The Church of St. John the Baptist,
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