Churches, Places and People: Missionaries in Wales

Theological Note on Calvinism, Arminianism, Arianism, Trinity



One of Perrot's students was Jenkin Jones who, because of his Arminian views, was prohibited to enter the pulpit of his own Independant church at Pantycreuddyn and had to build a chapel "on his own land" at Wernhir, near Llwynrhydowen. (This land was given to him by the daughter of Pantydefaid farm whom he later married). Arminian teaching created great anxiety in the neighbourhood. One dismissed it as a faith "for the young and the roughians" because it allowed "everybody to go to heaven", and another would warn that the doctrine was "poison" and if allowed to spread could corrupt the society and eventually "the whole country". However this church, founded in 1726, became the first Arminian cause established in Wales and Jenkin Jones (Siencin Sion), prayed that it was but a "little leaven" that would soon spread throughout the land. This young man, still in his twenties and in the face of fierce opposition defended and proclaimed his faith from pen and pulpit ; he built a new chapel 'Llwynrhydowen', in 1733 and before he died in 1742 had the "satisfaction of seeing another Arminian church established in the neighbouring village of Alltyblaca, and six or seven ministers and their churches influenced by his teaching".
[Note on Arminianism. The theological pathway from Calvinism to Arminianism ends up at Universalism not Unitarianism. Arminianism allows the human believer to make an effort in his or her salvation, although God retains full knowledge of who will and will not be saved. Later John Wesley developed Arminianism into a personal discipline with potential backsliding. If everyone makes the effort, the assumption is everyone should be saved, as God, being of love, saves all who come (and knows he will). However, it is the liberality of moving from Calvinism to Arminianism, and encouraging new ideas in the academies, that allows the human jump first to Arianism (post-Reformation type: some unique divinity granted to Jesus, not necessarily the first-born of creation) or directly to biblical Unitarianism (no unique divinity granted to Jesus beyond that of any other very good character human, although Jesus Christ as approved by God was made capable of miracles by God and was resurrected by God). The trinitarian terms were still used, as in biblical economic-trinity salvic origins, if increasingly separately as the precision of and then the appearance of the Trinity doctrine was dropped). God as Father with Jesus Christ as brother (and Holy Spirit as active motivator) appealed to the collective crowd, with Jesus as a biased-to-the-poor 'one of us'. Later Unitarianism was a more pure theism and more intellectual and respectable. Adrian Worsfold]
Jenkin Jones (who became the great uncle of Frank Lloyd Wright the world famous architect) was followed by another eminent minister, David Lloyd (Dafydd Llwyd) of Brynllefrith (1725-1779) near Cwrtnewydd. Lloyd was barely twenty when he left the Carmarthen Academy for Llwynrhydowen and although he had to wait a number of years before someone brave enough could be found to ordain him, he devoted his whole life to his congregation of nearly eight hundred. Tradition alleges that, as a young lad, he could memorize three hundred lines of Homer's Iliad on his two mile journey to school, and that later in his ministry he could attract as many as three hundred people to his services, although the same sermon was repeated on four consecutive Sundays and the prayer on two. He is remembered for his poems, hymns, scholarship, and his passion for the Arminian faith, and how he declined an invitation to become a tutor at the Carmarthen Academy because he wanted "to remain with his beloved congregation".
David Lloyd was assisted at Llwynrhydowen by another David (1763), who was to become even more famous than himself. David Davis (Dafis Castell Hywel) was ordained under an oak tree, which still stands near Llwynrhydowen chapel. 'Llwynrhydowen' means something like The tree of Owen's brook, and tradition testifies that the Welsh Prince, Owain Glyndwr held counsel under a sacred oak nearby. During his fifty years at Llwynrhydowen David Davis, who was an Arian in persuasion, kept an academy at his farm, Castell Hywel, near Llwynrhydowen, and this "Athens of Ceredigion" prepared students for the English Universities, the Presbyterian College at Carmarthen, and even trained men for Holy Orders. He was a recognised scholar and re-garded as one of the best poets of his day. In his collection of poems, Telyn Dewi, there is evidence not only that his trans-lation of Gray's Elegy excelled the original, but also of his ability to compose in the classical languages. The following is a stanza in Latin, on the model of the Welsh englyn, to a young lady who died after the birth of her first child:
"Soper Mariam cepit; - in lectum
A luctu recessit;
Ast tuba hanc excitabit,
Ut Maria salva sit"
[... (36-37)]
