The influence of the 1905 Revival amongst the Merseyside Welsh community
by D Ben Rees
Liverpool and its satellite towns like Bootle and Crosby had a large Welsh speaking population at the beginning of the twentieth century. It had a larger Welsh speaking presence than Cardiff or Swansea, Wrexham or Newport. Indeed it had some of the largest Welsh Nonconformist Chapels anywhere in the United Kingdom. At Princes Road Presbyterian Church of Wales in Toxteth it had a large congregation as members and adherents and in the person of the Reverend Dr John Williams, one of the most powerful preachers of his era. He was also a great propagator of the Revival. One of his contemporaries in Liverpool aptly described him, as one who had thrown himself 'body, soul and spirit into the activities of the Welsh religious revival'.
John Williams was the instigator of the Revival amongst the Welsh of Liverpool. He and two of his fellow Welsh Presbyterian ministers in south Liverpool had arranged in the autumn of 1904 a gathering in preparation for a Revival. This meeting which catered mainly for young people had soon spread its influence into other Welsh Presbyterian chapels. It spread also into the activities and meetings of a new sect which had arisen amongst the Welsh of Liverpool, in the clash of personalities and an accusation of secret alcoholic drinking and flirting with loose women that took place between the Minister of the Chatham Street Welsh Presbyterian Chapel, Reverend W O Jones and some of his elders. The conflict escalated when the Liverpool Presbytery became involved as well as the North Wales Association. W O Jones decided to leave the Connexion and began his own section, known as Eglwys Rydd y Cymry (The Welsh Free Church), an organization which soon attracted a sizeable number of dissatisfied Welsh Presbyterians on 20 November 1904 in one of the Welsh Free Church Chapels in Donaldson Street, Liverpool during a lively debate on the merits of preaching or congregational singing the Holy Spirit came on ninety percent of those gathered for the occasion.
One must emphasise also the close connection of the Liverpool Welsh community with some of the early pioneers of the Revival. Reverend Joseph Jenkins of New Quay in south Cardiganshire had been a minister on an English speaking Welsh Presbyterian Church in Anfield and the saintly Anglican, Reverend David Howell (Llawdden) had a son as a priest in St Bees Church, Toxteth. The two American evangelists Reuben A Torrey and Charles Alexander arranged a huge crusade over Christmas 1904 and the New Year in a huge pavilion which seated 11,000 opposite the Edge Lane Presbyterian Church of Wales, a chapel which experienced the Revival. On the platform Charles Alexander arranged a choir of 3,000 to bring a special atmosphere to the meetings, and amongst the choristers there was a sizeable section from the Liverpool Welsh community. They were thrilled at the opportunity.
The Welsh Revival had become a reality in that period to the Reverend W O Jones himself. He took part in the Preaching Services of an undenominational Nonconformist Chapel known as Sutton Oak Welsh Chapel, which is situated between the town of St Helens and its neighbouring settlement of St Helens Junction. This event was held on Boxing Day 1904. The preaching service became a revivalist meeting. W O Jones had an extremely high regard of the young revivalist, Evan John Roberts. Indeed some of the most fair minded appraisals of Evan Roberts came from the pen of W O Jones in the monthly magazine of his new religious organisation, Llais Rhyddid (The Voice of Freedom). Evan Roberts, according to the appraisal of W O Jones, inspired everyone of Welsh extraction of all age groups. He said:
Yn sicr, nid oes yr un esboniad yn bosibl arno ef, ac ar ei waith, heblaw y goruwchnaturiol. Rhaid mai offeryn ydyw yn llaw Duw.
(Surely there is no possible explanation on him, or his work, except the supernatural. He must be a vehicle in the hand of God.)
Evan Roberts was in Jones's opinion a master communicator. W O Jones with one of his lay leaders travelled all the way from Liverpool by train to Swansea to see the Revivalist at his task of winning souls. He wrote of his experience:
Ar ôl ei weled a'i glywed, gellir ffurfio dirnadaeth fwy clir am broffwydi yr Hen Destament ac Apostolion y Testament Newydd. Diolch i Dduw am un arall o broffwydi Cymru.
