St Teilo’s Church, Llanddowror
This church was rebuilt in the 1860s to designs by Thomas David of Laugharne. The tower is the main remnant of the earlier church and dates from the 15th or early 16th century. The octagonal font is late mediaeval.
In 1716 Griffith Jones was appointed priest here by ‘Good’ Sir John Philipps of Picton Castle estate, which owned the village properties. Sir John and Griffith Jones became close colleagues. In 1720 Griffith Jones married Sir John’s sister, Margaret.
Griffith Jones’ sermons attracted up to 3,000 or 4,000 people and inspired many others to become preachers, including Peter Williams, Thomas Charles and William Williams from Carmarthenshire. Each of these became famous later.
Griffith Jones was also a school teacher. In 1718 he and Sir John had toured Britain by coach, and probably talked about developing schools. But it wasn’t until c.1731 that he began exploring the idea further. He realised preaching by itself wasn’t enough to develop real Christian commitment and understanding. He believed that without that, people wouldn’t be able to enter Heaven.
People needed to be able to read the word of God for themselves to become true believers, but most couldn’t read or afford to go to school. They didn’t speak English, the language of most reading materials – which were also too expensive.
Griffith Jones found that if he taught in Welsh, children and adults could learn to read sufficiently independently in just two or three months. For reading materials he used the bible, a church catechism and the book of common prayer. With the help of Madam Bevan of Laugharne and her contacts, he raised money for reading materials for the schools. The SPCK (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge) provided thousands of printed items cheaply.
He turned a Llanddowror house into a college to train teachers and another into a hostel for them. If invited by local clergy, they would go to a parish for two to three months’ teaching in a suitable building, such as a farmhouse, barn or church. Lessons were limited to developing reading, using religious texts. The schools proved a huge success.
After Griffith Jones’ death in 1761, Madam Bevan organised the schools programme herself. By 1779 they had taught around three-quarters of the population of Wales to read. Within just a few decades Wales had become one of the most literate nations in Europe – a remarkable achievement.
The schools stimulated a wealth of religious literature (Griffith Jones himself published 35 books) and Carmarthen became a premier printing town. They also stimulated a surge in religious engagement, with the Established Church and especially the newly developing Methodist movement. They also strengthened the use of the Welsh language and its literature.
Inside the church are wall memorials to Griffith Jones and Madam Bevan. Their tombstone is in a place of honour by the altar. The photo shows a figurine of him.
With thanks to Peter Stopp, of the Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society
Postcode: SA33 4HL View Location Map