Maesyronnen Chapel

As the only 17th century non-conformist chapel in Wales, Maesyronnen Chapel has several documents – deeds or, more correctly, indentures – going back almost to its origin. These indentures are held by the United Reformed Church (Wales) who are the legal trustees of the building and land on behalf of the chapel members. We are fortunate that the indentures have been loaned to the National Library of Wales and have been digitised for the benefit of the nation. We are also fortunate that we have a copy of these documents.

There are seventeen or so indentures dated from 1731 to 1897.  All are hand-written and many are on large sheets of vellum and, as such, not easy to read until you get your eye in! The indentures can be split into 3 groups: ·        

    A set of indentures concerning the change in trustees of Maesyronnen Chapel itself
    Another set of indentures concerned with Blaenau Uchaf farm, held in trust by the chapel   
    A final set covering a gift from Blaenllyndeg farm, left to the chapel.

All of these indentures deal with transferring the trust from one set of trustees to another, so are fairly repetitive. However, each document adds a layer of history, with a fresh list of names, where they lived and what they did, as well as establishing the origin of the subject of the various trusts – fascinating stuff and indeed valuable information if you’re keen on local history.

I’ve been through all of these indentures and transcribed them, retaining the wording and the same number of lines of text as the original document. I have, however, changed place-names, where discernible, into a more modern form. There were some words that were unclear in the original and I may have made mistakes along the way. On the following pages I have attempted to write a summary of the indentures and at the end there is an appendix showing the names of those connected with them.

The earliest indenture concerns the chapel itself and dates from 1731, although, in common with all the other documents, it refers to events from earlier in the building’s history. It begins by recording the death on 27th March 1714 of Lewis Lloyd, the squire of the local Maesllwch estate on whose ground the chapel had been built some 17 years earlier in 1697. At this time the Maesllwch estate covered several thousand acres of southern Radnorshire and it still exists today, albeit at a much-reduced size, with Maesllwch Castle (a Victorian neo-gothic building) barely a mile from the chapel.

Lewis Lloyd’s will stated: ‘….that a church or meeting place for the worship of God by protestant dissenters was created on his lands at Maes yr Onnen in the said county of Radnor He did devise the same to be made use of for that purpose so long as the liberty for protestant dissenters should continue’  

The will goes on to say that if any of his descendants should obstruct the use of the chapel, then £100 should be paid to build another chapel ‘for the worship of God by protestant dissenters’ elsewhere in Glasbury. This will left the Maesllwch estate to Lewis Lloyd’s daughter, Theodosia, and she was duly appointed as executrix of his will.  

Later, Theodosia married the local MP, Sir Humphrey Howarth, who thus gained control of Maesllwch estate. The 1731 indenture states that as well as the ‘meeting house’ or chapel, a ‘little house and garden near or thereto adjoining’ the chapel was now used by the congregation ‘as a stable and otherwise for the benefit and better accommodating the said congregation’. This indenture goes on to say that there was an agreement, dated 1st April 1720 between Sir Humphrey and seven gentlemen (named in the appendix) including the then minister, Mr David Price, in which Sir Humphrey, in line with Lewis Lloyd’s 1714 will, handed over control of the chapel to those seven gentlemen together with the house and garden.

This agreement further states that these seven gentlemen should be:   ‘….paying for the little house and garden yearly to the said Sir Humphrey Howarth ……. the rent of twenty shillings on the feast day of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary’ (25th March)    

These seven men are therefore named as (probably) the first trustees of Maesyronnen Chapel.  

A further condition of this indenture is that should the number of trustees be reduced to 3 ‘by the deaths of any of them or removal of them to distant places’, then the congregation of the time should nominate another seven persons to act in their place.  

Thus, the pattern for future indentures is set – seven trustees are named, their number reduces to three or less, and another indenture is drawn up naming seven further trustees. Each subsequent indenture repeats its predecessors in reciting the original will of Lewis Lloyd, naming Theodosia his executrix, of her marrying Sir Humphrey, and he then conveying the chapel and house to the trustees. All the names of the trustees are shown in the appendix, together with their occupations and places of residence. In several cases, the names of their farms are also included and most of these are still traceable today. However, there are one or two additional nuggets of information included.

For example, the indenture of 1791 records that:  
 ‘Walter Wilkins of Maesllwch in the county of Radnor esquire hath lately purchased the freehold and inheritance of all and singular the estates of the late Sir Humphrey Howarth knight situate and lying in the county of Radnor and is thereby become entitled to the payment of twenty shillings yearly for the said little house and garden’  

Walter Wilkins’ descendants are still in residence at Maesllwch Castle. However, the payment for the house and garden seems to have fallen by the wayside. A ground rent of 20 shillings a year was still being paid to an estate agent in the early 1950s, but according to the chapel account book this had stopped before the 60s. We also know that Lewis Rees, one of the trustees appointed in 1746 and chapel minister from 1745-8 had moved to Swansea by 1791.  

We have, therefore, a near-complete record of the trustees of Maesyronnen chapel from 1720 up until 1897 with the exception of 1867, as this indenture is not included in the digitised and transcribed records. These records show how far people travelled to be at Maesyronnen, at a time when most came by foot or horse. They also show how the occupations changed from being gentlemen and farmers to being labourers, tradesmen and blacksmiths.