The Gate is housed in a 100 year old Grade II listed building. Formally the Plasnewydd Presbyterian Church, it is located in Keppoch Street in the Roath area of Cardiff.
The First Building
Edwin Reese, a key leader of the group that would become Plasnewydd Church, and his colleagues managed to obtain permission to build a meeting place on leased land adjacent to the Macintosh Insititute. The foundation stones were laid on 28th July 1886 at a special ceremony for which there survives a copy of a publicity poster. The building was rapidly completed for the sum of £1,050; and the church moved in well before the end of the year, the opening ceremony being conducted on 31st October. It had taken just five months to build the church from scratch! By the time the building was complete, some of the houses on Keppoch Street were being built, but otherwise, the setting for the new church was the as yet unspoiled, still leafy grounds of Plasnewydd. This, the original church building, can still be seen on the site of The Gate, and forms the rear part of the site, now housing the cafe.
In 1895 Rev John Pulford Williams came to lead the church. He was a North Walian from Holywell and was 42 when he arrived at Plasnewydd. His ministry had an immediate impact, and by the end of the year, 36 new members had been added. The Sunday school was 200 strong, and the building, less than ten years old, was already becoming too small. It was felt necessary to begin to make plans for a new, much larger church building if the church was to continue to be effective in its mission to serve the local community. Plans began to be made in 1896, the idea being to build on the remaining part of the land owned by the church. The plan was to build a church with seating for 850 for a cost of no more than £3,500.
Work began in 1901, after many setbacks, with William Beddoe Rees (1877-1931) being the architect. Beddoe Rees, who was originally from Maesteg, was at that time just starting his career. In fact, it is likely that Plasnewydd was the first chapel he designed. He went on to become one of the greatest chapel architects, building many of the last great wave of chapels that were needed in the wake of the 1904-5 Revival. He would ultimately receive a knighthood in recognition of his work.
During the war, the area of terraced streets lying south of the church, from Cyfarthfa Street down to Newport Road was very badly bombed in 1941, and the whole area completely devastated. Members of the church would have lost their lives at that time. In one air raid alone on 2nd January 1941, 165 people were killed, many of them in that part of the city. This was the raid in which Llandaff Cathedral was also hit and very badly damaged.
However, in spite of the church’s reputation in the denomination, the accounts in the church magazine, ‘The Messenger’, at this time make depressing reading. The 1982 annual report refers to ‘a continuing decline in the number of members’. Membership had shrunk to 80, of whom only half attended. Of the members there were only 19 men, of whom just 7 attended. The Sunday school was down to two regulars and two occasional attenders. In his editorial, Bebb compared Plasnewydd with other stronger churches, and wondered why his was failing. He concluded that it was not the worship or the preaching, but a general sense of expectation that was lacking. It was now only a matter of time.
In the mid 1990’s, the church finally closed. It stood empty for a while until it was purchased by Glenwood Church in 2000, and used as a base for meeting the needs of the homeless in the area. A trust was set up to manage the building, and they were able to secure a £1.2m lottery fund grant. A further private donation of the same amount, and £400,000 from the Welsh Assembly also came in. This enabled the old church to be converted into a multipurpose arts centre. The architect for the conversion work was Robert Cruwys, who did some research into the church’s history as part of his preparation. Care was taken to preserve the integrity of the building, the pulpit being retained in what is now the dance studio; while a new floor at the level of the gallery created a wonderful performance and meeting space.
When it was complete, the new arts centre was endorsed by BBC news presenter Huw Edwards, who said of it that it was;
‘…a fantastic example of what can be done with a disused church building – it continues to serve the community, and the conversion is exemplary on every level.’
The Gate opened its doors in September 2004!