With the coming of William Thomas, M.A., better known by his bardic name, Gwilym Marles, (the great uncle of Dylan Marlais Thomas, the Swansea poet), Llwynrhydowen enters another interesting phase in its chequered history. Gwilym Marles (1834-79) born in Brechfa (near Cwmwrdu) in Carmarthenshire, entered Carmarthen College as a Congregationalist and left as a Unitarian, having been influenced mainly by his fellow student, R. J. Jones, Aberdare, and his Principal, Dr. David Lloyd of Brynllefrith. After graduating at Glasgow he became the minister at Llwynrhydowen, and served as the champion of political, social and religious freedom on behalf of the poor and the oppressed. And poverty and oppression there was then in the feudal system existing in West Wales, where most of the peasants and farmers were enslaved tenants to rich estate owners and their unscrupulous agents. Some small-holders, like Richard and Mallie of Blaenyralltddu, were so irated and oppressed by the arrogant Esquire that they decided, like many others in the neighbourhood, to auction their belongings and escape to America in 1844 to find food and freedom; and it was to their daughter, Mary, that their grandson, Frank Lloyd Wright, was born. And when some farmers, encouraged by Gwilym Marles, dared to cast their votes according to their conscience in the Election of 1868, and not as directed by the threatening young ambitious Landowner of Alltyrodyn, they were mercilessly evicted under the pretext of being "Bad Farmers".
The tragic story of the evicted family of Ffynnonllewelyn remains a blot on the character of a rotten system. With all the money obtained from the auction tied around their bodies the family sailed from New Quay to America, but had to return almost immediately without their children, who died on the Island of Blackwell, having contracted smallpox on the ship; the parents who tried to settle back in their homeland soon died of broken minds and hearts. The tombstone relating this sad story can be seen on the northern wall of Carme! chapel, near Pantydefaid. Little did Gwilym Marles know of the fate that waited himself when he conducted the farewell service on the yard of Ffynnonllewelyn after the auction. The sequel to this episode is now well known-how he contin-ued to fight fearlessly for the rights of his fellow-folk during the election of 1868, for the Ballot Act and for the Forster Education Act of 1871, and how his success brought all the fury and revenge of the Landowner on his head.
In October 1876 the minister and congregation received a notice to quit their chapel at Llwynrhydowen, and one of the Landowner's reasons given was that the chapel had been built "for the worship of God and to no other purpose whatsoever", thereby hinting that the pulpit had been used as a "liberal platform" during the election campaign. On the following Sunday Gwilym Marles, with his back to a chained gate, preached to a crowd of three thousand people and warned that this vindictive act was but the beginning of an impending persecution against Non-conformists in general, and Unitarianism in particular.
The Esquire, who had his spies in that open-air meeting was not aware that his carpenter, a deacon who was compelled to lock and secure his own chapel, had left the window open for the Bible and communion set to be brought out by his colleagues. The "Play-boy Landowner" and his selfish Agent refused to be moved by the minister's plea for a change of heart, and during one interview at the mansion Gwilym Marles was frightened with a revolver. In the meantime the response to the appeal fund for the building of a new chapel was nationwide, with most religious and national papers in complete sympathy with the cause; however, there was the occasional adverse report, like the one that appeared in the conservative Western Mail, telling the good news to its readers that no real Christian congregation had been evicted after all, "only Unitarians".
By the end of 1879 Gwilym Marles, a poet of no mean repute, an editor, a master of a Boarding School at Llandysul and a minister of three congregations, was a broken man despite his Mediterranean cruise in a vain search for renewed Strength. The young Landowner had died in the meantime and his sister had successfully challenged his unjust will that left the estate to the Agent. When Mrs. Massey, his sister returned triumphant from London together with the key of the old chapel, her carriage was pulled by jubilant people from Llandysul station to Llwynrhydowen accompanied by a local band, singing children and banner-carrying crowds; the "key" was no longer a piece of metal to unlock a door, but a symbol of the freedom of the secret ballot, of education and religion. Gwilym Marles was too weak to attend the opening celebrations or ascend the pulpit of his new chapel, for he died in December 1879, a brave young man of 45.
Nevertheless, the Spirit of Gwilym Marles and the cause for which he stood lived on and is still very much alive because, in his own words, the enemy can only take the candle-stick - "the flame and the light is God's and that will live". Gwilym Marles will be remembered for his struggle, in the true Unitanian tradition, for civic and religious liberty.


