Christchurch Aberbeeg – Llanhilleth New Parish Church.
In the late 1890s the old Parish Church “St Illtyds” was becoming unfit for purpose, it was on the summit of a steep hill, could only seat 84 people and even though it had had recent repairs and renovations it was not up to the standard of a parish church with a growing population, a new church was desperately needed. St Marks Church was erected in the Llanhilleth village and that had to be paid for before a larger parish church could be contemplated.
Back at Aberbeeg, in 1898 a Parish Room and Rectory were erected at a cost of £4,000 and as stated owing to the rapid growth in population the church wardens were compelled to provide further accommodation at Aberbeeg. Church services were temporary held at the Aberbeeg Day Schools but the accommodation proved inadequate and unsuitable.
In November 1906 a meeting was held to consider the position of affairs and the parishioners entered, with great zeal, into the proposal to erect a new parish church. At this meeting over £200 was promised from various sources and the poor as well as the much better off seemed anxious to take their share of the burden. A scheme entailing the expenditure of about £7,000 was decided upon and it was realised that however self sacrificing to the parishioners it might be necessary to obtain assistance from outside sources. The rector drew up an appeal which set forth the needs of the parish. The appeal was endorsed by the Bishop of Llandaff (Dr Hughes) and Archdeacon Bruce. As a result of this appeal considerable assistance was received from friends outside the parish and £4,000 had been raised.
The Ceremony of the laying of the Foundation Stones.
On Monday 14th October 1907 the building of the new church began and the stone laying ceremony took place. The ceremony was conducted by the Bishop of Llandaff. Apart from the Rev D. Felix the other Clergy were as follows – W. Watkin Edwards of Blaenavon; George Griffiths of Nantyglo; Owen Davies of Blaina; R. W. Roberts of Bedwelty; Frank Williams of St Johns, Ebbw Vale; D. Fisher of Rhymney; W. C. Williams of Ebbw Vale; F. G. Llewellyn of Panteg; Luther Evans of Canton; T. Williams of Six Bells; T. Jones of Cwmtillery; D. T. Griffiths of Blaina and Sidney Morgan of Llanhilleth: Mr Hanbury was presented with a Silver Trowel by Rev Felix on behalf of the Architect with which to lay the first stone.
The Contractor and Architect.
The church was built on a site adjoining the rectory given by Mr J. Capel Hanbury of Pontypool Park. The contractor was Mr Ernest T. Bevan of Penarth was the Contractor and Mr E. A. Johnson F.R.T.B.A. of Abergavenny and Merthyr was the Architect.
On Friday 6th November 1908 it was stated that the new Parish Church for Llanhilleth will soon be completed and with its fine tower will certainly be a standing feature in the district. The rector, the Rev Daniel Felix was hoping that he would be successful in his appeal to secure additional contributions to acquire a set of bells for the tower. He said the peal of bells would cost about £700 and he was hoping to get them at a later date when the debt on the church was reduced. He went on to say that – “even though the church was built for the church people the bells would be for all the parishioners and we should pay for them jointly. When the people rejoice, get married or other joyful event we will ring the bells, when death visits the neighbourhood they can be tolled. I therefore ask you all to contribute.” All hopes that the united efforts for such a worthy object will meet with success.
The Official Opening.
On Wednesday 10th November 1909 the new Llanhilleth Parish Church, Christ Church, Aberbeeg, was opened. As mentioned, it was build to replace the old Parish Church St Illtyds on the Pontypool Mountain. Many churches had been built in the area though a new parish church was needed. The old church was too small, most awkwardly situated, nearly on top of the mountain and access was only to be had by a very sharp and rough mountain roadway. In addition to that, the old church was not at all in good repair for the needs of the day.
The opening service was conducted by the Rector Rev Daniel Felix, assisted by the Rev L. G. Morgan of Machen, late curate at Llanhilleth. Lessons were read by by Rev A. A. Matthews, Vicar of St Pauls, Newport and Rev W. C. Williams of Ebbw Vale. The Choir leader was Mr Tom Lewis. Other clergy present were as follows – Rev F. Gordon Jones; Rev H. P. James of Mynyddislwyn; Rev D. Jones of Cwmbran; Rev D. F. Griffiths of Nantyglo; Rev J. L. Croft of Cwm; Rev F. G. Llewellin of Panteg; Rev W. C. Williams of Ebbw Vale; Rev H. P. Belcher of Blaina; Rev W. T. Joseph of Nantyglo; Rev D. J. Llewellyn of Beaufort; Rev L. W. Numbhard-Thwaites of Cheltenham; Rev E. Theophilus of Blackwood; Rev T. Williams of Mamhilad; Rev H. S. Frank Williams of Newtown Ebbw Vale and Rev T. W. Moore of Pontnewynydd. The Churchwardens were Mr N. Godfrey and Mr W. Williams:
The Bishop explained that they were gathered for the Dedication Service and not the Consecration as that day would soon follow in a short while. That would be the time when the church with the church yard and burial ground would be fully consecrated with a solemn and fuller service. After the conclusion of the dedicatory service a cold luncheon was provided at the Hanbury Hotel, Aberbeeg.
