Articles of Faith 10: Memorial Plaque

Our tenth article of faith is a small stone plaque in the north-west corner of St Mary’s Church in memory of ‘Henry James Thatcher’, a plaque which unfolds the story of a man of enthusiastic faith, committed friendship and an eye for precision!

A fallen grave stone

We found it quite by accident, the grave of Henry James Thatcher. We were in Cathays Cemetery to clean the gravestone of Fr Griffith Arthur Jones in preparation for prayer on the anniversary of his death during the 175th anniversary of St Mary’s Church.

There, beyond his grave, was a fallen stone and, inscribed upon it, a name familiar to those of us who had read the biography of Fr Jones, or who had taken note of the plaques fixed to the walls of the church.

We knew Mr Thatcher to be a longstanding Churchwarden, thirty years in all, an office he held through difficult divisive years of reform in the parish in the late nineteenth century. We knew him, too, to be a friend of Fr Jones.

Likewise, the scant script of the memorial tablet in St Mary’s informed us that he was an Altar Server, Secretary to the Llandaff Diocesan Lay Readers Association and a member of the Cardiff Church Committee, whatever that meant.

But it’s time now, perhaps, to discover more about this man whose fallen grave stone marks the place of his rest, next to that of his dear friend and priest.


A friend of Father Jones

 The first familiar words we have from Henry Thatcher are from the biography mentioned above, words he shared with another friend and churchwarden, Edwin Dobbins, written on behalf of the congregation of St Mary’s Jubilee Year and the 21st anniversary of Fr Jones’ Incumbency.

“We desire in presenting the address to express our great love and esteem for you, our admiration of your personal character, and our hearty appreciation of the services you have rendered to the Catholic Church especially in our parish. We trust you may be long spared under God’s blessing to be our Pastor, and assuring you of our continued love and duty.”

Fr Jones valued many close friendships, two of whom were those longstanding churchwardens, and for many years it was their custom to enjoy an annual outing together. “These little excursions were greatly enjoyed by all three, and much looked forward to by the churchwardens. They both appreciated the Vicar’s joyous spirits, and recognized how at the same time he was always anxious to say his Mass every Sunday when he was away on these holidays.”

Living as he did in 3, Glossop Terrace, just around the corner from Fr Jones’ retirement home in Longcross Street, Adamsdown, he was there right to the end of his friend’s life in this world, and “spent all his spare time in the sick room.”

Thatcher, Heaton, Fr Noel picture2
A photograph from the Weekly Mail 25 June 1910 with Henry James Thatcher (left) standing next to the vicar at the time, Fr Heaton. The priest on far right right is Fr Noel from St Barnabas, Oxford who had retired to live in Longcross Street, Adamsdown with his old friend Fr Jones who died four years before this photograph was taken.

A clear vision

He must have had a steady hand, an eye for detail, a mind acquainted with the scientific art of precision. From his “commodious premises” and “well-appointed shop” at 107, Bute Street, Thatcher measured time as a watchmaker and chronometer, and helped steer ships through stormy seas as ‘An adjuster of Iron Ships’ Compasses.”

 A jeweller, too, there are several newspaper reports of burglaries and thefts from his shop. On one occasion, two young lads received a fourteen day prison sentence for stealing a couple of watches and trying to sell them in Neath! His craft extended, too, to making spectacles, an Optician’s trade up his sleeve, helping people to see a little clearer.

Perhaps then, with all this craft, he was well suited to life at St Mary’s, helping to steer things through a changing scene, riding the storm, having a clear vision.

A thoroughly practical master

In 1880, there were around 26 watchmakers and only 8 Chronometer Makers in Cardiff. The business run by Mr Thatcher then had actually been established in 1819 by Samuel Marks, with Thatcher trading a little higher up the street from a smaller premises since 1869.

Incidentally, Samuel Marks along with his brother, Mark, were sons of Michael Marks who was one of the first Jewish arrivals in Cardiff from Neath.  He established a premises first in Angel Street (now Westgate Street) and finally registered as Marks and Co at 11 Bute Road.  He became well known in the Docks. and signed a petition against the rival Barry Dock scheme.  He died at the age of 83, and it was to Samuel, Mark and Solomon Marks to whom the Marquess of Bute donated land at Highfield for a Jewish cemetery.  There is a memorial in the cemetery to Samuel in gratitude for his services to the Jewish Community.

