More on Llanblethian

Update: Cadw have now revised their listing statement for William Williams Pantycelyn’s monument at Llanfair-ar-y-bryn. Here it is: http://cadwpublic-api.azurewebsites.net/reports/listedbuilding/FullReport?lang=en&id=10969

And a further update. Gwen Awbery has been back to look at the Llanblethian stones and this is her reading of the poetry – exactly as it appears on the tombstones, as far as it can be read, rather than my version which was taken from an online version of Theomemphus. On William Rhys’s tomb:

Wel dyma un a garwyd a gannwyd y y gwad
Deng miliwn lawn o feiau faddeuwyd iddo’n rhad
Ei dynnu wnawd o’r danllwyth ac yntau’n mynd i lawr
Fe gadwyd hwn o uffern mae e yn y nef yn awr.
And on Catherine Masey’s
… fy nghorph i fynu fel fy Anwylyd cu
Heb nwydau drwg byth mwyach …..
…. wyr is yr wybr ddedwydded ….
Ac nis gall dyn ddychmygu …….
If you look at them carefully you will spot some small differences in the Welsh. The first line of William Rhys’s has ‘gannwyd’ rather than ‘ganwyd’. Gannwyd is actually what is in the first (1764) edition of Theomemphus. It means washed or cleansed. Ganwyd nowadays would be translated as ‘born’ – but Welsh spellings like English were still flexible in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Gwen says ‘ the conventions of Welsh spelling, with respect to the doubling or not of “n” and “r” were only fixed quite recently’.
Possibly more significant and also in the first line of William Rhys’s – his tombstone says ‘dyma un a garwyd’ while the printed text of Theomemphus says ‘dyma dyn a garwyd’. They mean roughly the same – ‘here is one who was loved’ and ‘here is a man who was loved’. I think the difference might suggest that whoever asked for the text of this particular poem had learned it by heart and was remembering it rather than asking the carver to work from a printed version.
Gwen was also able to read a lot more of the poem on the middle stone:
Gwel rhybudd beunydd yn …
Pawb edrych pob oddran su n …
Ymaith pan el dy amod
Tynnu mau at hyn o nod.
This is a variant of one she had already collected from Llansannor, a couple of miles to the north of Llanblethian:
Here lyeth the body of Evan William of this parish, who departed this life Aprill y 10th 1731, aged 58.
 
Gwel rhybydd beunydd yn bod – pawb edrych
pob oedran su n darfod
ymaith pan el dy amod
tynnu mau at hyn o nod.
 
Here also lyeth Rebekah William, dyed August y 16th 1738, aged 19.
Again you will notice some differences. The poem is an englyn, a Welsh verse form with very strict rules. The Llanblethian one isn’t laid out in the proper form, but the Llansannor one is. also, the Llanblethian one has ‘oddran’ in the second line instead of ‘oedran’ (=’age’). Like the Theomemphus poem this might suggest oral transmission.

What follows is a corrected version of the posting on 18 January. The original posting and update are at the end, though I have moved the photos.

The big excitement at Llanblethian was the crypt – see https://welshtombs.wordpress.com/2019/01/02/the-llanblethian-crypt/. But we also had a look in the churchyard and Amy spotted some more Welsh poetry on three flat tombstones, to the south-east of the church. I’m really not good at deciphering damaged and worn stones with Welsh inscriptions but with the help of a bit of googling when we got home I identified two of them. Both are verses from the inscription on the grave of Theomemphus in the epic poem of that name by the great Welsh hymn-writer William Williams Pantycelyn. One has the first verse, the other the second, so they do seem to have been planned as a pair. The third verse is on Williams’s own memorial in the churchyard at Llanfair-ar-y-bryn near Llandovery.

The first of the Llanblethian inscriptions is on a rather overgrown stone that is overlaid by another stone above it. I had to clear the overgrowth to read the farm name.

It commemorates William Rhys of Fyrsil Fawr in the parish of Coity who died on 25 Feb. 1794. He has the first verse from Theomemphus:

Wel dyma’r dyn a garwyd, a ganwyd yn y gwa’d,
Deng miliwn lawn o feiau faddeuwyd iddo’n rhad;
Ei dynnu wnawd o’r danllwyth, ac yntau yn myn’d i lawr,
Fe gadwyd hwn o uffern, mae e’n y nef yn awr.

