Rev. R.J. Jones, M.A. – Bishop of Welsh Unitarianism

Preacher, Scholar, Historian and Antiquarian
Rev. R.J. Jones

As briefly reported last Thursday, the Rev R.J. Jones M.A. of Broniestyn House, Trecynon passed away on Wednesday evening on October 15th 1924. He celebrated his 89th birthday the previous month, having been on September 17th 1835, in Mount Pleasant Street, Trecynon, he was the oldest native of Aberdare. Though a native of the above-mentioned town, he was descended from a long line of Cardingshire worthies, including the Rev. John Jones (died 1709) , Llwynrhys, who is said to be the founder of Nonconformity in Cardingshire.
He was a man of frail physique; was a weak, delicate child to begin with, but by cultivating regular habits, by plain thinking and high thinking, he was able to husband out life’s span to nearly 90 years.

The son of Rev, John Jones and Mrs Jones, the late rev. gentleman was educated by his father in the Trecynon Seminary; afterwards at Carmarthen Presbyterian College, and subsequently at Glasgow University (1859-1862), where he graduated M.A. His father was minister of Hen Dy Cwrdd, Trecynon, 1833-1863, and Mr Jones succeeded his father in the pastorate 1864-72. In the latter year his health broke down, and he voyaged to Egypt and Palestine. During this period the late Rev. William James B.A., Llandysul, had charge of the church. Mr Jones’ ministry of the church for the second time lasted from 1879-1909. Hen Dy Cwrdd members made a testimonial to him at the close of his ministry, and later a bust of the rev. gentleman was unveiled at the schoolroom.

He not only succeeded his father in the ministry, but also as master of the Trecynon Seminary, and a large number of his pupils have embarked on brilliant careers in various walks of life, chiefly due to the influence of, and the invaluable instruction imparted by their old and revered master.

In April, 1911, a notable gathering of his past-pupils was held in the Memorial Hall, Aberdare, It was called “Ysgol Jones Reunion”, and he was made the recipient of a canteen of solid silver, gold watch, and numerous other valuable articles. At that meeting over 100 past students attended from all parts of the country, and all testified to the help and inspiration and guidance they had received in the old Trecynon Seminary.

All the honours that his denomination could bestow upon him were bestowed years ago. He delivered his maiden sermon at Rhydygwin, Cardingshire, in 1857, but he was pastor of only one church during his life time, Old Meeting House, which is the oldest Nonconformist place of worship in the Aberdare Valley, having being erected in 1751. At ministerial farewell gatherings he was fond of quoting the words:

“Men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.”

He edited “Yr Ymofynydd,” the Welsh Unitarian monthly for several years, was president of the South Wales Unitarian Association in 1896, and his presidential address; “Watchman, what of the night,” created a deep impression on those who heard it. He was the first secretary of the Welsh Unitarian Ministers Education Fund, founded in Cwmbach, in 1864, the first treasurer, by the way being Mr D.W. Jones, J.P., Aberdare.
Hen Dy Cwrdd
Picture courtesy of RCTCBC

But the late Rev, gentleman’s influence radiated far beyond the confines of his own denomination. He was first and foremost a great and cultured scholar and critic, and if he had been attached to one of the popular seats would have been honoured with degrees by the Welsh University years ago. His writings are to be found in numberless Welsh and English magazines. He contributed several articles, including biographies of Dr Lewis Edwards, Bala. Edward Evans and Thomas Evans; of the Old Meeting House: to the Dictionary of National Biography. In 1915 an autobiography appeared in “Y Geninen”, and in the same year he was commissioned to write an article to an Encyclopaedia of Education “Davis Castellhywel and his school”.

He was the author of innumerable hymns and pamphlets, and scores of the former appear in the Welsh Unitarian hymnal,”Perlun Moliant”. One is a fine Welsh translation of “Lead, kindly lights”. He published a collection of his compositions, and another book on “Past Students of Carmarthen Presbyterian College”, he edited a second edition of his father’s “Llyfr yr Ysgol”, his uncle’s “Cwrth Dyffryn Clettwr,” and “Gwaithiau Llenyddol Carw Coch”(father of the late Mr N.L. William J.P.) Great Scholars from various parts of the country and from the Continent who chanced to be visiting this part of the country, in variably called in to see Mr Jones at Broniestyn. His library contains many valuable and rare works, and is probably one of the most extensive in the country outside public libraries.