William Richards of Lynn

The story of the Arminian controversy in the old counties of Cardigan and Carmarthen would be incomplete without a reference to the possible influence of William Richards of Lynn (1749-1818), the Sabbelian Baptist who was among the first to subscribe to the Unitarian Society in Wales, founded in 1802. Richards, being a minister at King's Lynn, was convalescing at home in Meidrym during those vital, tempestuous years, and his influence over his Baptist colleagues, who embraced Arminianism, was considerable.
Regarding the all-important Baptist Assembly held at Salem Meidrym (Richard's home church) in 1799, R. T. Jenkins, the Welsh historian comments, "Ten or more Baptist ministers went over to Arminianism (semi-Unitarianism) on the advice of Richards of Lynn."

Evan Lloyd

When the Assembly of Salem Meidrym decided to expel their rebelious heretics, one of the Baptist ministers who had to pay the price for being honest to his conscience was Evan Lloyd "from Blaenwaun".
Evan Lloyd (1764-1847) had served with the Militia (and was actually on duty at Fishguard when the French landed there in 1797) before he was trained for the ministry, to be ordained as a Baptist minister in 1801. However, within five years, this "popular preacher" was "on the road", having refused to subscribe to the Baptist Confession of Faith and, consequently, was without the financial security offered by the movement.
But "on the road" Evan Lloyd was a "free man" and he made his way towards mid-Glamorganshire where he was ordained as the first Unitarian minister of the General Baptist churches of Nottage (near Porthcawl) and Wick (between St. Brides arid Llantwit Major). These churches were already Arminian, possibly influenced by Lloyd's predecessor David Richards.


It is observed that Unitarianism failed to take root in the "Fro" (Vale) and that many ministers, who were attracted there, flew away all too soon, like migrating birds. However, this was not the case in the "Blaenau" (Border of Glamorgan), for there the movement penetrated deeper and took root. Iolo Morganwg, surveying the situation on behalf of Theo-philus Lindsey in 1791, states that, "The Arian Societies of Coed Cymmer, near Merthyr Tydfil and of Aberdare, have more Socinians, very intelligent men, amongst them". And as to the ministers in that part of Glamorgan, he adds, "Mr. David Davies of Coed Cymmer, Mr. Edward Evans of Aber-dare, ministers of these Societies are professed Unitarians on Priestley's and your own (Lindsey's) ideas of the Divine Unity".
Prominent among the names of the earlier dissenters is "Thomas Llywelyn of Regoes.. who translated the Bible to Welsh", and who also "read3 it and preaches in several places throughout the country". This Thomas Llywelyn is reputed to be the ancestor of "Morgan Llywelyn of Neath", a school-master and a highly cultured man who was closely related to a family that supported "the Presbyterian Cause at Blaengwr-ach". If it is true that there were a number of Priestley's works in the library of this Morgan Llywelyn, a fact confirmed by his proven will in 1775, then he could be regarded as the first Unitarian in Wales.

Merthyr Tydfil

Dr. Gwynfor Evans, in his book on the history of Wales, recognises the influence of the Unitarian body in the Merthyr Valley which, during the nineteenth century, was the "main centre of the cultural life of Wales".
Unitarianism and radicalism during this period, according to the historian Gwyn Williams, were synonymous, for "whoever pronounced himself Unitarian pronounced himself radical".
[I recall Gwynfor Evans and Gwyn Williams as television and historian rivals, the former an establishment figure and the latter representing the working class and supporters in history - Adrian Worsfold]


Although the Arminian...Unitarian causes in Carmarthenshire did not appear to succeed, with the exception of Parc Velvet in the town, it is significant that the pioneers of the Priestley and Parker schools of Unitariarism emerged from within its borders.
The Academy at Carmarthen produced a constant fiow of Unitarian leaders for well over two centuries and Gwilyn Marles, who attended that liberal college, hailed from Brechfa the remote little village in Carmarthenshire which also saw Salt Lake City of America so many Welshmen to become founder members of the Mormon movement.

