Like many industrialised towns of South Wales, boxing was a popular sport and pastime, and the 19th and 20th century allowed renowned figures such as ‘Peerless’ Jim Driscoll and Joe Erskine to emerge from the docks area of Cardiff just as they did from other parts of Cardiff and the South Wales valleys.
One of those champions was Pat Thomas, a winner of multiple titles in two different weights during the 1970s and 1980s. Later, he worked as a trainer, and established Tiger Bay Amateur Boxing Club in 1984.
In 2018, Thomas suggested that the Club be re-established and it’s now run by Wasim Said, a mixed martial artist from Butetown.
Quite apart from creating sporting greats, activities like boxing does much to engage young people, nurtures discipline, improves health and well-being, strengthens community, and guides young people away from less positive activities, particularly in a society where drugs and knife crime is a very real threat.
People like Pat Thomas and Wasim Said have a great heritage behind them. A hundred years before Thomas first established Tiger Bay Boxing Club, others had done the same. And just as boxing in Butetown is made possible today by a Community of Faith – the Club is based at the South Wales Islamic Centre – so this was the case in the distant past, a past we’re about to unfold…!
A club on Canal Parade
On the evening of Friday 24th April 1885, Fr Griffith Arthur Jones, the Vicar of St Mary’s, along with his curate, the Rev H.B. Wilkinson and others gathered in the rooms of a new Club for Young Men on Canal Parade.
The premises had recently been made available by the relocation of Timber Merchants, Alexanders and Co. Fr Jones stated that “it had for some time been their intention to start an institution of the kind, but they had not been able to find suitable premises before,” wrote the Weekly Mail (25th April 1885)
When he discovered that the company was relocating “he at once hit upon that as the right sort of place, and it having been agreed on all hands that it would serve their purpose they negotiated with Messrs. Alexanders and Co.” The rooms were subsequently offered at a reduced rent.
There were four rooms. One on the ground floor was devoted to boxing and single- stick (a martial art that uses a wooden stick as a weapon) and the other accommodated by the caretaker. The rooms upstairs were used for chess and bagatelle.
‘Pure and noble’
“The Vicar stated that the club was in connection with St. Mary’s Church,” reported The Weekly Mail, “and was a very necessary institution for the amusement of their young people and to give them a meeting-place for social intercourse.”
“For his own part, he did not attach much importance to the religion of those who drew long faces and went about the place groaning and grunting. (Laughter.) He liked to see young people cheerful, merry, and joyous, as they ought to be.”
“One of the evil results of the example of such people as those he had alluded to was that young people got to look upon all amusements as equally bad or equally good. If that club succeeded in nothing else, it would show their young people that there was a recreation which was religious, justifiable, and pure; honest and noble. (Applause.)”
The Club was opened by Fr Jones with a prayer asking God to bless it “that it might be a useful institution in the parish.”
Paying their way
The club was to be supported, in the main, by subscriptions (2d a week) with all the games free apart from bagatelle (for which a half-penny would be charged) although the Curate hoped that people would also become honorary members, with a minimum fee of 5 shillings.
They had only been in the rooms for three days, he said, and already 25 members had been enrolled, and he hoped the number would soon be doubled in a very short time.
Although the rooms had been obtained at a reduced rent there was some concern that this would be a drain on resources. Fr Jones “hoped that some of their friends would come forward and relieve them of it, so that they could apply their funds to the improvement of the club.”
The club, said the Rev H.B. Wilkinson, “would be open two nights a week during the summer, and, they hoped, every night, and perhaps every day, during the winter.”
The club would also benefit St Mary’s Cricket Club (which had been in existence since at least 1878) the members of which would hold their meetings there, as well as by the Bible Classes, and it was suggested that a Savings’ Bank should also be started.
Yesterday and today
Life, of course, a century ago was very different from what it is today. And yet many similar problems occur even if in a slightly different guise.
At St Mary’s Church, we have watched with admiration the work of Tiger Bay Amateur Boxing Club, and are pleased to support it, have been able to provide some financial donations, and continue to follow its progress with admiration and a sense of local pride for what is being achieved amongst the young people of Butetown and beyond.
Sifting through various pieces of writing, I found this article which was intended to follow a previous blog post: Standing around at the Station. It was written last year as one of a series of articles exploring the place that religion has played in the growth and life of Cardiff, both yesterday and today.
This article begins at the junction of St Mary Street and Wood Street as we take a journey towards the castle and, whilst we only get as far as Cardiff Market we’re able to take a wider look at the world through the clues still scattered around us.
Three metal monkeys chime each hour from the glazed clock-tower at the junction of Wood Street and St Mary Street. It’s time to move on. The mischievous monkeys are copies of those carved in wood in Cardiff Castle where they cavort around the Tree of Knowledge. William Burges, their creator, gives a dig at Darwin’s Beagle adventures, and carves into his work the controversies and discoveries of the day. Darwin returned home in 1836 with ground breaking ideas. A small number of Christians still cling to some anti-Darwin doctrines but they are few and far between. People have moved on. Baptised and schooled in the Church of England, Darwin died an agnostic.
On the corner of the street, the belly of the Royal Hotel has been carved up between bars, surrounded by many others, all of whom give a wry smile to the memory of Temperance Town. Here, in the hotel, Sir Robert Scott took his final grand dinner before he pushed out into choppier waters, never to return.
Cardiff is a city which pulls in weekend party people. The fancy-dressed groups of stags and hens with bespoke T-shirts is a familiar sight on Fridays as they spill out from the train station. Brains Brewery Quarter, long vacated as an actual brewery, gapes open mouthed at Wood Street.
A few years ago, at an Interfaith event with young people at the Wales Millennium Centre, we asked if Cardiff was a good place to be a young person of faith. For them, it was. They enjoyed living in a city which is diverse and multicultural. One of the things, though, that sometimes raised difficulty for some was the alcohol driven entertainment which is often at the heart of city life, and so often part of the life of many of their friends. It’s one of the industries of any city, and Cardiff is no different.
‘Street Pastors’ is an initiative of trained volunteers from local churches in towns and cities across the country, including Cardiff. Each weekend, they are out and about until the early hours to care for people on the streets, some of whom have partied hard.
Opposite, the oldest Arcade in town, the Royal Arcade of 1858. Above here the first Cardiff Free Library was opened before its grander premises next to St John’s Church
Red wine and Jewish friends
In the busy St Mary Street, I almost pass a familiar face.
‘Stanley, how are you?’
We shake hands, tell him I saw him on the Television two days ago, a news item about Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.
He raises his eyebrows apologetically, as though to say, ‘I know, again,’ conscious perhaps that he is one of the few representatives of the Jewish community commonly called upon for comment. He does it well.
‘I don’t often walk through the city centre with a bottle of red wine,’ he says, raising the bottle, ‘but I’ve been to the Mansion House for a coffee morning. I won a raffle prize.’
I first met Stanley through his wife when the Jewish Community of the Reformed Synagogue in Adamsdown joined us at St German’s Church for ‘The Day of the Soup’, a community food event, during which we shared who we were through the simmering warmth of soup. Christians, Jews and Muslims gathered together in what was a freezing few weeks in January.
Over the years, I have seen much of him, either on the steps of the Senedd for the bi-annual Merchant Seafarers Memorial Service but more regularly at the South Cardiff Interfaith Network, and so many other things besides, sharing a table with him at various meetings and gatherings.
In 2011, there were 2,064 Jews in Wales, a third of whom live in Cardiff, with two places of worship. At one point, as Industry grew in the nineteenth century, there were dozens of Jewish businesses and people who populated the town with synagogues.
In 1896, when the cornerstone of the new Cathedral Road Synagogue was laid, the Vicar of St Stephen’s Church, Revd A.G. Russell, was present, causing a curt backlash by The Church Times who questioned his presence at such an event. Albert Goldsmid, president of the Synagogue Site Committee, penned a reply in The Western Mail. He saw nothing wrong with Christians assisting at the foundation of a synagogue, in which their Master had been wont to worship and preach. He himself, he said, had lent his hand for Christian denominational purposes without being the less staunch to his race and faith.
Politics and Religion
I say farewell to Stanley and pass Guildhall Place, the site of the fourth Town Hall. It is here, in 1905, that Alderman Robert Hughes opens the letter from the King giving Cardiff city status. Hughes was a parishioner of St Mary’s Church on Bute Street, and a life-long friend of Fr Griffith Arthur Jones who had retired just a year or so before, and a sponsor for many boys baptised and confirmed.
Letter in hand, he is congratulated by the gathered crowd, elevated now as he is to be the first Lord Mayor of Cardiff. His portrait hangs beyond the Castle in County Hall, built the following year. After applause and celebratory speeches, they take to the balcony to share the news, and then there is a torchlight procession to St Mary’s back in Tiger Bay to celebrate the centenary of Lord Nelson’s death.
Pushed, as it often is, outside of public life we can often forget the faith which nurtures the lives of some of our leaders, or overlook the beliefs of those who turn their lives to the service of others. Despite being multicultural, Cardiff had to wait some years before Councillors of other religions emerged. Much has changed, and local politicians now represent more realistically the people they represent.
In 1993, Jaz Singh became the first Sikh Cardiff Councillor, and was Deputy Mayor in 2008, the first Gurdwara in Cardiff having its humble beginnings in a terraced house at Ninian Park in 1956. When eyeing up land for a purpose built Gurdwara years later in the 1980s, he notes with gratitude the help given by Mohammad Javid, who was chairman of the Pakistan Welfare Association and a Member of Woodville Mosque, although there was some criticism by some members, reminiscent of the Jewish-Christian comments of the Church Times a century before.
Back in Butetown, one of Citizens Cymru’s campaign is for dignity in Burial for the Muslim Community. Citizens is a collaboration of organisations uniting for the common good, it provides a means through which many different communities, regardless of creed or colour, can work together on issues which affect them, and build power to change society for the good,
On the site of the former Victorian Town Hall is Julian Hodge House, built in 1915 for the Co-operative Wholesale Society in a style reminiscent of the Edwardian buildings of Regent Street, London. Julian Hodge was one of Wales’ most famous financiers. Two ambitions dominated his life: to found a bank and to build a cathedral. The boy from a poor background became a merchant banker and established the Commercial Bank of Wales but failed to convince the Roman Catholic hierarchy to accept his £3m offer for the building of a new Metropolitan Cathedral in Cardiff.
‘Oh Lord, here is iniquity’
Here, in the street, many people were publicly hanged from the gallows for Cardiff Market was once the site of the 16th century Gaol, expanded in 1770, and continuing as a town gaol until 1877 years after the County Gaol moved across the city in 1832. It remains there still, served by a multi faith chaplaincy.
One of the most famously executed was Dic Penderyn caught up in the political and social unrest which washed through industrial Wales. Working conditions and wage cuts, redundancy and debts led to riots in Merthyr Tydfil where buildings were ransacked to destroy debt records held by the courts. One of the Highland Regiments stationed at Brecon was sent in. Soldiers fired into the crowds. Sixteen people were slaughtered.