In addition to his important duties as preacher and author, he found time to fill other roles. He was a member of the old Aberdare School Board, a Governor of the Welsh University Cardiff; gave evidence before the Welsh Church Commission; appointed to attend an Education Conference at Aberystwyth 1880; was one of the Commissioners of Higher Education in 1880; was president of the Cymmrodorion Society. His was a fine record of work, and no man ever id so much useful work, which no others could accomplish, without monetary acknowledgement. He was a busy man when after his retirement, and he often spoke of continuing his work in the next life.

Responding to the speeches and presentations of the “Ysgol Jones Reunion”, referred in above, he said:-

“The world is very much like a looking glass; it reflects us most faithfully. If we are sour the world seems sour; if we are joyful then the world is joyful too. People blame the world, but it is largely what we make it. At my age now I am looking ahead with every confidence, and in imagination I can see the  parapet of the other world, where friends of a life-time have gone before, and are watching my later days, ready, whenever the time comes, to welcome me to a larger society than the one I am leaving behind”.

No one knew so much about “Old Aberdare,” and it is a thousand pities that he was not able to write a history of his native town. He however, contributed to the Aberdare Leader a series of very interesting articles of local historical interest, which will be useful to any future historian.

As a preacher he was not eloquent, but his sermons were scholarly, and moreover they were couched in plain language understood by the common people. It was a rich experience to sit listening to his homely addresses at the Gyfeillach or at some little meeting or function. Notwithstanding his scholarly attainments, he could descend to the level of little children, and hold them spellbound with his entertaining talks. His address to the Higher Standard children on St David’s Day some 2 ½ years ago, was a masterpiece in its way. “Remember” he concluded warningly, “to keep your characters. If you lose your toys or books or money, you may find them again or in any case obtain some more, but if you lose your character, it is gone for ever”.

His familiar figure will be sadly missed. Up to recently he persisted in his daily walk to town, or to Aberdare Park. He was a great believer in fresh air and daily exercise, and he attributed his longevity largely to those things.

The utmost sympathy is felt for the children, of whom there are four, vis., Dr Goronwy Jones, Swansea; Mrs (Rev) Simon Jones, Nottingham; Mrs Hudson (now of Cornwall); and Miss Lena Jones, who was at home with her father. His wife died in 1899, and his brother, Mr D.J. Jones, passed away on February 24th 1922, in his 85th year.

The Funeral

The remains of the late venerable gentleman were interred on Saturday afternoon in the family vault at the Aberdare Cemetery, where lie buried his father (Rev. John Jones); his mother; his wife; a child and his brother. Before proceeding to the cemetery, a service was held as Hen dy Cwrdd. The body was conveyed to the “big seat”, where for over 60 years he often stood to dispense wise counsel to the congregations that gathered at his old and beloved place of worship. The service was brief by request, Rev. E.R. Dennis, pastor of Hen dy Cwrdd, read the 90th Psalm, while Rev. W.J. Phillips, Nottage, Porthcawl, offered prayer, which drew tears form many eyes. Two appropriate hymns were sung, the organist being Mr D.R. Davies, who also played the Dead March from “Saul” at the close, the congregation meanwhile standing.

