The cause at Pisgah was founded in 1820, one of several 'daughter churches' of Molleston, the first English Baptist congregation in Pembrokeshire, founded in 1667. The present site was not the original one however, as the first members worshipped at Pencoed (on the road to Lawrenny from Cresswell Quay), in the farmhouse of Benjamin Davies. In 1819, the present site was secured from the Allens of Cresselly House, one of the few local gentry families sympathetic to Nonconformity. The church was constitutionally formed in 1820.
The cause at Pisgah grew as a 'daughter church' of Molleston, sharing its pastorate in the early years under Rev. James Hughes Thomas, and then Rev Enoch Price. The cause flourished, largely due to the huge expansion of the limestone quarries at West Williamston, from where stone for building (the town of Pembroke Dock) and making lime were barged to Lawrenny Quay for export in larger boats.
Early Sunday school trip
During the 1840s, Rev. Henry Evans helped to strengthen the cause. Evans was typical of many Nonconformist ministers whose chief means of income were derived from full-time employment, in his case, at Pembroke Dockyard. Remarkably, Evans fostered a number of chapels in south Pembrokeshire including Sardis, Llangwm and Honeyborough, often preaching three times on a Sunday either side of the Cleddau. After another spell with Molleston, Pisgah was strong enough to appoint a joint minister with Martletwy, Rev. Thomas Lodwig Evans, in 1875. Eight years later, Rev. Thomas Pandy John was appointed as pastor of Pisgah only, such was the strength of the membership.
Of the succeeding pastors, Rev William Meredith Morris is still well known for his publications on a variety of subjects including British violin makers and the north Pembrokeshire dialect. Morris, pastor 1891-95, was a native of Cwm Gwaun. He was a keen collector of stories on local folklore and a frequent visitor to local households with his notebook (his notes survive at Cardiff Library).Many stories relate to Cresswell Quay and the immediate area, packed with corpse candles and phantom funerals, haunted footpaths and midnight encounters with the devil in various guises. Quite suddenly, he revoked his pastorate, and re-trained for the Anglican ministry eventually becoming vicar of Clydach Vale, where he was a champion of the newly emerging socialist movement, a central (and much-loved) figure to the Rhondda working-class movement. Unfortunately, this learned and talented cleric was called home aged only 53.
The memoirs of the Cole family, being one of the founders (still worshipping) of Pisgah provide a fascinating account of local rural life, showing just how vital the chapel and Sunday School was.
The brothers Johnny and Benny Cole were leading members of the chapel, the memoirs recording concerts (for which the chapel choir was locally famed), Sunday school outings and amusing anecdotes on one hand, and the harshness of Victorian rural life on the other. Shining through all this is the steadfast faith of the early members of Pisgah, who worked tirelessly in serving their Lord and Master, regardless of personal sacrifice. The musical foundations, laid by Meredith Morris and the Coles remain evident to this day.
The majority of the early members were from labouring families, employed in the local quarries and on local farms, some working in the small anthracite mines. Money was tight and living conditions appalling, but within a year of forming the cause, the chapel was built (the datestone of 1821 proudly displayed on the front gable). The original chapel was a small box-like building, probably with a hipped roof and gallery. In 1877, it was extensively altered, the chapel itself extended to the rear, including the vestries. The interior was completely re-fitted in fashionable pitch-pine. Whereas the 1821 chapel was no doubt designed by a competent local builder, the 1877 work was overseen by a professional architect, K.W. Ladd of Pembroke Dock. At the centenary, various renovations were carried out, including new windows and the gate-piers.
The Sunday school was built in 1854, itself a large building, complete with stabling for the minister' horse. In 1885, the manse, situated in Cresswell Quay itself, was built, reusing an old cottage.