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Sarn, near Newtown, Powys, Wales

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History of Sarn Baptist Church

The village of Sarn is situated in the Vale of Kerry (Dyffryn Ceri) on the A489 road between Newtown and Churchstoke. The Baptist Church in Sarn was formed in 1826. The chapel was erected in 1827 and enlarged by the addition of a Schoolroom in 1938.

Although Sarn is now regarded as being in Mid-Wales, from the eighteenth century until the early twentieth century it was considered as being in North Wales. Until 1860 Sarn was in the parish of Kerry (Ceri) but that year the ecclesiastical parish of Sarn was formed. Sarn was in the county of Montgomeryshire until Montgomeryshire became part of the new county of Powys in 1974.

Sarn is a Welsh word meaning a 'causeway' and so it is possible that the village takes its name from the road built along the valley which passes from Churchstoke to Ceri over the flat, somewhat marshy area between Sarn village and Gwern-y-go.

The earliest references we have found to a settlement at Sarn are in the Kerry Parochial Records in 1748 and 1758. The 1841 Census shows that there were twenty people living at the Sarn Inn and eleven at Sarn. The settlement at Sarn can best be described by the Welsh word pentref, which is used in Welsh to indicate almost any group of houses, which may include as few as a half a dozen dwellings or as many as 200 to 300.

The earliest record of Baptist activity in the Kerry parish is in the Visitations Returns for 1804 when the Incumbent wrote that:

There are some dissenters (Anabaptists, few in number) in the Parish, their numbers of late have not increased ... There is no Chapel belonging to the Dissenters in the Parish.

The Dissenting Registrations for the Kerry Parish are incomplete but they include the registration of the house of Evan Bowen, The Lower House, in the township of Gwenithrew and so this may well be the place where the first services were held.

Lower House Kerry
Lower House where the first Baptist meetings took place (photographed in 2007)

However, the early preaching did not result in the formation of a church. Services at Sarn were begun again by Rev. John Jones of Newtown. Joseph Davies, a deacon of the Baptist church at Newtown, then built the chapel in the village at his own expense.

Sarn chapel  sarn chapel hall
Sarn Chapel and rear view showing the 1938 Schoolroom

The original chapel was a simple brick building but at a later date the side facing Kerry was clad with slate to protect the building from the weather and a porch was erected. The inside of the chapel was modified in 1906. Until then the pulpit was immediately inside the door and so any latecomers had to enter the building in full view of the congregation! The pulpit was moved to its present position facing the entrance and the text 'O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness', painted on a metal sheet, was fixed on the wall over the pulpit. New pews were provided, but those to the left of the pulpit were not fixed so that they could be moved to face the congregation for Anniversary services. The chapel was fitted with a new floor and two new stoves were provided for heating. The total cost of the renovations amounted to nearly £180. The largest donation of £25 towards the cost was given by David Davies Esq., MP. To mark the re-opening of the Chapel after its closure for three months, services were held on Tuesday evening 18 September 1906, on the following Wednesday with a public meeting in the afternoon and a preaching service in the evening, and on the following Sunday with three services. In addition to the minister, Rev. William Jenkins, who preached at the morning and evening services on the Sunday, no less than seven other ministers, including the former pastor, Rev. John Harrison, preached at these services.

A photograph of Rev. William Jenkins in the pulpit shows that the harmonium was placed immediately below the pulpit. There was no communion table permanently in the chapel and so it is probable that a table was brought in when the Lord's Supper was observed. It is known that this is what happened at the Baptist Church at Stafford for many years and this may have been the regular pattern in other Baptist churches in the early part of the twentieth century.

rev. william jenkins
Rev. William Jenkins in the pulpit.

The chapel does not have a baptistry. In the early days baptisms took place in a brook near the City Lane, then at Trefeen (Tre-ffin) and Bahaithlon in a brook where there was a sluice-gate to form a washing pool for sheep. During the twentieth century baptisms have also taken place in the Baptist churches at Kerry and Montgomery. For the most recent baptisms a portable baptistery was erected inside the Sarn chapel.

