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History of Merchant's Hill Baptist Church

The History of Merchants' Hill Baptist Church can be traced back to a meeting held in Bethany Presbyterian Church in 1874. At that time there was no Baptist Church between High Street, Abersychan and Crane Street, Pontypool, and although this made worship difficult enough for adult Baptists living in Pontnewynydd, the immediate concern of the meeting was for the children, who had to walk long distances to Sunday School.

At a meeting it was decided to form a Baptist Sunday School at once. Among those present were Mr Henry Lewis, a member of High Street Baptist Church, Abersychan: Mr. Charles Vaughan, of Blaenavon: Mr John Scott, a confectioner, of Pontypool: and Mr. H. H. Haden.

The first meetings of the Sunday School were in the only available room at the time- the "long room" over the Horse Shoe Inn. The Committee rented the room and the Sunday School flourished under Mr. Charles Vaughan, the first Superintendent. He was assisted by Mr. George Baker, the singing conductor, and the teachers, Mr John Scott, Mr Edmund Absalom and Mrs Wilson (mother of a former deacon, Mr. S. J. Wilson) who taught a Welsh Class. An interesting musical note is that the musical accompaniment was provided by a violin.

In 1877 Mr.Henry Lewis offered the Committee the use of a disused warehouse which he owned on Merchant's Hill and the Sunday School moved to these new quarters in the same year. This old room was perhaps uncomfortable and in some ways unsuitable, but it must surely hold an honoured place in the history of the Church. An old member described it thus:- "To get this building the scholars had to pass under an extremely dark archway, lighted only by a flight of well-worn steps. In spite of these discomforts the Sunday School continued to increase in membership."

When we read the histories of other churches we generally find that a Sunday School grew out of the Church, but this is surely a case where the Church grew out of the Sunday School. Before long it was decided to hold preaching services on Sunday mornings and evenings in addition to the Sunday School in the afternoon. From these humble, yet inspiring beginnings, the first Baptist Church in Pontnewynydd was formed.

Baptismal services were conducted in the Avon Llwyd, near the bridge where the water was deepest, (this was before the river was polluted). The services attracted great interest in the neighbourhood and on one occasion 600 people are said to have witnessed a baptism. The converts walked into the river, were baptized by immersion, and were then taken into neighbouring houses where they were able to change into dry clothes.

Eventually it was decided to purchase a piece of land at the bottom of Merchants' Hill for £275 on which stood an old wool or flannel factory and it was on this site that the Chapel was built. After careful deliberation plans were drawn up and the building contract was given to Morgan and Evans, builders of Pontnewynydd for £1,200.

In 1887 Memorial and Foundation stones were laid by representatives. The new building was completed in March 1888 and was opened for services on Sunday March 18th.