Baptised in the Canal in 1936

by David Forward, Cwmbran Ward

I am familiar with the story of my father’s baptism.  As an eight year old in 1936 he travelled with his family and church members to the cottage of Charles Jones located close to the Monmouthshire & Brecon canal.  From Varteg, north of Pontypool, they descended the side of the valley down the Snail Creep to Cwmavon, then walked up the other side of the valley to Llanover Road, followed the road and crossed fields until they arrived at the Goose and Cuckoo public house, where they took a break and drank some lemonade before moving on down the hill towards Goytre / Llanover and the Jones’ cottage.  The Jones’ cottage was immediately adjacent to the Pantglas Mill that was next to the Gwenffrwd Brook.   The mill had a room that was used to change in preparation for the baptism.  When ready the boys walked up the hill to the farmer’s field and across to the canal bridge.  Over the bridge they went, and joined with the Saints before going down into the canal for their baptisms.  My Father William Forward and his cousin Glyn Forward were baptized the same day.  They were confirmed in the home of Charles Jones.  Following the baptismal service the company trekked back home to the Varteg the way they came.

Eight year old William Henry Forward’s baptism In 1936
Eight year old William Henry Forward’s baptism In 1936

When I was eight I was baptized in the beautiful new chapel in Merthyr Tydfil that President David O. McKay had recently dedicated.  My dad’s baptism in the Monmouthshire & Brecon canal was perhaps in a more beautiful setting.  For some time I have been curious as to the exact location of my father’s baptism in the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal and wanted to visit the site of his baptism.  Dad and I visited potential sites on the canal but frustratingly we couldn’t find it.  Wisely, Dad reminded me that his baptism was over eighty years ago and we couldn’t rely on his memory to find the location. 

So the investigation began.  We checked census data, church records, war memorial records and old maps to find the name and location of the Jones’ cottage.  Google was no help as the buildings are no longer in use and are in ruin, sitting within a fenced-off, overgrown area.  We found the name of the Jones’ home as Pantglas Mill Cottage and used old maps to find its location.  We now know roughly where the baptisms took place. 

Charles Jones was a wheelwright who operated the Pantglas Mill; he and his family lived in the adjacent Pantglas Mill Cottage.  Charles had been a devout and loyal member of the Church for many years.  Indeed, it was his son Edwin Jones who is the first recorded baptism in the canal at this location.  This took place whilst Charles served as a councilor in the Pontypool Branch presidency.  Edwin was baptized on 9th June 1907, his mother and brothers and sisters followed him.  The Goytre / Llanover canal baptisms continued throughout the rest of Charles’ lifetime over approximately a 30 year period.

Whilst the Pontypool / Varteg Branch members made this 10-mile round trip regularly for baptisms it should be remembered that the Jones family made this journey every week to attend their church meetings.

It was not only Dad and cousin Glyn who were baptized there, many more were baptized at this location.  From records that I have been able to access there is a list of fifty-seven members who were baptized at the site.  As well as the Jones family and others at least twenty-seven of them were family members of William and Glyn Forward.  One who wasn’t actually a relative but I referred to as ‘Aunty’ was Beryl Mary Howells Hayes. She was baptized two years earlier in September 1934.

Elder Thomas Biggs Jr was one of William’s cousins baptised at this location in 1909 along with his sisters.  Their father, also named Thomas Biggs, was the Pontypool Branch president at the time and Charles Jones was his counselor.  The Thomas Biggs family emigrated to Utah in 1910.  In 1927 Thomas Biggs Jr returned to the area as a full time missionary.  He returned to the place of his baptism and baptised a family and one of his local cousins in the canal at the same location.  His father Thomas Biggs Snr also returned to his former home area in later life as a full-time missionary, and he too baptised local converts in the canal at this location.  Thomas baptised his nephew Charles Forward along with his wife Ivy at this location.  Charles and Ivy Forward are my grandparents.  When I visit this special place I take in the quiet, beautiful setting and can envisage and celebrate the baptisms of my father and grandparents. 

David and William Forward at the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal near Bridge 78, roughly where the Baptisms took place
David and William Forward at the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal near Bridge 78, roughly where the Baptisms took place.

Our modern chapels now have their own baptismal fonts so a trip to the Monmouthshire & Brecon canal at Goytre / Llanover for a baptism is an experience of bygone years.  Ninety-two year old William Forward is the last living survivor of that era.

William Forward remembers his baptism eighty four years earlier in the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal at Goytre / Llanover
William Forward remembers his baptism eighty four years earlier in the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal at Goytre / Llanover