Capel y Seintiau (Saints Chapel), Island Place
On the south-west corner of the Eastgate shopping centre one of the recently installed commemorative blue plaques marks the former location of the Island Place Meeting House, or Capel y Seintiau of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (also sometimes known as the LDS Church or Mormons). Demolished as part of the road-widening scheme in 1995, it was the first purpose-built ‘Mormonite’ meeting house outside the continental United States in the 19th century (Mormonite being the term often applied to the church in the 1900s).
An 1880 map of the centre of Llanelli clearly shows a ‘Chapel – Latter Day Saint’ on Island Place, near its junction with William Street. An earlier map (1852) shows a ‘Mormonite chapel’ in the same position. The photograph from the 1970s shows that it was a one-storey building with a pitched roof, and a central front door flanked by large windows. By 1881 the chapel had reportedly been sold to the ‘Josephites’ (a break-off group who believed that succession in church leadership should be hereditary – i.e. follow down through the family of Joseph Smith, the first prophet and leader of the religion - rather than through Brigham Young who was the senior Apostle in the church at the time). A Llanelly Mercury article of September 1897 reports that the Mormon congregation was still in Island Place, but this may be a reference to the ‘reorganised,’ break-off organisation. The building was subsequently purchased by Elim Pentecostal Church.
Missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (established in 1830 in upstate New York, America) first arrived in Britain in 1837 and began preaching in Preston, Lancashire. They subsequently moved into North Wales and had established congregations in Denbighshire by 1840, but it was not until 1843 that the first missionary efforts began in South Wales. One of the obstacles to missionary work in Wales at the time was of course the language, with Welsh not only predominating but generally the only language spoken by the majority of the population, particularly in rural areas. So it was only in 1845 when Welsh native Dan Jones was assigned as a missionary to Wales that the LDS Church began to gather converts in substantial numbers. Dan Jones was not only Welsh-speaking but also engaged on an extensive campaign of translating LDS church literature into Welsh, and producing Welsh-language publications 'Prophyd y Jubilee' and 'Udgorn Seion'.
Thus, by early January 1849 Dan Jones – then President of the LDS Church in Wales and about to return to America at the end of his first mission - reported that there were 55 congregations in Wales with a total membership of 3,603, and 1,939 individuals baptized in the past year. Within three years there were 12 LDS congregations in the Llanelli area and a membership of about 400. The current Llanelli congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints now has a meetinghouse on Embankment Road in the Morfa area of Llanelli.
Dan Jones (1810-1862) was a native of Halkyn in North Wales, but converted to the LDS Church when he was working as a steamboat captain on the Mississippi river, subsequent to his making the acquaintance of the prophet Joseph Smith. He was often referred to as Captain Dan Jones in later years because of this occupation. In June of 1844 he was visiting Joseph Smith and other church leaders in Carthage jail in Illinois, where they had been imprisoned on false charges of riot and treason and were being threatened by a mob. Joseph Smith asked Dan Jones if he was afraid to die. Has it come to that? Dan Jones replied, and was reassured by Joseph Smith that he would live to preach the gospel in his beloved Wales. The following day Joseph and his brother Hyrum would be shot, but by then, Dan Jones was no longer with them at the jail. He returned to Wales as a missionary the following year. He dedicated Capel y Seintiau on the 28th January 1849, shortly before returning to America at the end of this first mission to Wales.
Further information about Dan Jones and his conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints can be found on familysearch.org (record ID No. KWJJ-Y86).
When Dan Jones left Wales after his mission, such was the esteem in which he was held by Welsh converts, that the following was printed in the Millennial Star (a weekly UK publication of the LDS church):
Resolved that the Saints in Wales desire to manifest their high approbation of the faithful discharge of our beloved brother and President Captain D. Jones’ labourious, important and responsible duties under all circumstances; and we humbly confess that we know of no words by which we can describe the respect, the love and unlimited confidence that we have in him, nor how highly we appreciate his inestimable services while among us; and we shall ever pray that the God of Heaven will reward him for no one else can compensate him as we would wish.
At the conclusion of each of his missions to Wales Dan Jones returned to America accompanied by a large group of Welsh converts.
Ron Dennis. A retired Professor of Modern Languages at Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah, USA), Ron Dennis is the great-great-grandson of Dan Jones and has devoted enormous time and resources to documenting the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in nineteenth-century Wales, particularly in the first two decades after missionaries first arrived here. He was made a Bard at the 2018 National Eisteddfod, in recognition of his work in preserving this important aspect of Welsh history. His website welshmormon.byu.edu offers extensive information on early Welsh converts as well as a wide range of documents, including copies of his own publications.
