FROM COAL TO CATHEDRALS
In the early 1800s coal mining and other industrialisation began to have its affect and rural villages such as Treoes were to be transformed.
This section also contains the story of how Saron Chapel was established and details the life of one of its most famous ministers, Rees Saron Jones, who went on to have a church named in his memory in Scranton in the United States. Another famous resident was David Howell who was born in Treoes and became the Dean of Saint David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire.
The section has been divided as follows:
Industrialisation and Coal – the first mines and how they affected the residents of Treoes
The Landed Gentry and Rural Life – as estates got bigger there was more pressure on the owners of small parcels of land
Land Inclosure – and how it affected Treoes Moor
Mining Disaster – a tale of the grief that the mining industry created for the village
Saron Chapel – as the Non Confomist movement takes hold, Saron Chapel is founded in 1831
The Rev Dr Rees Saron Jones – the minister for Saron who went onto great things in Pennsylvalina
David Howell – a Treoes resident who’s influence on the Welsh church extended to Pwllhelli, Cardiff, Wrexham and Saint David’s in Pembrokeshire
INDUSTRIALISATION & COAL
By the 1830s coal mining was beginning to have a significant impact on rural villages such as Treoes.
Coal mining had begun in nearby, Bryncethin, Kenfig and Rhondda, and there were other industries as well, including a woollen mill in Llanblethian, a pottery at Ewenny and a tannery at Boverton.
In 1831 the railway arrived in Bridgend and this brought further trade and commercialisation.
At Gelliaraul the ruins of the engine house and the boiler house stack can still be seen.
These events led to a shortage of farmworkers and for the larger estates this was becoming a major problem which inevitably led to higher wages paid for agricultural work in the Vale. This was not enough to compete with new industries however and as a result, there was an influx of seasonal workers from Cardigan, Somerset and Ireland. Many of these migrant workers settled in the Vale and some in Treoes and Llangan.
Miners came from Cornwall to work in the mine. It is said that the Fox and Hounds did a roaring trade!
In 1815 an important lead mine was opened at Tewgoed in Llangan- where ore was also smelted. Walter Davies wrote of this mine:
“Here the grand vein runs east and west through the limestone and lading (inclining) itself to the noon sun. On the south side of the vein is a calcareous earth called liman. The vein itself called the red vein, from the colour of its contents, has nodules of lead imbedded into it, with a rider of calcareous freestone (fine grained limestone that can be easily sawed). Three parallel veins called blue veins, run obliquely from the North West into this red vein. The ore of the blue veins is Galens, or the laminar Potters Ore. Near the junction of the blue veins with the transverse red vein, a shaft was sunk, and a rich belly of steel grained ore was discovered. This induced the miners to sink two other shafts near the junction of the other two blue veins with the red vein, with equal success” (Stewart Williams, Glamorgan Historian).
LANDED GENTRY & RURAL LIFE
This was the era when the landed gentry rose to the zenith of their power – so most of the land of the Border Vale was concentrated in few hands.
Most of the villagers of Treoes would still have been small landowners and labourers or servants to the aristocracy and major landowners, but there would have been a choice of work – there would most certainly have been Landowners, property landlords, farmers, millers, a shopkeeper, a brewer and a publican, whilst others might have been railwaymen or woollen mill workers. They would have called upon the services of blacksmiths, masons, carpenters, shoemakers, coopers, dressmakers, tailors and thatchers from time to time.
There were four Inns named in the 1841 census, The Maltsters Arms (103 on the Tithe map) which was situated where The Malt House currently stands and whose landlord was Jeremiah Powell, The Boat Inn (85 on the tithe map) which was situated in the general area of Ty-yn -y-Garn and whose landlady was Hannah Owen, The New Inn whose landlord was John Lewis and The Farmers Arms whose landlord was Thomas Harris. Hannah Owen died in 1843.
From 1839 to 1843 rural areas in other parts of Wales were in the grip of the Rebecca riots, which came about by the divisiveness of society, with the poor having to support the Church by tithes, pay rent to landowners and tolls to use the roads. The relationship between the workers and their employers in the Vale was generally not discordant.
This was clearly due to the variety of work available because of the close proximity of industry, giving the labourers in the Vale significantly more bargaining power than other rural communities.