(Well, here is the man who was loved, who was cleansed in blood,
Ten million sins were freely forgiven to him;
To keep him from the blazing fire and from going below,
He was kept from Hell, he is now in Heaven)

(I have corrected my translations with the aid of Eifion Evans’s Pursued by God, which is a verse translation of part of Williams’s poem, but I have tried to give a more literal reading. I’m also grateful to my Welsh teacher for checking my conclusions.)

The second tombstone, to the south of the first,

commemorates Catherine, wife of Jonathan Masey (elsewhere Meazey) of Llanblethian and daughter of John Thomas of Wernfawr in Ystradowen. She died on 29 September 1794, aged 32.

Her grave has the second verse of the Theomemphus poem:

Fi ga fy nghorph i fynu, fel fy Anwylyd cu,
Heb nwydau drwg byth mwyach i’m blino fel y bu;
Does dyn wyr is yr wybr, ddedwydded yw fy lle,
Ac nis gall dyn ddych’mygu dim am bleserau’r ne’.

(My body will be raised, like my dear Beloved,
With no more evil desires to weary me as I was;
No man beneath the heavens can know, blessed is my place,
And no man can imagine anything about the pleasures of Heaven.)

 

(for the whole thing see https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=Ju4-AAAAYAAJ&hl=en_GB&pg=GBS.PP1 )

I can’t find out any more about William Rhys and I can’t identify Fyrsil Fawr (Furze Hill?) in Coity. Catherine and Jonathan appear on online family trees at https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Meazey-1   and https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Thomas-12911. Both came from Ystradowen but seem to have moved to Llanblethian by the time they married. She was his second wife and he married a third wife in 1797. This was not heartless: he was farming, he had a young family, he needed a business partner to run the house, the dairy etc and look after the next generation. Her tombstone also commemorates two of her grandchildren, Richard and Catherine, children of her son William Meazey and his wife Jane. Llanblethian was not a strongly Welsh-speaking area in the late 18th century. Ystradowen is a little to the north, but still in the Vale of Glamorgan, traditionally an anglicised area.

Theomemphus was first published in 1764. It was very popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and went through several reprints. The third verse of the poem from Theomemphus’s grave  was used on William Williams’s own tomb at Llanfair-ar-y-bryn. His tombstone also commemorated his wife Mary, who died in 1799. His sons William and John were buried nearby, and in 1886 subscriptions were raised for a memorial to the whole family.

While I was scratching around for background on this, a friend at the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments in Wales sent me a link to Cadw’s listing document for the monument, at http://cadwpublic-api.azurewebsites.net/reports/listedbuilding/FullReport?lang=en&id=10969 . This led me astray for a while, as the listing statement said that the poem was written by Williams Pantycelyn’s son John. John was clearly a bright lad (he became principal of the great Methodist college at Trefecca) but he would only have been ten years old when his father published Theomemphus, so on the face of it, it seems unlikely. When I contacted Cadw to ask for their evidence, they suggested that the statement might have meant that it was John who suggested the verse for his father’s original tombstone. Now, that would be a fascinating suggestion if we could find any evidence to substantiate it – and it would be good to know why he chose that particular poem, and why specifically the third verse. However, so far the evidence is lacking.

Having got as far as I could, I gave in and asked the expert. Wyn James of Cardiff University has published extensively in the life and work of Williams Pantycelyn and the other Welsh Methodist hymn writers. He could think of no evidence that John Williams had chosen the poem for his father’s tomb. He also pointed out some inaccuracies in Cadw’s transcription, and gave me a lot more detail about the history of the monument –

