Vol 2 No 4: St Andrew’s United Reformed Church





The Presbyterian Church of England – local background

It was in 1864 that the Presbyterian Church of England first obtained a footing in Cardiff, the meetings being held in the Cardiff Arms Rooms.  On October 5th, 1866 the building in Windsor Place was opened for public worship, when the Rev. Dr Guthrie of Edinburgh and the Rev. Dr James Hamilton preached. But it was to the Rev. J.D.Watters, M.A., that the prosperity of the church is mainly due. After a brilliant University career he was ordained minister of Windsor Place in October, 1881, and, under his influence, the church became one of the most influential in the town.  In 1887, a mission was opened under the auspices of the church in Harriet Street, Cathays, and in 1893 a splendid block of buildings for work among the young was erected in Windsor Place. As soon as the debt was cleared, the way was left open to found a new cause at Pen-y-lan.


The New Roath Park Church

Many of the following notes are derived from an excellent little booklet published in 1947 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the church. It was kindly lent to me by one of their members, Mrs M.S.Newton, for the purpose of extracting information for this Newsletter and it covers the period from the foundation in 1897 until 1947.  I regret that the subsequent history of the church is not immediately available but the present Interim Moderator, Allen Powell, who is a history graduate, intends to make some enquiries and will make the results available to the Society.


The church stands on the corner of Pen-y-lan Road and Marlborough Road facing the junction of Wellfield Road and Ninian Road.  Its fine 150 feet spire with its corner spirelets and its three horizontal bands of Red Mansfield stone is the tallest of any non-conformist church in Cardiff

The building was completed in 1900 to the plans of E.H. Fawckner, of W.G.Habershon and Fawckner, who were, incidentally, architects of the Park Hotel, Cardiff (1885). Habershon, who was Lord Tredegar’s architect, had the honour of having a street in Splott named after him.  The doorway, like most of the external stone, is in need of a good clean to exhibit to its best advantage its traceried arch and decorated panels.  It is a copy of the 13th century west door of Tintern Abbey and the great window above is a copy of the transept windows in Melrose Abbey in Scotland.  Some may discern the hint of an apparent theological incongruity in copying architectural features from two great Roman Catholic Abbeys destroyed by the Reformers.

The interior gives an immediate impression of spaciousness.  The sheer expanse and rich colour of the matching woodwork of the seating, the massive balcony, the roof and the organ case is almost overwhelming.  The organ, which cost £800, and was opened on 19th September 1900 at a special service conducted by the Rev. Dr. George Hanson, of Marylebone Church, London, is a masterpiece of Messrs Harrison and Harrison

The times and the locality

In the 1890’s, Wellfield Road had not been built.  Lord Tredegar was proposing to open up the Pen-y-lan area for house building.  Pen-y-lan Hill, from the Taff Vale Railway bridge near Ty Gwyn Road, was a narrow country lane with high hedges.  The same was true of the present Cyncoed Road, on which , when they came into use, motor cars had difficulty in passing one other.  The upper part of what is now Waterloo Road was a narrow footpath straggling up from the old bridge (demolished October 1985) between wire fences through allotments to the top of the hill.

First steps

As already mentioned, the initiative for founding a new church in the area came from the Presbyterian Church of England at Windsor Place.  That church was flourishing.  Although their church had been enlarged, it was still inadequate.  It was clear, in the words of a contemporary record that “if Presbyterianism was to grow in Cardiff it could only be done by starting a new cause.”

The architect having been engaged, and a site having already been chosen, with “sufficient space for the church hall, class rooms, manse and caretaker ‘s house,” in addition to the space for the future church itself, a meeting of 41 interested persons was held at Windsor Place Church on 10th February 1896, presided over by the pastor, the Rev. J.Douglas Watters.  They had to seek the official sanction of the Presbytery of Bristol for the opening of a new cause.  Meanwhile they ordered specifications to be prepared for a hall and class rooms and appointed a strong Building Committee of 23 members chaired by the pastor.

