This article has been extracted by Gareth Hicks (July 2004) with the permission of the Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society from original material provided by Deric John.
(During recent years there has appeared a number of important and interesting books and pamphlets giving an outline of the history of some of the older Baptist churches in the county of Carmarthen.In this article an attempt will be made to review the history of the Baptist cause in the county as a whole in the light of these recent publications. A list of these publications is appended).
The oldest Baptist church in West Wales was formed in 1668 at Rushacre, near Narberth. This church about 1700 removed to Rhydwilym where it has remained for close on two and a half centuries to give its witness. Since 1660 it had been made illegal for those dissenting from the National Church to meet for public worship, and not a few dissenters had suffered fines and imprisonment in West Wales for ignoring the law, among them the founder of this church at Rushacre. His name was William Jones, who had been silenced for his nonconformity by the Act of Uniformity which came into force in the summer of 1662. He had to spend four years in Carmarthen Castle as a prisoner, for holding religious services without a bishop's licence, where he found other dissenters suffering the same fate from Carmarthen and district and even from Breconshire. The story is retold in the new volume :
" Rhamant Rhydwilym gan John Absalom a'r Parch. E. Llwyd Williams.Gwasg Gomer, Llandysul, 1939."
There are two points in that story as told in this volume which link Rhydwilym with the two types of Baptists which prevailed during the Commonwealth period and which combined to form the new church. The first is the mention of Jenkin Jones, of Llanddety. An account of his activities is given by Spinther ( Hanes y Bedyddwyr, Vol. II., pp. 422-5). He apparently was for a time a prisoner in Carmarthen and he is given the credit of having convinced William Jones that the Baptist faith is the Apostolic faith. The fact remains that Jenkin Jones never agreed with John Myles on the question of strict communion, but continued with Vavasor Powell, John Tombes of Leominster and others to practice open communion. We have to seek elsewhere for the source of Rhydwilym's belief in strict communion, and a hint is given in the story of William Jones' visit to Thomas Watkins, at Hay, in 1667, to be baptized.
A paragraph from " The Transactions of Baptist Historical Society. Jan., 1919," will help here:
" There was a society of professed believers, meeting at Llanigon in the corner of Breconshire. This was ministered to by Walter Prosser and James Hughes. In the middle of February, 1649/50 Myles went to visit here and won both Elders to Baptist views; they in turn convinced a dozen others. Myles then appointed a meeting at Clifford, two miles down on the Wye, to discuss the question against Cradock, Powell and Jenkin Jones, who were all Paedobaptist, though ready to hold communion with all believers. As a result many at Llanigon were baptized and a second Baptist church was organised, known as the Hay."
The writer of above goes on to speak of Llanharan formed in 1650 as the third, of Carmarthen formed in 1651 as the fourth, of Gelligaer as the fifth and of Abergavenny as the sixth Baptist church. These formed an Association under the guidance of John Myles and were strict in their communion, at least for a few years ( vide Dr. Tom Richards' Trafodion, 1916-19). Thomas Watkins succeeded Walter Prosser at Hay and he had Olchon also under his care and he agreed with the views of John Myles. Thus we can safely infer that Thomas Watkins made up what was lacking in the Baptist faith of Jenkin Jones for William Jones.
Thomas Watkins from Hay and William Pritchard from Abergavenny, one of the strictest on the question of communion, came to Rushacre to lay hands on the newly baptized converts, and set Rhydwilym on the path of apostolic succession to John Myles, who however in New England had been converted into the more liberal views of Jenkin Jones ( Trafodion, 1928, p. 82).
The Rhydwilym church retains evidence of another influence than the Calvinistic at its inception in the Six Principles recorded on the inscribed stone. These characterize the ideals which the General Baptists have cherished since the days of Cromwell and in the U.S. America they emphasize them to-day. It would not be true to say that the Particular Baptists never used them, but after 1689 they emphasized particular salvation and the six principles became less prominent in their message.
Thus the above inscribed stone is witness to a pre-1689 tradition in Baptist circles.
A mention has been made of a Baptist church formed in Carmarthen in 1651 and some information is given about it in the " History of Tabernacle, Carmarthen," compiled in 1937 as Rhaglen Cyrddau Blynyddol yr Undeb, under the editorship of the minister of Tabernacle.
The Editor overlooked a warning given by Joshua Thomas in Hanes y Bedyddwyr that the year then began on March 1st, and consequently the dates of pages 6 and 7 should be respectively November, 1650; January, 1651; March, 1651; July, 1653; March, 1654, and August, 1654, and not two months ahead each.
Missioners from Ilston baptized numerous converts in Carmarthen in January, 1651, and these were formed into a separate church before March. This church prospered for a time, but we hear nothing of it after 1654 until 1660, when several of its members were in the Castle prison for dissent. It completely disappeared during the thirty years of trials for nonconformists before the Revolution of 1689. How the Baptists came back to Carmarthen is told in Rhaglen yr Undeb for 1920, and 1937, when the Undeb held its Annual Meetings at Penuel and Tabernacle respectively.