Grave of Rev R. J. Jones Aberdare cemetery
Grave of Rev R. J. Jones Aberdare cemetery
The obsequies (funeral rites) were attended by a large number of old friends and sympathisers, among whom scores of the Rev gentleman’s old pupils, now on in years, and many occupying posts of distinction. Among those present were: – Messrs D.W. Jones, J.P., an old friend (himself 85 years of age) John Mills. (Tarianydd in his 91st year), who frequently of late paid Rev R.J. Jones visits at his home, Broniestyn; D. Lleufer Thomas, Stipendiary Magistrate Pontypridd and Rhondda; G.A. Treharne, C.C., W.C. Cox. M.A. T. Walter Williams, B.Sc., Lewis Jones, A.G. Durden, A.S. Campion, J. Harry Reed, W.H. Jones, chemist, Walter M. Jones  (dentist), Dr Martin Jones, John James, David Morgan, H. Lloyd, J.L. Rowlands. A.W. Elliot, B.Sc., R.R. Davies, M.E., Jas Berry, Richard Morgan, Major R.D. Williams, Ernest D. Williams, and Emerson Williams, Cae Coed; J. Llewellyn Smith C.C., John Lewis, Top Bill, Pontypridd; Gomer Ll. Thomas J.P., Merthyr; Prof R. Howells, Morgan Morgans, R.T. Rosser, W.D. Morris, W.M. Llewellyn, J.P., Tom Cynon, W.H. Templeman, John Davies (Iwan Goch), Ed. Pugh, M.E. J.D. Thomas, D. Tyssul Davies Coun., Gwilym Jones, Evan Thomas, Swansea; T.J. Lewis, Lewis Lewis, Dr Issac Banks, E. Ogwen Williams, F.R.G.S., Timothy Davies, B.A., Dr Tom Evans, M.O.H., Swansea: ex-inspector Thomas, Ferndale, W.W. Price, T.E. Davies, E.D. Howells, Gelli Isaf, etc.
The ministers present included: Rev D. Silyn Evans, Siloa: Jas. Griffiths, Calfaria; John Morgan, Bryn Scion; T. Powell, Cwmdare; Dl. Harries, Bethel, Gadlys; J.D. Rees Salem, W.A. Jones, Cwmdare; T Arthur Thomas. B.A., Llandysul (editor of “Ymofynydd”), H. Andrew, Highland Place: E.T. Evans, Merthyr, T. Eric Davis, Cefn; E.O. Jenkins, Llwynrhydowen; H. Robinson, Abercynon, E. Wern Williams, Hirwaun.

The Bearers

Were Sir David Llewellyn, Bart., Messrs T. Botting, B.A., B.Sc., John Davies, Gwilym Griffiths, John Griffiths (Brynhyfryd) an old friend; J. Stanley Evans, D.R. Griffiths, Ebenezer Davies and Taliesin Griffiths.

The principle mourners were: Dr Goronwy Jones M.D., Swansea, son; Rev and Mrs Simon Jones, Nottingham, son-in-law and daughter; Mrs Hudson, Miss Lena Jones, B.A., Cornwall, daughter Miss Olwen Jones Broniestyn, daughter; Messrs Griffiths, The Populars, sister-in-law, Rev W.J. Phillips, brother-in-law. The service at the graveside was conducted by Rev E.R. Dennis. The undertakers were Messrs D. Tyssul Davies and Sons, Trecynon.  
Votes of Condolence

At Highland Place Church, Aberdare on Sunday morning the pastor, Rev H. Andrew made an appropriate reference to the death of Rev R.J. Jones, and the motion of Mr R.D. Williams seconded by Muss S. George a vote of condolence was passed with the family.

At the Autumual Meetings of the British and Foreign Unitarian Association held at Cardiff last Monday. Mr Ronald P. Jones J.P., Liverpool (in the chair) submitted the following:

“That this meeting of Unitarians representing members and friends of B & F.U.A., record with deep and reverent regret the death of Rev R.J. Jones, M.A., Aberdare, a faithful brother of our glorious gospel of free Christianity, a beloved pastor of ripe experience an influential scholar and writer, and a true father in God, and we offer our sincere condolence to his family. We also deeply sympathise with all those churches in Wales to whom he was a loved and trusted leader, and we pray that his memory may stimulate the rising generation to follow in his steps.”

A memorial meeting in respect of the rev. gentleman will be held at Hen dy Cwrdd on Sunday evening, November 2nd.

Impression of R.J.J
Impression of R.J.J
By Rev. D. Silyn Evans

The Rev R. J. Jones, M.A. was a great man, great in the work of his long life-time, but greater in himself. We liked him for what he did, but more so for what he was, and for what he shall ever be, It is not the words of the preacher that produce impression, bit his personality, R.J.J. had his great influence on others, and it was always purity and goodness, It was an unknown influence to himself; the highest kind of influence. He was noted for his simplicity and thoroughness. Though a man of learning and of high social standing and of authority, yet he had no show and pomp and affectation. His life was one of much activity. He knew nothing of being unemployed. There was a great deal of the creator in him as well as the worker. Work to him was divine and holy; hand work as well as head and bookwork. He was steady and straight in all his moves; never zigzagging, never subject “to wind and weather”. His holiday was in his day’s work; it silence; its divines; its mysticism and charm, Hi work mostly was the student’s work. He was a born student.