St Andrew's Church, Cardiff. c. 1910

Roath Park Presbyterian Church c.1910

A pioneer of the cause.

The Rev. J. Douglas Watters, M.A., who guided so ably the planning and development of the new church did not live long enough to see the fruition of his work.  He died on September 5th, 1898, at the age of 47.   He had rendered yeoman service to the University College, Cardiff, from its foundation and had taken a leading part in establishing the Faculty of Theology, to which he acted as Honorary Secretary up to the time of his death.


The first membership roll of the new congregation shows that practically all of the 60 names were transfers from Windsor Place and transfers continued for several years.

A group of Elders of Windsor Place, led by Sir John Gunn and Mr James Manuel fulfilled the duties of a Kirk Session until the new congregation was in a position to elect its own. In the first minutes appear the names of those who were to become prominent in the affairs of the new church:-

W.W.Pettigrew (Parks Superintendent) , William McKenzie (Chief Constable of Cardiff), William Young, the fruit and potato merchant of Oldwell”, Pen-y-lan, T.B. and W.E.Leitch of Cressy Road, James Strachan of Pen-y-lan, and others.

The Hall

The memorial stone of the new Hall was laid by Lord Windsor on 24th March,1897; and the Hall itself was opened, free of debt, on 5th September in the same year. The opening service in the Hall, which had a narrow platform with small preaching desk, was taken by the Rev. J.Douglas Watters on 5th September, 1897.

Three days later, the congregation received official recognition by the Presbytery “raising the cause to the status of a sanctioned charge.”

The congregation had made up its mind on a pastor, and, on 27th January, 1898, the Rev. W.E. Shaw (from St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Swansea) was inducted to the Pastoral Charge.

Attendances were so good at the first services that the seating accommodation in the Hall soon became inadequate, making it necessary to press on with the erection of the Church.

Church building

Two foundation stones of the Church were laid on 12 April, 1899 by Lord Tredegar and Henry Robson of London who for many years was in charge of the Synod ‘s Church Extension work . Already half of the contract price of over £8,000 had been subscribed or promised, personal guarantees had been signed for £5,000, and the provision of 800-900 sittings did not seen too rash an undertaking. Another memorial stone records “Builder: Jas. Allan. Erected 1900”.

Presbyterian Church of England, Roath Park, Cardiff

Old postcard picture of Presbyterian Church of England, Roath Park, Cardiff

Dedication of the Church

On Wednesday, 20th June 1900, the Rev. John Watson, D.D., of Sefton Park Church, Liverpool , the Moderator of Synod for that year conducted the Dedication Service.  He was at the height of his fame, preacher, but as “Ian Maclaren”, author of several popular stories.

The First Session had been appointed on the previous Sunday, 17th June, 1900 by the induction of Mr James Manuel, and the ordination and induction of Messrs Thomas Burns, Albert Gardner, David Ireland, W.W.Pettigrew and William McKenzie (Session Clerk).

The initial membership of 60 had risen to 79 in January 1898, and, five months later, to 119. The trend continued thus:

1900 – 150,  1905 – 276 ,  1910 –  341,  1913 –  367

Mr Shaw ‘s pastorate lasted from January, 1898 to December 1907 when he went to a church in St Leonards-on-sea, where he remained until 1922 after which he was in retirement until his death in 1937.  The Rev Lewis Robertson, M.A., Minister of Windsor Place Church acted as interim-moderator until the congregation’s new choice, the Rev J. Reynolds McLean, from Park Terrace Church, Gateshead, was inducted to the pastoral charge on 30th April, 1908.

A disastrous fire destroyed the Windsor Place Church on 20th February, 1910 and the Roath Park Church gave what assistance they could to their mother church.  They had to come to the rescue in May, 1910 to house the meetings of the Annual Synod (later called the “General Assembly”) of the Presbyterian Church of England, which had been planned to be held in Cardiff.

