Aneurin Hughes from Trefriw Historical Society has recently put together notes about the churches and chapels in the village of Trefriw and the surrounding area from histories written by former residents, the oldest of which dates to the 1870s. The parish church in the centre of the village is St Mary’s, originally built in the 13th century for Llewelyn Fawr’s wife who found the trek up the hill to Llanrhychwyn church too tiring. Nothing of the original church remains. In contrast, parts of the tiny church of Llanrhychwyn, originally the mother church of Trefriw and Betws y Coed, date to the 12th century and has lots to interest architectural historians.
St Mary’s is dwarfed by Peniel Calvinistic Methodist chapel built in 1909 which towers over it. The original plans show that it was intended to have a spire and would have been even more imposing. The first proper chapel built in the village was soon replaced in 1878 by Peniel Old Chapel which stood across the river above the Fairy Falls. Peniel Old Chapel is now a pile of rubble, having collapsed in a storm in 2008. For many years it was used as workshops and a store for old mill machinery. The old chapel house next to it still stands although boarded up.
Non-conformist groups in the area grew: all springing from gatherings of like-minded men and women who at first met at the old farm of Cwmanog on the road to Crafnant Lake. A group moved to Plas Engan a bit further up the mountain and then to Hafod, now a restaurant and hotel on the outskirts of the village on the road to Llanrwst. Here a travelling preacher, Thomas Hughes, won the support of a steward from Gwydir Castle and was allowed to preach freely, winning many converts.
Other smaller chapels were built. One of these is at Ardda, once a sizeable village above Trefriw but now consisting of only a few inhabited houses. This little chapel was built in 1845. Today it is a ruin surrounded by a small graveyard. There was a Calvinistic Methodist chapel at Llanrychwyn called Salem which closed in 1979 and is now a house and Capel Horeb at Nant Bwlch yr Haearn, a branch of Scotland Street chapel in Llanrwst.
The other large chapel in the village is Ebeneser. The Independent cause in Trefriw started in the 1740s after the visit of a travelling preacher to the remote Ardda farm of Cwm Brwyniog. A group of local thugs who were enjoying the delights of a notoriously riotous
and drunken festival in Trefriw set out to silence the preacher but instead were impressed by his sincerity and fervour. One, John Richards of Brwyniog Ucha became a preacher himself. Religious meetings were held in Cwmanog, the home of John and Jane Thomas, until 1832 when the group moved to a workshop in the village. In 1861 they built a chapel in the workshop grounds, a modest building so as not to offend other denominations. This modesty was not a consideration when the new Ebeneser was opened in 1881. The old chapel is now the village hall. As with the Calvinistic Methodists, there were other smaller chapels which catered for the farming people in the hills. Crafnant Chapel was built in 1879 on the lakeside. It closed in 1969. Siloh chapel near Cowlyd lake was built in 1890 when there were still a number of working farms. It closed in 1923 and today both chapel and farms are barely visible ruins.
Finally there was the Catholic church which catered for a sizeable population of Catholics who had come to live in Trefriw from Ireland at a time when there was plenty of work in the mines. The Catholic church started in 1921, meeting at first in a corrugated shed on Top Road and later in a house there. A new church was built to replace the house in 1963 but it closed in 1993 and was converted into a house, now called Dwyrain (East).
Article by Aneurin