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An Erudite 'Squarson'


A hundred years ago William Basil Jones, son of the squire of Gwynfryn in the north of Ceredigion, became Bishop of St Davids, a see he held for twenty-three years before his death at the age of seventy-five.

The mansion house of Gwynfryn in the parish of Llangynfelyn was built in 1814 and stands on a low isolated hill, called Ynys Gynfelyn, rising out of the plain of Cors Fochus. From this point may be seen the Dyfi estuary, the distant mountains of Meirionnydd and the hills of Ceredigion. It was the land of saint and hero, of myth and legend — of Cynfelyn and Maelgwn Gwynedd. The area had also been the centre of considerable activity in connection with the mining and export of copper and lead. Moreover, much of the Gwynfryn estate consisted of land reclaimed from the sea, and Gwynfryn had become the house of the Jones family — Welsh gentry, who had acquired status and prestige since the beginning of the 18 century at least. Their claim to gentility was manifested in their arms, namely, — argent, a cross flory sable, between four Cornish choughs proper; with a crest consisting of a demi lion rampart proper, and motto— Mors mihi lucrum.

In 1720 one William Jones married firstly the daughter of Thomas Griffith, Esquire, of Penpompren in the county of Cardigan. His son, also named William, married in 1749 Jane the younger daughter and co-heiress of Evan Watkin of Tynnullmawr in the same county. His second wife, whom he married in 1772, was Anne daughter of Lloyd of Penbryn, and widow of Lewis Morris — one of the Morris brothers of Anglesey, an inspector of ports and excise, and great grandfather of Sir Lewis Morris of Carmarthen.

William Jones, the grandfather of Bishop Basil Jones, married in 1780, Mary, the daughter of the Reverend William Tilsley of Llwydcoed, Montgomery, who was vicar of Llandinam and rector of Penstrowed. Their son William Tilsley Jones, Esquire, of Gwynfryn was a Justice of the Peace, Deputy Lieutenant for the county and held the office of High Sheriff in 1838. He married, firstly, Jane daughter of Henry Tickell, Esquire, of Leytonstone in the county of Essex. Of this union, William Basil was born at Cheltenham on 2 January 1822 and baptised at Llangynfelyn.

Basil Jones received his early education at Aberystwyth, and like many other boys of Welsh gentry families later went to Shrewsbury School. Here he was fortunate to come under the influence of Dr Samuel Butler (grandfather of Samuel Butler author of Erewhon) and his successor Dr Kennedy. The young pupil quickly showed outstanding ability in Latin and Greek, and it has been recalled that his intellectual prowess in the classics was far superior to that of any of his fellow pupils. On account of this and his slight physique it became a favourite school prank to place Jones on a chair to be greeted by his friends as 'basileus' — 'King' of the school in knowledge and attainment. But there were other pranks as well! In later life the Bishop was once chaffed by his old school-fellow, James Bowen Q.C., of Bridell concerning their youthful days at Shrewsbury. Amongst other 'delinquencies' at school the eminent lawyer recalled the surreptitious draughts of weak brandy and water they used as boys to consume. But Dr Basil Jones was not pleased by these reminders of schoolboy antics — "And have you no other reminiscence of our school days, Mr Bowen" he asked in dry polite tones "save those of our infantile follies and weaknesses?"

Notwithstanding these episodes, Jones' studious nature was of great concern to his father, who expected his son and heir to show interest in the pursuit of 'fur, fin and feather' and other outdoor pastimes felt to be more appropriate for a future country squire. But Basil was happier whiling away the idle hours in the woods around Gwynfryn reading Homer and Virgil.

From Shrewsbury School Basil Jones entered Trinity College, Oxford, where the distinguished Tractarian cleric Isaac Williams of Cwmcynfelyn was a Fellow. At Oxford, Basil Jones won the Ireland scholarship, and after graduating with a second class in Literae Humaniores graduated B.A., in 1845 and M.A., in 1847. Shortly afterwards he was elected fellow of Queen's and later of University College. For about twenty years he played an important part in university life, and was examiner in classics and theology.

The range of his scholarship was very wide, as may be seen from the following publications, Vestiges of the Gael in Gwynedd (1851); The History and Antiquities of St Davids, jointly with Professor Freeman (1856); Notes on the Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles (1862); The New Testament — A Commentary, jointly with Archdeacon Churton (1865); The Peace of God, Sermons on the Reconciliation of God and Man (1869), along with various pamphlets, papers and charges.

Ordained deacon in 1848 and priest in 1853, Jones became a great friend of Dr Thompson, President of Queen's College, and afterwards Archbishop of York. Years later Thompson offered him the Archdeaconry of York, an office which he accepted along with other ecclesiastical appointments, viz — Chancellor and Canon Residentiary of York, Vicar of Bishopethorpe and Prebendary of St Davids Cathedral. He was also patron of the living of Mexbrough near Rotherham. In addition to holding these offices he inherited the Gwynfryn estate on his father's death in 1861. Hitherto his experience had been limited to a cloistered and academic way of life, and the cure of souls in two parishes now widened his knowledge of pastoral and human problems. After seven years as Archdeacon of York (1867-1874) he was appointed Bishop of St Davids and held the see until his death on 14 January 1897.

