Lewis Evan Jones (c.1786 – 1860) Printer, Welsh Radical

CAUTION: Since this article was originally written several items of fact have been revealed that make portions of the following misleading or incorrect. Please double-check your fact or contact me for clarification before quoting. I plan on revising this document thoroughly in January of 2015. THANK YOU.

Welsh Griffon

The Griffon – National Symbol of Wales

Lewis Evan Jones (c.1786 – 1860)
Lewis Evan Jones was born about 1786, most likely at Bryntirion, north of Dolgellau where his parents, William and Catherine, owned a farm. Lewis was not destined to be a farmer. It’s probable that the farming operations at Bryntirion were largely carried on by tenants and/or employees, as it seems that William’s primary occupation was the operation of a printing and bookselling establishment in Dolgellau proper. William had become a man of the town – leaving behind the fields, the flocks, and the plough.

Young Lewis would have grown up in his father’s business. He may have known the farms at Bryntirion and Tyddyn Du as his family seat, but lead type set in composing frames, the complicated gears and grease of the printing press, the stacks of expensive, clean, bright paper, and the solvent smell of sticky black ink in the air; these were the sensory elements that conspired in his brain to formulate a concept of home.

His father William had taken up his training at this trade at ten or twelve years old after completing his education at Pwllheli. By contrast, Lewis was inculcated into the printers’ culture from his infancy. It’s not a stretch to imagine the boy at four or five years old, stretched out on the floor at his father’s feet with a large sheet of paper and a crayon, forming the shapes of letters and lines and imaginary lithographers’ pictures, trying hard to imitate the perfection of broadsides coming off his father’s press.

William, as you will recall, was almost thirty years old when his son was born. He’d been in this business most of his life, and had been exposed to nearly all the contemporary writers and thought leaders in Wales, not to mention the legions of English authors of the period. He was fluent in Greek and Latin, possibly Hebrew, and versant in the orthodoxy of Catholicism, the Church of England, and the non-conformists sects and churches competing for souls throughout Wales, England, and across Europe at that period. He would also have been up to date on politics, war, and the intrigues of state that were unsettling the status quo in Europe and the colonies abroad. In short, despite the appearance of isolation in a remote, country-town in North West Wales, he was a creature of the Enlightenment – a thinker as much as a doer. William was as much a man of the world as would have been possible in the era before telegraphs, telephones, or the internet.

It may have taken weeks or months for news of the Franco-Prussian War or the drama of the American Revolution to reach the edges of Wales, but the news did eventually arrive, and men like William Jones were the first to receive it, form opinions around it, and discuss it with their peers. And they were the first to disseminate both news and opinions to their countrymen.
William and men like him stood on the bleeding edge of a different kind of revolution – a revolution of ideas, new ways of thinking about the world and man’s place in it, and widespread communication of the same to the masses – all made possible for the first time in human history by the explosion in literacy among the common people – and by printing presses.
John Foxe, the 16th century historian, stated the effects of this transformative new invention quite eloquently:

“Through the grace of God, men of wisdom were now able to communicate their thoughts accurately and widely so others could distinguish light from darkness, truth from error, religion from superstition. Knowledge grew in science and in languages, opening a window of light for the world and clearing the way for the Reformation of the church.”[1]

It’s difficult for us to imagine the impact the printing press had on European civil and religious society.[2]

For those old enough to recall the era prior to the internet, the comparison will seem reasonable. The internet changed absolutely everything about contemporary intellectual and professional life in the decade between 1996 and 2006. The arrival of printing presses across Europe, which took somewhat longer than a decade to complete (more like three hundred years) was no less paradigm shifting than the arrival of the internet some three hundred years later…

(For access to extensive more material on Lewis Evan Jones (c.1786 – 1860), see the upcoming book Stumbling in the Shadows of Giants, by C.H. Jones. This material is selected from the book.)

…Lewis began his formal training with Thomas Roberts when he was between ten and thirteen years old. He would have continued under this contract until he was perhaps nineteen. Roberts died in 1811 and his widow continued the operation of the press up until her death in July of 1814.[6] This is the date that historian Dr. Lewis Lloyd and the famous librarian Dr. Ifano Jones, give as the date that Lewis “settled in Caernarfon as a printer.”[7]

Lewis Evan Jones would have been about twenty-eight years old in 1814, so it’s a reasonable assumption that he continued with the Thomas’s as an employee after his apprenticeship was concluded, and that his presence in the shop was especially necessary to Robert Thomas’s widow after the death of her husband. It’s also reasonable to conclude that at the age of twenty-eight, if he’d been frugal and diligent, and perhaps with the assistance of his father for the balance of the required capital, he would have been in an excellent position to take over the establishment in his own name. It would have been a very smooth transition, as he already knew the operation, the clients, and all the recurring projects (periodicals).