Depiction of the Rebecca Riots
In 1847, questions had been raised in Westminster as to why the Welsh people were prone to lawlessness. According to some, one possible reason was the continued use of the Welsh language, so a report was commissioned on the role of Welsh in Education. The report was published and became known as The Treachery of the Blue Books. “Blue” from the colour of the cover of the reports and “Treachery” from an ancient Arthurian myth about the Saxon invasion of Britain. The report contained passages in which it was considered the commissioners had exceeded their brief. Certain passages contained disparaging remarks about the morals of the Welsh people. The report of David Williams Assistant, reads, for Parish of Llanganna:
“On 1st March I visited the above parish. I found it to contain only an Independent Sunday school held at a small village called Treoes. The rate of wages was 12s per week and the population wholly agricultural. I noticed three small villages, St. Mary Hill, Treoes and Llangan. Each is distant from the other by about a mile. The lines connecting them would form a triangle. Not one of them contained a day school. The Curate informed me that the people in general were very ignorant, but quiet and inoffensive, and easily managed”.
The report found that the provision for education in Wales was poor and advised that this would only improve with the introduction of English. The speaking of Welsh in Schools was not made unlawful but it was not recognised or supported by Government.
In 1849, LLangan is described (British History on line) abridged as:
”A Parish in the union of Bridgend and Cowbridge, hundred of Ogmore, South Wales -3 1/2 miles (NW by W) from Cowbridge containing 238 inhabitants, comprising 1175 acres. Its surface is flat and its northern boundary subject to inundation: The soil is fertile, and in some parts argillaceous, intermingled with fragments of limestone .With the exception of 56 acres, the parish consists of rich arable and pasture land. The limestone and lead-ore found in it, has been worked to a considerable extent, and the mine of Tewgoed now exhausted. The Court Leet of the Manor is held by Lord Dunraven and Capt. Sir George Tyler RN alternately.
The living is a discharged rectory, rated in the King’s books at £12.16.01/2p – the present net income is £244.00.00. The glebe (farm) contains about 60 acres of good land and the tythes have been commuted for a rent charge of £152.10.00. There is a place of worships for Independents with a Sunday school held in it, at Treoes a village situated in the western end of the parish.
A Sum of £3.15.00d is distributed at Whitsuntide amongst such poor as receive no parochial relief, being the produce of the following charities namely: a bequest of £10.00.00d by Florence Rees in 1781, and two others of £15.00.00d and £5.00 .00d by Margaret David and an unknown donor respectively, which sums were expended in repairs of the church, the interest however continuing to be paid from the parish rates, the moiety of the rent of a cottage and two pasture fields, in St Mary Hill Parish yielding £4.00.00d per annum, bequeathed by Edward Thomas in 1778, and lastly the interest of £10.00.00d bequeathed by Lewis Thomas in 1797. It appears also that Mrs Mary Powell gave £100.00.00d, the proceeds of which are applied to the same purpose”.
In 1851– There were no significant changes in the villagers’ employment. Jeremiah Powell was still the Landlord of the Maltsters Arms, Martha John was a publican and also occupied 102a on the tithe map, which is the site of the Star Inn, although the name is not specified in the 1851 census. There was also a Blacksmith and Publican named Willian Sant in the Parish.
From around the middle of the 1800s there began a process under the Inclosure Act, of controlling the use of common and waste land. This was to have a profound effect on Treoes and its residents.
The original Inclosure Act came into being in 1773 and facilitated the sale of common land, with the agreement of the Lord of the Manor, along with three quarters of the other landowners within the manor and the permission of Parliament. There was common land in the parish that facilitated common grazing, and there was waste land, not officially claimed by anyone and often of little value due to its close proximity to the tributaries of the Ewenny River and its periodic flooding.
Inclosure (we would now say “enclosure”) had been taking place from earlier times and is simply the process of fencing off land. With improved farming techniques and the rising value of land few landowners wanted to retain these residual areas of unenclosed land. The basic purpose of the Act was to divide up these areas amongst those, from the Lord of the Manor to the Cottager, who could claim an interest in the land and to convert those claims into allotments of land.
