Powys Digital History Project

The beginnings of dissent
The 'Anabaptists'


Two groups of dissenters
The parish register for the years 1633 to 1719 for the parish of Llanafan Fawr in north Breconshire is now missing, but it was transcribed by local historian David Lewis Wooding. The register, compiled by the incumbent William Williams and his successors, his son William Williams, and then by Howell Griffith, records two groups of "Anabaptists" in the area. By this term the vicar probably meant to indicate a dissenter under sentence of excommunication, rather than a strict adherent of the sixteenth century European sect.
The first group was associated with a Thomas Evans of Pentre in Llysdinam (then a part of Llanafan Fawr parish). He had been the Puritan incumbent of the parish of Maesmynis who was ejected in 1662.
The second group used to meet at the house called Tanybwlch in Llanafan Fawr, which was the home of Evan and James Thomas. When Evan died his brother continued leading his small group.

No milk for the children
After the 1662 Act of Uniformity, non-attendance at church led to excommunication and harsh fines. Henry Gregory, an Arminian Baptist of Llanddewi Ystradenni, had his last cow confiscated by the authorities, thus depriving his children of milk. Excommunication meant that nonconformists could not be buried in hallowed ground. The body of the daughter of a Puritan itinerant buried in the parish churchyard at Llanfihangel Brynpabuan was exhumed and buried like a common criminal at the crossroads during this period.

The Parish Register records burials wherever they may be and it would seem that James Thomas of Tanybwlch provided a small burial ground for his flock. Secular courts could also punish dissenters, but the "Anabaptists" seem to have avoided major civil persecution. The Act of Toleration of 1689 allowed freedom of worship to licensed groups, and both of these groups continued under license.

The origins of both these groups may lie with the ministry of Vavasor Powell who preached in the area during the Commonwealth, and was arrested at a house near Builth as early as 1640. Local tradition claims Tanybwlch as the scene of this arrest.