Though an acknowledged leader in his denomination and in education, yet he did not wish people to consider his as such. He was a student; a literary man; a teacher, and not a leader. His leadership was in his fellowship in what he did. As a historian he was a national character. Journalists and historians bowed to him. He lived long, because he studied and worked well. He was a student of men as well as books. A great deal of his library was in personalities. This accounts for his early daily walks around the park. He knew that a good sensible man is better for knowledge and inspiration than a good book. Men are greater than books. Evidently, he was the greatest search-student that he banks of the Cynon ever had so far.

He took much interest in the life of distinguished Welshmen, and in place-names and in root-words of the vernacular. Once we walked together from a service in a place of worship. And I asked him for a Welsh word of the English word “Monism” a word that the preacher used twice in his sermon. And in his usual modest way he said “What about Monneth”. “Mon”- “Monism”-“Monaeth”. It’s really a good Welsh word, as good as Monsim.

We said that he was a modest man. And he was. He had no ambition for public life and he hated the pull and cheek of popularity. He loved a life of aloneness with his books in his study. Truly he was a man of his study, a man of the Press.  And in all and through all, he had his place of worship. He was a man of religion and worship, and his worship was simple and pure. And both are to be seen in the many booklets of sermons he published from time to time.  These booklets of one sermon each are worth reading; solid plain and helpful. I heard the question asked in his funeral “What abiding good as he done in his life?” He himself even on the day of his funeral was reply to that. But it might be said that he added greatly to the dignity and value of the Unitarian pulpit in Wales. And he enriched the Welsh Press as was as the English, with many valuable articles in historical subjects as well as scientific. And many of his hymns are today in constant use in the congregational singing of his denomination. And his training of young men to the ministry is a fine fact of his history and reputation. Such men as William James and Penar Griffiths and others had their pulpit equipment in his school, and he was always proud of them and they already made their abiding impression to the benefit of thousands of the different places. He was a fine figure in Aberdare; one of greatness and safety; one to be remembered for years and ages to come.

Plaque of Rev R.J. Jones Hen dy Cwrdd
Plaque of Rev R.J. Jones Hen dy Cwrdd

We buried him of a beautiful afternoon of Saturday in the month of October, It was the Saturday of his earthly life- his “week-end”, Shall I say that his Creator and Saviour looked down, on his full week’s work, and said – “Good”-“Very Good”.
“Then rest strong man in God who gave
Thee life and blessing; wealth and power.
I bring the tribute of a flower
And plant it on my silent grave”

As a Friend at the Home and at the Service
By the present Pastor of Hen dy Cwrdd

It is a beautiful day in October, and the autumn tints are around us everywhere in their beauty, yet there is gloom in our hearts which the glory of the day cannot dispel. The news is abroad that the Rev R.J. Jones M.A. is dead. The news is abroad that the Rev J.R. Jones, M.A., is dead. What changes are implied in the bad news! There is an aching void in many a heart today.

Broniestyn and Hen dy Cwrdd will never be the same again! Life appears very bewildering on occasions, and there we have the glorious sunshine and a sense of loss; the fragrance of the flower and the destruction of the storm; the song of the bird and the silence of death. One event has occurred and the course of life is altered! So will it be in this case, and the shadows of coming changes add a poignancy to the present.

Though the long tale of 80 years indicated the approach of the end; though the failing health and the frail body foretold that the dreaded day must come yet, when it did arrive, we were not prepared for it, and today we seem lost amidst “the encircling gloom.”

Still we have fragrant memories of the past that can sweeten the bitterest sorrow and loss, and I shall briefly recall some of them, leaving others untouched for:-

“Like precious wines, their taste they lose,
Exposed to open air.”

I shall only attempt the faintest outline of him, as a Friend, at the Home, and at the Service.

He filled the term Friend with its truest connotation. He was staunch and loyal, when others failed us. We could always rely on him. If any difficulty arose our minds immediately turned to him, and we were sure of a sympathetic hearing.

There was no soft sentimentality in his friendship, no cajolery, but the wise counsel and the healthy advice. If any time he gave his criticism, it was always given with a view to help and encourage. It did not matter what was the request; if within his power he would do it. There was no necessity to plead your cause with him; his help was given readily. Instances of his kindness could easily be multiplied. A walk in the Park with him revealed the kind and sympathetic heart. Anecdotes from the past, practical suggestions for the future and an encouraging word for the present were the topics during the walk. It was an inspiration to spend those moments with him.

