"A gentle man, eloquent preacher,
Fiery orator, successful minister,
Vigilant citizen, fearless politician,
Strong Patriot,
And a favoured person of his nation"

Josiah Town Jones in 1921. Photograph © National Portrait Gallery, London

There was a time when chapel ministers were ten a penny in Wales, a land where teachers and preachers were major exports. Most stayed in the obscurity which these two professions usually confer on them, but a few managed to achieve some fame beyond their chapel congregations. One such was the biblically named Josiah Towyn Jones who escaped the relatively obscure life of ministering to the flock of his small town and become a Liberal Member of Parliament and junior cabinet minister in a period when the British Liberal Party was a political force to be reckoned with.

Josiah Towyn Jones (1858-1925) was a Congregational (Independent) minister, and Member of Parliament. He was born on 28th December 1858 at New Quay, Cardiganshire, son of John Jones, shoe-maker, and Elizabeth his wife. He left school at eleven and after tending sheep became a cabin-boy on the smacks Elizabeth and James and Mary, trading between the southern seaports of Wales and Ireland. In 1874 he was dismissed from his ship for breaking crockery. He then entered the Towyn grammar school (New Quay), and, in 1876, the Presbyterian College, Carmarthen.

He was ordained minister of Gwernllwyn, Dowlais (1880), and later ministered to New Bethel, Cwmaman (1885-1906), resigning to become Home Missioner under the Union of Welsh Independents, an office which he held until 1912. In 1920 he was the chairman of the Union of Welsh Independents.

Between 1885 and 1912 he developed into one of the great preachers of his denomination, and became a leading figure on the Liberal platform, in close alliance with T. E. Ellis and afterwards with David Lloyd George. T. E. Ellis was largely instrumental in securing the appointment of the royal commission on land in Wales and Monmouthshire, and the promotion of measures for the disestablishment of the Church of England in Wales, causes close also to Towyn Jones's heart. After almost eighty years of campaigning, the Anglican church in Wales was finally disestablished (ie became independent of the Church of England) in 1920 after its postponement during the First World War. Since then the Anglican organisation in Wales has been called the Church in Wales (and not the Church of Wales, as is commonly thought).

These were all also pet causes of David Lloyd George, better known today as Prime Minister during and after the First World War, and for possessing a much more colourful private life than most parliamentarians. Unlike Lloyd George, however, Towyn Jones opposed conscription into the armed forces when it was brought in during 1916, but nevertheless was given office in the coalition government, becoming a Whip and Junior Lord of the Treasury.

T. E. Ellis was also one of the pioneers of the movement to secure a National Library for Wales, finally opened in Aberystwyth in 1916.

Another of Towyn Jones' passions which was shared with T. E. Ellis and David Lloyd George was the Cymru Fydd (Young Wales) movement. The Cymru Fydd movement was founded in 1886 by some of the London Welsh, including J. E. Lloyd, O. M. Edwards, T. E. Ellis, Beriah Gwynfe Evans and Alfred Thomas. Its main objective was to gain self-government for Wales. The movement lost some of its impetus following the withdrawal of T. E. Ellis to join the Government in 1892 and after Lloyd George's failure to unite Cymru Fydd and the North and South Wales Liberal Associations in 1896.

In 1912 Towyn Jones became Member of Parliament for East Carmarthenshire; in 1917 Welsh Whip and Junior Lord of the Treasury. From 1918 he represented Llanelly in the Coalition Parliament, resigning his seat owing to ill-health in 1922. He died on the 16th November. 1925, at Ammanford, where he is buried at Gellimanwydd (Christian Temple) cemetery.

Josiah Towyn Jones started his working life as a shepherd, a calling he shared with another of Ammanford's leading Congregational ministers, the Rev. David Tegfan Davies, legendary minister of Ammanford's Christian Temple for fifty years. It is therefore somewhat appropriate that both these former shepherds now lie close to each other in the same chapel's cemetery.

Black marble obelisk gravestone of Josiah Towyn Jones in the cemetery of Gellimanwydd (Christian Temple) chapel in Ammanford.

Towyn Jones gravestone is an impressive black marble obelisk in the cemetery of Gellimanwydd chapel (Christian Temple) in Ammanford. His burial in November 1925 was the occasion of the largest funeral seen in Ammanford until that time. It would have to wait until the 1960s and 1970s for larger funerals in Ammanford, also at Christian Temple Independent church. In August 1968. Ammanford's longest-serving chapel minister, D Tegfan Davies (1887-1968), was buried in Christian Temple, attended by a huge turnout. In August 1975, another vast crowd turned out to pay their last repsects to Jm Griffiths MP (1890-1975), the Betws-born coal miner who became the first-ever Secretary of State for Wales in the Harold Wilson Labour governments of 1964 and 1966.

Josiah Towyn Jones' epitaph in Welsh carved on the stone is effusive, fulsome even. Here is an English translation:


Born in New Quay
26 December 1858

Ordained in Dowlais 1880,
Established Glanamman 1884

Home Missioner Inspector of
his denomination 1906-1912

Chair of the Union of Independents 1920
Member of Parliament 1912-1922
(1) For East Carmarthenshire
(2) Llanelli Division

Welsh government whip
and Junior Lord of the Treasury

Died November 16, 1925
“A candle always burning”

A gentle man, eloquent preacher,
Fiery orator, successful minister,
Vigilant citizen, fearless politician,
Strong Patriot,
And a favoured person of his nation

Unfortunately, as the above photograph shows, the obelisk is starting to lean, victim of its own weight, where more modest headstones are still standing upright. Nothing in life is certain and even the grandness of your gravestone is no guarantee of the longevity of your memorial. "Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea, But sad mortality o'er-sways their power ..."

Date this page last updated: September 22, 2010