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Pentwyn Academy


PENTWYN farm lies in the parish of Llannon in south-east Dyfed near the boundary of Llanedy parish, and overlooks the Gwili and Llwchwr rivers about a mile and a half east of the village of Llannon. Here in the eighteenth century Samuel Jones established a minor academy. This Pentwyn is sometimes confused with another Pentwyn, a hamlet consisting of a cluster of houses, a farm, and a chapel also in Llannon parish, about threequarters of a mile south of Cross Hands.

Pentwyn Academy was founded at a time when there was a need for the preparation of young people to become Nonconformist ministers. The older academies had almost all closed; they included the academies of Samuel Jones, Brynllywarch (1697), Rhys Prydderch, Ystradwallter/Aberllyfni (1699), Roger Griffiths, Abergavenny (1702), Rees Price, Tynton, who lost the support of the Congregational Board and the Presbyterian Board (1704), but carried on for some years, and James Owen, Oswestry/Shrewsbury (1706). Nonconformists had, during the second half of the seventeenth century, founded and sustained these seminaries for ministers and laymen notwithstanding the opposition of the Established Church. Their antagonists had realised that in order to stem the tide of Nonconformity it was essential to prevent the nurture of a new generation of erudite leaders. History has confirmed the validity of their anxiety. Only five per cent of the population was Nonconformist in 1700, whereas it has been stated by Prof. Dd. Williams that the proportion increased to seventy per cent by 1850. The Established Church could not hold the loyalty of the parishioners without secular sanctions. This instrument had been invoked down the centuries, but it may be argued that the attempt to establish a totalitarian regime for religion is more subtle in our time.

Case after case was brought before the courts during the seventeenth century in order to secure the closure of the minor academics, claiming that they had not been licensed by a bishop according to the intention of the Act of Uniformity, 1662. But many of the court awards turned out to be in favour of the academies, among them being the famous Bates Case 1670. According to the judgment given in favour of William Bates, "A schoolmaster could keep a school without a bishop's licence provided that he was appointed by the patron". On the basis of this encouragement, Samuel Jones, Brynllywarch and others proceeded to establish their schools. It seems that about one thousand schools were opened between 1660 and 1730 throughout the kingdom, despite continual opposition.

When Anne ascended the throne in 1702 the outlook darkened for Nonconformity once more. She was a loyal supporter of the Established Church and was expected to take steps to discourage Nonconformity. Even so William Evans went from Pencader to take charge of the Congregational church at Priory Street, Carmarthen in 1704 and, with conspicuous courage, opened an academy in the town. This able and determined man had been trained at the Academy of the illustrious Rhys Prydderch, Ystrad Walter, and at the beginning of his pastoral work had enjoyed the patronage of Stephen Hughes. He brought together at Carmarthen the tradition of Ystrad Walter and Brynllywarch and his Academy was destined to exert a powerful influence on the religion and theology of Wales for two and a half centuries. William Evans had realised that without nurseries for Nonconformist leaders the flame of religious freedom would become dim, and so he ventured into this field with energy, but on account of his Nonconformity he lost the S.P.C.K. grant for the school which he kept alongside the academy.

The Tories assumed power in 1710 and proceeded to make the Act of Uniformity unequivocal in relation to the Nonconformist academies. They succeeded in persuading Parliament to accept the Schism Bill. According to the new law every academy was required to obtain a bishop's licence, a device to secure their disappearance. These minor academies were kept under the auspices of the Congregationalists and Presbyterians (early); the Baptists did not promote academies until some years afterwards. Learning was not prominent in the programme of the Methodist Revivalists, although Howel Harris and William Williams had profited from the education available at the Independent Academy of Llwynllwyd near Hay. It is true that Lady Huntingdon provided the means for Harris to open a College at Trefecca towards the end of his career.

The Schism Act was intended to come into operation on 1st August 1714, but unfortunately for its sponsors the Queen died that very day. Although this Act may have hindered the activities of some academies and even discouraged for the time being the founding of new ones, there does not seem to have been much enthusiasm shown towards persecuting the Nonconformists after the patronage of the Queen had been lost. The Whigs abolished the Schism Law in 1719 and as the Tories did not acquire power during the next half century the Dissenters were free to establish academies and to increase their hold on religious life, although all the denominations were not recognised for another century. It is doubtful even today whether every one in Wales recognises that all denominations have equal privileges in every respect.

