William Erbery (1604 – 1654)
To experience the life and worship of the present day St Mary’s, one may be surprised to know that the growth of Non-conformity in Cardiff grew from the pulpit of the parish when, in the 17th century, a former Vicar, William Erbery, became a prime mover towards what was to become the first Nonconformist chapel in Cardiff.
In 1633, the 29 year old William Erbery, the son of a Roath merchant, was appointed Vicar of St Mary’s. He was a definite Protestant and, in the year of his induction, King Charles I had reissued ‘The Book of Sports’ which had first been promulgated in the reign of James I in 1617 – proclaiming the lawfulness of playing certain games on Sundays with the order that it be read from all pulpits.
This challenged the strict Sabbath observance of the puritans and Erbery, along with his curate, Walter Cradoock, were among the clergy who opposed it and refused to obey it.
The Bishop of Llandaff, William Murray, denounced them as “disobedient to his Majesty’s injunctions” and claimed that they were preaching “schismatically and dangerously to the people.” He admonished the vicar and suspended the curate whom he called “a bold, ignorant fellow.”
In 1636, Erbery remained unyielding to articles entered against him in the Court of High Commission and finally in 1638 the bishop deprived him of his living.
During the civil war, he was a chaplain in the parliamentary forces and his many published tracts and sermons reveals his progressive move to the left in Protestant doctrine, having much in common with the Quakers by the time of his death in 1654, though he never joined them. His daughter Dorcas, however, was one of the founders of that body in Cardiff.
He became an itinerant preacher and from 1640 gathered a community of sympathisers round him at his own house in the town. With the abolishment of the monarchy in 1649, however, the Puritan’s fortunes changed and although Erbery died in 1654, his sympathisers had grown strong and formed Trinity Church in Womanby Street in 1696, creating Cardiff's first Non-Conformist Chapel on land held on a 999 year lease from Alderman, John Archer.
In 1718, the church was endowed with a nearby dwelling house in Caslte Street. Destroyed by fire in 1847, it was rebuilt with a classical frontage. In 1888 Trinity was amalgamated with Llandaff Road Congregational church in Canton to form New Trinity on Cowbridge Road
In 1657, the noted Quaker leader George Fox preached in Cardiff Town Hall. He was to return eleven years later in 1668 by which time Mary Erbery (Williams’ wife) had already given land in Cardiff for a Quaker burial ground, and a separate Quaker centre had been established at Llandaff, meeting in the house of William Williams under the leadership of Francis Gawler, a feltmaker from Cardiff (who had been imprisoned in 1685 for protesting against church ceremonial) and James Adams of Bristol.
Protests, arrests and imprisonment were characteristic features of this turbulent time. In 1658, Dorcas Erbery and Tobias Hodges caused a disturbance at St. John's Church, Cardiff and were gaoled. A few years later, the cells were even fuller when, on 24 November 1661, forty Cardiff Quakers were gaoled for attending a Meeting, and accused of being disloyal to the King Charles.
By 1689, Religious toleration for Non-conformists was re-established. The mood had changed.