RHUTHUN LOCAL HISTORY BROADSHEET Issue No 75 September 2003
EDWARD JONES, BATHAFARN AND WELSH WESLEYAN METHODISM.
John Wesley's tercentenary in June [1703-1791] of this year  reminds us of the contribution made by Edward Jones of Bathafarn Farm to Wesleyan Methodism in Wales. Wesley himself never intended to challenge or to supplant Anglican doctrines and thought of himself as an Anglican. However, his impact on Wales was not as dramatic as on England. His difficulty was the language. Such Methodist societies as there were in Wales operated mainly in English There were English language societies at Holywell in 1750, at Mold in 1762 and at Gresford in 1766. Even when Welsh was the pre-dominant language, preaching in Welsh was a rarity.
Why had John Wesley not sought to fill this gap? During his early ministry in England, there was only one form of Methodism. In Wales, Wesley's good friend and colleague, Howell Harris was working equally hard from Trefecca - through the medium of Welsh. It has been suggested that Wesley and Harris had concluded a gentleman's agreement that Wesley would have a clear field in England and Harris in Wales. This might explain why Wesley otherwise inexplicably deployed in England the few Welsh preachers that he had.
However, doctrinal differences began to appear and Howell Harris' Methodists adopted Calvin's doctrines of predestination (that Christ died for a pre-selected chosen few) while Wesley and his supporters were ardent in their support of Arminianism (that Christ died to save all). Nevertheless, the friendship between the two men remained constant. These differences may have helped persuade the Methodist Conference of 1800 to send missionaries into Wales in an effort to establish themselves there. In any case, by then, neither Wesley nor Harris were on the scene. Unfortunately, thereafter, bitterness manifested itself between the two sects which for a time became sharply divided.
Edward Jones left Bathafarn for Manchester at the age of 17 to work in a cotton mill. He was later described in a Trust deed as 'cotton manufacturer', which seems to have been a slight overstatement. This was no prodigal son, for the religious influences of his upbringing soon brought him into touch with several ministers in Manchester, especially those of Congregational and Methodist persuasions. A Rev. George Marsden, of Oldham Street Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was a particular influence and Edward adopted Methodism. After four years in Manchester, he felt impelled to leave, and on 31st December 1799, he arrived home. Neither Edward nor his parents were enjoying good health and the death of his younger brother seems to have been a deciding factor. He also wanted to form a Welsh Wesleyan Society at Ruthin.
On his way home Edward, called at Chester for advice and support from the Methodists there. He lost no time and at the beginning of January he and a friend John Davies hired a room at The Prince of Wales Inn (demolished in 1870), Upper Clwyd Street, and, on 29th April 1800, registered it under The Toleration Act of 1689.
The lot of a pioneer can never be easy and in spite of hard work, a measure of success and the support of friends, he felt despondent. He had to contend with his family problems and the fact that his parents were not comfortable with his deviation from the Anglican path. He had even been threatened with exclusion from Bathafarn if he formed a Society in Ruthin. Nor, he thought, had he been given the support of the Conference then meeting at London.
Tradition has it that Edward sought to dispel his despondency by walking on the Clwydian Hills as far as Moel Fammau where his musings were interrupted by a servant bearing a message. Ruthin was to be the centre of the first Circuit in Wales operating in the Welsh language, and two Ministers had been appointed to assist.
Edward Jones, Bathafarn.
There is no evidence in support of this colourful account which must be regarded as apocryphal.
The Prince of Wales continued to be used on a regular basis for the next two years and became the centre of a new Ruthin Circuit. Edward, at the tender age of 22 years, became an Elder. He sought to build a new chapel and found a suitable site but the owner, although initially willing, yielded to pressure from anti-Methodists and withdrew. However, Richard Jones of The Boot Inn sold him a plot in nearby Mill Street and this was where Ruthin's first Welsh Wesleyan Chapel, Capel-y-Felin ['Chapel by the Mill'] was constructed. Edward, with the blessing of his parents who had been reconciled by the sincerity of their son's views, was ordained a Minister and Capel Y Felin opened on 16th November, 1802, with a Service of Holy Communion and a congregation of 300. Ruthin's chapel was the fourth Welsh Wesleyan Chapel to open, - Denbigh [January 1802], Flint [October 1802] and on the next day, Northop.
