The 1904-5 Welsh Revival.
Much has been written of the 1904 religious revival led by Evan Roberts in Loughor, South Wales. At the same time as this was happening, a quite separate spiritual awakening was taking place in North Wales, in the large mining community of Rhosllanerchrugog (Rhos) near Wrexham. There was no prior consultation or contact between the two places and no central human agency governing the events.
Rhos was known as the largest village in Wales and contained as many as 27 chapels. The Welsh Religious Revival of 1904 had a major impact there. The famous bardic line Beibl a Rhaw i Bobl y Rhos (“a Bible and a Spade for the People of Rhos) reflects the respect held for both coal-mining and the chapels in Rhos.
At that time, Rhos was Welsh-speaking, with few English people living there. Most men and boys worked underground in the coal mines. Wages were poor, life was hard and boys worked nine-and-a-half hours for three shillings (fifteen pence) a day. There was little social concern for the condition of the people and drink was a widespread social evil.
Even before 1904, the Bible and those who preached it were given respect and scripture was discussed in the public houses. There were many preachers in Rhos. Not all of them were well-educated, but they certainly took their call to the ministry seriously.
On June 19th and 20th, 1904, a preaching festival at Ponciau saw the power of the Holy Spirit which reminded older members of the 1859 revival.
The revival in Rhos started quite unexpectedly in the Penuel Welsh Baptist Chapel (Capel Penuel) on High Street, Rhos. The person used by God to set North Wales alight was a well-respected thirty-five year old South Wales Baptist minister, Rhys Bevan Jones.
RB (as he was known) was born in Dowlais, near Merthyr Tydfil and lived in the Rhondda for much of his life in ministry. Jones had been invited to conduct a series of meetings at Penuel Chapel from 8th to 18th November 1904.
For the first week at Penuel, Jones preached on the vision of God, the sense of sin and the kingship of Christ, inspired by the Isaiah 6 passage which had spoken so strongly to him in recent months. By the end of the mission the Chapel was packed to capacity with thousands eager to take part in the meetings. The “revival” had come! The congregations grew until places of worship became unable to accommodate them. While preaching was so often conspicuous by its absence in Evan Roberts’ meetings, this was not the case in those led by R. B. Jones. During the ten day mission’s second week, powerful evangelistic messages were delivered with fervent prayer sessions prior to the meetings.
Rhos miner, John Powell Parry, who was present as a teenager in these meetings, described R.B.’s ministry at Penuel: ‘He made holiness real; he made holiness terrible. How can I describe it at all; it was a consuming fire … RB Jones was himself a consuming fire and so was his message. And the preacher’s fire consumed the congregation.’
There was a sense of life and reality about what was happening inside the churches of Rhos. People were involved with eternal issues and ‘things’ didn’t seem to matter anymore.
In Penuel Baptist Chapel, R. B. Jones would sit at the front in the ‘big pew’ with his open Bible, ensuring that nothing took place contrary to Scripture. He preached every night from the 8th to the 18th of November. There was no formal order of service, but neither was there any confusion and people sang and praised God as the Spirit led them.
On Sundays the chapels were filled by six o’clock in the morning. The pits worked an eleven day fortnight and every other Monday was an extra day off; this was known as the ‘playing Monday’ but during the revival it was given over entirely to praising God.
Crowds walked the streets singing and praising God. Most of the Rhos Silver Band were converted and would play hymns in the open air. Mothers rose at dawn, and when their husbands left for work they completed the housework early. They would see their children off to school and then attend chapel to worship.
Hundreds of non-believers were saved and the whole of Rhos seemed to be returning to the chapels and churches. People gave up drinking and smoking, and tobacco pouches and pipes were placed on the ‘big pew’ as a mark of their changed lives.
Many drunkards were afraid to leave their homes or go to the public houses, which were being forced to close throughout 1905 because of lack of customers. Rhos Rangers football team were afraid to go out and play and for a while the club closed because there were no spectators.
