This is something of a break from the norm in my posts here in that it’s actually a somewhat recent exploration, having visited it on a week long trip to Wales I arrived back from only last week, adding further to the huge backlog of stuff I’m trying to stick on here.
Spend any time driving through the Western vastness of Wales, where sheep frolick in the fields, roads, beaches, quarries, local Sainsbury’s, possibly even your hotel room1; and vowels are presumably held under lock and key in some secure facility somewhere, and you’ll almost certainly notice the large number of derelict chapels scattered across the country in varying states of disrepair – some grand and imposing, others tiny and much less ecclesiastically threatening. The vast majority of these were constructed during the early 19th century as the various nonconformist movements gained traction, and the population rapidly increased as a result of the ongoing industrial revolution – you’ll find one in almost every village, with some towns home to several of differing denominations. Some are still places of active worship, others have been converted into homes, but the majority seem to lie dormant awaiting fates unknown.
This particular example sits in the historic county of Montgomeryshire, in the North of the country, fairly isolated in the middle of no real population centres. There are a few farms nearby and a small village already served by a larger chapel, yet at some point in 1805 there must have been enough of a demand to justify building a place of worship here, before knocking it down and rebuilding it, just 38 years later with enough space to accommodate 100 parishioners.
This place is already known to a handful of urban explorers, and in true urbex fashion has had a few codenames2 bestowed upon it. I’ve seen ’Dead Sheep Chapel’, ‘Lamb Chop Chapel’, ‘Silence of the Lambs Chapel’, and several other variants. Notice a theme? Sheep truly are everywhere in Wales, and crumbling, derelict religious relics are no exception – several have chosen to expire in and around the building over the years, inspiring countless aliases and occult photo opportunities featuring their remains and the various religious artefacts left inside. The chapel’s actual name was suprisingly quite tricky to find as it’s not present on the building itself, nor on current Ordnance Survey maps, but looking at an historic 1888-1913 OS chart, it’s clearly labelled as ‘Capel Beer-Seba’ (Beerseba Chapel) and was seemingly named after the ancient city of Beersheba in the biblical Holy Land3.
Ivy has taken hold of much of the building, snaking it’s way both across and through the roof, so stepping inside you can see it invading through the windows and the gaps in the ceiling from which plaster has fallen. All the pews are still present though, along with a pretty little harmonium in a rather critical condition alongside numerous pieces of religious paraphernalia, including bibles, hymn books, and simplified illustrated texts that I imagine were used for Sunday school classes – all in Welsh. During the chapels heyday in the mid-late 1800s, it was the predominant language of the country, but in the intervening years has faced a gradual decline and is now very much a minority language, however the North of the country is somewhat of a stronghold for it, and so the more recent texts I found, are none too surprising in that respect.
Attached to the chapel is the manse, which would have been the residence of the minister at one point, and has been thoroughly cleared of all furniture and items of interest (including the ladder for upstairs). One of the aforementioned sheep appears to have been the most recent tenant, and now his remains are now spread out unevenly across approximately several square metres of the living room floor.
Beerseba was abandoned in 2002, most likely due to the rise of an increasingly secular society and I originally I thought that it would only be a matter of time before it’s snapped up for some kind of residential conversion, however this brings up the interesting question of who actually owns it to sell? These chapels were often funded by their congregations and communities, before being placed into ownership by a board of trustees, so I’d be curious, after nearly 200 years, where ownership of Beerseba now falls. I can find an entry on the Land Registry for land in the chapel’s vicinity, but no mention of the structure, and I’m not sure it covers that which it sits on, so I’m not quite prepared to pay the £3 to satisfy my curiosity. If the ownership is unclear, then there could be a long road of decay left for this place.
Shame really, it’s very pretty.
- Sheep jokes about Wales are such low-hanging fruit they’ve practically fallen off the tree and started rotting at this point, but they really were everywhere in my admittedly limited experience of the country, so I thought I’d try and get that point across – I’m from the Yorkshire Dales as well so I’ve seen my fair share, believe me.
- It’s a common practice in the urban exploration community, to obscure the name of a location in order to make it more difficult to find for thieves, vandals and others who might wish to damage or loot it. Generally these aliases are arrived at by noting a defining feature of the building, or a notable object found within it.
- Chapels named after locations mentioned in the Bible are very common in Wales: Salem, Bethlehem, Zion, Ebenezer .etc are all common names.