This scenario makes much more sense to me than the idea that Lewis Evan Jones simply showed up in Caernarvon in 1814, fresh from the hinterlands of rural Wales, and miraculously established a brand new printing company at the precise moment that the previous firm in town folded. Since I cannot prove this supposition given the few facts remaining, I’ll leave it to my readers to consider for themselves.

For further information on the career of Lewis Evan Jones, let’s go back to the thin source material that has been left for us. First, from The Baby Book:

“Lewis …opened an office at Caernarvon and published a magazine called “Diddanwch Teuluaidd” to which Huw Huws and Gorony Owain contributed. Later Dafydd Dhu became editor of this publication and while acting in that capacity organized the brotherhood of young Welsh poets called “The Society of Eagles.” It was this society that conferred the title “Cawrdaf” on William Ellis Jonesǂ in November 1816…”(8)

ǂ William Ellis Jones (1795 – 1848), wrote under the bardic name: “Gwilym Cawrdaf”. He was the first cousin of Lewis Evan Jones (c. 1786 – 1860), and served his apprenticeship in Dolgellau under his uncle, Lewis Evans’ father, William Jones (c. 1732 – 1830).

From the Merioneth Journal we have the following insightful details which give further color to our subject. The following captures the point of view expressed by Lewis Evan Jones Jr., son of Lewis Evan Jones (the elder), and is summarized by the author:

“…The reform agitation regarding parliamentary representation and local government at Caernarfon in the 1830’s, in which his father was actively engaged with the surgeon O.O. Roberts and other radicals, clearly made a lasting impression upon the growing boy…”[9]

A good deal later in Lewis Evan Jones Jr.’s reminiscences, writing from his new home in the Nebraska Territory after having traveled the world and having seen much of the United States, he recounts that he bought “…a steam sawmill and had a small printing office … the two most important things to civilize a new country…” [10] (This author could not agree more with his sentiments.)

Let’s look at the details in each of these accounts, and examine what they reveal.

The first facts that are given to us indicate fact that Lewis Evan Jones was working at Caernarfon, and that one of the items he published was a periodical called Diddanwch Teuluaidd. In English “Diddanwch Teuluaidd” roughly translates to “Domestic Entertainment”. It’s clear that this publication was secular in nature (mostly, at least) and lighter in weight intellectually than some other things that may have come off his press. What’s interesting about this tidbit, and not revealed in the reference, is that Domestic Entertainment as produced by Lewis Evan is actually a second incarnation. The first incarnation of the publication, which was actually a book rather than a periodical, was authored by Dafydd Thomas, published by Huw Jones (c. 1700 – 1782), and reproduced the poetical efforts of several famous Anglesey poets, including; Goronwy Owen, Lewis Morris, and Hugh Hughes, among others. The first edition of this volume was printed in London in 1763. Its 2nd edition was published in Caernarfon in 1817 (fifty-four years later!) at the offices of “L.E. Jones”.

This book went through three printings (at least) and so it can be concluded that it was a very popular (i.e. profitable) title. The last two printings appear after the death of both the author and the original publisher (examples of the illicit copying of popular works, so common in this era.) The fact that Lewis Evan Jones extended this title to a regularly occurring periodical, which likely contained examples of works reproduced from the original as companion to more contemporary works, is evidence of his entrepreneurial spirit, as well as his desire to keep Welsh literature and the Welsh language alive and vibrant.[11]

The next facts mentioned in this source; “…Huw Huws and Goronwy Owain contributed…” to Domestic Entertainment, the periodical published by Lewis Evan Jones. If they did so, they did it through the guidance of a spiritual medium, as both men were long dead by the time Lewis resurrected the publication. More accurately, these men’s works first appeared in the book Domestic Entertainment published in 1763, and then they were appropriated by Lewis Evan Jones posthumously for inclusion into his new magazine in 1817. It’s unlikely that the heirs of either Owen or Hughes benefited from the reproduction of their ancestors efforts, but this was common practice at the time and we can hardly condemn Lewis for doing his best to run a successful business, while promoting Welsh literature and the language.

