17th to 19th Century History of
 St Michael’s Church Llanfihangel Rhos Y Corn

Taken from notes by Canon Patrick Thomas.

Llanfihangel 300 years ago

In 1684 the then Archdeacon of Carmarthen held a Visitation of the Archdeaconry. The Llanfihangel churchwardens' answers to his questions have survived and give a picture of what the Church was like at that time. Here they are (with the spelling unchanged):

Our church is in good repair, except one window left unglazed.
The bell not in good order. We have a font and a Communion Table with all furniture necessary for the Lord's Supper; a pulpit for the preaching of the Word; a Bible of a large volume neatly bound but some leaves lost and wanting in it; a new Common Prayer Book but it wants binding - all the books in Welsh.
The Churchyard is indifferently fenced and kept in order. Neither house nor glebe lands belonging to our minister, for our church was ever accounted and left a Chappell belonging to the Church of Llanllwny, and by the same... (illegible)
Our minister hath a curate to supply his place in his absence.
Our parishioners doe reasonably perform their duteys in decent order, excepting that some of them are slow and negligent to be partakers of the holy Sacrament which we hope they will amend.
Our sexton and his wife are careful in performing the duty layed uppon them.
John Evan. David William. Churchwardens M. Meredith, Vic.

The font referred to is presumably the one that is still in the church. The present pulpit, with its striking 'sunburst' design, was probably made by a local carpenter in the eighteenth century, replacing the one mentioned in 1684.

A Bad Vicar

The early eighteenth century was a rather bleak time for the Church-in-Wales in general and LIanfihangel Rhos-y-corn in particular, Rhos-y-corn's problems were largely caused by the Reverend James Thomas, who was Vicar of Llanfihangel (and three other churches) from 1717 to 1742. In December 1732 his long-suffering churchwardens presented him to the Consistory Court for 'drunkenness and neglect of duties'. They alleged that he often sat up the whole night drinking, and that 'In Aug 1723 Henry Tho saw J.T., & one Mr Evan Daves, clk, drinking ale with Jno Evan in the latter's hse in Rcn pish. J.T. vomitted 3 times, giving great offence to H.T. who paid his reckoning and departed'. This unseemly conduct was compounded by the Vicar's public declaration that 'he would not come to officiate in Rcorn in winter neither would he come at any other time unless he thought fit' . James Thomas defended himself against these charges with the rather lame excuse that he performed his duty 'far better than his predecessor did'.

Desparate Remedies

Even the Consistory Court hearing seems to have had no effect on James Thomas. The churchwardens grew desperate,and hired the Reverend Evan Jones, a Curate from Talley, who duly conducted the services and preached every Sunday.  All went well until Easter Day 1733 wnen, to everyone's astonishment, James Thomas, who hadn't been near the Church for several months, turned up during the service (presumably to collect his Easter Offering). Thomas seized the Prayer Book from the hapless Curate of Talley and threw him out of the Church. The next Sunday he turned up again and did the same. Evan Jones didn't risk a third ejection: he stayed peacefully at home in Talley, and Llanfihangel reverted to the old neglect.

A Marked Improvement

James Thomas died in 1742, and shortly afterwards the churchwardensand nineteen parishioners signed a sad little appeal for help addressed to Gruffydd Jones, Llanddowror, the preacher and educator who was perhaps the greatest parish priest that Wales has ever produced. Their letter spoke of 'our lately deceased Vicar (we are sorry to say it) taking little care of us'. Jonesand others were touched by this, and with their help the condition of the Church altered dramatically for the better.

A Good Curate and 'a Sort of School-master'

By 179O there was a resident curate in the parish, the ReverendJohn Griffiths, whom the churchwardens were praising to the skies: 'Our Curate reads prayers and preaches every Lord's Day in a proper manner; duly bids Holy Days; administers the Holy Communion every month and Easter Day with due notice giventhereof before. As far as we have ever known he doth duly visit the sick'. The children of the parish were also being catered for, as the wardens noted: 'Here is a sort of school-master teaching to read and write a little, who teaches the children the Church Catechism, and has caused the children to attend Divine service and behave orderly there.

The 'Cariad Creulon’

In 1829 the parish was shocked by the murder of a pregnant servant girl, Hannah Davies, and the arrest of her 'cariadcreulon' ('cruel lover') David Evans, a local man from a highly respected family. Evans was identified by the mark of his boot, left in the mud by Hannah's body (the whole story has been told by T. Llew Jones in Gwaed ar eu Dwylo) . Evans was hanged, but his body was smuggled back from Carmarthen, and buried in the 'clawdd' of Llanfihangel churchyard. Thestory became so well-known that during the last war American servicemen used to visit Llanfihangel specially to see the grave and were able to find it (it is unmarked) without needing guidance from the parishioners.

Reconstruction

By 1849 the Church building was in a poor state, and John Lewis of New Inn was hired to repair it. Unfortunately the builder fell out with the Church Society sponsoring the repairs, and when the Religious Census of 1851 was taken' the Church was described as 'now in building and not finished'. The attendance in Llanfihangel on the morning of the Census was 2O (though the Curate claimed an average attendance of 60). The comparison with the other denominations in the parish was not encouraging. On the same morning there were 180 Independents/Annaibynwyrworshipping in Gwernogle Chapel, 30 Mormons meeting at Tymawr, and 29 Unitarians in their little chapel at Cwmwrdy.

Continued Improvements

The parishioners were not prepared to put up with a half-finished Church, and under the leadership of Mr B. Jones, Foel, they completed the repairs themselves in 1878. Before that time the porch had been roof-less and ruined, with the font tucked away in one corner of it (baptisms must have been a rather risky affair'.). This font was moved to its present position, the porch was reconstructed, and a school for thechildren of the parish was held there during the last decades of the nineteenth century.

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