The Home of the "Family" in Trefeca
This is a translation of the article by E.D.Evans that appeared in Brycheinog XLIII (2012), pages 131-6.
1735 and 1750 were notable years in the religious history of Brecknockshire and of Wales. In 1735, Howell Harris experienced a conversion which was a stimulus for the start of the religious revival generally called the Methodist Revival. In 1750, Howell Harris broke his connection with that movement, turning to establish 'Y Cartref' – 'The Home' for the 'Teulu' – the Family - in Trefeca. This year, the Methodist Union, now The Presbyterian Church of Wales, is celebrating two hundred years of its separation from the Church of England, and it is totally appropriate to remind ourselves of the key rôle of Brecknockshire in this connection.
By 1750, Howell Harris had worn himself out with his frequent journeying and endless preaching and the persecution he suffered in many places whilst preaching the Gospel. If only for that, his health would have forced him to give up, but Harris was not a man to resign himself to idleness, and he turned the circumstances into an opportunity to realize a dream that had interested him since 1732. As a young man he had worked as a teacher in the Trefeca area, chiefly in Llangasty. His conversion under the ministry of the Rev. Pryce Davies, Vicar of Talgarth, had caused him unease and to seek a wider field for his service. In May 1736, he heard of Griffith Jones, Llanddowror, instigator of the Circulating Schools charity, apparently through his connection with the Rev. Thomas Jones, of Cwm Yoy. Harris' intentions were to become a priest, but since he was unwilling to follow the usual path which would have qualified him for that calling, Griffith Jones advised him to continue as a teacher but to widen his field through supervising some of his schools that had by then spread to Brecknockshire. Harris's interest in education from the very beginning should be emphasised here.
In December 1736, he heard of an establishment in Fulneck, Yorkshire, set up by the Moravians on the pattern of a similar establishment in Saxony in Germany which included schools for children. It is possible that Griffith Jones, through his connection with Sir John Phillipps, Picton Castle, Pembrokeshire, who was interested in the Pietist movement which sprang from that source, who inspired Harris' interest in setting up a similar plan in Trefeca. So the idea of establishing the Cartref - the Home - had been in Harris' mind since 1736. Looking back over his life in his memoirs published in 1791, he talks of 'having an impression in my mind for some years past, that I should build a house for God'. After long contemplation of his future, he came to the conclusion 'that God would settle me so as I may be useful to Him... I resolv'd to lay £200 to build an Almshouse and school house to instruct and teach self and to employ as many as I could of firm zealots to teach'.i However, before he could carry out that intention, he had in 1737 met Daniel Rowland, determining to co-operate in evangelising Wales through preaching the Word and establishing Fellowships amidst those converted, the first of these at Y Wernos in 1738. There is no need here to trace the history of the religious revival that spread through the whole of Wales up until 1750. By then it was obvious to Harris that things were not going the way he would have wished, since he met with opposition to his efforts to manage the movement, especially from the direction of ordained priests such as Daniel Rowland. For this reason Harris grew tired of the frustration, and he claimed that as well as his own will, God's intention was being obstructed. He experienced a disillusionment, and separated from his fellow workers, turning to his early intention of establishing a community of people drawn to Trefeca who had been convinced by his preaching. He was convinced that he was doing God's work through establishing a theocratic community with God at its head, and with His Word as a rule of life for them, under Harris' supervision as His servant. He maintained that 'everything done at Trefeca is by Christ's Will' ii.
Historians looked upon Harris's action in breaking away from the Methodist movement to establish the Home at Trefeca as a fundamental mistake. Williams, Pantycelyn, gave expression to the accusation in describing Harris as retreating to his 'great monastery'. This is a completely negative attitude, since he was not retiring from one duty in order to idle away his time, but rather to take advantage of an opportunity to realise an early dream of his, where he would have the permanent freedom to work out his own ideas. As far as I know, no-one has suggested that this could be at least one reason for Harris to part from his fellow leaders in 1750. This was not an admission of failure at all but rather an opening into a new and experimental field which no-one in Wales had previously envisaged. Harris's zeal and commitment to the work was a guarantee of its success and it is a testimony to this that it continued to prosper after his death in 1773.