Thatcher bought the business from Solomon Marks in 1876 and “conducted it with great ability and success, fully maintaining the high reputation it has so long enjoyed.”  In 1893, it was believed to be “the oldest of its kind in Cardiff . . . patronised by the Portuguese Government, and by a large and important nautical connection.” (The Ports of the Bristol Channel, Wales and the West, London Printing and Engraving Co. 1893)

His shop had “a large and valuable stock of chronometers, watches, clocks, opera and field glasses, marine glasses, compasses, and all manner of nautical instruments, charts, and stationery.”

He was described as “a thoroughly practical master of his scientific trade, and employs an efficient staff of skilled hands, all work being done on the premises under his own careful personal supervision.”

“Everything supplied at this establishment is of first-class quality, and besides selling his own reliable and approved chronometers, Mr. Thatcher is agent for all the principal chronometer-makers, so that any well-known make can be at once obtained through him.”

At some point he had also worked alongside his brother, the wonderfully named Cornelius Octavius Thatcher. The ‘Thatcher Brothers” Partnership was dissolved by them in October 1872, with Cornelius continuing to work as a ‘Music and Musical Instrument Seller’ and as a ‘Teacher of Music’ trading from 4, Montgomery Terrace, Roath.

Thatcher sit vacant
An Advert from Mr Thatcher seeking an apprentice at his business. (South Wales Daily News: 5, July 1884)

 The supreme gift

For someone like me who, at 16 years old, received a School Report comment from his Biology teacher that he “tends to be over opinionated at times,” I rather like the reports of Mr Thatcher.

“Every character has the defects of its qualities,” wrote Canon Beck (Vicar of Roath and Rural Dean) in an obituary of Thatcher after his death in January 16, 1916. “A critic can easily find occasions when zeal outruns discretion. And quite certainly Mr. Thatcher’s utterances were not always as balanced as might have been.”

“Still, for me,” continued Beck, “all defects were obliterated by that supreme gift: enthusiasm. It is surely a gift which Churchmen specially need to-day.”

‘A splendid adventure’

We can only wonder how many children and young people he enthused as a long standing Superintendent of the Sunday School at St Michael’s, a Mission church of St Mary’s at Mount Stuart Square. In 1907, the Bible Classes treated him and his assistant Superintendent (Mr E.W. Edwards) to a complimentary dinner to thank them for their work They responded to their gratitude and generosity in a thank you speech when they “expressed their pleasure they felt in meeting so many Docks boys.”

“For most parishes at the moment do not require a series of quiet days nearly as much as a series of religious earthquakes. We have to make the present generation realise that Christianity is after all a most splendid adventure, and that the Christian religion can bring into men’s lives the highest satisfaction and joy,” wrote Canon Beck.

“And I’m sure that we never accomplish this, till we have caught something of that flame of enthusiasm which was the marked feature the character him whom many of us will never forget.”

Once, when Dean Vaughan’s “refined sensitiveness had been shocked by some excited speech” of Thatcher, he remarked .“What a sweet voice Mr. Thatcher has!”

Thatcher Dinner
Evening Express – 1 January, 1907

The political world

“The political world of the city knew something of his ardour and energy, he was a keen educationalist, and a regular attendant at the meetings of the Church Schools Grouped Committee,” wrote Canon Beck.

A chairman of Adamsdown Conservative Club, Thatcher was also a Councillor and, in one of the anti-church newspaper reports, he is doubly described as “The Ritualist and Tory Candidate.”

“But behind and beneath all these other interests was his consuming interest in things directly spiritual and religious,” said Beck. “And I should say without any hesitation that his most effective work was done as churchwarden at St. Mary’s and Secretary from their foundation, I think, of the Llandaff Lay Readers’ Association and the Cardiff Church Committee.”

Waifs and Strays

“He was an exceptionally good reader of the lessons in church,” his obituary reads, “and many a cleric might have learned much from him in this. It would be no easy task to enumerate the meetings he has addressed or the demonstrations he has organised.!

When he died, a fund for the Spiritual Training of Lay Readers was established by his friends and colleagues.

Thatcher served as Honorary Local Secretary of the Waifs and Strays Society (which eventually became, many years later, The Children’ Society and which, in 1900, had over 2,800 children under its care.

As a member of the ‘Cottage Homes Committee’ he was caught up in the charge of Proselytism, when certain young people living in the Taff Embankment (Church of England) Houses and who had been attending St Paul’s Sunday school in Grangetown were now, so it seemed, attending one of the Mission church of St Mary’s.