The mention of Ilston as the direct founder of Carmarthen Baptist church and the indirect founder of Rhydwilym leads to another interesting chapter in the history of the Baptists in South Wales. The parish minister of Ilston in 1648 was the puritan John Myles. Soldiers in the army of Parliament were in South Wales in 1648 and some of them were members of newly gathered Baptist (1644) church in the Glasshouse, London, and Dr. Whitley surmises that John Myles came to know of the Baptist faith from these. The story of how he and Proud, another puritan working in a neighbouring parish, went to London to be baptized at the Glasshouse, is well told by Mr. Rhys Phillips in Trafodion Cymdeithas Hanes y Bedyddwyr 1928.
John Myles returned in the autumn of 1649, and on October 1st, 1649, he formed a church of baptized believers who alone should partake of the Lord's supper, at Ilston. He used the Parish Church for this service until the early summer of 1660, when the Parish Church was denied him, and then he, for a couple of months, held meeting in an old disused Catholic chapel.
In " Hanes Bedyddwyr Felinfoel gan B. Humphreys, Llanelli, 1909," an attempt is made to free John Myles from the inconsistency of being a parish minister and the minister of a strict communion Baptists at the same time. Mr. Rhys Phillips has clearly shown that he was both. Perhaps he saw no inconsistency in his position. His age differed in these things from ours.
Details of the lineage and social position of John Morgan of Llannon, whose house had been licensed for religious gatherings in 1672, are given in Hanes Felinfoel, p. 21.
But confusion is introduced into the record of three other licences. We will reproduce the entries in the official record.
Sept. 30, 1672. Page 251. " Licence to Robt. Morgan, to be a Anab. Teacher at the house of Joshua Franch, of Llangennyth in Carms."
Page 260. The house of Joshua Franklin, of Llangennijth, Carmarthensh. Anab.
Page 260. The house of Edw. Williams of Llangennyth in Carmarthensh. Anab.
In the complete list of licences in the appendix to Frank Bate's Declaration of Indulgence, 1672 (Liverpool, 1908), the first entry above is wrongly copied, for Joshua is Joseph, but he is correctly given in the second entry, though called Indep. and placed in Glam. (pp. lviii. and lxxxiv.).
Prof. Lyon Turner, too, in Transaction of Congr. Hist. Soc., May, 1905, p. 110, placed Llangennyth in Glam., no doubt taking it to mean Llangennydd in Gower. But the spelling aimed at pronouncing Llangennech in English. We are sure of this, because Edward Williams is called in the list of Ilston's members " Edward William, of Llandilovach," which is about halfway from Llangennech to Pontarddulas.
There is no mention of Joshua Franklin among Ilston's members, but a Jenkin Ffrancklen of Ilston joined the church on May 8th, 1653. Some information about him is given by Mr. Rhys Phillips in Trafodion, 1928, p. 72. He was in Carmarthen as an army captain in 1649, but his home was in Gower.
There is a reference in the Minutes of Ilston in 1657 to a Bro. Franklin in Llangennech in whose house meetings were held in addition to those held in the Parish Church. It has been surmised that Bro. Franklin was Jenkin Franklin, without adequate evidence. Joshua Franklin of Llangennech might be related to Jenkin Franklin and may have been sympathetic with the Baptist cause without being a member. But how are we to explain the following statement in Hanes y Tabernacl, p. 7, and Trafodion, 1926, p. 16,
"yn y flwyddyn 1672 sicrhaodd (Robt. Morgan) drwydded i bregethu yn nhy Joshua Franklin yn Nghaerfyrddin" ?
The " Trafodion, 1926," refer us to Trafodion, 1816-19, p. 29, and on turning to that page we find that Dr. Tom Richards, says nothing of the kind, but that he used " Caerfyrddin" for the county, which was carelessly taken to refer to the town by Trafodion, 1926, and hastily copied in the History of Tabernacle.
With regard to the oldest Baptist churches in the county, Joshua Thomas is our chief source of information for the period ending 1792, and David Jones' Hanes y Bedyddwyr thence down to 1838. He is charged with a good many erroneous statements; notwithstanding, he is a valuable guide. For the century intervening a number of churches have had their history recorded in the handbooks published at Carmarthen and Llanelly in connection with the visit of the " Undeb." Every church within ten miles of Carmarthen had its story told in the 1920 Handbook, and there is a fuller story of Ffynnonhenri and of Felingwm told in special volumes. Likewise the English Baptist church at Carmarthen published a booklet giving its story in 1918. The churches of Llanelly and district had the same service done them in the two Handbooks of 1928 and 1941, when the " Undeb " visited the town, but Felinfoel and Llangennech have each a volume devoted to their history. Articles have appeared in Greal, 1916, giving the history of Llandilo Baptist church, in " Llawlyfr y Gymanfa," 1938, giving the story of Aberduar, and " Rhaglen y Gymanfa," 1939, doing the same for Cwmdu. The story of Graig, Newcastle Emlyn, appeared in S. W .D. News, July 3rd, 1922, and that of Cwmpedol, Caio, in S. W.D. News, April l0th, 1923. Llandyssul, Llandovery, and Whitland should persuade someone to safeguard their story. That of Cwmifor is in MS., and of Pontbrenaraeth in Seren Gomer Nov., 1942 and Jan., 1943. A full list of sources of information, so far known is appended
BAPTIST MEETING HOUSES LICENSED AT CARMARTHEN QUARTER
July, 1776. Newcastle Emlyn - " Ty Mawr," Anne Thomas' house.