‘The memorial was the fruit of a fund-raising campaign began in late 1884, by Thomas Levi in particular, to have a more impressive memorial than the original stone slab. John Williams had been buried close to his father, and the new memorial encompassed both the original graves. It was completed around the end of August 1886 (see Aberystwith Observer, 28 August 1886). It cost just over £160, and the remaining funds from the campaign were (according to Trysorfa y Plant, June 1886) used to pay for the carved pulpit in the Williams Pantycelyn Memorial Chapel in Llandovery, which was being built at that time. The prominent Liverpool sculptor, Joseph Rogerson, made the monument, to a design by the architect Richard Owens (1831-91), also of Liverpool, and Rogerson also sculptured the carved pulpit in the Memorial Chapel in Llandovery. (See William Morgan, ed., Album Williams Pantycelyn, 1890, pp. 32, 36.) The treasurer of the fund to raise the memorial was the wealthy builder, David Roberts (1806-86), and that would explain the Liverpool connection, as Roberts worked very closely with Richard Owens – they worked closely, for example, in the building of the famous ‘Welsh streets’ in Liverpool, where Ringo Starr was born. (On Owens, see http://www.liverpool-welsh.co.uk/archive/The%20Welsh%20Builders.pdf; http://www.welshchapels.org/welsh-chapels/richard-owens/.)’

I have contacted Cadw and suggested that the listing statement needs to be corrected.

My cousin is back with me, and we went to Llandovery to look at the church and the monument. The church really needs another blog post  (see https://www.heritagetortoise.co.uk/2019/03/llanfair-ar-y-bryn/) – it’s the church of a short-lived Benedictine priory, on the site of a Roman fort, with a fragment of a medieval cross slab – but we saw and photographed the monument

and the original tomb slab to William Williams Pantycelyn and his wife Mary.

The inscription is now virtually illegible. The churchwarden had a transcript made some time ago which showed that it was virtually the same as the one on the monument. He was a mine of information on the history of the church and community, and said he had never come across a tradition connecting John Williams with the inscription on his father’s tomb. We also saw John Williams’s original monument, on the wall of the porch.

Strangely, the inscription is all in English. Inside the church is the desk at which William Williams did much of his writing.

How would someone so rooted in the Nonconformist tradition have felt about the fact that his desk has become a sort of contact relic, the focus of pilgrimage?

So how did the poem reach a farming community in the Vale of Glamorgan? Williams died in 1791 so the poem would have had some publicity then and it seems to have been well known in south-west Wales. Part of it was reworked in a later hymn, but not as far as I can see the first verse. Paradoxically, the Vale of Glamorgan connection may actually have been through his son John, who worked for a while as a schoolteacher in Coychurch (which is the next parish to Coity) with David Jones, the ‘Angel of Llangan’. However, he was only there for three years, 1781-84, after which he moved on to lecture at Trefecca.

So this is  a bit like those lines from Canwyll y Cymru  at Sully (https://welshtombs.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/canwyll-y-cymry/) , a bit of serious Welsh poetry with a fascinating back story in what you would think was a very Anglicised area. Intriguingly, Rhys Prichard (c 1579-1644), author of Canwyll y Cymru, was vicar of Llandovery. Something in the water? – a bit like the three 16th century Welsh translators of the Bible, William Salesbury, Richard Davies and William Morgan, all born in the Conwy valley in north Wales.

There were two more stones at Llanblethian with fragments of Welsh visible, one with a poem beginning ‘Gwel rhybydd beunydd …’ but I couldn’t make much of them though they are bound to be on Gwen Awbery’s database. The other doesn’t seem to be the third verse of the Theomemphus poem. It might be worth going back after dark and trying with a raking light.

 

Update, 24.01.19.

The information that the poem ‘Wel dyma’r dyn a garwyd’ was written by William Williams Pantycelyn’s son came from Cadw’s listing report on Pantycelyn’s grave, http://cadwpublic-api.azurewebsites.net/reports/listedbuilding/FullReport?lang=en&id=10969 . I can’t find anything to support this in G. M. Roberts’s edition of Theomemphus in Gweithiau William Williams Pantycelyn vol. 1. The lovely people @CUSpecialColls found the first (1764) edition of Theomemphus for me and it has the poem in it – so I have no idea where Cadw got their information. I don’t know exactly when John Williams was born but his parents were married in 1748 so he would still have been in his teens in 1764. 

There is no photograph on the Cadw site but I did find one of the more modern stone which has copied and replaced  the original, at https://www.crichbaptist.org/articles/william-williams/. This does only have the third verse of Theomemphus’s epitaph (another thing I was worried about) but there is nothing to suggest that it was John Williams and not William himself who wrote it.