In the course of the newspaper report, Thatcher said he was in favour of St Mary’s Mission room upon the ground that the children lived in the parish, and insisted they be sent to the National rather than the Board School. Although defeated by vote, Thatcher we are told “did not yield from the stand he had taken.”

Members objected to him “introducing questions of creed and denominational teaching” but Thatcher was a strong advocate of the National Schools – run by the church and where religion could be freely taught – rather than the Board Schools, and he was able to contribute to this as a member of the Cardiff Church Committee.

As a member of the ‘Cardiff Workhouse Visiting Committee,’ a group which both highlighted conditions in the workhouse and showed care and compassion for the wellbeing of its “inmates.” During one meeting to plan for the Christmas celebrations, he stood firm, and insisted that, amongst all the fare of the table, beer should also be offered! The motion was passed, as was another to provide lemonade too!

Thatcher waifs and strays
Evening Express – 27 October 1900

Family Ties

Henry Thatcher married Clara, the daughter of Cardiff Shipbuilder, Thomas W.H. Plain who traded under the company name of Davis and Plain. Plain lived at 30 Park Place where he also died at the age of 80 years on 12 January 1908. Born in Pembrokeshire, Plain moved to Cardiff at around 20 years old, starting in business in the ship repairing trade but eventually became a shipowner, specialising in Channel Cutters – rigged small sailing craft which doubled up as both fishing and pilot boats.

A Conservative in politics and a staunch Churchman, for more than two decades he was a member and chairman of the Cardiff Board of Guardians which administered the Poor Law,

Yet after 20 years “he was rejected by the electorate. There was no reason for this, no good cause, but the excuse given was that he was too just in the matter of giving relief. He believed in investigating every case thoroughly,” reported the Cardiff Times, 18 January 1908

The Grave of Fr Jones of Cardiff – with the fallen stone of his friend Henry James Thatcher to the right.

Grave concern

It is touching, perhaps, that the grave of Henry James Thatcher sits so close to that of his friend, and somewhat sad to see the stone cross lying broken on its back, stitched almost into the grass.

He had been of immense benefit to the transformations brought by Fr Jones, and is a reminder to us of how important friendship is, especially in the service of the gospel – and, in that service, to have something of the enthusiasm exhibited by Mr Thatcher!



Room for Prayer

Our prayer resource booklet to accompany us through the Novena time from Ascension to Pentecost  You can download a pdf version here:

Stay at Home!

At his Ascension into Heaven, Jesus gives a simple instruction to his apostles: to stay in   Jerusalem and wait for the Power from on High which he had promised.

And so they return to that Upper Room in which they have already experienced so much. It was the room in which they gathered on that fragile night, when Jesus broke bread, when he stooped to wash their feet, and when they were struck to the heart by the thought of betrayal.

From that room, they moved to Gethsemane’s olive garden, where Jesus prays so intensely, and where he is taken from them, betrayed by a kiss. They return to the room after Jesus is crucified, and lock themselves away in fear. And it is in that room, gathered on the first day of the week, that Jesus appears to them and, where a week later, they are joined by Thomas who declares in the presence of Jesus, ‘My Lord and my God!’

Ands so they return again, after they have witnessed him raised to the heights of heaven, to dedicate themselves to prayer, to wait—not in fear, not with doubts – but to wait upon the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost Sunday, when Jerusalem is packed with people, drawn from all over the world, they feel the earth move, their lives move. They leave that room, filled with faith, confident in Christ, a new creation, to proclaim to all that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Nine days of prayer

From Ascension to Pentecost we are invited to do the same. Many of us have no choice but to , figuratively speaking, ‘stay in Jerusalem.’ And so, during these nine days we are invited to dedicate ourselves more intently to prayer, so that Spirit-filled, we may proclaim by word and deed, that Jesus is our Lord and our God.

The church’s daily prayer continues as it always does—wherever that may be—and, despite not being able to gather for Mass, we continue to be enriched and sustained by its offering, for it is through the Eucharist that we plead to God and trust only in the Death and Resurrection of the Lord. And we can and do pray in many other different ways too.

As Mary and the Apostles stayed in Jerusalem to pray together for nine days, so we can do something of the same. During those nine days, in addition to Mass and the usual prayer of the Church, the rosary will be prayed here each day. If you would like to share some prayer intentions then please forward them by telephone, text or email (my contact details are on the back page).

