Rev E. Gurnos Jones

Rev E. Gurnos Jones1840-1903
Preacher, Bard

There are few names better known in the public world of Wales than that of Gurnos, and few perhaps of whose private history less is known than that of the preacher-bard. Those who know him well know, too, that his whole career has been full of interesting incidents, and the difficulty in writing a sketch of him is to know what to omit from such a mass of material as lies ready to hand.

As preacher, as bard, and as elocutionist he has distinguished himself. In the latter capacity he has few equals. He has made public oratory a special study, and, being favoured by a splendid physique, has reached a point of excellence equalled by few and surpassed by none. Some years ago he delivered an address on elocution to the students at Pontypool Baptist College, and Principal Edwards then remarked, “Every college in Wales where students are trained for the ministry should engage the services of Gurnos at least once every year to teach the future preachers how to speak. The examples of voice modulations he gives are invaluable, and convey lessons which no book can ever do.”

He was not only a powerful speaker in more than one sense, but a very ready speaker. In this connection, I am told, he performed an almost unparalleled feat. The story is well worth telling. On one occasion a fellow minister, the Rev J. R. Jones, Llwynypia, had undertaken to lecture at Pontardawe, on the subject “An Hour and a half with the Three Mighty Ones” (“Awr a Hanergyda’r Tri Chedyrn).” Being unexpectedly prevented from attending, he wrote at the last moment to Gurnos, begging him to take his place. The bard went, intending to deliver one of his own stock lectures on another subject. Arriving at Pontardawe, however, he found this would not do. The people were willing to accept Gurnos as a substitute for Jones-Llwynypia, but they must have the lecture on the subject first announced. This difficulty would be insurmountable to any ordinary speaker. Not so to Gurnos. Looking at his watch, he saw he had an hour and a half to prepare for an hour and a half’s speech, and turning to the committee, said: “Very well. I will speak on the subject you have named.” He locked himself up in his room and studied his subject for the first time”. He appeared on the platform at the last moment, and, just before rising to speak, whispered in the chairman’s ear: Place your hat on the table when I shall have spoken for an hour and a quarter. That will give me a quarter of an hour to draw my remarks to a suitable conclusion.” The chairman promised, but somehow or other the rumour reached the ears of a gentleman who determined to play Gurnos a trick. He arranged privately with the chairman not to place the hat on the table until Gurnos had been speaking for two hours and a quarter. In happy unconsciousness of the conspiracy the lecturer proceeded, and for two hours and a quarter kept the large audience fully entertained. When the hat was placed as a signal he wound up with a magnificent peroration. When the chairman, in proposing a vote of thanks, told of the trick played upon the speaker, the applause was deafening.

Gurnos Jones was born in the year 1840, at Gwernogle, Carmarthenshire. His first teacher was the Rev. Daniel Evans, who combined the different and apparently irreconcilable posts of relieving-officer, farmer, postmaster, shopkeeper, schoolmaster, village innkeeper,and minister of the gospel. Over the door might be seen the following legend: “Plough and Harrow Inn, by the Rev. Daniel Evans.” The Gospel Temperance Union was evidently not in existence.

When 12 years of age he lost his mother, and tour years later had the sad task of following his father’s body to the grave. Thrown entirely upon his own resources, he followed a natural bent for the ministry. He commenced preaching before he was twenty years of age, and after a preliminary course of three years at Brechfa School, entered the Presbyterian College at Carmarthen in the year 1862.

Having gone through a full course of four years at the college, he received a call to minister to a recently formed church at Treorky, in the Rhondda Valley. The prospects of the youthful minister did not appear to be very encouraging. The only available place for carrying on their public worship was in the long room of a public house, and here the voice of prayer from minister or member of the church was often intermingled with loud orders for beer and spirits, and even oaths from the half-drunken occupants of the inn kitchen underneath the improvised chapel. In six years’ time the church increased from 60 to between 300 and 400 members, and a handsome chapel, accommodating 700 or 800, was built.

His next call was from Talysarn, in Caernarvonshire, where he had to preach three times every Sunday, and to walk a distance of eight miles in the performance of his Sabbath ministerial duties. So successful was his ministration Chat the large edifice, previously half-empty, became too small for the congregation, and in 1875-6 a gallery was added.

Here he took a part in the campaign for disestablishment. A public controversy on the subject of a State Church took place between the Nonconformist minister and the parish clergyman, each occupying in turn the platform of the Public-hall on alternate weeks. At the conclusion of the series of debates, Gurnos was presented with a purse containing £40, in acknowledgment of the services he had rendered. His opponent generously attended the presentation meeting, and said “I honour Mr Gurnos Jonas for his genius and his fairness. He is the most dangerous debater against the Church, inasmuch as he deals with principles and not with persons.”

