IN Father Jones's diary of Easter 1855 he records a visit to Llanegryn while staying with Mr. Wynne of Peniarth. On Easter Tuesday he attended the consecration of a new church at Bala, thence by coach to Dolgelly, where he was met by Mr. Wynne's carriage, and on the following day went with Mr. Wynne to see Llanegryn. "The screen," he notices, "in church is magnificent." It is certainly one of the most beautiful screens in the kingdom, worthy to be compared with a like magnificent screen at Llangwm, near Usk, for the beauty of its carvings and exquisite colouring. A picture of it had a place of honour in his sitting-room at the Clergy House at Cardiff when he was vicar there, and he was very proud of it. He left it to Alderman Hughes of Cardiff, by whose kindness we are able to give a print of it. He was appointed Vicar of Llanegryn in 1857, and was there for sixteen years, winning the hearts of the people in spite of occasional opposition. In August 1862 he revived the old custom of observing the Dedication Festival of the Parish Church. In his diary, Aug. 15 is marked "Assumption of the B.V.M.," and Aug. 18 has the following entry: "Gwylmabsant Llanegryn continued. It appears that the Dedication of our Church is Aug. 15, viz. the Assumption of the B.V.M., and that the feast used to be kept on the Sunday (and Monday?) after. The old way of keeping it was the 1st Sunday after the 26th of Aug., viz. the Festival after 'the old Style.' It is said that as soon as the Warden returned from his dinner on the Sunday after the 26th of Aug. the people set about dancing, etc. I have attempted this year to restore the old Dedication Feast or Gwymabsant. In addition to Holy Communion or Mass yesterday morning we had to-day Mattins and Sermon at 10.30. Litany or Sermon at 2 p.m., and Vespers and Sermon at 7 p.m. Between 10.30 and 2 p.m. Sermon. Cricket was played by the school children in the school field. After 2 p.m. service the school children were assembled and all others that liked were allowed to attend, etc."; at this meeting the prizes were distributed and cricket again played before Evensong, and the diary records "all seemed to be merry and happy."
To those interested in folk-lore the following extract from his diary of 1863 may appeal: "I may mark here as worthy of note that there seems to be a kind of superstition (right or wrong I say not) that often in cases before some member's, or (as I have had occasion to observe myself) the chief member of a family's death, a patch of land the whole length of a field fails, for some unaccountable reason. Say the field has been sown with wheat, clover, or anything else, the corn or seed comes up regularly in all parts of the field, excepting in a ribbon (so to say) the whole length or breadth of the field, and this ribbon fails. In cases where such a thing occurs it is said that the head of the family or some member dies that year. Strange to say I have knowledge of three cases of this kind which happened in this parish." He then mentions three instances which had come under his own notice and proceeds to note: "I have entered thus fully into this subject here, because to-day on going into my clover field, which the men have just cut, I noticed that the clover had failed on one groove the whole length of the field, making a distinct band or ribbon through the whole field. I noticed it at the time to the workmen, who began to talk of other cases that had occurred in the neighbourhood before a death; one of them suggested that it might be that I was going to give up the farm. (I had previously told them that I intended giving up the farm at All Saints', though I had not quite made up my mind, though I fully intend doing so.)"
A very old friend and neighbour of his at one time says:
He was not at that time a fully developed Churchman, but in a small, quiet country parish, and not having much to do, he had time to study Church matters. He very soon put into practice any new discovery, which did not please all even at Llanegryn.
