VICAR OF ST MARY’S CHURCH, HAVERFORDWEST 1858-1875

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On 23 August 1793 Maria Child married John Grant at St Mary’s Church, Haverfordwest.  Maria was the daughter of James Mark Child of Begelly House and his wife Maria Philippa Artemesia Philipps, and granddaughter of Sir John Philipps of Picton Castle, 4th baronet. 1

Her first son, born in 1801, was Richard Bulkeley Philipps Grant who, on the death of his cousin Lord Milford in 1823, succeeded to the Picton estate. Sir RBP Philipps represented the borough of Haverfordwest as Member of Parliament from 1826 to1834 and 1837 to 1847 when he became Baron Milford of Picton Castle. He was elected Mayor of Haverfordwest in 1830.

John Grant died in 1811. The following year, at Pembroke, his forty year old widow rather intriguingly married Henry Gwyther, an 18 year old student, described as a “Probationer of the Wesleyan Persuasion”. 2

Henry was the son of Henry Gwyther,  3 a Pembroke born businessman in Bristol, and his wife Mary. He was baptised at the Castle Green Meeting (Independent) in the city in May 1794. Educated at Winkfield School, he matriculated at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, in March 1814. 4  The couple’s first child, James Henry Alexander Gwyther, was born in 1815. Henry then matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1817 and graduated BA there in 1818. 5 He was ordained deacon in 1817 and priest at Salisbury Cathedral in October 1819.  After two brief curacies in Westbury, Wiltshire, and St Mary’s Chapel, Birmingham, he was appointed in 1821 as vicar in the parish of Yardley, the Patron of which was Lord Milford.  He continued there as vicar for over fifty years until his death in 1872.  As an evangelical his ministry was fervent and intense. Described as “originally a Wesleyan Methodist, and is still in creed, conviction, sentiment and spirit”, 6   it was recorded that soon after his arrival at Yardley he ordered the church pew-opener to burn three barrow-loads of parchments he found in the church. 7   With his brother John,  8  vicar of Fewston, Gloucestershire, he compiled The Psalmist; A Selection of Psalms and Hymns, published in 1830. He published many sermons . As President of the Birmingham Temperance Society, he was an “indefatigable friend of temperance.” 9  Gregory described him as “cordial, communicative and spiritual to a delightful decree” while his wife Maria was as “a most comely, kindly matron of great wealth and even greater expectations.” 10   She died at Yardley in 1851 at the age of 79.  Following her death Henry married a governess, Frances Fewtrell, who survived him together with their three daughters.

James Henry Alexander Gwyther was born at Winkfield, Wiltshire, where his father was curate, and baptised on 19 May 1815. 11 In 1833 he was admitted and matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated BA (MA 1841). 12 He was ordained deacon at Worcester Cathedral 1838 and priest in the following year. In 1841 he was appointed Vicar of Madeley, a thriving parish close to the industrial area of Ironbridge and Coalbrookdale.

The parish of Madeley in Shropshire was very closely linked with the Wesleyan cause. Revd John Fletcher, a close associate of John Wesley, was vicar there from 1760-1785. His widow, who remained in the parish after his death, organised services in the vicarage barn, being joined in 1799 by Mary Tooth who worked there for over forty years as a preacher.  She corresponded with Revd Henry Gwyther  13 and it can be no coincidence that his son was appointed vicar of Madeley two years before Mary Tooth’s death. Sir Richard Philipps was the Patron of the parish. In 1847 Gwyther purchased the advowson of the parish.

In 1844 James Gwyther married Mary Catherine Lea, daughter of William Woolrych Lea of  Ludstone Claverly, near Madeley. The couple had seven children. In April 1856 five of them died at Madeley within nine days as a result of a cholera epidemic. 14  Two daughters survived.