According to the diary kept by Evan Moses, building work began at Trefeca Fach, after the death of Madam Sidney Griffith following the demolition of the old home of Harris and his mother. But Madam Griffith was present when the foundation stone there was laid by her, followed by a prayer for its success. She had entailed the sum of £400 to Harris towards the work, but she died within two months and the money was retained by her brother, Watkin Wynne of Foelas, Denbighshire. Even though he had no financial security, Harris proceeded with the building work, confident that God would provide. Everyone who joined the Family was expected to transfer their property to the general fund.
Sarah Bowen of the Tyddyn, Llanidloes, did just this upon joining, bringing in a sum of £280 which later on became a bone of contention. Harris was fortunate in attracting a number of good craftsmen to the Family, and it was they who carried out the building work which continued until 1759. Harris himself was the architect, and it was apparent that he had noted architectural elegance when on visits to London and Bath through his connection with Lady Huntingdon. His chosen style was Georgian, but there was a tinge of the Gothic style in the Venetian windows. Notable features were the balcony, cupola, sundial, great clock with a weather vane atop the tower, displaying an angel blowing a silver trumpet and the inscription below 'Cyfodwch feirw, a dewch i'r Farn'. (Arise ye Dead and come to Judgement). Harris believed that cleanliness was next to godliness and he added a cold bath. He paid attention to the environment by planting flower gardens with paths for strolling. John Wesley praised the house and its surroundings as a little paradise. Not so Benjamin Heath Malkin who visited Trefeca on his journey through South Wales in 1803. 'Here a Gothic Arch! There a Corinthian capital! Towers, battlements and bastions! Peacocks cut in box, and lions hacked in holly! Who has then deluged his native county with such bad taste?' iii. These ejaculations suggest a rejection of Harris mixture of architectural styles but give a detailed description of what had outlived Harris himself. Pevsner's collaborators noted the building with more appreciationiv.
The building work proceeded swiftly, and by 1759 seven downstairs rooms and seven upstairs had been completed. Workshops were constructed for the craftsmen, a bakery to supply the Family, an infirmary for the sick, and a chapel in 1758. When Lady Huntingdon decided to open a college nearby at Trefeca Isaf, building work recommenced in 1765, and by 1772 the entire building was in the form of three houses containing 70 rooms, 21 of them set aside for the use of the Lady and her entouragev.
There was therefore plenty of accommodation for the growing Family which had increased from about 60 people by 1753 to about 100 by 1755, some of them members of ten families in their midst. The increase in the Family was so rapid that Harris had to take several nearby farms on rent to accommodate the overflow. There was quite a lot of coming and going since some people could not come to terms with Harris's severe discipline, and he was criticised by some, amongst them Simon Lloyd, of being cruel. Harris's response to this was that everyone was free to leave if they wished, but things could not have been so bad since some of those who left did return. After all, the Family offered security of accommodation, food and company, rarities in a poor Wales, with everyone dependent on Harris to meet their needs. Harris deserves praise for organising a successful and unique cooperative society, almost one hundred years before Robert Owen carried out his experiments at New Lanark and in America.
Everything in the Home was organised right down to a daily programme for each member. The women carried much of the burden, and Harris was mindful of this and placed them under the management of a Mistress, initially Sarah Bowen, and, after she left to marry Simon Lloyd, her sister Hannah. When Sarah married in 1755, she demanded from Harris a repayment of the £280 she had contributed to the fund, but Harris refused, arguing that she had made her contribution to God, and not to him. John Evans, an old friend of Thomas Charles, had to come down from Bala to mediate and agreement was reached vi. Nevertheless, Harris condemned them for turning their backs on Trefeca as 'ildio i ysbryd y byd' – 'yielding to the spirit of the world' - , since it was God who had brought them there. Thereafter, Hannah was Mistress of the house for a good fifteen years, with many a skirmish between herself and Harris. On more than one occasion, she fled to Bristol, and, in 1759, Harris had to go and bring her back, the two of them returning on the back of the same horse. She stayed in Harris's service until 1758, when she left for a similar situation in Lady Huntingdon's College. Harris's wife was sorry to lose her since she had been a good friend.