The story for Penlline, Llangan and Goston begins in May 1855 with the following notice in the press:
PENLLINE AND LLANGAN
COMMON OR WASTE LAND
Surveyors, Land Agents and others are informed that a Meeting for appointing a VALUER under the Inclosure Act will be held at the Bear Inn, Cowbridge on Tuesday, the 5th June at Eleven o’clock
In the forenoon.
R.W.WILLIAMS, Solicitor, Angel Street Cardiff, May 16th 1855
The next public announcement came in January of 1856, and soon after the process gathered pace.
One of the claimants was David Howell, presumably Llawden, who was serving in Pwllheli at the time and moved to Cardiff sometime during 1864. The notice of 5th February 1856 appears to be particularly relevant as it extinguishes all prior rights to the land and it also appears that David Howell and Eliza Llewellyn made the only claims under the Inclosure Act.
Treoes Moor, allocation of allotments, 1860.
Note: the land registered as 95 was designated by Lady Dunraven for ‘use as allotments for the poor of the parish. Also, the land noted as no 96 was also to be used by the poor of the parish as playing fields and for recreation. By kind permission of Glamorgan Archives, reference P95CW/20 and P95CW/21.
In March of 1868 2 pieces of allotment land were advertised for sale: one numbered no. 70 on the Map of the Inclosure of Penlline, Goston and Llangan – Rees Richard was tenant, and one on Treoes Moor under an inclosure commission – William Thomas was tenant.
Following on from the Act of Inclosure in 1856, there was a major inquiry in 1893 into the conditions under which Welsh land is held and cultivated and a Royal Commission was set up to facilitate the inquiry. Mr John, a seed merchant from Cowbridge, who knew the district well said that:
“Some common land had been inclosed and in some instances the rights of the public had not been protected. There were a few allotments set aside but no recreation ground. The allotments had generally been the worst pieces of the common”.
in giving further evidence, Mr Seebohm explained that the common spoken of had not been pastureland, but little bits of wayside. He said he knew that:
“The Treoes allotment holders had the same complaints. The allotments given to the cottagers were subject to floods and were of very little value to them”.
The Rector of Llangan, examined by Mr Brynmor Jones, said that he:
“Produced the original award, dated March 1860, with reference to Treoes Moor. He had obtained it from the overseer for Penlline. There were Trustees now of the portions allotted for general purposes, such as recreation grounds and allotments. The trust was not operative at present, inasmuch as the Trustees from the beginning neglected to collect rents, so that at the moment the occupiers had freehold possession. They had been in possession for over 20 years and now resisted payment. The matter had never been tested in law. The churchwardens and overseers at the time being were the Trustees”.
Some squatters had built cottages on the waste ground and had fenced in portions of land abutting the common, for which they had paid chief rent for many years. There have been cases of the Lord of the Manor confiscating and selling these cottages and enclosures.
The effects of mining disasters affected many villages in the Vale, and Treoes was no exception.
In 1856 the explosion at the Cymmer Pit was one of the worst disasters ever witnessed in South Wales, as the following record testifies:
“On the morning of the15th of July the explosion on the Insole Pit at Cymmer was the most fearful and destructive, resulting in the sacrifice of human life, unparalled in the history of Britain at that time. At 6.00am 160 men and boys descended the shaft to begin their shift and were on their way to their working places when the explosion took place. The ferocity of the explosion led rescuers to believe that all lives below ground would be lost. Some miners had only descended a short way into the pit and were able to make their way back to the shaft and safety.”
The bodies of 112 men were brought to the surface, most badly burnt but some died of suffocation. One of the survivors died later making the total deaths 113.
Among the dead was Zachariah Richards, aged 25 years. Zachariah Richards was born in Llangan Parish in 1831 and was the third son of John and Mary Richards of Treoes, Llangan. His brothers were Thomas and David and he had two sisters: Ann and Catharine.
Zachariah had married Ann in 1851 and was residing in Thomas Rees Row, Bryncoch. He was buried in Saron Chapel graveyard, his grave is at the end of the far wall nearest to the chapel.
The inquest into the disaster was held in the Butchers’ Arms, Pontypridd, where the manager and overmen were tried for manslaughter. They were acquitted, and this left a legacy of bitterness in the nearby communities for more than a generation.
