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St John's Church

Dowlais Parish Church


    The Church of  St. John the Baptist, Dowlais 

A History of the Church in the Parish of Dowlais was written in 1977 by Huw Williams  to celebrate the 150th anniversary of St John’s Church, Dowlais  

The Church of  St. John the Baptist, Dowlais  was built in 1827.

It is likely that the Dowlais Church was named after its founder and benefactor, Josiah, John Guest, iron master of Dowlais and known as Sir John Guest.

Although brought up a strict Weslyan Methodist he decided that the religious welfare of the workmen called for a church in Dowlais and that the industrial success of Dowlais called  for the establishment of Dowlais as a Parish in its own right.

Guest paid £3,000 towards the cost of the building. It was consecrated and opened on 27th November 1827 by Dr Sumner, Bishop of Winchester and former Bishop of Llandaff.

Lady Charlotte Guest presented the Church with its Communion vessels. Sir John Guest contributed generously to the maintenance of the clergy at Dowlais   but he also supported many chapels in the area also. Sir John died in Dowlais on the 26th November, 1852 and a plain Italian marble slab at the top of the Chancel steps still marks where he is buried in St John’s Church. A massive marble columned tablet is inscribed with his epitaph. St. John’s Church thrived  and held 2 services each Sunday, two services in English and also two in Welsh and so it catered for both languages. 

The interior of St John’s is imposing because of its sheer size. The tall fine oak roof of the Nave is a hammer beam type, supported by 6 larger and 5 smaller corbel tables on each Nave wall. The interior walls are double thick yellow brick The five plain Early English styled columns with rounded bases can still be seen inset to the new west Nave wall.


The original Church was a plain, simple, square building with tall windows and a square tower. Gradually the Church has been extended, rebuilt and enlarged. During the 1890s the main Nave was rebuilt with additions to the aisles to allow room for the growing congregation and enable 800 sittings.

The Church was restored at a cost of £4,500 under the direction of the architect E.A. Johnson, who later designed the Merthyr Tydfil Town Hall. Most of the expense was paid by Lord Wimborne, eldest son of the founder Sir John Guest; although a great bazaar in Dowlais raised £1,000 which was a huge amount in those days. The new extended aisle was the gift of Edward Pritchard Martin, General Manager of the Dowlais Iron Company in memory  of his father George Martin. This family also financed the splendid decorative ‘Miner’s Window’ in the Church which show two coal miners digging at a coal face with the caption underneath, ‘The Thing that is hid Bringeth he forth light’. Such an industrial motif in stained glass is quite unusual to be found in a Church.  The bare headed miners, with their picks, candles, and their clothing and boots, present an accurate image of a coal miner.

 The Martin family had charge of the Collieries for the Dowlais Works and the American singer, Donny Osmond, claims descent from this famous Dowlais family, whose Brass plaques and monuments are still in the Church. The enlarged and redesigned Church was opened officially in October 1894 with a special service.

The present Church is a fine structure of Llancaiach blue pennant stone, after the Gothic style of the 13th and 14th centuries.  This wonderful Gothic church has long been a central land mark in Dowlais and has changed little since the late nineteenth century, although the former vestry has been demolished.  St Johns Church is 112 feet in length, with a maximum width of 84 feet and about 60 feet high. The whole construction is of masoned Pennant stone, but the doors and windows are surrounded with lighter coloured ashlar blocks of Forest and Bathstone trimmed with dripstone and moulds. This magnificent church was always perhaps too large for its congregation in this most non-conformist of towns.

Far less then 10% of the population here attended an Anglican Church. In our more secular times in proved to be too large for its Dowlais Congregation  But there are now plans for its conversion to residential flats which will retain its original fine structure.




<click on the photo to enlarge>

The original St John's Church built 1827, rebuilt in 1894.

The new St. John's Parish Church, Dowlais. as rebuilt in 1894.

(Postcard courtesy of Mrs Gill Thomas, West Grove)

St. John's Church Interior - From the Chancel Steps


Interior view of Parish Church Dowlais.

Dowlais_InteriorParishChurch_LeoDaviesCollection.JPG (167413 bytes)

Sir Josiah John Guest is buried in St John's Church,

and this memorial plaque is on the wall above his grave




(Photograph courtesy of Barry Morris)



St. John's Church Dowlais - Christmas Party at the Wimborne Hall - 1932

(Photograph Courtesy of Phil Lewis)


St. John's Dowlais Mother's Union - Annual Trip to Barry Island - 1948

Back Row L-R: ? ? Elsie Williams (Horse Street), Lily Williams (Horse Street) and the remainder not known.
The boy is Robert Lewis (15 Horse Street).

(Photograph Courtesy of Phil Lewis)


St. John's Church Dowlais - Circa 1958

The vicar is Reverend Hopkins.

Choir Boys L-R: Robert Lewis, ? Hughes (or Lloyd), Peter Davies, Stuart Jones, Keith Lowe, ? Owen and Raymond Wall. 

None of the girls' names are known.

(Photograph Courtesy of Phil Lewis)


St. John's Church Dowlais - Circa 1959

Phil tells us: "This photograph of the left hand side choir stalls with the organist in front of the organ.  My brother Peter Lewis is on the extreme left and I on the far right.  It was taken in approx 1959.  2nd from the right is, I think, Bobby Barkhouse and the girl on the extreme left is Beryl Hooper." Keith Lowe tells us: "The boy second from from the left is Robert Williams, the organist is Bill Jones and the girl second from the right is Gill Atkins, daughter of Jo Atkins, ironmonger."

(Photograph Courtesy of Phil Lewis)



St. John's Church Playgroup - 1969c.

The playgroup used to meet in the St. John's Church Hall.

(Photograph Courtesy of Huw Williams)



Dowlais - St. John's Church Hall - 1977.

Back Row L - R:         Jennifer Thomas (rectors wife, holding child), Megan Mold (from Rectory Close), Gaynor Mold (daughter of Megan).

Front Row L - R:         Freda Winsor, Mrs Winnie Lynch, Susan Winsor (child).

(Photograph Courtesy of John Winsor)



St. John's Church Dowlais - Stained Glass Window

(Photograph From The David Thomas Collection)

Easter Communion Postcard.



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