Perhaps you will be ale to commit yourself to the same, whether or not it’s the rosary, or to some moment of prayer, perhaps using some of the prayers and resources in these pages? Whether or not we are physically together, we continue to be united in Christ, and pray for a fresh and vivid experience of Power from on High.


You can download our Booklet, ‘Praying at Home with Mary and the Apostles’ at our website [at] home page 

And here’s the direct link to the pdf document:


The Boxers of Tiger Bay

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…!

Tiger Bay Boxing Wales Online
Tiger Bay Amateur Boxing Club with Wasim Said, centre.  Photograph: Wales Online

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.

For more information about Tiger Bay Amateur Boxing Club, please visit their website:

When they sneeze, we cough

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.

Monkey Business

Three metal monkeys chime each hour from the glazed clock-tower at the junction of Wood Street and St Mary Street.[1] 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[2] 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[3] took his final grand dinner before he pushed out into choppier waters, never to return.

St Mary's Clock
John Lord / The clock, St Mary St, Cardiff

Party animals

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.[4]

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[5]. Above here the first Cardiff Free Library was opened before its grander premises next to St John’s Church


Cardiff Street Pastors at work.  Photograph:

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.[6]

2017-12-17 19.30.36
Cardiff Reformed Synagogue during the public lighting of the Menorah

Politics and Religion

I say farewell to Stanley and pass Guildhall Place[7], 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.[8] Two ambitions dominated his life: to found a bank and to build a cathedral.[9] 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.

Christopher Hilton / Cardiff: market entrance, St Mary Street / Heol Eglwys Fair

‘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.[10]

St Mary Street, looking towards the castle.  Picture by Jon Candy

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.’

I coughed.




[1] The clock’s face and mechanism came from the Pierhead Building in Cardiff Bay, retrieved from America, and installed here in November 2011

[2] The Royal Hotel, built 1866

[3] Sir Robert Scott left Cardiff on 15 June 1910. His ship, the Terra Nova, was returned to Cardiff in 1913

[4] Brains Brewery occupied the site in 1914

[5] There are 797 metres of Arcades in Cardiff

[6] The Jews of South Wales, Ursula R.Q. Henriques 2013, page 30

[7] 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.

[8] Julian Stephen Alfred Hodge, financier, born October 15 1904; died July 18 2004


[10] 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.


Articles of Faith 9: a Pulpit pulled down

‘The Lesson thou has taught’

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.

The church as it looked at the changeover with its large three decker pulpit dominating the nave.

‘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.

The Second Marquess of Bute who appointed the evangelical Canon Morgan to St Mary’s
The third Marquess of Bute who appointed Fr Griffith Arthur Jones to ST Mary’s

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.”

Eventually permission was granted for the pulpit to be considerably reduced in size – by a third – and moved to the side of the 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.”

Heaton and Jones
Fr Jones with his like minded successor, Fr Heaton.  Sadly for Morgan, he didn’t enjoy the same experience of being followed by a priest of similar tradition.

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.

Slum Priests

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.

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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.”

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Memorial to Henry James Thatcher who served as a Lay reader – and friend – of Fr Jones. He was buried in a grave next to that of his old vicar.  Both Canon Morgan and Fr Jones appointed curates and lay people in their work.

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.

Shared Language

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.

All Saints 2
All Saints’ Church, Tyndall Street – a church built for Welsh speakers during the time of Canon Morgan

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.”

Enriching differences

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

Articles of Faith 8: A ‘Poor’ Reredos

Certain poor shepherds

“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.

Details of the reredos at St Mary’s painted by Philip Westlake and depicting the Adoration of the Shepherds.  It formed part of a wider redesign and decoration of the apse in the late 1880s

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.

Details of the second and third shepherd on the Reredos

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.”

Christmas Parties

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.


Colonel Hill

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.

Sir Edward Hill (Picture: Glamorgan Archives)

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.

The door of the Tabernacle underneath the reredos and above the High Altar – painted from a design from Sedding by Mr Westlake

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.

Philip Westlake
Portrait of Philip Westlake, who painted the reredos at St Mary’s by Walter William Ouless, presented to the Tate by the artist’s daughter in 1934

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.”

Details of the banner at St Mary’s Church for the Guild of the Good Shepherd.  The Guild was formed by Fr Jones during his time as Vicar, and helped to nurture a group of men in the catholic faith who were supportive of his reforms. Of Fr Jones : In him was strength tempered with love, and especially pastoral love that flows into the true pastor out of the heart of the Good Shepherd, a love as beautiful as it is unique,” said George Body.

