Along with the Parish Church, Llanelli House and Buckley’s Brewery, the spire of the Methodist Church in Hall Street dominates the historical skyline of the town of Llanelli. Although Hall Street Methodist Church was built a hundred and fifty years ago, its very conception was formed in the mind of the founder of Methodism when he was told by the wife of Henry Child that
… ‘there was one thing above all that the society in the town wanted - a preaching house’. John Wesley is said to have taken a guinea from his pocket and given it to Mr. & Mrs. Henry Child as the first subscription towards the building of the first Methodist church in Llanelli. According to historians, this event took place on Wesley’s last visit to Llanelli which was in 1790. When writing his book ‘The History of Llanelli Parish Church’ in 1888, Arthur Mee stated that
‘A letter of Wesley’s and the guinea which he gave to the little cause are still treasured by the Buckley family’
Henry Child was a local businessman, maltster and brewer. He was also an ‘agent’ to the major 18th century landowner, Sir Thomas Stepney of Llanelli. Child, who had joined the Methodist Society in 1769, played an important part in the commercial development of the town and indeed the growth of the Methodist movement in Llanelli.
The Methodist Movement is said to have been brought to Llanelli by Wilfred Colley who was butler to Sir Thomas Stepney of Llanelli House. Colley had probably heard Wesley preach while in service with Sir Thomas at his London home. Sir Thomas is reputed to have encouraged the ‘Society’ in Llanelli and allowed them to hold services in the servant’s hall of Llanelli House. John Wesley in his diary comments on the local feelings towards the Methodists in 1769… ‘The behaviour of Sir Thomas’ servants here (four or five of whom belong to the society) has removed all prejudice from him, as well as from most of the town’. And so it was in 1792 that ‘Wind Street Chapel’, Llanelli’s first Wesleyan Chapel was built in the garden of Henry Child’s house in Thomas St. It has been claimed that for many years it became the only place of English worship within a radius of 16 miles. The predominant language at that time was of course, Welsh.
The beginning of the 19 century saw a dramatic rise in the town’s population caused by the industrial revolution and the immigrant labour that attended it. In turn the congregation of Wind Street Chapel had itself grown so much that by 1828 the foundation stone of a larger building was laid by Mrs Rev. James Buckley. Further additions were necessary because by 1834 an extension was built. Wind Street Chapel used to stand at the top of Gelli Onn, today the town’s main ring road.
Reverend James Buckley, a disciple of Wesley arrived in Llanelli about 1795 under what can be described as distressing circumstances. During his fording of the Loughor Estuary he got into great difficulties and was swept nearly a quarter of a mile downstream. Fortunately he was rescued and arrived at the safe haven of Mr Henry Child’s house and under the care of his daughter Maria who later became the Mrs Reverend James Buckley! This union between Maria and James Buckley helped to ensure the continued growth of the Methodist church in Llanelli and of what was to become Wales’ oldest brewing establishment - Buckley’s Brewery.
By the mid 19 century the church and town had expanded yet again, which necessitated the building of a new church on a new site. A parcel of land adjacent to Llanelli’s Old Town Hall in Hall Street was purchased by the trustees in 1854 for this purpose. The old Wind Street Chapel known as ‘Jerusalem', was sold to the Welsh Methodists for the reputed sum of £200.
On the 30th May 1856 ‘The Cambrian’ newspaper reported that “the New Wesleyan Chapel was opened on Tuesday morning (27th May) when an excellent and very impressive sermon was delivered by that popular preacher the Rev. John Rattenbury of London”. The Victorian newspaper describes the new chapel as a “beautiful specimen of the Gothic style of architecture, the exterior resembling a church rather than a dissenting place of worship. The interior is fitted up with every regard to comfort beauty and taste. The pulpit is neat and pretty and the effect of the beautifully stained glass windows is splendid and cathedral like”. This description is echoed by CADW, Wales’ historic monuments agency in its listing report on the Grade II building …‘An elaborate Gothic chapel by the architect said to have led the Wesleyan Church into the path of the Gothic Revival.’
Like its predecessor chapel, the Hall Street Church underwent a number of extensions and improvements. In 1870 two wings were added and by 1896 it boasted a tower with a recessed spire, thanks to the legacy of £2000 from John Mead. John Wesley could not have imagined that his original subscription of one guinea in 1790 would ultimately lead to such a beautiful edifice to his faith.