During the period when the great theologian and hymn writer, Thomas Jones, resided in Denbigh and assumed the leadership at Capel Mawr, 1809-1820, occasional English services were already being held in the town for the benefit of English friends well-disposed towards the Methodist Cause. Of this we are reminded by E. P. Jones in his ‘Methodistiaeth Calfinaidd Dinbych’. When an English Cause Fund was established in 1870 to promote the building of English churches in North Wales, a need for more frequent English services was already felt in Denbigh.
At the Denbighshire Monthly Meeting at Capel Mawr in October 1874, a resolution ‘desired the brethren in Denbigh to proceed in the matter of founding an English Cause in the town1. Messrs J. Symonds Jones and Robert Drury were entrusted by the church in Capel Mawr to organise the new Cause. The inaugural services were held in the Council Chamber of the Town Hall on the 9th May 1875. W. Price Jones, relating the story of the church in the 1902-03 volumes of the church magazine, writes that after seventeen weeks in the Town Hall, the two Sunday Services and a school of eight classes in the afternoon were transferred to the Assembly Rooms.
On the 1st July 1876, the Rev. David Egryn Jones, Llanegryn, became the first pastor. In the same year, negotiations were begun for the purchase of ground to build a church in Post Office Lane. A commercial traveller, however, happened to call on Mr. T. G. Lunt, a zealous church worker, and commented: “How strange in a town like this, that there is not a church nor a chapel to be seen all the way from the bottom of the town to the top”. The original plan was therefore abandoned and on November 8th 1876, the present site, at that time occupied by the extensive yard of a public house, the New Inn, was acquired.
The Committee had offered £600 for the yard but the vendor refused the offer, as he wished to sell the yard and the public house together. After reconsidering the matter the Committee resolved to buy the house and the yard for £1,500. In about a fortnight after the purchase they sold the public house for £1,150 and, as the Rev. J. H. Couch has reminded us in his short history, virtually made a profit of £250 by the transaction.
A schoolroom was built in 1878 but the services were so crowded that it was soon found necessary to proceed to build a church. The memorial stones which we see in the church building were laid on the 1st October, 1878, by Watkin Williams, M.P., and the famous Thomas Gee, Mayor of Denbigh. A large platform was erected in front of the building site and torrential rain during the morning did not prevent a good crowd from gathering in the afternoon. Within the wall behind the memorial stones were placed copies of ‘Y Faner’, the “Golauad1, the ‘Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald1, the ‘Wrexham Guardian’ and the ‘Wrexham Advertizer’, together with silver coins of the realm and a document bearing the names of the minister, Rev. David Jones, the deacons, Messrs John Symonds Jones and Edward Thomas Jones, and the Building Committee, Messrs Thomas George Lunt, Lachlan Frazer, Thomas Roberts, William Price Jones, Thomas Moyes, Thomas John Roberts, Arthur S. Jones, Abel Anwyl, John Parry, Alfred Ashford, Henry Lloyd and Timothy Miller.
Delay was caused by a very severe frost, making building impossible for some six weeks, and by litigation between the architect and the builder. However, the Inaugural Services took place on the 27th and 28th June 1880, when the Rev. Principal Thomas Charles Edwards, Aberystwyth and the Rev. Principal William Howells, Trefeca, preached. The total cost of the church and schoolroom was £4,689.10s
Members and friends made splendid efforts to reduce the debt on the buildings. Many novel schemes for raising money were devised. In 1887 for instance came the ‘A.B.C. Scheme1. ‘A person was chosen to the position of A, and he selected six persons, which were known as Bs; and each B chose six Cs, and so on, until they came to the letter F: each F was expected to collect certain sums of money, and pay it to his E1. Ultimately all the money came into the hands of A. A sum of £128 was raised in this way. On the 5th October, 1893, a cheque for £1,600, a very large sum in those days, was received from Mr. Robert Davies, Menai Bridge, to clear the debt.
In 1884 the Rev. T. Mortimer Green, Newport, was inducted as pastor, but he left in 1888 because of the church’s inability to support him. In May 1892 the Rev. Joseph Evans, Swansea, assumed charge of the pastorate, remaining until 1901 when he was succeeded until 1911 by the Rev. D. E. Jenkins, Portmadoc, described by E. P. Jones as a ‘vitalising force in the religious and social life of the town of Denbigh.’ He was the author of the “Life of the Rev. Thomas Charles of Bala”.
January, 1902, saw the advent of the Denbigh English Presbyterian Church (of Wales) Magazine. It gave news of the church, interesting articles by the minister, many advertisements which brought in a substantial sum and several pages of general interest to English nonconformists. It cost 1d., had a readership of 600-700 and was still appearing shortly before the first World War. Later, for several years until 1962, there appeared the ‘Messenger’, a small publication described as “the bi-monthly magazine of the English Presbyterian Churches at St. Thomas’s, Denbigh, and
The present church organ was installed in 1903 and first used for Sunday Services on ths 5th April, 1903. We learn from the Magazine that it was built by Messrs Conacher, At the formal opening on the 23rd April, 1903, front seat and gallery tickets were 2/- and second seats 1/-. In front of a “most respectable audience’ the Mayoress, Mrs A. 0. Evans, unlocked the new organ. The guest organist was Mr. J. R. Griffiths of Westminster Bridge Road Church, London, who opened with the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Bach and closed with Handel’s Largo.
