Hanes a dogfennau
History & records
Enwogion y Plwyf
Parish Notables


Bishop William Basil Jones

from: The South Wales Squires, by Herbert M. Vaughan

Thirlwall was succeeded by Basil Jones who was then Archdeacon of York. He was the second Welsh-born and Welsh-speaking bishop (Hughes of St Asaph being the first) in modern times. Bishop Jones was a genuine Welsh squire by birth, the owner of Gwynfryn, which overlooks the wide stretches of Borth Marsh. As a boy, I remember him well. Like his predecessor, a scholar as well as an antiquary, his great work on St Davids and its Cathedral, written in conjunction with Professor E A Freeman, is a recognized Welsh classic. Freeman, that grim historian ('who recalled so well for us the savage manners of our ancestors') was a frequent guest at the Palace. There is an amusing story that on his first visit the historian was most eager to inspect the famous tomb and effigy of Sir Rhys ap Thomas, KG, which is the chief object of interest in St Peter's Church, Carmarthen. So the Bishop and Freeman drove in to Carmarthen for this purpose, when on entering St Peter's they found to their chagrin that the whole tomb had been bodily removed by rail to London in order to be 'restored' (no doubt in the best Victorian manner). Bishop Jones (to whose powers of organization the present Bishop of St Davids has often paid public tribute) was a small, delicate, nervous man, but with a dry wit and keen sense of humour. On one occasion his butler was found guilty of some serious breach of morals. 'I always had my doubts about him,' was the Bishop's comment, 'ever since he was recommended to me as a very pious little man.'

Something of Bishop Jones's precise manner of speech has crept into his writings. Thus, in his notable work on St Davids, the Bishop expresses a doubt as to the purpose of the monolithic stones so frequent in the bare fields of Dyfed. He is not sure 'whether they were erected to commemorate a burial, a battle, or a treaty, or whether they were not rather designed for the convenience of cattle afflicted with cutaneous disorders.' In other and simpler words, whether these stones were merely in many case 'rubbing-stones' put up by the local farmers.

The Bishop was educated at Shrewsbury School, under the famous Dr Samuel Butler (grandfather of a no less famous grandson, the late Samuel Butler, author of Erewhon and other and better works). In after-life, the Bishop was once chaffed by his old school-fellow, Mr James Bowen, QC, of Bridell, concerning their youthful days at Shrewsbury. Amongst other delinquencies at school the eminent lawyer recalled the surreptitious draughts of weak brandy and water they used as boys to consume on the sly. But Dr Basil Jones was not pleased by these reminders of schoolboy antics. 'And have you no other reminiscence of our school days, Mr Bowen.' he asked in dry polite tones, save those of our infantile follies and weaknesses?'

Bishop Jones was an admirable antiquary and expert ecclesiologist. It is not too much to claim for him that his classic book on St Davids led to the ultimate saving of that grand but decaying pile, the glory of Dyfed. In an age, too, of ignorant and wholesale 'restoration' of parish churches, the Bishop did what he could to preserve the ancient features of the fabrics in his diocese. He was just in time, I know, to thwart a gross piece of vandalism in the twelfth century church of Llanbadarn-fawr. A fine old lancet window was doomed to be destroyed to make room for a projected monument to the late Colonel Pryse, when a peremptory letter or telegram from Dr Basil Jones prevented the mischief at the last moment. His colleague, old Dean Allen, of the Cresselly family, nobly seconded his Bishop's efforts on behalf of the cathedral-church of St Davids. I can remember as a boy being present at the visit of the British Archaeological Association to St Davids in the summer of 1884. Naturally, the Dean acted as cicerone—who else could have been better?—in his own cathedral; but when he proceeded to exhibit the church plate and was holding up a silver vessel, one of the leading lights among the visitors rudely snatched the piece in question from the Dean's hand, with the remark:

'Excuse me, Mr Dean, but as an expert in medieval Church plate, I must be allowed the privilege of speaking about this specimen. '

He then proceeded to explain that a genuine pre- Reformation object such as this could never be mistaken for modern workmanship. When his supplanter had quite finished his discourse, Dean Allen took back the piece of plate, dryly remarking: 'Our learned lecturer is mistaken; this specimen is only a recent copy of the original I was proposing to show you later; apparently, a very good copy'.

Later in life Bishop Jones, who had long been a widower, remarried leaving a family of three children at his death. His only son in spite of physical weakness served his country with pluck and honour during the Great War, and finally surrendered his young life in the course of his duties.

Herbert M Vaughan, The South Wales Squires,1926, pp141-147

See also: Another extract from the book about Dorothea Jones, the Bishop's sister.


[Brig y dudalen/Top of page][Hawlfraint/Copyright]