Memories of the 1904-05 revival in Wales - part 1

When the parents of Mrs. Bethan Lloyd-Jones heard of the outbreak of revival in Wales, they sent their children to relatives in the area that they might experience something of this move of God. In 1987 Mrs. Lloyd-Jones recorded for EN her recollections of that time . . .

'Maggie', said my father to my mother in the late spring of 1904, 'I'm determined that we should send Ieuan and Bethan down to Newcastle Emlyn - now, at once.'
'But, Tom bach, why? What on earth for? And anyway, what about school?'
'Maggie', he said, 'they can go to school anytime, but perhaps they may never again see revival.'

All this I learnt later. At the time all I knew was that Ieuan (aged eight) and I (aged six) were going off to Harrow station, bags in hand, with my father. From there it was steam train to Euston and then hansom cab from Euston to Paddington. How we loved those hansom cabs, with the big horse so deliciously, dangerously near, and the tiny little trap door above us, which we could open to exchange smiles with the driver.

Paddington station was always exciting. I don't really know whether the memories I have of it are all of that one day, for that journey from Harrow to Newcastle Emlyn became very familiar to us. Throughout our childhood it was a journey we took at least twice and often three times in the year, and memories can telescope.

My memories of our departure that day, however, are vivid to this moment. Father put us into the railway carriage - the old-fashioned kind with three or four seats a side and a door opening on to the corridor. He gave us strict instructions that we were not to hang out of the windows, not to touch the door handles, not to go meandering in the corridor.

Then he found the guard and gave him half-a-crown and asked him to be so kind as to turn us out in Carmarthen. The doors slammed, the guard whistled, the train gave a sudden jolt and proceeded to slide out of the station. In a second or two my father was lost to sight - and I still remember that feeling!

Time for lunch

We were hardly out of the station before Ieuan said firmly: 'I think we'd better have our lunch now.' I was certainly not averse to the suggestion. So down came the little lunch bag from the rack, and we tucked in happily to the sandwiches, cake, lemonade, etc., packed by our no doubt apprehensive mother that morning.

As we were on the 8.55 train from Paddington and not due in Newcastle Emlyn till 4.20 pm, the outlook must have been bleak, but I have no memory of pangs of hunger. Indeed, I remember next to nothing of the rest of the journey - not even changing trains at Carmarthen and Pencader, nor arriving at the terminus, Newcastle Emlyn, at 4.20. On looking back, I find it strange to realise that I have no particular memory of our arrival that day, neither at the station, nor at 'Sunnyside', the grandparents' house five minutes' walk from the station.

The one-horse bus

We made that trip so often that these memories merged into the familiar pattern of our young lives - the arrival, the wait for the train to stop, the exit with bags in hand, the handing over of tickets, then a top speed dash to Sunnyside. Sometimes, of course, the Salutation Hotel's little one-horse bus would be there and, if he was not engaged and without a fare, the driver would give us a ride to the door - sheer joy!

At other times, if we were expected, there would always be an uncle - usually Uncle Jack - to meet us and walk down with us. At the railings outside the door of Sunnyside every available member of the family would be waiting to greet us. However, on this day in 1904, we were not expected and there was no reception committee!

The front door was never locked. If you were family, or very familiar, you just opened the door, called 'Hello' and walked in. If you were less intimate, you still opened the door and called 'Hello', but then waited for a welcoming figure or a voice from the back of the house calling, 'Come in'. Ieuan and I would be through the door and along the short passage in about two seconds to the beloved living room (always known as the 'kitchen') and into the amazed and loving arms of grandmother ('Mamo') and various aunts.

If there was ever dismay or sinking of the heart on the part of the aunts, we never knew it. Looking back now, some 80 or so years later, I am sure they must have wondered where on earth to put us. The set-up at Sunnyside would take another article to itself; suffice it here to say that there was room - there was always room. I was already revelling in the lovely, welcoming fire and the enveloping love, not to mention the tea and home-made bread and farm butter being prepared, while Uncle Jack and Ieuan went down to the Post Office to send off the 'arrived safely' telegram. The 'phone, of course, was a luxury not yet part of our daily life.

I must have heard a great deal about the Revival at home. I had also heard that this present visit - not at holiday time - was because of the 'Revival'. Equally, of course, I had no idea what it meant or what to expect.

Everything seemed the same in Sunnyside and yet there was something indefinable in the atmosphere. The grown-ups were as kind and loving as ever; sometimes they caught each others' eyes and smiled as though they were sharing some lovely inner secret. All the time there was this 'something'. I did not know what to call it then, but looking back and remembering what those days were like, I would call it a feeling of expectancy.

