Welsh School of Architecture

Architectural History & Theory (AHTG)

Kathryn Wilkinson

Project title:
The Vernacular Origin of Welsh Nonconformist Chapels

Some Welsh Nonconformist chapels, particularly those having two doors in the entrance façade, have been characterised as an indigenous vernacular building type, distinguishing them from the more grandiose chapels of the later nineteenth century that were associated with urbanisation and industrialisation. This thesis questions this characterisation, firstly through a comparison of chapel buildings with their contemporary domestic vernacular and with chapels built elsewhere and secondly through the presentation of a new architectural history of Welsh Nonconformist chapels.

The architectural history of Welsh chapels is constructed with reference to specific chapel buildings and through a synthesis of social and religious history and literary evidence. It is shown that the buildings would have carried meaning and symbolism evident to contemporaries, since the arrangement of chapel façades was representative of a non-ritualistic, sermon-centred religious practice. Welsh chapels were built by congregations with aspirations for social improvement and always designed to be recognisable and distinguishable from their contemporary domestic vernacular buildings. There is no discontinuity between the more simply-expressed lateral-façade chapels and the later gable-ended designs, a division that supports a particular interpretation of Welsh identity. The plan of the worship space is the same in both and Nonconformist congregations always built chapels that were intended to be recognisable as such and distinguishable from their contemporary domestic vernacular. Rather than adaptations of domestic architecture, chapels should be thought of as vernacular interpretations of a formal and theorised design.


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