In 1848 Gwyther’s first formal link with Pembrokeshire was his appointment by his half- brother, Lord Milford, as Domestic Chaplain at Picton Castle.15  In 1854 unsuccessful efforts were made to effect his appointment as Rector of St Mary’s Church, Tenby. 16

In January 1857, on the death of Lord Milford, 17 Revd JHA Gwyther inherited Picton Castle and its extensive estate and changed his name to Philipps. 18 He visited Haverfordwest in June of that year when he preached sermons for the Church Missionary Society in St Mary’s, St Martin’s and Prendergast churches. At a public meeting of the Society he was warmly welcomed to the town. He informed his listeners that this was his first visit to the town since he was a boy, some thirty years before. The newspaper account mentions that the text of his sermon was the same as that chosen by his father when he preached at St Mary’s at that time. 19 In May 1857 he agreed to replace Lord Milford as Patron of the Haverfordwest Literary and Scientific Institution. 20

Revd James Philipps remained at his parish in Madeley until 1859 by which time he had purchased the advowson of St Mary’s Church, from its owner and vicar, Revd Thomas Watts. He was instituted as vicar on 29 January 1859.  Within a short time he became involved in his new parish, appearing in a list of subscribers to the planned Haverfordwest Infirmary and proposing its establishment at a public meeting. 21  He gave a lecture, “Twilight of Christianity in Britain”, at the Shire Hall to a numerous and respectable audience. 22  The chairman of the meeting was W. Owen, Esq., High Sheriff of the county, and on the platform were Sir Thomas Philipps, Revd James Thomas and George Phillips, important members of local society. Whereas Lord Milford had represented the town in Parliament and was Lord Lieutenant of Haverfordwest, Revd Philipps’ incumbency at St Mary’s was to provide the Picton Castle family with an alternative platform in the town and county. Frequent references to the vicar appeared in the local press. He was appointed Rural Dean of Daugleddy by the bishop who hoped that as he was to be instituted to the principal church in Haverfordwest it might increase his opportunity for usefulness. 23

As the parish had no house for its incumbent the vicar was given a licence by the bishop allowing him to live outside his parish. His application stated that his residence, Picton Castle, was four miles from the parish but his intention was to perform his duty in person and live in a hired house within the parish at least two nights each week. 24   He had appointed Revd H Christian Chandler as his assistant curate at £100 per year and that he lived in the parish.

During the earlier years of his incumbency Revd Philipps was very involved in the parish and town. The register shows services were held on Sunday mornings and evenings and Thursday evenings. 25  Visiting preachers included JH Morgan, Chaplain to Seamen of Milford Haven, Revd SO Meares, Vicar of St Martin’s, and Revd J Erasmus Philipps, vicar of Warminster, Salisbury.  A printed programme of services for Passion Week and Easter Day, 1862, shows that Morning Prayer was said each day during the week at 11am and on each evening a lecture was given by the vicar or curate. The evening service began and 7pm and would close by 8.30pm. The vicar aimed to attract his working class parishioners as the programme exhorted; “WORKING PEOPLE COME IN YOUR ORDINARY CLOTHES”. 26   He formed a Sunday school, accommodation for which he provided, and where,

…sound religious instruction is there imparted by various gentlemen, highly esteemed and holding responsible positions in the town, and their exertions, continually supervised and aided by so strenuous a supporter as the vicar, cannot fail to produce a lasting and most beneficial influence. 27

Annual summer outings to Picton Castle were arranged for the large Sunday school. 28 The vicar also provided lectures on religious subjects for the working classes.

Revd Philipps launched a major fundraising campaign for improvement projects at St Mary’s. In April 1859, no doubt mindful of the strength of nonconformity in the area, he and his church wardens declined to set a church rate for the impending restoration. A small notebook lists over a hundred subscriptions made towards the cost of roof repairs. 29 A request for a contribution from the Town Council was refused, so he devised an alternative scheme to raise funds, announcing a three day Grand Bazaar to be held in the grounds of Picton Castle with the aim of raising £1600.  A list of many prominent ladies of the county who had agreed to be patronesses was published and reads like the Who’s Who of the county! 30  The event took place in June 1860 and combined a rural fete, bazaar and horticultural show, “surpassing in extent and magnificence anything of a kindred description that has ever been attempted in this county.” 31  Shops and banks in Haverfordwest closed at noon to allow workers to attend the fete. Vehicles of all descriptions made their way to the castle, but the majority of people would have walked, a distance of about five miles.

