Gareth Alban Davies
'There were six or seven fur coats in Bethesda,' my father once remarked, while referring to more prosperous years in the Chapel's history, back in the 'thirties. But perhaps I'm mistaken as I try to recall the voice that made that statement. It would have been more in keeping with my mother's viewpoint, for she was more sensitive than he to the gradations in society and the lines drawn between one class and another. But there was no doubt about the facts: they were confirmed by my own childhood memory. Indeed, those coats were part of life's wonder.
Seated in our pew, with the waves of organ-music swelling the eddies of heat that swirled down the aisle, I was well placed to see the coats as they came into Chapel. On winter nights they would be pulled tight around the body, but of a Spring evening they billowed free, a fit adornment for their owners rather than a necessary garment. I wasn't well enough acquainted with the world of nature to be able to say where these various pelts had come from, but it would be an irreverence to suggest that they had once belonged to cat or rabbit, since it was so obvious to the eye that they had adorned the backs of exotic creatures in the far corners of the earth — the rare Siberian fox, or Persian lamb, or the musquash about which I knew nothing save the fragrance of its name.
But who were the owners of these luxurious furs? A Marxist analysis would lead inexorably to the conclusion that they were the wives and daughters of the exploiting classes, and in the Valleys during the 'thirties there was no doubt as to who they were — the owners and managers of the coalmines. It must be admitted that several of these were to be found among Bethesda's members, and that one or two had been elected to office in the Chapel. Let it not be forgotten, either, that a fur coat adorned the back and shoulders of the wife of the Ocean Coal Company's 1 general manager. ('Ocean, thou mighty monster,' was the mischievous suggestion for the solo in one of the musical competitions at the Treorci Eisteddfod of 1928!). And to that fine, dark coat there was, moreover, a sheen very different from those others seen here and there in the congregation: sable has a sedate, unshowy quality which suits a woman who is well aware that she's wealthy, and that everybody else knows it too. There