Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Bible Students in Wales during the time of Charles Taze Russell

The caption reads Photo Drama of Creation - Drill Hall Merthyr - October 10th - 17th, 1915

The United Kingdom is made up of four countries, England, Scotland, Ireland (just the northern part since 1921) and Wales. When the Bible Student message came to the United Kingdom and groups of supporters formed, it appears that Wales was the last to be reached in any meaningful way.

The first mention of Wales in the pages of ZWT was in 1891. CTR visited the UK and spoke in London and Liverpool, to an audience of about 150 at both places. The report in the November 1891 ZWT mentioned the Liverpool audience included some from Wales. Geographically that would probably be individuals from North Wales. (Before communications increased, North and South Wales were almost like different countries, with a different dialect, and even today, to travel from one to the other, it is usually quicker to go through England.)

In 1900 the British Branch was established, and as reported in ZWT for May 15, 1900 this was the benefit of the friends from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The December 15, 1904 report from the UK, written by Jesse Hemery, gave some specific information about progress in the UK including Wales. Hemery wrote that congregations in England, Scotland and Ireland had increased over the last seven years from four to forty. By his estimate that would mean only four established congregations in 1897, but now forty in 1904. None of these were in Wales, but Hemery wrote:  “You will be glad to know that Wales is now getting its share of the harvest blessing: several colporteurs have been working in South Wales”.

There was a great religious revival in Wales in 1904-1905, the results of which were felt for many years thereafter. How much this contributed towards, or even hindered, the progress of the Bible Student message is an interesting question.

In 1906 American Benjamin Barton made a Pilgrim visit to Britain. He visited all the congregations and groups he could in Britain, and for the first time, a group in Wales was mentioned. Cardiff received a visit in the August. This then was the first documented congregation in Wales.

The 1906 report, written as usual by Hemery (in ZWT January 1, 1907), states that “considerable work has been done in Wales and Ireland, in both of which there is now a considerable and growing interest.”

In 1907 A E Williamson made a similar Pilgrim visit and his itinery (found in ZWT for June 15, 1907) included Cardiff, and also Bangor in the north of Wales.

In 1909 (WT November 15, 1909) a letter in support of the Vow was published from “we the undersigned members of the ‘Ecclesia’ in Cardiff”. It is signed by fifteen.

Things really took off in Wales after a visit by CTR in 1911. He visited Wales twice, speaking at South Wales venues in Newport, Cardiff, Swansea and Llanelli. There would normally be existing groups of Bible Students or at least committed individuals already in places to pave the way and organize events and publicity. So we can assume that along the South Wales industrial areas there were now several regular gatherings in place. Fifteen hundred attended a meeting in Cardiff at the Park Hall theater. Russell would later comment in the December 15, 1911 Watch Tower “the truth is making good progress in Wales.”

In conjunction with his visits in 1911, a South Wales newspaper, The Weekly Mail started printing Russell’s sermons each week, and this would extend the outreach of the message up the Welsh valleys, supported by the colporteurs.

So by World War 1 there is anecdotal evidence - but strong anecdotal evidence - that there were established congregations in places such as Newport, Cardiff, Pontypridd, Abersychan (Pontypool), Merthyr Tydfil, Beaufort (Ebbw Vale), and Clydach (Swansea).

What about literature in the Welsh language?

The first documented evidence of Welsh language literature is in WT November 15, 1911, which mentions free literature being available in 23 languages, including Welsh. This would be copies of Bible Students Monthly or People’s Pulpit.

This was probably produced more for an American audience. According to the Wales-Pennsylvania project, at one point one-third of the population of Pennsylvania was Welsh - people who left Wales to take their skills in coal mining, slate quarrying and iron working to industrial centers like Pittsburgh in the 19th century. Even today there are 200,000 people of Welsh ancestry in the State. So there were Welsh Bible Students in America from very early on, and no doubt some of these sowed seeds with relatives back in the old country. For one particularly example see an old article on this blog about William Hickey, who originally came from Tredegar, South Wales. He was attending meetings with CTR way back in the 1870s.

Paradoxically, the large numbers who became adherents in South Wales probably didn’t speak or read much Welsh, because genetically they were not Welsh. Vast numbers of English from Somerset, Gloucestershire and the Midlands flocked into South Wales during the Industrial Revolution, and as the iron ran low in places like Merthyr, Spanish iron and Spanish workers were imported along with it. In WT May 15, 1911, CTR even commented, “Cardiff has largely an English population. The proportion of Welsh faces, both at the public address and the address to the friends, was comparatively small.”