One solider, Donald Black, was stabbed in the leg by a soldier’s bayonet. Uncertain of his attacker, a young man called Richard Lewis, known as Dic Penderyn, was arrested. He was charged and imprisoned in Cardiff Gaol, taken to the gallows at 8am on 13 August 1831 at the age of 23 years. His final words were: ‘O Arglwydd, dyma gamwedd, Oh Lord, here is iniquity.’ He is buried in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church, Aberavon.
The valleys have their own stories to tell but they are inextricably linked to the growth of Cardiff. In a novel retelling of the story of Jim Driscoll, the catholic and Cardiff born, Irish boxer from the long gone Newtown area of Cardiff, Alexander Cordell writes with Driscoll’s voice in the winter of his seventh year: ‘A strike of coal miners was going on in a place called Tonypandy, and when they sneeze we cough, said Gran.’ 1.6 million people live within a 45 minute drive to Cardiff, and thousands from the valleys join the Cardiff work force each day.
The Glamorganshire Canal, constructed in 1790, escalated the conveyance of iron and coal from the valleys to Cardiff, swiftly followed by the Taff Valley Railway in 1840 which further enabled the growth of what was once a small town which, at one time, had been described as being “near Llantrisant.”
Here, in St Mary Street, in 1852, the YMCA began in Cardiff, established at first at 100 St Mary Street, eight years after George Williams and Co of London formed the Drapers Evangelistic Association, changing it name to Young Men’s Christian Association. The largest and oldest youth charity in the world, they support more than 250 young carers (aged 7-16) and their families in South East Wales and provide sexual health outreach programmes to young people throughout the city. They also offer childcare, youth clubs, and health and wellbeing opportunities every day of the week and provide accommodation for nearly 120 homeless people in Cardiff, supporting them into independent living. The YMCA moved from St Mary Street to purpose built premises to sit snugly next to Cory’s Temperance Hall opposite Queen Street, but both buildings have long been demolished.
Let the fire be lit
On the right is James Howells’ department store which swallows up what’s left of Bethany Church within, where the walls still hold the memorial to Rawlins White, burned at the stake in the street outside, and who wept when he saw his family as the crowds called for fire and flame. “Burn him, let the fire be lit.” It is 30 March 1555 and Queen Mary I is on the throne.
White gives no resistance to the soldiers who escort him, carefully arranges the wood and straw around his own body hoping that the flames will burn quickly.
As a fisherman, he had lived off the Taff, pulling salmon from the river upstream. Unable to read and speaking only Welsh, he became familiar with Scriptures through the help of his son who read to him each night. Inspired by itinerant preachers who regularly called at Cardiff during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VII, he passed on the preaching to others willing to hear.
Despite resistance, White’s silence cannot not be won until he is confined to Cardiff Castle and, more recently, the dark, damp, disgusting cell of the Cockmarel Prison from which he is led to death. Chained to the stake, the fire is lit, his legs burn quickly, his body slumps forward. On the same day in Carmarthen another Martyr, Robert Farrar, the Bishop of St David’s, breathes his last.
The Gallows Field
A hundred years later, in 1679, during the reign of Charles II, two catholic martyrs are marched to the gallows, marking another chapter in the twists of faith and the cost of clinging to ones belief in the face of another, and a reminder of the disturbing deeds of human beings, of rulers and governments, when confronted by difference and dissention. But these were different times. Surely, not today, not in this world, not in our world?
The site of the Gallows Field or Plwcca Halog (Plwcca meaning dirty, wet, uncultivated land) is now a busy junction in Cardiff’s cosmopolitan Roath where City Road and Crwys Road cross and meet three others in a place known these days as ‘Death Junction.’ One day, when walking nearby, a fellow priest told me how he had encountered someone from another Cardiff parish where my appointment as Vicar had recently been announced, and met with mixed reception.
‘We had expected more, really,’ they said. ‘He’s from the valleys.’
 The Jews of South Wales, Ursula R.Q. Henriques 2013, page 30
 Opened in 1853, demolished 1913. Constructed by W.P. James to the design of Horace Jones (the same architect responsible for Tower Bridge in London). It accommodated the courts, police station, fire brigade and post office. The building was expanded in in 1880 , and the Post Office was relocated in 1886 to a new seven-storey building on the corner of Westgate Street and Park Street.
 Julian Stephen Alfred Hodge, financier, born October 15 1904; died July 18 2004
 Designed by local architects J.P. Jones, Richards & Budgen, the building had five storeys and a basement. As well as living and boarding accommodation, it provided a gymnasium, lecture theatre, classrooms, a library and reading room. The ground-floor frontage included two shops – one of which was originally designed as a restaurant. Its foundation stone was laid in 1899 by Sir George Williams and it opened the following year. The Cory Memorial Temperance Hall was built at a cost of £5,000 and presented to the temperance societies of Cardiff by John Cory (1828 – 1910), as a memorial to his late father, Richard. Richard Cory (1799 -1882) had founded the family’s shipping and coal mining businesses. He was a leader of the Methodist movement in Cardiff and supported various social, educational, moral and Christian activities in the area. As the temperance movement developed in Cardiff, he is reputed to have been the first to sign ‘the pledge’. The YMCA also moved from Station Terrace. In 1974, they purchased a former convent school in The Walk, to continue their youth and community work and, subsequently, to develop a hostel for students and young workers.
The ninth article of faith is a plain wooden pulpit, although only a third of the original remains. So, let’s climb into it and look down over two very different people from the past: the successive nineteenth century vicars of St Mary’s Church for whom this pulpit proved so important and through which, perhaps, we can discover what lessons each, in their turn, has taught.
‘Old and weary’
By the time William Leigh Morgan left St Mary’s in 1871 ‘he was probably old and weary’ and had resorted to ‘semi-retirement’ in the much quieter parish of Llanmaes near Cowbridge. “It was thought the pastoral charge of a small rural parish would enable him to regain his health,” wrote The Cardiff Times in November 1876 just after his death. “This, however, did not prove to be the case, and since his removal from Cardiff he has frequently been an invalid,”
Morgan had studied at Lampeter, and ministered in parishes solely within the Diocese of Llandaff. Meanwhile until 1872, Fr Griffith Arthur Jones had spent his whole ministry in the rural parishes of Mid and North Wales, after taking a degree at Jesus College, Oxford.
Perhaps, under these circumstances, they never met or even exchanged a word.
Despite this, how did they view each other? More particularly, how do we, from our own perspectives and experiences, view both? Is Fr Jones a hero of the catholic faith or a thoughtless destroyer of Morgan’s evangelical labours? Is he a dismantler of all that some held dear in order to follow his own principles and beliefs – at any cost – or a man of deep faith who simply wanted to restore the catholic heritage of the Church of England?
Surely, their lives cannot be viewed in such a dualistic way, particularly with distance and hindsight. So, let’s climb into the pulpit from which they both preached, and which caused bitter dissension and division, and look down at their lives and, maybe, discover something of what they had in common.
The Plans of the Patrons
Nothing of what Canon Morgan and Fr Jones achieved at St Mary’s could have been accomplished without the Patrons of the parish who, each in turn, followed their own plans and principles.
When it opened in 1843, St Mary’s Church was more like a preaching house than a traditional church building. The large, centrally placed, three-decker pulpit dominated the space and obscured a small communion table in the apse behind,
The Second Marquess of Bute was an avid evangelical and eulogised by Morgan at his funeral in 1848 as “the friend and patron of true religion.” It was he who made the building of St Mary’s possible but he was also concerned that an evangelical be given the reigns. He convinced the Dean and Chapter of Gloucester Cathedral to transfer the patronage to him on condition that he would foot the bill for the Incumbent’s stipend!
It was this passing of the patronage to the Butes that eventually enabled Fr Jones to succeed Morgan at St Mary’s.
When the second Marquess died, his son inherited the patronage of St Mary’s. In 1868, the third Marquess ‘scandalously’ converted to Roman Catholicism but the patronage of St Mary’s remained with him. As the father found an evangelical so, following Morgan’s retreat to the country, the son would seek a Tractarian appointing Fr Griffith Arthur Jones which gave rise to the rumour that he was ‘in the pay of the Roman Church.’
The father of Griffith Arthur Jones was himself described as an Evangelical and “a devoted and hard-working parish-priest.” Whilst, Morgan wasn’t the son of a priest, his family was of firm clerical stock. His uncle was the Vicar of Eglwysilian and another relation, Edmund Morgan, succeeded Morgan at Bedwellty when he was appointed to Roath. All were Welsh speaking Evangelicals.
Against the tide
When he retired, Morgan addressed his parishioners. “You have assisted me liberally in maintaining the church, parish, and other charities,” he said, “and enabled me to deliver them into the hands of my successor unburdened with debt.”
Who that successor would be was of great concern to Morgan but perhaps he failed to fathom that such a man as Fr Jones would ever be appointed to the evangelical stronghold of St Mary’s. The pain, for him, was two-fold for his other parish of Roath also received the appointment of a fellow ‘Ritualist,’ Fr Puller.
Likewise, later in his ministry at St Mary’s, Fr Jones had a similar anxiety. His altercations with the bishop over the use of incense fuelled the fear that the curates’ licenses would be removed leaving him alone and forced to retire and give way to a ‘Moderate High Churchman.’ Morgan’s double pain, however, was not felt by Fr Jones who found his successor to be a like-minded friend, a fellow student from his Oxford days, the Reverend Gilbert Heaton.
Meanwhile, back in 1872, the South Wales Daily News, reporting on Fr Jones farewell to the people of Llanegryn, raised the alarm bells, and warned that his leaving ceremony was “of that florid character peculiar to the section of the Anglican Church most of all bent upon what is conventionally styled a restoration of fabric and service.”
“Advocates of religious freedom will, perhaps, find no fault with the proceedings,” it continued, “but it may be open to doubt whether the…devotional feeling among the ordinary worshippers at St. Mary’s will justify the introduction of similar services at that Church.”
‘Preaching the truth’
“We feel that the gospel of Christ has been preached by you in all its purity and simplicity,” said Morgan’s parishioners on the occasion of his retirement, “with an earnestness which showed your extreme anxiety for the souls of your people.”
“As to the all-important matter of preaching the truth of the everlasting gospel,” he replied, “I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God, but have warned all night and day. As far as I have known the truth, I have conveyed it sincerely to each of you without respect of persons.”
It was the large three decker pulpit from which Morgan preached that gospel “in all its purity and simplicity” which stood as a symbol of disagreement and division for Fr Jones and caused him the greater work.
“The battle which he was called on to fight raged, so to say, specially round two things,” said the biographers of Fr Jones, “his teaching about Confession and his desire to turn what was arranged as a meeting-house into something more like the House of God as fitted for Catholic worship.”
When his first attempt to reduce the pulpit in size and move it to the side failed, he was jeered by a victor in the street, who received the reply that “it will serve well from which to preach the catholic faith.”
At the introduction of the Patronal Festival, two guest preachers (Father Stanton of S. Alban’s, Holborn, and Father Ives of Holy Nativity, Knowle) were banned by the bishop from the pulpit as the newspapers put out by the anti-Church press headlined “Mariolatry at S. Mary’s.”
