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William Basil Jones, Esgob Tyddewi

William Basil Jones, Bishop of St Davids

from the Dictionary of National Biography

JONES, WILLIAM BASIL (1822-1897), bishop of St David's, born at Cheltenham on 2 January 1822, was the only son by his first wife (Jane, daughter of Henry Tickell of Leytonstone, Essex), of William Tilsley Jones of Gwynfryn, Llangynfelyn, near Aberystwyth, high sheriff of Cardiganshire for 1838 (J.R.Phillips, Sheriffs of Cardiganshire, pp37-38). He was educated at Shrewsbury School under Samuel Butler and Benjamin Hall Kennedy from 1834 to 1841, being head boy in his last year. He went up to Oxford in 1841, having matriculated on 16 June 1840, was scholar of Trinity College 1840-5, andd Ireland scholar in 1842, when Archbishop Temple was second in the competition; he was placed in the second class of the final school of literae humaniores in 1845, graduated BA the same year and M.A. in 1847. He was elected in 1845 to a Michel scholarship, and in 1848 to a Michel fellowship at Queen's College, but exchanged the latter in 1851 for a fellowship at University College, which he held till 1857, becoming assistant tutor and bursar in 1854, lecturer in modern history and classical lecturer from 1858 to 1865, when he finally quitted Oxford. He also served the university as master of the schools in 1848, as examiner in classical moderations in 1856 and 1860, in theology in 1870, as senior proctor in 1861-2, and as select preacher in 1860-2, 1866-7, 1876-8, being also select preacher at Cambridge in 1881.

Jones's closest friends during his undergraduate days included (Sir) George F Bowen, H.J.Coleridge, E.A.Freeman and W Gifford Palgrave, all Trinity scholars, and his former schoolfellow, James Riddell, scholar of Balliol. They had a literary and philosophical society of their own called "Hermes", in which Jones took a prominent part; he was also a member and for a time secretary of the Oxford Architectural Society. At Queen's College commenced his close inimacy with William Thomson, (afterwards archbishop of York), who like himself was an old Shrewsbury boy. Thomson, when appointed bishop of Gloucester in 1861, made Jones his examining chaplain and, when translated to York in 1863, presented him to the Grindal prebend in York Minster and the perpetual curacy of Haxby, substituting for the latter in 1865 the vicarage of Bishopthorpe, where the episcopal palace is situated. Jones soon came to be regarded as the archbishop's 'right-hand man', and the series of archiepiscopal favours was continued by his appointment as archdeacon of York in 1867, rural dean of Bishopthorpe in 1869, chancellor of York and prebendary of Laughton (in lieu of Grindal) in 1871 and canon residentiary of York in 1873, all of which preferments he held (along with his vicarage and examining chaplaincy) till his own elevation to the episcopal bench.

On the resignation of the see of St.David's by Connop Thirlwall in 1874, Disraeli chose Jones as Thirlwall's successor. Apart from his distinction as a scholar and his exceptional experience of organisation and administration in church work, he had the special qualification of possessing intimate association with the diocese, and of being a Welshman who spoke Welsh, (though in a stiff, bookish manner), and who had made no mean contribution to Welsh antiquarian research. His interest in ecclesiastical architecture had led him, while still an undergraduate, repeatedly to visit St.David's remote cathedral, on which he also wrote "some very pretty verses", among the best of his few poetical effusions; he had encouraged Oxford men to go thither to read during the long vacations, and in 1846 one of these reading parties started the movement for the restoration of the cathedral by raising at Oxford a fund for restoring the rood screen. His lifelong friend, Edward Augustus Freeman, fully shared his interest, and collaborated with him for several years in writing an elaborate history of St.David's. Jones secured Freeman's active support for the Cambrian Archaeological Association, which was started in 1846-7, Jones himself acting as one of its general secretaries in 1848-51, and joint editor in 1854 (Index to Arch.Camb.) He also interested himself in this period in Welsh education, advocating the reform of Christ's College, Brecon, (in a booklet on Its Past History and Present Capabilities, 1853) and, at the time of the schools inquiry commission, of Ystradmeurig School. Thirlwall, who had a high opinion of him, (cf. Letters to a Friend, p255), had recognised these services by appointing him in 1859 one of the six cursal prebends of St.Davids; but this he vacated in 1865, on settling at Bishopthorpe. He was consecrated Bishop of St David's by Archbishop Tait in Westminster Abbey on 14 Aug. 1874 (being made D.D. by the archbishop's diploma on 27 Oct.), and enthroned at St.David's on 15 Sept. He did not obtain a seat in the House of Lords till after the death of Bishop Selwyn in April 1878, but then as junior bishop he held the chaplaincy of the house for the unusually long period of four and a half years, till December 1882. After his release from the chaplaincy he rarely attended the house.

'The progress of the diocese during Bishop Jones' episcopate was far greater than the progress during any period of equal length since the Reformation', (quoted by his successor, Dr.Owen, in his primary 'Charge', 1900, p.26). This was partly due to the fact that in his time the diocese reaped the benefits of reforms initiated by Burgess and Thirlwall, the latter of whom had devoted himself to church building and restoration, the augmentation of benefices (thereby greatly reducing non-residence), and the reform or establishment of educational institutions. All this work Bishop Jones continued and extended. Whilst always encouraging judicious 'restoration', he also gave his support to the establishment of new mission churches, and the number of churches annually consecrated by him was more than treble Thirlwall's yearly average. His personal efforts for improving the number and status of the parochial clergy and his scrupulous care in the exercise of patronage and in the selection of candidates for ordination (insisting on good testimonials and preferring well-educated to merely fluent men,) resulted within a few years in the almost total disapperarance of non-residence from the diocese, in a much-needed improvement in pastoral work, and in the progressive raising of the educational and spiritual standard of the ministry. He also applied his conspicuous business ability to effecting a very complete organisation of diocesan work. In the diocesan conference which he established in 1881, adminitrative as distinct from deliberative functions obtained prominence from the outset, so that by 1897, as many as 21 diocesan committees, boards and societies submitted reports to the conference.

