A Brief History of St Mellons Baptist Church
Changed but unchanging
It’s hard to imagine it now, but in 1794 St Mellons was just a small Welsh village in the middle of open farmland, on the edge of the ancient county of Monmouthshire. About 450 people lived here, most of whom worked on the land or traded with the travellers using the Roman road to London.
At the time, most people in Wales would have called themselves Christians and attended church out of tradition and ritual. However, during the 18th century there had been a revival of Christianity across the country, with a new emphasis on preaching and personal faith. Preachers from Llanwenarth Baptist Church near Abergavenny had begun travelling around Monmouthshire preaching the good news about Jesus, including holding regular services in Castleton and Bassaleg. Baptist churches were founded in both these nearby villages, and a number of people from St Mellons travelled to attend the services each week.
In 1794, the minister of the Baptist church in Bassaleg began holding regular services in St Mellons, meeting in the village workhouse on ‘The Ton’, and by 1830 the congregation here had grown strong enough to build a small chapel of their own, which they named ‘Caersalem’, the Welsh word for Jerusalem. At the same time they started a Sunday School for local children (and their parents), providing them with an education at a time when literacy levels were poor and schools cost money.
Numbers attending the services grew rapidly, and although they added galleries for extra seating, they eventually demolished the chapel in 1883 and built the larger, more comfortable building that we meet in today. Further improvements were made to the chapel in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, providing disabled access and extra facilities at the rear of the building.
For the first half of our church’s history we were a Welsh-speaking church, however towards the end of the 19th century an increasing number of the younger generation were unable to understand Welsh, and it became necessary to first hold services in both Welsh and English, and then gradually make the transition to just English.
Over the last 225 years there have been many ups and downs in the life of the church, times when the chapel has been packed with worshippers and times when the members have struggled to keep the doors open. Yet from its small beginnings, with a handful of people meeting in the parish workhouse, St Mellons Baptist Church has grown to become one of the largest churches in the east of Cardiff.
In 2003 the chapel graveyard (the site of the original chapel) was converted into a Garden of Remembrance. A plan of the original graveyard is held in the chapel archives, and details of burials can be found at https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/2583092/st-mellons-baptist-churchyard
If you are interested in the history of our church and would like to read more, a new book “Caersalem: Stronghold of Peace” was published in 2019 to mark the 225th anniversary of the church. Please contact us if you would like to purchase a copy (£4 plus P+P).