Bethel Arch

A Brecon Street Scene

and its link to the 'Beat Generation'

by John Ball, August 2014

Recently, I received a request for help to identify the location in Wales of the scene depicted in the photograph (right). It was taken in 1961 and the writer of my email was not the photographer. He was Jim Pennington, a printer, publisher and bibliophile based in London.

Residents and visitors in Brecon will recognise at once that this is the entry to Bethel Square off Lion Street, the square that was once the site of Bethel Calvinistic Methodist Chapel (now Boots the Chemist). Originally the archway was the entry to the historic Golden Lion Inn, a coaching inn where guests could disembark under the arch and out of the weather.BCL Company advert The horses could also be stabled overnight in the yard through the archway.

Notably in the photograph there is also the signboard of the Breconshire Coal & Lime Company Limited. An advertisement (left) in 'The Official Guide to Breconshire' published in the 1960s gives the location of its head office as 'Lion Chambers'. The enlargement of a segment of the 1961 photo (below left) certifies the identity of the chapel as it shows one of the distinctive windows of Bethel Chapel (outlined in blue). The same window is clearly evident in the photograph of Bethel Chapel (below right) taken by Peter Richards of Brecon in the mid 1970s.

Comparison of windows

The same chapel window outlined in the 1961 photo (left) and mid 1970s photo (right)
[Photographs (left) © Harriet Crowther; (right) © Peter Richards]

Below are three photos of the Bethel Arch, an iconic image of a walkway distinctive to Brecon, but which has undergone great change through the years: from 1961 (left) to the present day (right). The arch is now taller and narrower than the original.

Comparison of arches

The Bethel Arch from 1961 (left) through the 1970s (centre) to the present day (right).
[Photographs (left) © Harriet Crowther; (middle and right) © Robert Eckley]

To Jim Pennington, my thanks for sending me the email and photo, and double thanks for arranging the permission from Harriet Crowther for the photograph to be used in the BLFHS collection of old images of Brecon.

The Man in the Archway
But like me, you will be especially intrigued as to identity of the gentleman in the trilby underneath the arch. Was he a local resident who just happened to be in the shot, or was he the real subject of the photograph? Jim Pennington knew all about him. I was even more intrigued by his reply to my query.....

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