The proposed division of the diocese - by far the largest in the kingdom - did not, when first suggested, commend itself to the bishop, but he subsequently accepted the proposal and was prepared to relinquish a part of the income of St.David's on condition that the endowment left should not be less than that of the other Welsh dioceses. He ultimately contented himself however, with the appointment in 1890 of a bishop suffragen to relieve him of confirmations, while himself retaining control of diocesan business to the end.

As visitor of St.David's College, Lampeter, he was endowed, under the college charter, with exceptionally wide powers, which he exercised to its very marked improvement, one of his first acts being to supply it with a complete code of statutes (1879) instead of the few provisional rules which it previously had, whilst in his last year he assisted the college board in framing a more democratic charter. When the University of Wales was being established in 1893, he however missed the opportunity of securing the inclusion of Lampeter as a constituent college of the university, towards which he thereafter advised an attitude of friendly reserve. He took an active part in the government of Christ's Colege, Brecon, becoming chairman of its board of governors in 1880 (see his evidence before Lord Aberdare's committee on Welsh intermediate education, Minutes, pp433-45). As to elementary education, he was satisfied with the religious instruction which it was possible to provide at board schools. He also cheerfully accepted the Burials Act of 1880, which in his opinion was 'not unjust' to the church, for he admitted that the non-conformnists of Wales had at least a theoretical grievance in the matter. But when the Welsh church establishment was more directly attacked, he denied that Wales was either georaphically or ecclesiastically distinct from England, embodying his views in the dicta that Wales is 'merely a geographical expression', is 'nothing more than the highlands of Scotland', and that it 'has never had a national unity'. He however, took only a slight part in the work of church defence, which in its militant and agressive forms was distasteful to him, and he was succesful beyond most Welsh bishops, (Thirlwall not excepted), in avoiding controversies, and in maintaining amicable relations with Welsh non-conformists.

Like most of his friends at Trinity he had been deeply interested in the tractarian movement, the more so in his case perhaps, owing to his personal afdfection for Isaac Williams, who was a native of Llangynfelyn parish, where Jones' Welsh home was situated. But a still earlier attachment to evangelicalism, corrected by his cultral historical sense, led him, after the secession of Newman, to develop his symapthies in the direction of the evangelical wing of the moderate school, but with a whole-hearted loyalty to the prayer-book. Among the benefits which he ascribed to the Oxford movement was the greater dignity and solemnity with which it had invested religious functions, whence perhaps (and owing also to his fondness of music) his private admission that he liked a few ritualists 'to give colour' to his diocese.

Throughout his life Jones was always methodical and minutely accurate, though his range of knwoledge was of the widest. A natural warmth of feeling was concealed under a somewhat precise manner. In presence, his short stature was compensated by a quiet dignity. To the last he took a lively interest in archaeological research, and his presidential addresses to the Cambrian Archaeological Association at Carmarthen and Lampeter in 1875 and 1878, and to the British Archaeological Association at Tenby in 1884, were models of their kind.

He died at Abergwili Palace on 14 Jan. 1897, and was buried on the 20th in the family vault at Llangynfelyn. The bishop was twice married: first, on 10 Sept. 1856 (during his residence in Oxford), to Frances Charlotte, second daughter of the Rev. Samuel Holworthy, vicar of Croxall, Derbyshire, who died without issue on 21 Sept. 1881; and secondly, on 2 Dec. 1886, to Anne, fifth daughter of Mr. G.H.Loxdale of Aigburth, Liverpool, by whom he left issue a son and two daughters.

The following were his published works: 1. 'Vestiges of the Gael in Gwynedd,' London (Tenby printed), 1851, 8vo. 2. 'The History and Antiquities of St.David's,' written jointly with E.A.Freeman; issued in four parts, 1852-7 (Tenby, 4to), with illustrations by Jewitt, engraved by Le Keux. 3. 'Notes on the Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles, adapted to the text of Dindorf,' Oxford, 1862, 16mo; 2nd ed. 1869. 4. 'The New Testament illustrated by a Plain Commentary for Private Reading,' 2 vols, London 1865, 4to; the second volume only was by Basil Jones, the first being by Archdeacon Churton. 5. 'The Oedipus Rex of Sophocles with Notes', Oxford 1866, 8vo. 6. 'The Peace of God :Sermons on the Reconciliation of God and Man' (chiefly preached before the University of Oxford), London 1869, 8vo.

His translation into Greek anapaestic verse of Tennyson's 'Dying Swan' in the Anthologia Oxoniensis deserves to be mentioned as probably the most beautiful thing in that collection. Single sermons and the episcopal charges were also published separately shortly after their delivery. A selection of his 'Ordination Addresses' was issued after his death (Oxford 1900, 8vo), with a preface by Canon Gregory Smith, who, in his 'Holy Days' (1900, p.67), has delineated the chief traits of the bishop's character.

The restoration of the ruinous eastern chapels at St.David's Cathedral is being carried out as a memorial to Bishop Jones and to two of his friends, Deans Allen and Phillips, who both died within a few months after the bishop. A portrait of the bishop in his robes, painted by Eddis in 1882, is preserved at Gwynfryn.

[...then follows a list of authorities cited, omitted from this transcription...]

Dictionary of National Biography, supplement, Compact edition, pp 919-921


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