As the Non Conformist movement swept through Wales there was a wave of religious fervour and a desire to worship outside the rules and language if the Anglican Church. Treoes was no exception and this led to the establishment of Saron Chapel in 1831.
Saron Chapel is now a Grade II listed building, but its origins were as an old barn possibly in the current vestry. Its principle was Mr W. Griffiths of Llanharan, and its other founding members were: David Jones, a weaver and Benjamin Lewis members at Llanharan; Morgan and Margaret Williams of Ty-Candy, David Owen and Elizabeth Leyshon of Treoes.
Robert Basset, David Jones, David Owen and Lewis Jenkins bought the old building together with the garden next to it from Edward Mordecai for £30.00 on a 999 year lease.
The Independent Welsh Congregational Chapel was built in 1841 for £240.00 and was opened during the quarterly meeting of the union on the 16th and 17th February, during which time half the debt of the chapel had been subscribed. The role of the Chapel became increasingly powerful enhanced by the Great Revival, after which it became necessary to build a gallery. The Gallery was built in 1859 at the cost of £100.00. The service to open the new gallery was held on the 17th and 18th of September. The sum of £66.00 was raised toward the cost of the gallery and the ladies of the congregation undertook the furnishing of the pulpit, stairs and communion table.
Map of Treoes prior to the building of Saron Chapel
Relations between Anglicans and dissenters became less amicable in about 1850. There was a new Bishop in Llandaff effecting a new earnestness amongst his clergy. In 1851 one religious consensus noted:
“The Parish for the last 8-10 years is almost wholly given up to dissention.”
The consensus indicated that about 50% of the population attended chapel and about 20% attended the Anglican Church – making a total of 70% of the population practising religious beliefs.
On the 30th March of that year 140 worshippers attended Morning Service, 91 attended in the afternoon and 300 attended in the evening, a remarkable number when it is considered that the entire population of the Parish was just 261 people which included children. (David J Francis).
The patrons of the Anglican Church would be the powerful Gentry and Clergy, major Landowners and Farmers. The Chapel congregation consisted of small farmers, craftsmen, traders and the like. Their labourers and servants would worship with their masters. This being an undemocratic age, there was no power in numbers and the Anglican Clergy continued to collect their tithes.
Mr Griffith of Llanharan continued his ministry at Treoes for 37 years, until his death. It was then decided that the chapel should have its own minister, and eventually Mr Rees Saron Jones, a student of Brecon College was ordained on14th and 15th October 1868. It is said he gave his heart and mind to the preaching of the word and his determination to do the work of the Lord. He succeeded in establishing the cause in the village of Coychurch where Hebron Chapel was built. Mr John Thomas, a member of Saron chapel, donated the freehold land upon which Hebron was built.
The next recorded minister, Mr Thomas Williams, was ordained in 1874 . Mr Williams gave up the ministry in1878 when elements of dissention appeared which so distressed him.
Mr Stephen Jones of Brecon Memorial College was ordained at Saron on the 15th June.1881. Unfortunately, in August 1909 he was charged with obtaining money by false pretences from the Great Western Railway Company in his role as overseer for Coychurch lower. This was followed by bankruptcy proceedings. The Rev Jones had a wife and 8 children dependent on him, one of which had been paralysed for many years. He had purchased Waterton Hall and attributed his failure to:
“expenses in connection with the purchase and the subsequent failure to re-sell the property and the sickness of his family and himself”.
The Rev T Gwilym Jones followed as Pastor at Saron. At this time Saron Chapel was the hub of the community, Eisteddfodau and concerts were held there and in particular during the 1914-1918 war the ladies of the surrounding areas would meet to make comforts for the troops abroad.
The builder of Saron Chapel, John Rees of Waterton died in 1890.
Saron Chapel was again renovated in 1891.
The mounting steps outside Saron Chapel are used by visiting ministers and any of the congregation that ride horseback to Chapel. The horses would be tethered on the ground floor of the vestry.
A further plot of land was purchased in 1908 from Daniel Francis Morgan of Dieppe, France (previously of St Mary Hill) to enable an extension of the burial ground.
