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David Archard Williams and His Times 1796-1879

By T. L. EVANS, B.A.,
Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Carmarthen.

DAVID Archard Williams was the son of a former curate of St. Peter's Church, Carmarthen and vicar of Llanpumpsaint (the Rev. Thomas Williams). Left an orphan at the age of four, he was brought up by poor relations and therefore had no material advantage, but in spite of this he became a man of wide interests and considerable accomplishments. He held prominent positions, both civil and ecclesiastical, and had an important influence on many facets of Carmarthen life religious, educational and material between 1820 and 1879. A man who at various times was a Headmaster, a Judge (of the Consistory Court), an Editor, a Rural Dean, Chancellor, Archdeacon, County Magistrate, Commissioner of Taxes, and a Director of the Gasworks was obviously a man of great native ability.

At the time of the birth of Archard at the end of the eighteenth century Carmarthen still had many features of the Middle Ages. The last Gateway, Dark Gate, was not pulled down until 1796, when houses were demolished to make a new road (Golden Grove Street, later Blue Street) to the Quay. A map of Carmarthen of 1785 shows that both streams forming the medieval defences on the north and west were still uncovered, and that the 13th Century mill flood (Tawelan diversion) still flowed from St. Catherine's Mill (the site of Central Garage) as an open ditch around the site of the former Capitol Cinema along John Street to Dark Gate; it was joined by another ditch near the recently demolished Malt House in John Street. This second stream was another diversion for defensive purposes along (Little) Water Street, and parallel to Wood's Row. This latter stream may have been responsible, when it flowed in a more direct course, for the marshy area known as Waen Dosia, sometimes called Wide or Wild Ocean, which are possibly corrupted forms.

Westwards the road from Lammas Street had hedges where Picton Terrace and Park Terrace now stand, and descended Royal Oak Hill (now Monument Hill) to what is now Johnstown. This area was marshy and the old road to the west which avoided the marsh, could still be traced turning right at the Toll Gate to Job's Well before going on to Pentresil Farm and Pontgarreg. The entrance to the town from Pensarn was hazardous, especially at high tides, as the road was regularly inundated, a circumstance which caused the Common Council in 1799 to order a supply of oak poles to mark the course of the road during floods. The Bulwark or artificial levee, a once favourite walk of the townsfolk along the south bank of the Tywi from the road bridge towards the site of the railway bridge (White Bridge), was not constructed until the 1820s. The main road to Cardigan was via Water Street, passing the Toll Gate burnt by Rebecca in the 1840s; the other road to Cardigan along the lower Gwili valley came into use in the middle of the century when Bronwydd was joined to Conwil.

Carmarthen in 1801 had a population of 5548 and this figure had almost doubled by 1831 to 9938 but remained somewhat static for the rest of the period. The dominant industry was the flourishing Iron and Tin Works with an output of some 400 tons of bar iron (charcoal method) per year. The centuries old woollen industry still survived and even expanded during the period. Carmarthen was an important port at the beginning of the century the warehouses on the Quay were bulging with agricultural produce and there was a constant flow of shipping, e.g. during the week of June 16 and 17, 1815 (the week of Waterloo) 10 ships entered the port. A study of the Carmarthen Journal for the period reveals that there was contact with all the major English, Scottish and Irish ports and cargoes included salt from Gloucester, earthenware from Bideford and even paving stones from the limestone quarries at Pendine. There was also a steady shipment of coal from Kidwelly which had first to be brought by road from Llanelly.

There was a very great gap between the classes. For the upper class, life was comfortable, with winter entertainments to while away the weary hours. Cock-fighting at Furnace House was much in vogue, horse races were well supported by the Common Council and later there would be a cricket club, founded in 1830 under the patronage of John Jones, Ystrad. Transport by road (stage coach) or by sea was for the better off and until the coming of the railway in 1852 Carmarthen was virtually cut off for the majority of its citizens. Such was the town that Archard Williams grew up in. By the time of his death in 1879 Carmarthen had entered the age of the steam railway and had taken on the shape that is still evident.

Archard Williams owed a great deal to his eduction and he was always interested in education, both elementary and grammar, but that is not to say that he was a great innovator. As a foundation scholar of Carmarthen's Free Grammar School, founded by letters patent of Queen Elizabeth in July 1576, his eduction was mainly in Latin grammar and Theology, for until 1827 the School trained theology students and ordination took place from the School. While at school he was awarded exhibitions in 1818 and 1819 by the S.P.C.K. for his work in theology and music. The theological nature of the school is illustrated by reference to accounts of school concerts in the Carmarthen Journal, e.g. on June 25, 1819 David Williams recited the 1st Eclogue in Latin, Smart on the Eternity of the Supreme Being, and gave a farewell address; "the Responses were set to music and performed after each commandment by Mr. D. A. Williams". During the School Concert on December 22, 1819 D. A. Williams conducted the musical department and recited "The Grace", "Death", and gave a valedictory address.

