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Welsh Chester Church celebrates 150th anniversary

Hundreds of Welsh speaking parishioners from Chester marked the 150th anniversary

The Welsh Presbyterian Church on St John Street, Chester, when it was built in 1866.

Hundreds of Welsh speaking parishioners from Chester marked the 150th anniversary of a city centre church with three days of celebrations.

The Welsh Presbyterian Church on St John Street, Chester opened on December 7, 1866 and continues to this day to provide a home for Welsh-speaking Cestrians.

To mark the occasion, churchgoers from across the congregation gathered to host a full weekend of celebrations.

The 116-year-old organ at the Welsh Presbyterian Church in Chester.

The event was also attended by special guests including the moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Wales, Professor J Gwynfor Jones from Cardiff, Councillor Martyn Delaney and Peter Speirs on behalf of the City Centre Churches.

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To kick off the celebrations, the church put on a nostalgic evening of the history of the building and brought together a number of ministers who have served the church in the past, including the Rev Rhys ab Ogwen Jones (1972-1987 and 2000-2013), the Rev Tom Wright (1992-2000) and the Rev Eric Greene, who grew up in Hoole.

Saturday afternoon saw the opening of an exhibition of church photos and artefacts, which included a baptismal register going back to 1805 in its original copperplate writing.

When the Welsh Anglican Church in Chester closed, two stained glass windows were taken from the building and placed in the Welsh Presbyterian Church.

The present minister, the Rev Robert Parry, who has been at the church since 2014, said: “The most interesting feature of the register was the various occupations held at the time by people from Wales who had no choice but to leave their homeland and make their way to the city in order to make a living.

“In their midst are cheese mongers, physicians, hosiers, hatters, and even farmers.”

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Chapel treasurer Betty Morris said the event was a ‘roaring success’.

“We have had people tell us how much they enjoyed the weekend and we’re very pleased about that,” she said.

“It will stand out in our minds for a long time to come.”

The Welsh Presbyterian Church on St John Street, Chester today.

The church, which still holds its services and activities in Welsh, is the last of its kind in Chester.

There was a time when the city had five Welsh-speaking churches, including Penri Chapel - the Welsh Baptist Chapel at Gorse Stacks, the Welsh Congregational Chapel currently undergoing building development, Queen Street Welsh Wesleyan Methodists, St Martin Church and The Welsh Presbyterian Church on St John Street.

When the Welsh Anglican Church in Chester closed, two stained glass windows were taken from the building and placed in the Welsh Presbyterian Church.

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It became apparent the same architect had been responsible for designing both churches.

At the beginning of the Second World War, the Welsh Presbyterian Church reached its membership pinnacle, with 450 people attending each week.

When the Welsh Anglican Church in Chester closed, two stained glass windows were taken from the building and placed in the Welsh Presbyterian Church.

In 1990, as part of the church’s expansion programme, the old schoolroom at the back of the building was bought by Marks and Spencer and was renovated into a small theatre and meeting room with a new kitchen.

Mr Parry said he has ‘exciting projects’ in mind for the future, one of which is to try and start a crèche for toddlers and a new Sunday school at the church.

“We have got to honour the past by ensuring we treasure our heritage and pass it on to future generations,” he said.

“There are scores of Welsh folk in Chester, and I’d like to think we can at least reach out to some of them, and build on some of the foundation of old at St John Street, but using new methods and fresh ideas.

“You know the saying, ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained'.”

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