Tomos Glyn Gothi - Revolt and Revenge

Brechfa also produced Thomas Evans (Tomos Glyn Cothi) who is regarded as the pioneer of Unitaniansim in Wales, and recognised as "one of the most significant leaders of Welsh radical political thought in the late eighteenth century". As a young lad he worked as a farm servant and a weaver and, despite his lack of formal education, soon developed a profound desire for learning and "thinking for himself". He made good use of the literature sent to him personally by Theophilus, Lindsey (c. 1792-6), and the occasional gifts of money from the Unitarian Duke of Grafton.
There is evidence that he walked the long journey (around 20 miles) to hear David Davis and David Lloyd at Alltyblaca before he ever held services of his own "at his father's house" in Glyn Cothi (c. 1786), and eventually establish a church in the vale of Cwm Cothi, in 1792 ; it is interesting to note that his first Unitarian church in Wales was founded only months after the establishing of the Unitarian Society in England, and the savage mob attack made on Pniestley's Mansend laboratory in Birmingham.
It was a troublesome time, marked by hardship and opp-ression. Peasants had revolted in France and there were real fears that a similar uprising could occur amongst the poor labourers and low paid craftsmen in London and England. No wonder the authorities were directed to keep a keen eye on the movements of leading Unitarians in the British Isles, especially in Wales where some of the liberal ministers declared their avowed sympathy with the spirit of the Revolution in France.
In England, Joseph Priestley allegedly drank to the success of the Revolution and, as a result, his house, laboratory and library were destroyed in revenge by the mob ; in Scotland, Thomas Fysshe Palmer, another Unitarian minister, was trans-ported to Botany Bay for assisting a liberal society to edit a propaganda pamphlet. In Wales the authorities were equally nervous, and the landing of the French at Fishguard, so near the Black Spot, was too much of a coincidence.
A close watch was kept on David Davis of Castell Hywel, and his correspondence was carefully censored. In 1801 Thomas Evans, the Unitarian minister of Cwm Cothi, and an agitator on behalf of the oppressed peasantry, was imprisoned for two years on a "trumped-up charge". (He was reported for singing a seditious song against the King at a 'merry-night', in aid of a poor neighbour). The minister was pilloried near St. Mary's Church in Carmarthen and imprisoned in the town's common goal, with the Bishop of St. David's complaining officially to the Home Secretary that the prisoner's treatment was too mild. The Bishop, in his letter to Lord Pelham, writes
"The offence for which Thomas Evans was tried was directly against his Majesty, and therefore to stand in the Pillory... was part of his sentence... And that the manner in which he was pillonised was a farce ... I am sure your Lordship will be of the opinion when you are told that though his hands were indeed through two holes, the Pillory was a box in which he could either stand and look about him, or sit down perfectly out of sight - as he pleased ; one of his children, a little gin, in a white frock, being permitted to stand beside him in order to excite the compassion of the spectators."
Iolo Morganwg, in consultation with Theophilus Lindsey, advised his friend Thomas Evans on how to conduct his de-fence, but to no avail. It would appear that nothing could convince the Judge of the prisoner's innocence, for in his "Summing-up" speech he tells the Unitarian minister:
"You are of one opinion and I am of another; you are a man of very bad and dangerous disposition... If any in this court were to be at the mercy of your loyalty, I am afraid he would be badly off."
It was obvious from these harsh words that it was not only Thomas Evans who was on trial but the movement he represented The little congregation at Cwm Cothi was con-scious of this prejudice against them, and they expressed their fears in an appeal they wrote to fellow Unitarians during the trial, saying: "...we believe that the whole of this persecution of our minister and thro' him, ourselves, has been instigated by those who are violently prejudised against our Doctrine, and are interested in their suppression..."
No doubt that Iolo Morganwg had a hand in the writing of this appeal, for his name is added to the list of the seventeen members of the congregation, the majority indicated by a cross mark.
During the trial Iolo Morganwg, who was already a member of' the West of England Unitarian Society, had certainly decided that establishing such a union of Unitarians in Wales would strengthen their ranks against any more such attacks on the movement, its ministers and members. He collected the names of a number of sympathetic ministers present at the trial, and these became the nucleus of the first meeting of the society, held officially for the first time at Gellionnen in late 1802.
Thomas Evans spent his time in prison writing hymns (which he published in 1811), poems and one of the earliest English-Welsh grammar/ dictionary books. During his short ministry at Cwmcothi he had translated important Unitarian essays into Welsh, including works by Lindsey and Priestley, and in the year 1795 he founded and edited a Welsh, liberal magazine, The Miscellaneous Repository. In 1811 having served his full term of imprisonment and seven years ''security for your good conduct", he was invited to take charge of the Old Meeting House at Aberdare, where he served faithfully and with the same fervent radicalism until he died in 1833; his grave and tombstone can still be seen on the northern pine-end of the chapel.
The ruins of the cottage where he was born and where he held his first services are preserved at Glyn Cothi, near the village of Gwernogle. However, the chapel of Cwmcothi, the first reputed Unitarian church of Wales has been reduced to a cairn. A commemorative plaque was placed on the gate leading to the remote site by the Young Unitarians of Wales, when D. Jacob Davies and D. Elwyn Davies addressed a gathering of pilgrims.


An example of a church established by one man and his family was that of Aberpennar (Mountain Ash) whose minister, George Neighbour, a member of the I.L.P. [Independent Labour Party], had hoped that this "Brotherhood Church" would eventually develop into a Labour Church. However, when he died, the church, which he had served for thirty years, began to wane and lasted only another fifteen years.


Davies, D. Elwyn (1982), "They Thought for Themselves": A Brief Look at the History of Unitarianism in Wales and the Tradition of Liberal Religion, Llandysul: Gomer Press, 34-36, 37-40, 68, 68-69, 74, 75, 105, 105-108, 119. [Occasional changes in punctuation]


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful