Brecon – Welsh Aberhonddu (mouth of the Honddu) is a market town in Powys in mid Wales. The confluence and ford of the rivers Hoddu and the Usk at Brecon has made it a strategic centre for centuries. Brecon Castle (Castell Aberhonddu) was built in 1093 and fell into ruin during the reign of Henry VIII.

The Grand Jury at the Brecon Assizes in 1744 declared that the Methodists were ‘endangering the peace of our sovereign Lord the King; (George II) and that, unless their proceedings are timely suppressed, they may endanger peace in the kingdom in general.’ As this statement was written before John Wesley first visited Brecon or Wesleyan Methodism had a Society in the town, it was probably aimed at Howell Harris (1714-1773) and the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists.

Wesley referred to Brecon in his Journal in 1744, 1748 and 1750, but he first preached at Brecon on 18 March 1756, in the Town Hall. On 18 August 1763, as the Assizes were meeting in the Town Hall, Wesley ‘preached at Mr (Thomas) James’ door.' Mr James was a Brecon attorney in whose house the Methodists first met. Wesley visited Brecon at least 17 times and preached on at least 12 visits, sometimes more than once.

Thomas Coke (1747-1814), first Bishop of the American Methodist Episcopal Church, was born in Brecon, son of Bartholomew (d.1773), a prosperous apothecary, and Ann(e) nee Phillips (1713-1783). Bartholomew Coke was a Brecon Common Councilman, alderman, and the bailiff (i.e. mayor) in 1737 and 1758. Thomas Coke attended the local grammar school and then read jurisprudence at Jesus College, Oxford. Ordained deacon (1770) and priest (1772), Coke was bailiff of Brecon in 1772. There is a obituary style memorial to Coke in Brecon Cathedral,

John Hughes (1776-1843) of Brecon and Thomas Olivers (1725-1799) of Tregynon Montgomeryshire were the only two Wesleyan ministers who could preach in Welsh.

On 1 December 1748 Charles Wesley rode to Brecon with Mr James (Thomas James). On the following day he rode to Garth where he was affectionately received by the Gwynne family. On 6 April 1749 John and Charles Wesley stayed overnight in Brecon. The following day they went to Garth where on the 8th John conducted the marriage of Charles to Sarah Gwynne (1726-1822), the daughter of Marmaduke Gwynne (1692-1769) in Llanlleonfel church. Marmaduke Gwynne died in Brecon. Rev John Hughes (1776-1843) was a a member of Brecon chapel in his youth says that Charley Wesley assisted by Harri Llwyd, the first bilingual local preacher, formed the Brecon society. Rev T. Wynn-Jones (d.1916) Wesleyan minister in Brecon (1886-88) conjectures that the first Wesleyan society was founded by Charles Wesley and Howell Harris around 1749/50 although David Young suggests that John Wesley formed the society in 1750. The Methodists first met in the homes of Thomas James and William Gilbert (d. c.1784). When the Brecon Methodists agreed to build a chapel William Gilbert gave the corner of his orchard where Wesley and his preachers preached and £100. Eventually the Watton Methodist chapel was built on the corner of Free Street and Little Free Street around 1770. The chapel was rebuilt in 1815. In 1770 Brecon became the head of the North Wales Wesleyan Circuit. In 1799 Welshpool and in 1803 Merthyr Tydfil hived off to become circuits. For some 20 years until 1770 the Calvinistic Methodists and the Wesleyan Methodists worshipped together in the Watton chapel. In August 1770 a controversy over the chapel broke out. Lady Hintingdon (1707-1791) told Hugh Bold, Esq, (1731-1809) a trustee, attorney and society steward that the exclusive use of the chapel should be for her scholars and those who held her views. Hugh Bold firmly opposed Lady Huntingdon, reminding the leaders that John Wesley had given £80 to the chapel building fund and Lady Huntingdon had not given any money to the chapel. Shortly after this fracas Lady Huntingdon in 1771 built the Calvinistic chapel in Struet Street. The chapel closed around 1850. In 1834/5 the English Wesleyans built their impressive new chapel in Lion Street. The chapel was burnt down in 1978. A preacher at the opening services was Rev. John Hughes (1776-1843) the author of the two volume Horae Brittanicae - Studies in Ancient British History. John Hughes was a member of the Brecon English Wesleyan society.

The Welsh language Wesleyan Methodist Mission was established by the Wesleyan Conference in 1800 at the insistence of Thomas Coke. Welsh speakers Owen Davies (1752-1830) formerly of Wrexham and John Hughes (1776-1843) of Brecon were appointed as the Welsh speaking ministers. Wesleyan Welsh speaking preachers did not arrive in Brecon until 1808. Y Parch (Rev) William Batten (1779 -1864) and the Local Preacher Evan Edwards of Merthyr Tydfil visited Brecon and formed a society. For many years the Welsh Wesleyans met in the English Wesleyan chapel on a Sunday afternoon and a Thursday evening. This arrangement was successful but at times it caused friction. In 1810 Brecon became the head of the Welsh Wesleyan Methodist Circuit. In 1814 the Wesleyan Conference, for financial more than strategic reasons, decided to amalgamate the Welsh Wesleyan and the English speaking Wesleyan circuits. The Welsh Wesleyans built their Brecon Chapel Tabernacle Welsh Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in 1824. It was decided to sell the Tabernacle chapel. They built a small chapel in Llanfaes which they opened in 1871.

  • John Hughes, Horae Brittanicae - Studies in Ancient British History (London, 1818-19 (2 vols).
  • T Wynn Jones, Wesleyan Methodism In The Brecon Circuit (London,1888).
  • David Young, The Origin And History Of Methodism In Wales And The Borders (London,1893).
  • WHS Proceedings, Vol 33, page 95.
  • John A. Vickers, Thomas Coke Apostle of Methodism (London, 1969).
  • A.H. Williams, John Wesley In Wales (Cardiff, 1971).

Entry written by: DHR
Category: Place
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