And another old friend, the Rev. J. O. Evans, with whom he was much associated in Cardiff days when Mr. Evans became Vicar of Margam at about the same time that Father Arthur became Vicar of S. Mary's, writes:
My acquaintance with Griffith Arthur Jones began in 1869, when he invited me to Llanegryn to attend the Dedication Festival. It was my first experience of Catholic Ritual, and it led me to read and think. He used to tell me of his Oxford days, 1847-1851, when several undergraduates of Jesus College came under the influence of the Tractarian Movement; amongst them were Lewis Gilbertson, Robert Owen, Philip Ellis, Richard Jones, Evan Lewis (afterwards Dean of Bangor), Hughes of Llanfechell: these, or most of them, used to visit Llanegryn for the Dedication Festival, the Sunday and Monday after the 15th of August, the Feast of the Patron Saint, being the Assumption of the B.V.M. It was very delightful to see him amongst his primitive flock of Welsh people in the hills of Merionethshire, by whom he was beloved and trusted. The Ritual was of the simplest, though in those days and that diocese considered very advanced. To the best of my recollection he used linen vestments, two lights, and had a plainsong Missa Cantata, with Gregorian tones for Mattins and Evensong. As Vicar of Llanegryn he held the post of Master of the Free School there, though the duties were delegated to a lay master. In the autumn of 1871 he was offered simultaneously the benefices of S. Mary's, Cardiff, and Roath. Theodore Talbot was very anxious to have him at Murrain, but He felt he ought to take the larger work. He then mentioned my name to Mr. Talbot, and that is how I came to go to Margam. I well remember going over to see him at Llanegryn just before he left. We stood on the terrace in front of his house (he was always fond of flowers), the day was bright and beautiful, and as we looked across the valley with the "Bird's Rock" in the far distance I said, "How can you leave this lovely home?" He replied, "Souls are even more beautiful." Though he stood alone in North Wales in those early days in having Catholic Ritual, though others taught the Faith without its externals, he never evaded the unpopularity which it brought. I happen to know that the then Bishop of Bangor would have been glad to give him very high preferment as a dignitary but for his ritual. One of his great convictions was that the Welsh people were to be won over, but that the chance had never been given them. He used to quote himself, and he was a Welshman of the Welshmen by language, blood, family, associations, and feelings. Another thing he had no patience with was the cry of "Church Reform."' All his life he said the only reform the Church wanted was to carry out the Prayer Book in its entirety. . . . His first sermon at S. Mary's was on the text "God is love," and he never forgot that in his dealings with men.
His successor at Llanegryn, the Very Rev. G. Roberts, Dean of Bangor, writes:
I always understood that the Church in Llanegryn was in a very depressed condition when he went there. The congregation was very small indeed, and the communicants very few. Before he left, the Church had become a power in the parish. His first care was to improve the services, and he introduced a surpliced choir, a rare thing in those days in a Welsh country church. It was his ambition to make Llanegryn a centre of Church life for the neighbourhood around. With this object in view frequent special services were held, to which the clergy and laity of other parishes were invited. Whenever anything new was brought into the little church it was made the occasion of a special opening service. He felt that every opportunity had to be seized to bring people to Llanegryn in order that they might see how the services of the Church ought to be conducted. Genial and affectionate as he was by nature, he could be very severe if the occasion required. One of his young communicants, whom he had prepared for Confirmation, went into service with a strict Nonconformist farmer. Following a not uncommon practice in the neighbourhood, the master required the young woman to go with him to his chapel. The Vicar called to remonstrate, pleading that she ought to be allowed liberty to attend church as she had always done. The farmer thought it his duty to refuse. After a long discussion the Vicar turned away with stern indignation, and said, "At my Divine Lord's command I shake off the dust of my feet as a testimony against thee." The incident became generally known, and formed the subject of common conversation, and it made a deep impression upon the whole parish. He took great pains to impress upon the minds of his parishioners the duty of observing the Church's holy days. Good Friday at one time had been kept in the parish as a sacred and solemn day. The old people used to tell the children that it was so great a day that even the birds recognized its true character, and rested from building their nests. But things had greatly changed, and the day of the Lord's death was almost wholly neglected. One Good Friday the Vicar standing in the churchyard with the members of the choir saw men planting potatoes in a field. He held up his hands in horror at the sight, and exclaimed, "No blessing can possibly rest on that field." And it was asserted that no potatoes grew there that year; the crop had failed.
He was (says Mr. Wynne of Peniarth) the very best of parish parsons, the font of charity and the best of fun, a better man, a truer friend, and one more universally beloved I suspect never lived. To the last visit he paid me here those who knew him as Vicar greeted him with the greatest love and respect.
Mr. Wynne also refers to his skill as "a capital shot"; and his diaries of that period mention from time to time both shooting' and fishing, in both which sports he was quite an adept.