As bishop of St Davids he continued and developed the work of his two predecessors, Thomas Burgess and Connop Thirlwall. He raised the standard of spiritual, pastoral and educational work in the diocese, and brought about a considerable reorganisation of the diocesan machinery. The church continued strong and influential and it is claimed that Bishop Jones consecrated three new churches annually to every one during Thirlwall's time. Dr Jones was an antiquary and ecclesiologist of standing and his advice during building and restoration was invaluable. He always insisted upon the employment of well informed architects who would be in sympathy with the liturgical claims made upon them. In statistical terms the bishop consecrated 76 churches and chapels of ease, 21 new churchyards and 31 extensions to existing burial grounds. But more important was the increase from 26,000 communicants in 1873, to about 46,000 in 1896.

Through his wide knowledge of canon law the bishop could help his clergy in many a difficult situation, and the administration of a vast diocese demanded a most meticulous care, which his organisational ability ensured. At a time when disestablishment and anti-tithe agitation was increasingly felt Dr Jones' dealings with friend and foe alike were marked by a deep sense of justice. His charges laid down the broad principles at stake. In 1881 he founded the Diocesan Conference, which was to become a forum for public debate on the contemporary challenges to church and laity. Generous grants were made from his private resources towards diocesan clergy and church building funds.

Although he was a Welshman of old Cardiganshire stock and 'a genuine squire' his completely English education and long stay beyond Offa's Dyke had so influenced him that he had little sympathy with Welsh national aspirations. Late in life the Bishop had learnt Welsh which he spoke with a "llediaith" he was never able to throw off. It was with difficulty that he preached in Welsh, and this was a serious obstacle when he faced Welsh-speaking congregations where fervour and fluency would have won their hearts. Observers have noted that, in his relations with the public and in the closer sphere of his own clergy, his manner was aloof and lacking in enthusiasm. He aimed at precision, impartiality and a certain degree of primness in speech and in writing, illustrated by an example in his notable work on St Davids, where the Bishop expresses doubt about the purpose of the monolithic stones so frequent in the fields of Dyfed. He is not sure "whether they were erected to commemorate a burial, a battle, or a treaty, or whether they were not rather designed for the convenience of cattle afflicted with cutaneous disorders." One feels that it could never have occurred to him to call them rubbing stones put up by local farmers.

Perhaps the quiet, meditative and scholarly bishop will best be remembered as an antiquary and ecclesiologist. It is not too much to claim for him that his classic book on St Davids led to the ultimate saving of that grand, but at that time, decaying pile, the glory of Dyfed. In an age too often given to ignorant even if enthusiastic "restoration" of churches, Dr Jones did much to preserve the ancient features of the fabrics in his diocese. An example is quoted of a gross piece of impending vandalism at Llanbadarn Fawr, when a fine old lancet window was doomed to be destroyed to make room for a memorial window to Colonel Pryse of Gogerddan. A peremptory message from the Bishop prevented the mischief at the last moment. In his concern for a fitting restoration of St Davids Cathedral, he found a worthy ally in Dean Allen, of the Cresselly family. But there were cases which escaped the benefit of his expert advice, notably the tomb of Sir Rhys ap Thomas in St Peter's, Carmarthen which had already been removed to London to be "restored" before it was possible for him to intervene.

Bishop Jones belonged to a class of squire clerics — 'squarsons', to use the sobriquet employed by H. M. Vaughan — along with the Reverend Rhys Lloyd of Troedyraur, Bishop Lewis of Henllan, Archdeacon North of Llangoedmore and others. They had abandoned the use of Welsh speech to all intents and purposes, and as members of the upper classes had succumbed to English influences through their education, wider travel and the tide of circumstances. Dr Jones was in some measure too alienated from the flock under his care in that he represented a social class and a way of life far removed from the hard lot of the majority. Yet his passing was deeply mourned. Churchmen and nonconformists paid their tributes and it was felt that a "prince and a great man had fallen in Israel". People lined the roadway from Abergwili to Carmarthen, whence his body was taken to Aberystwyth and Llangynfelyn to be buried along with his ancestors in the family vault. A contemporary poet expressed the feelings of many:—

"Er galar, aw! eglur iawn — yw gloes ddofn
Eglwys Dduw hiraethlawn;
O ŵydd hon ciliodd uniawn
Esgob o ddysg a byw ddawn.

Ai'n Dad, β'i llygad yn lli', - ŵyla hon,
Ac am Lenor mawr fri:
Iτr y dawn, eto rho Di
Dad duwiol i Dŷ Dewi."

Basil Jones married, firstly, on 10 September 1856, Frances Charlotte, second daughter of the Rev. Samuel Holworthy, vicar of Croxhall, Derbyshire. She died without issue on 21 September 1881. He married, secondly, on 2 December 1886, Anne Loxdale, daughter of George Henry Loxdale of Aighburth near Liverpool. Of this union William Basil Loxdale Jones was born 16 February 1890 and succeeded to the Gwynfryn estate. He died on active service in the 1914-1918 War. The Bishop also left two daughters Gwladys Mary Loxdale and Audrey Dorothea Loxdale. The latter married David Evans son of Dr D. Evans, Hawen, and brother of the Reverend William Evans (Wil Ifan), poet and eisteddfodwr. Mrs Evans survives and resides at Pengelli near Rhydlewis.

Annals of Counties and County Families of Wales. T. Nicholas.
Burke's Landed Gentry.
Y Geninen.
Yr Haul.
Carmarthen Journal.
Dictionary of National Biography.
Y Bywgraffiadur Cymreig.
The South Wales Squires. H. M. Vaughan.
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