I do not know how long Ieuan and I stayed there, whether weeks or months, but it was long enough for the order of those wonderful days to become a normal way of life for me. I know I was very happy. I suppose we were there to the end of the summer holidays.

Converted miner

Evan Roberts, the man greatly used of God in this revival, was staying in Sunnyside and was exceptionally kind to us children. He was from Loughor and had been a miner for a while. He had been converted and had felt an unmistakable call to the ministry. To this end he came to the Emlyn Grammar School to prepare himself for entry to the Theological College at Aberystwyth.

It was an interesting little school. The building is still there, one big square room, almost like the vestry of many a chapel, with a door opening on to the main street of the little market town. It had wooden desks and a master's desk and a large open fireplace - the only means of heating it.

The first master was Mr. T.T. Elias. He had retired before my day, though I remember seeing him go past Sunnyside, looking very old and tottery. I was secretly rather afraid of him and his big walking stick, though I'm sure I need not have been! After his retirement, my uncle, John Phillips, took over the school. There would have been between 30 and 40 young men, all hoping for college entrances, and usually also a few boys and girls wanting some secondary education.

John Phillips was a good master and his pupils had to work. One of the Classics professors in Aberystwyth was reported as saying that he could always pick out the scholars who had been grounded in Latin and Greek by John Phillips. The students lived in lodgings, some on their own, others with a friend. It was no difficulty to find a room, and many an elderly woman, living alone in her own little house, would be glad to have one of these mature young men to look after.

Lonely widow

Evan Roberts and one other student were lodged with one of these - Ann of Ty Llwyd. She had married a seafaring man, but had now been a 'grass' widow for years. She had grown old waiting for the husband who never returned from that last voyage. No one ever knew what had happened to him. She had learnt to live with her loneliness, but was glad to take in the students. There were quite a few like her, with a different story, perhaps, but with the same need for company, for a purpose, and, in those pension-less days, for a few extra shillings in the pocket!

Evan was happy there. When the revival had come in all its power, however, the inevitable excitement and the constant callers were too much for the elderly Ann. At the same time, Evan needed some protection and a room for his own meditation and prayer, for the pressures were tremendous. So he joined the family at Sunnyside.

Evan being changed

During that last year at Ty Llwyd, something was happening to Evan. He was as gentle and pleasant as ever, but was quieter and more withdrawn in company. He seemed to be far away in some other realm.

His school work began to suffer, so much so in one so conscientious and eager to learn, that my uncle felt he must say a word to him about it. This he did. Perhaps his concern made him speak sharply: 'Evan, this won't do, you know. You are doing no work and, if you don't make some effort to learn these Greek verbs, you'll never make the university entrance exam.'

'Oh! I know, Mr. Phillips. You are quite right, and I am truly trying, and doing my very best: but I cannot work and I cannot read any book but the Bible. It is just as though I were not allowed to. I try to read and study the school books, but before I finish one sentence, it is as though I have to put it down and take up the Bible and pray. Doing this I have perfect freedom. I am sorry about the work, Mr. Phillips, but what am I to do?'

'Be careful . . .'

The schoolmaster was nonplussed. This was something he had not had to deal with before. When he told his sister (my youngest and favourite aunt, Aunt Ann) about this, she spoke almost prophetically: 'John, be very careful how you speak to Evan. I think the Holy Spirit is dealing with him - you be careful.' This, from her, came as a confirmation of what he had been thinking himself. From then on he decided to wait and watch - at least for a time.

One day, Evan came to Sunnyside and asked to see my grandfather - Evan Phillips, the minister of 'Bethel', the Presbyterian church (then known as the Calvinistic Methodist Church, until the connection changed the name legally). The two men, the old and the young, sat together in the little sitting room where Evan Phillips was always to be found, sitting in his armchair, 'at home' at all times to the students and anyone who wanted to talk over difficulties or seek advice (that again would also require an article to itself!).

That day Evan found him alone. He told him that he had been shaken to his foundations by a dream, such a dream as he had never had before. It had been with him ever since he awoke and its influence was growing with every hour that passed. Encouraged and calmed by the old man, he told his dream . . .

Evan's strange dream

He was in his home church in Loughor and standing in the pulpit. As he raised his eyes and looked around, he saw that the gallery was full to the doors of young people. More than that, they were all leaning towards him with arms stretched out, beckoning him towards them.