As a sportsman Father Jones did not give up his interest in shooting when, in after years, he was vicar of a large town parish. He became a great friend of a well-known citizen of Cardiff, the late Mr. Watkins, Manager of the London and Provincial Bank at Cardiff; and for several years in succession, especially in the early part of his Cardiff days, he greatly enjoyed Mr. Watkins's invitations for grouse shooting in Cumberland. We used at one time to arrange our holidays for our staff of four clergy, besides the Vicar, so as to leave him free to get away for the 12th of August, knowing also that he could only be away then for two or three Sundays--as he made a point of being at home for the Patronal Festival on Sept. 8, the Feast of the Nativity of the B.V.M. His acquaintance with Mr. Watkins and his family was highly valued by them, and his visits both to Llandaff, where Mr. Watkins lived, as well as to his son's residence in Cumberland, became opportunities for a deeper and closer friendship than any common interest in sport could bring about. Whatever time he had to spare from his parish he very largely spent in visits to Llandaff to call on his friends there--Sir Edward Hill of Rookwood, and Mr. and Mrs. Watkins.
The Rev. Titus Lewis, Vicar of Towyn, a very old friend, writes of him:
Griffith Arthur Jones was the Vicar of Llanegryn when the writer of the following few facts became acquainted with him. It was in the year 1861. He had then been vicar of the parish only for about three years, but had been able, during that time, to make notable improvements in the manner of conducting the services in the interesting old church.
Though Llanegryn is a rural parish, with a small church a considerable distance up a hill, it became, during Father Arthur's vicariate, quite the leading parish church in the diocese. He had, doubtless, made the Book of Common Prayer his special study, and it was believed by those who knew him intimately that nothing gave him greater pleasure than to observe its directions, and carry them out honestly to the glory of God and for the benefit of his parishioners. Father Jones inaugurated a surpliced choir at Llanegryn--the first, in a parish church, in the diocese of Bangor, and in the year 1861 it was well established, having sweet Gregorian music in all the services of the Church. Some of the boys had not acquired perfection of behaviour in the choir at that time. I remember seeing the Father leave his prayer-desk, while saying the "Collect for all Conditions of Men," cross the little chancel still audibly praying, with his hands together, turning to the altar as he passed, and give two of his spiritual children each a rap on the side of the head, which left such a visible impression on the way to their hearts as would tend to "make God's ways known to them." Though the church is in a somewhat lonely place, he was able to get fairly good congregations on Sundays, and by degrees he had services in his church on Saints' Days, and daily in the holy season of Lent. It was his desire to conduct the services of the Church with reverence, especially that of the Holy Eucharist, and for some years before he left Llanegryn he adopted the use of special eucharistic vestments and altar lights for the celebration of the Holy Communion. By Father Jones there was felt a special Presence in that service, and his manner of celebrating showed anxiety that all present should also realise the Holy Presence. It is well known that at that time there was a special difficulty in introducing eucharistic vestments into a church. He was the first in North Wales to use them.
The following fact may not be worthy of place in the life of Father Jones, but it is given as being characteristic of the man. Besides being vicar, he was grammar master of an endowed school in the parish. The endowment was sufficient to enable him to employ a teacher in elementary subjects, without assistance from Government. There was some dispute as to whether the school should be inspected. He settled the dispute by taking the children out for a holiday on the day named for inspection, and the inspector could only see the inside of the school-house through the windows. Father Jones no doubt enjoyed the holiday quite as much as the little ones, as he in that way avoided any outside interference with his special charge. He would not allow any man, or body of men, even the British Government, to interfere with his duties in the church of his charge, and parish, if, by any honest means, he could prevent it.
Mr. Lewis Jones, of the Rhyl Journal, also writes of his Llanegryn days.