Articles of Faith 7: A Rood Screen

Straying saints and fast cities

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.

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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?

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Fr Kenneth Gillingham who was Vicar of St Mary’s when George Pace began his work to install the screen from St Dyfrig’s and to reorder the 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.

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Wood Street – and the former area once known as Temperance Town – continues to be redeveloped as buildings are pulled down to make way for new as can be seen from this demolition work in 2019

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.

Part of the hand written note from George Pace to Fr Gillingham to begin the installation at St Mary’s of the old rood screen from St Dyfrig’s Church in the Temperance Town area of Cardiff

‘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.

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Water drinking fountains were placed around the city and, quite often, in places highly populated by pubs and drinkers to dissuade them from the evils of drink! This particular fountain from 1860 has been moved to various spots over the years, and can now be found at a bridge across the Glamorganshire Canal near the Hilton Hotel in the city centre.

‘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.

Land Dispute

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!

Is this the face of Fr Coe, as represented in the Apostle Bartholomew in the apse at St Mary’s Church? He served as Curate in the church for 20 years with particular responsibility for Temperance Town.  His face is also represented in the reredos removed from St Dyfrig’s Church and installed in St Samson’s Church, Grangetown where he appears as the elder wise man!

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.

St Dyfrig’s Church built in a tight spot with no ground to spare thanks to the land dispute with the Cardiff School Board who built a school adjacent to the church.

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.

St Mary’s as it is today with the Nave altar and, high above, the three figures from the original rood screen crafted into an anchor shaped cross, a memory to the seafaring past of the parish

Articles of Faith 6: Letter from 1904

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!

The letter received by Fr Heaton from the Royal Commission of Ecclesiastical Discipline and an anonymously written article from a newspaper

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.”

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St Mary’s Church as it looked in 1872 when Fr Griffith Arthur Jones arrived as the Vicar, and where you can see the tall three decker pulpit dominating the space.

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.

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St Mary’s Church as it looks today.  There have been many changes since the days of Fathers Jones and Heaton including the installation of a Nave Altar but the beauty of the apse and high altar remains

‘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.

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The use of Eucharistic Vestments such as the chasuble are very much taken for granted these days in many churches.  But in the day of Fr Jones and Fr Heaton their use was very contentious

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.

Incense and processional lights continue to be used at St Mary’s at Mass and other celebrations

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.”

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A newspaper article from the Western Mail featuring the letter written to Fr Jones in repsonse to the Archbishop’s ‘Opinion’ and pasted into a book from the same time

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.”

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A photograph from the local press reporting on the Induction and Institution of The Revd Gilbert Heaton as the Vicar of St Mary’s in 1903, and showing both ‘The New Vicar and the Old!’

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.


Articles of Faith 5: Mural of St Margaret

The Fabric of the Church

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.

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The Mural on south side of the chancel arch depicting St Margaret of Antioch

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.

John Mason Neale, founder of the Society of St Margaret

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.

When the first sisters arrived in 1873 the church looked very different from what we see here.  The two murals each side of the chancel arch were added to remember their work some time after 1880

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.

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This statue of the Sacred Heart which is now in place at St Mary’s came from the Sister’s House in North Church Street when they left the parish in 1937.  They had first arrived in 1873 labouring here for over 6 decades.

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.

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Detail of the Mural of St Winifride on the North side of the chancel arch

Articles of Faith 4: A Letter of 1882

Between the Lines

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.

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The letter sent by Revd J.W. Doran to Fr Griffith Arthur Jones in 1882 as they worked together on a Gregorian Psalter in the Welsh Language.  Fr Jones had already published a Welsh Psalter in 1854

Little Ireland

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.

All Saints 2
All Saints’ Church, Tyndall Street which once stood in the area of the parish known as Tyndall Street.  Initially built to cater for Welsh speaking Anglicans it had ceased to offer Welsh Services by 1870

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.

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Fr Jones was a member of the Society of the Holy Cross (SSC) founded by his friend Fr Charles Lowder in 1855 as you can see in this photograph from the distinctive cross which brothers of the society wear.

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.

How St Mary’s appeared when Fr Jones arrived in 1872.  The large three decker pulpit in the centre of the church was soon reduced in size and moved to the side to make it fit for catholic worship which also included Gregorian Chant.

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.

Yours very sincerely

J.W. Doran