When he awoke, the dream was still with him. It never left him. Whatever he tried to do or to read, those beckoning hands and eager faces appeared before him, as vividly as in his dream. What could it mean? At last, disturbed and anxious, he decided to go to Sunnyside and see what Evan Phillips would make of it. He went much as Timothy would have gone to Paul, and poured out the story of his dream, and his consequent perplexity, into the sympathetic ear of the old minister.

There was no hesitation on the latter's part. He felt sure that something was happening, that there was deep significance in it all. It was with no hesitation that he said to Evan: 'You must go home to Loughor this weekend.' Evan knew this was right. He went back to his lodgings with peace in his heart, together with a great longing for the weekend to come quickly.

The dream came alive

He went home to Loughor and on the Sunday evening his dream came alive. I do not remember (that is, if I ever knew) why he was in the pulpit - whether he had actually been asked to preach, or just say a few words or open the service - but he knew a power within him that he had never known before. That was the beginning of God's tremendous visitation on the churches of Wales in 1904-5.

The same thing happened in two or three other places at the same time. A few years later, after the special times had been withdrawn, this gave rise to some unseemly rivalry about who was first. At the time, however, all was glory and joy. There were convictions and confessions, and overwhelming joy in the assurance of salvation and sins forgiven and the gates of heaven opened. Christian people had always believed that the Lord was true to his word when he said: 'Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst.' Now they knew it and felt it: they were conscious of the tremendous, holy power that had come upon them.

All these were things that I came to know much later, of course. I heard them told to others and possibly asked questions myself, though I do not remember doing so. Undoubtedly these were the things that made the background to what Ieuan and I felt on our arrival in Sunnyside that afternoon. I could not have given it a name then. Looking back, I think I would describe it as a feeling of tension and of expectancy, of joy and a gentle lovingness.

I imagine that we went to bed early that night, for we had had a long day. It was not long before we were regularly in the meetings at Bethel. The week-night meetings - prayer meeting Monday, experience meeting Wednesday - were always held in the 'vestry'. This was a long, narrow room divided in the middle by the dais against one wall, opposite to the big stove against the other wall. The men and women sat in rows on opposite sides, facing one another, and the place was packed to capacity.

I have a feeling that at that time there was a meeting on every night of the week, but that may be a childish impression and I can't be sure. The experience meeting usually became a prayer meeting. I have one indelible memory of a prayer meeting in that vestry . . .

My own brother

I was sitting with the girls - the two or three front rows were packed with young girls, anywhere from six to 20 years old, and the boys sat facing them on the other side. The meeting had been opened, and prayer and praise poured out as one after another got to their feet from all over the hall and laid their hearts, burdens and all at the feet of the Lord.

There was a slight pause - I opened my eyes and saw Ieuan on his feet, looking, in his fair-haired beauty, like a 'cherub' as depicted by the artists. He had begun to pray. I don't recall a word he said, but he was pouring out his heart and looking radiant. He never hesitated for a word, but went on - and on - and on. I thought that one or two of the deacons were beginning to look anxious.

Wonderful events

However, my grandfather, the minister, was sitting near by, and he got up and stood behind Ieuan. He tapped him gently on the shoulder and said: 'All right, my boy, all right'. This little eight-year-old, unruffled and obedient, sat down quietly and the prayer meeting went on. I remember telling Martyn about that incident once, and he said: 'You know, even now, when Ieuan is praying, I sometimes hear a note of those days in his prayer.' It is certainly one of my more vivid memories of those days, though I never heard anyone refer to it afterwards, either to Ieuan or anyone else.

There are things that amaze me as I think back to those weeks. Our days revolved around the meetings in the Chapel. The house was always full then and people came from far and near to see and hear for themselves the wonderful things that were reported. The talk was of those converted, of those who had come out of darkness into light, of hopeful, faithful prayers from those who had been in doubt.

Sundays were full. Morning service at 10.00 am. One never knew when it would be over. Home for Sunday dinner. Back for young people's prayer meeting at 1.15 pm. Then Sunday School at 2.00. Straight from Sunday School to the Town Hall, where a room was hired for the PSA (Pleasant Sunday Afternoon), especially for the non-Welsh-speaking people in the town. Home for a cup of tea and back for the evening service at 6.00.

No rebellion

If anything might engender a rebellious spirit in the heart of a six-year-old, you would wonder about that regime. Yet I have no recollection whatsoever of any 'Must I go?' feeling, or any dragging of the feet. I was happy and don't remember missing a meeting. I wonder, as I write, whether there really were any clouds on my horizon; not one has remained in my memory.