Trefeen brook
Trefeen showing the stream where baptisms took place.

In 1936 at The Baptist Union Assembly the Baptist Forward Movement was launched with the aim of raising £1 million for the building of new church premises throughout the country. The pastor, Rev. D. Glyn Davies, urged that the church should erect a Schoolroom. As a consequence Miss Mary Withers, formerly of Pantllwyn (Pant-y-llwn), Sarn, gave money for the building and erection of a Schoolroom in memory of her parents, sisters and two brothers.

Like many other Baptist churches in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Sarn found it difficult to provide adequate financial support for the ministers and their families. According to family tradition Rev. Edward Owen (1854-1863) supported himself by working as a carpenter. The Church accounts were clearly a matter of concern during Rev. Edward Lawrence's ministry (1893-1895). There were probably similar concerns in earlier ministries but no records are available. In October 1894 the Church decided to reduce the Chapel Keeper's pay from 1/9 to 1/6 per week from Michaelmas to March and to pay her 1/- a week from March to Michaelmas. In February the following year during the interregnum it became necessary to borrow eleven pounds from the Poor Fund to meet the current expenses of the Church. However, despite its financial problems the Church proceeded to consider a call to the pastorate in April. The Church's decision to rejoin The Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland in 1899 was presumably taken because it was felt that the 'English Union' had greater financial resources for assisting small churches! During the twentieth century maintenance of stipendiary ministry was only made possible with the help of the Home Work Fund (later renamed Home Mission Fund). The Home Mission Fund Grant Application in 1972 illustrates the perilous state of the church finances. That year the church paid car expenses of £73.50 for garage repairs but no other ministerial expenses and they offered no ministerial expenses for the following year. Nevertheless the church was given a Home Mission Fund Grant in 1973.

In February 1973 Rev. Robert Davies told the Annual Church Meeting that he hoped to retire at the end of the year if he could find suitable accommodation. The Church approached Rev. Ellis Mold, the West Midland Superintendent, for his advice as they wished to have another Pastor, either a Minister or a Baptist Deaconess. The Church was given the name of Rev. Harold Nicklin, who was called to the pastorate. Despite the Church's willingness to have a female minister it was not until 1994 that the Church received the name of a possible female pastor, Rev. Christine Perrrett, who was seeking an honorary pastorate. She preached at the Church but the Church did not issue a call.

The last full time pastorate ended in 1984. From 1989 until September 2011 part-time or retired ministers have served the church.

From October 2011 until September 2014 the church had a Minister-In-Training (MIT), Mr. Robert Saunders, who also served as a MIT at Kerry Baptist Church. He spent one year as a ministerial student at the North Wales Baptist College, Bangor (Y Coleg Gwyn) and then transferred to the South Wales Baptist College, Cardiff. The churches received a grant for half the cost of his stipend from The Baptist Union of Wales, which also awarded him a bursary towards the cost of his College training.

On 4th August 2017 the Officers of the Baptist Churches of Kerry, Newtown and Sarn met with Revd Maggie Rich, minister of Idle Baptist Church, Bradford, who was exploring the possibility of returning to rural ministry in Wales. On 13th August she conducted the morning service at Sarn and the evening service at Kerry, the Newtown church cancelling its evening services so that members could attend the service at Kerry. Each of the churches then held Church Members' Meetings and they invited Revd. Maggie Rich to be their minister. She accepted their Call.

From 1844 until 1899 the church was affiliated to the Old Welsh Baptist Association (renamed the Radnorshire and Montgomeryshire Baptist Association in 1897) but it then transferred to the Shropshire Baptist Association as it wished to practise open communion in preference to the then mandatory close communion of the Welsh Association. Along with its sister church of Cwm it then belonged to the Shropshire District. However, in November 2000 the church decided not to join the new Heart of England Baptist Association but to rejoin the Radnorshire and Montgomeryshire Association. While retaining its membership with the Baptist Union, the church rejoined The Baptist Union of Wales.

