04 March 2024
Where There's Hope!


Hope Bible Christian Chapel, Melincrythan

(aka ‘Neath Boys’ and Girls’ Club’)


This article is a precis of a more substantial article which may be published by the Society at a later date, but which is available for reading/research at the NAS archive.


‘Neath Boys’ and Girls’ Club’ Melincrythan is located on Briton Ferry Road near the junction with Payne Street and seems oddly set back from the main road. While the club origins go back to at least 1934 the site itself has significant history stretching back to 1859 at which point the land was purchased by local members of the Bible Christian denomination to build not only a chapel which they named ‘Hope’ but also a schoolroom, houses and cottages. This article focuses primarily on the activities of the Bible Christians at the site of their original chapel which ceased services in 1913 with a summary of later utilisation up to the sale of the buildings in 1919 followed by details of subsequent ownership. [Where costs are shown * gives current value]

Bible Christians in Neath & Building ‘Hope’ Bible Christian Chapel 1859

The Bible Christian movement origins lay at Shebbear, Devon circa 1815 becoming progressively more established in South Wales due largely to the mass migration of workers from the West Country to the coalfield areas. In 1841 16-year-old Samuel Hunkin was described as living at ‘Dipper Mill’ in Shebbear, Devon and by 1851 he had a wife, Thirza and they had moved to Neath renting a terraced house at Mile End Row, Melincrythan. A ‘Preacher’s Plan’ of 1850 reveals Bible Christian meetings were already being held at their home. Hunkin would prove to be an industrious man, subsequent censuses indicating occupations of mason (1851, 1861), butcher (1871), farmer (1881), butcher (1891). Meetings and services continued to be held at Mile End Row into 1859 by which time members had succeeded in raising £100 (*£9,733) such that on January 6, 1859 freehold land was purchased which sat between the now Briton Ferry Road and Crythan Road being described in the 1846 tithe map as ‘Slag banks and waste ground’. The intention was to build a chapel, schoolroom and five cottages.

Soon after obtaining the land deeds it was reported (The Swansea and Glamorgan Herald 9/3/1859) that on Tuesday March 1, 1859 the foundation stone of the new ‘Bible Christian Chapel and School-room at Melincrythan, Neath, was laid by Mr. James Kenway, the mayor, at three o’clock in the afternoon. The chapel will be situated in the midst of a large and increasing population and there is no other Dissenting place of worship in the immediate locality.’ It was stated that the original contractor for the build, Mr. Matthews did not complete the work and departed for America so it fell upon local chapel members to continue with the work. As soon as legally permitted they duly completed the chapel, schoolroom and five cottages, two of which were built facing the main road. These latter two cottages (houses) either-side of the chapel fronted the main road becoming part of the row of houses known at that time as Brecon Terrace. An undated clear plan of the area, fig.1a probably circa 1870-1876 shows the triangular shape enclosed by the now Briton Ferry (main) Road across the top section with Crythan Road branching-off towards the bottom, the two joined by Payne Street.

The rear three cottages covered the full-width of the property; no chapel is shown in fig.1a due to this plan being taken at the time of later rebuilding during 1870/1. The chapel itself, fig.1b was a basic rectangular shape with steps leading to the front although the quality of the plan does not allow a view across the whole front though subsequent comments imply these steps were relatively steep.

The chapel was officially opened during April 1860 and named ‘Hope’, the three rear premises were known as ‘Hope Cottages’ with the opening of a Sunday School at the chapel soon after. While some later comments make it unclear if the schoolroom was attached to the chapel or an off-site premises the former is more consistent with the original intention possibly a lean-to at the rear of the chapel. Although a documented photograph, fig.2 purports to show this first chapel the surrounding buildings/features and the build itself do not corroborate the claim although it may well be one of the many local chapels being built during the same period.