When Griffith Arthur Jones came to Llanegryn few people attended church, but the enthusiastic young parson practically filled it very soon, especially Sunday evenings, and in 1857 or 1858, Mr. Wynne, of Peniarth, who was practically the patron, presented the boys of the choir with surplices. This was one of the first, if not the very first, parish church choir in North Wales to be surpliced. The boys required much training, but they were admirably controlled from the first. His wonderful influence with boys was only in a degree less marked at Llanegryn than it was at Cardiff. He organized games, had always a bit of string in his pocket for a boy's whip, etc., and took the scholars for seaside excursions, he administered corporal punishment with a stern face in school, and during the play-hour would make a point of rubbing his stubbly cheek on that of the culprit, who was always more sorry than angry. Children were then not compelled to attend school, and many did not do so. Still, the parents of the latter did not hesitate to obey the Vicar's command to send them to school to have them punished when misbehaviour at church or in the street was proved against them. The parishioners, Nonconformist as well as Churchmen, had the same implicit faith in his influence for good and in the justice of any course taken by him.
The Rev. G. A. Jones succeeded the Rev. Thomas Jones, A.B., who died April 28, 1857, aged 87, after being forty years incumbent of the parish. He was also appointed master of the Grammar School at the time. This was an old foundation, but in reality giving simply elementary education. The children were in the main educated free, but those of the fanners were supposed to pay a small fee. The school had been founded by Hugh Owen of Talybont, by his will dated July 10, 1650, leaving £400 for the purpose. This was augmented by a similar sum in 1668 by Griffith Owen, late citizen and grocer of London, the lands purchased producing about £105 per annum: since confiscated by the Merionethshire County Council, who also took over the school-house; and the present head master (Vicar) was called upon to pay rent for the latter. He preferred erecting a new and more commodious residence, and that was shortly effected, public sympathy aiding him with liberal donations.
The school-house in which George Arthur Jones resided (until enlarged) for some years, was a five-room cottage, with a good garden, in the care of which, especially the flower-beds, the Vicar took great interest. He had always a flower in his coat, at home and abroad, and by many that was regarded as one of the "marks of the beast."
The head master frequently took Scripture and catechism classes in school; and practically there was a conscience clause for the Nonconforming children in learning the first portion of the latter. All the children were expected to attend church daily at 8.30 during Lent, but there was no compulsion. The school bell, however, was not rung on these mornings, and during the Lenten period the "Welsh Note" was put to use. This, we suppose, was to prevent talking in church, for our English was very limited.
There was no outcry against "innovating" at Llanegryn Church: the Church folk were delighted to sec life and energy where previously for several decades there had been nothing but deadness and formality. The chanting and surpliced choir attracted sightseers from neighbouring parishes, who walked long distances to see "Llanegryn's little angels."
Father Jones was a good visitor, and lived on the most cordial terms with all his parishioners. When he left the parish the Nonconformists vied with the Church people in subscribing towards a testimonial.
On his first visiting Llanegryn after removing to Cardiff, the children and adult villagers met him along the road as far as Pont Dysynin, the boundary of the adjoining parish.
He took the deepest interest in the material as well as the spiritual welfare of the people, and was the means of giving a start to many boys and girls.
In the life of Father Lowder, the well-known priest of S. Peter's, London Docks, mention is made of his visits to North Wales to his friend the Squire of Peniarth; it was thus through Mr. Wynne that the priests of London Docks and Cardiff Docks became acquainted. Father Jones became a great friend of Father Lowder's, and they frequently exchanged visits, the former on his visit to London almost always going to S. Peter's, while Father Lowder preached at S. Mary's, Cardiff, where he was greatly welcomed. Father Jones became a most zealous member of the Society of the Holy Cross, and influenced many of his friends among the clergy to join that Society, in which he took a keen interest to the last days of his life.
While Vicar of Llanegryn he made his first Retreat under Father Benson of the Society of S. John the Evangelist, Cowley. He was always in after years most anxious to get the young clergy especially to attend Retreats, and it was very considerably through his efforts in this respect that Retreats were held at Margam and Abertlare, conducted by such priests as Father Benson, and other Cowley Fathers. Abernant House, Aberdare, when vacant for some years, was used for that purpose; afterwards it became--through the munificence of Miss Talbot, the sister of his much-valued friend, Mr. Theodore Talbot of Margam Abbey--the home for a time of the Theological College of the Diocese, transferred in Aug. 1907, under its first Warden, Canon Johnson, to the cathedral city of Llandaff, but still keeping its original name of S. Michael's College.