In the Parish Magazine at the time, it was simply noted “It is unnecessary to dwell upon the sad disappointment we experienced at being prevented from hearing two of those who were to have preached. Silence speaks sometimes, and perhaps their silence may remind us of this, that God’s House is a House of Prayer rather than of preaching.”
The Noisiest Meetings
There were noisy vestry meetings from the outset as parishioners opposed his plans, culminating in a three day Consistory Court to consider his application. The Press reported proceedings with precision with such headlines as ‘Another dispute at St Mary’s.’
And yet “the noisiest Easter Vestries took place at a time when there was nothing approaching high ceremonial at S. Mary’s,” reads his biography, “and when the faculty was granted by Chancellor Ollivant, and S. Mary’s Church adorned and beautified, the opposition practically ceased.”
Admittedly, by this time, many parishioners (up to 1400 claimed the opponents) had abandoned St Mary’s all together. Worshippers of St Mary’s who disagreed with their Vicar bought a site at Cardiff Docks, and opened a temporary iron church in 1878 and later, in 1894, the foundation stone of St Stephen’s Church was laid.
As to the removal of the pulpit, the press reported at the time that “The Chancellor thought that the opposition was more fanciful than real, and no good arguments had been adduced on the side of the opposition why the faculty should not be granted.”
“Those who opposed it seemed to him to be more than one who did not attend the church,” he declared. For him, the reordering simply reflected the common arrangement of the cathedral and most other churches “He did not see anything of a Ritualistic tendency in these changes.”
Likewise, since part of the plan also involved moving the pipe organ, the organist claimed that Canon Morgan would have done the same but was prevented by the expense involved. The application, eventually, was accepted.
By the mid-1850s the Oxford Movement had moved from the pulpits of the Oxford Colleges to parishes across the Church of England, including many poor areas as priests in so called ‘slum areas’. Ministering in poor communities certainly gave Tractarians a moral strength and spiritual depth, living proof that the Movement was not solely about doctrine and theology or Sacraments and Ritual. This was faith in action.
And yet being a ‘Slum Priest’ was not the sole reserve of catholics. When Fr Jones arrived at St Mary’s, he inherited a parish life deeply embedded in the life of the people with an active concern for the poor and the vulnerable.
Morgan had established clothing banks, took interest in the Young Men’s Christian Association, spoke up about the need for decent sanitation particularly in the midst of the devastating Cholera outbreak of 1849, distributed bibles and charitable aid, established schools, and moved freely through the streets of this growing, bulging docklands ministering to his flock.
He also ministered to the seafaring community, and preached at the opening of a Church for Seamen in 1852. Later an old war ship, HMS Thisbe was used as a centre for seamen, complete with a chapel on board. Morgan further added to these services when he acquired a hospital ship for seamen, The Hamadryad, and in 1870 opened a seamen’s hostel.
Fr Jones built upon and extended this work. The Sisters of Mercy, who arrived in the parish in 1873, did much work among the poor, reached out to mothers and girls, taught in schools and Sunday Schools, and embedded themselves in the lives of those whom they served. Just as Morgan established a tin church in the docks area, so Fr Jones continued with this and likewise did the same in the growing areas of the parish establishing Missions in Temperance Town and Grangetown.
“The schools, which were the heaviest charge, have a large balance in their favour,” said Morgan on his retirement, and this, too, was one of his great achievements inherited by and built upon by Fr Jones, as the population of the parish continued to increase.
They took different approaches to the question of temperance – with Morgan a strict teetotaller. Fr Jones acknowledged that, for some, teetotalism was the answer, and he helped people take the pledge, but generally took the stance of moderation rather than total abstinence for all.
A fold for every sheep, a shepherd for every fold
In addition to Morgan and his two clergy, there was a Scripture Reader and an association of lay people who visited homes and distributed tracts. In January 1868, he wrote to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners asking for help to provide a third curate or lay worker, drawing attention to such a largely populated parish with its world famous sea port.
Earlier, in 1862, addressing a meeting in Cardiff, he said “What should be done was to carry out the maxim that there should be a fold for every sheep and shepherd for every fold. If they were to multiply the ministers so that every pastor should have the charge of one thousand people then they would have to multiply them ten-fold in Cardiff.”
Whilst Fr Jones gathered a group of like-minded clergy as his Curates, and invited the sisters of East Grinstead it was said fin 1888 when there were six sisters that “we could easily find work for double that number.” There were also Lay readers, and one of Fr Jones’ closest friends and supporters was Mr Thatcher, Secretary of the Diocesan Lay Readers Association.
Meanwhile the Sunday evening Prayer Meetings established by Morgan and regarded by him as the powerhouse of the Parish caused Fr Jones much frustration as they prayed aloud for the conversion of the Vicar and his clergy ‘to the true gospel.’
He turned his attention to the growth of the parish through other small groups – the guilds, particularly The Guild of the Good Shepherd for men which “enabled him gradually to gather together a band of faithful adherents who loyally tried to strengthen his hands, and gave him assistance and encouragement in various ways.”
Incense and Inner Circles
Despite their differences, the integrity of both Morgan and Jones is without question. In a letter to Bishop Ollivant from E. Turberville Williams, the bishop is reminded of an incident in November 1871 when Morgan “evidently under the greatest possible emotion, uttered in the presence of your Lordship, two archdeacons and the rural deans, ‘My Lord, you are living in an inner circle.”
Morgan may have enjoyed the benefit of being friends with the Bishop but he was honest and forthright all the same, a characteristic shared by his successor who, at one of the earliest Diocesan Conferences, spoke out most clearly of the use of incense in worship. “Again and again, amid many cries of “No, no,” asserting “Yes, we must have incense; yes, yes.”
But this was the time of the 1874 Public Worship Regulation Act which restricted ritual, and the Archbishop’s Opinion of 1889 which outlawed incense and lights, and Fr Jones’ Tractarianism was not popular with the hierarchy of the Church.
Speaking of his time as Vicar of Llanegryn, his friend, the Revd. J.O Evans, wrote, “I happen to know that the then Bishop of Bangor would have been glad to give him very high preferment as a dignitary but for his ritual.” Morgan, on the other hand, sharing the evangelical faith of his bishop, gained ecclesiastical preferment as a Canon.
Morgan was almost never appointed to St Mary’s as he had been considered for the Parish of Llantrisant which required a Welsh speaker. However, under his Incumbency, an Anglican church for Welsh Speakers had opened in the parish in 1856 but it succumbed to demographics being amongst a population of mostly Irish Catholics.
By the time, Fr Jones arrived, the Welsh services had dispersed across the city. However, he was equally committed to restoring the Welsh services, and through his work, enabled All Saints Church to be built, and was responsible for a number of publications in the Welsh language, including a Welsh Psalter. Meanwhile, Morgan had begged SPCK to print a new edition of the Welsh Bible.
Lover of Souls
Called to a house to minister to a dying woman, a member of her family was who a Mormonite preacher tried to engage Morgan in a theological debate about priesthood. “Sir, this is not a fitting place for such controversy,” he replied. “My duties are with the dying. The only priesthood I can now talk of… is our great High Priest. You will be more anxious to pray to that High Priest to hear our prayers, and save the soul of this dying woman.”
Both Morgan and Fr Jones, despite their differences had, at their heart, a lover of souls. When asked by his friend how he could leave such a lovely home as Llanegryn for the slums of Cardiff Docks, Fr Jones replied, “Souls are even more beautiful.”
In the months before his ordination in 1851, on a three week tour of France, he wrote in his diary about an experience where, in his opinion, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary had become worship. “Would that Christendom was all in communion, so that one part might be a check to the other,” he said.
All to easily, we polarise our opinions, allow our individual beliefs to divide us. Sometimes, even in our own day, some part of the church may be despised or dismissed because of the flow of the tide at the time. But perhaps our differences should not so much divide but enrich us, not so much separate us but become, for us, differences which build communion, “a check to the other.”
Today, many things for which Fr Jones fought for during his time has become part of the mainstream for so many churches – even those with a particular evangelical tradition. And likewise, those who define themselves as catholic have gained much from those who have taught and lived an evangelical faith.
The son of Fr Jones’ Rector in Gwalchmai, the Rev. J. Wynne Jones, said of him, “He had learned the great secret in dealing with Welsh people – through their feelings – and could teach them Catholic truth in evangelical form.”
His friend, Revd George Body, who led a Mission in the parish said, “His character and life were Christ-centred. In the true sense of the word he was an Evangelical Catholic who loved, confessed, and taught the truth as it is in Jesus.”
A night’s repose
Morgan, on leaving St Mary’s after 28 years of ministry in typically humble fashion said, “I know of many deficiencies, faults and failings in my duty. I can honestly say, however, that I tried to do my best, but, oh, how far was that from was that from which I could have wished it been.”
Fr Jones, likewise, served a long time in the same parish. After 31 years he retired to Adamsdown but each Sunday, so his biography goes, “he would drive down to church in a cab and drive back, and feel, quite justly, like the Village Blacksmith: ‘Something attempted, something done, Has earned a night’s repose.’”
The quote is from a much longer poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Despite their differences, William Leigh Morgan and Griffith Arthur Jones were united in the service of the same gospel, lovingly laboured for souls, and helped to change the world in which we live. Perhaps we can take a few more words from that poem, and allow them to be applied to them, each in turn, each in their own way, in their own distinctively rich ministries.
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.
Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.
Footnote: in addition to using various resources and archive material I am grateful to an essay by Roger Lee Brown in Ten Clerical Lives – Essays relating to the Victorian Church in Wales (2005, Tair Eglwys Press) for additional insights into and information about William Leigh Morgan
“The first Nowell the angels did say was to certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay” so the well-known Christmas Carol goes. It’s these ‘poor shepherds’ who feature in our eighth article of faith: a reredos above the High Altar. Within its brush strokes we explore the friendships and fortunes of Cardiff, the reality of poverty, and a Priest’s calling.
The million pound question
Much is made in our reading of the nativity narratives of Jesus of the poverty of the shepherds. It’s a story from Luke’s gospel where the poor take precedence, and the Beatitudes boast they are blessed. What better image from the gospels, then, to be installed in a church which stood at the crossroads of poverty and opulence?
The industrial boom of Cardiff Docks made some men very rich indeed. Less than thirty years after this reredos was painted, the first million pound cheque would be signed – just down the road at The Coal Exchange. Such deals provided employment to many but the docks, like other industrial towns, was also the place where people, at times, struggled to make a living.
This was the century of Shaftesbury’s campaigns and when Dickens came into his own as a champion of the poor. It wasn’t until 1872 that the working time of children was reduced to no more than ten hours a day, and then, thirty years later, a law was passed prohibiting them from working underground in the mines which fed Cardiff Docks with coal.
It was within the midst of both the poverty and opulence of Cardiff Docks that its clergy moved.
‘Souls are even more beautiful’
“We stood on the terrace in front of his house (he was always fond of flowers),” wrote Revd . J.O. Evans, a friend of Fr Jones – the Vicar of St Mary’s from 1872 – 1903.