Although Sarn has never been a large church several men, who have been members, have entered the Baptist ministry. David Richard Owen, the son of Rev. Edward Owen, and Henry Harrison, the son of Rev. John Harrison, became Baptist ministers. During the pastorate of John Harrison a young man named Charles Joseph, who was born at Staunton on Arrow, Herefordshire, came into the district seeking work. His search was fruitless and when he arrived one day at the Blue Bell Inn crossroads between Sarn and Churchstoke, he was so disconsolate and unsure of his future that he decided to throw his walking stick into the air and to follow the way it fell. It pointed towards Sarn and there he found employment as a farm labourer. He began to attend services and was baptized in the brook near Lower View, City Lane. He eventually became a builder and then he felt called to become a Baptist minister. He trained at Pastors' College and had a distinguished ministry becoming President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland in 1919. Richard Pryce Jones became the lay pastor of Montgomery Baptist Church and, following his passing of the Baptist Union Examination, he was ordained.

Following the passing of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act in 2014, the Baptist Union of Wales advised its member Churches to hold a Church Meeting as soon as practicable to decide their policy with regard to same sex marriage. Prior to the Church Meeting held on 5th June 2014, all Church Members were given a copy of the information sent to Ministers and Church Secretaries by the Baptist Union of Wales. The Church Meeting unanimously passed the following motion:

Services for same sex marriage and services of blessing of same sex civil marriages are not permitted in Sarn Baptist Chapel.

Rules Concerning duties of Pastor passed by Sarn Baptist Church in the earliest surviving Church Book, 1894

1st- That he conduct one service during the week in the Chapel or elsewhere.

2nd- That he should not promise to occupy other pulpits on the Lord's Day without first consulting the deacons & finding a substitute to their satisfaction.

3rd- That he be required to visit all the members of Sarn & Cwm regularly and as often as possible also members of the Congregation The Church deems this duty of greatest importance tending to bind together in Christian love and unity the Pasto, Church & Congregation.

4th- That he conduct a week night preaching Service once every month at Cwm.

5th- That he be allowed three Sundays absent during the Year but no more than three Sundays together.

6th- That the afore mentioned rules be written out and Signed by the Pastor.


John Jones, 'of Newtown' 1826 -1831

Until his untimely death in 1831 John Jones, 'of Newtown' enjoyed much success as a preacher, evangelist and church planter. He formed Sarn as a branch of Zion Baptist Church, Newtown, in 1826

Edward Trow 1831-

Following the death of Rev. John Jones, 'of Newtown', a layman, Edward Trow, was in charge of Sarn. Probably, communion services were taken by the Newtown Minister, Rev. Benjamin Price, who was known as 'Cymro Bach'.

John Jones 1837- 1851

After Sarn became an independent church it called to the pastorate John Jones. He was also responsible for the work at Cwm from 1845.

Edward Owen 1854-63

Edward Owen was described as 'a lively and energetic preacher' and he was a very good Latin scholar. He later served as Minister of Kerry Baptist Church. During his ministry Holy Trinity Church was opened by the Anglicans in the village. Edward Owen's son, Rev. David Richard Owen, became a Baptist Minister and one of the Trustees of Sarn Chapel

Isaac T. Williams 1864

Little is known about Isaac Williams, who had one other pastorate of one year duration after he left Sarn and Cwm.

John Harrison 1865-84

John Harrison was originally a Calvinistic Methodist preacher but he changed his viewed on the subject of baptism and, with his wife was baptized January 1865 at Pontesbury Baptist Church, Shropshire. He was the longest serving minister at Sarn. He was the first minister to live in the newly built manse, which was known originally as 'Cure Cottage'. John Harrison baptized his son, Henry, who became a Baptist Minister. He also baptized Charles Joseph, who after a distinguished ministerial career, became President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland.

William Davies 1885-87

William Davies was trained at Haverfordwest College and so was the first college-trained Minister to serve at Sarn. He left Sarn to enter Yale College, U.S.A.

