What future for Saron graveyard?

A derelict space containing a seemingly random collection of headstones and other monuments, some fractured, graffiti covered and leaning at crazy angles; collapsed and bulging retaining walls; mature trees and dense undergrowth producing a jungle effect; beer and cider cans strewn around amidst the remnants of mattresses, chairs, sofas and other items of domestic furniture. Few people gazing at this scene today can imagine how important this site once was to the people of Troedyrhiw and how many of our forebears have come to inhabit such depressing surroundings as their final resting place.

For over 150 years things were very different as Saron chapel looked down confidently from its prominent position on the valley side at the village growing and developing below. This spot was occupied by what was, for a long period, the largest and most important building in Troedyrhiw; a magnet which drew in hundreds of people to Sunday services and a centre of Welsh culture which, sadly, is all but forgotten today. From the lovingly maintained chapel buildings where generations of Troedyrhiw people were christened, worshipped and married to the immaculately kept graveyard where they expected to find a peaceful and lasting repose Saron seemed to offer a comforting permanence which has proved to be illusory.

How has the present situation been reached? Why should we be concerned about it? What should now be done? These are the questions which must be addressed if we consider ourselves to be living in a truly civilised society.

When Saron Chapel closed its doors for the final time in 1983 the small remaining congregation were, with great sorrow, abandoning the ‘cause’ which had, up to that point, never faltered since the foundation of the chapel in 1820. These mostly elderly people, few of whom are alive today, had neither the energy nor the resources to provide for the necessary ongoing maintenance of the buildings and site. We cannot be surprised, therefore, that an absence of adequate care over the past 26 years has inevitably led to a disgraceful state of affairs which shames us all. It is surely intolerable in any healthy community that what should be lasting memorials to previous generations sitting safely in consecrated ground have been allowed to become besmirched in the manner we see here.

A visit to most places of burial in the Merthyr Borough reveals a high standard of upkeep with well maintained graves situated in pleasant grounds allowing the dead to rest in peace and the living to find appropriate surroundings for quiet contemplation. Every citizen, whether living or departed, deserves the same consideration.

Although Troedyrhiw residents have repeatedly brought the condition of the Saron site to the attention of the local authority and there have been some community based efforts to carry out a clear up the processes of deterioration have continued. We do not know what assurances, if any, the Council sought at the times of closure and demolition. Neither is it known whether any attempts have ever been made to monitor the state of the site with a view to taking appropriate proceedings against the site owners. What is clear at this point however is that, whilst the Council agree that the prospects of finding owners with the ability to fund essential work are now remote, they have no intention of taking any action themselves.

Saron’s fate, therefore, will depend upon the establishment of a Friends of Saron group and their success at securing necessary funding and using it in the most effective way. Many people are now looking forward to the commencement of a programme of work which will secure the long-term future of the Saron graveyard as a safe and accessible place which those of us still in this world can be proud of and which is respectful to the memories of those who have passed on to the next.

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