It was at such times one gained confidence and felt secure that here at least was a friend ready to help. The first impression perhaps was not always favourable, for we are not all build alike, but to go once with him, arm-in-arm, around the Park settled the matter at once. The request to accompany him could never be refused. It was only the initiated knew. As the months rolled on the walk was shortened, until at last, the goal was only as the corner of the Park School. If the walk became less, the friendship never failed.

And what a glimpse we can gave of his at Home! Amongst his papers and books lie ones in his sphere. Though he may be busy with his pen, everything was set aside to welcome the visitor. The conversation would begin with the events of the day or any general topic; then it would narrow down to any news concerning the friends and members of Hen dy Cwrdd. He was always, even unto the end, pleased to hear and to know any good news about the cause he had so much at heart. Reference would be perhaps, be made to the letters and postcards sent him from all parts of the country, seeking information about this, that, and the others. One would ask for the date of some event; another would ask for the name of somebody’s grandfather, and still another for an explanation of some local item of interest. His patience was endless in matters if this description. How many I wonder in our country, are indebted to him for services rendered and information given by letter or postcard?

Again, his books were always characteristic of him viz., he was very cautious lest he should in any way bias the mind of the seeker of truth. He was never ready to help another in the search for what he wanted, but he took care not to colour the result with his own opinion. It was an integral part of his faith that every man should be free to form his own opinion of life. If there happened to be a difference of opinion, the welcome given was none of the less sincere and true.

Broniestyn had an open door for friends of all description and the human element was as free and healthy there as the morning breeze.

At the house! I must leave untouched the home ties of Broniestyn, for no words of mine would ever do justice to those sacred things, the children’s love for him, and his love for them. These things are too precious to be exposed.

Another glimpse of him was can have at the service. After his retirement from the pulpit, no one was ever more faithful as the services. While he could he was present both at the morning and evening service. It was an inspiration to see him in the pew, His presence will be missed and particularly so his “Amen” at the close of service, which sounded as a benediction.

Years of experience, sympathy with the work, and an intense appreciation of spiritual things were implied in that “Amen”. We shall all miss it. The service was everything to him. He wanted the service to be an artistic unity. The hymns, the prayers, the lessons and the sermon were to convey the message to the heart of the worshipper. The very order of the hymns was important, and no one was more pleased than he when the service attained a fitting climax.

And here again we find the same sympathy with the ministers. No one knew of the difficulties and trials of pulpit work better than he did, and hence his sympathy with the preacher. He would express his appreciation of the sermon and the service in the appropriate manner, and in the “Gyfeillach” on Sunday evening his few remarks would be most encouraging.

But to see him at his best it was necessary to be at the Hen dy Cwrdd on a Sunday morning at a Communion Service. Words fail to convey the impression; they are not adequate to express such an experience. No ostentation, no rhetoric, but a heartfelt communion which carried conviction and peace to the hearts of those present. The English word “unction” is too meagre in its associations to describe such a morning service, and we must turn to the Welsh, with its deeper and wider connotation, and the initiated will know what is suggested by the words, “eneiniad y cymunded”.

Those are unforgetable mornings to many a heart who had the privilege to be present. I have heard many of the sentences uttered on those memorable occasions, repeated by the older members of Hen dy Cwrdd, and their fragrance will remain to the end.

All his life had been linked to the ministry, and he had stated only a few days before his death that if he had his live over again, he would choose the ministry as his sphere of work. Hen dy Cwrdd and the Rev R.J. Jones will ever be associated in our minds, for it is impossible to think of the one without thinking of the other. History records that Queen Mary declared that on her death. “Calais” would be found written on her heart, and more appropriate still is to say so in the case of the Rev R.J. Jones. Had we but eyes to see, one name would be found written on his heart, and that name would be Hen dy Cwrdd.

It is our turn to say farewell to him, but the next time we will meet, it will be his delight to give us his word of Welcome.

“One ship drives East, and another drives West.
With the self-same winds that blow;
Tis the set of the sail and the gales,
Which tell us the way they go;
Like the winds of the sea are the ways of Fate,
As we voyage along through life;
Tis the set of the soul that decides its goal
And not the calm of the strife”

E.R. Dennis
2 Alma Street Trecynon

There is nothing like the university of experience for those who are determined to get on.