By / 7th February, 2014 / Carmarthenshire / Off

What was it like in Carmarthenshire near St Clears 300 years ago?

300 years ago Carmarthenshire towns were small and the majority lived in the countryside and of course most people worked the land and lived by farming.From the information contained in the Hearth Tax returns for Carmarthenshire county in 1670, about 20 per cent of the population were classified as paupers on the grounds that they were regarded as being unable to pay the hearth tax amounting to one shilling payable half-yearly on each hearth in a person’s possession. There was also another category of poor persons, namely, those who were in receipt of ‘constant alms’ and who were on that account not always accounted for in the tax lists. So in other words we may argue that between 25 and 30 per cent of the population were “poor”, and had no legal access to the land except by selling their labour.  About 60-70 percent of the population comprised the yeomen, free holders, tenant farmers, craftsmen, tradesmen, etc. At this time very few people would have been able to read or write.

By the seventeenth century more evidence is available to show that Carmarthen and the creeks and landing places at Marros, Laugharne, Llanstephan, Llangain, St. Ishmael and Cydweli, could muster numerous ships, boats and lighters, which were owned and often manned by local mariners. SO while trade was also important it was the little farming communities which would have been the backbone of the economy around St Clears.

Who was Griffith Jones?

Griffith Jones also spelt Gruffydd Jones was born near Carmarthen at Penboyr in 1684 when Charles 2 ruled England and at this time Wales was still very much a rural society but soon to undergo a religious revival in the form of Methodism.

He was educated at Carmarthen Grammer School and then in 1716 Griffith Jones was made the rector of Llanddowror Church where he remained for the rest of his life. He is an important figure in Welsh history and his achievements are always referred to as those of ‘Griffith Jones Llanddowror’. In 1731, he began to organise circulating schools in Carmarthenshire, influenced by his learning and the ideology of the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (SPCK) of which he was a member. Jones was inspired to set up these reading schools so that the common people might read the Bible and, in so doing, learn things necessary for their salvation. SO while he was motivated to teach people to read it was believed that in being able to read the Bible they would be saved! What excitement there must have been when the news spread that the school was coming your way soon!

Griffith Jones

The little schools held lessons in each location for only around three months mainly on a Sunday before moving on to the next place; it was a project which rapidly extended into the whole of Wales. It was for the whole family not just the children. The main texts for his schools were the Bible and the Catechism of the Church of England. It is estimated that by his death in 1761, over 300,000 people had learned to read, and they were people of all ages.
He was supported in his work by a wealthy philanthropist, Madam Bridget Bevan. She lived for some of her life in Laugharne, of Dylan Thomas fame and she continued to manage and support the schools, after Griffith Jones’s death. His legacy was a nation with a largely literate population, who also had a deep knowledge of Christian scriptures. It is for this reason as much as for his fervent open air preaching, that many have suggested that Griffith Jones was the forerunner of the Methodist movement in Wales. He almost single-handedly prepared the way for the new religious fervor and revivalist ideas which swept the country during the mid and late eighteenth century. Both Griffith Jones and Madam Bevan were buried in Llanddowror Church.

THE WELSH LANGUAGE

The circulating schools taught people to read in their native language, Cymraeg. Being a phonetic language, Welsh was a language that its speakers could learn to read relatively quickly. Bishops in Carmarthen had masterfully translated the New Testament and Book of Common Prayer into Welsh back in 1567 and the work of translating the Bible was completed by Bishop William Morgan in 1588. This meant that Griffith Jones and the peripatetic teachers could deliver the teaching and use the scriptures in the people’s own language, and it is likely that by the end of the eighteenth century, the majority of Welsh adults were literate in Welsh – an amazing feat which was the subject of high praise from Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, no less!  In 1764 she commissioned a report on Griffith Jones’s schools. There were few nations at that time who could boast a literate majority!

For those wanting to explore this lovely area of Carmarthenshire why not check out our website at Old Oak Barn near St Clears and come and stay!

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