Figure 2 Photograph ascribed (incorrectly?) as ‘Hope Chapel, Melyncryddan, 1859’

The two Bible Christian houses and adjoining premises would basically remain from that time in the same form as they appear today. The 1861 census detailed all three ‘Hope Cottages, 1-3’ as occupied. The two front houses were occupied by Hannah Rodd (Head), 58 yrs, ‘Bible Christian Ministers Wife’ at No.6 Brecon Terrace (larger house), the property schedule then listing ‘Hope Chapel – Bible Christians Chapel’, the other front (smaller) house being occupied by the Jones family.

By 1867 plans were being considered to ‘...remove the inconvenient steps leading to the entrance and substitute a gradual ascent from the road and to obviate the difficulty of the doors opening into the chapel by erecting a lobby outside.’ Finances were not considered suitable at that time and the plans were shelved although revived a few years later.

1871 Chapel Rebuild

By 1869 congregation sizes were such that they would typically fill the chapel on special occasions but the number could not be accommodated comfortably due to the ‘smallness’ of the premises, enlargement now a priority. The next steps were proved significant: ‘Accordingly a trustee and elders’ meeting was held on June 2nd, 1870, and after several suggestions were made relative to the best method of procedure, it was decided that the building was so awkwardly situated behind two houses, the space between them being too narrow to admit of its being brought forward to the street without destroying the houses, thereby cutting off the income, the Rev. T. Thomas, architect, of Landore, should be asked to inspect the building. He suggested that a small piece of land should be purchased on the south side of the chapel and a transept built, the school-room destroyed, the entrance to be even with the street, with end and transept galleries.’

Consent was subsequently given by both the local Bible Christian Chapel Committee and their leaders at the annual Conference. A grant of £100 (*£9,221) was provided with additional funds of £50 (*£4,610) promised by the congregation. A total of £200 (*£18,442) was soon raised locally, specifications and plans drawn-up and the work put to tender. A plan, fig.3 shows some detail circa 1920 although apart from the schoolroom at the rear (built 1886, see later) the main body of the chapel would not have changed significantly in the meantime.

In July 1870 the trustees approved Rev. Thomas’ plan with the contract subsequently granted to Mr. John Thomas, Neath for £572-10-0 (*£52,835). The 1877 OS plan, fig.4 shows the location of Hope Chapel and some details of the interior e.g. ‘Bible Christian, Seating for 500’.

To ensure transept symmetry the recommended small portion of land had been obtained. The 1871 census again lists the three ’Chapel Cottages’ as occupied, the ‘Hope Chapel, Bible Christian’ was now No.17 Briton Ferry Road with No.16 (previously No.6 Brecon Terrace) occupied by Mary Allin (Head) plus six children (Robert, Mary, William, Richard (later of ‘Allin’s Stores’), Annie and Thomas); although the eldest child Elizabeth Caroline was not present she would feature on later censuses – all originally from the Devon area. Others present at the same household included two Solicitor General Clerks plus a lodger i.e. Bible Christian Minister William Oates, again, all originally from Devon – a whole house still linked to the origin locality of the ministry!

In July 1871 the forthcoming still re-opening of the chapel was announced (The Brecon County Times, 8/7/1871) reporting that the ’edifice has been entirely re-modelled and is now one of the neatest ornamental buildings in the locality.’ and was planned with great fanfare for Thursday July 13, 1871.

