The current building was built between 23 June 1950 and 12 January 1951, to be developed as part of the Golden Lane Estate. It replaced a chapel in the nearby Barbican which was constructed in the former Jewin Crescent in 1878-9, which replaced the original chapel which had been established in 1774, the first of 30 Welsh chapels in London.
In the 1770s some of the Welsh in London would gather in a meeting room in Cock Lane, Smithfield, to attend services in the Welsh language organised by Edward Jones and Griffith Jones. The former was an ex-soldier and ‘rum and brandy merchant’ while the latter was a ‘ginger-beer manufacturer’: they were, to put it mildly, an unlikely pair of founding fathers.
It is likely that Edward Jones had also been active in Welsh meetings in south London. The great revivalist Howel Harris had preached in Lambeth on his first visit to London in 1739 and returned many times over the years that followed. This is the tradition on which the Cock Lane meetings were built.
By 1785 the congregation had outgrown its home in Smithfield and moved to a small chapel in Wilderness Row, near the junction of today’s St John Street and Clerkenwell Road. There were turbulent times at Wilderness Row. Edward Jones was a tyrant who meted out his own brand of punishment to ‘wayward’ chapel members. The damage to the cause took a long time to be repaired. It took a rather special man, James Hughes, to steady the ship.
The congregation moved to grander premises in Jewin Crescent in 1823 with James Hughes (‘Iago Trichrug’) as minister. He led the cause until his death in 1844.
A succession of gifted men, including Dr Owen Thomas, David Charles Davies, and J E Davies (‘Rhuddwawr’), took charge of the church during the second half of the nineteenth century. Membership boomed and Jewin became widely known as one of the most powerful and influential churches in the Calvinistic Methodist domain. The congregation moved to an even more impressive home in 1879. The new chapel was built on the corner of Fann Street at a cost of £10,000. This building was destroyed in the Blitz in 1940, and the building we see today was opened in 1960. This ambitious rebuilding project was the vision of one man the Rev D S Owen who served as minister from 1915 to 1959.
Designed in the stark architecture and internal layout of the New Humanism movement, it opened in 1961 and contains a Compton organ.
After a dramatic fall in the congregation, in 2013 London-based BBC News presenter Huw Edwards agreed to lead a campaign to save the building and the chapel, to keep the traditions of the London Welsh community alive. Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones choose the campaign as his input to BBC Wales Today for Children In Need 2013.
Services today follow a simple format. We begin by singing a short prayer, known as an intrada. The preacher will then announce the first hymn before giving a reading. The second hymn is followed by a prayer which ends with everyone singing the Lord’s Prayer. One of the elders will then announce any news and a collection will be taken to support the work of the church. After the third hymn the preacher will deliver a sermon and after the closing hymn give a blessing.
On the first Sunday of the month we hold a special service lead the members, focusing on a particular theme. This follows a different pattern with various people taking part, and rather than a sermon there are a series of short addresses and musical items.
On the third Sunday in May and on Remembrance Sunday we hold a ‘cymanfa ganu’ – a traditional hymn singing festival. With a guest conductor and organist this is an opportunity to sing old favourites and explore more contemporary hymns.
This ancient service was traditionally held at dawn on Christmas Day, but we choose the more civilized time of 5pm on the second Sunday of January. The services features a special form of carols sung a ccapella by soloist, duets or small parties. Followed by a cheese and wine reception this has become a popular London Welsh event.
At Christmas we hold a service of lessons and carols on the second Sunday in December and a Christmas Communion Service on the afternoon of the Sunday before Christmas