Jan. 11, 1797. Llangyndeirne - Tynybont. A house.
Oct. 5, 1796. Llandyfeilog - Rhydybont. A house.
Apr. 13, 1749. Kyfig - Bwlchygwynt. Mr. Richards' house.
Apr. 18, 1798. Llanarthney Village - Decimus Thomas' house.
July 11, 1798. Ferry Side - Jehova Salem. Meeting house.
Oct. 3, 1798. Llanarthney Parish - Bankyrefel. Meeting house.
Jan. 15, 1800. Cwmdu, Talley - Rhydyronen. A house.
Jan. 14, 1801. Llandovery - Room and stable, Littlehall.
July 16, 1806. Kilycwm, Cwmsarnddu. Meeting house.
July 12, 1809. Llandybie - Soar, Llandyfan. Meeting house
Oct. 4, 1809. Drefach, Henllan.
Oct. 3, 1810. Narberth.
Jan. 16, 1811. Llangyndeirne - Bethel Gen. Bapt. Meeting house
July 17, 1811. Llangadoc - Capel Seion. Meeting house
July 15, 1812. Cwmsarnddu.
Apr. 13, 1813. Llangynog - Ebenezer. Meeting house
LIST OF BOOKS
Davies, W. Ll. - Defnyddiau Hanes y Bedyddwyr yng Nghymru. Aberystwyth, 1935,
George, Irene. - Llawysgrifau a Chofysgrifau'r Bedyddwyr yn Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru. Seren Gomer. Gorff. a Medi, 1935.
Jones, David. - Hanes y Bedyddwyr yn neheubarth Cymru. Caerfyrddin, 1839.
Lloyd, John E. ed. - A history of Carmarthenshire, Vol. II., 1939 (Chapter iii. Nonconformity and Methodism).
Mardon, Benjamin. - A visit to the general Baptist Churches in South Wales. (In the General Baptist Advocate, Oct. and Nov., 1834).
Thomas, Joshua. - Hanes y Bedyddwyr. Carmarthen, 1778.
Aberduar. - Llawlyfr y Gymanfa, 1938.
Bethel, Cwmpedol. - South Wales Daily News, April 10th, 1923.
Carmarthen. Llawlyfr cyrddau blynyddol Undeb Bedyddwyr Cymru a Mynwy. Peniel, Caerfyrddin, Awst 23-26, 1920 (including " Hanes yr enwad yn y dref a'r cylch) ; Caerfyrddin, 1920. English Baptist Church: Jubilee Retrospect, 1918; Carmarthen, 1918. Undeb Bedyddwyr Cymru a Mynwy, Tabernacl, Caerfyrddin, 1937. Evans, T. J.: Fragrant Memories: the story of two ministries; Carmarthen, 1941.
Cwmdu. - Rhaglen y Gymanfa, 1940.
Felinfoel. - J. George: Eglwys y Bedyddwyr yn y Felinfoel, ger Llanelli; Ei hanes o'r dechreuad hyd y flwyddyn 1887; Llanelli, 1887. B. Humphreys: Cyfrol goffa dau can mlwyddiant, 1709-1909; Hanes Bedyddwyr Felinfoel; Llanelli, 1909.
Ffynnonhenri. - S. J. Jenkins: Hanes Eglwys y Bedyddwyr, Ffynnonhenri ; Caerfyrddin (1930).
Glanyfferi. - T. Edwards, " Iorwerth Goch ": Hanes y Bedyddwyr yn Salem, Glanyfferi, o'u dechreuad hyd 1890; Aberdar, 1891.
Llandilo. - Y Greal, June-July, 1916.
Llandyfan. - J. T. Jones: Hanes Bedyddwyr Llandyfan (In Trafodion Cymdeithas Hanes Bedyddwyr Cymru, 1932).
Llanegwad. - M. B. Owen: Hanes Sitim, Felingwm, Llanegwad: Caerfyrddin, 1932.
Llanelly. - Undeb Bedyddwyr Cymru a Mynwy, Seion, Llanelli, 1928 (giving the history of the Baptist churches in the town and district). Undeb Bedyddwyr Cymru a Mynwy, Moriah, Llanelli, 1941. Greenfield Baptist Church: Jubilee Souvenir, 1858-1908; Llanelly, 1909.
Llanfynydd. - Seren Cymru, 1931.
Llangennech. - J. B. Rees (Morleisfab) a J. J. Hughes (Peredur) : Hanes Eglwysi Salem, Llangennech, Llanelli, 1928.
Newcastle Emlyn, Graig. - South Wales Daily News, July 3rd, 1922.
Rhydwilym. - John Absalom and E. Llwyd Williams: Rhamant Rhydwilym, Llandysul, 1939.