Fr Jones was about to set off from the rural parish of Llanegryn at the foot of the Snowdon mountains for Cardiff Docks.
“The day was bright and beautiful, and as we looked across the valley with the Bird’s Rock in the far distance I said, “How can you leave this lovely home?”
He replied, “Souls are even more beautiful.”
“He had always a flower in his coat, at home and abroad,” reads his biography. A reminder that beauty can be found wherever we go, even in the grime and sweat of a growing, creaking industrial town like Cardiff, just under our nose.
Perhaps, as a fanciful aside, one can imagine him, on that day, picking a flower from his garden, holding it to his face, and then placing it in his lapel as he makes his way south to Loudoun Square, and his new home, looking for beauty.
Unstudied Simplicity and Saintly Lives
In the second half of the eighteenth century, Loudoun Square in Butetown had been designed from reclaimed marshland as a large square of three-storey decorative houses, surrounding a green, tranquil park. At first, it was home to mariners and merchants, brokers and builders and ship owners.
However, by the 1880s the wealthier residents had moved away to the new suburbs, and Loudoun Square became overcrowded as residents took in tenants to help pay the high rents.
“The feature which would probably first strike a stranger in the Clergy House was its interior dinginess and the simplicity of its furniture,” wrote one of the curates, Fr Smallpiece, in 1895. “The Vicar rented two houses in the corner of Loudoun Square, and had them thrown into one to form the Clergy House, where he and the assistant clergy all lived together.”
“We did not, indeed, go in for sanded floors; but the carpets, furniture, wallpapers, paint, and whitewash all presented an air of venerable age and unstudied simplicity. Unstudied, for I do not suppose that the Vicar ever thought it a merit not to have things nice about him: there the things were, and he simply never thought about having them different.”
“They were good enough for him, and I don’t suppose it ever occurred to any of us to question their being good enough for us also.”
“He is a man who has worked in most unostentatious fashion in the worst parts of Cardiff for many a year,” wrote the Times in 1895. “His work is among the people, and he feels it to be his duty to live among them – that is all. In the midst of brothels and shebeens the clergy in whose parishes are these sins of iniquity live and work, and their work is done with effect.”
When considering the circumstances in which people of the parish lived and worked – in a bubbling, bulging industrial community, one of the clergy could say with conviction: “I assure you that there are men and women living in the midst of this wickedness who live saintly lives.”
Deep in the docks was The Havannah, an industrial ship for boys who attended St Mary’s on Sundays. Year after year, twelve to twenty of these boys were presented for Confirmation after instruction by the clergy who held classes on board.
The Vicar took great interest in these boys as he did in all the children of his parish, and he was renowned for his love of them. However busy he was, he made a rule of joining the annual Christmas treat given to the ‘Havannah Boys’ by his friend and, for some time, Churchwarden, Sir Edward Hill, of Rookwood in Llandaff.
It was this Sir Edward Hill who decorated the apse of St Mary’s with its reredos.
At the time Sir Edward Stock Hill was a well-known figure in South Wales. He and his brother were partners in Charles Hill and Sons, shipbuilders and ship owners from Bristol. Edward had come to Cardiff to supervise the acquisition of a dry dock and shipbuilding yard on the west side of East Bute Docks.
Born in 1834 in Bedminster, Bristol, he became a Conservative Member of Parliament for Bristol South from 1886 to 1900.
A colonel in the 1st Glamorgan Artillery Volunteer Corps, he was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath in the 1881 Birthday Honours and a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath a year later, and also served as High Sheriff of Glamorgan.
He built his plush and opulent family home of Rookwood in Llandaff in 1866, the year he married Fanny Ellen Tickle but he didn’t forget the ‘Havannah Boys’ of the docks!
He died in London in 1902, his funeral celebrated at Llandaff Cathedral accompanied by a large and impressive procession from his home with full military honours. Thousands lined the route.
Bankers, Businessmen and Grimy Hands
Painted by Philip Westlake of Westlake & Barraud, a firm producing stained glass windows, the reredos donated by Hill to the Church in which he worshipped and served as Churchwarden shows the Blessed Virgin and her Divine Child sitting on her knee and reaching out to accept the homage of those ‘certain poor shepherds,’ the first to receive the angels’ greetings of a new born king.
His brother Nathanial Westlake painted the door of the Tabernacle beneath the reredos, highly decorated with vine-leaves and grapes, along with a Chalice and Wafer according to the design of Edmund Sedding who redesigned the whole apse.
Hanging in the sitting room at Loudoun Square Clergy House was a print of the Rood Screen from the Church in Llanegryn. “The screen,” he had said, “is magnificent.” Perhaps he often reminisced about his time in that beautiful rural parish, and perhaps even recalled the conversation he had with his friend in the garden who asked how on earth he could leave such a lovely home, carried with him, maybe, the belief that “souls are even more beautiful.”
“He was a man of love,” wrote George Body, a friend of Fr Jones. “In him strength was tempered with love, and especially with pastoral love that flows into the true pastor out of the heart of the Good Shepherd, a love as beautiful as it is unique.”
“How he loved his people and bore with them and sympathized with them in the specially difficult and dangerous moral conditions of his parish! He knew his people, and they knew him. He called them by name; he gave his life for them. And they knew it, and gave him love for love.”
After his death, The Western Mail spoke of his love for children and their love for him. “It was a sight to see him pass along the streets, with the children running up, crying “Vicar, Vicar!” and clinging with their grimy hands to his cloak.”
He could move with ease between the streets of Tiger Bay and the plush rooms of the Town Hall. He was as eager to bend down to help a seafarer pick up his belongings from the dirt or dart to a guarded prisoner at a Railway Station as he was to spend a day out with his friends on Flat Holm or enjoy the company of Businessmen and Bank Managers, like Mr Watkins who was the Manager of the London and Provincial Bank in Cardiff. Their friendship deepened over the years, and Fr Jones delighted in accepting invitations to his son’s Cumberland Estate for grouse shooting, a sport he’d enjoyed since his former rural days. One of the boys who carried his birds for him in Llanegryn, Robert Hughes, later became the first Lord Mayor of the City of Cardiff.
Amongst his good and faithful friends, too, was the well known and financially successful Sir Edward Hill, whom he visited often in his plush home at Rookwood.
That is all
The Parish has changed much since those days. The heavy industry has been heavily reduced, and the working docks are now much smaller, pushed at a distance across the bay.
Cardiff Bay is now the seat of Welsh Political power, as well as the administration of local politics at City Hall. It’s a place where people gather for leisure and pleasure, for entertainment and the arts but it’s also a place with areas characterised by poverty and social inequality. Butetown has the highest child poverty rate in Cardiff.
The story which unfolds with the reredos painting is a story for our time too where the gap between rich and poor widens, and where 1% of the world’s richest people own 82% of the world’s wealth.
Times and circumstances have changed, of course, and our experience of poverty is different but, as Jesus prophesised, ‘You will have the poor with you always.” Today, despite the gap between rich and poor, many people of different degrees of wealth – as well as those who have little – continue to be generous in their giving and serving of those certain poor shepherds in our midst.
Communities aren’t simply creations of themselves but are also shaped and shifted by external factors whether social or political, commercial or economic, national or international.
Then, as now, different priests are called to a variety of settings and circumstances whether it’s an affluent, leafy suburb or the hefty heart of a Council Estate, a sprawling country parish with a dozen churches or a post-industrial living in the valleys.
No matter in what kind of parish a priest and pastor lives and moves, they walk between the lives of so many different people regardless of wealth or power, affluence or privilege, keeping before them the pattern of Jesus the Good Shepherd.
Pope Francis said that ‘Shepherds should smell of their sheep.’ As the Press said of Fr Jones at the times so may it be said of parish clergy today: “His work is among the people, and he feels it to be his duty to live among them – that is all.”
This screen seems solid, unmoveable, part of the fabric of the building. Yet it came from another church building now long gone, the former church of St Dyfrig. The church stood on Wood Street in an area of Cardiff once known as Temperance Town near Central Railway Station before the city quickly moved on. It’s this screen – and its straying figures of Jesus, Mary and John – that we’re taking as our seventh article of faith.
Keeping up with the pace
Hidden away in our archives are sixteen letters written, during the first half of the 1970s, by the famous church architect, George Pace. They were sent to two successive Vicars of St Mary’s, Fr Gillingham (who had left Cardiff for what Pace, obviously quoting Fr Gillingham, describes as a “rather rundown parish”) and his successor, Fr Oman.
The last few letters are silent of his signature. Pace died in August 1975 and failed to see the completion of the particular work in hand although his initial plans were slightly more extensive than they turned out to be.
In the years after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) many church buildings were reshaped and reimagined. St Mary’s was no different as it rode the wave of a liturgical revival, keeping up with the pace of renewal.
But back to the first hand written note. “The screen from S. Dyfrig’s Church now stood at S Samsons would be excellent re-erected near the west end of the nave at S. Mary’s,” writes Pace. “Could you have a word with the Vicar of S Samson’s about getting the parts of the screen to St Mary’s and storing in the N. aisle?’
But what of St Dyfrig’s Church?
The shape of a city
Cities grow up and out, extending their reach and embracing neighbouring communities. Capital cities like Cardiff compete with others for investment and events, try to make their way in the world, to stand tall, stand proud, create prosperity and yet often, too, widen the unwieldy gap between rich and poor.
Times change and these poorer communities, once overlooked, ignored and derided may suddenly gain the interest of developers who see new value on the land, if not on the people who live there.
This was the case, perhaps, with Temperance Town, first fashioned in 1833 but, by 1937, an embarrassment to Cardiff Corporation and an opportunity for Developers to move out people, pull down houses, demolish buildings, and clear the land for a new imagined landscape.
Since that first redevelopment, this small area of Cardiff has received several reinventions, and is being developed still with new buildings shouldering up to the Principality Stadium, like the stout BBC Studios and several steel-spined buildings forming Central Square and the new smiling face of the Tax Office with the ground nearby giving way to the long awaited Transport Hub. Things move on.
‘We sit round and finish it together’
Initially, Temperance Town was built on land owned by Colonel Wood, a teetotaller, who stipulated that the new community would be free from pubs and beer sellers.
The first Temperance Society in Cardiff was established in 1833 which not so much advocated complete prohibition from alcohol but moderation although many people signed a ‘Temperance Pledge’ promising to abstain from intoxicating drinks, their framed certificates hanging proudly in their homes.
The Movement was closely linked to Non-Conformist chapels whilst many industrialists supported the idea too, tired of ‘worse for wear’ workers or those who didn’t turn up to work at all, especially on Monday morning. The Sunday Closing Act for Wales ceased Sunday trading altogether but the consequential dangers were illicit drinking dens, a criminal subculture and excessive drinking at home.
It was for this reason that the Vicar the time, Fr Jones, lamented the Act “which increased rather than diminished the harm it was intended to avert.”
One day, he asked a working-man how he managed to get a glass of beer on Sunday if he wanted one. The man replied, “Oh, I and my pals have a cask in on Saturday. The first Sunday I had a glass in the morning and went for a walk: when I came back my pals had finished the cask. So now we manage better: we sit round and finish it together.”