In 1915 the Photodrama of Creation came to South Wales. It was shown in Merthyr Tydfil in October 1915 and a surviving photograph is at the head of this article.

It is interesting that Merthyr saw the Photodrama before Cardiff did. However, for a long stretch of its history Merthyr was the largest town in Wales, with its huge iron works. Cardiff was the port at the end of the canal, and later the railway, to export the riches of the valleys.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Jerome. Just what I wanted!

I don't suppose those pictured on the Photodrama team are named by any chance? I recognise Joseph Lardent on the front left hand side (as we see the picture). Can anyone name anyone else pictured?

As I understand it, the Photodrama team largely stayed together as it visited various towns and cities throughout Britain. In theory it should eventually be possible to pin down the precise names of those in the team. We know for instance that Hubert Thackway held oversight, Herbert Senior worked on advertising publicity and Henry Burnleigh Richards worked on projection. It appears that Lardent was also involved. Can anyone add to these names and roles please?

Son of Ton

jerome said...

I'm afraid there were no names for the photograph. It is a copy of a copy of a...etc. that was found in a congregation library, and no-one knew where it had come from. (I am glad I copied it myself because there is no guarantee that the earlier generation copy still survives.) The only suggestion I can make is to check the portrait photos in Hudson's history, in case any more faces stand out.

Andrew Martin said...

Thanks so much, Jerome, for sharing your resources with all of us. Every little bit is another piece in the puzzle, and who knows what memories that might rekindle? Who would EVER have thought that WT history research would have reached the depth of fullness that has been achieved by the authors of this site?

Anonymous said...

That would appear to be William Crawford from Glasgow in the centre front row (team captain position) with Lardent seated two places to his right (left as we look).

Son of Ton

jerome said...

I have just noticed that Son of Ton mentioned Henry B Richards as projectionist for the Photodrama. I knew Henry Richards, and some letters from him to me were published on this blog a little while back. Henry worked as a projectionist for about six months he told me, so starting with the premiere in London in May 1914 he would have probably left the team by the time the Photodrama came to Wales. Henry had some 35mm footage of CTR film in his attic (surprisingly on safety rather than nitrate stock) which I rescued, and it is now part of the Brian K Photodrama reconstruction.

Anonymous said...

Two snippets of information that may be of interest (though no doubt have been exhaustively researched previously by J):

On 23 March 1914, the International Bible Students issued an apology in Yr Herald Cwmraeg for infringing copyright with their Welsh publication or religious sheet, "Papyr Pawb" (Everyone's Paper?)

Also, on 1 July 1910 J F Rutherford delivered the lecture, 'Is There Hope For the Dead' at Swansea's Albert Hall (Minor Hall)

Anonymous said...

The Photodrama was shown at the Gwyn Hall Neath, South Wales between 26 and 30 October 1915


Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

this is very interesting. However, some of Russell's earliest associates were Welsh immigrants. We meet some of them by 1880. They must have written home. Documenting this will be nearly impossible. Do we have any evidence?

jerome said...

An example of an early Welsh Bible Student who obviously not only wrote home to Wales but visited Wales as well is Thomas Hickey. Newer readers to this blog may be interested in the article on him. He was around with CTR in the mid-1870s and was also at the 1922 Cedar Point, Ohio, Convention.


jerome said...

I knew that J F Rutherford made an extended Pilgrim visit to Wales before WW1 - lots of old-timers many years ago had memories of this, but didn't know it was as early as 1910. Speaking at Swansea would tie in with Clydach's often-repeated claim to be one of the first congregations. (They were one of the first, but not THE first - that was Cardiff.) But no doubt JFR's visits paved the way for CTR's visits in 1911 and a South Wales newspaper carrying his sermons.

Anonymous said...

On 5 February 1910 (and for several succeeding weeks), William Williams of Ty-Gwyn Mission Hall, Llanelly (sic) advertised copies of Studies in the Scriptures for sale and the Bible Classes held on Wednesdays and Sundays


Anonymous said...

Tradition has it that the Clydach/Llanelli interest developed following a visit to friends and family in c. 1910 from William Evans from Sharon, Pennsylvania. It is said he left literature and the Divine Plan of the Ages book. Interest sparked resulting in seven people being present in 1911 for the first meeting.

It's a long shot admittedly, but those more skilled than I in using Ancestry may be able to track a voyage from the US to Britain by a William Evans from Sharon, Pennsylvania in 1910?

Son of Ton

P.S. Litcart ministry cancelled this morning due to rain of Noachian proportions!

jerome said...

I found several possible William Evans born in Wales living in Sharon, Penn., but alas, no passenger lists.