Although he had never been to a university in fact, he was to maintain that he had never been away from Carmarthen for longer than two months he was appointed Usher or Assistant Master to the Rev. Thomas Hancock M.A. in 1820 and when the latter died in 1824 Archard Williams was appointed Headmaster of the Grammar School although there were some misgivings expressed at the time because he had no degree. However, he was licensed by the Bishop of St. David's. During the period when he was headmaster, the school underwent an important change. In 1824 there were 65 pupils, but after the opening of St. David's College, Lampeter in 1827 the numbers slumped to 18 by 1834, thus confirming the essentially theological nature of the school. But numbers gradually recovered and Williams was able to state when he retired in 1856 that there were over fifty students. Afterwards the school amalgamated with the Sir Thomas Powell School.

As there was no specific university degree or even training in education as an academic discipline, the vast majority of schoolmasters were clergymen, who specialised in Latin and Greek. Often, therefore, they were part-timers in both professions. Dr. Arnold was able to achieve much at Rugby because he was able to pay his staff enough to enable them to concentrate on teaching. A study of the headmasters of the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School shows that the majority were pluralists, often vicars of neighbouring parishes like Llangunnor and Abergwili. David Archard Williams was no different, being, among many Church appointments, rector of Merthyr in 1843 as well as perpetual curate of St. David's Parish, Carmarthen. As a pluralist he must have had some difficulty in carrying out his various functions; in fact, one pupil complained about his habit of correcting proofs for the Carmarthen Journal while attempting to teach class. Sir Lewis Morris, an old pupil, averred that the headmaster was frequently absent for up to a week. The ushers who taught school and looked after the boarding arrangements also had to be prepared to take over clerical duty on a Sunday, e.g. there was a coachman to take the Rev, R. Halliday James (1845) to officiate at Sunday services at Merthyr Church. As for the Rev. Archard Williams, he was otherwise engaged at St. David's Church, Carmarthen.

If he had not been a pluralist and had been dependent only on his salary as a headmaster, Archard Williams would undoubtedly have been in financial difficulties, for records show that early headmasters did suffer from money troubles. In 1824 Archard Williams received an allowance of 15 yearly from the Common Council for house rent in addition to 20 from the tithes of St. Ishmael, out of which he had to pay the salary of the usher. Even so, these perquisites did not necessarily ensure security, for the value of the fixed amount from St. Ishmael must have decreased since the 17th century and payment from the Council was very likely frequently uncertain because of its financial difficulties. In 1833 the Council could not pay the salaries of the Surgeon or Chaplain to the Gaol, and 110 was owed to the Headmaster.

Because transport was poor, boarding arrangements at the School were very important. Advertisements in the Carmarthen Journal for the period announced that "Boarders will experience every domestic comfort & indulgence compatible with the proper discharge of their scholastic duties & to whom at meals food will be served without limitation or reserve". No suggestion here of Dotheboys Hall, but not so far away, an advertisement dubiously boasted that at a boarding school at Merlin's Bridge, near Haverfordwest, few holidays were given and no doctor had been called in during a period of two years!

The number of subjects taught in the school increased over the years and although there was no mention of Welsh as a subject there is ample evidence that the standard in the vernacular was high. Pupils received prizes for their Welsh essays in open competition, e.g. Thomas Williams was awarded one of the two medals given by the Cymmrodorion or Metropolitan Institution, London for an essay on Hywel Dda. Archard Williams himself was a fluent Welsh speaker, preaching regularly at Welsh services at St. David's Church. While Latin and Greek were taught as standard subjects, there was an extra charge of six shillings a quarter for Arithmetic. An arithmetic work-book of Henry Williams, who was at school in 1820-1821, has recently come to light and it appears from the work that the arithmetic taught was quite impressive, there being adequate provision for the requirements of the business and commercial world.

Archard Williams's list of Old Boys included such Victorian worthies as Thomas Brigstocke, the portrait painter, an example of whose work can be seen in the Guildhall, Carmarthen, Sir Lewis Morris, the poet, of Penbryn, and Henry Brinley Richards, the musician. No account of the educational work of D. A. Williams is complete without mention of his efforts in the field of elementary education, in connection with which he was responsible for the building of the Model School in St. Catherine Street and the school in Bridge Street, now demolished. William Spurrell maintained that he was also responsible for the location of the South Wales Training College at Carmarthen instead of at Swansea.