Whilst he refused the belief that drinkers were sinful, and the abstinent were on the way to perfection, one frequently finds in his diary entries to this effect: “Administered the pledge to a man.” “Two women came to take the pledge.” He knew that total abstinence was the only hope for “slaves of drink” but, for those who wished to drink, he simply advised moderation.
‘The great unwieldy parish’
St Mary’s Mission in Temperance Town began soon after Fr Griffith Arthur Jones arrived in 1872, as each of the clergy took responsibility for different parts of the parish.
One of his first curates, Rev. W. H. Kirby, wrote that he “first made the acquaintance of Father Jones, or Father Arthur, as his friends loved to call him, in the Lent of 1872, just after he had left his beloved parish of Llanegryn to become the vicar of the great unwieldy parish of S. Mary’s, Cardiff, with its population of 25,000 of all conditions and nationalities.”
“After spending a day or two with him at 52, Loudoun Square, which with the adjoining house afterwards became the Clergy House, I decided to come and work with him, first as a layman, being subsequently ordained deacon in September 1872, and priest in September 1873, in Llandaff Cathedral, by Bishop Ollivant.”
“I joined Father Jones at Cardiff soon after Easter, and had as my special charge Temperance Town … where an upstairs room in a house in Park Street used in the daytime as a private school, formed the nucleus of what was known for a time as the Mission of the Good Shepherd.”
Shortly after Kirby left the parish in 1875 the room had to be given up, and it wasn’t until the following spring that services resumed, taking place in a school-chapel built on ground given for a day school by the Marquis of Bute with the agreement that it would be available for Church Services.
The new Mission opened on 26 April 26, 1876 with a sermon preached by Rev. S. E. Gladstone, Rector of Hawarden, who came to Cardiff straight from the dedication of the Chapel of Keble College, Oxford, which eventually obtained the patronage of S. Dyfrig’s Church that was to come. On this occasion, the Vicar announced that he looked forward to building a permanent church.
Ground had already been purchased but there was a counter claim for the land by the Cardiff School Board. He promised the claim would be resisted as it was the only piece of land that the Church could obtain in that district.
In the dispute with the Board, the Vicar was partially successful, retaining just part of the land which meant that St Dyfrig’s covered every inch of the ground possessed by the Church, tightly adjoined by the school. But we’re moving on too quickly!
The Face of Coe
Before the church could be built, funding was needed. On 28th December 1887, Fr Hector Coe, the Curate who joined the parish in 1875 and had taken over Kirby’s work in Temperance Town, made an appeal for donations in the local press.
The initial design of the Church was far more grand and expensive than anticipated by the Curate. The drawings were tweaked bringing the price down to £3,707
The architect was John Sedding, who had also redesigned and redecorated the apse at St Mary’s with life size statues (by C.W. Seale) of the 12 Apostles, one of whom has the face of Coe himself!
Flags and Coronets
In 1888, the Memorial Stone of the new Church of S. Dyfrig’s Church was laid. The Bishop preached to a crowded congregation in the Mission Chapel followed by a procession along Wood Street.
The clergy and congregation sang the Litany of the Holy Ghost along the way with “Mr. W. Sullivan and a friend accompanying on cornets.” Fascinated residents looked on and “the neighbourhood was brilliant with flags.”
Free from debt
The church was consecrated on Tuesday 14 November 1893. “The church which is still incomplete,” read the South Wales Daily News, “consists of chancel and two bays of the nave, accommodates 450 worshippers, and is quite free from debt. Money, however, is needed for the endowment of the new ecclesiastical parish of St Dyfrig proposed to be formed.”
Two years later this happened and, on 29 May 1895, Hector Coe became its Vicar. The second stage of work to complete the building began in 1904. Fr Coe continued in post until 1921.
In the spring of 1897, a third Mission began in a part of the parish adjoining St Paul’s, Grangetown, in a street leading off Penarth Road in a room above a bakehouse. A few years later, on the other side of the road, St Samson’s Church was opened. But that’s another story.
The pace of a city
By the late 1930s, Temperance Town was termed a slum, and developers saw its potential. Houses and building were pulled down. St Dyfrig’s followed their demise in 1969.
The hand carved Stations of the Cross and the Reredos of the Adoration of the Magi made their way to St Samson’s Church as did the name of Dyfrig. The Chancel screen, six years later, came to St Mary’s.
The Screen for some years was stored in St Samson’s Church Hall and, now that it was due to be demolished, plans were put in place to move the screen to St Mary’s Church under the eye of George Pace.
The rood figures of the crucified Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Beloved Disciple which stood on top of the screen were crafted into an anchor-shaped cross and, after first being situated behind the Nave Altar, was eventually hung high above. Pace’s plan had been to remove the choir stalls to the west end of the church and use the cleared space for a new nave altar. This never happened.
What we do have, however, is a space that is both open and intimate, a bright and light place that naturally gathers people around the altar to celebrate the Eucharist in a way that reflects Henri Nouwen’s description of that Sacrament as being “the most human and divine gesture imaginable.”
We have plans to develop the building further as each generation glimpses new possibilities whilst retaining the importance of who we are.
There is no losing sight of the Lord’s Table as we minister to an unwieldy world, and try to keep up with the pace of a city which is constantly changing and reshaping itself.
The next article of faith is another letter from our archives and written to the successor of Fr Jones who retired as Vicar in 1903. The letter was sent just a year later from the rather ominously sounding “Royal Commission of Ecclesiastical Discipline” to the Reverend Gilbert Heaton.
The Mystery Worshipper
Pinned to the corner of the letter is a newspaper clipping elaborately describing a recent service at St Mary’s. The headlines in the full length article read: “The Sign of the Cross at St Mary’s – Wonderful Music – but what Church?’ The article is credited anonymously to ‘An Onlooker’ and ending with “I have only one question to ask: Is it Church of England or____?” It seems that, back in 1904, St Mary’s had a “Mystery Worshipper.”
The Commission is quick to distance themselves from the particular expressions used by the author and they have been prudent to remove the rather racist introduction to the original article but, nevertheless, they have asked the Rev G. Heaton to present his case!
From the pulpits of Oxford
Fr Heaton was not the first to receive such an enquiry into happenings in his church. The Oxford Movement, which began in 1833 in the pulpits of Oxford Colleges, had produced many followers but also many opponents and those suspicious of anything that hinted of Roman Catholicism or excessive ritual.
Beginning with John Keble’s climb into the pulpit at St Mary’s Church, Oxford to deliver his Assize Sermon, the Movement published many Tracts – giving its followers the name ‘Tractarians’. At first, the initiators had little interest in ritual or externals but it was natural that teaching and doctrine should soon find expression in externals such as ritual and architecture.
Whilst at Jesus College Oxford, Griffith Arthur Jones, the predecessor of Fr Heaton, had been deeply influenced by the Oxford Movement, and made his first confession to Pusey who also gave his name to followers of the movement.
In 1857, he put his hand to the plough when he took up his first living as Vicar of Llanegryn which “was in a very depressed condition,” according to his friend Titus Lewis, the Vicar of Towyn. In his 15 year-long Incumbency there, he revived the worship, introduced a surpliced choir and Gregorian music, and used altar lights and eucharistic vestments, the first to do so in North Wales. The congregation increased both in number and in love of him.
‘From which to preach the catholic faith’
When Fr Jones first climbed into the pulpit at St Mary’s during the Lent of 1872, his text was ‘God is love’ and he always remembered this when dealing with others. Ironically, it was this pulpit which was to create such vociferous objections.
Faced by a large three decker pulpit in the centre of the nave which hid a small altar behinf, the church was “akin to a preaching house” and not suitable for catholic worship. He experienced a few failed attempts to reduce the pulpit in size and move it to the side, and after one of these occasions he encountered on Bute Street one who opposed him who revelled in the defeat. In a characteristically cheerful manner, Fr Jones chirped, “Never mind, the pulpit will serve very well from which to preach the Catholic faith.”
Change here for Rome?
Although Fr Jones introduced a Daily Mass from the earliest time, he was in no hurry to introduce an advanced Ritual. For some years the black gown continued to be used in the pulpit, and surplice and black stole were worn at the Altar. Candles were lit at the Eucharist but were removed immediately after.
Meanwhile, he allowed the Sunday evening Prayer Meetings to continue where participants prayed for the conversion of the Vicar and clergy to the “pure Gospel,” and the Annual Vestry Meetings were, for some years, a tiresome, tedious affair with much opposition.
At one of these meetings someone proposed that a notice-board be put up in the churchyard with the following words: “St Mary’s Junction. Change here for Rome.” Calmly, Fr Jones put the motion to the meeting. It was met with defeat, the proposer deflated.
‘You will lose all your congregation’
When the English Church Union met in the parish with a celebration of Mass vestments had not yet been introduced and so a white chasuble was borrowed from Margam Abbey. Bishop Ollivant wrote to him and referred to “a surplice with a large cross on it.” In his reply, Fr Jones stated that he certainly “had not used any surplice with a cross on it, but only a very handsome chasuble lent by the Vicar of Margam.”
“What better are you of persisting in your work?” asked one parishioner at an early stage of his struggles, “you will lose all your congregation.” “That may be the case,” he gently replied Fr Jones, “but I will get the children.”
“And he got them,” wrote the Western Mail two decades later in 1900. “The congregation of St Mary’s today is composed of the children and grandchildren of those who reviled and buffeted Father Jones a quarter of a century ago.”
In spite of the loud and bawdy opposition, Fr Jones had his supporters who rallied around him and Church attendance grew. The congregation raised £115 for the pulpit to be lowered and moved to the side which paved the way for reordering the church. By 1884, the whole sanctuary had been redesigned.
An Act against ritual acts
All this is far more impressive when considered against the wider backdrop of what was happening across the country. The entrenched objection to what was perceived as the growing ritualism of the Oxford Movement led, in 1874, to the Public Worship Regulation Act which restricted ritual.
Within the next seven years, priests would be prosecuted and imprisoned. Prosecutions ceased only in 1906, two years after Fr Heaton received his letter, and the year that Fr Jones died.
‘To rouse a bitter feeling’
In 1889, the Church Congress had been held in Cardiff, with Services held at its opening at St John’s, St Andrew’s, and St Mary’s. The Congress drew people from across the Church of England, some of whom were opposers to ritual worship and others who had never experienced it before but took great offence.
Afterwards, writing to his parish, Fr Jones said, “Since our last Patronal Festival the celebrated Cardiff Church Congress has been held. Attempts were made to rouse a bitter feeling against St Mary’s Services and work, but these attempts were more than frustrated by the kindness and good feeling of the people of St Mary’s and sympathizers when at a large meeting at the Town Hall you presented your Vicar with a Memorial Address.” Almost eight hundred people had signed it.
‘We must have incense!’
Early in his time at St Mary’s, at the Diocesan Conference, Fr Jones had spoken most clearly. Again and again, amid many cries of “No, no,” he asserted “Yes, we must have incense; yes, yes.” However, whilst very much opposed at these Conferences, he was always greeted with affection which he warmly reciprocated.
