Preacher Thomas Charles’ childhood home, Pant-dwfn, St Clears
Thomas and David Charles, from Pant-dwfn Farm, became significant religious leaders. Thomas was a household name for generations in Wales, thanks to the story of Mary Jones (see below). The ruins of the farmhouse where Thomas (1755-1814) and David (1762-1834) were raised by their parents, Rees and Jael Charles, lie in a hollow near the present farmhouse.
Attending Llanddowror school, Thomas (upper portrait) was inspired by Griffith Jones, its former rector (already deceased), and by Rees Hugh, who had himself been inspired by Griffith’s approach to religion. In 1769 Thomas started at the Academy in Carmarthen – the leading Methodist educational institution but open to all Christians. It was led by Dr Jenkin Jenkins (also minister of the Water Street chapel established by Peter Williams). There, Thomas heard a sermon by Daniel Rowlands on a day he later described as unforgettable.
Thomas was ordained in 1778 but kept being dismissed from curacies because of his ‘methodist’ approach. His marriage took him to a new home in Bala, which became his main base. He taught in schools there and became an itinerant preacher, attracting a congregation of 2,000 people! His work to establish circulating schools and Sunday Schools helped to improve literacy.
In 1800 Mary Jones, a teenager from Llanfihangel-y-Pennant, walked 42km (26 miles) to Bala to buy a bible from Thomas with her savings. Her exemplary story was retold to many generations.
Thomas wrote many respected texts, including the influential Scriptural Dictionary. His adaptation of Griffith Jones’ Catechism ran to more than 80 editions.
Meanwhile, Pant-dwfn was too large for his father, Rees Charles, to manage and he moved to smaller farms. Rees couldn’t afford for David to follow Thomas’ educational path. David (lower portrait) became a rope-maker and eventually founded a successful factory in Carmarthen, where he was a deacon at Capel Heol Dŵr, Water Street. He was the South Wales Methodist Association’s leader and is today best remembered for his hymns, small in number but much enjoyed.
The brothers liaised and in 1811 the north and south Methodist associations separated from the Established Anglican Church and agreed to ordain their own ministers, David being one of the first. From then, Methodist chapels and congregations mushroomed. By 1851 79% of the Welsh population were Nonconformists.
With thanks to Peter Stopp
Postcode: SA33 4NF View Location Map
Footnotes: The place-name St Clears
The meaning is ‘(church dedicated to) St Clair or Cleer’. The earliest reference occurs in a 12th/early 13th-century document. Clair or Cleer has been associated with a 9th century saint who is also commemorated in St Cleer in Cornwall. The main cult however was based at St-Clair in Normandy. For further information see Richard Morgan, Place-Names of Carmarthenshire, Cardiff 2022; Oliver J Padel, A Popular Dictionary of Cornish Place-name Elements, (Penzance 1988).