In 2018, Llanelli Community Heritage invited Ron Dennis to perform the unveiling ceremony for the commemorative blue plaque for the Llanelli ‘Mormonite’ chapel. The photograph shows him (second from the right) with community leaders including (far left) Lyn John of Llanelli Community Heritage. The event took place 25 August 2018.
The following extract of a letter from Dan Jones to Orson Pratt appeared in the Millennial Star of 1849.
Llanelly, Carmarthenshire, Jan. 29, 1849
Dear Brother Pratt, -I had waited for your letter at Merthyr until Saturday morning, but as is had not then arrived, and as we had a new Chapel to open here on Sunday, I set off here and only arrived in the middle of the afternoon meeting.
This is a very commodious and well built Chapel, situated in the centre of the town, and will accommodate above a thousand persons with seats.
Yesterday, during each meeting, it was crowded to overflowing, notwithstanding public notices had been published in every other chapel here, prohibiting any of their members attending, upon the penalty of being "turned out of their synagogues;" how much like the ancient Pharisees are their children! Doubtless they were much mortified at their discomfiture, and chagrined when some of them had to pass our chapel and saw it crowded inside with attentive hearers, and the streets outside and round the lower windows thronged with people.
I feel persuaded that much good has been done; so far the ramparts of sectarianism are scaled, and some of their chief coronets, were yesterday publicly baptised; many others promise to desert their "black flag" today by being baptised. Our public meetings continue through today also. Cheering news salute my ears daily of the progress of the Gospel in Wales. In this town over two hundred have been baptised in the last two years, more than a dozen in the last few days past, and the place all in an uproar now.
The reference to the building accommodating ‘above a thousand persons with seats’ has led to speculation that there may have been a previous, larger building than the one pictured above on Island Place. However it seems unlikely that two buildings be erected in a short space of time and in close proximity, with the first larger building so quickly abandoned. One possible explanation for the statement about capacity is a tendency to overstatement, common in Victorian times and frequently evident in Dan Jones’ writings. Another is that there may have been the intention to build two storeys (he refers to ‘lower windows’ in the letter). However according to The Welshman, the foundation stone was only laid in October 1848, leaving a very short timespan between the commencement of building and its completion and dedication (less than six months) so it would not have been feasible to add the second level typical in non-conformist chapels.
The following appeared in Udgorn Seion (Zion’s Trumpet) – a Welsh language publication of the church – announcing the opening of the building.
Chapel of the Saints, Llanelli
The foregoing chapel was opened for the service of the Saints in Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, on the 28th and 29th of last January. It was built because there was no other convenient place in the town, where the Saints could meet together, and where they could invite their friends of the world to hear their doctrine. On the above occasion, Capt. Jones, Wm. Phillips, and others, spoke on the various subjects of their beliefs. Considerable commotion was shown Sunday night, when Capt. Jones invited his brothers and sisters to come out of Babylon, according to the call of God in this age, and when he portrayed who was Babylon of the latter days. The commotion was outside only; inside everyone was listening attentively..…
A platform, not a pulpit, as other chapels of the country have, is what is in this chapel and there is space on it for many preachers to sit, and a higher place for the speaker.
An article in the Llanelli Star of 21 August 1987 tells how descendants of early Llanelli convert Thomas Dee proposed de-constructing the Llanelli chapel and re-building it elsewhere to prevent its being demolished and lost. This project unfortunately never came to fruition.
Ron Dennis also tells of visiting the Island Place chapel before it was demolished and when it was still in the possession of Elim Pentecostal Church. He arranged for someone to meet him there with a key so that he could see inside. The individual arrived with a solicitor, thinking that Ron Dennis had come with the intention of re-possessing the building on behalf of the LDS church!
Notes and Citations
- Millennial Star Vol. 11 p.92 available online at: https://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/digital/collection/MStar/id/1510
- Udgorn Seion Vol. 1 pp. 42-43 available at: http://welshmormon.byu.edu/
- Ron Dennis and website http://welshmormon.byu.edu
- Hugh Jones, former Llanelli resident and local minister for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
- Blue plaque photograph: Jill Morgan (2016)
- Llanelli Old Chapel 1970s photograph: Ron Dennis
- Dan Jones photograph: http://welshmormon.byu.edu
- Unveiling 2018 photograph: Grant Vaughan