Even our play reflected the order of our days, and we had 'services'. Ieuan was the preacher, standing on the old oak 'skew', a kind of oak chest with a straight oak back and arm pieces. (The chest had a hinged lid, and held all the mending and knitting implements and all the things waiting to be mended.) 'Mamo' and Matilda and I were the congregation, and any aunts who might be free. Nothing was left out of the service and Ieuan would wax eloquent in the sermon - the story of David and Goliath turned up very often.

I always refused to be the preacher - some inborn feeling about women preachers, you might think? More likely because I was introvert as Ieuan was extrovert and never good at 'performing'. I was just plain shy. Despite this, one day a thought struck me, and I thought it was wonderful. It came to me as I was watching Matilda doing the family washing, and my mind was made up - I was going to be the preacher! Now, poised in our 'pulpit', I was earnestly exhorting my congregation to be good because the Bible says we should. I was upheld by the knowledge of my wonderful thought, so now here was the moment for it:

First sermon

'And especially we must be good on washing day. Oh! dear people, remember to be good on washing day . . .'. I trailed off, my thought no longer sounded wonderful, and my congregation were doing their heroic and kindly best not to laugh. I could see it in their faces and their quick exits! After that, I left preaching to Ieuan, wondering what I had really seen in that 'thought'.

The revival was no flash in the pan. We were seeing, every day of our lives, the reality of unseen spiritual things. Nothing ever took that away from us, though it was a few years before we made a commitment, realising what we were doing.

When we went home to Harrow, our cousin Dilys, then 12 years old (to our eight and six), came to stay with us for a while. We three had prayer meetings in the 'Grotto', a little shell-encrusted play house, shaped like a bell tent, which my father had thought up for us in the garden. It was a sturdy little house, dug out to the depth of a foot, with well-trampled Middlesex clay for a floor and a central pole to support the corrugated zinc roof, plastered with cement and smothered in shells. We had little stools and a table and all kinds of bits and pieces, and it made a marvellous place for our little meetings.

The revival had spread to the Welsh churches in London, with the same tremendous impact. I remember my mother saying that one of the things that characterised the prayer meetings those days was a feeling of being right out of time - a feeling of timelessness, almost indescribable, but very real.

Dilys was truly converted and had a good spiritual understanding, and was a good leader for our little meetings. She would read short passages from the Bible to us and she made sure that we never thought of these meetings as a game. But this little trip to London is a digression. Let us go back to Newcastle Emlyn . . .

Welsh and English sermons

The 6.00 pm Sunday service, as I remember it best, was a straightforward hymn-reading-hymn-prayer-hymn-sermon - except for one small addition to the service by my grandfather. After the hymn before the sermon, he would speak in English for about ten minutes. I say 'speak', but he would usually write and read it, as he was not used to preaching in English. It was always a sermon in miniature, small and precious as a gem, and deeply appreciated by the non-Welsh-speaking members of the congregation, and the rest of us too.

Between the English and Welsh sermons, we would sing a few verses of a hymn or a short anthem, just to give the minister a 'breather'. I was always glad when they chose to sing y Cyfiawn a drig yn y Nef . . . (the righteous shall dwell in heaven . . .). It took only a few minutes to sing through, but it thrilled me to hear the volume of beautiful sound, as the packed congregation sang it in four parts, like a trained choir.

Towards the end of his ministry, as the years were beginning to become a burden to him, my grandfather would get one of the young ministerial students from the Grammar School to do the English sermon. Many of them trembled, but I don't think any of them refused. They were always glad to preach and the new language was a challenge. At the end of the service and the benediction, there would be a general homegoing, but not for all. A good number would stay behind - ostensibly to learn new hymns and practise the old, but really just to enjoy singing. Nothing would have made us miss it.

For the most part, I can see that the memories of the Sunday service, especially the evening ones, are well and truly mixed up in my mind. Events before, during and after the revival, are inextricably mixed up or blended together. But I do recall that, during the revival, the after-service singing 'class' disappeared - it got swallowed up.

