Historic churches and other Christian sites in South Wales

The Church in the Victorian period and later

In the early part of the 19th century, the spiritual malaise that had affected the institutional church in the 18th century and had led to the split with the Methodists still continued. A series of Tracts for the Times was published by leading reformers arguing, among other things, for greater emphasis on the sacraments: the ´Oxford Movement´ was born, which was to have profound effects on the liturgy of the Anglican church. At around the same time, a group of academics at Oxford and Cambridge began to promote the study of medieval church antiquities and architecture, founding the discipline which became known as ecclesiology. The influence of these two movements together fundamentally altered the appearance of Anglican churches in England and Wales. Coupled with this was a realisation that the system of historic parishes was no longer fit for purpose: tens of thousands of people in industrial communities had no local church they could conveniently attend.

On the organisational side, a concerted effort was made to require clergymen to live in the parishes they served. This put any deficiencies in the condition of the parish church (partly caused in rural parishes by an agricultural depression after the Napoleonic wars) much higher up the agenda, and the attention of the vicar and the squire started to turn to restoration. In industrial areas where places of worship had been lacking the industrialists usually sponsored Anglican churches, leaving their workforces to build Nonconformist chapels if they wanted them. This led to the establishment of whole industry of architects who designed according to these principles, the craftsmen with the skills to realise their creations, and a mail-order business to supply the furniture and fittings for inside.

Passions ran high over the ´correct´ way to design and order a church. The ecclesiologists promoted gothic architecture, the Decorated style in particular, as the only suitable architecture for churches, and were prepared to publish vitriolic criticism of buildings they disapproved of. They also attacked Georgian churches and those built in the simple local post-medieval vernacular tradition. Whilst significant rebuilding was clearly needed for churches which had developed structural problems, the wholesale redesign involved in many cases seems to have been the result of prejudice.

From the 1870s a more relaxed attitude was taken to design; Perpendicular became popular, and Early English was used for churches that had a tight budget. By the start of the 20th century, 138 new churches had been built in Glamorgan alone, not taking into account that fact that all the existing churches had been restored or built: South Wales was less affected than many British counties by a second agricultural depression between 1873 and 1896 because of the money that was still being brought in by heavy industry. Another 40 were built in the years up to the Second World War. Churches were still being provided for new housing developments even after the Second World War, but the architectural styles had completely changed.