Jenkin Howell 1836 – 1902

Printer, writer, musician


Jenkin Howell

Jenkin Howell was one of the most important literary figures in this locality in his time and himself a printer and publisher of repute. He was born at Tor Foel in the Parish of Penderyn. His father John Howell died in 1841, leaving Jenkin the youngest but one of six children, He had little formal schooling but he read widely at home with his mother Gwen. He was apprenticed to a shoe-maker at Pontneathvaughn; at age of 14 he moved to Merthyr, to follow his craft. Two years later, he moved to Aberdare, where he became a shoe-maker in the establishment of Edward Lloyd in Bell Street, Trecynon.

Meanwhile, he took advantage of the meagre education facilities that were available at the time. He attended day and evening classes which were conducted at Ysgol Comin by John Anthony and Dan Isaac Davies. In 1854, he abandoned his craft of show-making, and he became a sawyer with a local contractor named Jacob Williams. Later on, Williams married Jenkin Howell’s eldest sister.

Owing to a serious recession in trade, he decided to move to Cardiff, He was dissuaded from doing so by his minister, the well-known Dr Thomas Price of Calfaria Chapel. Throughout his life in Aberdare Jenkin Howell was a faithful member of the church of Calfaria; so now we find him learning  a new craft again, this time in the printing works if Daniel Jones Thomas. He quickly mastered the new techniques, and he became responsible for the publication of the Baptist periodical “Y Gwyliedydd”.

In 1867 he decided to branch out on his own, and from that time until his death in July 1902 he was a leading figure in the literary life of Aberdare, and the owner of one of the most prominent publishing houses in Glamorgan. Among his most important publications were “Hanes Morgannwg” by Mr D. Watkin Jones (1874 “Dafydd Morgannwg”) and a Welsh biography of Dr Thomas Price by Benjamin Evans (1891).

Muchof hispoetry of his appeared in the papers of Yr Ymofynydd, Seren Gomer, and Y Geninen. He himself printed many Welsh books, besides the newspaper Y GweithiwrCymreig which he owned and edited. He was an authority on the folklore and the dialect of eastern Glamorgan and at the Pontypridd national eisteddfod of 1893he shared with T. C. Evans the prize for an essay on ‘Glamorgan Folklore. Two years before his death, he began a series of articles, in Y Geninen, on the older history of the Aberdare valley.

Cor Mawr

Besides his professional activities as printer and publisher, Jenkin Howell was himself a prolific writer; he was a regular contributor to such periodicals as “The Red Dragon”, “The Weekly Mail”; “Welsh Gossip”, “The South Wales Daily News”, besides Welsh journals too numerous to mention. He was for many years the precentor of the singing in the Church at Calfaria, and a member of the famous “Cor Mawr” (Caradog).

He was an outstanding figure even in his personal appearance. Over six feet tall his head was crowned with a luxurious mop of dark hair which took size 75/8 in hats! Nor were his poetic contributions insignificant, although he appears to have sung more on local and topical subjects than on general themes. There is, for example his homely poem “In Praise of Miss Gwenllian Morgan of Beili-Helyg Penderyn who won the prize of £10 and a gold medal at the national butter-milking competition in the Agricultural Hall in London in October 1886.”  It appears that Gwenllian received her prize from the hands of her Majesty Queen Victoria.

Jenkin Howell died from an attack of asthma in July 1902; he was buried in St Cynog’s Churchyard Penderyn. The epitaph on his gravestone was composed by Watkyn Wyn.