A comprehensive description of the chapel stated : ‘The chapel is almost new; only portions of the side-walls of the old building remain, one of which had to be slated to keep it dry; the transept is well built, the front is of limestone, with freestone dressings, a fine prominent window in the centre, with two smaller ones. The roof is new, and well laid with best Carmarthen slate, the ceiling relieved with light stained woodwork, and supplied with means for ample ventilation; the galleries are stained with light varnish, the front is light, with hollow iron panels pained white slightly relieved, and furnished with an excellent clock. The entrance is all that can be desired, a well lighted lobby paved with ornamental tiles, with doors leading to the chapel and galleries. In the area the floor is new, the walls have been battened round, the old seats properly divided, and supplied with book-boards and hat-rails, the whole capped with mahogany, and grained to correspond. A platform pulpit supplied with chairs, handsome cushion, Bible and hymn book. A number of windows admit a plentiful supply of light in every part of the building, and at evening services it is brilliantly lighted with one centre and two transept star burners, with pendents for week-night services; a fine-toned harmonium, with an elegant sacramental service, complete the furniture. The whole presents a chaste and beautiful appearance, capable of accommodating four hundred and fifty persons. The work is well done.’ The front of the property circa 1929 is shown in fig.5a with an associated sketch circa 1920 more clearly showing some of the inscribed detail, fig.5b.

Note that the date inscribed ‘1859’ above the entrance reflects the date of the original chapel on the site, not the rebuild of 1871, fig.6 circa 1929 showing the side elevation facing Payne Street. The transept is seen to have an apex and four windows fig.6a with a large window between the transept and front of chapel clearly visible, fig.6b. Immediately behind the chapel is the later-built schoolroom (see later).

The original (front) side-walls still remain as seen in fig.7 with the faint outline of the side window between the outhouse and transept also shown for comparison with fig.6b albeit on the opposite side of the building.

Following both the initial chapel registration on July 24, 1871 permitting worship and the obligatory one-year use, the certificate of worship and solemnising of marriages was provided on June 22, 1872; final official registration at Somerset House, London was on June 26, 1872. While contributions to the chapel and school were obviously welcomed not all were accepted. In 1876 it was reported (The Lyttelton Times, 8/8/1876) that the Neath Licensed Victuallers Association had their donation of 10/0d (*£45) returned with the reply from the minister J. Luke ‘I cannot...accept money voted by an Association representing a trade so antagonistic to the object of which Sunday schools are established.’ For what was to be the final time, the 1881 census again listed the three rented ’Chapel Cottages’ as occupied. The census of 1881 documented Richard Routledge and wife Matilda at the now renumbered 83 Briton Ferry Road (smaller house) and Mary Allin plus Elizabeth, Mary, William and Anne at no.84 (larger house).

1886 Building of Schoolroom

The year 1886 saw the final significant change to the chapel buildings up to which point it had lacked a schoolroom for the children (The Bridgend Chronicle, 5/3/1886, 30/4/1886). Following plans and specifications being drawn-up by the architect Mr. Daniel Davies of Windsor Road and approved by Neath Urban Council early March saw a tender agreed with the builder Mr. D. Morgan of Alexander Road. The plan was to remove the three cottages at the rear of the chapel and build a brand new facility across the full-width originally occupied by the cottages. The total footprint would include a ‘...vestry, boiler-house and other out-houses. Two class-rooms will be formed at one end by the erection of movable partitions, to be taken down for larger meetings etc.’ On April 26, 1886 memorial stones were laid. The new schoolroom is shown in fig.8 being largely separated from the chapel apart from a narrow access area and covering the entire width of the site – it was substantial!

In 1891 the two chapel houses were occupied i.e. David Mort with wife Mary at No. 83 Briton Ferry Road (smaller house) and the sisters Elizabeth and Annie Allin remaining as the only occupants of the larger house at No.84. The 1901 census listed David and Mary Mort now at No.83 with Elizabeth, Annie and Elsie Allin (niece) at No.84. In 1903 the tenant details consisted of those who would remain at the two houses whilst the chapel was in use by the Bible Christians with William Allin and wife Elizabeth replacing the Mort family at No.83 - brother and sister now occupying the houses either-side of the chapel front.

