Local Penybont and District History Group
5th May 2014 at the Pales
Derek welcomed the group to the Pales on this Bank Holiday Monday – a very good turnout despite a number of people being away. There were three new members: Gina’s husband, Des – founder of a local Young Farmers Club, ploughing champion, and water diviner. John, Judith’s son. Freda Lacey from Llanfihangel Nant Melan. Freda works full-time for PAVO and cannot normally get to day-time meetings.
Derek introduced Martin Williams as the guest speaker. Martin with his wife Lynda are Wardens at the Pales and live in the cottage adjoining the Meeting House. The Pales is a very special place with a unique sense of spirituality that has become increasingly attractive to a wide range of community groups supported by Martin and Lynda. Derek himself had used the facilities when running mental health courses and is currently a member of the Peace choir that meets monthly at the Pales.
Martin Williams, Guest Speaker – History of Quakers at the Pales and in the Locality
Martin welcomed everyone to the Pales. He said he felt guilty that he had been unable to get to meetings of the group before. He encouraged members to stay and have a picnic and to explore the garden where there are a number of picnic spots and a meditation pond.
The Pales is the oldest Meeting House in continuous use in Wales. It was built in 1717, the second oldest Meeting House in Wales. It is stone built and, uniquely for Wales, with a thatched roof. There is only one other with a thatched roof in the UK – ‘Come to Good’ in Cornwall. The thatched roof is due to be re-thatched, with water-reed thatching, in July/August this year. The last time it was done was in 1989 when monies were tight and the thatching was not a thick as required. The thatching period in July August will be disruptive to activities at the Pales.
George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends, Quakers, came to Radnorshire in 1657 as part of his national tour to bring his teaching to Wales and also to assuage some bad publicity following an incident in Bristol where a James Nayler, a young Quaker firebrand had got into trouble for ‘impersonating Christ’ . George was born in 1624 into a devout Christian family who had expected him to become a priest. He however aligned himself with the dissenters of the period and he travelled throughout Britain as a dissenting preacher. He was often persecuted by the authorities who disapproved of his beliefs.
He made three trips to Radnorshire, in 1657, 1663 and 1667 or 8. The first of these was clearly a remarkable visit even by his own remarkable standards. Held probably on Penybont Common, it was on Fox’s request that John ap John spoke first, in Welsh, to “gather them more together”, followed by Morgan Watkins and then, for three hours, Fox himself:
“Many were turned that day to the Lord Jesus Christ and his free teaching, and all were bowed down under the power of God and parted peaceably and quietly with great satisfaction. And there was a priest and his wife sat a-horseback that day and heard patiently, but made no objection. And they said they had never heard such a divine in their lives, and the Scriptures so opened…”
This experience on a Radnorshire common contrasted sharply with his experience in nearby Brecon, a few days earlier, where “they had an intent to have murdered us”. Persecution of Quakers in Radnorshire however begins remarkably soon after this auspicious beginning – indeed, in the same year – 1657. (There has been a story circulating that Quakers met on Penybont Common in the ‘circle of trees’ so that they could flee in all directions if approached. Martin is not convinced that this was true as the circle is all that is left of a plantation of trees, the stumps of which can still be seen within the circle.)
The combination of the persecutions and the refusal by Quakers to pay tithes to the Church meant that Church graveyards were closed to Quakers. The need for a graveyard in the area became urgent quite early on. In 1673 David Powell and his son David acquired a piece of land for this purpose. It became known as the Pales as the graveyard was enclosed with chestnut paling.
The records show:
Records deposited by the Hereford and Mid Wales Monthly Meeting, among others
Accs 317, 1126, 1272, 1292 & 1771
PALES MEETING HOUSE /1
Lease for 1,000 years
1. David Powell the elder and David Powell the younger, his son and heir, both of Llandegle, co. Radnor, yeomen.
2. John Lewis of Glascomb [Glasgwm] and Robert Watkin of Llannyhangell Rhydyeython [Llanfihangel Rhydieithon]; Edward Morgan (altered to Moor) of (?Disserth) Llanbister; David James of Llandegle; and John Davies of New Church co. Radnor, yeoman Of 1 parcel of land which is a burial place “called Round about” (1/4 a.) parcel of land called y Tuey ar teer yn y south [Y Ty a’r Tir yn y Swydd] excepted by 1. in a mortgage, 4 Jul 21 Charles II (1669), between 1. and Hugh Rodd of Hereford, co. Hereford, mercer, in lordships (sic) of Koyed y south [Coed y Swydd], p. Llandegle.
