Griffith Jones (1683 – 1761)

Griffith Jones (Llanddowror)

Griffith Jones (Llanddowror)

Griffith Jones, or Llanddowror, (1683 – 1761) was a Welsh Anglican clergyman serving with the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge. He became frustrated with the sole use of English in the Welsh Anglican Church. With the help of his wealthy patrons, Sir John Phillip of Picton, his brother in law, and Madam Bridget Bevan [6], he set up circulating schools to teach elementary reading and writing skills to both adults and children throughout Wales. The circulating schools, which operated in Wales between about 1700 and 1779, were extremely effective in making a large minority of the Welsh population literate. It has been estimated that the schools succeeded in teaching some 200,000 people basic reading and writing skills, out of an estimated population of some 450,000. Given the relatively short span of time within which the circulating schools operated, these numbers are historically unprecedented. Wales, almost overnight, became the most literate society in Europe.

The effect of all this education was dramatic. Perhaps for the first time in history, people from all walks of life – from the most common laborers, servants, and tradesmen, up through the landed Gentry – could attain knowledge, debate and discuss theological, social, and political issues with one another, meeting as equals in both their access to the tools and materials of scholarship, and in their ability to fully comprehend them. The result of this dramatic and rapid increase in literacy and scholarship was profound. It had a leveling effect across the social caste system that threatened to disrupt the status quo. Understandably, not everyone was thrilled with the results.

Griffith Jones goal was to save souls, and his efforts brought people back into the fold of the Church (Richard Jones, without question, was among them.) There were, however, unintended consequences that Griffith Jones would not have anticipated, but many of his critics predicted;

“There is a risk of elevating, by indiscriminate education, the minds of those doomed to the drudgery of daily labour above their condition, and thereby rendering them discontented and unhappy in their lot.” [7]

Griffith Jones and his teachers brought literacy to the commoners. But after the zeal of the ministers sermons wound up and the parishioners were left to themselves to contemplate with new understanding all they heard and compare it with what they observed and with what they read in their Bibles, a strange thing occurred; the people began to think for themselves. And all around them, they saw hypocrisy, ignorance, greed, and degradation of Wales and the Welsh culture.

These troublesome Welsh, these ‘Ancient Britons’, they were the direct descendants of philosophers, poets, mythical heroes, Celtic kings, and scholars. Before the Anglo-Saxon invasion, before the Norman Conquest, before the scourge of religious persecutions, theirs had been a completely oral tradition – but an inspiringly rich one. Now with this new, widespread ability to read and to write, the Welsh could rekindle and share amongst themselves this tremendous history. What happened as a consequence was a Renaissance; a rediscovery and rapid dissemination of an extraordinary and purely Welsh culture, scholarship, and literature – and a realization of Welsh self-determination.

J.E. Thomas, in Social Disorder in Britain, captured this phenomenon perfectly, when he wrote on the results of this explosion of literacy:

“…was to bring healing in its wings – to give the (Welsh) language a new and long lease on life – to multiply the Welsh reading public to such a point that when the initial and exclusively religious phase of the Revival was spent… their reading could, and did, embrace not only the Tudor Bible but also the popular poetry and even… the ‘classical’ poetry… country people hitherto prevented by illiteracy from immortalizing the poetic sentiments that came so easily to them were now able to pour out expressions of their faith in prose and verse, and revel in the works of those more talented than themselves.” [8]

It’s precisely here, those first few decades of the blooming of the Welsh Renaissance, when we can begin to examine the lives, ambitions, and destinies of my earliest Jones ancestors.

General Sources:
Llanddowror pioneer in adult education, By T. Kelly, Griffith Jones (1950) Cardiff | Univ. of Wales Press.

The charity school movement a study of eighteenth century puritanism in action, By M. G. Jones (1938, 2013) Cambridge | Cambridge University Press

See also Welsh Biography Online:

6. The charity school movement a study of eighteenth century puritanism in action, By M. G. Jones (1938, 2013) Cambridge | Cambridge University Press

See also Welsh Biography Online:

7. Social Disorder in Britain 1750-1850: The Power of the Gentry, Radicalism and Religion in Wales, By J.E. Thomas (2011) J.B. Taurus & Company, Ltd.,  pp. 104.

8. ibid.  Pp. 106


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