While the rebuilding of 1871 alleviated the issue of the increasing congregation at that time the numbers thereafter continued to improve.  Further enhancements to meet these ongoing needs were frequently discussed. Options included bringing the front closer to the main road since the chapel was considered ‘well-nigh hidden from view’ due to its location behind the two houses either-side of the entrance. However, it appears the major problem was with the issue of ‘ancient lights’ i.e. the right of a building or house owner to the light received from and through their windows whereby no obstruction was permitted to be constructed if the windows had been used for at least 20 years. As such the only realistic option for enlargement was to purchase and remove the buildings on the corner of Briton Ferry Road/Payne Street to the south-west i.e. the two premises adjacent to one of the original chapel houses at the front, fig.8. This was not pursued due to the likely cost being considered prohibitive.

During September 1907 the union of three Methodist Churches was consummated – the M.N.C. (Methodist New Connexion), the U.M.F.C. (United Methodist Free Church), and the B.C.M. (Bible Christian Movement) – these now constituting the ‘United Methodist Church’ with the building of a new single place of worship commencing in 1913 at a cost of £5,800 (*£528,631); the foundation stone ceremony was held on November 20 that year with the church, latterly known as ‘Windsor Square’ opening for worship on September 3, 1914. An agreement had already been reached in April 1911 to sell the chapel, schoolroom and both houses with a committee established to action this resolution. During this period the house occupants registered in the 1911 census were William Allin and wife at No.83 with Elizabeth, Annie and Elsie Allin at No.84.

Although this period ended services at Hope the building was to later find further uses - while these deserve their own substantial article a summary is provided below.

Chapel Post-closure

The schoolroom was let to ‘Melincrythan Boy Scouts’ in April 1916. However, about 15 months later in early 1918 there was a report of considerable damage caused by the scouts to both schoolroom and chapel, resulting in the agreement being terminated. The ‘Cecil Street Mission’ rented the schoolroom from May 1918 and from June the ‘Salvation Army’ rented the chapel, these arrangements remaining up to the sale of the buildings in June 1919. The premises remained unsold until in 1919 Richard Allin offered £1,750 (*£71,375) explaining that members of his family had occupied the premises for over 50 years and they were anxious regarding tenancy. Further, he promised that if he should subsequently make a profit on any sale then that would be donated to the new Windsor Square church trust. Allin’s offer was accepted. Shortly after it appears the smaller of the two houses No.83 was sold along with the chapel and schoolroom on September 29, 1919 for the sum of £1,500 (*£59,998) to the ‘Gnoll Picture & Variety Co. Ltd’. Richard Allin retained the larger house No.84 which was still occupied by two of his sisters and their niece. It is unclear why the other smaller house as then rented by his brother William was sold at that time.

On November 10, 1919 Neath Urban Council approved the new owners’ plan to convert the former chapel to a ‘Picture House’ and the schoolroom to a ‘Billiard Hall’ subject to adequate ventilation of both premises and approval of the Police. For reasons unknown these plans were not implemented. Subsequently, on March 31, 1920 ownership was transferred to ‘The Eagle Tinplate Co. Ltd’ for £2,500 (*£86,558) on condition they would not use the premises as a ‘Public Picture House or Theatre for the purpose of pecuniary gain.’ It is claimed that around this time Alderman F.W. Gibbins had proposed that the premises could be used as a Youth Club under the supervision of the Borough Police.  In 1921 William was recorded as a widower while still at No.83 and in No.84 remained Elizabeth with Annie and also Elsie who was now described as a bookkeeper employed by her uncle ‘Richard Allin, Provision Merchant, Wind Street.’

Ownership of the site was once more transferred, this time from ‘The Eagle Tinplate Co. Ltd. & its Liquidator’ to ‘Baldwins Ltd’ on July 15, 1929. Richard Allin, now of 11 Gnoll Road, was still the owner of the remaining larger house with an agreement later documented on February 2, 1934 for alterations to the old chapel premises impinging on part of Allin’s property. Elizabeth Allin died in 1930 while residing at No.84 Briton Ferry Road; William was still at No.83 in October 1931, Annie and Elsie remaining at No.84. In October 1932 William was now recorded as living at No.84 with his sister Annie although Elsie was by now not at these premises; William died in 1933. The ownership of the larger house post-1934 remains unclear, Richard Allin himself having died on April 24 1937 (The Guardian, 30/4/1937). Annie was still a resident of No.84 in 1939 being described as ‘incapacitated’ but there is no record of her living at these premises in 1945 although date of death has not been found.