Consideration: £3 – Peppercorn rent – To remain as burial place. The most recent use of the burial site was for Trevor Macpherson who was the previous Warden at the Pales prior to Martin and Lynda taking up their position.
Quaker headstones are generally the same for everyone; they are simple stones that have the name of the person, their date of birth and age, thus giving the implied message that everyone is equal in the eyes of God. The stones at the Pales uniquely follow a ‘Welsh tradition’ with associating people with the farm they come from, but some also have quotations. These quotations do however reinforce the testimony that everyone is equal in the eyes of God and people.
The oldest Quaker Meeting House in Wales was at Dolobran, near Meifod, in Montgomeryshire. This Meeting House became a cattle shed for 100 years so giving the Pales the title of the oldest Meeting House in continuous use. Dolobran has now been restored and is once again a Meeting House for Quakers. Its early history is closely associated with the Lloyd family – Gentry Quakers – but nevertheless Charles Lloyd served 12 months in prison for attending a Quaker Meeting and then upon release built the Meeting House at Dolobran. The Lloyds were highly influential in Birmingham with the development of the iron industry and then in banking.
“Charles, with several others of the gentry of Montgomeryshire, became converted to the faith of the Society of Friends, under the teaching of George Fox in 1663, and both were imprisoned in 1664 and continued, nominally at least, to be prisoners until 1672, when Charles II., by letters patent, dispensed with the laws which inflicted punishment for religious offences.”
Prior to the building of the Pales Meeting House Quakers would meet in farmhouses. For more details of the early history see: http://thepales.webs.com/historyofthepales.htm
The enthusiasm and commitment within the locality was difficult to maintain as the persecutions led to several families migrating to the new territories that were opened up in Pennsylvania by William Penn. Welsh settlers built new homes in ‘Coed Penn’ and of course there is the town of Radnor. As the nineteenth century approached the congregation had collapsed to 1 or 2 people. The inspiration of the Pales however was not lost on Quakers in the wider surrounds and in the 1860s Henry Newman and Stanley Humphrey from Leominster set about revitalising the Pales. The two rooms had been used in the past to reflect the division of duties between male and female Quakers. The women focused on pastoral duties while the men were more preoccupied with political considerations. Newman and Humphrey had developed an orphanage in Leominster and more latterly the Orphans Press, which published The Friend, the information and educational journal of the Quakers. They brought their social conscience to bear on the needs of the children in this part of Radnorshire. The levels of poverty, isolation, and the lack of educational opportunities in the area are difficult to imagine today and so they established a schoolroom within the Pales.
The school thrived under the tutelage of the first schoolmaster, William Knowles. He was known as a disciplinarian, but numbers quickly rose to 70 children. Knowles viewed the children critically and was known to have thought that the boys were ‘as wicked as could be’.
In 1872 State Education for all children became the responsibility of School Boards. William Knowles was unhappy with this new direction in education and resigned from his post. Initially the school went into decline until a visiting American Quaker, Yardley Warner, was persuaded by Henry Newman to take the position. Yardley Warner and his wife Anne were quite remarkable people
“The Quaker Evangelical Revival began in 1876 when Yardley Warner, an American Friend, was appointed schoolmaster at Pales. He began his Tent Meetings on Penybont Common which attracted many local people. After he returned to America, other Quaker Missioners continued his work and by the end of the century, Quaker Chapels had been built in Penybont, Llanyre and Llandrindod Wells. These were programmed meetings, similar to other non-conformist services, and Quakers became a major denomination in the area around Llandrindod. Few of these new members participated in the monthly or quarterly meetings of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), or accepted their liberal ideas, but their lives had been transformed.”
