History of St. Thomas’s
In 1911, a small body of Anglicans met for worship above a shop in Birchgrove. This body was larger than a house group. Birchgrove is within walking distance of both St. Mary’s and Gabalfa Church, and this group was probably a church mission for the newly formed suburb of Birchgrove. The Diocese had appointed a Diocesan Missioner following Archbishop’s Benson’s Mission in Wales (1886-89), “…for reviving the clergy and renewing the laity.”
The Anglican Church had been awakened and a surge of evangelism led to the building of small ‘iron’ churches, as well as holding church services in school rooms. The Anglican Church in Wales was now growing faster than the Non-conformist and had become the preferred church for English settlers in Wales.
The aged Viscount Tredegar agreed to donate land for the erection of a mission church in Pantbach Road, but died before legal formalities could begin. The second Viscount honoured this promise. Before Henry VIII had dissolved the monasteries, this land had been owned by Keynsham Abbey, Bristol – a gift by the Norman conquerors.
In June 1913, the men of the Birchgrove mission group cleared the land, craftsmen built the foundations, and the present ‘iron’ church was quickly erected. This had come from Whitchurch Hospital, as the hospital had built a handsome church to replace it.
On 24th November, 1913 – a weekday – the Bishop, the Right Reverend Joshua Pritchard Hughes, the Vicar, the Reverend Lloyd Davies, his curate, the Reverend T Davies, together with the Vicar of Gabalfa, the Reverend E Evans attended a service at the new church. The lessons were read by Captain Avant of the Church Army, and by Mr R C Phelps, the Reader at St. Mary’s. An anthem was sung by the St. Mary’s choir, accompanied by the St. Mary’s String band.
Captain Avant, who had assisted the Vicar in caring for the Birchgrove community (now known as the St.Thomas’ Mission Church) left in January 1914 for Wolverhampton. The first child to be baptised at the church was Tom Harvey, whose widow Pat Harvey is still a regular worshipper at St. Thomas’. Tom’s grandfather was one of the lay readers of the mission church, and Tom derives his name from the Church’s patron saint.
This mission church was designed to seat 200 at a tight squeeze. In 1927, the chancel was added together with the vestries. The Church Hall was built some time later. The grounds were carefully tended and also served as a tennis court.
These iron churches were not seen as temporary churches. They acted as mission churches for the unchurched of the area who were overawed by the worship in the expensively-built- ‘Gothic’ of that time, and refused to attend them. It is a tribute to the zeal of the Parish at this time, that when the Church was erected in 1913, the debt outstanding was only £30, equivalent to about £3000 in today’s money.