THE REVEREND Dr REES SARON JONES
Following the death of the Reverend William Griffith, founder of Saron Chapel and its minister for 37 years, the congregation began the extensive search for a suitable successor.
Eventually, they selected 27 year old Rees ‘Saron’ Jones and he was ordained on the 14th and 15th of October 1868.
Birthplace of Rees ‘Saron’ Jones in Carmarthenshire
Rees was born in 1841 at Cefn-Isaf in Carmarthenshire, near Newcastle Emlyn. His parents were Dafydd and Elizabeth Jones. Rees’ middle name was a reference to his elementary education at Saron by Thomas Williams. This was followed by a period at Capel Bach with William Williams. Rees’ other early influences included his uncle, the Rev. Evan Evans, Pantricket, at Blaenycoed and a young lady named Mary – a maid at Penybanc, who persuaded him to become a minister.
Rees started preaching in 1861 and attended Brecon College in 1864, graduating in 1868. In the same year, he was ordained as a minister at Treoes and Bridgend. Rev Jones gave his heart and soul to his work as a minister of his parish. His efforts even extended to nearby Coychurch, where he helped establish Hebron Chapel, following the donation of the land by John Thomas, a member of Saron chapel. Although the Rev Rees Jones’ stay at Treoes was relatively short, his impact was immense.
During his three years at Treoes, Rees fell for the charms of a young lady from Cowbridge, a member of his congregation. Elvira Jenkins was the eldest daughter of Thomas and Mary Jenkins of Mount Pleasant near Cowbridge. They married at Saron Chapel on the 26th December 1871.The service was carried out by three minsters: the Rev. J.B. Jones of Bridgend, assisted by Rev. W.C. Davies of Llantrisant and Rev. D. Thomas of Blaenavon.
Shortly afterwards, in April 1871, his calling took him and his new wife to the United States, where he went firstly to New York, before taking up a ministry in Welsh Providence Congregational Church, Scranton, in Pennsylvania.
Rev Rees Jones, his wife Elvira and their children: Thomas Myrddin. David Edgar, Rhys Emylyn, Elizabeth Ogwen, Iwan Elvert and Daniel Windsor.
Many Welsh speaking families had emigrated to this part of the United States. This was a time when large numbers were emigrating to seek new lives in the United States. One of the Rev Jones’ brothers, Methusalem, and one of Elivar’s sisters, Catherine, also emigrated to Pennsylvania at different times. The Scranton area was rapidly growing as a result of coal mining and steel production – and in many ways it resembled the industrialisation of South Wales.
New Church, Scranton, Pennsylvania
The Rev Jones’ influence was immediate. By 1873 it was necessary to enlarge the Church, nearly doubling its length and increasing the capacity to 450, at a staggering cost of $4,450. Ten years later it was again necessary to increase the size of the building and to build a new lecture theatre. This was at a total cost of $1,550.
On the 31st January 1889 a new English branch called the Puritan Congregational Church was established with 36 members. Attendance at this church also grew rapidly and plans were drawn up for a lecture theatre at the rear of the building.
On the 23rd June 1897, at the centennial meeting of the Church at Elenberg, which was held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the State Association, the Rev. Rees presented a paper to record and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Congregational church in Scranton. As soon as he had finished his presentation there was a unanimous resolution to ensure that the paper was published.
Early in 1904 plans were drawn up for yet a new addition to the building – a framed structure seating 600 people, with a separate gallery and a committee room – and all to be finished in chestnut and furnished with oak.
However, on Friday the 19th of August the members of the Church were stunned to hear that the Rev Jones had been taken ill and was lying unconscious in the State Hospital. He had taken the copper box from the cornerstone and had left it with the tinsmith for sealing. Then he had gone to the post office. While advising a stranger as to how to procure a money order, he was seized with stomach pains. The doctors summoned took him to the hospital, but there was nothing they could do to save him.
The next day he was taken to his home on Edna Avenue. This was only the second Sunday he had failed to fill some pulpit throughout his career as a minister. Early Monday afternoon, he died.
All work on the new building was immediately stopped. The Church then went into mourning for thirty days. During that time, no one entered the pulpit, which was enclosed with ribbon.