The relationship with Dafyd Dhu in his capacity as editor of the periodical Domestic Entertainment is particularly interesting. Dafyd Dhu, or David Thomas (1759 – 1822), was very much alive during the career of Lewis Evan Jones, and obviously had a tremendous influence on him, as well as other members of the extended Jones family. The following selection from his biography offers a fair summary of his influence on Welsh literature and language, as well as sketching the outlines of his influence on the Joneses:

“…Dafydd Ddu was given eight months’ schooling by John Morgan (1743 – 1801), curate of Llanberis. Here he met Abraham Williams (1755 – 1828) of Cwmglas , who was responsible for making him acquainted with Welsh poetry. Abraham Williams lent him Welsh books and told him about David Ellis, who was John Morgan’s predecessor as curate of Llanberis. He was allowed to borrow Ellis’s copies of the works of the ancient poets and he himself started to collect cywyddau and englynion from various manuscripts and to write them up in a notebook — ‘Golwg ar Parnassus a Helicon.’ After leaving school he became a weaver and used to go to Caernarvon to visit Robin Ddu yr Ail o Fôn (Robert Hughes, 1744 – 1785), who had retired there after losing his health in London. It was Robin who told him about the meetings of the bards in the London taverns, and this inspired Dafydd Ddu to write a poem (in the metre known as ‘Belle Isle March’) at the end of the winter of 1783-4 , inviting the poets to meet at Betws Bach on Lady-day; Hywel Eryri , William Bifan , Siôn Caeronwy, Sian Parry, and others accepted the invitation, and that was the first of a series of meetings of bards in Caernarvonshire which gave Dafydd an opportunity of teaching the rules of Welsh poetry to his ‘chicks,’ as he called them.

“…Dafydd Ddu and William Williams (1738 – 1817) of Llandygai , were corresponding members of the Gwyneddigion Society and, for some time, acted for that society in North Wales. They were entrusted with the sale of the society’s publications, e.g. Gwaith Dafydd ap Gwilym (The works of David, son of William), 1789, and were asked to collect material for the Myvyrian Archaiology. After Dafydd had won medals for the awdl, both at S. Asaph and Llanrwst, the Gwyneddigion asked him to make the arrangements for their eisteddfodau, such as the one at Penmorfa in 1795, and much of the work connected with the Caernarvon eisteddfod, 1821, both in respect of the arrangements and of the adjudication of the poetry, fell to his lot. … He was a more reliable authority on the rules of the classical metres than anybody else in his generation, and Sir John Morris-Jones declares that Dafydd Ddu’s system, as amended by Bardd Nantglyn (Robert Davies, 1769 – 1835), and revised, either by Dafydd Ddu himself or someone else, was the basis of all that was written on cynghanedd in the 19th century…”(12)

This selection provides enough fodder for its own book. I’ll stick to the essentials for the sake of brevity. Here are the most salient facts related to our subjects:

First; David Thomas was among the best respected and most well-known literati of his generation. His circle of associations (the people who could provide material for publication, provide financial support, or subscribe to publications) was both extensive and influential.

Next; he cultivated a tight-knit, hand-picked circle of aspiring young poets who he endearingly referred to as his “chicks”. His aim was to promote the appreciation and ongoing practice of the very precise, meticulous Welsh bardic tradition through future generations. One of his young “chicks” was the aspiring bard William Ellis Jones (1795 – 1848), who was Lewis Evan Jones first cousin and eldest son of David Ellis Jones of Dolgellau, and later Caernarfon.

Finally; David Thomas was selected to oversee the preparations of the Eisteddfod[13] at Caernarvon held in 1821, including the selection of judges for the competition. As it turned out, the formal title of “Bard” that year was established upon William Ellis Jones (1795 – 1848), one of David Thomas’s preferred “chicks”. This award set the stage for even more notoriety for William Ellis Jones, and raised the “stock” of the Jones clan in Wales among the ever more influential literati and influential patrons.

We’ll delve much deeper into the career of the “Bard” William Ellis Jones (1795 – 1848) later on in our story. For now, let’s continue to examine the facts about Lewis Evan Jones, found in our second source, the Merioneth Journal. This selection refers to the “radical” interests and “reform agitation” that Lewis Evan Jones was “…actively engaged (in) with the surgeon O.O. Roberts.”