Yardley’s educational approach was radically different from his predecessor. He regarded the natural ‘God Given’ environment as his educational resource. He distained corporal punishment and kept order by keeping the children busy once the day started with the ‘clatter of Welsh feet’ until 4 o’clock when they went home. Yardley had come to this country to try to raise funds for his educational work with freed slaves. He saw the best in people and applied this thinking to his schoolroom and the community from which the children came. His wife Anne was a trained nurse and the couple threw themselves into supporting the school and the community around with evangelical zeal.
When Anne and Yardley came to the Pales they had to sleep on the floor initially before the cottage was built onto the Meeting House. The Warner’s approach to education was so far in advance of current educational thinking that it was almost inevitable that he would get a bad Inspector’s Report. Yardley was deeply hurt by this and returned to the USA and his educational work with freed slaves. He was a remarkable man in many ways. In North Carolina he bought a large area of land and as the freed slaves were able he sold sections of land to them. This was frowned upon by the Quaker Meeting at the time. In the end his work was recognised and Warnersville was named after him. There is a model of the Pales made as a Noah’s Ark, with a set of animals, all carved by Yardley himself, as a toy for their children that was suitable for playing with on a Sunday.
A few years after returning to USA Yardley died and Anne was invited to come back to the Pales in an Adult Educational role. It is well worth reading about Anne’s life as recorded by Lynda Williams – A Pales Love Story|: http://thepales.webs.com/docs/Anne_Elizabeth_Warner-nee_Horne.pdf
With the evangelical work the numbers of Quakers increased in the area and there were several Meeting Houses in the area in addition to the Pales. There was the Iron Room in Penybont and another Meeting House on the edge of the village just beyond the Nursery. A corrugated iron Meeting House burnt down in Llanyre in 1991 and an ancient harmonium, from a time when Quakers sang during Meetings, was lost. The Meeting House in Llandrindod Wells, dating from 1893, was sold off in 1989 and a new Meeting House was built in the garden at the rear. (The old Meeting House was for a period renamed Elim Church, but has now been converted into flats). The new Meeting House was not large enough and an extension had to be built, followed by an extension to the gardens courtesy of some land acquired from Powys CC.
The Victorian period gave us some larger than life characters within the Quaker fold.
John Owen Jenkins who enrolled at the age of 11 years as a pupil at the Pales in 1867. For his story of evangelical work on horseback see: http://a-day-in-the-life.powys.org.uk/eng/civ/ec_jojenk.php
John’s wife Florence was also a strong evangelical worker. She outlived her husband and left a substantial legacy to the Quaker’s in the area. This legacy is still responsible for supporting educational publications albeit not for ‘evangelism’ today.
Hercules Davies Philips was another character of this period, born in Knighton, he trained as a journalist . For his story see: http://a-day-in-the-life.powys.org.uk/eng/civ/ec_hdphil.php
A tradition of Religious revivalism had gained a foothold in the area with Yardley Warner and as new period sprung up in 1904 John Owens Jenkins, Hercules Philips and Bill Roundtree and others. See: http://www.quakers.hyperphp.com/Radnorshire.htm
As the 20th century began the need for a school at the Pales had ended and it became a Mission School for Adults. The Missionary zeal of the revivalist period did not last and attendance at the Pales Meeting for Worship declined.
For some years the Prince family lived in the cottage as caretakers but they themselves were not Quakers. More latterly Trevor and Sheila Macpherson became the caretakers who were Quakers. During Trevor and Sheila’s time the thatched roof was repaired and the special spirituality of the Pales began to re-emerge. Lynda and Martin have overseen a lot of improvements to the buildings, the gardens, and the facilities. The Pales is now a vibrant community resource and, with Lynda and Martin about to retire next year, it is hoped that this will see the Pales enter a new era with optimism. The last project undertaken by Lynda and Martin will be to see the thatch once again being redone tis summer.
Martin was thanked for his excellent talk by Derek, Geraint, and Mary.
The next meeting of the group will be back at the Thomas Shop on Monday 2nd June at 10.30 a.m. when Maureen Lloyd will talk about “The History of Trotting”. We hope to see you there.