Nixonville, Merthyr Vale, Merthyr Tydfil, CF48 4RF
A functional steel framed hall-church built in 1932 by the Benedictines of Merthyr Tydfil to replace a chapel of 1908 that was condemned due to mining subsidence. The building is not of great architectural interest, but has some furnishings of note, including items associated with the victims of the Aberfan disaster of 1966.
In 1869 the first mine in Merthyr Vale was sunk, with full production being achieved by 1875. The mine attracted many workers including Irish immigrants. At this time the growing Catholic community had to travel a number of miles to Mountain Ash or Merthyr Tydfil for Mass. From 1892 Merthyr Vale was served by a Benedictine priest from St Mary’s at Merthyr Tydfil (qv) with Mass being held at 26 Taff Street and the Rechabite Hall in Crescent Street. By 1908 Canon Bernard Wade felt that the community in Merthyr Vale was sufficiently well established to warrant its own church and what The Tablet called a ‘modest but sufficient’ church dedicated to St Benedict was opened that year by Bishop Hedley of Newport. Initially served by the Benedictines at Merthyr Tydfil, the church was handed over to the diocese in 1919-20, and a resident priest was appointed. Later in the 1920s the church was condemned due to mining subsidence, so a new site had to be acquired and the present church built, with financial support from the Powell Dyffryn Colliery. Also dedicated to St Benedict, this was formally opened on 18 December 1932 by Archbishop Mostyn of Cardiff. The Rev. F. Terrell Brown was appointed parish priest in 1938 and soon after his arrival oversaw the furnishing of the sanctuary. The writer and historian Peter Anson visited the church in 1939, and wrote: ‘the interior of the little church, which in itself has no architectural interest, has recently been redecorated in a most pleasing manner by the late parish priest, Fr F. Terrell Brown, and is striking proof of what can be achieved at very little cost’.
On 21 October 1966 a colliery spoil tip at nearby Aberfan collapsed onto the village below, engulfing the local junior school and surrounding buildings and homes. 116 children and 28 adults were killed, including eleven members of the parish of St Benedict. A memorial was erected in the church to all the victims, inscribed with the names of the parish dead.
In 1970 a presbytery was built alongside the church, replacing that known as Forest Cottage on Cardiff Road, which had been in use since 1919. In 1976 the church was reordered; the altar was replaced with a forward altar and the sanctuary rails, reredos, and canopy were removed. In more recent years St Benedict’s merged with St Mary’s in Merthyr Tydfil and the presbytery was sold. In 2012 the four parishes of Merthyr Tydfil were amalgamated, with St Benedict’s continuing to be served from St Mary’s.
The church is a simple steel-framed and red brick structure under slate roofs with tile ridges. The lower walls have been faced with a yellow brick plinth (probably added in the 1970s) and modern painted metal cladding. There is a small open porch with a hipped roof. The windows are uPVC replacements.
Inside, an entrance corridor has a meeting room and WCs to either side. Within the corridor is a wooden statue of the Madonna and Child. The main body of the church is a wide single space of four bays, with a confessional to the south. It has a roof of steel truss construction, a boarded timber floor with carpet strips and hardwood pews. The sanctuary is raised by two steps, with the tabernacle up a further step in an arched alcove. The sanctuary floor is carpeted, the walls clad with timber and it has a modern flat suspended ceiling. To the north of the tabernacle is an oak memorial to the eleven parishioners killed in the Aberfan Disaster of 1966. The timber altar, ambo and tabernacle stand are all late twentieth century in date; the ambo was donated in memory of Michael Collins (1956-1966), one of the Aberfan victims. The font, located in the sanctuary is octagonal and oak. A crucifix is offset and may be that shown in Anson’s drawing. There is a plaster statue of St Benedict in the southeast corner.
Architect: Not established
Original Date: 1932
Conservation Area: No
Listed Grade: Not Listed