(After seeing and hearing him, one can form a clearer appreciation of the prophets of the Old Testament and the Apostles of the New Testament. Thanks be to God for another prophet of Wales.)
The tragedy of the Evan Roberts crusade in Liverpool was this: that one of his most sincere supporters, W O Jones was forced to change his initial opinions of the revivalist and that Evan Roberts was dragged into the bitter conflict between the Welsh Presbyterians and those who had left Presbyterianism for a new spiritual home on Merseyside.
Evan Roberts had his reservations on the proposed visit to the thriving Welsh language community of Merseyside. He spent a whole week at Neath in total silence before travelling to his preparatory college at Newcastle Emlyn and south Cardiganshire. Evan Roberts then went home to Casllwchwr (Loughor) where he decided to give away every penny that he possessed, most of it I presume had been his savings and gifts from his zealous evangelical well wishers. Roberts gave £200 to clear the debt on the small building known as Pisgah, Bwlchymynydd where he had been a Sunday School teacher and then a superintendent and £150 towards the funds of Moriah, Welsh Presbyterian Chapel, Casllwchwr, the chapel where he and his parents were members and which had a financial burden to shoulder. There he gave £10 to a fellow student at the Academy in Newcastle Emlyn, David Williams of Llansamlet. This was a great deal of money, comparable in our day to some £36,000. Then on the railway station at Casllwchwr he realised that he had some money in his suit which he gave to his brother Dan Roberts to hand over to an elderly and poor female who lived in the village, so that he could arrive at Lime Street Railway Station in Liverpool without a penny. He caught the train to Cardiff and then joined with his sister Mary Roberts, the soloist Annie Davies of Nantyffyllon, Maesteg, Reverend D M Phillips, Tylorstown and his niece Miss Edith Jones Phillips. The Reverend D M Phillips, Tylorstown and his great friend, Evan Roberts stayed at 1 Ducie Street with Mrs Edwards but his enthusiastic supporters soon came to know of his whereabouts within a few hours. Ducie Street had a large crowd waiting for a glimpse of the Welsh revivalist.
The crusade in Liverpool and Merseyside was so different to anything that Evan Roberts had experienced in the valleys of south Wales. There he had moved on his own initiative as led by the Holy Spirit from one village to another, and from one valley to another, but his campaign in Liverpool had been thoroughly prepared by the Liverpool Welsh Free Church Council. The Council had been extremely thorough, canvassing through the members of the various chapels of every denomination, all the houses in Liverpool and Garston as well as Bootle and Birkenhead and had discovered 30,000 Welsh speakers. Amongst this large community there were at least 4,000 who had no chapel or church allegiance. 17 meetings were to be arranged for him in centres in south Liverpool, central Liverpool, Bootle, Seacombe and Birkenhead. This was to be a concentrated effort and there were so many Welsh communities denied a visit, like the towns of St Helens, Southport, Wigan, Ashton-in-Makerfield, Warrington, Runcorn and Ellesmere Port.
The campaign began in Liverpool at the large cathedral like chapel of Princes Road on Wednesday 29 March 1905. The end result was that there were more people outside the chapel than were inside. This became the pattern for the Merseyside campaign. The largest Welsh as well as the English Nonconformist chapels on Merseyside were packed, even the large Sun Hall in Kensington which catered for a congregation of 6,000. Posters of Evan Roberts were to be seen in hundreds of shop windows and in the homes of the welcoming Welsh exiles. The Welsh community was making an impact in the city of Liverpool, and the leading ministers of the Protestant faith were also attending the meetings.