Revival spread rapidly through Rhos, cutting across denominations until every church was affected. Church of England, Methodists, Congregationalists, Salvation Army and Baptists were all at prayer, with a great sense of harmony in the village.
Tension and dispute among the miners disappeared and output was one hundred percent. Everyone spoke of being saved and some men were even saved while underground. Even those who weren’t saved were deeply affected.
Prior to the Revival, fighting had been a popular sport in Rhos. William Price, a well-known fighter in the town, was converted. He had never been to chapel before, and after his conversion he was so full of joy that he reproached the Christians by asking, ‘Why didn’t you tell me, my friends, that it was like this?’
Another fighter, Levi Jarvis, a man in his forties, was feared throughout Rhos. He opposed the work of God, yet was terrified of it. He became afraid to go to work, then afraid to come home again in case he got converted.
Jarvis was eventually converted and the congregation watched the great fighter raise his hands in the air in surrender to the Lord. He became like a lamb and although he lived beyond eighty, he never lost his faith.
Four weeks after RB left Rhos, a Wrexham paper reported that “the whole district was in the grip of an extraordinary spiritual force which showed no sign of relaxing its hold!” The meetings were carried on by the people themselves, although the ministers were present. Some meetings went on from ten in the morning until six in the evening. In the street, in the train, in the car, even in the public-houses, this strange power upon the town was discussed in hushed and reverential tones.
In the evenings all classes marched through the town singing hymns, and occasionally stopping for prayer. Great numbers of visitors arrived in Rhos and many were converted at the prayer meetings that were held three times a day.
On Boxing Day, Monday 26th December 1904, three prayer meetings were held in the village of Rhos, the evening congregation filling two chapels; and for months after this there were two prayer meetings a day, and three on Saturdays and Mondays.
By the end of February 1905 there were 1,338 converts in Rhos alone, reaching 2,267 by the beginning of March 1905.
The Vicar of Rhos wrote; “Sneers are made at our Celtic temperament, but God gave it, and God can use it for the glory of His Name.” If the Welsh people share rather liberally, as is commonly assumed, in the gift of emotion, they need have no shame on that account, nor need it be gratuitously assumed that they do not know how to control it.
John Powell Parry, told of the summer of 1905 when a Christian man and his two daughters arrived in Rhos from Barrow-in-Furness, in northwest Lancashire. He had read of the revival in his daily paper and one of his daughters had suggested they might go and visit the town to see for themselves what was happening.
They boarded the Sunday midnight slow train, arriving in Chester station at 6:00 a.m. They enquired of a porter: ‘How do we get to the place where the revival is?’
He told them that there would be a train at 8:00 a.m. to Wrexham and from there they could catch a local train to Rhos. ‘But how will we know when we are near Wrexham?’ they asked. ‘Oh,’ replied the porter, ‘You’ll feel it in the train.’ And they did!
They sensed an unmistakable expectancy in the air. Two miles outside Rhos they enquired again and were told, ‘Go down that road and you will feel it down there.’ It was 9:00 a.m. on a ‘playing Monday’ when the visitor and his two daughters arrived at the chapel to find it already full of worshippers who had been there since 7:00 a.m.
On the 17th December, 1905, General Wm. Booth, Chief of the Salvation Army, visited Rhos and preached at Capel Mawr on Brook Street, the spacious edifice being filled at 1 o’clock for a service scheduled to begin at 2-45 p.m. While waiting, the congregation sang Welsh and English hymns alternately. The General took for his text Phil, IV, 13: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” During his stay at Rhos, the General was the honoured guest of the late Lieut. Col. Dr. J. C. Davies, Plas-yn-Rhos.
By the end of 1905 miners were holding prayer meetings underground before work began and family feuds were settled and drinking declined.