Pentwyn.thumb.jpg Few new Nonconformist academies were founded in Wales during Anne's reign. Then in 1722 Vavasor Griffiths opened his Academy at Maesgwyn, in Radnorshire, and David Price maintained one at Llwynllwyd, Breconshire about this time. There were therefore at least two Dissenting academies in South Wales, apart from the Carmarthen Academy when Samuel Jones founded another on his farm at Pentwyn. He had received his education at the Carmarthen Academy from about 1717 onwards, firstly under William Evans and later under Thomas Perrot. It is believed that whilst yet a student he supervised some of the Independent churches developing in the neighbourhood. The mantle of Stephen Hughes and the responsibility of succouring "The Church (Independent) in Carmarthenshire" had fallen on his teacher. Samuel Jones took charge of Capel Seion Church in the parish of Llanddarog about 1720, and of Tyrdwncyn church in the parish of Llangyfelach, Glamorgan, at the same time. Pentwyn stood between the two.

In addition to pastoral work, ministers of religion commonly undertook farming enterprises as well, for the flocks of the older Nonconformist churches were small as were the stipends they provided. William Evans received only fifteen shillings (total) from his church at Pencader during the first two years of his pastorate there. Growth was slow even after the churches had been given a measure of freedom; no doubt some recollection of persecution persisted. Lammas Street Church, Carmarthen had only 35 members by 1712. Samuel Jones, having the responsibility of two churches, and adding an academy to his farming enterprise, could not have had much spare time. Simple farming continued throughout the country during the early part of the eighteenth century; it had not changed for a long period. Lord Ernle stated1 that farmers then 'lived, thought and farmed' as farmers had done five hundred years previously, but the methods improved substantially before the end of the century. However, it was necessary to grow corn to make bread (barley and wheat) and to feed the animals in addition to the production of milk and meat, butter and cheese for the family and students at Pentwvn. That pattern was also followed by another Samuel Jones at Brynllywarch and Vavasor Griffiths at Maesgwyn.

Roland Thomas states in his book on Richard Price that Pentwyn Academy had thrived from 1730 to 1750 but he admitted later, in the Dictionary of Welsh Biography, that it had lasted for twenty two years. W. J. Evans, who had been principal at the Carmarthen College, believed that the Pentwyn Academy had lasted for at least twenty two years. A memorial can still be seen on the outside wall of the barn at Pentwyn with the year 1727 clearly shown on it, and the bust of a man draped with a gown. The memorial reads

PAP [or ? R]

If the date 1727 has a bearing on the age of the academy it tends to confirm the statement of W. J. Evans. Samuel Jones relinquished his care of Capel Seion in 1751 or 1752 and went to live at Penbre where he already held the pastorate of Jerusalem, as well as one at Tyrdwncyn. If he had continued the Academy to the end of his period at Pentwyn it might have had a life of twenty four years.

Doctrinal Debates
Samuel Jones aimed at the preparation of young people for academies similar in nature to that at Carmarthen. The number of students normally enrolled during the session at Pentwyn has not been published; probably it was small. According to Archdeacon Tenison, William Evans had only from five to six students at Carmarthen during 1710 and the Congregational Board would not allow more than a complement of ten students there after 1747. The Baptist College at Abergavenny had only six students on the roll a hundred years later (1818). Although only a few students may have been at Pentwyn in any one year some of them were endowed with outstanding natural gifts. Thomas Morgan, a Congregational minister at Henllan Amgoed, in West Carmarthenshire, has recorded some of the activities at Pentwyn. He went there in 1741 and studied for sixteen months before entering the College at Carmarthen. Although he knew of the reservations of Edmund Jones 'the old prophet' concerning the theology of Samuel Jones, and in spite of Jones's advice for him to go to Joseph Simmons's school in Swansea, he eventually took the advice of David Williams, his teacher at Watford. Williams had studied at Carmarthen and therefore references to Arminianism and Arianism did not perturb him.

Thomas Morgan kept a diary (NLW 5456A), now a valuable document at the National Library of Wales, giving details of his life as a student. He wrote in English, the medium in which Howel Harris and others of the period wrote. According to Morgan, the Pentwyn tuition laid emphasis on the classics. The curriculum included Latin Grammar, Ovid, Lucius and Virgil, the Greek Testament and the English language. Theology seems to have received special attention but Morgan does not dwell on the subject in detail, although he mentions lessons on the work of Dr. Samuel Clarke, a theologian and devoted Anglican at Cambridge. He did not however become an enthusiastic follower of Clarke's liberal theology, possibly because he had been touched by the Methodist Revival before reaching Pentwyn.

Whilst at Pentwyn and at Carmarthen, Morgan preached at the churches of Samuel Jones. He records a conversation with his friend Benjamin Evan (1744), who told him 'that most of the members of Capel Seion were Arminian'. Although the minister was considered to he Arminian in outlook he does not appear to have pursued that doctrine with great zeal in the pulpit. We are told that 'his Arminianism did not influence his church at Tyrdwncyn. His sermons reveal an evangelical flavour and if he had been inclined to Arminianism he had not proceeded as far in that direction as some of his contemporaries'. The Arminianism of the professors at Carmarthen, and also of Samuel Jones, disturbed Howel Harris considerably. He made more than one attempt to win Samuel Jones to the Revival cause, but he was not altogether successful. His comment in the diary after a visit to Pentwyn was 'Bless my dear Samuel Jones'.