Time to ask Cadw, maybe?

 

The big excitement at Llanblethian was the crypt – see https://welshtombs.wordpress.com/2019/01/02/the-llanblethian-crypt/. But we also had a look in the churchyard and Amy spotted some more Welsh poetry on three flat tombstones, to the south-east of the church. I’m really not good at deciphering damaged and worn stones with Welsh inscriptions but with the help of a bit of googling when we got home I identified two of them. Both are verses from the inscription on the grave of Theomemphus in the epic poem of that name by the great Welsh hymn-writer William Williams Pantycelyn. They only appear in later editions of the poem and are thought to be by his son, the Rev. John Williams, but here they are on two gravestones from 1794 and they do seem to have been planned as a pair.

The first is on a rather overgrown stone that is overlaid by another stone above it.

It commemorates William Rhys of Tyr … in the parish of Coity who died on 25 Feb. 1794. He has the first verse from Theomemphus:

Wel dyma’r dyn a garwyd, a ganwyd yn y gwa’d,
Deng miliwn lawn o feiau faddeuwyd iddo’n rhad;
Ei dynnu wnawd o’r danllwyth, ac yntau yn myn’d i lawr,
Fe gadwyd hwn o uffern, mae e’n y nef yn awr.

(Well, here is the man who was loved, who was cleansed in blood,
Ten million sins were freely forgiven to him;
To keep him from the blazing fire and from going below,
He was kept from Hell, he is now in Heaven)

(I have corrected my translations with the aid of Eifion Evans’s Pursued by God, which is a verse translation of part of Williams’s poem, but I have tried to give a more literal reading. I’m also grateful to my Welsh teacher for checking my conclusions.)

The second tombstone, to the south of the first,

commemorates Catherine, wife of Jonathan Masey (elsewhere Meazey) of Llanblethian and daughter of John Thomas of Wernfawr in Ystradowen. She died on 29 September 1794, aged 32.

Her grave has the second verse of the Theomemphus poem:

Fi ga fy nghorph i fynu, fel fy Anwylyd cu,
Heb nwydau drwg byth mwyach i’m blino fel y bu;
Does dyn wyr is yr wybr, ddedwydded yw fy lle,
Ac nis gall dyn ddych’mygu dim am bleserau’r ne’.

(My body will be raised, like my dear Beloved,
With no more evil desires to weary me as I was;
No man beneath the heavens can know, blessed is my place,
And no man can imagine anything about the pleasures of Heaven.)

 

(for the whole thing see https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=Ju4-AAAAYAAJ&hl=en_GB&pg=GBS.PP1 )

I can’t find out any more about William Rhys (might go back with a trowel and clear a bit more of the earth from the tombstone and see if I can get the name of his farm). Catherine and Jonathan appear on online family trees at https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Meazey-1   and https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Thomas-12911. Both came from Ystradowen but seem to have moved to Llanblethian by the time they married. She was his second wife and he married a third wife in 1797. This was not heartless: he was farming, he had a young family, he needed a business partner to run the house, the dairy etc and look after the next generation. Her tombstone also commemorates two of her grandchildren, Richard and Catherine, children of her son William Meazey and his wife Jane. Llanblethian was not a strongly Welsh-speaking area in the late 18th century. Ystradowen is a little to the north, but still in the Vale of Glamorgan, traditionally an anglicised area.

Theomemphus was first published in 1764. It was very popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and went through several reprints. The third verse of the poem from Theomemphus’s grave  was used on William Williams’s own tomb at Llanfair-ar-y-bryn.He died in 1791 so the poem would have had some publicity then and it seems to have been well known in south-west Wales. Part of it was reworked in a later hymn, but not as far as I can see the first verse. So this is  a bit like those lines from Canwyll y Cymru  at Sully (https://welshtombs.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/canwyll-y-cymry/) , a bit of serious Welsh poetry with a fascinating back story in what you would think was a very Anglicised area.

There was a third very worn stone with fragments of Welsh visible but I couldn’t make much of it though it’s probably on Gwen Awbery’s database. It doesn’t seem to be the third verse of the Theomemphus poem. It might be worth going back after dark and trying with a raking light.

 

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