The after-effects of the 1904 Revival continued right up until 1914. The effect of the Great War on the ‘revival generation’ can be seen in the lists of names on war memorials. The rise of Socialism in South Wales, and the Great Strike of 1926 which saw troops deployed against striking miners, also undermined the effect of the revival.
The lasting legacy of the revival is the huge number of chapels built across Wales. A century later the Revival is still subject for discussion.
The following letter was written to Sarah (Sally) and George Atkin. Their granddaughter, Maureen Roberts, has kindly given me permission to show you a copy of it, which I typed out from the original hand-written letter, which was scanned by Mrs. Eileen Williams.
19 Smith Street,
Nov. 27th 1904.
Dear Brother and Sister,
At last I’m taking the privilege to write to you. Very sorry I could not write to you sooner. Hoping that both of you are in good health as it leaves us all at present time. I daresay you consider what is the matter that I write this letter on Sunday. The reason is I am staying at home to keep company for Dear Mother, as she didn’t feel inclined to go to chapel tonight. The weather is so bad; it’s raining all day. It’s miserable or else she is quite well.
Well dear, the Revival still keeps in the Rhos. You can see from the paper I sent you yesterday it has been all week. Prayer meetings here and there is a great many people staying in the Society. I am very glad to tell you, there were 14 stayed with us since a week today. Oh how Glorious it is to see them. Mr. Williams, our Minister, couldn’t go away to preach today as he wanted to be in our chapel. Mr. Lewis (Garth) is preaching with us today and we had a prayer meeting after the sermon this morning and oh it was Beautiful and Society after; two stayed back and who do you think they were – old Joseph Wright and Robert Hughes, you know, Ann Price’s brother. Also we had a society after school this afternoon and one woman stayed – oh isn’t it nice to see them turning to their Saviour.
Well Dear, our big collection was this afternoon. The amount was £55 6s and some odd money. Nobody made a fuss with collection; as usual everybody was thinking about the meeting. There was two students from Bala in our chapel all day – they heard about it at Bala so they came over on Saturday night. Also there were two young men from Webster Road Chapel coming over this morning to Capel Mawr and they are going back tonight; they say that they couldn’t stay in Liverpool today without coming over to Rhos to the sound of Revival.
I can tell there is a stir here now. Prayer meeting on the Cross this morning at 7 o’clock and in Capel Mawr. We could hear them singing on the Cross this morning (from bed). I got us straight and lit the fire and I went to join them. I went straight to Capel Mawr to the prayer meeting and the school room was packed with people, some that were drunk on Saturday, also they had prayer meeting by ten o’clock. Mr. Jones the minister tried to preach and he failed as he was too full, so they turned to pray one after another and they had a society after and 4 stayed back with them.
They had a procession on Saturday night all through the Rhos (starting about 6 o’clock) and up to Stryt Issa and held a prayer meeting there and 3 stayed there again. There were about 150 stayed up to last Thursday night they were putting it out.
Oh isn’t it beautiful to have time like this once in our lifetime, the same as grandfather used to say about the Diwygiad 59 (1859 Welsh Revival) do you remember hearing him saying; it’s just the same now in the Rhos and everywhere; it’s up in Penycae and everywhere this week.
Well Dear, I must change the subject now as my paper is getting full. I am very glad to tell you that Jane did very good at Leeswood last Thursday; they gave her a little more than she asked there again. She was staying with one of the Deacons from Methodist chapel and he knew poor Father very well.
I must draw to conclusion now only Mother and Nell and Siss and Jemma and myself are sending their best love to you both and also Mrs. Pritchard wishes to be remembered to you both. Few lines from yours truly Sister. Excuse my bad writing, got a very poor pen. M. A. Davies. Best love to George and yourself.
Written by – Dave Edwards 2013. Updated: 31/10/2018
Sources – John Evans (1942); Mrs. Jesse Penn-Lewis (1905); Philip H Eveson; Brian Edwards; Powell Parry; Paul Cook; Rhos Herald Newspaper; David Bebbington.