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History of Brechfa Church from
  ' Teulu Teilo'
 by Bob Lenny and Patrick Thomas

 

8. Joshua Davies: a footballing Rector

In 1838, the year John Griffiths died, The Topographical Dictionary of Wales remariced of Brechfa that 'The Church dedicated to St Teilo and situated at the extremity of the parish is a small plain edifice, without either tower or spire.' This simple building was about to acquire one of its most colourful parish priests. Joshua Davies, formerly Curate of Llangadog, arrived unexpectedly as the new Rector of Brechfa in December of the same year.

Apparently there had been a football match in Llangadog one day, and one of the local players had not turned up. The curate offered to fill the gap -provided that it would not be seen as in any way impairing the dignity of his office. The squire of Tregib, Llandeilo, was standing among the spectators and overheard the clergyman's offer. He immediately told him to go and play and he would ensure that the curate received the living of Brechfa, as it had just become vacant and he had the right to appoint the new Rector there. Joshua Davies took part in the match and as a result became the Rector of Brechfa.

This remarkable story is confirmed by the fact that Joshua Davies was apparently the only Rector of Brechfa never to have been properly licensed to the parish by the Bishop. His sporting enthusiasm remained strong. He used to play football in Cae Plasau (or Cae Pleser), the field behind the church, after the morning service. The temperance movement was becoming influential in Wales at the time, but Joshua Davies continued to enjoy the occasional pint. "Peidiwch a gwneud fel yr wyf fi yn gwneud ond gwnewch fel yr wyf fi yn dweud," ("Don't do as I do but do as I say") he would tell his parishioners. When a nonconformist friend tried to persuade the Rector to become a teetotaller Davies replied "Rhaid i mi gael cwrw, ond bydd pobl Brechfa yn saff yn y Nefoedd os y dilynant beth yr wyf yn pregethu iddynt" ("I must have beer, but the people of Brechfa will be safe in Heaven if they follow what I preach to them").

When he first came to the parish Joshua Davies lived at Tyrheffyn and supplemented his stipend by starting a school there. His most distinguished pupil was William Thomas (1834-79), later to become famous as the poet, Unitarian preacher and Radical leader 'Gwilym Maries'. Describing his early education Gwilym Maries gives the impression that the gigantic, muscular and kindly cleric would have been better suited to farming than teaching:

' ...Ces athrawon eraill ac yn eu plith Offeiriad, un o feibion Anac, dyn pwerus, ysgeiddig, gwresog a charedig o galon, yn hoff o arddio a ffermio ond nid wedi ei dorri allan gan ddim os nad gan 'dyngedfen ddall' ar gyfer cadw Ysgol.'

During the 1840s many people in Brechfa became Mormons, influenced by Thomas Jeremy, a local Mormon convert who had formerly been a preacher with the Annibynwyr. In 1849 a large number of them emigrated to America, including Daniel Davies, tenant of Llystyn, which at that time was a substantial farm of 291 acres. Joshua Davies was then given the tenancy and was able to give up schoolmastering and move to Llystyn. He lived there, surrounded by his large family, until he died aged 65 in June 1855. His tomb can still be seen under the yew tree in Brechfa churchyard not far from the field where he played football with such enjoyment.

Joshua Davies' greatest achievement was the restoration of St Teilo's Church in 1848. In that year John Evans the churchwarden reported to the Bishop that "The Church is now being repaired.' The roof had been 'well covered with Carnarvon slate,' but the floors were 'not yet paved,' the pews were 'not completed' and the 'Northern side' of the church had been taken down. A stained glass window was given by Daniel Prytherch (son of the Daniel and Margaret Prytherch whose memorial is now near the organ in the present St Teilo's Church). The frame which once held this window was built into the far wall of Brechfa Church Hall when the old church was demolished at the beginning of the present century. The inscription beneath it was also preserved: 'Erected at the expense of Daniel Prytherch Esquire of Abergoleu and Carmarthen 1848.' A bell-cote was added to the church during the restoration.

The repair work had been completed by the time that the National Religious Census was held in 1851. Joshua Davies informed the enumerator that there were 100 free seats and 10 other seats in the church and that 123 people had been present at the afternoon service on the Sunday of the census. In the same year he reported to the Bishop that there were between 50 and 60 communicants at the monthly celebration of Holy Communion. Clergy are notorious for overestimating the size of their congregations, but the general impression is that St Teilo's Church thrived under Joshua Davies' kindly and energetic care.