Archard Williams was ordained into the church from the Grammer School and the church was the whole basis of his life. After ordination, he became chaplain to the Poor House n 1822 at a salary of 10 a year. He was occasional chaplain at the Gaol and was present at an execution when the rope broke and the condemned man rushed to the priest pleading "no hang twice", but the man was executed nevertheless after being condemned for a particularly brutal murder. In 1834 Archard Williams resigned the vicarage of Llangadock with Llandoisant annexed and the Bishop licensed him to the perpetual curacy of Llanfihangel Uwch Gwili. In 1838 he was made rural dean of Llandilo. His appointment as rector of Merthyr in 1843 was followed by that of perpetual curate of the newly created ecclesiastical district of St. David's, Carmarthen (the same Order in Council, February 14th, 1844, also created the ecclesiastical district of Llanllwch). It was Archard Williams who was largely responsible for the creation of St. David's Church for Welsh-speaking worshippers in Carmarthen. The original church was to have been called St. Paul's (an extra English church), designed by Nash to be built on the site of the present Christ Church, but this did not materialise. The building of St. David's Church supplied an urgent need, as Welsh-speaking church-goers were previously poorly supplied with services. No sooner was the church open than there were frequent letters to the Carmarthen Journal demanding that there should be two Welsh and only one English service, it being inferred that the 6 p.m. service was for the benefit of the English residents of Picton Terrace. As a result, in 1840, the "New Church building committee had an interview with the Bishop on the subject of an additional Welsh service in St. David's", and the Carmarthen Journal reported "that there is little doubt that the Welsh will have a Church to repair to at 6 on the Sabbath which they can call their own". However the Journal prediction was a little previous, because the building of Christ Church for the benefit of English-speaking worshippers of St. David's did not come about until 1869. Actually, the idea of Christ Church was to get the English element out of St. David's Church, so that all services could be in Welsh bilingual services were anathema to Archard Williams.

From 1828 to 1857 he was principal surrogate at the Consistory Court held in St. Peter's Church. A case heard by Williams was reported in the Carmarthen Journal in 1834: "In the Bishop's Court held in St. Peter's Church in this town on Thursday 20th inst. the following case was tried before the Rev. D. A. Williams, Surrogate 'Gross & Scandalous expression by John Jenkins of Llwynybrain against Anne wife of William James of Llanfihangel y Croyddin'. The Judge decreed for Anne." The court where cases were tried is still identifiable at the north end of the south aisle. In 1857, as a result of the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act, civil jurisdiction was transferred from the consistory courts to the new courts established in London.

Further preferment came to Williams in November 1857, when he was made Chancellor of the Diocese of St. Davids, which included the six counties of South Wales, as well as border parishes in Montgomery, Hereford and Monmouth. From 1865 until his death he was Archdeacon of Carmarthen. He was also at various times secretary of the Church Union Society and treasurer of the Clergymen's Widows Fund.

His other interests were many and varied. As a director of the Gasworks, he took a practical interest in the mechanics of production, and as editor of the Carmarthen Journal he possessed a more than adequate command of English, sufficient it was said to stir the London Thunderer to reply. When there was a run on Carmarthen banks in 1828 he was among the signatories to a letter to the Journal supporting them. When a cholera epidemic threatened he joined the committee set up to prevent its spread. But some of the preventive measures suggested would not have made any great appeal to modern physicians; among the measures were injunctions to eat less cake (this to the poor!), and to shut windows at night to keep out the cold air. Needless to say, the measures were unsuccessful. He signed a petition in 1823 against slavery in the British Colonies, but showed his religious bias by seconding a motion to petition against increased political power for Roman Catholics. He led a movement for the Sunday closing of public houses at a time when the magistrates had little confidence that the local constabulary would enforce such an order; and in the event, constables from other areas were brought into town. Indeed, police indiscipline was not uncommon; in 1840, at the Watch Committee meeting Inspector Pugh charged policeman Woods with being absent from his beat for up to three hours and being found drunk and in the company of a prostitute. Woods became abusive and expressed his contempt for the Committee in no uncertain terms - "I care less for you than the fifth wheel of a Coach".

In his time he must have amassed some money, as Archard Williams had a house in Ferryside beside the parsonage in Picton Terrace, but examples can be found of his acts of charity. He started a custom of providing a Christmas dinner for the octogenarians in his parish; times might have been hard but quite a few lived to a good age (Carmarthen was very salubrious, according to The Welshman). In January 1865 there were thirty-three octogenarians present on a celebratory occasion at the Model School; the oldest was 98 and the average age 84 years 10 months. Addressing them in Welsh Chancellor Williams said that in his time as incumbent of St. David's (Carmarthen) he had buried eight centenarians, the oldest being 115. On January 3, 1868, the now Archdeacon entertained twenty-one octogenarians and those unable to be present were supplied with dinners at their homes; the youngest was 80 and the oldest 100. The Archdeacon, who was 72, himself supplied each aged guest with the first instalment of the dinner.

The Church of England at the beginning of the 19th Century was out of touch with the Welsh-speaking masses and a sombre picture is painted of the clergy, many of whom were lethargic and performed their services in a perfunctory way. Archard Williams must have been keenly aware of these various adverse factors, for he reacted positively and devoted his energies to supplying the needs of the Welsh-speaking church-people. His success can be illustrated by the fact that in 1847 St. David's Sunday School had 600 scolars and fifty teachers.

It was said that he had a "slight defective utterance and neither the compass of voice nor clear enunciation essential to public speaking". There are probably other criticisms that could be levelled against him; nevertheless, he was a man of positive action whose good works were beneficial to Carmarthen and far outweighed his weaknesses. He died on 16th September 1879 at his house in Ferryside and was buried in St. David's churchyard, Carmarthen.

Sources :
(i) Carmarthen Journal and The Welshman;
(ii) Maidunian 1891;
(iii) St. David's Vestry Minutes;
(iv) Minutes of Carmarthen Council.
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