In Cardiff Nonconformity is traced back to
1662, and even ten years earlier when the Bishop of Llandaff complained
to the King that William Erbury, Vicar of St. Mary in Cardiff and
Walter Craddock, his curate, "have been very disobedient to
your Majesty's injunction, and preached schismatically and
dangerously to the people".
There is evidence that John French, the medical-clergyman evicted from Wenvoe in 1662, had acquired a licence to "preach at his own house", and he continued to do so until he died in 1691. Within five years there was a Presbyterian chapel at Womansby Street, and John Archer and Ricer Protheroe became its ministers before the arrival of David Williams in 1734, whose preaching developed from Arminianism to Unitarianism of the Priestley school; he was followed by his son, Thomas Williams (1784-88), also a Unitarian.
However, the long ministry of his successor, William Jones (1789-1845), led the congregation back to Calvinism.
When Wright the missioner, came to the city (around 1816) he was saddened "that Unitarian worship is not regularly carried on in Cardiff", and that although there were Unitarians to be found there they lacked "courage and zeal".
According to the census of George Harries in 1818 there was no Unitarian minister in the city, and the old Presbyterian chapel was sold.
Another Unitarian cause associated with that of Cardiff was the Church of Watford on the outskirts of Caerphilly, which was founded by a group of seceders from Cwmyglo in 1739, with David Williams of Womansby Street Chapel sharing his ministry with them.
Mr. Wright the missioner, in 1816, described the congregation at Watford as "chiefly Unitarian" and, although Daniel Davies, who was a Unitarian, became their minister in 1826 the church began to deteriorate, especially after it severed its link with the Cardiff Church.
The last Unitarian minister to serve the Presbyterian Cause of Womansby Street was Thomas Williams, and although the actual Unitarian church was not to be established for nearly another hundred years, there is ample evidence that the City was not without "followers of the faith".
As early as 1815 Iolo Morganwg thought that there was a possible nucleus for establishing a Unitarian church in Cardiff. He had come across Unitarians in the district of Llanrhymney and Caerphilly including visitors like Dr. Carpenter, who often stayed in a "house and a large farm of Muggeridge, near Cardiff"; and according to Iolo this Mr. Muggeridge was prepared to build a Unitarian chapel.
However that dream was not to be realized until 1879, when the following notice appeared in the South Wales Daily News (Dec.10): "Sir,-As to the establishment of a Unitarian Church in Cardiff, letters addressed to 101 Castle Rd. would meet with prompt attention". And as a result of this notice "a few Unitarians met and arranged to hold meeting for worship in the house of Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Nicholson, at 101 Castle Rd.".
Soon there were about "twenty people all told", and in July 1880, having appointed lay officers and hired a room at the Great Western Coffee Tavern, the first public devotional services were conducted by Mr. John Hammett and the address delivered by Mr. G. Garslake Thompson. "The Rev. Nester Williams, of Merthyr, was the first Unitarian Minister to conduct worship for the congregation then meeting at the Coffee Tavern".
Early in 1881 the congregation moved to the Assembly Rooms of the Cardiff Arms Hotel and later in the same year, together with their newly formed Sunday School, they moved again to the premises of the Good Templers in the Arcade Buildings, where Thomas Holland took charge of the infant church for six months.
Holland was followed by Hobart Clark, of Massachusetts (1882-8), and it was during his ministry that the congregation decided to build a chapel at West Grove, at a cost of £3,000; this building, constructed in a semi-Queen Anne style, now grade II listed because of its architectural importance, was dedicated and opened for worship on August 3rd, 1887.
In 1889 a new pipe organ was built in memory of J. P. Thompson, replacing the original instrument which was donated to the Pantydefaid chapel in Cardiganshire. This church thrived rapidly in the Capital, establishing a Sewing Circle in 1888, Women's League in 1911 and Young People's Guild in 1912. Regular Welsh services were held in the church.
In 2005 the congregation came to the decision to sell the building but continue to meet at the Friends' Meeting House in nearby Charles Street.
The original trust upon which the church is still held makes interesting reading:
"The Church is held upon trust as a place for the worship of Almighty God, and for the religious, moral and intellectual improvement of those worshipping therein. "and no regulation shall at any time be made whereby the acceptance of any creed, article or confession of faith shall be established as a condition of Church membership.".
Any person who wishes to become a member of the congregation worshipping here signifies his acceptance of this free basis, and pays a minimum subscription of five shillings per annum. The name "Unitarian" is voluntary, and not obligatory by trust, but is in our opinion alone consistent with the broad principles set forth in that trust and with the religious needs of today. The Minister is a Unitarian, and as such is free like his congregation to follow truth as it is discovered.
A welcome is extended to any who wish to join this free fellowship of worshippers.