The improvements carried out during his incumbency included the removal of the Town Council Chamber over the north porch. This two storey building, with a steep flight of steps at the side, was “a double chamber, musty and worm-eaten, where everything was redolent of past ages”. 32  The demolition marked a significant physical break between the church and town corporation, so inextricably linked for many centuries. The east churchyard wall was created and topped with iron rails, a new decorative iron gate was installed at the entrance from High Street, and the organ, already over 120 years old, was subject to major repair.  33 There was also a plan by WL Lindsey, architect, never fulfilled, to raise the tower by fourteen feet and to place on it a spire twenty feet high. Copies of a lithograph showing the proposed design were printed and sold at the bazaar.

Revd Philipps’s family links with nonconformity encouraged him to work together with various denominations in the community. In January 1860 he invited town clergy and dissenting ministers to breakfast at the Mariners Hotel to discuss “the best means of still more closely uniting the different religious bodies in the town, and promoting a revival of true godliness among the inhabitants generally”. 34   Following this united prayer meetings were held at the Shire Hall. At one meeting Revd Thomas Davies, Baptist Minister, presided and prayers were said by Revd Philipps. 35    The next meeting, when Revd Philipps presided, was attended by an “immense audience” with prayers being offered by clergy and laymen. 36  His enthusiasm, however, was not appreciated by a correspondent of the Churchman who criticised the participation in these prayer meetings by dissenting ministers who apparently talked “so lovingly of the beauty of Christian union”, yet at the same time contributing to the Anti State Church Society. 37 In April it was announced that the united prayer services would cease for the time being, but that Revd Philipps would hold prayer meetings monthly in the schoolroom. 38  More evidence of his sympathy for the nonconformist cause can be seen in his gift of land on which to build Millin Cross Chapel in 1866.

Numerous examples of his philanthropy were recorded in the local press. Each Christmas he provided beef for distribution among the poor of the town and half crowns for poor women.  39 At Christmas 1872 he replaced the beef with cash, with amounts varying between 2s 6d and 10 shillings.  It was reported that 205 Haverfordwest families benefitted, a seventh of the town’s population. 40

In January 1863 he attended a public meeting convened to discuss great distress in the town caused by unemployment. A memorial to the Mayor had been signed by a very large number of labourers who, after several weeks unemployed, were literally destitute. Revd Philipps proposed that immediate steps should be taken to alleviate the distress and put this into action by immediately employing ten or twelve workmen. 41   In 1864 he gave 50 square feet of land on Castle Hill, Tenby, upon which the Welsh national  memorial  to the Prince Consort was  erected. In 1869, as a member of the Cambrian Lodge at Haverfordwest, he gave a piece of land in Picton Place for a new Masonic Hall to be built.

The vicar appears to have been well respected and popular in the town. He took part in several secular activities, acting as chairman of Haverfordwest winter evenings entertainment  42 and giving lectures in the town hall. He preached sermons on many occasions throughout the county and supported appeals for many churches and schools. 43

St Mary’s retained its Low Church status while Revd Philipps was vicar. He preached in a black gown from the three decker pulpit. 44 He was an energetic pastor and an assiduous preacher, preaching from a written text, often for half an hour or more. 45  Holy Eucharist was celebrated in the evening service. 46

It was reported that in 1857 Revd Philipps had declared himself a political Liberal but an ecclesiastical Conservative. 47  Although, unlike his predecessors at Picton, he did not personally stand for election to any public body, his name and position as head of the Picton estate was linked with political elections. In 1863 he was accused of instructing his tenants not to vote for a certain candidate. 48

By 1867 the Picton estate seems to have experienced financial problems. In 1862 the Sun Office had agreed a loan of £50,000 to Revd Philipps for ten years, on security of his life interest in the estate. 49   In 1867 a letter from J. Langbourne of Grays Inn expressed concern at the precarious financial position as expenditure had greatly increased. He recommended that the vicar’s agents, Messrs Goode and Owen, must control their desire to carry out repairs and improvements. These problems could have contributed to the vicar’s deteriorating health and he took little further part in the activities of his church and parish. From around 1871 he and his wife lived permanently at their London home, 60 Princes Gate, where his wife died in March 1875. Soon afterwards he resigned as vicar and, as patron of the living, appointed Revd Joshua Wrenford as vicar.