Description of the Building.
A descriptive account of the building – The church was pleasantly situated on the junction of the Ebbw Valley. Its design was in the 15th century Gothic style of architecture and built with local stone with Doulton Stone dressings. The roofs were open timbered construction and the seating and choir stalls were Austrian Oak. At this time the chancel, transepts and tower were completed and two thirds of the building had been erected. The church was capable of holding 400 and when completed would be able to accommodate 600.
In May 1910 while the church was awaiting the purchase of the new bells they had procured one of the old bells from St Illtyd’s Church. The bell was over 200 years old and removed to be placed into the Bell Tower at Christchurch. It was tolled for the first time there on Friday 20th May for the occasion of the special memorial service for the death of King Edward VII.
In February 1911 it was stated that the Building Committee had not yet received the architects final certificate and had not been able to produce a balance sheet. At the opening service fifteen months ago the sum of £103. 14s. 6d. was collected. A member of the congregation had presented a Silver Paten and Chalice to the new parish church at a cost of £10. A plate and cup was needed along with a flagon to complete the set. Owing to the state of St Illtyd’s the bell frame had rotted, one bell taken to Christchurch (as stated) and the other had been broken. It was also mentioned in reports that a few of the parishioners had arranged to meet with Rev D. Felix with the intent to renovate the old church, to recast the broken bell, replace the other two. The Rev D. Felix said he would restore the chancel at his own expense and hoped the repairs could start soon.
On Friday 27th October 1911 the new Parish Church Christ Church and Church Yard, Aberbeeg was officially consecrated by the Bishop of Llandaff who was accompanied by the Diocesan Registrar Mr F. J. Smith; Rev Daniel Felix and Churchwardens: Other clergy present were as follows – Rev T. H. Williams of Risca; Rev H. S. Rees Vicar of Abertillery; Rev J. L. Croft Vicar of Cwm; Rev D. H. Griffiths Vicar of St Woolas, Newport; Rev Hawkesworth of Ebbw Vale; Rev D. O. L. Williams of Abertillery and Rev F. H. Playfoot of Abertillery: The following people were mentioned with thanks to – Mr and Mrs Hanbury; Mrs Partridge; Mr Dick Partridge; Mrs Edward Jones; Mrs Percy Jones; Mr and Mrs John E. Ward; Mr James Lancaster; Mr Wolstenholme; Mr A. A. Williams of Pontypool and the memory of the late Mr W. B. Partridge; Mr Edward Jones of (Partridge Jones & Co) and Mr Percy Jones. There was a special evening service by Rev D. H. Griffiths Vicar of St Woolas, Newport.
The final cost of the building was stated as being £5,930 to build, £4,372 had been raised and there was a debt of £1,630 on the building, with other money outstanding.
The Official Substitution of the Parish Church.
On November 30th 1911 the substitution from the old St Illtyds Church to Christ Church, Aberbeeg, took place, the old church would be used as a Chapel of Ease. No weddings would be solemnised there and Christ Church Aberbeeg would be the new Parish Church. Though this seems confusing as there was a wedding held at the old Parish Church St Illtyd’s on Satuday 2nd December 1911, between Police Constable Mr W. Jones and Miss Florence Alice Evans both of Llanhilleth.
The First Funeral.
On December 6th 1911 the first funeral to be held at Christ Church was that of Mr Edwin Parsons of Aberbeeg.
The First Wedding.
On Saturday 23rd December 1911 the first wedding at the new Parish Church, Christ Church, Aberbeeg, was held, between Mr Alfred Carter the eldest son of Mr Frank Carter of Glandwr House and Miss Gwladys Hill the second daughter of Mr and Mrs W. Hill of Brynawel Terrace. The officiating clergyman was Rev Daniel Felix (Rector) the Bridesmaids were Misses S. J. James and Ethel Hill. The Bride was given away by Mr W. S. Hill L.C.M. and the Best Man was Mr Henry Hill brother of the Bride.
The Stained Glass Window.
The stained glass window (as seen right) was taken from the old St Illtyds Church during renovations and placed in Christchurch for safe keeping.
Notes of interest – In June 1899 at an Abertillery District Council meeting, a letter was read from Mr M. Gorman, Assistant Overseer, on behalf of himself and the Ordnance Surveyors, pointing out that the map name of the village surrounding the old Parish Church of St Illtyd’s was “Llanhilleth” and that the lower district in which Messrs Partridge Jones & Co collieries were situated was also called Llanhilleth. To save any confusion it was decided that the former village surrounding the church be called St Illtyd’s and the latter with the collieries be called Llanhilleth.
In the many reports I searched, the name Christ Church was printed in two ways, Christchurch and also Christ Church with a gap between and not mentioned as such in early reports, only as the new Parish Church of Llanhilleth.