Malpas Hall and the Forward Movement
What is today Malpas Road Evangelical Church was originally known as the Malpas Hall. It was established in 1896/7 by the ‘Forward Movement’ – an evangelistic work designed to reach ‘the most populous and destitute districts’ of Wales. Its specific purpose was to set up mission rooms and halls that could accommodate growing numbers of working-class people, communities who had little or no contact with Christianity.
The foundations had been laid six years earlier, in June 1891, when the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Wales had met in Morriston. It had concluded that too much attention was being directed towards the rural areas of Wales, and not where the greatest influx of population was taking place – in Cardiff, Newport, Swansea, the Rhondda, and the Monmouthshire valleys. As a result, the Church Extension and Mission Work Society was formed, and this quickly became known as the Forward Movement.
One central figure who embraced this vision was Rev. John Pugh. In 1889 he had become the minister of Clifton Street Presbyterian Church in Cardiff. By the time of his death in 1907, forty-eight Forward Movement halls had been erected.
Pugh considered it to be essential to,
‘… go forward into the blessed opportunities and far reaching beneficence of a national religion which preaches the Gospel to the poor.’
Rev. John Pugh
But, if it was John Pugh who had the vision to build the halls of the Forward Movement, it was Seth Joshua who filled them with their congregations.
Seth Joshua had been born in Pontypool in 1858. He was a man with a wild reputation – well known for his riotous ways of drinking, gambling and frequent bare-knuckle fighting. One evening his life was completely transformed. At a gospel meeting he came under a tremendous conviction of sin – he was reduced to weeping in front of the congregation. From this time he began to tell others of the power of Jesus Christ and, in partnership with his brother Frank, established a mission at Neath.
John Pugh quickly realised that Seth Joshua could be an enormous help to him in Cardiff. Accepting Pugh’s invitation, Joshua left Neath for Cardiff with a wife and family of six and, with no financial guarantee, he proved himself willing to trust entirely on the promises of God for their future.
A large marquee was provided for this new venture in Cardiff, and the mission was based in the East Moors district of Cardiff. The tent held 1,000 and measured 120 feet by 33 feet, and was equipped with primitive furniture, a simple platform for the speakers and singers, and had an earthen floor covered with a thick layer of sawdust:
Every seat was occupied and some who could not enter were listening outside. The tent was lit with gas and various texts of scripture were displayed. The choir was seated upon a platform and Sankey’s hymns were well sung. Mr Seth Joshua, a young man … preached a vigorous sermon which elicited smiles and tears. At the close there was a regular Salvationist prayer meeting, a penitent form and a number of seekers for salvation. It was stated that in the last two months, in this one tent, there had been 80 persons who professed to be converted.
Seth Joshua held meetings at East Moors for two months, and his preaching and singing became very popular. But the work was not easy:
The drink curse and its numerous progeny are as rife in some parts of East Moors as they can be. A poor woman was killed in a drunken brawl within a stone’s throw of our tent here … The people in some parts of the streets are huddled together like brute beasts …
In July 1891, H. G. Howell of Skewen, who later became a minister at the Central Hall, Newport, took over the work. A permanent building was erected in East Moors at a cost of £2,000 in July 1893.
Pugh and Seth Joshua had taken Cardiff ‘by storm’. After East Moors they established the Roath Mission, the Cardiff Prison Gate Campaign, and the Tent Mission in Splott. These proved to be so successful that the Movement later spread to the Grangetown, Saltmead, Cathays, Heath, and Moorlands districts of Cardiff.
It was becoming clear that the work could not be confined to Cardiff as it rapidly established itself throughout South Wales:
‘… the seaport towns were stiff propositions with mixed population of race, caste and colour, as well as with crimes unknown and unthought in the industrial areas (valleys), and thereby were a challenge to and a test of the reality and the power of the Gospel message of the new adventure.’
In August 1895, Seth and Frank Joshua arrived in Newport. Their first decision was to placard the town with posters, worded: ‘The Brothers Joshua are coming’,
‘We secured the Temperance hall for the next twelve months – a model hall, possessing a very fine three -manual organ and in every way suited for the work.’
The congregations became so large, however, that soon overflow meetings were held in the town’s Corn Exchange. The week-night services during the first month took place in Ebenezer Welsh chapel.
The Corn Exchange in High Street C.1900
Soon, the Temperance Hall proved too small to accommodate the growing Sunday congregation. As a result, the Tredegar Hall on Stow Hill which was able to seat 1,200, was hired for the Sunday evening services.
The Tredegar Hall in 1890
The Opening of Malpas Hall, Sunday 14th February 1897
At the end of the nineteenth century Malpas was a rapidly developing part of the town of Newport. With no place of worship for this burgeoning population, a large hall was erected to seat 800 at a cost of £2,000.
Malpas Road and its surrounding districts, 1902
The Mayor of Newport laid the foundation stone on 5th August 1896, and the building was formally opened on 14th February 1897. This was a bold undertaking, a sheer venture of faith:
The opening of Malpas Hall is an event which has not happened before in the history of Welsh Presbyterianism, that a place of worship, the size of the Hall, should be started without a church or Sunday School or any organisation connected with it. It was therefore with a considerable amount of anxiety, that the officers of the Forward Movement looked forward to the opening day but the results exceeded their most sanguine expectations. Professor Ellis Edwards of Bala preached three times during the day. In the morning there was an excellent gathering and besides Professor Edwards, Revs. Frank and Seth Joshua, C. L Perry, Sydney Evans and J. Locke assisted during the service. There was a great gathering of children present in the afternoon, Professor Edwards and Mr George Reynolds addressing them. Altogether the day was an eminently successful one and if it was any criterion of the future the prospects are very bright.
Malpas Road in 1907
The following month, the journal Monthly Tidings was able to comment that,
It was a unique event in the annal of Welsh Prebyterianism when on February 14th 1897, the large Malpas Hall was opened without a church or a Sunday School connected with it, or any organised help. The officials of the Movement in Newport faced the event with much fear and trembling but this gave way to rejoicing when they saw the fine congregation gathered together that Sunday morning to hear Professor Ellis Edwards M.A. preach on “The Truth shall set you free”.
THE MINISTERS OF MALPAS ROAD (1897 -2020)
1897-1898: Rev. Richard Roberts
1898-1899: Rev. J. M. Saunders
1899-1901: Rev. John Williams
1901-1905: Rev. W.T. Griffiths
1905-1911: Rev. O.D. Jones
1912-1916: Rev. J.C. Rowlands
1917-1924: Rev. Vadre James
1924-1933: Rev. William Meek
1934-1960: Rev. David Owen
1962-1992: Rev. Hugh D. Morgan
1981-1983: Rev. Richard Wigham (Assistant)
1984-1987: Rev. Meirion Thomas (Assistant)
1988-1992: Rev. Paul Clement (Assistant)
1993-1997: Rev. Peter Milsom
1994-1998: Rev. Richard Myerscough (Assistant)
1999- : Rev. Meirion Thomas
2003-2010: Rev. Paul Gamston (Assistant / Associate)
2016-2018: Rev. Sam Oldridge (Assistant)
2020- : Dafydd Williams (Assistant)
For further information, please speak to church member and historian, Ray Stroud.