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History of Brechfa Church from
 ' Teulu Teilo'

by Bob Lenny and Patrick Thomas

 

5. The Eighteenth Century

In 1721 Dr Erasmus Saunders published a book entitled A View of the State of Religion in the Diocese ofSt David's About the Beginning of the 18th Century. In it he stressed the abject poverty in which many of the clergy of the diocese lived and the disastrous results for the church as a whole. One of those impoverished parsons was the man who followed John Lloyd. Lewis Griffith, licensed as Stipendiary Curate of Brechvah Gothy' in 1705, received £8.5.0 a year, which put him among the poorest of the West Wales clergy. Later in the century this stipend (which came from the not always reliable source of tithes and thus allowed future curates to start styling themselves 'Rector of Brechfa') was augmented by the rents from two farms, one in the parish of Llanfihangel-ar-Arth and the other in the parish of Llanybydder.

At this time the curates of Brechfa almost certainly lived in what was later known as 'Vicarage', a thatched cottage standing on the site of the present Rectory. In 1817 the Reverend John Griffiths told the Bishop that the house was ‘a poor Cot, and too small to reside therein.’ Eleven years later he described it as 'very small, and fit only for a day Labourer, or some poor family.' His successor, Joshua Davies, had ‘a large Family of 11 Children’ and also, perhaps not surprisingly, remarked that ‘The Parsonage is too small.’ In the 1880s the cottage was replaced by a new Rectory which became the home of the parish priest.

Lady Rudd of Fforest, the patron of the living, nominated Joshua Jones to be the new Curate of Brechfa in 1734. He had been Vicar of Llanfihangel-ar-Arth since 1730, and apparently combined the two livings. During his time the educational movement begun by the Reverend Gruffydd Jones, Rector of Llanddowror, began to make an impact on the life of the parish. Gruffydd Jones would send a schoolmaster to a village for between four and six months. His brief was to teach as many pupils as possible, both children and adults, to read Welsh, using the Church Catechism, the Prayer Book and the Bible as their textbooks. The schoolmaster would then move on to another village and repeat the exercise. In this way over 158,000 people were taught to read in a period of 25 years.

The first of these schools in the Brechfa area was held at Felin Marlais (then in Llanfihangel-ar-Arth parish) from 1740-1 and was attended by 54 pupils. In 1747-8 70 pupils attended a school held in Brechfa Parish Church, while at the same time a further 46 went to a school at Abergoleu, also in the parish. The following year another school was held in Brechfa at Gwaunfwyalchen, this time with 46 pupils. This intensive educational campaign must have given a considerable proportion of the population of the parish the ability to read their own language. The use of the parish church suggests that Joshua Jones gave Gruffydd Jones' schoolmaster his encouragement and support.

The Register of the Bishops of St Davids (1705-58) records die licensing of the next Brechfa curate on die 24th of August 1752. Griffith Griffiths, who was still a deacon, was to serve both Brechfa and LJanfihangel Rnos-y-corn, receiving £6 a year from each parish. In 1781 Elizabeth Gwynne of Taliaris, the new patron, nominated David Hughes, Vicar of LJanfihangel-ar-Artn, as Curate of Brechfa. She was apparently a minor at the time, and the nomination was approved by her guardians, John Lewis and John Garnons. David Hughes had been assistant curate of Llanfihangel-ar-Aith before succeeding Joshua Jones as vicar of the parish in 1753. He also remained incumbent of both parishes until his dead) in 1787.

The document in which the patron nominates the next Curate of Brechfa has survived among the Church in Wales papers in die National Library of Wales. It is perhaps worm quoting in full:

'To there Right Reverend father in God Edward by Divine permission Lord Bishop of St Davids or in his absence to his Vicar General in Spirituals or to any other person having or who shall have sufficient Authority in this behalf I Elizabeth Gwynne of Tregib in the County of Carmarthen Spinster true and undoubted patron of die Chapel of the Parish of Brechva in the County of Carmarthen and in your Diocese of St Davids now vacant by the death of the Reverend David Hughes Clerk the last incumbent there Do Nominate unto you the Reverend William Jenkins Clerk to the said Chapel, and to Licence and cause him to be Licensed into the same with all its Rights Members and appurtenances. And to do and execute all other things in this behalf which shall belong to your Episcopal Office. In Witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal the Sixteenth Day of March in the Year of our Lord 1787.-Eliza. Gwynne'

William Jenkins (1723-99) had been assistant curate of Llandeilo Fawr. He was both Vicar of Meidrim and Perpetual Curate of Brechfa. In a Consistory Court case about tithes in 1789 he became the first incumbent of Brechfa to describe himself as 'Rector' of the parish. He had nine children by Lettice, his second wife. The eldest, Letitia, married Benjamin Waugh, Governor of Carmarthen Jail, and is commemorated by a tablet on die wall of St Peter's Church, Carmarthen. An unmarried daughter, Jane, kept the Post Office in Llandeilo in the mid-nineteenth century. One of William Jenkins' sons, Thomas, was a minor poet and father of the Llandeilo cabinetmaker and diarist of die same name.

An interesting innovation during this period was the acquisition of an organ for the church, paid for by private subscriptions. On the 14th of April 196 permission was granted to raise part of the ceiling to receive the organ and also to close up the west window of the church. Apart from Iolo Morganwg's remark, quoted above, the only description of the interior of the building before its restoration in 1848 appears in the 1828 Visitation Return, where the Rector states that 'The Church will contain about 300: and there are seats and a Gallery for Free sittings' (the 'about 300' would seem to be rather a wild exaggeration).