One of the women was appointed to take care of the children, about 30 of them, including Harris's daughter. The children rose at six a.m. for breakfast, having gone to bed the previous evening at eight o'clock. They spent part of the day being educated in the fashion of Griffith Jones's schools, it seems, and in addition learning to sing the Psalms, and they swelled the Talgarth church choir on Sundays. They were expected to work in their leisure time, since Harris believed the devil made work for idle hands. Harris was a severe disciplinarian, giving one boy a really nasty beating for telling a lie. His aim was to imbue an awareness of responsibility in the children.
The community had to be self-sufficient since there was no money coming in from anywhere else. The first call was for the maintenance of the numerous Family and so agriculture and gardening were essential parts of the work. To this purpose, Harris worked six farms extending to 765 acres, to an extent land taken on rent from estates such as Tregunter which had been bought by his brother Thomas. A wide variety of crops were grown such as wheat, barley, corn, potatoes, turnips and peas, which show the influence of the agricultural revolution underway at that time. Howell, like his brother Joseph, had a great interest in scientific farming, and he carried out experiments to improve animal breeds as well as crops. When Harris heard that an alternative method of cultivation was being applied in Herefordshire, he sent Evan Roberts, the work supervisor, to make inquiries there.
Howell Harris's interest in agriculture led to the establishment of the Brecknockshire Agricultural Society, the first in Wales, when he succeeded in turning a drinking and feasting society attended by the gentry of the county to a more useful purpose. The main aim of the Society was the promotion of agriculture and rural crafts for the good of the county and in particular to give the poor work. In the opinion of Charles Powell of Castle Madoc, the intention was to make them good Christians and citizens. At the suggestion of Sir Edward Williams of Llangoed, Harris was elected an Honorary Member of the Society in 1756. Trefeca agriculture made its mark on the standards of farming in the county, but not without giving rise to some envy, and Trefeca was blamed for the high prices of food in the area.
Before long, sixty different rural crafts were practised in Trefeca since so many craftsmen had settled there. The carpenters and masons were in the charge of James Pritchard, winning praise for their work from every direction, since, when there was no pressure of work in Trefeca, they were hired out to neighbours. In a letter of thanks to Harris, Sir Edward Williams, Llangoed, praised his workmen as sober, quiet and honest men. Their behaviour, he said, was a credit to the religious principles Harris was going to such lengths to impress upon them. Their fame spread as far as Monmouthshire, where the iron master Capel Hanbury heard of them, inviting Harris to take up the construction of a turnpike road in his area, but he refused.
Cloth was produced and sold in markets as far away as Chester and beyond, which brought in most of the Family's income. Here once again, Harris was a pioneer in the method in which he organised the work of production, bringing all relevant tasks under the one roof, and thus creating the first factory ever to be established in Wales. He was even ahead of Adam Smith, the Scottish philosopher, who urged 'the division of Labour' as the most economic method of production vii. Harris's method was to divide up the work between eight spinners, four carders, one weighing the wool and preparing it, one winding the thread, and four weavers. Harris would have liked experimenting to produce broader cloth at a higher value, but he was advised that the wool he used was too coarse for that purpose. Howell drew in his brothers Joseph and Thomas to seek out markets in England for his produce. Harris wanted everyone to work cheerfully and to their full ability, and to bow obediently to his discipline. Having observed the order at Trefeca, Williams, Pantycelyn, included in his elegy to Harris:
Ac ti wnest dy blant yn ufudd,
At eu galwad bod yrun,
Byw i'th reol, byw i'th gyfraith,
Byw i'th olau di dy hun.
Each one to his vocation,
Living by your rule, your law,
Living according to your own light.