Stephen James Baker 1888--90

S. J. Baker was trained at Pastor's [Spurgeon's] College. After three subsequent pastorates in England he moved to the United States.

David Burwyn Davies 1891-1892

D. B. Davies worked in the mines from the age of 8 and trained at Pontypool College. He served at Bwlchysarnau and Cefnpole, Radnorshire, before coming to Sarn and Cwm.

Edward Lawrence 1893-95

E. Lawrence trained at Haverfordwest College. After 2 years at Sarn and Cwm he moved to Pembrokeshire where he spent the remainder of his ministry.

Arthur George Jones 1895- 1898

Dr. Arthur George Jones had previously served as the minister of several Free Baptist churches in Nova Scotia. Free Baptists observed open communion, i.e. they did not restrict attendance at the communion service to those baptized as believers. It was probably under Dr. Jones's influence that the Sarn church adopted open communion.

William Jenkins 1899-1916

William Jenkins came to Sarn and Cwm from Lancashire. He died in 1917. One young man he baptized was Richard Pryce Jones, who became Minister of Montgomery Baptist Church.

John Llewellyn John 1916-21

J.L. John trained at Cardiff Baptist College. After Sarn and Cwm he had pastorates at Oswestry and Stourbridge.

Thomas Lloyd Morgan 1922-29

T. L. Morgan left Sarn and Cwm to serve in Shropshire and then in Rutland.

Richard Cynddylan Morgan 1931-33

R. C. Morgan had two pastorates after Sarn and Cwm but then appears then to have left the Baptist Ministry.

David Glyn Davies 1934-1939

David G. Davies served as a padre in World War, when he contracted a serious infection. He came to Sarn and Cwm after several months in hospital. His son recalls the patience and support of the Sarn congregation as he gradually recovered his health.

Frederick Arthur Baker 1939-1947

Frederick Baker came to Sarn from Eastleigh, Hampshire, and left Sarn for his final pastorate in Ludlow.

William Penry Rowland Davies 1948-56 & 1975-80

W. Penry R. Davies, who trained at Cardiff Baptist College, has the distinction of being the only minister who had two pastorates at Sarn and Cwm. His son, Rev. John P.R. Davies, served as minister of Dolau Nantmel and Rock Baptist Churches, Radnorshire, 2000-16.

Brian Evans 1958-63

Brian Evans, trained at Cardiff College, and married Llinos Davies while at Sarn. He entered the Anglican ministry in 1971.

Robert Davies 1963-73

Robert Davies, who trained at Bangor Baptist College, was the last minister of the churches at Sarn and Cwm.

Harold William Nicklin 1974-75

Harold Nicklin had been a missionary with the Baptist Missionary Society in Bangladesh before he came to Sarn. Sadly, his health deteriorated and he was forced to resign the Sarn pastorate.

James McHaffie 1980-84

Sarn was a regarded as a 'retirement pastorate' when James McHaffie moved to Sarn.

Geoffrey Wood 1989-92

Geoffrey Wood, who lived at Clun, Shropshire, had been Organizing Secretary for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Michael John Collis 1998-2011

Michael Collis, who trained at Spurgeon's College, was formerly a research chemist. He came to Sarn after pastorates in Hertford and Stafford. He is the only Minister of Sarn who has served as the President of the English Assembly of the Baptist Union of Wales.

Robert Saunders, BA, 2011-2014

Rob Saunders and his wife Donna were members of St. Peter's Baptist Church, Worcester, which commended him for ministerial training. In July 2014 he was called to the pastorate of Coleford Baptist Church in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire.

Maggie Rich, 2017-

Maggie Rich trained at Northern Baptist College and was Minister-in-Training at Stockport Baptist Church (year 1) and Tameside Fellowship (years 2 and 3). She was Minister of Knighton, Coxall and Knucklas Baptist Churches, 2005-14, and Minister of Idle Baptist Church, Bradford, 2014-17.