The congregation then decided to rename the church as the Dr Jones Memorial Church in honour of Rees Saron Jones. This shows the affection and respect they had for him, as well as the high esteem in which he was thought of.
Glass window dedicated to the Rev Dr Rees Saron Jones
During his life in Scranton, Rev. Dr. Jones was honoured both in the United Kingdom and by the many Associations of the Congregational Churches of the State.
In the summer of 1890, whilst visiting his parents and relatives in Wales, he was given the degree of Doctor of Divinity by Marietta College. He also represented the State of Pennsylvania at the International Council held in Boston in 1899 and in 1904 he was a delegate to the National Council held in Des Moines, Iowa.
So what was Dr Jones’ legacy? By 1982 the number in the congregation of both the Dr Jones Memorial Church and its off-branch the Puritan Church was dwindling and so, after a lengthy and sometimes argumentative discussion, it was agreed that a merger should take place. While the two communities were in transition, they called themselves the Puritan & Dr Jones Memorial Church, United Church of Christ.
Their final name-change that year was the Concord United Church of Christ. This marked the end of any reference to the Rev Rees Saron Jones. His name had been so closely associated with the congregational Church in Scranton from 1871 to 1982 – a remarkable legacy in itself.
Rev. Dr Rees Saron Jones during the latter part of his life
By 2002, reduced attendances of between 40-62 people led to the Church finally closing its doors. The reasons given in their final annual report were: an aging population, families moving away, and ‘irreconcilable conflicts’, which had plagued the church during its last eleven years.
Close up of the glass window dedicated to the Rev. Dr Rees Saron Jones
The magnificent glass window dedicated to the Rev Dr Rees Saron Jones is therefore once more on show to be appreciated.
Whilst Rees ‘Saron’ Jones’ middle name was a happy coincidence with the name of his first ministry in Treoes, he went on to have a huge influence on the Welsh-speaking community in Scranton Pennsylvania, where on his death, the church he served for so many years was re-named in his memory.
David Howell was one of the most influential preachers and spiritual leaders of the 19th Century. His story begins in Treoes.
During his long and varied career as a minister, Archdeacon and Dean David Howell forged new connections between: church and chapel worshippers, urban and rural areas, as well as English and Welsh speaking communities. He worked and preached across all part of the Principality, reaching out to help the poorest in a caring and genuine manner. His spirituality and deeds are an inspiration to us all today.
David Howell was awarded an Honorary Degree and ended his career as Dean of St David’s Cathedral – but he was born and raised here, in Treoes. His story is a remarkable one.
Tyn Y Caeau, Treoes
David was born in 1831 to John and Catherine Howell, a highly respected religious, farming family. They lived in Parc Newydd in Treoes, but when David was still a young boy the family moved to Bryncwtyn farm, near Pencoed. The farm has now long been demolished, making way for new industry.
Because of Catherine Howell’s poor health David was brought up by his maternal grandmother, Mary Griffiths, at Tyn y Caeau in Treoes. Mary was a strong supporter of St Mary Hill’s Church, drawing her inspiration from David Jones’s evangelical preaching some 30 years previously.
Mary would regularly take the young David to Saron Chapel, where Welsh sermons and hymns had a deep and profound impact on him.
David’s grandfather was a different character though, and was said to have ‘wet habits.’ When he started taking the impressionable 15 year old David to taverns Mary was so concerned that she persuaded his mother to take him back at Bryncwtyn.
Within a year the strict discipline inflicted by his father was too much for the free spirited young David. He pleaded to his grandmother to allow him to return to Tyn y Caeau. She welcomed him back.
During his brief period back at his parent’s farm David started attending Salem Chapel in Pencoed, where he heard some of the most powerful preachers of the day, who had themselves been influenced by David Jones. Their passionate style of preaching would have a strong bearing on David Howell.
Salem Chapel also brought David into contact with his future wife, Ann Powell. She was just 16 and 3 years younger than him. They became lovers and it wasn’t long before Ann discovered that she was pregnant.
Salem Chapel, Pencoed
David and Ann must have been terrified when they had to announce to their parents that they were expecting a child. His grandmother Mary was more understanding – but also more determined than ever to guide David onto a more spiritual and respected path.