A Dr. Thomas Coke, born in Brecon, became Wesley's first lieutenant and was very familiar with the scene in North Wales, even while Edward was still at school. Another person who deserves at least as much credit as Edward Jones, was an Evan Roberts of Denbigh who, as early as 1784, had met Wesley in Manchester to plead for his assistance. Evan Roberts had ploughed a lonely furrow.
With the blessing of Conference, and the assistance of preachers and laymen, Edward's Ruthin Society prospered and other Societies opened in north Wales. In 1803, the Ruthin Circuit was divided into three and very soon a fourth was started. The movement was able to support six preachers, presumably Welsh speakers.
For many years, Edward Jones has enjoyed almost cult status in Ruthin as the founder of Welsh Wesleyan Methodism. Indeed, the replacement and larger Welsh Methodist Chapel of 1869 in Market Street, Ruthin, was named Bathafarn' in his honour. Perhaps the first `revisionist' was A.H. Williams, war-time head of Ruthin's Brynhyfryd School and the definitive historian of Welsh Methodism. While no-one has sought to diminish the value of Edward's work, Williams has demonstrated that these claims may have been somewhat exaggerated.
Edward was a ‘John the Baptist’ figure and Capel-y-Felin the `mother' church. In 1804, Edward was put in charge of the Caernarvon district. Two years later he was moved again to Machynlleth. Amazingly, the 'circuit' system took Edward and several of his colleagues away from this promising territory. He was later despatched to Whitchurch, Shropshire. This decision has been described as 'fatally flawed'. Welsh Societies declined and financial problems multiplied.
Other postings followed and in 1835 he was Minister at Haverfordwest. While there, he was appointed supervisor at Leek in Staffordshire, but before he could take up this post, he met with a serious accident. Notwithstanding, he made the move, but was unable to take up his duties. He died on 26th August 1837 at the young age of 59 and was buried at the Mount Pleasant Chapel at Leek. The Leek Chapel closed c.1982 and was demolished, but Edward's Memorial was saved and brought to Ruthin. It now stands outside `his' chapel in Market Street.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: sincere thanks are extended to Mr. A. Wyn Lloyd, to Mrs. Dilys Glover, and to my wife, Mona, for their invaluable assistance; ‘Edward Jones, Bathafarn’, the late Tecwyn Roberts, Y Bedol, Jan. 1988; Llandyrnog Churchyard Inscriptions [c.1994] prepared by members of the Llandyrnog Local History Society in memory of the late Bill Wynne-Woodhouse; articles on ‘Bathafarn’, viz., The Bathafarn Family’, Rolant Hughes, Ruthin, Vol 1, ; Prof. R.T. Jenkins, John Wesley in Wales, , Vol. 2, , , Rev. Griffith T. Roberts, Thomas Coke Vol. 5 ; Lionel Madden (Ed) Methodism in Wales, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch ; Dictionary of Welsh Biography; ‘Braslun o Hanes y Parch Ed. Jones, Bathafarn, Rhuthun’, W.H. Davies, North Wales Times, 22'd April 1950.
RUTHIN'S MUSICAL HERITAGE - Part I.
Happily, Ruthin has a proud musical heritage. An article by ‘A Ruthinian’, providing interesting glimpses of musical life in the 1860s, appeared in the Free Press of 29th September 1923, and inspired this paper.
‘A Ruthinian’ speculated that the first attempt at forming an orchestra in Ruthin, in the 1860s, was made by a ‘Professor of Music’, W. Ignatius Argent. He was then Director of Music and Organist at the Rhyl Roman Catholic Church. Mr. Argent was nothing if not versatile. Clearly, he was an accomplished organist, but also brilliant on the pianoforte, and could turn his hand to virtually any instrument in the orchestra. He was also music critic of The Liverpool Mercury.
Argent also taught music in the Vale of Clwyd and travelled to Ruthin weekly, stopping en route wherever he found pupils. He founded an orchestra for his Ruthin pupils under the grand title of ‘The Ruthin Orchestral Union’. Unkind critics twisted the acronym into R.O.W. There were some twenty members, some of whom played brass instruments loaned by the town band. Needless to say, the orchestra's members were mainly learners and while some were less than enthusiastic others persevered. Argent came to be appointed ‘Professor of Music and Harmony’ at J.D. Jones' Clwyd Bank School [RLHB No: 56] in Clwyd Street.