On July 31, 1899, the Archbishop’s “Opinion” was delivered announcing the illegality of the liturgical use of incense and portable lights. On the following Sunday, the Feast of the Transfiguration, High Mass at St Mary’s continued with incense and lights. The press reported that the Vicar was defying the authority of the Archbishops even though, at this stage, the “Opinion” held no weight until his own Bishop spoke on the matter.
The Bishop lost no time. A letter was sent to Incumbents on Friday 11 August and appeared in the morning papers the following day. Fr Jones felt it too sudden to make any changes for the following Sunday, and wrote to the Bishop saying that he must beg leave to think and talk over the matter before making sudden alteration.
A Plea for Incense
Several weeks later, a meeting was convened by the Churchwardens at St Mary’s although none of the clergy was present. The meeting wrote a letter to Fr Jones sharing their support for the need for incense in worship. The Church Times reported the meeting and published the letter written to the Vicar, as did the Western Mail with the headline, ‘A Plea for Incense’ and included an appeal by two men who were blind.
Ultimately, the Bishop disagreed with Fr Jones’ interpretation of his use of incense, even though he had made certain compromises. “The Bishop threatens to be nasty,” wrote Hector Coe, his curate, “if the Vicar doesn’t promise to give up the use of incense.”
Fr Jones was in a precarious position. The parish was understaffed, and it was feared that the two deacons would not be priested or that the clergy would have their licenses removed leaving the 73 year old priest alone, and so forcing his resignation to make way for a more “Moderately High” Churchman, who would undo all his work. On this occasion he yielded “gracefully under protest.”
Played out in the press
It is interesting for us now to see how the local press played a part in stirring up matters and showed great interest in what was happening inside churches with headlines such as “Ultra-Ritualism in Cardiff.” But these were different times when even a report of Annual Vestry Meetings were published.
However, in 1900 The Western Mail could also write this: “The Parish of St Mary’s is one of those which have undergone a revolution in matters spiritual. Twenty eight years ago it may be said to have been a stronghold of Evangelicalism, with Canon Leigh Morgan as Vicar. When Father Jones came, he soon convinced the parishioners that he lived at the opposite pole in doctrine and practice.”
“There were lively times at St Mary’s then. The air was charged with electricity. A spark would have set the whole place on fire. The conflict was terrible at times.”
“But Father Jones is a man of tenacity of purpose, and as cool as a block of ice from the North Pole under fire. He was the only calm figure amid the uproar and strife. He bore all the obloquy and the abuse poured upon him with Christian meekness and patience, and introduced innovations as if no opposition existed.”
The New Vicar and the Old
When Fr Heaton was appointed in 1903, the press reported, “With the advent of a new vicar changes must inevitably take place, but the people of St Mary’s would view with dismay any curtailment of those catholic privileges to which they have for so many years been accustomed.”
In another article about the Institution of Fr Heaton as Vicar, accompanied by a mesmeric photograph of ‘The New Vicar and the Old,” the sermon of the Bishop of Llandaff, Richard Lewis was reported. “A good Incumbent was sometimes followed by one who was carless and negligent …and the whole parish suffered. But he was glad to be there that night to tell them the successor of their beloved priest would worthily fill his place.”
He spoke from the same pulpit that kicked off the most vociferous opposition to Fr Jones’ plans back in 1872. It is still there to this day, as are the lights and vestments, incense and ritual even if celebrated in a way commensurate with the times.
The letter from the Royal Commission of Ecclesiastical Discipline reminds us that, in some ways, nothing had changed. Fr Heaton remained in post for another eight years.
The murals of St Margaret and St Winifred, two female saints, are part of the fabric of St Mary’s Church, a constant mark in the masonry, and a continued reminder of the work of certain women in the parish: the Sisters of the Society of St Margaret who came to Cardiff from East Grinstead and, in turn, left their own mark.
They have laboured
“I am thankful to say I am gradually getting better,” wrote Fr Jones in 1890. He had been spending some time with his old college friend, Evan Lewis, the Dean of Bangor, recuperating from an accident, a collision with a cyclist. This, combined with the death of his sister and the stress of personal attacks upon him, had weakened the 63 year old priest.
“To those who were close to him he never seemed again so active and energetic or strong in health as he had been before,” reads his biography.
“You were all startled, I have no doubt, to hear that Sister Ruth and Sister Rose were leaving us,” he continued in his letter “They have now gone. Sister Ruth’s loss of sight was the cause of her asking the Mother Superior to relieve her and send another Sister in her place.”
“I frankly acknowledge the great work done by them and the other Sisters of East Grinstead in this place. The people amongst whom they have laboured have always found in them sympathizing hearts and a desire for their good.”
As he recuperated in Bangor, many of his parishioners were of the same mind. Meeting together they resolved to have two female saints painted on the chancel arch in memory of the work of the Sisters of Charity in the parish. They chose St Winifred, Virgin and Martyr, of Holywell in North Wales and, most significantly, St Margaret, the Patron Saint of the Sisters of East Grinstead.
The Sisters of St Margaret
The Society of St Margaret was founded in 1855 by Dr John Mason Neale at Rotherfield, England. He was a priest of the Church of England and, whilst a student at Cambridge, had become influenced by the Oxford Movement. As the numbers increased, the Sisters moved into their first convent, Saint Margaret’s in East Grinstead, Sussex.
The society had a difficult start. Growing naturally from within the Oxford Movement’s catholic revival, it was met with resistance by those suspicious of anything suggesting Roman Catholicism. Dr Neale himself had received personal attacks and threats, and had been manhandled at the funeral of one of the sisters.
Arrival at St Mary’s
In 1873, the Reverend Mother Superior agreed to send three sisters to St Mary’s, and they arrived later in the Autumn. Their number included Sister Ruth and Sister Rose mentioned in his letter.
They lived at first in an upper story of a house in Bute Street and, soon after, moved to “a poor little house in Maria Street” before settling more permanently at 1, North Church Street where they remained until 1937.
A precarious ride
The opposition and personal attacks experienced by Neale in establishing the Society was replicated in the lives of so many people influenced by the Oxford Movement, and Fr Jones was no different.
Amongst the Deanery clergy was general approval for the Sisters. They admired their work but one or two were not in favour of their “distinctive dress” which they thought would cause offence and hinder their work. For Fr Jones, this reservation was no obstacle. “We will have Sisters before long, distinctive dress and all,” he said to himself at the time.
Rumours abounded, and some of the more absurd stories which were circulated in the parish did, at time, cause the clergy to smile. For instance, it was stated that an empty coffin was taken into the church on Maundy Thursday in Holy Week, and that the Sisters of Mercy spent the night there worshipping it.
It was also said that the church was kept darkened all day on Good Friday and that “Mr. Sankey and the curate” carried the Vicar round the church on their shoulders. “Now, as Mr. Sankey is very tall and I am very short,” said the Curate, “the Vicar must have had a very uncomfortable and precarious ride!”
The ride indeed was often precarious. The Marquess of Bute, who had recently converted to Roman Catholicism, still took an interest in life at St Mary’s and contributed to its funds, and the story went that the Vicar was in the pay of the Roman Church, and went to the Castle every morning for his orders.
“The Vicar was not one to lose heart easily, but he could scarcely fail to feel the strain of the uphill fight, and the frequent opposition must have told upon him,” reads his biography.
Some believed the Sister’s presence an insult to the Protestants of the Parish. “Really the Vicar had no idea of insulting any, Protestant or otherwise,” said his Curate, “but had they said that the Vicar wished these ladies to help him in making Catholics of the Protestants, and doing them good in body and soul, they would have been about right.”
‘I’ll chuck you over the bannister!’
At first there were only three Sisters but their numbers gradually increased so that, in 1888, there were six at work, and as it was reported at the time, “we could easily find work for double that number.” Despite some initial opposition, with “their simple goodness, gentleness and tact they soon made their way in spite of it.”
As soon as the Sisters got settled they set to work, took part in the Sunday Schools, held Bible Classes on weeknights, prepared candidates for confirmation, sought out the unbaptized and brought them to the font. In one year over six hundred were baptized. They visited the sick and poor in an area and time where there was significant hardship and squalor, poor housing and social inequality.
They showed great determination and patience. One day, Sister Ruth, on hearing that a local man was ill with a terrible disease, called at his house to visit him. His wife was having none of it. She called from the top of the stairs, “If you do not go down, I’ll chuck you over the banister!” The Sister quietly went away then, but then somehow got in afterwards and visited the man till he died.
The Sisters held Mothers’ Meetings at four places in the parish, which were attended by about one hundred and thirty mothers. Through this contact, the Sisters were able to help them in many different ways.
A very good work
In February, 1875, the Sisters began Day School work at Bute Lane Mission School, for girls and infants. This school was always full, and many more would have attended if the building allowed it.
Soon after this school was opened, an official of the School Board called one morning to see the school, and part of his description of it was that he saw “a large crucifix at one end of the room and a Nun at the other.” I need not say the crucifix still remains there, and the Nun is doing a very good work, such as the School Board never can do,” said Fr Jones.
The following year, they began work at Bute Terrace Girls’ School, and Sister Ruth started the Guild of S. Michael and All Angels. With a membership of up to ninety girls, it was the most successful Guild in the parish, and intended to help girls from Confirmation age until marriage, “and as a rule they seem to marry fairly well.”
In addition to the schools under the care of the sisters, there were seven other National Schools in the parish under the management of the Vicar and a Committee. Each School received the ministry of the Sisters and the parish clergy.
They established a Guild House for girls in Canal Parade, described as “a kind of recreation room, partly for work and partly for amusement, where the girls may assemble … and be kept from rambling about the streets; in a word, to keep them from mischief!” It was at this house that they established a middle class school called St Gwendoline’s which closed at Easter 1899.
Legacy of Love
In 1937, the sisters were recalled to the Mother House and their ministry in the parish came to an end. When they left the parish after more than six decades they had played an essential part in the mission and ministry of the parish, leaving a legacy of love with transformed lives and strengthened faith.
Although no longer present in the parish, there are still Sisters of the Society in the UK and in the US and Asia, including the Priory of Our Lady in Walsingham in Norfolk founded in 1955
The murals of St Margaret and St Winifred, two female saints, are part of the fabric of St Mary’s Church and continue as a constant reminder of the work of those women from East Grinstead who came to Cardiff and, in turn, left their own mark.
The fourth item is a simple letter, written in scribbled handwriting, sent to the Vicar at the time, Fr Griffith Arthur Jones, from the Revd J.W. Doran. Together, they were working on a Gregorian Psalter in Welsh, indicated from the outset by the way the letter is dated: “Feast of the dear Patron S. Gregory the Great, Pope and Confessor and Doctor, transferred from yesterday, 1882.
“My dear Jones,” he says in his greeting, “After the above elaborate dating, (not a usual style with me, but suggested by the labours that we have in hand,) let me begin.