David and Ann married in September 1851 at St Mary’s Hill Church and five months later they were back to christen their new son, Taliesin. The Reverend John Griffiths, the vicar at St Mary’s Church, recognised and encouraged David’s talent as a poet – and also persuaded him to enter theological college and to take a new path in life. Supported financially by his grandmother and his mother David took his first tentative steps to become a minister by studying classics at the Eagle Academy in Cowbridge.
St Mary’s Hill Church, LLangan
In 1852, his grandmother Mary, who had been the most important influence on his life, passed away, leaving David heartbroken with grief. Mary Griffiths must have been a remarkable woman, combining strength of character, compassion and caring. A plaque to her memory stands inside St Mary Hill’s Church.
At the age of 25 and after a period of intensive study David was ordained as a priest. Soon after he took up an offer to follow the Rev John Griffiths to Neath as his curate. During his time in Neath, David was also part of the Church’s Pastoral Aid work. This was a role which allowed him to preach throughout Wales. By the time of the religious revival in 1859 he had built up an extensive reputation as a charismatic and popular preacher and platform speaker in both English and Welsh.
Over this period David also wrote extensively and became a highly respected poet, using the bardic name of Llawdden. The extensive travelling took its toll though, particularly on his wife and young family. The time had come for David to take up a more permanent position.
David accepted his first ministry in 1861 at Pwllhelli, in North Wales. His appointment was not warmly welcomed at first and he faced initial hostility from some of the parishioners. Within a short time he had won them over and made his three years there a great success.
On his final day, both David and his parishioners had tears in their eyes as he boarded the coach that would take him to a new calling – back to South Wales and a most daunting challenge.
In 1864 David was appointed to St John and St Andrew’s in Cardiff – a far cry from rural Pwllheli. Cardiff at that time was booming with the export of coal and there was a high level of drinking and immorality. David’s powerful preaching and soulful voice had an immediate impact and the number attending his services quickly swelled. His pastoral work also included helping the poorest in society, whether they were sick, dying, hungry or without shelter and clothes.
When David announced that after 14 years he was leaving Cardiff a public meeting was held and 1,700 people signed a petition requesting him to stay.
Equally moving, a group of poor Irish girls from the potato sheds in the docks came to his door in tears to present him with a sliver salver as a gift for his kindness. David was deeply touched, but he had already accepted his new role and felt obliged to keep his word.
St. Andrews and St. John’s Cardiff central
St. Giles Church, Wrexham
David’s calling was to St Giles Church in Wrexham, one of the largest parishes in North Wales, where there was a desperate need for Welsh-speaking preachers.
As usual David immersed himself in his work and his passion and energy resulted in an upsurge in attendance. Within a short time, his services filled a 1,600 seater chapel.
David’s efforts were later recognised by the Church when he became Archdeacon of Wrexham. He was also awarded a Batchelor of Divinity from Lambeth University.
When accepting the role of Archdeacon he moved to the quieter rural parish of Gresford, but he’d barely been there a month before he had the saddest of tasks in burying is wife Ann.
David Howell also had his enemies. His strong views were opposed by some traditionalists and within his own quarter – notably Bishop Edwards of St Asaph – some chose to try to undermine him by highlighting his rural background, lack of university education and that he had fathered a child out of wedlock.
In 1897, at the age of 66, David was appointed to the important role of Dean of St David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire. This was an appointment made by the then Prime Minister Salisbury, despite the initial opposition of John Owen, the newly appointed Bishop of St David’s. After a few years David Howell managed to forge a good working relationship with Bishop Owen.
David’s primary role as Dean was to raise funds for the restoration of the Cathedral, particularly the Lady Chapel which had been in a ruinous state since 1775. Through his immense energy, hard work, charm and spirituality this immense task was achieved within a remarkably short space of time.
The Lady Chapel, St. David’s Cathedral
Memorial plaque to David Howell, St. David’s Cathedral
In 1903 David passed away. He had lived an extraordinary life and become one of Wales’ most respected preachers, religious leaders and poets.
His immense contribution is commemorated in St David Cathedral and at St Giles Church in Wrexham – but here, in Treoes, where he spent his formative years, there is nothing to remember him by, only these short words.