynfell chapels. Towards the end of the 18th century a split occurred at Gellionnen chapel. The members that stayed at Gellionnen became Unitarian under their minister Rev. Josiah Rees and his son Rev. Thomas Rees.
Members that broke away became Trinitarian under the Rev. Roger Howell and formed the Baran chapel in 1805.
- the name did not exist locally prior to establishing the chapel.
An article appeared some years ago in the Swansea Valley Local History Society newsletter, which gave credence to the name having been derived from Diana, Lady Barham (1763-1823). This information subsequently found its way into the Evening Post. Whilst Lady Barham was a benefactor in establishing chapels in the Gower in the 19th. century (6 in number) there is also a Barham chapel at Cendl (I believe the old Welsh name for Beaufort near Ebbw Vale). No proof however has surfaced of any connection between the name Baran and Lady Barham. The two names Baran and Barham merely sound the same. Moreover, Lady Barham, a peeress in her own right, did not move from London to the Gower until 1813 thus dispelling the connection theory. Lady Barham died at Fairyhill in 1823.
The Barham Independent Chapel (built in 1857) at Cendl worshipped in the English language and was actually named Barham through a family connection of one of the members to Lady Barham.
"Galwyd ef Barham Chapel, o barch i'r Arglwyddes Barham, merch yr hon, sef Mrs. Thompson, a'i phriod Mr. Thomas Thompson, oedd y rhai blaenaf ar res y tanysgrifwyr at yr adeiladaeth. Rhoddasant hwy hanner can gini i gychwyn"
The six chapels built on the Gower peninsula would also probably have worshipped in English.
The meaning of 'Baran'
To establish the root and meaning of 'Baran' one should consider the following :-
On a stone plaque inside the Baran chapel one sees:'Ty cwrdd Baran, Nantmol, wedi ei adeiladu yn y flwyddyn a oed ein Harglwydd 1805 a hael rhoddion y gyn'lleidfa hon ac eraill o dan edrychiad Evan Hopkin Penlanne a'r parchedig Roger Howell , Gweinidog ar les o fil ond un wedi ei rhoi gan John Howell am goron y flwyddyn ac i ddechrau'r gwyl angel yn yr un flwyddyn. Maesyniaid William Evan / William Jenkin. Wedi gerfio gan Evan William'
'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 early history of the Non-Conformist Independent Chapels of Wales is to be found in HANES EGLWYSI ANNIBYNNOL CYMRU Vols 1-4 by Reverend Dr. Thomas Rees D.D. Swansea and the Reverend Dr. John Thomas D.D. Liverpool.
In 1891 the Rev. Dr. John Thomas D.D. updated the history and in Volume 5 we find under Baran -"Paran, mae yn debyg yw enw y capel hwn yn briodol, ond Baran y gelwir ef gan bawb".
(It's likely that Paran is the proper name for the chapel but everyone calls it Baran)
I do not know where the Rev. Dr. John Thomas D.D. had the information that Paran was the original name, but he had travelled widely throughout Wales. Local knowledge of the Baran area would have come from his stepson, the Rev. Esau Owen, Minister at Hebron Chapel, Clydach, for over 40 years in the 2nd half of the 19th century.
One could give many reasons why Paran could be considered to be the proper name:
Paran is a name out of the Old Testament, an area in the Eastern part of the Sinai desert. Many if not most of our chapels are named after towns or mountains mentioned in the Bible such as Bethesda , Nebo , Seion , Calfaria , Gosen , Garazim , Hebron etc. Therefore, why not Paran.
There are many references to Paran in the Bible, many of them giving a geographical location to Paran, but in Numbers 10: verses 11-12 & 16 we read of the "Journey towards Paran".
The Israelites leave Sinai and stay for a while at Hazeroth before reaching Paran - a journey not unlike what the Trinitarians carried out in leaving Gellionnen , staying to worship for a few years at Llwyn Ifan and Nantmol farms, prior to erecting their chapel Paran on the nearby mountain.
Thus the choice of Paran is not so unusual, and our forefathers would have been more conversant with the Bible than today's society - the Bible probably being their only book to read.
Whilst at first I thought it to be an almost unique choice, research finds the same name surfacing with:
The Methodists in the mountainous area between the Sirhowy and Ebbw valleys at Manmoel
The Baptists in the Ogwr valley at Blackmill.
The Independents in Pembrokeshire - a branch of the chapel at Treffgarne Owen was named Paran.
Has Paran mutated to Baran?
P does change to B in the Welsh language ( Soft Mutation ).
Did this mutation occur at the time of sculpturing TY CWRDD BARAN NANTMOL?
These words became Y Baran to the local inhabitants and it remains so to this day in the dialect of the area.
I believe it is true to state, that without exception, the Definite Article (THE in English and Y in Welsh) is used before Baran at all times - thus preventing in the Welsh language the B changing to F.
i.e. a double mutation taking place. Paran - Baran - Faran.
e.g Baran as an area
MYND I'R BARAN
MYND I FRO MORGANNWG
e.g Baran as a chapel
MYND I'R BARAN
MYND I FETHESDA
The early years
The early worshippers of the Baran chapel would have lived within 4 to 5 miles of the chapel - an area which includes Mynydd y Gwair, the Betws, Garth, Gwrhyd, Gellionnen mountains and also the hamlets of Rhydyfro, Craigcefnparc and Cwmgors.