A part of the day was set aside for each task. The family rose early at four, and, after breakfast, tasks were allocated by Harris. At six o'clock they went out to work until twelve noon, when they would return for a further service before lunch at one o'clock. At eight o'clock the children would be sent to bed after supper and the Family would sit down to eat at half past eight before retiring to bed after another service with Harris inquiring of each one regarding their spiritual condition. Harris would counsel for two or three hours each day, impressing on everyone that everything was done to the glory of God, and therefore demanding everyone's best. Laborare est orare was his motto. It is unsurprising that Evan Moses believed that God had set aside Trefeca for Himself.
Another venture of Harris's was to set up a printing press using money contributed to the Treasury by Barbara Parry viii. It appears that it was Harris's intention to publish his diaries and he kept a secretary to chronicle everything. This was not achieved in his lifetime, but served as the basis for the memoirs published in 1791 after his death. The first task of the press was the printing of notices of the Brecknock Agricultural Society as early as 1758. Its most productive period was from 1770 to 1805, when over one hundred works were published, since the press continued printing after Harris's death in 1773. The greatest task undertaken was the printing of Peter Williams' Bible which lead to his expulsion by the Methodists, but no blame was cast on Trefeca. A more adventurous act was printing some numbers of Morgan John Rhys's Cylchgrawn Cynmraeg (The Welsh Magazine) before fleeing to America, a cause of great concern to Evan Moses ix.
It can therefore be seen that the Home in Trefeca was a completely unique experiment in Wales, and it was not because of its failure that Harris rejoined the Methodist leaders in 1762 following their ardent invitation, and more or less on his own terms. However, he was not as energetic in the work of travelling around evangelising as he had been before 1750. He realised his early dream of establishing a theocratic community which was as much a success in the practical world. Harris proved himself to be a successful businessman as well as an agricultural pioneer. He was prominent in the establishment of an early agricultural society and in setting up a factory before anyone else. After 1765, he turned to another interest, namely the education of the ministry, since education had been a lifelong interest for him. He was instrumental in the establishment of Lady Huntingdon's college, and although he was not appointed principal, through his care of it he was its most stable anchor up until his death in 1773. The Family continued on under three trustees, Evan Moses, Evan Roberts and James Pritchard. When the establishment came to an end in 1837, the property came into the possession of the Methodist Union who opened a school for the training of ministers there.
E D EVANS
- i. National Library of Wales, Trefeca Archive, Diary No. 18, page 10, 10 January 1736-7.
- ii. Schlenther, B.S. and White, E.M., Calendar of Trevecka Letters, page 352, no. 2061 ('TL' below)
- iii. Malkin, B H, The Scenery, Antiquities and Biographies of South Wales, 1807.
- iv. Buildings of Wales – Powys ed. B Haslam, Pevsner series.
- v. Davies, K Monica, Teulu Trefeca in Hanes Methodistiaeth Galfinaidd Cymru, Ed. G M Roberts. Caernarfon 1973, pp358 – 377.
- vi. Schlenther and White, op. cit, tud 360, No.2106
- vii. Smith, Adam, The Wealth of Nations, 1776.
- viii. Schlenter and White, ibid., page 395, No.2354
- ix. Owens, A.W., The Printing Press, CCHMC 3 page 67
Llyn y Fan
In silence deep of peaks of Mynydd Du
There liest thou, bright pearl of dearest dew
In fair flower cup in this land’s wildest scene.
I heard the raven’s croak above the peak
And bleat of lamb from lakeside green drawn on,
Saw sons of Sawdde coming to thy bank
To keep their tryst in blessed life’s first dawn.
No more shall I thy giddy rocks ascend
Nor see the Maiden from thy waters rise.
But shall again your white waves’ strength commend
In silence once again my heart to ease.
O may the peace I once felt near thy shore
Through all my depths of soul rush back once more.