JHA Philipps died at Picton on 3 December 1875 at the age of 61. An obituary said that “he won for himself the esteem and regard of all classes of the community”, was “an able and eloquent minister” and “a tolerant and large hearted Churchman.” 50    He was buried in the family grave at Madeley.  His estate 51  was inherited by his son-in-law Charles Edward Gregg Fisher who had married Mary Philippa Philipps and changed his name to Philipps in compliance with his father-in-law’s will. CEG Philipps was created a baronet in 1887 and played a major role in local affairs. He was Mayor of Haverfordwest on three occasions, Lord Lieutenant of the town, High Sheriff of the county, magistrate and  Chairman of Pembrokeshire County Council,

Several stained glass windows were given to the church by the Philipps family. The large Kempe east window was erected in memory of JHA Philipps and his wife who are memorialised by references in two small upper lights to St James and Catharina, martyr.
kempe-eastern-window
Following the death of Revd JHA Philipps, Picton castle was closed for a few years pending a court decision as to its lawful heir. Revd Sir Erasmus Philipps of Warminster, the 12th Baronet, challenged the legality of Lord Milford’s legacy to JHA Gwyther. The court decided in favour of the CEG Fisher Philipps family.

NOTES

  1. Maria’s father was Bulkeley Philipps of Abercover, Carmarthenshire, third son of Sir John Philipps (d.1737).
  2. Carmarthen Journal and South Wales Weekly Advertiser, 23 May 1812. “Married: Lately at Pembroke, Mr Gwether (sic), Probationer of the Wesleyan Persuasion, to Mrs Grant, relict of the late John Grant, Esq., of Pembroke”.
  3. IGI Henry Gwyther baptised 19 February 1771 at St Michael’s, Pembroke, son of Henry and Esther Gwyther.
  4. www.ancestry.co.uk/db.aspx?dbid=8942 (Oxford University Alumni database)
  5. www.ancestry.co.uk/db.aspx?dbid=3997 (Cambridge University Alumni database)
  6. Benjamin Gregory, DD. Autobiographical Recollection linked with memorials of his later life by his eldest son. London,1903. Hodder and Stoughton. 348.
  7. www.ancestry.co.uk/db.aspx?dbid=3997 (Cambridge University Alumni database)
  8. As curate of Chilvers Coton from 1831, John Gwyther is said to have been the inspiration for George Eliot’s character Revd Amos Barton (Scenes of Clerical Life).
  9. Hereford Times, 23 September 1846.
  10. Gregory op.cit. 348
  11. IGI Batch 5019939/ sheet 49.
  12. www.ancestry.co.uk/db.aspx?dbid=3997 (Cambridge University Alumni database)
  13. http://rylibweb.man.ac.uk/data1/   Methodist Archives Biographical Index.
  14. His friends and neighbours subscribed to the memorial in Madeley Church which names Hephzibah Mary age 10, Emily Maria 8, Phoebe Catharine 7, James Bulkeley Philipps 5, Clara Artemisia 3.
  15. National Library of Wales. Picton Castle Schedule 1576. Appointment by Baron Milford of Rev James Henry Alexander Gwyther, vicar of Madeley, co. Salop, to be one of his domestic chaplains in Picton Castle; “to serve me in the performance of divine offices within my house or chapel, and to have and enjoy and singular the privileges, benefits, liberties and immunities whatsoever given and granted to the chaplains of the Barons and Peers of this realm”
  16. NLW Picton Castle Schedule 4294. A letter from the Mayor of Tenby and some 200 parishioners was sent to Lord John Russell, MP, requesting consideration to be given to the appointment of Rev JH Gwyther, a man of piety, activity and experience as Rector of Tenby.
  17. His interment in the family vault in the chancel was the last burial within the church.
  18. The Times, 21 February 1857.  “The Queen has been pleased to grant unto James Henry Alexander Gwyther…..Her Royal Licence and authority that he and his issue may, in compliance with a proviso contained in the last will and testament of Richard, Baron Milford….henceforth take, assume, and use the surname of Philipps instead of that of Gwyther” .
