Welsh Chapels in Crisis
According to Capel, the Chapels Heritage Society, Welsh chapels are closing at an alarming rate of one per week. This is a real crisis, not just for folks who enjoy rescuing old architecture, but for Wales as a nation. In many ways, Welsh chapels represent the heart and soul of Wales. They symbolise the history of Wales as it transformed from an agricultural nation in the seventeenth century into a leader of the Industrial Revolution. Anthony Jones, author of Welsh Chapels (1996) describes these often peculiar and not always pleasant-looking structures as ‘the national architecture of Wales,’ yet for too long their influence has been overlooked. Often, they have been criticised as a blight on the landscape.
Where other forms of architecture in Wales have received listed status and the state has taken them into its care, the chapel – the one structure that represents the impact of Nonconformity on virtually every aspect of Welsh society, culture and politics – has been rejected, at least until recently. In 2000, the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historic Monuments in Wales finally completed an extensive undertaking, surveying and documenting every chapel in Wales. Their intent was to ensure that a record and photographs survive for this vital element of Welsh history, to record for posterity the existence and appearance of these chapels before they disappear without trace.
The Welsh chapel is the only architectural development that Wales can claim as its own. Whereas the castles for which the country is acclaimed were built by outsiders and imposed upon them, the Welsh willingly erected chapels to serve themselves. Virtually every community has at least one. While their distinctive features make them readily recognisable, each is different, emphasising the independence of congregations from each other.