William Davies / Wil Dyfan (1903-76)
Translation by Brynach Parri
William Davies (1903-1976) was born at Pen-cae, Myddfai, the seventh of 13 children. He was educated at Llandovery Grammar School, and Coleg y Normal, Bangor. He had to abandon his career as a teacher at Garnant, Carmarthenshire, in the 1930’s when his health failed due to tuberculosis. He learned the strict measures of cynghanedd, and his work was published ina variety of periodicals. His bardic name, Wil Dyfan, was taken from Allt-y-fan, Cwm-Wysg, Breconshire, which was his parent’s last home.
Handel Jones: After leaving school in 1962, Handel became a trainee journalist in Carmarthen before joining the BBC in Cardiff. In 1979 he became a freelance journalist and broadcaster, specialising in rural matters and nature. He has lived on a smallholding at Rhandir-mwyn, Carmarthenshire, since 1983, and is now a full-time translator.
A Country Boy’s Reminiscences
I was born on a farm at Cwm-Wysg, near Trecastle, - a valley of scattered farmhouses, a tiny hamlet, a chapel and a school. And it was there, at Aberpedwar County Primary School, that I received my early education.
There were never more than about fifteen to twenty pupils in the single-classroomed school, where the teacher, Miss Parry, combined her teaching skills with stoking the coal-burning stove, and acting as nurse and waitress.
The food was delivered from Sennybridge - a huge school compared with Aberpedwar. My first visit there was in March 1954, just before my tenth birthday, to sit the entrance examination for the Grammar School. I was terrified. Never before had I been with so many children - strangers at that - in one room.
The move from Aberpedwar to the Boys’ Grammar School in Brecon the following September was to be even more traumatic. In those days, it wasn’t possible to travel every day from places like Cwm-Wysg and we, country boys, had to lodge in town from Monday to Friday.
Shortly before the start of the new school year, my parents and I were invited to meet the headmaster who had just retired, Mr Jacob Morgan. He kindly offered me some words of advice and suggested that I should stay with Mr and Mrs Smith in Lion Street.
They were a friendly couple - with children about my age. Certainly, my mother was satisfied that the lodgings were well-suited. But on the first morning of the school term, I arrived in Brecon to be told that Mrs Smith had been taken ill, and that I would have to stay with a friend of hers, Miss Evelyn Williams. She lived in the Watergate with her aged and blind mother. Miss Williams was kind, yet strict. She was a devout member of the Church in Wales, and was very proud that no less a person than Bishop Havard had once lodged there, when he was a pupil at the Grammar School.
When I arrived, the lodgers included Ken Jones of Llanfihangel Nant Brân, who was to become the Brecon Librarian. We were later joined by Ken’s brother, Vincent, and by my cousin, Glanville Davies.
Although we are talking about 1954, we had no electricity at home on the farm. To be able to study in the Watergate by the light of an electric bulb - as opposed to the flickering light of an oil lamp - was sheer luxury.
Some time later, even life at Watergate was transformed when a forestry worker by the name of Mr Preece arrived. He had a television set, which was promptly installed in the sitting room. Although we were allowed to watch, we were restricted to the news, Panorama with Richard Dimbleby and Sportsview with Peter Dimock.
My arrival at the Grammar School coincided with the arrival of a new headmaster, Mr Aneurin Rees. I must admit that I was always more than a little afraid of Mr Rees, but the fear, for the greater part, was born out of respect. Here was a scientist who had worked at Famborough, a rugby forward who had played for Llanelli. And, above all, in view of my chapel upbringing, a Welsh-speaking Congregationalist.
To be sent in disgrace to his study was a terrible punishment. I still sense the shame of those endless afternoons spent outside the door for forgetting my rugby kit. And I shall never forget the swish of the cane, following a drink of cider during a visit to a school play in Maesydderwen. But the real pain wasn’t physical. My parents had to be told that I was being suspended, and they were strict teetotallers. The only alcohol in OUR house was a tiny bottle of gin, used for medicinal purpose only, to help lambs recover from hypothermia.