The year 1913 was the peak year for membership; the number 367 was never exceeded; and in fact, in the next period, a slow but steady decline set in.  Church membership is not the same thing as church attendance; and the peak of average church attendance had probably come a few years before 1913, as indicated by the concern being shown by the office-bearers at that time. Attendances fell sadly below the accommodation for 800 – 900 people.  The gallery itself had been built to provide seating for about 200 people.

During the first World War, J.R. McClean, because of his heavy national commitments, called in the help of D.T.Davies and J.Reid Howatt.  The latter, a retired minister, but vigorous in his old age, served from December 1916 to January 1918. McClean resigned from the pastorate in September, 1917 and died with tragic suddenness in July, 1921.

St Andrews Wellfield Road Cardiff

The Sunday School

Mr Davies, who later became pastor of Forest Hill Church, London, acted as assistant pastor from June 1915 to January 1916, when he accepted a call to Manchester.  It was he who re-modelled the Sunday School to help stem the rapid decline in numbers, setting up a “Primary Department”, leading to a new concept of Sunday School work with regular training classes for teachers and grading of pupils . The new approach was successful. The drift was arrested and the school gained a reputation in Cardiff and beyond for efficiency.

Scouts and Guides

Which is the oldest Scout Troop in Cardiff ?  Both St Martin’s, Albany Road and St Andrew ‘s claim the honour. Somebody should investigate and adjudicate. The history of the Boy Scout movement in Cardiff, as far as I know, has yet to be written.  Our Society holds some information about the early Scout Movement at St Martin’s.  This will be referred to when we produce some notes on that Church.  Meanwhile, the Jubilee Booklet of the Roath Park Presbyterian Church does not specify dates. It merely records that the period of the First World War saw the establishment of the Scout movement at Roath Park.

The Inter-War Period, 1918-1939

The main part of the period between the wars was bridged by three short ministries, those of the Revs. J. Macara Gardner, M.A. , John R.Coates, M.A., and ELL. Allen, M.A., Ph.D., D.D.

Mr Gardner came in January, 1918 and left in June, 1922 to take up a pastorate at Palmers Green London.

Mr Coates’s ministry lasted from September, 1923 till January, 1928, when he was appointed Professor of Old Testament Studies on the central staff of the Selly Oak College, Birmingham, where he continued until 1945.

Dr Allen, who succeeded him in September, 1928, left in November 1931 to take up the pastorate of the Presbyterian Church in Kowloon in Hong Kong, and later became lecturer in theology at King’s College, Newcastle (University of Durham).

At the time of the Jubilee Booklet (1947) the Rev. Sydney J. Haggis, M.A., had been with the church since October 1932. The decline in membership, after a sharp rise and fall in the mid twenties, was arrested about half way between the two wars.  Since then, for about twenty years, it remained about the 200 mark.

The Second World War, 1939 – 1945

Despite war damage in the vicinity, including houses in Pen-y-lan Road, the church buildings, almost miraculously, escaped all serious damage from enemy bombers.

One of the most outstanding activities during the war was the setting up and running of the Canteen for service-men. It was a co-operative enterprise with members of the nearby Roath Park Methodist Church.  Here, men and woman in uniform from the U.K., all parts of the Commonwealth and the United States and other countries were welcomed with refreshments and hospitality.  The number of those helped frequently reached as many as 500 to 600 in one evening.

In 1944, the Roath Park Christian Forum was formed, a war-time prayer meeting of the five local Free Churches.

When it became part of the United Free Church movement, the elders had to consider re-naming the church so as to avoid confusion with chapels of other denominational origin bearing the name “Roath Park” .  The name chosen was “St Andrew’s” – an appropriate name for an English Presbyterian Church in Wales whose congregation, like that of its mother church in Windsor Place included so many Cardiff Scots. And with a minister by the name of “Haggis”, is it any wonder that Cardiffians came to call it, rather affectionately, the “Scottish Presbyterian Church”


MINISTERS 1898 to 1947

1898-1907: W.E.Shaw

Rev W E Shaw

1908- 1917: J. Reynolds McClean

1918-1922: John R. Coates

1928-1931: E.L.Allen

1932 : Sydney J. Haggis