But the campaign was beset from the beginning by the festering disagreement amongst the religious adherents. Hundreds of Welsh Presbyterians had left their chapels to form the new chapels and many of the leading ministers, such as the Reverend Griffiths Ellis of Bootle had been deeply hurt. Griffith Ellis had laboured all his life at Bootle. A student of Balliol College, Oxford he had given of his utmost to Stanley Road Presbyterian Church of Wales. He admitted that he had experienced a worst bereavement in the loss of 160 members who had left to start a Welsh chapel 400 yards from his citadel than in the death of his eldest daughter, Leta. By the third meeting on 31 March in Birkenhead the confrontation had again shown its ugly head. Evan Roberts went so fat as to claim that the chapel had to be cleansed as there were people present who could not forgive each other. A young member of Eglwys Rydd y Cymry stood on his fed and prayed with fervour on God to bend the people to work together in the Welsh Nonconformist vineyard on Merseyside. But Evan Roberts was not exhibiting the wisdom that W O Jones expected of him, he insisted that the Holy Spirit was being challenged and a large number of Welsh Christians were stubbornly refusing to forgive one another in the forgiveness of the Gospel. The following day, on 1 April, in the Wesleyan Welsh Methodist Chapel in Shaw Street he announced suddenly that the Holy Spirit had left them as orphans as there were five leaders present, three of them ministers of religion who were extremely jealous of the successful work carried out by him through the power of the resurrection. The congregation were somewhat startled by his boast and by his accusation. The Reverend John Williams who knew the Liverpool Welsh better than the young 26 year old revivalist made a valid effort to soothe the worshippers. He suggested that the meeting should be brought to a close. His younger colleague Evan Roberts disagreed. The powerful experienced John Williams had to acknowledge the impossible situation. For Evan Roberts could be extremely difficult within the confines of a huge meeting in particular to be persuaded to listen to anyone else. April 6 and 7, 1905 were difficult days in his campaign. On April 6 he had gone to visit Hilbre Island to be with the Welshspeaking lighthouse keeper, Lewis Jones known by his bardic name of Ynyswr (Islander). The press published an account of an accident which could have proved fatal that had occurred to him, and years later in his autobiography Lewis Jones claimed that there was no truth whatsoever in the story. One has to remember that the press was very well represented in the Merseyside campaign. Reporters from the national press, Daily Mail, Daily Dispatch were present, as well as journalists from the Welsh daily's, Western Mail, Liverpool Daily Post, the Welsh language press, Yr Herald Gymraeg and the local press, like the Liverpool Courier. Many of these hacks were creating news, often exaggerating, enlarging it, suggesting that the Merseyside campaign was not so successful as the south Wales meetings had been with regard to the number of converts.
On 7 April the leading lights of the organising committee, in particular the Secretary, Councillor Henry Jones and Chairman, William Evans, who had served on the City Council had persuaded the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Councillor John Lea to prepare a reception for the young revivalist at the Mansion House. Councillor John Lea was a coal magnate and a staunch Protestant. The Reverend John Williams presented Evan Roberts, who had spent most of his life as a miner in the Welsh Glamorganshire coalfield to the colliery owner of great wealth.
Allow me, Lord Mayor to present to you Mr Evan Roberts, servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The top table had been kept for five – Evan Roberts, the Reverend J A Kempthorne, Rector of Liverpool, the Reverend Dr John Watson, the Reverend John Williams and the Lord Mayor. It was an entirely new experience for Evan Roberts. Surrounded by the elite of the Liverpool political and religious life the young miner cum revivalist was completely lost. He refused to say a word at the reception to the dismay of the guests. However, the Reverend C F Aked, the radical minister of Pembroke Place Baptist Chapel, responded to the challenge, thanking the authorities and praising the young working class hero. For Aked was an enthusiastic socialist. The Reverend D M Phillips maintains that since their arrival in Liverpool Evan Roberts had received hundreds of letters and many of them were anonymous, extremely critical and some down out rude. According to his ministerial friend from the Rhondda it did not affect him. I do not believe it. That night in Sun Hall before a large audience of at least 6,000 he overstepped the mark from the beginning of the meeting to its end. He was nervous, grumpy and extremely irritable. Roberts was responsible for one confrontation after another. The first confrontation was to do with the effort of a person in the vast Hall to hypnotise him. Then he delivered a strange and completely uncharacteristic statement:
Mae rhai ohonoch yn gweddïo ar yr Arglwydd i achub y person hwn. Ni allaf fi wneud hynny. Gallaf weddïo am ei symud oddi ar wyneb y ddaear, ond ni allaf ofyn i'r Arglwydd ei achub.