When I started at the Grammar School, I had to survive on pocket money of half-a-crown a week. And there was a further allowance to buy evening meals of fish and chips - which then cost 1/3 a portion. I have to admit that some of those funds were redirected. The fish-and-chip shop didn’t do as well as one or two of the sweet shops, or the mobile tuck shop.
Although my primary education had been through the medium of English, the home, playground and chapel had been Welsh. English was still very much a second language. I was very aware that, linguistically, I was different to most of the other pupils at the Grammar School. They conversed with ease in English; for me, it meant a conscious effort.
The English master was very understanding. Never once did Mr Ewart Davies pour disdain upon my paltry efforts. Instead, he would seek out any merits and offer praise and encouragement. He helped me gain a certain confidence and taught me - and others - how to appreciate and enjoy language and literature. I could turn to Mr Davies and discuss any problems through the medium of Welsh, as I could with several other teachers during my early days in the Grammar School.
Woodwork, at which I was more than useless, was made tolerable - if not enjoyable - by the affable Mr Len Moses. Mr Caerwyn Roderick was more than tolerant when I repeatedly failed to display any brilliance in Mathematics. The History master, Mr Huw Thomas, soon despaired. Even Mr Harvey Williams came to the conclusion that there was no hope for the Welsh language if its future depended on pupils like me.
Despite the kindness and forbearance of headmaster and staff, I have to confess that for a couple of years, I crept ‘like snail unwillingly to school’, but as soon as I became ‘acclimatised, as it were, there started one of the happiest periods of my life.
I discovered that it wasn’t really such a big school, after all. We were, I believe, a happy family and, with very few exceptions, an extremely well-disciplined band of boys. Once we moved to the new site at Penlan, we couldn’t have wished for better facilities nor a more pleasant environment.
Handel Jones (1954-62)
Pwy Oedd Rhys Gethin? Cledwyn Fychan
Publisher: Ceredigion Book Society
Although Brycheiniog would have been pleased to publish this booklet as a contribution in our journal, this proved impossible for copyright reasons. Cledwyn Fychan was kind enough to lead a group of members of this Society around Rhys Gethin’s territory, the Irfon valley and its uplands in Buellt in the summer this year (2008), where he displayed his thorough knowledge of the area and its history, as does his book in a remarkable interesting way too. And who was Rhys Gethin? Well, that is the prupose of the book, and anyone who would like to know more would be well rewarded by buying and reading the book which deals with a corner of our County and a period in our history which are all too often ignored, not to mention an historical character who was unknown to most of us before this volume appeared. An interesting aspect of the book is the author’s research, which depends to a large extent on the memoirs of shepherds and residents of this remote corner of the county on the winding road from Abergwesyn to Tregaron.
Hidden History – Discovering the Heritage of Wales
Publisher: RCAHW pp: 327
Although we all celebrated the centenary of the National Library and the National Museum last year, the centenary of another important national institution, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, was largely ignored, although the BBC and the Commission cooperated in marking the occasion with a series of programmes and a valuable and praiseworthy publication, a book which covers the whole range of buildings, artefacts and sites which form part of the Commission’s responsibilities. All Wales is to be found in the remarkably interesting illustrations and articles which range from the histroy of the first recorded inhabitant of Wales – the Red Lady of Paviland (a boy, not a lady at all, it seems) – up to contemporary buildings such as the Millenium Centre and even the gas pipeline which scarred Brecknock so thoroughly last year. From our Brecknock perspective, the volume offers reports or pictures of no less than 22 sites in the county (even though we do gasin one through the mis-location of Bugeildy, Radnorshire, to Brecknock). To be parochial, Tŷ Illtud was also mislocated – it actually stands near Llanhamlach, not Llanfrynach, and what is very irritating to the Welsh speaker is the insistance that ‘Abergafenni’ not y Fenni, is the Welsh name of Abergavenny. And I am still searching for the ‘igflaidd’ that the Red Lady hunted – it would seem ‘udflaidd’ – hyena – was meant! But despite these niggles, this book deserves its place on the bookshelves or coffee table of any historian worth his salt in Wales.