It was at Talysarn that Gurnos found his greatest joy and experienced his deepest sorrow. Here he met and here he married his well-loved wife, and, alas here he bade her that long fate-well we all must bid each other sooner or later. After a short and happy wedded life of a little over a year, the woman who had proved herself his guardian angel and the best inspiration for his genius was taken from him. She died in childbed, leaving him a son three days old to bind his memory to his lost love.

It is difficult to write of this period of his life without emotion. I have only room for one incident of a most touching character. In 1875 a grand chair eisteddfod was held in America, the chief honour being a chair in relief on a silver medal. When the programme appeared, the newly-married wife turned to her husband, saying: “Compete for the American chair medal, and I will wear it as a brooch.” To her mind, to compete and to win were synonymous terms where her husband was concerned, he pleaded that there must be better bards than he in a great country like America. “No,” said she “if you love me you will win.” “That is an unfair test of my affection,” replied he. Fired by ambition and inspired by love, he privately composed his ode to “Woman,” and, without his wife’s knowledge* sent it to try its fortunes over the ocean. Now for the sequel. Within an hour after the heart-broken husband had seen the earth thrown on his beloved one’s coffin, a letter was placed in his hand. He opened it. It was the American Chair Medal she, in her faith, had intended to wear as a brooch! Can we wonder that it opened his wounds afresh? Had it reached him two hours sooner, he would have placed it on her bosom in her coffin.

Now followed a period of darkness. The only comfort for the widowed husband was his child, Giraldus. The father took the child, when only a month old, all the way from Talysarn, in Caernarvonshire, toGwernogle, in Carmarthenshire, to his sister’s home. Watcyn Wyn, the well-known chaired bard, was his fellow-traveller. One reverend fellow-passenger, who knew the circumstances, heartlessly asked Gurnos, “Have you taken to selling children?” Speaking of this incident to a friend, Gurnos said, “The child in my arms and the blinding tears from a broken heart alone prevented my striking my inhuman tormentor to the earth.” The little Giraldus is now a bright lad of eleven years, who has already shown signs of a talent which promises well for the future. The ensuing two years were dark and unhappy ones. Brooding constantly over his loss, he becameplunged in melancholy thoughts. At the end of this period he gave up the charge of his church at Talysarn, and removed to South Wales, followed by the good wishes of the church over which he had been pastor for four years. Here he left the denomination with which he had hitherto been connected, and united himself with the Baptists.

Gurnos, as a preacher, has a wonderful influence on a congregation. At Talysarn he had among his deacons a man who had taken a deep rooted dislike to him. Yet, under the ministration of the preacher against whom he entertained so deep a prejudice,he would weep like a child. Someone asked him, “How canyon be so severe against a man that you admire so much in the pulpit? “Ah was the reply, “in the pulpit he completely masters me!”

Among his bardic successes are the chairs of Abercarn, 1870, the subject being “Mother;” Ystradyfodwg, 1871, love poem, “Alice;” Bangor, 1874, “The Bible;” America, 1875,“Woman;” Cardiff, 1876, “Instinct;” America, 1877, “Poetry.” The last is considered his masterpiece and is regarded as one of the best illustrations of modern Welsh classical compositions.

The Temple Baptist Church, at Newport, singularly fortunate in having Gurnos Jones as its pastor. With mutual forbearance and co-operation there is a brilliant future yet in store for the church and its able pastor. It should be added that Gurnos is a strict abstainer from all intoxicating drinks.

On Wednesday the Rev E. Gurnos Jones was presented with a handsome testimonial on the occasion of his leaving Bettws to take charge of the Temple Baptist Church at Newport. Owing to the pressure on our space we are compelled to hold over until to-morrow the report of this highly interesting ceremony.

Dr. Gurnos Jones passes away suddenly at Llanbradach 19.12.1903

The Rev. Gurnos Jones, D.D., died suddenly at his residence at Llanbradach on Wednesday night at the age of 69. He was preaching at Tredegar on Sunday last, and contracted a chill during the weekend. Nothing serious, however, was anticipated, and he was out as recently as Tuesday morning. He was medically attended from that day by Dr. James Lloyd, M.B. The cause of death was heart failure.

