Richard Jones (c.1787 – 1855) of Dolgellau

Dolgelley, Gwynedd, Wales Illustration Townscape

Dolgelley, Gwynedd, Wales

Richard Jones (c. 1787 – 1855) of Dolgellau – Brother of Lewis Evan Jones / Son of William Jones of Bryntirion.

Richard Jones, the youngest son of William and Catherine Jones, is a well-documented success. Unfortunately we don’t know much about his youth. His biographers indicate that he was apprenticed under Thomas Williams in Dolgellau, a shop that either competed with or took over from William Jones of Bryntirion. I tend to suspect the latter, as William would have been in his sixties by the time Richard entered his apprenticeship, and it’s unlikely that Richard would have gone into competition against his aging father. Whatever the situation, Richard took over the operation under his own name in 1808 when Thomas Williams retired. It’s possible that he combined his father’s firm and Williams’ firm into one venture.

Just one year later, on May 7, 1809, he married Catherine Evans at Dolgellau. His mother’s name was also Catherine Evans. Given the small number of families in the community, it seems likely that Catherine was a cousin or other near relation he’d known all his life.

Richard was a diligent and productive new business owner. He was the first printer of Yr Eurgrawn Wesleyaidd, (The Golden Grain of the Wesleyan) a journal which began its career in January of 1809 and continued intermittently until 1824. He also produced the following journals:
Cylchgrawn Cymru (The Magazine of Wales)
Y Dysgedydd Crefyddol (The Daily Devotional)
Pethau Newydd a Hen (Things New and Old)
Trysor i Blentyn (Children’s Treasures)
Yr Athraw  (The Qualified Teacher)
Trysorfa Rhyfeddodau (Marvelous Treasures)
Y Dirwestwr (The Teetotaler)

From the Dolgelley office Richard was capable of undertaking the printing of larger works, such as a reissue of John Walters’ English-Welsh Dictionary, completed in 1815.  Among other larger works, the office also produced; the complete works of Josephus in Welsh in 1819; a reprint of bishop William Morgan’s Welsh Bible of 1588, in 1821; and seventeen parts of the Welsh translation of Matthew Henry’s  Commentary .

In 1824 the paper tax caused Richard severe financial difficulties and as a result he sold his Dolgellau press to the Wesleyan Methodists. He must have been quite resourceful however, for within a year he had another press up and running in Dolgellau under the name of The Gomerian Press (or intermittendly Gomer-Wasg and Y Wasg Omeraidd.) At that point he seems to have determined to spread his risk. He established a new press at Pontypool in 1827, and in 1828 began another operation at Merthyr Tydfil; first in partnership with John Jenkins (1779 – 1853) and his old apprentice master Thomas Williams (1778 – 1835). Within the year, however, the press was his own.

In 1842 Richard Jones left the Gomerian Press at Dolgellau in charge of one of his sons and started yet another printing venture at Machynlleth, this one for his son Isaac Jones. Isaac was not long for the new business however. He sold the firm to Adam Evans in 1849 and immigrated to the United States. Unfortunately Isaac was short-lived; he passed away just a year after immigrating in 1850 (he was working at a newspaper printing establishment in San Francisco when he died.)

Richard settled another son, also Richard Jones, in a shop at Llanfyllin. This son sold the press ten years later. When Richard Jones passed away in 1855, the firm at Dolgellau continued in operation under the guidance of his widow, Catherine.[19]

Throughout his life Richard Jones also served his community as a Wesleyan preacher. This occupation must have come about after hearing Owen Jones (who would in due time, become his brother in law) preach in 1804 with his father William, who was converted to the Wesleyan faith shortly thereafter. He would have been just seventeen years old when that conversion took place.

Unlike his cousin Lewis Evan Jones, Richard Jones doesn’t appear on face value to have been an agitating radical. As a lay minister in any Christian Church of the era, he most likely would have taken a neutral view – at least publically – in regard to the politics of the day. As a Wesleyan, he would have been completely opposed to anything that smacked of anti-establisment or  radicalism.

Eric Hobsbawm, writing in History Today, sums up the Wesleyan view on Welsh radicalism:

“We know… that John Wesley and the early leaders of his Connexion, as well as those of Whitefield’s Calvinistic Methodists, disapproved violently of revolution. They were extreme conservatives in politics, opposed not merely to social revolution but also to the liberal and radical reform which later became so closely identified with nineteenth-century British nonconformity, to trade- unionism and to other manifestations of labour activity. Hence it is a mistake to argue that the modern labour and trade union movement derives its inspiration from Wesley. He would have been shocked by it… Government agents were quick to observe that Wesleyans were pillars of the status quo. Indeed, the Connexion even fought shy of the militant temperance movement which radical nonconformity held so dear…”(20)

That said, Richard’s choice of at least one of his press locations does seem curious; Merthyr Tydfil. This town, in 1828 was quite literally a crucible of social unrest. Opportunities for educating and organizing disgruntled workers via periodicals and broadsheets would have been endless here, though it’s less certain that he would have found anyone willing to pay him for such efforts, and the workers in a slum like Merthyr (otherwise known as “Little Hell”) probably would not have been big consumers of religious texts or Welsh poetry. Pontypool would have been somewhat better, as its ironworks were long established and employed mostly Welsh, rather than imported foreign labor. His other locations seem as rural and remote as Dolgellau, but these villages may have afforded a more settled, more religious consumer of books and periodicals of the sort Richard promoted.

Whatever his politics, Richard was an important printer in 19th century Wales and his contribution to the preservation of the Welsh language and printed literature cannot be underestimated.

For a catalog of his surviving works, housed at the National Library of Wales, follow this link.

———————–
[19] Richard Jones – Welsh Biography Online: http://wbo.llgc.org.uk/en/s-JONE-RIC-1787.html

See also: 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.

[20] Methodism and the Threat of Revolution in Britain, History Today, Volume: 7 Issue: 5, 1957, by Eric Hobsbawm,
Online at: http://www.historytoday.com/eric-hobsbawm/methodism-and-threat-revolution-britain

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