Chapel Burial Ground

Like many Non-conformist Chapels Sarn had its own burial ground. One of the first burials was of Mrs. Ann Jones, the wife of the Church's first minister, Revd John Jones, in 1846. Amongst those buried there are Edward Davies and his uncle Joseph Davies, who erected the Chapel

Edward Davies

Just inside the gate to the Chapel is the impressive tomb of Edward Davies and his family.

Edward Davies attained notoriety when in 1829 his mother Catharine Bywaters tried unsuccessfully to have him declared insane. It was the first proceedings under the provisions of the 1828 Act to Regulate the Insane Persons in England (known colloquially as the 'Madhouse Act').

In 1820 Catharine Bywaters had received a large legacy from a Montgomeryshire relative. Edward was apprenticed to a grocer and tea dealer in the City of London. When he came of age he and his mother used the inheritance to buy the established tea firm of Hodgson, of Philpot Lane. They renamed the firm as Hodgson & Davies in 1823. He became one of the most successful tea traders in the City but his behaviour became rather eccentric.

The news of the failure of his mother's attempt to have him declared insane was received with great joy in Newtown. All the bells of the town were rang out with public joy. After a huge public supper at the Castle Inn, her effigy was burned. Sheep were roasted in the marketplace and distributed to the poor - the result of a generous response to a subscription set up by Edward's friends and well-wishers in the town. The local newspaper, the Carmarthenshire Journal and the Chester Courant, described Edward's victory as a 'triumph over oppression and cruelty'. (Sarah Wise, Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England, London: The Bodley Head, 2012, pp. 1-32).

Edward Davies in the mid-1830s became a Welsh gentleman farmer farming Upper Trefeen, although he was a sleeping partner in Hodgson & Davies until the final dissolution of the firm in 1843, four years after his mother's death. He married a local woman, Mary, in 1838, and had four children and he built Snowfield mansion for himself.

Sarn was part of the Kerry parish and Edward Davies fell out with the Vicar, as he felt that the Vicar was discriminating against the non-conformist poor when distributing money from the various Kerry charities. When Edward Davies' son Pryce drowned in a tragic swimming accident in the Ithon at Llandrindod Wells, he was buried at Sarn.

The Memorial Inscription for Edward Davies and his family reads:

In affectionate remembrance of / Pryce only son of Edward and Mary Davies, of Trefeen, / died August 28th 1869, aged 22 years / also of / Sarah / their second daughter, and wife of / William Leonard Lloyd, of Red House, Berriew, / died December 24th 1871 / Aged 21 Years / Also of the said Mary Davies / died February 8th 1872, Aged 52 Years / Also of Fanny, only child of William Leonard / and Sarah Lloyd, died May 27th 1874 Aged 2 Years / Also of / the kind and gentle / Edward Davies / of Snowfields, who died 31st August 1879 / aged 77 years

Joseph Davies

To the right of the Chapel Porch is the memorial to Joseph Davies. He was born in Llanmerewig in 1773, the youngest son of Maurice and Elizabeth Davies. The family moved to farm at Black Holes (now Black Hall) on the road from Newtown to Dolfor. In 1805, soon after the death of his father, he married Gwen Oliver, daughter of John Oliver of Llanllwchaiarn. They appear to have had no children. In later years he lived in Park Street (Upper Green), Newtown, and appears there in the census returns of 1841 and 1851. His Memorial Inscription reads:

In Memory of/ Joseph Davies, Gent. / Formerly of Black Hall, / and afterwards / of Newtown in this County. / who died Feb. 14th 1857, Aged 84 Years. // He erected this chapel at his own expense, and here at other / places for 60 years he preached the Gospel gratuitously and for / the same period he honourably sustained the office of Deacon / in the Church at Newtown. / As a Christian he was distinguished by great simplicity / humility and devotedness in the Redeemer's cause, he / carried with him to the grave the esteem and veneration / cherished towards him through his long life. / He was 'an Israelite indeed in whom was no guile'.

The Memorial Inscriptions in the Burial Ground were recorded by the Montgomeryshire Genealogy Society in 2004 (Montgomeryshire Records No. MR/MI/66 Parish of Sarn Memorial Inscriptions).

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