In 1891, 15% of Butetown’s population could speak Welsh, significantly higher than the Cardiff average. Some parts had a particularly high percentage, like Loudon Square and James Street. Serving this community were three Welsh-language chapels: Bethania Calvinistic Methodist (1853) in Loudon Square, and Siloam Baptist (1860) and Mount Stuart Congregationalist Church (1858) both in Mount Stuart Square.
Also opened in 1856 was a Welsh-speaking Anglican church on Tyndall Street in an area of the parish called Newtown. All Saints’ Church or, more appropriately, Eglwys yr Holl Sant, was built thanks to the Marquess of Bute and his wife who between them provided the capital for the land and its building.
However, by 1870, Welsh-language services had been squeezed out by the largely Irish population of Newtown. For Fr Jones, a Welsh speaker himself and the recipient of the letter, there was an important task ahead.
A scandal to have lost
He arrived as Vicar in 1872, and some time after, in a copy of the Parish Magazine, we read: “It now remains for the Welsh Churchmen of Cardiff to aid the Vicar in his endeavours to restore, what it is a scandal to Cardiff to have lost, Welsh Services for the Church of the most important town in Wales.”
Fr Jones had already written a number of Welsh publications by the time he arrived at St Mary’s. In 1854, he had been busy translating a Welsh Psalter with Rev. C. W. Heaton (his successor at St Mary’s) and the Rev. Lewis Gilbertson, entitled Y Psallwyr neu Psalmau Dafydd wedi eu nodi au haddasu i’s Tonau Cyntefig.
Other publications and pamphlets were also generated including a Manual on Confirmation and a Handbook of Teaching, Devotion and Christian Practice, Y Primer Bach (1870) as well as a booklet on the Athanasian Creed.
Shortly after he arrived at St Mary’s, he set about a Welsh Mission which realised a significant amount of success. “It is hoped Welsh Services will soon be permanently held in S. Mary’s Parish as a result of the Welsh Mission,” continued the magazine article. A Welsh Sunday School was established at Bute Terrace Schools in the afternoon, and the Vicar began to celebrate Holy Communion in Welsh on the first Sunday in the month, “there having been quite a sufficient number of Communicants at the Welsh Celebration during the Mission to make such a service most desirable.”
It was this Welsh Service to which Doran refers in his letter. “I was very glad to hear of the success of the Welsh Service,” he writes. “ I hope it has been favourably reported in the papers,” and he shared his hope that it would increase the welcome of the Welsh Psalter.
Such was his work that, by the late 1880s, the impetus to re-establish a Welsh-speaking church had been revived, and a new church hall, Capel Dewi Sant, was opened in Howard Gardens in 1889.
A few years later, in 1891, a new Eglwys Dewi Sant was opened next door, the land for the hall and church given by Lord Tredegar. The church was bombed in 1941 and services were transferred to the Church Hall. It wasn’t until 1954 that the redundant, modified and reopened St Andrew’s Church became the new (and present day) Eglwys Dewi Sant.
Not another word
“I am not a teacher of languages, but a priest of God’s Church,” said Fr Jones to his friend Fr Charles Lowder, the founder of the Society of the Holy Cross. Lowder had visited Fr Jones when he was Vicar of Llanegryn before he had moved from there at the foot of Snowdonia to the docks at St Mary’s. During his stay, Lowder attended a Welsh language service with his friend.
Afterwards he took the Welsh priest to task, suggesting he taught people English rather than hold Welsh services to which Fr Jones gave his curt response. “My duty is to teach the people religion in the language they understand,” retorted Fr Jones. “I could teach them the faith in their own language far easier than I could teach them a new language.”
“I need not say,” he later wrote, “I never heard another word about teaching English to my parishioners.” It was to this kind of attitude that he consistently responded.
As bright a service as can be
Fr Jones refused to believe, from his own experience and observation, that Welsh was a dying language. “In my belief there are more people speaking Welsh now than ever spoke Welsh at any previous period of our history,” he said in 1887 as he addressed the Llandaff Diocesan Conference. “The Welsh language … seems as unlikely to die as ever, and it is our duty to try and meet the difficulty we have to deal with: the providing services in both Welsh and English in many of our parishes.” He even called on a special fund to be established for providing additional clergymen to address the issue.
His concern too was that, where services were offered in both languages, more care and attention were generally given to the English ones. “As bright a service as can be provided is given,” he said.
“Let proper care and attention be paid to the Welsh services, and an honest teaching of the doctrines of the Church of Christ, and let the Welsh services be rendered with reverent care and earnestness.” His concern was that Welsh speakers were being short changed, given times of service which were inconvenient and not provided with the sacraments which, he said, “alone can meet the needs of fallen man, be he Welshman or of any other nationality. Other systems may amuse, and attract for a time, but then there is no going to the root of the matter in these modern systems.”
“You flatter the people, and get crowded congregations at harvest home services, but you do not strike the root of the evil with which we have to contend.”
“Up to the present we have been going on wrong lines; we have been giving our Welsh people services as like what they get in chapel as we can, and the result has been disappointing. Catholic teaching and practice as yet have not been tried amongst the Welsh.”
For Fr Jones, providing services and teaching in the Welsh language in such a dedicated and meticulous fashion was about providing the riches of the catholic church to all, in equal measure. The publication of the Welsh Gregorian Psalter, the subject of the letter in hand, was fed by this desire.
It won’t be given up!
The Gregorian Psalter in Welsh was being undertaken with Doran and a layman, Spenser Nottingham, who had served as Precentor of St Matthias, Church, Stoke Newington and honorary choirmaster at St Mary’s, Chiswick. Doran had served as a Missionary in India with the Church Mission Society, and by the time of correspondence with Fr Jones had already jointly published a Directory of Plainsong.
Fr Jones had a great love of music and a passion for plainsong which he gradually introduced to St Mary’s, despite great opposition.
Once, when he attended an elaborate service at some other church where the music was described as being “a florid kind” he said, “There was no music to do a fellow good; no plainsong.”
But the use of plainchant was not simply a personal preference. For him it was a matter of principle, as most solemn and suitable to its purpose, and therefore to be continued and upheld even though it was not appreciated. “It won’t be given up while I am vicar!” he said.
He encountered many difficulties and obstacles in doing this but he faithfully continued and persistently laboured until St Mary’s Church was transformed from what had once been called “a preaching house” to a place where the beauty of catholic worship could be celebrated.
POSTSCRIPT:Below is the full text and photographs of the letter. Please note that one or two words are indecipherable to me – indicated by “…..”
43 Carisbrooke Road, St Leonard on Sea
Feast of the dear Patron s. Gregory the Great, Pope and Confessor and Doctor transferred from yesterday, 1882
My dear Jones,
After the above elaborate dating, (not a usual style with me, but suggested by the labours that we have in hand,) let me begin.
There is no real inconsistency between iad iaith in 63:6 and gwyl iaith in 199.148, the former being one ending, the latter a mediation. In the same way you may have observed in the English testimonies as a mediation testimonies in the ending.
In Cantate 7 I prefer sÿdd ynddo.
Let me hear about the other ……. cases as soon as you can.
You and Lewis seem agreed to render? Intimation by dechreuad of ending by/try terfyniad. L. objects to your canoliad for mediation, it being a word unknown to him of which he fails to find in the dictionary.
I was very glad to hear of the success of the Welsh Service. I hope it has been favourably reported in the papers, and may t…d yours an increasedly wide welcome for the Psalter
N…… s are certainly sometimes very tiresome to deal with. I should advise you in any future transaction that they may be troublesome to communicate with my colleague who, I doubt not, would gladly give these directions for you. His address is 30 Eastcheap E.C.
I expect Palmer here on Wednesday. I will discuss again with him how IV.4 S.R should be, and notify to you the result. S….. vary somewhat in different uses. What in one is indissoluble in ……. may not be.
I have sent L. a setting of Venite to a proper Venite Melody. If you and he approve it may be inserted in the Canticles. It might be perhaps with advantage set also to Pasclia nostrum.
I should indeed like to insert all the proper Venite melodies, which are indeed quite distinct from the ordinary Psalm-tones, but it would be a voluminous addition. We might perhaps hope to add them in a future edition, as I hope to do in the English Canticles.
I began this letter jocosely. I have occasion to end it solemnly and sadly. We have been some days very anxious about my mother in law, Mrs Goldin who has been very ill. Hitherto there have been helpful symptoms, but I have just heard that she is apparently succumbing, and it is not improbable that when this reaches you she will have passed away! I know you will remember her and your family in this trial.
To uncover the story of this brass lectern, with its grand eagle bearing the weight of the word, wings outstretched ready for flight, we need to turn back a hundred years and more, back to 1905 and a turning point in Cardiff’s history, and the story of a life-long friendship.
It is the centenary of the death of Admiral Lord Nelson on 21st October 1905, and the latest edition of Punch magazine features a cartoon of the British flag officer.
He stands proud, confident, dressed in full regalia on a rocky shoreline, his head turned to the right as he glances across the water to the present day British warships which have long replaced the sailing ships of his fame. The fleet disappears into the distance, smoke streams from the horizon. Beneath, the words: ‘My ships have passed away, but the spirit of my men remains.” On the same day, a letter leaves Whitehall from the Secretary of State for the Home Department, bound for Cardiff.
Ringing the changes
Much has changed in a hundred years, and with the death of Queen Victoria less than four years ago, a new era has begun with the accession to the throne of Edward VII. Cardiff’s population stands now at 164,333.
The heavy industry of the docks has built a town, shaped and reshaped it. Roads have been carved and rail lines laid, crisscrossing their way through the docks. Buildings have risen and long been replaced reflecting the town’s growing reputation, and its confidence too, as it flexes its muscles on the back of coal and steam.
It is a cold, dry October evening two days after the Whitehall despatch, as a flurry of councillors, officials and other guests make their way into the large assembly room of the Town Hall which stands on the western side of St Mary Street. It’s the second to be built after the Medieval Guild Hall which once stood in the centre of High Street facing the Castle, and which is soon to be replaced by the new hall, north of the town in Cathays Park.
There are excited handshakes, wide eyes, bright faces. The Fourth Marquess of Bute who, at the age of twenty-five succeeded his father just four years earlier, takes his seat alongside the Principal of the University of South Wales and Monmouthshire, and the President of the Chamber of Commerce. There also representatives of the railway companies who arrive alongside ship owners and brokers, and who have moored alongside building contractors and coal exporters. The guest list tells the story of the growing town.
There, among them, is Fr Griffith Arthur Jones, the former Vicar of St Mary’s who, at 78 years of age, had retired just two years before. His health had been failing and he was tired, although he continued to attend St Mary’s each Sunday, taking the journey from Longcross Street in Adamsdown where he lived in a house he named Lluesty Mair, St Mary’s Rest.
The town mayor, Alderman Robert Hughes, brings the meeting to order.
He is a proud, portly man, 45 years of age, with grey hair and a full yet elegant moustache. Fr Jones watches him remove an envelope from his case, as he stands to address the room. They wait to hear the words from Whitehall.
From boy to man
Fr Jones has known Hughes since he was a boy, watched him grow up, witnessed how his life had changed, and had played a hand in it too, since he first arrived in Llanegryn in 1857 the year that Hughes was born.