It is claimed that with considerable local support, eventually the property was rented for a nominal fee by the newly-formed ‘Neath Boys’ Club’ which opened in 1931 and become affiliated to the ‘South Wales Federation of Boys Clubs’ by 1934 following extensive modifications to the interior. The objects of the club were described in its Constitution as ‘...to promote the mental physical and social welfare and education in its most widest and liberal interpretation of Boys normally resident in the Borough of Neath’. ‘Baldwins Ltd. and others’ then transferred ownership to ‘Eaglesbush Tinplate Works Ltd.’ on April 4, 1935 and the rental continued. It was reported (Western Mail & South Wales News, 4/5/1934) that a ‘New Boys’ Club’ would be opened by Lord Plymouth on May 5, 1934 at the ‘Old Bible Christian Chapel’ on Briton Ferry Road, fig.9 showing the outline of the club in 1935 and later circa 1986 probably as it would have originally appeared with the rebuilt chapel frontage of 1871 still prominent.  

On February 25, 1949 Eaglesbush Tinplate Works provided by deed of gift the premises to Neath Boys Club trustees. July 13, 1990 saw the playing-field land known as the ‘Galv’ on which local football teams including the Boys’ Club had enjoyed playing since the end of the Second World War sold to the trustees for £1000 (*£2,216) along with a nearby small piece of associated land. In December that year a grant of £150,000 (*£332,344) was awarded by the Welsh Office to build a new headquarters on the old chapel site. Apart from the side walls the old building was demolished in 1991, fig.10a. The ‘new’ building was reopened on February 3, 1992, shown as viewed in 2022, fig.10b. Although girls had been allowed on the premises since 1989 they were admitted as full-time members from 1992 and the name changed to ‘Neath Boys’ and Girls’ Club’. Note the change of arched sign at the entrance.

At present the club is officially closed and requires investment for remedial work in order to re-open, a number of volunteers once again undertaking hard work to raise sufficient funds – a theme which goes as far back as the original chapel.

Concluding Remarks

The somewhat strange architectural construction of both the early and present Neath Boys’ and Girls’ Club has existed for over 160 years originating with Hope chapel thereafter to potential cinema to current (re) use as the club and remains as testament to an early part of the history of Melincrythan. Two side sections of the existing building originate from 1859 and while the remaining structure has seen many changes the outline is basically that of the rebuilt chapel of 1871.

With such a rich local history let us ‘Hope’ the current use is once more extended to continue providing the community of Melincrythan both with support and as a place of sanctuary for whatever reason as intended by the original owners and builders, the Bible Christians.

Main Sources of Reference

“The Bible Christian Magazine – a continuation of the Arminian magazine”; Bible Christians, 1852-1885; Bodleian Library, Oxford

 “Chronicles – A United Methodist Souvenir - Neath & Skewen 1929”; J. Brooks Taylor, Neath Antiquarian Society Library

 “The Bible Christian Movement”; Alan Hayward, Neath Antiquarian Society Transactions, 2000-2001

“Pennies for Heaven – A century of Windsor Square Methodist Church”; John Southard, Publ. Bryngold Books, 2014

“The Bible Christians in Neath Port Talbot – An Historical Overview”; Ann Swindale, 2015

“Melin Memories”; Rita Williams, Publ. Bryngold Books, 2010

Neath Antiquarian Society Records, Neath

West Glamorgan Archive Service Records, Swansea

Newspaper Articles as shown

National Library of Wales

‘Neath Boys’ Club’ Records

‘Britain From Above’; Aerial photography

Google Maps

National Library of Scotland

Census Records 1841-1921

Electoral Roll Records 1931-1945

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