Zion Calvinistic Methodist Chapel, Begelly

This was taken shortly before closure

Zion Calvinistic Methodist Chapel, Begelly (abt 2005)

Fifteen months later than promised, here’s the second in an irregular series of descriptions of  some of the local chapels together with transcriptions of family history records related to the relevant chapel.

This one concerns the small Calvinistic Methodist (CM) chapel which sat next to the main Tenby to Narberth turnpike road in the ‘Begelly’ part of Begelly parish. (Cold Inn Baptist Chapel is in the ‘Williamston’ part). It was built on land leased to the trustees by James Mark Child of Begelly House at what appears to have been a peppercorn rent.

Zion’s early history is reasonably well-documented. In 1853 the then minister, Thomas Ashford, wrote about the chapel’s founding in 1828 and its continuing struggles. He noted that its sister chapel, Bethesda, was established two years earlier three miles to the south along the same road. What is particularly interesting is his commentary about the effect of the 1849 cholera outbreak. He reports a rush of locals to join the chapel, this increase in the congregation perhaps requiring a gallery to be added in 1851. As we perhaps would expect, we know from other sources that an injured miner, Philip Gunter, was around this time running a small school in the chapel, using “one square table…and ten benches”.

The building you see in the photo is not the original chapel. Instead this was rebuilt in the mid-1860s possibly as a response to the great religious revival of the earlier part of the decade. In April 1866 a special train was laid on from Tenby to bring worshippers to the re-opening event at which seven sermons were preached.

The chapel’s principal competitor was St Mary’s parish church a few hundred yards down the road towards Tenby. The Rev. Richard Buckby, the rector at the church between 1839 and 1884, had a strong reputation for keeping his church full. Analysis of baptism data bears this out. In neighbouring St Issells parish church, there is a gradual drop in the numbers of colliers getting their children baptised in the local church from 1830 onwards. In Begelly the figure remains high suggesting that the colliers at least had their children baptised and remained loyal to Buckby’s church, instead of turning to the chapel.

It would be useful to have some idea of the growth in membership of the chapel. Such data survive for other denominations in annual publications such as the Baptist Union Handbook and the Congregational Yearbook but I have yet to find a similar series covering the CM chapels. We know that, in the early 1900s, the congregation ‘was filling the chapel’ but by the 1930s it was in decline. Zion shut a few years ago and the building has now been converted into housing.

As for any records, little appears to have survived. Unlike Kingsmoor PM Chapel, I have not found any accurate lists of deacons or trustees. There is a baptism register covering the 1820-37 period. Although the title states it to be for Zion CM chapel, I surmise that it also covers Bethesda as there are several baptisms from the Wooden area. I have included a transcription of this register on the following attachment together with details taken from some of the gravestones (in the yard to the left of the chapel building in the above photograph) and also marriages reported in the gossipy Narberth Weekly newspaper.

Click on the following to download the Genealogical Data for Zion CM Chapel

Do let me know if you spot any errors by emailing me at snorbensblog@aol.com


Above photo copyright of Humphrey Bolton under the Creative Commons licence.


Religious Census, 1851

Calvinistic Methodist Record, (March 1853)

History of South Pembrokeshire Calvinistic Methodist Churches, William Evans (1913)

The Story of Begelly, W R Morgan, Gomer Press (1980)

Kingsmoor Primitive Methodist Chapel, St Issells parish

Of all the non-conformist chapels shown on this map, the one with the best archive available to researchers is that for the Kingsmoor Primitive Methodist Chapel in St Issells parish. The chapel was part of the Pembroke Dock Primitive Methodist Circuit which covered several stations throughout the southern part of the county. Circuit baptism registers have survived and these cover much of Kingsmoor Chapel’s existence. The circuit minutes and various other documents are available too. What is missing are registers for the first twenty years or so of the chapel’s life (from the late 1820s) together with anything covering marriages and burials. This is unfortunate because there was an extensive burial ground in use around the chapel although whether it was fully utilised is open to conjecture.

(Former) Kingsmoor Primitive Methodist Chapel - picture reproduced with permission of Rosemary Bevan

(Former) Kingsmoor Primitive Methodist Chapel – picture reproduced with permission of Rosemary Bevan

This rich archive attracted Dr David Howell, an historian with local roots, to write an assessment of the circuit’s history which, for anyone with ancestry in the Saundersfoot area in the Victorian period, is worth reading.Ref 1 He raises three points I will explore in more depth in this post. Firstly, Howell discusses the vicissitudes the chapels faced, particularly during the national economic stagnation of the 1870s and 1880s, together with the consequent waves of emigration that hit membership and therefore funds. Table One illustrates this problem: three of the 1868 trustees emigrated, two with large families to Australia (John & Thomas Waters) and one to the south Wales coalfield (David John). But what is also pertinent is that many of John Phillips’ children moved to Glamorgan and those of William Phillips have evaded detection in the census from 1871 onwards. Later newspaper reports confirm that two of them lived in the US, a point that chimes with the note in the circuit minutes that 25 members of the circuit left for the US in the summer of 1871 ‘owing to the Kingsmoor coalmasters ceasing to work their pits’. The chapel lost much of its ‘next’ generation.

Another point that stands out in Howell’s article is that the Primitive Methodists consisted of and, importantly, were run by a mostly working class membership. The registers bear this out as does the following trustees’ list. (The term ‘engineer’ here typically refers to a man working with a pumping engine at the local pits rather than the modern associations of professional qualifications). In contrast the churchwardens of Begelly church were mainly farmers of more than 50 acres.

Trustees at 31 July 1868

Alexander Waters Thomas Chapel Engineer
John Waters Begelly Engineer
Thomas Walters (sic) Kingsmoor Engineer
David John Stepaside Manager at Iron works
William Phillips Kingsmoor Coalminer
John Phillips Kingsmoor Coalminer
Henry Phillips Kingsmoor Coalminer

New trustees at 6 June 1896

John Roblin Norland House Joiner & builder
John Harries Brinn Alma Cottage, Kilgetty Engineer
George Brinn Kilgetty Engineer
Thomas Jenkins Hill Miner
Richard Lewis Kilgetty Miner
William Hilling Pentlepoir Miner
James John Fold Park Miner
Richard Thomas Hill Carpenter
William Thomas Hill Fireman

Notes on former trustees

Thomas Walters Kilgetty Engineer (Australia)
David John Pontycymmer, Bridgend Engineer
Henry Phillips Kingsmoor Coalminer (buried Sardis)

Table One: trustees of Kingsmoor Chapel in 1868 & 1896 Ref 2

Lastly, Howell describes the low membership numbers of the chapels on the circuit. In a small chapel with around 40 members it is not surprising then that certain families were cornerstones of chapel life. The Brinn family appears to have been at the heart of matters in the late 1800s. Brothers George and John Harries Brinn became trustees in 1896 as did their future brother-in-law, James John. In 1909 this same John Harries received a silver-mounted walking stick with ‘JHB’ engraved to mark his 35 years as choir conductor. He had also been a preacher on the circuit for 35 years, superintendent of the Sunday School for 30 and found time to be the treasurer both of the trust fund and the Band of Hope. He retired in 1915 as the railway engine driver for presumably Bonvilles Court Coal Co Ltd, the break, according to the local newspaper, being his first in 41 years.Ref 3

Unfortunately John Harries Brinn was also at the heart of some gossip that spread far beyond the parish pump. In 1883 national newspapers recorded that:

“Rev John Higley, Primitive Methodist Minster and singleman…eloped with the wife of Mr John Brinn, local preacher of the same denomination. Higley lodged with Brinn and on Wednesday, the runaways left for Carmarthen, Mrs Brinn taking her only child and a sewing machine. She left a letter for her husband stating that he need not inquire after her as she would not trouble him again.” Ref 4

By the 1891 census, husband and wife had been reunited. Of course we don’t know the full story but, even so, his death in the Cardiff Workhouse in 1920 attracts more than the usual sadness.

Small though membership was there are still close to 240 local baptisms recorded in the first circuit baptism register. This is an important resource for family historians so I have attached extracts from this register together with a list of burials conducted by Primitive Methodist ministers from the St Issells Burial Board Register as well as a few marriages I came across in the Narberth Weekly newspaper. If you find something of interest in these or have anything to amend or add, particularly marriages, please do let me know by posting a note here or contacting me on snorbensblog@aol.com

Click on the following link to download the extracts (opens in MS Excel or compatible spreadsheet)

Kingsmoor Chapel baptisms & sundry marriages & burials data


1. D. Howell, “Primitive Methodism in Pembrokeshire: the chapel in a rural society”, The Pembrokeshire Historian, vol.7 (1981) pp.52-60

2. Pembrokeshire Record Office, DFC/M/8/88

3. Narberth Weekly newspaper, 25 March 1915

4. Lloyds Weekly newspaper, 11 March 1883

Church and Chapel in the Saundersfoot area in the 1800s

Over the last ten years or so I have transcribed material from the surviving chapel registers to help with my research. Over the next few weeks I intend to publish these on the blog. This post asseses the importance of these registers for researchers.

The imminent publication by Findmypast.co.uk of their index to and images of the Pembrokeshire parish registers will be a great step forward for family historians – albeit at the cost of a subscription or a trip to the library. However, while these registers are important, don’t forget the extensive non-conformist tradition in Wales. Although the church was the largest religious denomination in the country around the middle of the 1800s, it had to compete hard for worshippers with growing support for non-conformism. In our area, according to the 1851 Religious Census, the parish church of St Issells could hold 350 people while the four chapels in the parish, all of them opened in the previous 40 years, could hold a total of 948. In terms of attendance, drawing a very rough estimate from the same source, the chapels were on average three-quarters full while the parish church was near capacity.

Map showing the opening dates and denominations of the chapels in Begelly & St Issells parishes (click to enlarge)

Map showing the opening dates and denominations of the chapels in Begelly & St Issells parishes (click to enlarge)

It is clear then that these soon-to-be-published parish registers are useful but that they tell less than half the story for family historians. The accompanying map illustrates the growth of non-conformism in the Saundersfoot area. Before 1800 the nearest chapel was the Baptists’ at Molleston, a couple of miles north of Begelly. Judging by the surviving baptism register, it attracted a handful of worshippers from the local coalfield. More important was the start of the Independent cause in the early 1800s centred on the parish boundary between Amroth and St Issells. Its success resulted in the opening of Sardis Chapel in between Hean Castle and Stepaside in 1810 followed swiftly in the 1820s by the Calvinistic Methodists at Zion (Begelly) and Bethesda (St Issells) together with the Primitive Methodists at Hill (St Issells). Further development occurred on the back of Saundersfoot’s growth from the early 1830s with the Independents opening Bethel Chapel in 1838 (now the Thomas Memorial Church) with the Baptists, Calvinistic and then the Wesleyan Methodists following suit over the next 30 years.

All these put pressure on St Issells and Begelly churches and the parish registers tell a story of decline in numbers. While many left for the chapels, it should not be forgotten that something like 50 percent of the population at the time (for England and Wales) did not attend church or chapel in 1851.

That is not good news for family historians hoping to find material in the local registers. Nor is there much good news in the survival rate for chapel registers in the Saundersfoot area. At best it can be described as patchy.  Some registers have survived, the Primitive and Wesleyan Methodists in particular being well-covered, but there is next to nothing that I am aware of for the two Independent and three Calvinistic Methodist chapels and nothing at all for the Baptists.  With so many gaps I hope you will find some material of interest in the transcripts that I post over the next few weeks, starting with the baptism register for the Kingsmoor Primitive Methodist Chapel.


The Old Series Ordnance Survey map on which the above graphic is based, surveyed around 1815,  is reproduced with the permission of Cassini Publishing Ltd.

Finding Chapel Burials

One of the most popular posts on this blog has been the discussion of the St Issells Burial Board register and its importance in recording non-conformist burials in the area. That so few records for local chapels have survived makes the register an important tool for finding the burials of around 400 people who do not appear in the parish registers.

Not everyone was buried at St Issells church. Many were buried in large chapel graveyards. To help those readers who do not live close to the area locate these burials I have published on the GENUKI site 2 sets of data I have collected in the past few years for each of the following four chapels:

Plan of Saundersfoot area showing 19th century chapels highlighting Bethesda, Ebenezer, Sardis & Zion in particular

Local chapels established in 1800s (Click to enlarge)


Ebenezer Baptist Chapel, Cold Inn, East Williamston

Zion Calvinistic Methodist Chapel

St Issells

Bethesda Calvinistic Methodist Chapel

Sardis Independent Chapel

Partial transcriptions of stones in chapel graveyards

Although far from complete I have transcribed genealogical information from gravestones in these chapel yards.  There will no doubt be some errors in this work as many stones are difficult to read – especially as one of the masons had a penchant for an illegible gothic script! Do let me know if you spot mistakes or have material to add.

The lists are in no particular order.

Lists of burials extracted from the Narberth, Whitland & Clynderwen Weekly newspaper (1906-42)

I have published on the GENUKI site details of burials reported in the Narberth Weekly. It was a marvellously chatty newspaper during this period, a journalistic equivalent of parish pump gossip. Often lengthy reports of both deaths and funerals include the cause and location, extensive biographical material, names of attendees at the funeral with relationship to the deceased and even details of the wreaths.

You may find an ancestor appears in both the graveyard and newspapers lists.

If you find anything of interest and want to check the newspapers, the following repositories hold copies:

  • British Library (Colindale): 1906-42 (1912 incomplete)
  • Haverfordwest Library: 1910-23 (incomplete)
  • National Library of Wales: 1916 (incomplete), 1924-26, 1928-34, 1937-40

Alternatively post a note on this blog or email me at snorbensblog@aol.com and I will return any additional material I extracted.

As ever I wish to express my thanks to Gareth Hicks for letting me publish this information on the Pembrokeshire GENUKI site he maintains.

Don’t Forget The St Issells Burial Board Register

St Issells churchyard showing burial board plot area to left of wall on right, over ditch and through trees, November 2010. Click to enlarge

St Issells churchyard showing Burial Board plot area, to left of wall on right, including over ditch and through trees, November 2010. Click to enlarge

Did you know there was a municipal cemetery in the parish of St Issells in the 1800s? There was one, opened in 1862. But confusingly it forms a large part of the graveyard attached to St Issells parish church. If you know the spot, most of the area over the stream to the south-west of the church was effectively a municipal cemetery owned and managed by the St Issells Burial Board. Formed in 1861 under the auspices of the 1853 Burial Act one of the Board’s objectives was to provide the final local resting place for many from Saundersfoot and the surrounding area be they “church or chapel”.

At the time Saundersfoot was a growing hotspot of non-conformism. For staunch chapel goers, burial in St Issells parish churchyard before 1862 would have been anathema. The Burial Board cemetery changed matters: it was non-denominational and saved mourners having to travel more than a mile out of the village to the graveyards at Bethesda, Sardis or Cold Inn.

Thankfully the Burial Board burial register for 1862-1922 has survived. It is a treasure trove of useful information for family and local historians. At first glance the data contained in the register appears to be the same as in the parish burial register. This is wrong as the following table shows:

Name Same
Date of burial Same
Place of death Sometimes differs
Age at death Same
Description E.g. occupation, status such as widow or pauper
Officiating minister Name only
Plot number Should correlate with a plan that’s also part of the Burial Board collection – but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t!
Additional information For some burials only; e.g. cause of death especially where from a pit accident, or in 1866 cholera outbreak **

In reality the board register is a superset of the parish burial register. But there are exceptions to this rule. Sometimes the data does differ and in important ways. For example the parish register shows that William Davies died in 1898 at his home, Winifred Place (next to Saundersfoot station). The board register shows he died at Carmarthen Asylum. This entry is an obvious boon locating the death in a different registration district. So, even if you have already found your ancestors’ burials in the parish register, do make a note to check the board register as there could be additional helpful information.

St Issells Church – Burial Board plot stretches away to left

The register’s real strength is as a record of non-conformist burials for the Saundersfoot area. Analysis of the 1008 burials shows that 2/3rd of them were “church” burials, the rest being “chapel”. They include burials for Baptists, Independents as well as Primitive, Calvinistic and Wesleyan Methodists. Obviously it does not list burials at Bethesda, Sardis or Kingsmoor chapels. But with so few records surviving for the local chapels, the board register is a gem.


Pembrokeshire Record Office, St Issells Burial Board Register, 1862-1922 (ref HSPC/18/3).


I have a transcription of the register so if you require a look-up or two, do let me know. My transcription does not including plot numbers.

If you are a member of the Society of Genealogists, a database containing this register is available in the Members’ Area of the society’s web site.

** Nikki Bosworth of the Record Office published an interesting article on the register in the Dyfed Family History Society’s journal (April 2010) focusing especially on these additional comments.