Mainly tenant farmers and their servants together with the blacksmith, shoemaker, woollen / flour mill worker etc, they would have been God fearing, hard working, pious, Welsh speaking people. Land was owned by the few -mainly the landed gentry, but also industrialists who had moved in to develop the coal, iron and copper industries in the nearby valleys as well as some solicitors.
Although most people would have been poor, during the course of my family history research, probate records for the Diocese of St. David's reveal some of the farmers leaving wills.
Due to the remoteness of the area, the patronymic Welsh surname style remained in being until a much later date.
Around 1800 we find the English surname style being adopted but different families changed in a different manner and also at varying times:
e.g Surname JOHN could have remained JOHN or added an (S) to become JOHNS or even changed to JONES.
Surname HOPKIN could have remained HOPKIN or added an (S) to become HOPKINS.
Surname DAVID could have remained DAVID or changed to DAVIES.
The chapel flourished in a time when nearby hamlets were.growing and daughter chapels were built at
Saron (Rhydyfro) 1843 and Pantycrwys ( Craigcefnparc ) 1866.
A theological training school
Surprisingly we have concrete evidence of the existence of a school under the Rev. Roger Howell at the Baran.
In the Congregational Year Book 1853, which lists all Independent ministers in Great Britain and most countries overseas, Y Baran is listed as the place of learning of some ministers. This confirms the existence of a theological school at the Baran, but whether it was a school for young children to learn the three R's is a matter of conjecture.
The following ministers were trained by the Rev. Roger Howell at the Baran:Rev. Evan Watkins 1811 - 1879 b. Llwyncelyn, Rhiwfawr, Nr. Cwmllynfell.
Minister at:- Llanelli (Brecs.). Canaan (Foxhole, Swansea). Castle St. (Swansea). Bethel (Llansamlet). Llangattock (Brecs.).
Rev. William Williams 1807 - 1877 b. Glynneath.
Minister at:- Tredwstan (Brecs.). Brechfa (Brecs.). Nebo (Hirwaun).
Rev. Daniel Evans 1800 - 1884 b. Parish of Llangiwg. Son-in-law of Roger Howell
Minister at:- Llanybri (Carms.). Bethesda (Carms.). Nazareth (Pontyates). Ebenezer (Crwbin). Ramah (Carms.).
Rev. Richard Jones Minister at:- Talgarth (Brecs.).
Rev. Daniel Jones,
Minister at:- Neath, County of Bradford, Pennsylvania, U. S. A.
The Neath Welsh Congregational Church still exists but not the original church.
Rev. Daniel Jones was not from Tresgeirch but from Pentwyn farm (now derelict) in the Parish of Llangiwg.
Pentwyn farm was situated on the Garth mountain and is now part of Perthigwynion.
Rev. Daniel Jones returned to marry Mary Williams at Llangyfelach Church in December 1832, returning with his bride to America. Rev. Daniel Jones died a young man at the age of 42, his wife remarrying.
Why did they choose to name their settlement Neath?
Early census returns for the area and gravestone inscriptions might provide the answer. The minister that followed Daniel Jones in 1850 was the Rev. Samuel Williams (Llanidloes). Family history papers by the descendants of the Rev. Samuel Williams claim that the place is named Neath because his wife Jane Mills Williams was born in Neath, Wales, as were their children (i.e. the ones that were born in Wales). This information is incorrect. One has only to follow Rev. S. Williams' ministry from Llanidloes to Capel Isaac to Hendy (Llanedi), to find his marriage took place at Llanidloes and the children were born either in Montgomeryshire or Carmarthenshire.
The present day
During the second half of the 20th century, the Baran Chapel has witnessed a big ongoing change. Farming units have become much larger (three or four farms now forming one unit). English speaking people have moved in to some farms and together with recent difficult conditions on the farming front, not to mention fewer and fewer people going to chapel, it is a wonder that the Baran chapel still survives. Membership has now dwindled to ten or so , a service is held on the first Sunday of the month in the afternoon; the September Thanksgiving Service being particularly well attended when numerous people journey back from afar to the service.
What does the future hold for the Baran?
Maybe the faithful ten or so members take comfort and hope in the words of the hymn by the Rev. John Thomas (1730-1803) Rhayader-on-Wye, who at one time kept a school at Rhydymardy which is now Brynteg chapel, Gorseinon.
"Dyro inni weld o'r newydd
Mae Ti, Arglwydd, yw ein rhan;
Aed dy bresenoldeb hyfryd
Gyda'th weision i bob man;
Tyrd i lawr, Arglwydd mawr
Rho dy fendith yma'n awr"
May we see anew
That Lord, you are our Saviour;
Your joyous presence journeying
With thy servants everywhere;
Descend great Lord and Give us here now your blessing
Gareth Hicks © Copyright notice