This period (the 1830’s) in Welsh social and political development is a crucial one, with many conflicting parties and interests. While it’s not the purpose of this work to go deep into the specifics of Wales struggles with industrialization, political, social, and religious reform, it’s impossible to consider the people of that time and place without at least a general understanding of what was happening to the world around them.

We first have to consider how much Wales had changed in the brief period between the birth of William Jones (Lewis Evan’s father) in c. 1757 and the time Lewis himself was “actively engaged” in Caernarvon in the 1830’s. The population of the rural nation had doubled at least, and was still exploding due to rapid industrialization, particularly in the south. Inside the period of just fifty years, coal mines, copper and lead mines, iron ore mining and smelting operations opened by the hundreds, drawing tens of thousands of native Welsh out of their farming communities, and as many more foreign workers from England, Ireland, Scotland and beyond. Poor, uneducated laborers moved into towns that had previously been simple hamlets or sleepy farming villages. These new workers settled in shabby shanty towns surrounding iron mills and coal mines, and brought the English language, English custom, and English opinions of the native Welsh with them from their home regions – none of it welcome to the locals.

Add to this volatile mix the fact that the industries themselves were owned and operated by wealthy English interests – men who were, in true Dickensian spirit – wholly uninterested in the welfare of their employees when such interests came into conflict with their profits. Their wholesale destruction of the previously pristine Welsh landscape and their arrogant disregard for the well-being of their workers quickly led to violent uprisings, labor strikes, and riots.

Inevitably, Power (the mine owners and affiliated gentry) worked through corrupt political institutions to retain their power and further subdue the nascent labor and reform movement in Wales. This led to further escalations in violence, carried out on both sides.[14]

It’s in this setting that we find Lewis Evan Jones in Caernarfon, with the leveling power of his printing press, associating with “radicals” and reformers like Owen Owen Roberts. In his biography, Owen Owen Roberts activities are described as follows:

“…O. O. Roberts was… one of the most prominent Radicals of the first half of the 19th cent(ury.) Before 1832 he had sought to get Members of Parliament to give expression to the wishes of their constituents rather than to their own personal views, and after 1832 he left no stone unturned to ensure that every one who had a right to the vote was duly registered. He was a prominent supporter of the Radical candidate in every parliamentary election in Caernarvonshire, and in 1852 he supported Richard Davies (1818 – 1896) of Menai Bridge in the Caernarvon boroughs constituency as ‘a man from the ranks of the long-maligned common people of Wales.’ It was not long before it became clear to him that the ‘screw’ was being applied to the voters and that, if this was to be overcome, the ballot was necessary. He was also one of the outstanding protagonists in the great dispute of the century between church and chapel , publishing six pamphlets dealing with the subject; in these he mercilessly castigated the state of the Established Church, and in 1837 succeeded in inducing the inhabitants of the parish of Llanbeblig (i.e. Caernarvon ) to refuse payment of the ‘church rate.’..”(15)

It’s clear that Lewis Evan Jones sympathized with and through his press, supported and promoted causes that ran counter to the status quo and the power-elite. Whether he was a Calvanistic-Methodist, a Methodist, or an atheist, we cannot know, as history hasn’t left us enough clues. What can be generalized from his affiliations is that he put his heart into and risked his pocketbook on two principals; the first was wresting Wales out from under the boot of English aristocratic and corporate tyranny; and the second was preserving the Welsh language, its literature, and its history for future generations. In both of these efforts he was instrumental. The body of printed work he left behind is substantial, if not complete. His presses produced a broad spectrum of work; from poetry and literature, to political, religious, social, and even travel stories and novels. But the greatest products of his lifetime are dominated by Welsh literature and reform work, and it’s for these efforts that he will be remembered.

(To review a selection of the surviving works of Lewis Evan Jones (c,1786 – 1860), follow this link.)