Biography of the deceased

Dr. Jones was born at Hendrellewach Farm, Gwernogle, Carmarthenshire. After attending a local school he entered the academy at Brychfa, Carmarthenshire, where he stayed for three or four years. He then became a student of Carmarthen College. The deceased commenced to preach at the early age of fifteen, and was ordained in 1866. His first pastorate was the Tabernacle Church, Treorky, now called Bethania. It is a sad coincidence that a postcard was delivered at the residence of the deceased this morning from the pastor of Bethania. Church, reminding him of his engagement to preach there on Sunday and Monday next. The rev. gentleman was a great eisteddfodwyr, and was one of Wales’s most successful bards. He won three of the coveted national chair prizes, and was the recipient altogether of about twenty other chair prizes at minor eisteddfods, besides a large number of medals. In 1872 or 1873 he carried off the prize for the gold chair at the Bangor Eisteddfod the only prize of that character ever offered.

He leaves a widow, with whom much sympathy is expressed, to mourn his loss.
The deceased was the pastor of Tabernacle, the Welsh Congregational Church, at Llanbradach.
Funeral of Rev Gurnos Jones 26.12.1903
Impressive service at Groeswen

The mortal remains of the Rev. Dr. Gurnos Jones were laid to rest on Tuesday in the celebrated burial-ground of Groeswen Congregational Chapel, and the funeral service was itself a remarkable tribute to the memory of the departed. There was, shortly after one p.m., a considerable assembly of ministers and others at Llanbradach, where, in the little chapel whose pastoral charge “Gurnos” had undertaken, there was a brief service before the cortege was formed. The Rev. C. Tawelfryn Thomas, of Groeswen, conducted this service, as well as the subsequent service in Groeswen Chapel and at the open grave, and this fact probably accounts for the admirable selection of the speakers who took part throughout. At the outset, the rev. gentleman gave out the words of the old hymn:
“Daeth yr awrim’ ddiancadre’

and it was very pathetically sung by the crowded congregation. The Rev. T. J. Rees, Whitchurch, read a portion of Holy Writ, and the Rev. J. W. Evans, Glyn-Neath, offered up prayer, after which “Ieuan Glan Geirionydd’s” magnificent hymn was sung:

“Ar lanIorddonenddofn
Rwy’noedi’nnychlyd,
Mewnblysmyn’dtrwy, ac ofn
Ei ‘stormyddenbyd,” Ac.

At the close of this brief service the procession was formed outside the late residence of the departed, and it was a very representative gathering. Among those present were: The Revs. C. Tawelfryn Thomas, Groeswen; D. Tafwys Jones, Caerphilly; D. Glyn Jones, E. Bush, and W. S. Evans, Caerphilly; D. J. Rees, Whitchurch; W. Tanner Hughes, Cardiff; James Jones, Senghenydd; E. Penar Griffiths, Pentre Estyll; D.Waters, Caerphilly; Hope Evans, Mardy; D. Phillips, Treharris; D. Evans, Bedlinog; D. Johns, Merthyr Vale; Messrs. Abraham Thomas, J.P., Swansea; T. H. Thomas, Cardiff; T. Jones, Caerphilly; and others. The chief mourners were the widow (Mrs. Jones), Mr. Giraldus Jones (son), Mrs. N. Lewis (sister), Mr. Joshua Woodliffe, Mr. Mrs N. Lewis (sister), Mr Joshua Woodliffe, Mr and Mrs. Benjamin Woodliffe and son, Mr. and Mrs. Thickens, and Mrs. Morgan. The coffin, which was of polished oak, with massive brass fittings, bore upon the breast- plate the inscription:—

“Evan Gurnos Jones,
Died, 17th December, 1903,
Aged 59 years.”

On the coffin, which was placed in the shell-ibier, was laid a beautiful wreath from the members of the Church over which the deceased was pastor the Welsh Congregational Church, Llanbradach, and was the only floral tribute.

