St Michael’s Church, Abertillery

Abertillery’s Anglicans used to walk to Blaina church, a round trip of about 10km (six miles), before a room at the Royal Oak Inn was secured for worship in 1846. Eight years later, the first St Michael’s Church was opened, with room for 230 people.

abertillery_st_michaels_church_with_spireAbertillery grew so rapidly that the church was soon too small, despite most of the population attending Nonconformist chapels. The dilapidated 1850s church was demolished and replaced by the one we see here today. The new church, large enough for more than three times as many worshippers, was consecrated in 1899. It was built of local stone with dressings in Bath stone. Internal walls are of buff bricks from Ebbw Vale.

In 1906 the building was extended with the addition of the chancel, morning chapel, vestries for clergy and choir, and an organ chamber. The two phases of building cost c.£6,000 in total (over £600,000 today). The design also included a tower with a spire, but this was never built. It would have been at the south-west corner of the church (left of the main entrance) – as shown in the old drawing.

In 1908 some members of the congregation complained to the vicar because they felt he had adopted Roman Catholic practices, including displaying a large crucifix behind the pulpit and providing Holy Communion on Sunday mornings instead of the usual Matins. However, the vicar, Rev Hiram Smyth Rees, was supported by other parishioners.

The crucifix was removed in November 1908 but no other concessions were made. The complainants took a petition to the Bishop of Llandaff, who noted the points made and said he hoped that in future peace would reign among the town’s churchgoers.

In 1910 blind ex-miner William Penn married nurse Elizabeth Emma Thomas at the church, after a 12-year courtship. He had lost his sight in a shot-firing accident at Cwmtillery colliery and was taken to hospital in Cardiff, where Elizabeth nursed him for 10 weeks. The couple corresponded during her three years in South Africa as a nurse during the Boer War. Meanwhile, William retrained and began a new career as a piano tuner in the Abertillery area.

On the churchyard wall you can see a blue plaque commemorating artist John Selway (1938-2017), who lived and worked in Abertillery. He created a Stations of the Cross for the church, which was later moved to a more suitable environment for its conservation.

Postcode: NP13 1DA View Location Map

Website of St Michael’s Church