Sunday School trips were noteworthy events at the turn of the century. In August, 1903, Cefn Rocks and Groes were visited. As usual, Mr. David Jones, Berllan, Post Office Lane, provided the transport – five vehicles, with two horses to each. A precarious part of the journey was wading through a stream carrying boxes of crockery.’ Messrs Wheway provided crockery for the trips. On all such occasions there was a pause on the homeward journey under the Vale Street railway bridge, so that all might sing the Doxology. From 1906 all churches held their outings on the same day and this became a general holiday from that year. In 1906, ‘as many went off on their own, only four brakes were needed to visit Pen Bedw Hall, Nannerch.’ There was a great cricket match for both sexes and crowds lined the route to watch the return through Bodfari.
Services and activities in 1904 included: ‘Sunday services, 10.30 and 6.30. Sabbath School, 2.30 p.m.. Sunday School Library open 2.30 – 3.30. Mondays: Church and prayer meetings 7.30. Band of Hope: 6. Wednesdays: Christian Endeavour: 8. Fridays: Boy’s Brigade: 7. Adult Bible Class: 8.’ Church Meetings were held for all the Free Churches of the town and speakers might use English or Welsh.
In January, 1905, when the membership was 97, a magazine note observes that there were ‘only sparks as yet’ of the Revival in Denbigh but that the minister and Mr. W. Price Jones visited Swansea to attend revivalist meetings. In March of that year the revival efforts of the Rev. Joseph Jenkins ‘more than fulfilled expectations.’ The minister took the Rev. Jenkins to Bryntrillyn ‘for the benefit of his health” and at the next service thirty-four church members, who had never done so before, took part. During five special revival meetings for English speakers the church was full on only two evenings and ‘many friends objected to being objects of special efforts’. Nevertheless “prayer and singing meetings of exceptional quality followed in both tongues.”
In July, 1905, the “cottage” property was acquired in order “to gain control of surroundings, to obtain more light within the church and to provide for other improvements.’ The two shops in Vale Street, the two cottages in Joyce’s Court and the extensive garden were all bought for £810.
In 1908, with eighty communicants, collections amounted to £122-6-3d. Pew rents realised £17-11-0d. Pastor’s salary and Sunday and special services came to £143-13-0d. Library fines brought in 1/9d. There was a Sunday School of 67, with 9 teachers, and 4,780 verses were repeated!
It is interesting to note that the Rev. J. Calvin Thomas, grandfather of the present Moderator of the Association in the East, preached at St. Thomas’s just seventy years ago. During the first decade of this century, other prominent preachers and speakers at the church included Mr J. Herbert Roberts, M.P. (later Lord Clwyd), the eminent Welsh historian, Sir John Lloyd; Elisha Khacius of Khurdistan; Rev. Prof. David Williams, Aberystwyth Theological College; Rev. J. Puleston Jones; Rev. Dr. Thomas Charles Williams; Rev. J. H. Howard; Rev. Prof. Anwyl, Aberystwyth.
The two world wars took from the church a number of its young men as we are reminded by the memorial tablets on the walls. On a happier note it can be added that during the second World War friendships were struck with young people evacuated to Denbigh who attended St. Thomas’s.
During 1918-1919, the Rev. 0. R. Owen of Trefnant C.M. Chapel took St. Thomas’s under his wing and in the autumn of 1921 the Rev. R. J. Owen, Abergele, was inducted. The period 1926—49 marked the long and devoted ministry in the joint—pastorate of Ruthin and Denbigh of the Rev. H. L. Morris, who was followed by another popular minister, the Rev. J. H. Couch, 1950—1956. The Rev. Ifor Platt came to Denbigh and Ruthin in 1957 and remained until his untimely death in 1962. He was most aptly referred to as ‘a general practitioner in the Christian ministry.’
In November, 1961, a re-opening service was held to mark the completion of five months of extensive repairs and renovations, necessitated by the discovery of dry rot in the church and schoolroom, costing £2,400.
In 1971 demolition of the old schoolroom and the building of the new Sunday School premises was undertaken at a cost of over £15,000. These were opened by our senior elder, Miss L. M. Hamilton, and the Act of Dedication was performed by the Moderator of the General Assembly, the Rev. T. B. Phillips. The most generous bequest of the late Mr. Moses Parry, for many years an elder, towards the cost of the new buildings is commemorated by a small plaque at the foot of the stage.
In April, 1979, the Spring Meetings of the Association in the East were held at St. Thomas’s. Our minister, writing in the brochure prepared for the event, hoped that it would prove a pleasant and profitable occasion and bring with it inspiration and encouragement. Judging from many comments heard at this year’s meetings in Pembrokeshire, the Denbigh “Association* certainly fulfilled these hopes.
During the last forty years the contribution of the Women’s Guild to the life of the church has been remarkable. To its offering of spiritual and social fellowship it has added the annual effort of the Sale of Work, its constant support in catering and a professional standard in histrionics. Twenty years ago, with assistance from the Youth Club, the Guild provided the church with a kitchen at the cost of £200, and has since given many hundreds of pounds to supply the church with both needs and adornment.
The Men’s Guild, formed in 1962, is the only one maintained by a single church in this presbytery of thirty one churches. Members have worked hard over the years in labours of repair and decoration and the annual Harvest Supper, prepared by the men, is an established event in the church calendar.
The increase in the size of our Sunday School during the last decade is noted by all visiting ministers. To the memorable tradition of flower services and youth services may be added the recent outstanding successes in the annual Sunday School Examinations. The children’s scriptual knowledge is often apparent to us. The Youth Guild too has contributed in many ways to the work among our young people.
The last decade has seen a number of new activities introduced including the Girls’ Brigade, the Dancing Group and the Keep-fit Class.
During the ministry of the Rev. T. Noel Roberts, which began in October 1963, the church has thus expanded in many ways. Not only have several new features been introduced but the membership has steadily increased, reaching 144 in 1979. As the only English Free Church in Denbigh, members and adherents form a happy amalgam of many denominations.