How Mary Jones and Thomas Charles triggered a mission to the world, Part 3

Posted in Blog, Mary Jones

As I said on Monday in this blog, my wife, Sheila, and I are looking forward to attending the opening of Mary Jones World at Llanycil, Bala, on Sunday 5 October 2014 – the bicentenary of the death of Thomas Charles from whom Mary received her Bible at the end of her long walk across Welsh mountains. Mary Jones World is the realisation of a dream Bible Society has been praying for – to see the story of Mary Jones and Thomas Charles told to a new generation. A new state-of-the-art visitor and education centre will give residents of Bala, Gwynedd and Wales the chance to learn about the Bible’s impact not only on the Welsh nation but the world. For a wider audience the centre will celebrate the birth of Bible Society which has grown from its roots in the foothills of the majestic Snowdonia National Park to nearly 150 Bible Societies around the world.

Here, then, is the third instalment of the story of how Mary Jones and Thomas Charles triggered a mission to the world.

When she was eight, Mary became a member of the Methodist society in Llanfihangel.  Children didn’t normally become members of a seiat, but since Mary went with her mother to the other evening meetings in order to carry the lantern, she was allowed to accompany her mother to the society meeting as well. For many years, the society met at William Hugh’s house, with occasional meetings at Abergynolwyn.

In the 1790s, Thomas Charles was coming to be in demand as a preacher: his style wasn’t earthy or rabble-rousing like some of the revivalists, but he was obviously a good and heavenly-minded man.  Although he didn’t have the natural gifts of an orator, he touched hearts as well as minds when he preached.

“The scene,” someone who was present to hear Charles preach recalled, “was most affecting.  Scores, if not hundreds, melted into tears; some mourning with godly sorrow, others weeping for joy, exulting in their glorious Saviour. Some countenances betrayed the deepest grief, such as became those who were crying out, ‘What must we do to be saved?’ The countenances of others, though bedewed with tears, were yet glistening with expressions of transport, as if illuminated with the beams of Divine glory.”

Thomas Charles was even in demand in London and began to accept a regular annual invitation to preach for some weeks in Spa Fields, north London. A large chapel had been taken over by the strong-minded Lady Huntingdon so that the chaplains in her group of churches could use it as a place of worship and preaching. 

The pulpit wasn’t Thomas Charles’s overriding passion. He had begun to invite the poor children of Bala into his home for instruction, and so many of them turned up that the Calvinistic Methodists offered him the use of the their chapel in the town.  And so he began to establish schools in north Wales on the lines adopted in the south by former vicar Griffith Jones. First Charles trained a man for the work of teaching, then he sent him to a district for six months, where (for eight pounds a year) he taught children, young people and adults reading and the basics of the Christian faith. He added writing later. Parents and children learned and recited together: it was said that some of the children learnt to recite whole Bible books without prompting.

Thomas Charles provided all this education free-of-charge: the expenses were met by collections made in the Calvinistic Methodist societies, and as the funds increased, Charles multiplied the number of teachers. The schools founded by Griffiths Jones and Thomas Charles helped to place the Welsh among the most literate people in the early nineteenth century world. 

One of Thomas Charles’s earliest teachers was John Ellis of Barmouth, a kind man with an attractive personality who realised that he could get the best out of children through tenderness and love. Somewhere around 1795 he came to Abergynolwyn to run one of Charles’s schools and start a Sunday School. Among the brightest pupils at his day school, as often as she could get there, was Mary Jones. She regularly took a two mile walk along a footpath which left the present road by the entrance of Castell y Bere and rejoined the road by Nant y Myniawd a distance of about two miles. She was about ten when Ellis first taught her, keen to learn and with an exceptional memory. John Ellis was succeeded by Lewis Williams, an energetic and imaginative teacher who lived on to the great age of 88 becoming a useful source of information about Mary for historians.

Thomas Charles’s greatest difficulty in carrying on his work was the scarcity of Welsh bibles.  Most of the ordinary people of Wales only spoke Welsh. In 1799, when the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) brought out a new edition of the Welsh bible, he managed to secure 700 copies of the 10,000 issued. These were released for publication in early 1800 and sold for three shillings and sixpence a copy.

Read the fourth episode of this story in tomorrow’s blog here.