Welsh Labor and its struggles with the English status quo continued throughout the 19th century. However, as the 19th passed into the early 20th century, the tide turned against the wealthy landlords and industrialists, and against the politicians in their pockets. Socialism got organized, beginning in Wales in the early 19th century, in no small part due to the efforts of early agitators like Lewis Evan Jones and their very active printing presses. By the early 20th century the Welsh proletariat saw David Lloyd George; a native Welshman whose family was from Caernarvon, a man who spoke Welsh as his first language, a non-conformist, a man who supported the goals of one-man, one-vote representation, and who fervently believed in a social safety net that included socialized healthcare and unemployment insurance, elected to the office of Prime Minister. David Lloyd George is considered the grandfather of the modern welfare state, and he is still – even in the 21st century – remembered as one of the most popular and effective Prime Ministers in the history of the United Kingdom.

Between 1816, when Lewis Evan Jones was “agitating” for transformation, and 1916 when David Lloyd George was elected PM, Wales and the entirety of the U.K. underwent nearly incomprehensible social and political change characterized by the earliest formations of a truly organized, reform minded Labor movement. These events set the stage for similar labor and political movements that spread worldwide, impacting nearly every industrialized nation. The Chartists at Newport, the Rebecca Rioters in the south, and the “radicals” at Caernarvon – along with their printing presses – laid the foundations for this global transformation…

(For access to extensive more material on Lewis Evan Jones (c.1786 – 1860), see the upcoming book Stumbling in the Shadows of Giants, by C.H. Jones. This material is selected from the book.)


[1] Book of Martyrs, By John Foxe, p. 65.

[2] Johannes Gutenberg (c. 1395 – February 3, 1468) introduced movable type printing to Europe. His invention of mechanical printing press initiated the Printing Revolution and is regarded as the most seminal event of the modern era. It played crucial role in the development of the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the Scientific Revolution. It laid foundations for the spread of education to the masses, and set the stage for the knowledge-based economy of the late-19th and early-21st centuries.

For more information, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Gutenberg

Source: Johannes Gutenberg and the Printing Press, By Diana Childress. (2008) Minneapolis | Twenty-First Century Books

[7] A Merioneth Family of Printers in Wales and the U.S.A.,  By Dr. Lewis Lloyd, The Journal of the Merioneth Historical and Records Society, Vol. XII (iv), 1997

[8] The Baby Book | William Ellis Jones Jr. Family History, By William Ellis Jones Jr. (1936),  Note 10, paragraph 4.

[9] A history of printing and printers in Wales to 1810, and of successive and related printers to 1923. Also, A history of printing and printers in Monmouthshire to 1923, By J. Ifano Jones. (1925) Cardiff | William Lewis

[10] ibid.

[11] A Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Welshmen, By Robert Williams. (1852) London | William Rees, page 256.

[12] David Thomas – Welsh Biography Online: http://wbo.llgc.org.uk/en/s-THOM-DAV-1759.html

[13] “Eisteddfod”, from Wikipedia: “…a Welsh festival of literature, music and performance. The tradition of such a meeting of Welsh artists dates back to at least the 12th century, when a festival of poetry and music was held by Rhys ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth at his court in Cardigan in 1176 but, with the decline of the bardic tradition, it fell into abeyance. The present-day format owes much to an eighteenth-century revival arising out of a number of informal eisteddfodau. The closest English equivalent to eisteddfod is “session”; the word is formed from two Welsh morphemes: eistedd, meaning ‘sit’, and bod, meaning ‘be’…”

For more information, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eisteddfod

Since the nineteenth century, the winner of the poetry competition is awarded a custom made chair, called the “Bardic Chair” or “Eisteddfod Chair”, as well as a specially commissioned medal.

[14] During the 1830s support for the Chartist movement was widespread in the industrialized areas, when leaders including Henry Vincent, John Frost and Zephaniah Williams led the campaign for social and political reform. This inevitably led to confrontation with the authorities, first with the riots in Llanidloes in April 1839 and again in Newport the following November, when an armed crowd of 20,000 marched on the town. British soldiers were deployed to confront and disperse the protestors, and as a result over twenty protesters were killed when soldiers fired on the crowd. Later, Chartists leaders were sentenced to execution, their sentences commuted to life time deportation to Australia. More than 250 other Chartists were sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

For general information on the Chartist movement see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chartism

See also: Chartism: a new history, By Malcolm Chase. (2007) Manchester, UK | Manchester University Press.

See also: BBC Production The Story of Wales: Life in Merthyr Tydfil’s 19th Century ‘Little Hell

See also: 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.

[15] Owen Owen Roberts – Welsh Biography Online: http://wbo.llgc.org.uk/en/s-ROBE-OWE-1793.html


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