Built in 1850, this Baptist Chapel was made famous by the Devon artist Sydney Curnow Vosper (29 October 1866 – 10 July 1942) in 1908, when he painted a member of the congregation in traditional Welsh costume. What makes this painting entitled ‘Salem’ of interest to us is that the Devils face is said to be visible in the picture and this simulacra was not included intentionally by the artist.
In 1909 the painting was displayed at the Royal Academy and subsequently bought by William Hesketh Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme for the price of 100 guineas. The image was used then in the promotion of Lever Brothers Sunlight soap. Tokens accompnaying the soap could be be collected and redeemed for a print of the painting, which made it a readily available and a popular well known image.
The Devils Face
I have heard some small pieces of folklore suggesting that if you can see the Devils face straight away you must have the Devil in you. However, just in case you are struggling, it is supposed to be in the folds of the shawl over the old woman’s left arm. It has also been suggested that there is a devils face peering in through the window.
The old member of the congregation in the picture was modelled by Siân Owens who was aged 71 at the time the painting was created. It is said that the shawl she is wearing was not actually her own and none of the women there were said to actually own a hat, never mind attend church in one. Siân died at the age of 90 and is buried at Llanfair. Siân Owens was also a model in his 1910 painting entitled ‘Market Day in Old Wales’ where I believe she wore her own shawl. Whilst posing for ‘Salem’ the little boy in the background was given a box of Quaker Oats to hold rather than a bible and one of the eight people was not a living model, it was actually a dummy.