Outside the house the Rev. D. Tafwys Jones, Caerphilly, gave out a hymn, which was very effectually sung by a large gathering of the villagers and others surrounding the procession as it was being formed. A large number travelled in the mourning coaches’ procession as it was being formed. A large number travelled in the mourning coaches and other vehicles, while very many walked from Llanbradach to Groeswen via Caerphilly, a distance of fully four miles, and by the time the chapel had been reached it was close upon four p.m. At Groeswen a large number of friends awaited the funeral, among them being Sir Alfred Thomas, M.P., Alderman E. Thomas (“Cochfarf”), J.P., “Carnelian” and Dewi Alaw,” Pontypridd; the Rev. D. G. Evans, Rhydfelan; the Rev, J. Williams, secretary of the Welsh Congregational Union; the Rev. Silyn Evans, Aberdare; the Rev. J. W. Morris, Glyn Neath; Mr. Evan Jones and Mr. W. Phillips, Treorky; the Rev. E. Morgan, Tongwynlais; the Rev. J. H. Jenkins, curate of Taff’s Well; the Rev. J. E. Thomas, Blaenavon; and others. In Groeswen Chapel the Rev. C. Tawelfryn Thomas again took charge of the service. Mr. M. C. Morris read and prayed. After the singing of a hymn the Rev. J. Williams, Hafod, delivered a brief address, in which he referred to the energy and life with which the departed was imbued, and mentioned some of the pending engagements which he had booked, as well as the arrangement made that he was to have conducted an eisteddfod at Ferndale on Christmas Day. The Rev. E. Penar Griffiths, Pentre Estyll, followed, and described Gurnos” as a man who had been born to show that it was not necessary for all men to be the same. “Gurnos” imitated no one. He was a great admirer, but not an imitator. Mr. Abraham Thomas, J.P. (Crumlin) spoke of “Gurnos” as a great friend. “Cochfarf” said he had known “Gurnos” for 33 years, and, having been an intimate friend, he was there to pay a tribute of sincere respect to his memory. Groeswen was dear to many of them before, for it was the resting place of several great Welshmen, “Caledfryn,” “Ieuan Gwynedd,” and Griffith Hughes being among them, and now it would be dearer still as the final resting place of the earthly remains of “Gurnos.” Sir Alfred Thomas, M.P., remarked that several of the leading features of Dr. Gurnos Jones’s life had been mentioned his greatness and popularity as a preacher, bard, literary man, and conductor, but no mention had been made of his secret influence for good upon those with whom he came in contact. No one could be in his company for any length of time without being stirred with a loftier ambition, and a desire to be better and do better, and his influence had undoubtedly helped thousands. The Rev. C. Tawelfryn Thomas next gave out a hymn which, he said, the Rev. Gurnos Jones had sung very effectively a few nights before he died:-
“Diagwyl ‘rwyfarhyd yr hirnos,
Disgwyl am y boreuddydd”;

and the congregation now effectively joined in singing it.
The Rev. Silyn Evans, Aberdare, in the course of a remarkably striking address can a vivid word-picture of Dr. Gurnos Jones as he had known him from a young man in Carmarthenshire until the last time he saw him alive,—at the funeral of the late Rev. W. I. Morris, Pontypridd. He declared that “Gurnos” was an “odd” man, but it was an oddity which in him was graceful. He was odd as a young man; odd as a preacher; odd as a bard; odd as a conductor; and he had done odd things which would have frightened some of his nervous brethren in the ministry. He was odd in life; he was odd in death, and odd in eternity. Yes, they might depend upon it; he would be odd in eternity. He was odd in his work; odd in his writings, odd in his beliefs, and no creed could have bound him in his religion, although he was a man of strong faith, all well as strong intellect. Gurnos would have been of no use on a school board or a county council. He (the speaker) had once heard “Gurnos” suggested as a Parliamentary candidate, but he took no notice, because he knew he would be in the wrong place. Fair play, he had never heard of Congregationalists or Baptists putting “Gurnos” on a committee or even to move a resolution in a “Cwrdd Undeb,” or a “Cymanfa,” because it was not in his line. But, strange to say for a strong man, “Gurnos” seemed to have been filled with a kind of fear of two things- one was poverty, that he would someday be allowed to drift into poverty, and the other was, that his works would not be properly dealt with if left unpublished until after his death. He had mentioned those matters to him (the speaker), among others, and had said, If you see me in poverty, be sure to help me.” Now, that came from a man whose free-handed generosity and kindliness of heart were, as bad already been said unbounded. And was it not strange? He was not allowed to see poverty. He was suddenly taken from the midst of his work, direct into glory, and there certainly was glory in connection with “Gurnos.” He alluded in touching terms to the widow and son, and concluded with the words:

“Henffychforeuoawngyfarfod
Yn Nhy ein Tad.”

“Aberystwyth” was now sung. After a short prayer by the Rev. Silyn Evans, the coffin, borne upon the shoulders of friends and the deacons of the little chapel at Llanbradach, was carried out, and when the shades of night were falling it was lowered into the bricked grave in the old burial-ground of Groeswen, within the precincts of which at least a dozen of Wales’s most eminent men are lying with the dust of the forefathers of the hamlet. At the graveside “Bydd myrdd o ryfeddodau” was sung, and the closing prayer by the Rev. E. Morgan, Tongwynlais, brought to a close a most touching service.

Large numbers of letters of condolence and votes of Sympathy from individuals and from churches have been received by the members of the family.