It seems that the teachers at Carmarthen and at Pentwyn dealt with theology on a different plane in the lecture room from that in the pulpit. The theories of Arminius were the subject of lively discussion in the sphere of religion in Wales from 1729 onwards. We have the impression however that the teachers who have been mentioned emphasised the gospel in their sermons, rather than subject their hearers to repetitions of creeds and dogmas. Thomas Perrot at Carmarthen did not expect his students to accept any particular dogma but encouraged them to examine their particular problems objectively and choose a point of view to develop. His liberal approach to theology and ethics impelled him to lay before his students various dogmas to be considered and discussed. David Peter, an able and balanced teacher, came later to take charge of the Carmarthen Academy. 'He again would not tie his students to any particular teaching but encouraged them in every way to search for the truth by wide reading, and to exercise their judgment and reason for analysing religious problems. Every student could reject any orthodox and accepted doctrine, if he were guided by conviction on the subject'. That tradition was maintained by the Carmarthen College until its closure, an ethos worthy of university status. The academy at Abergavenny on the other hand demanded of the students an expression of their theological faith before they could obtain entry. There was poor hope for those with independent minds.

As Samuel Jones had been under the influence of Thomas Perrot for a part of his career at Carmarthen it can be appreciated that his attitude to religious philosophy was not a narrow one; his training had prepared him for the roll of an intelligent teacher. He was trained in the classics and theology, and at the same time he acquired some knowledge of 'Logic, Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Conics, Astronomy, Geography, Natural Philosophy and History'. It is noteworthy that science had a definite share in the curriculum and that substantial sums of money were allocated periodically by the College authorities for the purchase of scientific apparatus. One of the most interesting items of equipment for study was a human skeleton which, to the amusement of the students, the professor would nurse on his knee during the lecture. Until the end of the nineteenth century the College maintained this wide spectrum for its curriculum, following the tradition of Llanilltyd Fawr in the sixth century and the universities of Britain until the age of specialisation in the recent past. Watcyn Samuel Jones (M.A., M.Sc.), who became Principal of the Presbyterian College, Carmarthen, after retiring as Chief Inspector in Wales for the Ministry of Agriculture, could claim to be among the last students at that College to take the examination in science (1895). By now, however, the narrow curriculum for theological students may result in the pulpit and the pews losing contact.

Thomas Morgan thus described Samuel Jones: 'He was an excellent schoolteacher and a minister of considerable reputation, but with considerable faults also'. He expressed his joy at finding such a devout family at Pentwyn, and their reading of scriptures with psalm singing at evening. Morgan developed a critical faculty; he remarked after a sermon by Griffith Jones (Llanddowror) at Llanlluan in 1741: 'little advantage from the sermon'. After listening to William Williams (Pantycelyn) in 1744 he recorded: 'Preaching very warm but wants reading and study', and a few days afterwards he found Owen Rees 'very sweet but too long', and Howel Harris 'preaching at Castle Green practical'.

Destined for Fame
In 1735 there arrived at Pentwyn a new boy whose future fame would surpass that of any of his fellows at the academy. This boy, Richard Price,2 came from Tynton, Glamorgan, being the son of Rees Price, a man of means and of such learning that he took charge of the academy at Brynllywarch when its founder had died. Although Rees Price held orthodox and Calvanistic views very strongly, he allowed Richard to register at Pentwyn when he was only twelve years of age; he remained there for three years. He could not have entered the Carmarthen College had he desired to do so, for the authorities had decided in 1733, the year the College was transferred to Llwynllwyd, Breconshire, that the minimum age for acceptance was fifteen. We can appreciate the alarm felt by Rees Price when his son brought strange philosophies home during his periodic visits. Considering that Richard at this period was only from twelve to fifteen years old he showed remarkable interest in the philosophy of religion. The ideas of Dr. Samuel Clarke, and others of like persuasion, had such an effect on his thinking that their influence remained with him all his life. According to one story, his father became so incensed at seeing him reading a book of sermons by Clarke that he threw the book into the fire. The Cambridge scholar, after making detailed studies of both Testaments, rejected the Trinity theory, and wrote a book on the subject. Clarke agreed on this matter with the Early Church, Luther and Calvin.

Although Richard Price agreed with Calvin in proscribing the Trinity he rejected many of Calvin's dogmas and developed into an Arian. This led him to become a Presbyterian (Unitarian) minister. He had reached important cross roads in his outlook at Pentwyn, as John Penry had done at Peterhouse, the oldest and most Protestant college in Cambridge. Penry had gone there an orthodox youth from the Epynt hills to return a Puritan. Price went from Pentwyn to Chancefield Academy, near Talgarth, but the Calvinism of Vavasor Griffiths there failed to persuade him to return to the orthodox fold.

