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Long path from farm to pulpit

by
05 July 2024

A family document enables Ted Harrison to trace a path to ordination more than 100 years ago

Daniel Evans, photographed with parishioners when a curate in New Quay

Daniel Evans, photographed with parishioners when a curate in New Quay

IN SEPTEMBER 1906, the contents of a small farm in Carmarthenshire came up for sale by auction. Everything was to go: corn, hay, rows of potatoes, cattle, horses, pigs — even some of the household furniture. The seller was a 19-year-old farmer who had taken over the farm three years earlier on the death of his father. His mother had died four years previously.

The money raised was enough for the young man, Daniel Evans — who had needed his guardians’ permission to sell, as he was not yet a legal adult — to set out on his path to ordination.

Within days of the sale, Daniel left farming behind him. He took the train to Lampeter, a slow, 20-mile, branch-line ride, where he found lodgings. His long-term plan was to enrol at the University in Lampeter and take the degree required for ordination. St David’s College, Lampeter, had been founded in 1822 as a college for Welsh ordinands, who were unable to travel to, and study in, Oxford or Cambridge, to prepare for the priesthood and obtain the necessary qualifications for ordination.

By 1906, the college was well-established in the small Ceredigion town. With only an elementary village education to his name, however, Daniel first had to study for the college’s entry qualifications. He therefore enrolled at St David’s College School on 29 September 1906, to start work on the foundation syllabus.

 

DANIEL EVANS was my wife’s grandfather. The family has an intriguing notebook covering his time as both a student and a curate. It is not a systematic diary, but a miscellany of personal thoughts, accounts, addresses, copies of reports on his work, and even the draft text of a petition asking for a new postbox in New Quay, Ceredigion.

The first entry lists the costs incurred in autumn 1906 when starting out on his new life. These, in the shillings (s.) and pence (d.) of pre-decimal currency, included: his travel to Lampeter (4s. 0d.); cap and hat (5s. 6d.); collars and braces (4s. 0d.); copy books and envelopes (1s. 0d.); fountain pen (7s. 6d.). At the end of his first term, he copied his headmaster’s report into the notebook: “He has entered into the spirit of the life of the School and will soon surmount all his difficulties.”

What those difficulties might have been can be only guessed at. Certainly, he was adjusting to a huge change in his lifestyle, but his school report for the following term (Lent 1907) hints at a specific explanation: his language skills. English was the language of education in the school and the college, but English was Daniel’s second language — a language that he would have had no cause to use once he had left the village elementary school. Welsh was spoken at home, and with his friends and neighbours.

The report confirmed his conduct as excellent, and noted that “He is doing good steady work.” His arithmetic, algebra, and Euclid geometry were “satisfactory”, but of his English it stated that, although he worked hard, it was nevertheless “very weak. He should read more.”

The tabulated grocery bills from Daniel’s early years as a student will surely be of interest to economic historians as a measure of inflation: six eggs cost six “old” pennies (6d.); 2 lbs of sugar cost 5d. A term’s tuition fee was £3 5s. 0d. In the especially cold winter of 1909, he even bought a pair of skates for 4s. 3d.

He attended the school for two years before successfully matriculating to the college in October 1908. By December 1911, he had completed all his courses, passed his examinations, and satisfied the requirements of ten terms’ college residency. He was immediately offered the position of lay reader in the parish of Llanllwchaiarn, New Quay, Ceredigion.

His degree, BA (Hons), was awarded the following year (29 April), and he was ordained deacon by the Bishop of St Davids in Abergwili Church, Carmarthen, on 21 September 1912. He was immediately appointed stipendiary curate in Llanllwchaiarn.

Sadly, Daniel did not write much of life as an Edwardian undergraduate. One intriguing entry, however, indicates that there were sometimes tensions between the undergraduates and the college authorities. The context is not explained, but it seems orders given by the college Principal to student representatives “that there should be no procession” were openly defied.

Recent research in the university library suggests that it was a reference to events of 1911, when two students were sent down after entering and causing damage to the room of another student, as a rag prank. Fellow students thought the punishment too harsh, and a procession was planned to escort the two homeward-bound students to the railway station. They were carried shoulder-high through the streets of the town. Daniel’s part in this, if any, is not recorded.

When he moved from town lodgings to college accommodation, the notebook does show that Daniel’s living expenses changed. His first term’s college bill as an undergraduate came to more than £29: this included tuition fees, room charges, coal, and costs incurred in “playing sport”.

 

WHY Daniel decided to seek ordination is not recorded. A strong influence may well have been “The Great Welsh Revival” of 1904-05. The Teifi valley, in mid-Wales, where he lived, was right at the heart of this religious upheaval, which revitalised the Nonconformist churches and from which the (then Established) Anglican Church was not immune.

One clergyman reported that “Sinners, and some very notorious ones, are flocking to the Church by the hundreds. Do not misunderstand me when I say the church as meaning the Church of England exclusively, but the church of Christ including different denominations.” The revival was such big news in Wales that the Western Mail printed special “revival editions” at the time.

Daniel would have been 17 years old when a significant revival meeting was held in September 1904, in Newcastle Emlyn, a market town just five miles from his family farm. The Revd Joseph Joshua, a charismatic Calvinistic Methodist minister from New Quay, which was an early revival hotspot, came to the town with a party of 15 enthusiastic young people. “They spoke, prayed and exhorted as the Holy Spirit led them. The fire burned all before it. Souls were melted and many cried out for salvation.”

It is not known whether Daniel was present, though it is very possible that he was. In the three years before he left home, however, there is reliable evidence that he was a regular churchgoer and a devout young man. The Vicar of Llangeler, who had known him for some years, wrote him a character reference in 1911: “I have had the pleasure of recommending a goodly number of young men to the bishop during the last decade. I have not the least hesitation in saying that I now recommend the finest applicant of all. That he attends our church is sufficient guarantee that he is thoroughly Evangelical.”

 

DURING some 40 years of ministry, Daniel was a respected, much loved, and conscientious parish priest in two rural Carmarthenshire parishes: first, Brechfa; and then Llanfihangel-ar-Arth. His entire ministry was served in St Davids diocese.

A practical ecumenist, he fostered good relations with other denominations in his parishes, at a time when this was less usual. He never achieved high office, but that appears not to have been a matter of regret. There was no indication that his faith ever wavered. The young man from a small farm in mid-Wales achieved in life that on which he had set his mind from his teenage years.

 

Ted Harrison is an artist and writer.

tedharrison.co.uk

 

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