A quiet parish at the foot of the Snowdonia mountain range with a solitary hilltop church dedicated to St Mary and St Egryn, it was there, in Llanegryn, that Fr Jones set about planting the marks of his ministry by introducing the riches of catholic teaching and worship. “It became,” so his friend, Titus Lewis, Vicar of Towyn said, “quite the leading parish church in the diocese.”
As well as being vicar, Fr Jones was also Head Master of the endowed school in the parish, which Hughes attended, leaving before his 16th birthday. The children were, in the main, educated free although the farmers were supposed to pay a small fee, and attendance at school wasn’t compulsory but even those who did not attend were often sent by their parents to school for punishment if they misbehaved. Fr Jones’ sense of justice was trusted by both churchmen and nonconformists. He administered punishment with a stern face in school but during the play-hour would make a playful gesture to the child concerned which softened any anger. He had a special gift of being able to win the confidence of the young.
As a boy, Hughes had experienced the adept skills of Fr Jones as a sportsman, particularly fishing and shooting, accompanying him on some of these activities. “I used to carry his rabbits,’ he reminisced, and he was a member of the choir that Fr Jones founded soon after his arrival, the first surplice choir in the diocese.
From Beer to Politics
When he left the parish to become Vicar of St Mary’s in Cardiff, his successor, the Revd Griffith Roberts (who was later to become the Dean of Bangor) had taken the boy under his wing. Correspondence must have flowed between him and Fr Jones who used his influence to gain him a job as a clerk to Nell’s Brewery which stood at the north-west corner of St John’s Church.
“He was not ashamed to admit that he came to the town a poor boy, with only eighteenpence in his pocket,” wrote the Evening Express many years later in 1905, reporting on a complimentary banquet in his honour.
He worked his way through the ranks until he became one of the directors, leaving later to work for Worthington’s Brewery. The promise of Hughes was beginning to take shape. In 1892, he won his seat as councillor by just 14 seats in but was returned unopposed on four occasions, before beating off a challenge from a certain Robert Scott. He also stood for Parliament although without success and was President of the Cymmrodorion and Chairman of the Conservative Working Men’s Association.
Hughes made his home in Cardiff, and his spiritual home was St Mary’s becoming a member of the choir, a devoted Sunday School and a sponsor for many children being confirmed. Robert Hughes took his responsibilities seriously, seeking out and returning any boys who neglected their Communion. When asked about the situation by the clergy, Hughes replied with “I did tell him.” These words were later teasingly applied to anyone who had to be encouraged back to Confession and Communion: ‘I did tell him.’ They became life-long friends, and Hughes was an ardent supporter of the priest despite the hardened opposition he received on first arriving in Cardiff.
The Language of Heaven
Together, they were also at the forefront of the Welsh Church movement in Cardiff. Not long before Fr Jones’ arrival in Cardiff, Welsh language services had been squeezed out of the Newtown area of the Parish but things were soon to change. In the Parish Magazine at the time we read:
“It is hoped Welsh Services will soon be permanently held in St. Mary’s Parish as a result of the Welsh Mission. A Welsh Sunday School has been started at Bute Terrace Schools in the afternoon . . . and the Vicar has arranged to celebrate the Holy Communion in Welsh on the first Sunday in the month, there having been quite a sufficient number of Communicants at the Welsh Celebration during the Mission to make such a service most desirable; and it now remains for the Welsh Churchmen of Cardiff to aid the Vicar in his endeavours to restore, what it is a scandal to Cardiff to have lost, Welsh Services for the Church of the most important town in Wales.”
In 1889, a new church hall, Capel Dewi Sant, was opened in Howard Gardens and, three years later, a church was built on neighbouring land offering a new home for a Welsh speaking congregation.
The Letter in Hand
Alderman Robert Hughes stands before the hushed gathering. The letter in his hand is dated 21st October, 1905. He reads it aloud.
“I am directed by the Secretary of State to inform you that it is His Majesty’s pleasure that the Borough of Cardiff be constituted a City, and that the Chief Magistrate thereof be styled Lord Mayor. Instructions are about to be given for the issue of Letters Patent under the Great Seal carrying His Majesty’s pleasure into effect.”
There are repeated cheers. Each, in turn, rises to offer a resolution, passed with great enthusiasm, expressing the great satisfaction of the Corporation and the citizens. And congratulations are offered to Alderman Robert Hughes on becoming the First Lord Mayor of the City of Cardiff.
Accompanied by members of the Corporation and other gentlemen, the Mayor makes his way to the balcony of the Town Hall. Beneath them, in St Mary Street, a crowd of people gathers, attracted by the echoed cheers heard from within the assembly room. The Mayor proclaims His Majesty’s gracious pleasure a second time, and the street is filled with cheering.
St Mary’s Rest
After much celebration, the balcony begins to empty, as the dignitaries step back into the hall. The new Lord Mayor has another engagement to keep. He is due at St Mary’s Church for a service to commemorate the centenary of Admiral Lord Nelson’s death. Lifted by the enthusiasm and joy, and wanting to show due honour to the first Lord Mayor of Cardiff, a candlelit procession is quickly planned to accompany him to the church and back.
From among the crowd, a woman turns to her companion and asks, “Who’s that?” She points to the old clergyman on the balcony, as he smiles gently at the cheering crowd below, before he shifts slowly back into the assembly room. “Oh, that’s Father Jones,” says the other in reply. “Everybody loves him, and he’s so fond of the children.”
One of those children, in whom he had invested so much time and love, kindness and guidance and who himself acknowledged his influence upon his life is now the first Lord Mayor of the City of Cardiff. Within a few weeks of being elected Lord Mayor of the newly formed city, he donates the brass lectern in thanksgiving for his friend’s 32 year ministry, an item which tells both a personal tale and the turning point in Cardiff’s own story.
Note: although this particular post is much written in narrative form, the events reported are gleaned from various sources including Fr Jones’ biography and newspaper reports of the time
In the search for old treasures you may have Indiana Jones in mind, struggling with baddies, crawling through caves, seeking out the Holy Grail. Well, our second article is no Holy Grail although it is a chalice used at the Eucharist!
It’s not the most decorated chalice amongst the collection here. It has little embellishment other than a simple crucifixion scene at its foot and, six small, decorative faces at the neck but it has a story to tell.
The chalice came from the Mission to Seafarers Centre, The Flying Angel, which closed in Cardiff Docks a decade ago. At its closure, various items from the chapel ended up at St Mary’s, including this chalice which was given for safe keeping to Fr Francis, the parish priest and honorary chaplain. Later, it was chosen by him as the chalice to be placed upon his coffin during his Funeral Mass.
So this simple chalice has links to the sea and begins to pour out a history of the seafaring past and present of Cardiff.
Pushed out to sea
In the nineteenth century, Cardiff began to boom. In 1820, approximately 85,000 tons of coal were shipped from the shores of Cardiff. Twenty years later, as the docks expanded, the figure had risen to 211,000 tons exported in 2,500 vessels. This peak came in 1913 with 10.7 million tons of coal pushed out to sea, and in 1920 there were 122 shipping companies.
As well as exports, there were imports too, and accompanying the many products from afar were sailors who came and went but many stayed, feeling quite at home in Cardiff.
With both a shifting, transitory population and a new, more stable community being created there was much work to do and many pressing needs. There was poverty, hardship uncertainty of work and many other social and personal problems.
Mean Streets and Black Eyes
A colourful glimpse of life at the time and some of the challenges involved is given in the biography of a former parish priest, Fr Jones of Cardiff (1906) where the authors, who served as his curates, write:
“If you turn aside to the right you find a network of mean streets, or, turning to the left and passing through a desert of railways to a fringe of houses upon the edge of the docks, you find yourself in the midst of a scene of squalor hardly to be matched in the East-end of London.”
“Innumerable children, unkempt and dirty, are playing in the filthy roadway, from which the sun causes a fetid smell to rise; groups of slatternly women, one in three bearing a black eye, loaf upon the pavement; now and then a loud-voiced harridan darts from one of the dirty entries to pour forth a volley of abusive threats against some person or persons unknown.
And the listless men, some of them obviously mere hangers-on of a port and sodden with drink; while others, as the stains about their feet show, are dock labourers, or “hobblers,” who cannot find a job, are a sight, if possible, more depressing than the women.
The whole of the maritime community and of that society which lives upon it supplies a field in which missionaries of every Church and every sect may labour and do labour continuously without fear that their work can come to an end.”
With such an endless amount of work to do, three ships were mustered to minister to the seafaring population. Stranded near the Docks was the Hamadryad used as a hospital for sailors. The Havannah was used as an industrial ship for boys who attended the service on Sundays at St. Mary’s, and many of them were Confirmed after receiving instruction by one of the priests who held classes on board. The Thisbe, afloat in the Bute Dock, was used from 1863 as a Seamen’s Chapel and Institute with a resident chaplain. Regular church services were held as well as magic lantern shows and concerts. A more permanent Church and Institute was built in 1892 in the West Dock.
The Chaplains of the Missions to Seamen’s Society held a curate’s licence under the Vicar of S. Mary’s, all of whom looked after the spiritual and social welfare of the sailors. The Rev. R. J. Phillips who was Chaplain from 1880 to 1885 wrote of his working relationship with the vicar, Fr Jones:
“One of the first visitors we received on board of the old mission ship (H.M.S. Thisbe) was the Vicar … how cheered and encouraged I was by his sympathy and kindness.
I remember going up the side of the East Dock one day and seeing the Vicar on his hands and knees in the coal dust helping a poor sailor replace his clothes, etc., which had been flung out and emptied on to the quay by a Board of Trade man who fancied that Jack had some cigars and plugs of tobacco which had not paid duty.
The Vicar’s kindness and good nature I feel sure prevented the officer from being roughly handled, as great indignation was expressed at the time by some seamen who witnessed the scene.”
There are other remnants of life at sea here are at St Mary’s including a stained glass window in memory of those Merchant Seafarers who lost their lives during the Russian Convoys of World War II, along with the Standard of the Cardiff Branch Russian Convoy Club which was placed ere when the club closed in 2008.
Each year, in Cardiff Bay, there are two Memorial Services in Cardiff organised by the Merchant Navy Association, and a framed list of the names of Merchant Seafarers who died during war can be seen at the Butetown Community Centre (see below).
Anchored in the Sea
In more recent times, a rood cross was carved in the shape of an Anchor, hung high above the nave altar with the figures of Jesus, Mary and the Beloved Disciple taken from the chancel screen from the redundant St St Dyfrig’s Church which once stood near Central Railway Station. The cross is often something to which tourists and visitors are attracted and begins a discussion of St Mary’s seafaring past.
Raise a Glass
Although the Flying Angel Centre has now gone, Cardiff still has a working docks albeit a shadow of its former days. It’s here that often unseen visitors from afar touch the edge of Cardiff. They continue to receive the ministry of a Mission to Seafarers Chaplain.
Today, The Mission to Seafarers is one of the largest port-based welfare operators in the world, present in around 200 ports across 50 countries, and providing help and support to the 1.5 million men and women who face danger every day to keep our global economy afloat.