Eventually, claims of 'orchestral' status were abandoned, but the surviving players of the pianoforte, cello, bass and cornet, plus a fiddler or two, regularly assisted at the 'Popular Concerts' that were given fortnightly during the winter seasons of the 1870s (admission 6d. and 3d.). These were generally amateur affairs with an occasional input by professional singers. Profits were given to the 'Coal Fund' which purchased coal for resale at a very low cost to the 'deserving poor'.
Mr. J.D. Jones was by profession a schoolmaster and though not a Ruthinite by birth he settled here in 1851 on taking up an appointment as head of the Rhos Street School. He preached as a lay Wesleyan Methodist, but music was his forte. Composition was one of Jones' strong points and at the age of 18 yrs he had published a collection of tunes Y Perganiedydd ['The Sweet Singer'], including his well-known tune ‘Capel y Ddol’. In 1853, he published a prize-winning anthem and in 1858, he was music organiser for the groundbreaking Llangollen Eisteddfod. Other eisteddfodic successes included Tri Chant a Holiadau Ac Atebion at Denbigh in 1860. In 1862, he organised a British School choir of 150 voices. He set up a fine organ at the school where he often gave concerts.
When the ill-fated National Eisteddfod came to Ruthin in 1868, an unsuccessful attempt was made to form an orchestra for the occasion. Thus, the performance of the ‘Messiah’, under the baton of John Hullah, was accompanied simply by a grand pianoforte played by a guest professional with Argent, by then on the staff at Clwyd Bank School, on an American organ. Argent also trained the local choirs forming the chorus. A Ruthin man, Mr. B. M. Williams, an amateur composer and organist, won the prize for the best selection of Welsh melodies arranged for a brass band.
Platforms of the 1880s were given over to vocalists under the aegis of the newly formed ‘Ruthin Musical Society’. That society's choir was tutored by Mr. Felix Watkins, a lay clerk of St. Asaph Cathedral, and described as a person of genial disposition. His rule of thumb was "...watch my beat and spout it out." He was also remarkable in that he could adapt his voice from the highest soprano to the deepest bass, as occasion demanded. The choir gave many concerts of works ranging from ‘The Messiah’ to the work of Gilbert and Sullivan. On one occasion, they performed Haydn's ‘Toy Symphony’ with various members taking on the role of a cuckoo, nightingale, corncrake, etc.
For the Denbigh National Eisteddfod of 1882, Watkins trained the Vale of Clwyd choirs to give performances of ‘The Messiah’ and Haydn’s ‘Elijah’ with an orchestra led by Charles Stephenson of Wrexham. Their rendering of The Hallelujah Chorus' was encored and repeated.
A note of discord was struck in 1888 by the Ruthin Board of Guardians. The Master of the workhouse reported that local 'Minstrels' had offered to give a performance to the children at the workhouse. The Master approached the Chairman, the Rev Bulkeley Owen Jones, Warden of Ruthin who declined the offer and attracted unfavourable publicity in The Daily Telegraph and in Modern Societ". The Chairman in justifying his decision pointed out that the children had already had a Christmas dinner and that was quite enough for a workhouse. Indeed, had he acceded to this offer, there could be a danger that people might want to be admitted.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Messrs Allan Fletcher and Alun Lloyd, who have kindly read and commented on this paper, the latter supplying additional information about Mr. Furness Williams; Y Faner, 1864; ‘Johnny Williams, local tenor’; Free Press - 11th July 1924, 6th June 1925; Mrs. Kathleen Webb, Llanbedr; items collected by the late Oswald Edwards.
Major Cornwallis West's Gifts
Messrs Roper and Whateley, solicitors, London, wrote to the Town Council regarding the presentation to the town of the recreation field. In addition, Major West proposed conveying the Conning Green, the waste land on the north-west side of the castle moat, and also the memorial site of the Old Town Hall on the Square.
Denbighshire Free Press, 1st May 1920, p.3. col. 6.