There was spiritual awareness in the congregation during the service - through singing of the majestic hymns, the prayer of the minister in the power of the Spirit, the faithful word of exhortation and encouragement, warning and comfort that he tried so hard to speak, and the tremendous spiritual tension. All this made it impossible for the congregation to keep silence. The minister's voice would be drowned in the groans of conviction, the 'Amens' and the 'Hallelujahs' as the love and gratitude poured out in prayers and hymns all over the building.
This cannot be described, but it can be recognised. The minister would take advantage of the slightest lull to continue his exhortation or pleading or encouragement, insofar as he felt it was possible.

Teaching needed

On the whole, ministers tended not to do this. Many of the best of them were afraid to interfere with the rejoicing congregation and make them listen to teaching, which might be quenching the Spirit. Looking back afterwards, many felt that the ministers had not made full use of a glorious opportunity and that perhaps the revival would have lasted longer if teaching had been insisted on. The Methodist fathers, they said, lived through times like this, but they never stopped preaching.

This reminds me of the story of old Betsan, Twll-yn-y-wal ('Hole in the Wall' was the name of her house). She was converted in her old age and the joy of salvation possessed her. She would listen enthralled to old Edward Matthews of Ewenni - a great preacher even in the days of great preachers. She would listen with growing intensity and joy till her heart was like to burst within her. Then she would be out of her seat and pirouetting up and down the aisle in a paroxysm of joy and love, oblivious of all around. After a minute or two, Mr. Matthews would say: 'All right, Betsan, all right, now you sit down in your seat.' Quick as a flash came the answer: 'Well, you come down from that mountain top, Mr. Matthews.' But she would obey and endeavour to sit quietly.

Mere emotionalism?

Many people - some who ought to know better - have dismissed the 1904-05 revival as emotionalism: 'Welsh people are very emotional, you know, and the crowded meetings and other aspects of these events all encouraged that. And, of course, it would grow, as the different accounts of various happenings were spread around . . .'.

We have heard it all before. We have groaned and grieved over our inadequacy in refuting the charge and in trying to explain the difference. Of course there was emotion and, no doubt, some emotionalism too.

I remember reading what William Williams - the hymn-writer, the 'sweet singer of Wales' - once said when this charge was brought against the great revival in the 18th century. Among his other comments I remember one sentence well: 'Man is body, soul and spirit', he said, 'and sometimes when the flesh sees the spirit overflowing with joy and thankfulness, it feels envious, and insists on sharing in the rejoicing'. It was his way of saying that the feelings and emotions set free in a meeting during the time of revival were no empty emotionalism, but born of deep spiritual release and joy.

Some not changed

There were always some present who were caught up by the emotional atmosphere and tremendously moved, but who had no change of heart, no rebirth. They were the ones who, after the revival - some sooner, some later - fell right away and went right back to their old ways, evincing no further interest in spiritual matters. They gave great opportunities for the enemy to mock and to endeavour to bring the revival into disrepute. The writer to the Hebrews recognised such people and spoke of them in Hebrews 6.4-6; so did the apostle John, apparently, from his words in 1 John 2.19.

One Sunday night stands out in my memory. I was sitting in the Sunnyside pew with my grandmother and one or two others on my right, and my dear Auntie Ann on my left. We were tightly packed, for, as usual, the Chapel was filled - crammed to capacity. My grandfather sat facing the congregation, in the 'big seat' surrounding the pulpit, his usual position for the monthly Communion Service, with his deacons around him. In the pulpit sat Evan Roberts, who was to take the service that night.

I do not know who took the opening reading and prayer part of the service, but now it was time for the sermon. The oil lamps threw a golden light on hundreds of faces. Nobody moved. It seemed as though they had stopped breathing, and the tension was indescribable - I call it tension now, but what I remember is that I had a lightness in my chest and that I could not breathe properly. How long it lasted I do not know - it seemed forever.

Collapsed in the pulpit

Evan Roberts got to his feet, his face very white. He took two steps towards the pulpit desk, uttered a deep groan and fell, apparently lifeless, to the floor. The silence now became electric, and half the congregation were on their feet. It was truly 'the calm before the storm' - panic was ready to take over, the tension almost unbearable.

Then my grandfather got to his feet. One could feel the tension losing its grip. As he walked forward to the rail surrounding the 'big seat', one or two men went up to the pulpit steps to attend to Evan Roberts. Meanwhile the old man began to speak. He had a beautiful voice - deep and resonant, authoritative, gentle and very comforting. What he said I do not know, but as he spoke, the mounting fear and panic in me abated and the tension went out of the meeting. He spoke for ten minutes or so, and the people were quiet. As he went back to his chair under the pulpit, so Evan Roberts came forward and took up his position in the pulpit above him. The meeting went on.