The eighteenth century witnessed theological discussions developing from Arminianism to Arianism and Pelagianism and then to Unitarianism. Down the centuries we have seen theologians taking special interest in doctrinal discussions although it is doubtful whether doctrine and dogma signify the essence of Christianity. Fierce debates occupied the time of Christian theologians over fifteen hundred years ago and continued throughout the centuries. Chief among the protagonists against Augustine was the British monk Pelagius, or Morgan as Welsh people would recognise him, whose beliefs shook the religious world of three continents; no other Welsh theologian has ever done this. Rose Macaulay summarised the debate thus in The Towers of Trebizond: 'St. Augustine, an intellectual, put predestination across and got the better of Pelagius who was right, but less intellectual and dominating, not being a Carthaginian and only of Welsh origin. Predestination was suitable for lunatics; Calvin swallowed it, Erasmus hated it, but the Augustinians were got down in the end. Pelagians now have it all their own way, and the Predestinators not the Pelagians do vainly talk'.

RichardPrice.thumb.jpg Neither Rees Price nor Samuel Jones could have foreseen the results of the turn to the left taken by Richard Price at Pentwyn. One of the consequences of this decision was the mark of respect shown by the French Assembly for Richard Price by going into mourning when he died in 1791. The United States held him in such high regard that Congress invited him to join them in order to advise on the financial situation of the new State. Lord Shelburne showed his appreciation of Price's knowledge and ability by inviting him to become his private secretary when he became Prime Minister and shortly afterwards he was in the confidence of the young Prime Minister, William Pitt, who was anxious to have his help to solve the problem of the National Debt. Price produced three schemes for Pitt, who chose the least effective of them. Price developed into a powerful moral philosopher and his pronouncements on the natural rights of man stimulated the peoples of America and of France to reach for freedom. It has been said that 'the French Revolution began with a sermon', that sermon3 was preached by the Reverend Richard Price. It was no wonder that some of the chief leaders of France, the United States and of Britain became his close friends and correspondents, among them being Thomas Jefferson (of Welsh extraction), George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, David Hume, Joseph Priestley, Mirabeau and Turgot.

In addition to the publication of books on philosophy and politics, Price made a masterly contribution to our understanding of the significance of insurance and actuarial practice. He encouraged his nephew William Morgan ('actuary Morgan') to become the chief authority in those fields. Honours were showered on the son of Tynton; he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society, and Universities in Britain and America conferred honorary degrees on him. He was of sufficient calibre to have his name besides that of George Washington to receive an honorary degree from the University of Yale, The city of London made him a Freeman, and he was made an honorary citizen of the United States of America.

His political, and financial ideas had made a deep impression on progressive minds in Paris, Washington and London, but what was his position as a moral philosopher, and what influence did he exert on the philosophical thought of Europe? M. E. Ogborn claims 'that Price was about thirty years in advance of Immanuel Kant in discussing the idea of the Categorical Intperative',4 and Chambers Encyclopaedia states that 'as a moralist, in some points [he] strangely foreshadows Kant'. According to Henry Sidgwick, 'The English(!) moralist with whom Kant has most affinity is Price. . . . Kant like Price and Reid, holds that man as a rational being is unconditionally bound to conform to a certain rule of right or categorical imperative of reason. Like Price he holds that an action is not good unless done from a good motive and that his motive must be essentially different from natural inclination of any kind; duty to be duty must be done for duty's sake'. The Reverend R. J. Jones (B.A., B.D.), has expressed the view that 'Richard Price wrote his book on morals, Review of the Principal Questions in Morals, before Kant wrote his Critique of Practical Reason, and Kant's ideas are in Price's book. Hume would have seen that book and Hume according to Kant awoke him "from his dogmatic slumber". Some may hold that my argument is not a strong one but I believe it is'.

Dr. D. O. Thomas of Aberystwyth, the chief authority today on the works of Richard Price, writes in a personal note that 'some of Kant's ideas agree with what is found in the books of Richard Price — that morality is dependent on the individual's freedom to act, that moral judgment is rational, and that there is special distinction between theoretical reason and practical reason. Also that Justice follows the moral law, and the conviction that moral goodness means doing our duty on the basis of the rightness of the action'.

Richard Price was undoubtedly the most brilliant of the several able scholars at Pentwyn. The academy justified its existence were it only for being instrumental in inspiring Richard Price to think for himself. The pupil, for his part, held his teacher in high regard: he appreciated his 'honest and liberal attitude towards religious principles'.
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