(Do not pray for him. I cannot do that. I can pray to remove him from the face of the earth, but I cannot ask the Lord to convert him.)
Then Roberts attacked verbally an individual in the congregation who was in his opinion a negative critic. He had a message for him from the Holy Spirit:
Os na chyffeswch, peidiwch â rhyfeddu os na fedrwch godi'ch llaw ar ôl heno. Yna byddai'n rhaid i chwi gario'r arwydd hyd eich bedd.
(If you do not confess, do not be surprised if you cannot raise your hand after tonight. The you will have to carry that sign with you to you grave.)
Then the revivalist disturbed the large congregation by stating that this individual was a minister of religion. Two local Welsh Nonconformist ministers were greatly upset. One was the Welsh Baptist minister in Edge Lane, Hugh R Roberts and the other was the Welsh Independent Minister in Belmont Road on the border of Anfield and Newsham Park, the Reverend O L Roberts and on one the six from Liverpool who had travelled to Dowlais, near Merthyr Tydfil to persuade the revivalist to visit the Seaport to win souls for Christ. The congregation took the side of Evan Roberts, and the words Cywilydd, cywilydd (Shame, shame) were uttered when the two minister stood up for an explanation from the revivalist. John Williams intervened to bring the meeting to a dignified close, and Evan Roberts and his two female colleagues escaped from the Hall. The following day a well known hypnotist, Dr Walford Bodie who worked in the Lyric Theatre, admitted that he had sent his deputy along to hypnotise Evan Roberts. The revivalist soon recovered his integrity and even George Wise, the militant Protestant, commentated publicly on the revivalist. He was above everything else admitted Wise a ripe study for a psychologist. So was George Wise if he could admit it! Then on April 10 at the English Congregationalist Chapel of Westminster Road W O Jones took part in prayer, pleading for a reconciliation. Evan Roberts was moved to tears. The following evening, 11 April at the Welsh Wesleyan Methodist Chapel of Mynydd Seion in Princes Road Evan Roberts made a critical appraisal in the name of God of Eglwys Rydd y Cymry:
Rhoddodd Duw y neges hono imi... Y mae a wnelo'r neges ag Eglwys Rydd y Cymry. Mae'r neges uniongyrchol oddi wrth Dduw – 'Nid yw sylfeini'r eglwys honno ar y Graig'. Dyna'r neges.
God has given me this direct message... The message has to do with the Free Church of the Welsh. It is a direct message from God – 'The foundation of this Church is not on the Rock'. That is the message.)
The journalists were delighted. They went immediately to the home of the Reverend W O Jones in Percy Street and Gwilym Hughes was given the opportunity of interviewing him. No one in Welsh Nonconformist circles, besides D M Phillips and John Williams, had praised Evan Roberts like W O Jones. The pulpit giants of his day, in his opinion, could not be compared with the young revivalist:
Ym mhob oedfa y mae'r effeithiau yn annisgrifiadwy a'r cynllueidfaoedd mawrion fel cŵyr toddedig yn ei ddwylaw.
(In every service the effects are indescribable, and the large congregations like melting wax in his hands.)
Consider also this opinion of Evan Roberts from the pen of W O Jones:
Llefara yntau ar bob pwynt, fel un ag awdurdod ganddo; braidd na theimlech ambell funyd ei fod yn hawlio anffaeledigrwydd, fel genau i'r Ysbryd Glân.
(He speaks on every point, as one who has authority, sometimes you fell for some moments as if he claims infallibility as a spokesman of the Holy Spirit).
But Evan Roberts had deliberately snubbed W O Jones. The leader of a new sect in Liverpool naturally changed his opinion of him. He became a dangerous critic of Evan Roberts and claimed that he was inspired by the occult in Liverpool, and that he had never before seen anyone pursuing occultism 'for the propagation of the Christian Religion.' But such a criticism was damaging, worse conflict was on the horizon, especially in the meeting arranged at Chatham Street where the devastating show down of the Welsh Free Church and the Welsh Presbyterians began in 1900. This meeting was for men only and everything went well under the guidance of the Reverend Richard Humphreys, the successor of W O Humphreys, the successor of W O Jones, though Evan Roberts was silent during the service. But at 9.15 a young minister stood up by the altar with anger in his voice and addressed the revivalist with these words:
A wyt ti wedi dy gymodi â'th frawd cyn dod i'r cyfarfod heno? Pam wyt ti'n chwarae â phethau sanctaidd fel hyn.
(Have you been reconciled with your brother before coming here this evening? Why are you playing with holy things in this way.)
The Reverend Daniel Hughes of Chester was referring to the relationship between Evan Roberts and W O Jones. He was not a man to be silenced and his latest biographer, Ivor T Rees has called him The Sledgehammer Pastor. A vigorous debate ensued between the evangelist and the ministers in the sêt fawr (big seat) of Chatham Street Chapel.
Daniel Hughes had a supporter in the person of a Presbyterian minister of Rhydlydan, near Pentrefoelas, the Reverend H M Roberts. He stood up and stated dogmatically
Nid gwaith yr Ysbryd Glân yw hwn ond gwaith athrylith dyn. Ffug yw popeth a ddigwyddodd yma heno.
(This is not the work of the Holy Spirit but the work of a man of genius. Fantasy is everything that has happened here tonight.)
It was time to bring the service to an end. That night there was great excitement in Percy Street, the home of W O Jones, where Daniel Hughes stayed and within a few months he had moved to Liverpool as pastor of a chapel belonging to the Disciples of Christ. The following day, 15 April, a letter appeared in the Liverpool Courier, a bitter attack on Evan Roberts by Hughes. He claimed that the revivalist belonged to the world of the occult and telepathy, and that he would like to follow him around and lecture on the subject Evan Roberts, explained and exposed..
What had happened in Chatham Street had become the talk of Liverpool. That day, he had more exposure and he was criticised by the cotton broker, Thomas Davies, at the opening of another chapel belonging to Eglwys Rydd y Cymry. The Reverend John Williams had arranged for him to be examined by four medical men in 88 Rodney Street. The verdict of James Barr, William Williams, Thomas H Bickerton and William MaAfee was hopeful:
We find him mentally and physically quite sound. he is suffering from the effects of overwork and we consider it advisable that he should have a period of rest.
There were two more meetings that required his presence. The Reverend H M Roberts had by the second meeting on 17 April repented of his criticism, and now claimed that Evan Roberts was the nearest human being to Jesus, and resembled him move than any other religious leader. Evan Roberts however did not receive such an apology from Daniel Hughes. But he was leaving Liverpool as he came, a celebrity of the first order. He left Lime Street in style on 18 April for the Royal Hotel in Capel Currig where he was to stay till 16 May for a deserved rest. He left behind on Merseyside
i. A strong temperance witness which was praised by the Chief Constable of Liverpool
ii. At least the building of one new chapel, that is Salem Presbyterian Church of Wales, Laird Street, Birkenhead
iii. A stronger Sunday School through the medium of the Welsh language. The Calvinistic Methodists or the Presbyterian Church of Wales Sunday School on Merseyside gained in that year of 1905 606 new scholars as the result of his visit.
The biggest failure was the sniping and the confrontation between him and a number of Welsh Nonconformist ministers. The biographer of the pulpit giant, John Williams, the Reverend R H Hughes, places the blame on the minister of Princes Road Chapel. So does Alderman Joseph Harrison Jones (an elder at Princes Road Chapel since 1877). He claimed that his minister had lost his usual diplomacy and had spoilt the Evan Roberts visit by pursuing with him the Eglwys Rydd y Cymry controversy. John Williams decided the following year to return to his native Anglesey, and admitted that his own chapel of Princes Road had not benefited as it should from the 1905 Revival. But if the best man, W O Jones, at the wedding of his friend John Williams to a daughter of a Liverpool Welsh building in May 1899 had not been expelled from the Connexion in 1901, one could argue that the Evan Roberts visit would have been conducted against a completely different background. W O Jones was a controversial individual and his presence was very evident throughout the crusade. Evan Roberts was a sincere revivalist who had been converted on the Damascus road and had experience the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. It was they experience that dominated his whole campaign, as he himself admitted in a meeting at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Shaw Street, Liverpool:
Mae dyn wedi ei achub am achub pawb, fel un wedi dianc o wreck, am achub y gweddill
(A man who has been saved wants to save everybody else, like a person who has escaped from a shipwreck wants to save the rest of the crew and passengers). W H Parry maintained in 1867 that Liverpool had a population of 520,000. Of these 120,000 had been born in Ireland, 80,000 in Wales, 40,000 in Scotland and 5,000 in the Isle of Man, 245,000 Celts. See W H Parry, Y Cymry yn Liverpool eu Manteision a'u Hanfanteision, Liverpool, 1868, p 45.
Sir David Henshaw, Liverpool City Council’s chief executive, pointed out that “a lot of Welsh people have made, and continue to make, contributions to benefit the fortunes of the city.”
The Eisteddfod has traditionally alternated between North and
Strangely enough, the strongest opposition to the bid has come from the Welsh Societies of Birkenhead and
The second public debate over
The terraced houses are generally in poor condition, many of them boarded up, and most have no indoor plumbing. The city plans to make use of government funding under the Housing Market Renewal Initiative to regenerate this area and many other parts of Merseyside. The inhabitants will be given the opportunity to be re-housed in the new homes.
Opposition to the regeneration has come mainly from the Liverpool Welsh Society. The Reverend Dr. Ben Rees, one of the leaders of the Society, said it was important that the Welsh streets in Toxteth be retained as an important part of
“One can understand that people do like improvements in their housing, but I don’t know that they should do away with 20,000 houses in
Despite Dr. Rees’s enthusiasm the fact is that there is little of the Welsh character remaining in the area. Most of the original Welsh families eventually prospered and moved out to the suburbs. The Council has promised that
Although a majority of the inhabitants of the Welsh streets support the regeneration plan, the Council decided in June to put the demolition on hold temporarily. Opponents of the plan have since gained the support of ex-Beatle Ringo Starr, who grew up in
Whatever the outcome of these two issues,
Welsh Presbyterian church at the bottom of Heathfield Road - is
currently awaiting demolition, under the terms of planning permission
No.10F/0548 which will see the former vestry and adjacent rooms in
Auckland Road converted and extended to serve as a new church. For the
time being, the Welsh congregation is holding its Sunday services in the
Blue Coat School Chapel.
In our September 2004 Newsletter, we reported that the Welsh Presbyterian chapel at the bottom of Heathfield Road was to be demolished, and replaced by a four-storey apartment block (together with a small modern chapel). We objected to this planning application - arguing that the existing chapel, or at least its façade, should be incorporated into any new development - but eventually, in August 2006, planning permission was granted for a modified version of the scheme. The Save Our City Campaign had attempted to get the building Listed, but this was turned down by English Heritage on the grounds that the Chapel (built in 1927) was not of sufficient architectural or historic interest. In the event, however, nothing happened, owing to a dispute between the owners of the Chapel (the Presbyterian Church of Wales) and the prospective developers (TRB Estates).
Four years on, the condition of the chapel - which was built to accommodate over 700 worshippers, but now has a congregation of less than 100 - continued to deteriorate. The owners applied (ref. 10F/0548) for planning permission to demolish the main chapel, but this time the proposal was to retain part of the building at the rear (on the corner of Auckland Road and Heathfield Road) and convert it into a new, smaller, chapel. We expressed regret at the loss of the landmark building, but satisfaction that a section of it would survive as a reminder of the importance of the Welsh community in the development of 19th/20th century Liverpool. In the absence of definite proposals for the redevelopment of the site (owing to the current economic recession) we suggested that the boundary wall and railings, at least, should be retained pending the submission of a further planning application.
Planning permission was granted by the City Council on 2nd June 2010.