  19. Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 26 June 1857.
  20. Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 8 May 1857.
  21. Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, February 2 1859.  He subscribed £100, as did the Lord Bishop of St David’s. Both became trustees of the Infirmary.
  22. Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, March 2 1859.
  23. NLW Picton Castle Schedule 3825.
  24. NLW SD/NR/306P.
  25. Pembrokeshire County Record Office. HPR/2/23.
  26. NLW Picton Castle Schedule 14810.
  27. Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, 22 June 1860.
  28. Welshman, 27 June 1862.
  29. NLW Picton Castle Schedule 1493.
  30. Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, December 28, 1859. Rt. Hon.Countess of Cawdor; Lady Emlyn; Lady Griffes Williams, St Davids; Mrs Adams, Holyland, Pembroke; Mrs Barham, Trecwn; Mrs Tucker Edwardes, Sealyham; Mrs Harries, Priskilly Forest; Mrs Higgon, Scolton House; Mrs Massey, Cottesmore; Mrs JH Phillips, Williamston; Mrs JHA Philipps, Picton Castle; Mrs Lloyd Philipps, Dale Castle; Mrs Lloyd Philipps, Penty Park; Mrs GL Phillips, Lawrenny; Mrs TL Phillips, Broad Haven. The Town Ladies were Mrs Crymes, High Street; Mrs HP Goode, High Street; Mrs J Harvey, Picton Place; Mrs Mathias, Grove Place; Mrs W Owen, Hermons Hill; Mrs Phillips, Cleddau Lodge; Mrs Phillips, Victoria Place; Mrs Rees, Market Street; Mrs Rowlands, Glenover; Miss Stokes, Market Street; Mrs A Stokes, Court House; Mrs Williams, Spring Gardens; Mrs Woodham, Bridge Street.
  31. Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, 22 June 1860.
  32. Brown, Phillips, Warren. The History of Haverfordwest with that of some Pembrokeshire Parishes, Haverfordwest.1914.62
  33. Welshman, 27 June 1862.  “The organ ….was a fine and noble instrument, equal, if not surpassing, in power and finish, any church organ in Wales. …through the liberality of Mr Philipps…Mr Banfield [organ builder] has just added a trumpet stop to the instrument so that it is now, without exception, the finest and best organ in the principality. It contains about 1500 pipes.”
  34. Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 6 January 1860.
  35. Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, 15 February, 1860.
  36. Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, 14 March 1860.
  37. Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, 14 March 1860.
  38. Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, 18 April 1860.
  39. Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 30 December 1864.
  40. Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 27 December 1872.
  41. Welshman, 23 January 1863.
  42. Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, 7 February 1868.
  43. Prendergast Church Restoration Fund £100;St Martin’s Church £100; Jeffreyston Church restoration Fund £5; St David’s Cathedral Restoration Fund £100; Uzmaston Church Restoration £500; gave land for Freystrop schoolroom and National School, Narberth; St Katharine, Milford Haven restoration £10.
  44. Fred. J Warren. The History and Antiquities of St Mary’s Haverfordwest, Letchworth, Arden Press, 1914, 72.
  45. John Morgan-Guy. ‘Sermons in Wales in the Established Church.’ in Keith A Francis and William Gibson (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the British Sermon 1689-1901, Oxford University Press, 2012. 193
  46. Nigel Yates. ‘The Parochial Impact of the Oxford Movement in South-West Wales’ in Tudor Barnes and Nigel Yates, (eds). Carmarthenshire Studies, Carmarthen, Carmarthenshire County Council, 1974. 239
  47. South Wales Daily News, 22 November 1873.
  48. Potters Electric News, 28 October 1863.
  49. NLW Picton Castle Schedule 4425.
  50. Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 10 December 1875.
  51. Ancestry.com Probate record. His effects were under £40,000.