(1798-1878) First principal of St David's College Lampeter.

1822, saw the laying of the foundation stone of what was to become St Davids College, Lampeter. It also saw the graduation with First Class Honours in Lit. Hum. from Jesus College of one Llewelyn Lewellin. 1878, a year after the Golden Jubilee of the College saw the death of the same Llewelyn Lewellin, still in post as its first Principal and Professor both of Theology and of Greek, in which he had been lecturing his students only two days before his death. 

Lewellin was born in 1798, at Tremains in Coity, Bridgend, to Richard Lewellin a tenant on the Dunraven estate and Maria, the daughter of David Jones, Rector of Llangan. Jones, a leading Evangelical cleric was associated with the Countess of Huntington. At thirteen, Lewellin entered Cowbridge Grammar School, whence he matriculated at Jesus College, Oxford in 1818. He held a Scholarship from 1821-1826. He graduated BA in Greats in 1822; proceeded MA in 1824; BCL in 1827 and DCL in 1829. He was not elected to a Fellowship, but acted a Master of the Schools in 1824 and 1825 and took private pupils among whom was Rice Rees, future Professor of Welsh at Lampeter.

During the same period he was made Deacon in 1822 and Ordained to the Priesthood in 1823, on both occasions by the Bishop of Oxford and on the title of his Scholarship. Faced in 1826 by the imminent prospect of his Scholarship coming to an end, he applied for and obtained the Headship of Bruton Grammar School, (later the King’s School, Bruton). in the same year, however, he was approached by John Scandrett Harford who, acting on behalf of Bishop Jenkinson, offered Lewellin the Principalship of St David’s College, Lampeter, which he accepted. Harford, a Bristol banker and owner of the Peterwell estate had offered the Castle Field, Lampeter as a site for the College. It is worth noting that in 1825, Bishop Burgess had received a  letter from Copleston, Provost of Oriel, Oxford, on behalf of a friend, commending Lewellin for a Professorship at Lampeter.

Lewellin remained in post as Lampeter’s Principal, Senior Professor of Theology and Professor of Greek for fifty one years. Moreover, from 1833 until his death, he was also Vicar of Lampeter; and from 1840, again until his death he was Precentor and Dean of St Davids, appointed by Bishop Jenkinson. He had been Second Cursal Prebendary since 1827 and also in 1833, held a Prebend at Christ College, Brecon, a Collegiate Church, in succession to Archdeacon Thomas Beynon.

At the same time, he occupied civic office in Lampeter, both serving on the council and being Portreeve (Mayor) and also serving as Magistrate for the three Counties of Cardigan Carmarthen and Pembrokeshire. He sat regularly on the Lampeter Bench and did so a fortnight before his death.

Thus, any assessment of Lewellin’s long tenure of his posts has to take account of several elements: his academic credentials; his teaching ability, his leadership of St David’s College; his contribution to the training of Anglican clergy; his  personal qualities and his familial and social context; his involvement in parochial and civil life at Lampeter; his tenure of the Precentorship and Deanery of St Davids Cathedral;  and his attitude to Welsh language and culture.

His academic ability was revealed when he was admitted to Jesus College Oxford, even though he had not been one of the five Monitors at Cowbridge Grammar School. He may not have been elected to a Fellowship but his ability was affirmed by the Scholarship granted him in 1821 and the first class honours degree he was awarded in 1822 after tuition from Richard Westbury, later Lord Westfield and in a year when a certain EB Pusey of Christ Church also took a first. 

His administrative ability was recognised by the University of Oxford when they made him Master of the Schools, (a Public Examiner). His potential for leadership was recognised by his appointment both as Master of Bruton and Principal of St David’s College.

He was clearly a good teacher and well regarded by his pupils. who honoured him with a presentation in 1856, which took the form both of the portrait by Pickersgill which hangs in Old Hall in the College and a silver epergne.

Under his leadership the College was enabled in 1852 and 1865 to grant Bachelor of Divinity and Bachelor of Arts degrees. Lewellin was well supported by able and energetic Vice Principals, such as Ollivant, Browne, Williams, Perowne and Davy, three of whom became bishops. At the same time, his parochial ministry at Lampeter was assisted by curates, many of them recent graduates of the college. During his Vicariate the Parish Church of Lampeter was rebuilt in 1840 and in 1870. During the Summer months he was resident at St Davids as Dean and his time there saw the South Transept converted in to a parish church for the Welsh congregation, work by Butterfield on the Rood screen and the north transept window and then the major restoration between 1865 and 1873 by Gilbert Scott.

A major issue which raised its head during Lewellin’s Principalship was the place given to Welsh in the activities of the College. So dissatisfied were two early benefactors, that Archdeacon Thomas Beynon changed his Will refusing to leave the tithes of the wealthy benefice of Talley to the College when he died in 1833 and Thomas Phillips put energy into the foundation of Llandovery College in 1848. It is clear that Lewellin spoke Welsh, as attested by Daniel Ddu in his poem on the opening of the college in 1827; Lewellin had addressed local Eisteddfodau in Welsh; and had at the laying of the foundation stone of the new church in 1868 given a translation into Welsh of the proceedings to the congregation. It is also clear that after the death of Rice Rees, the first Professor of Welsh in 1839, that Welsh had a lower status at the college, the chair remaining unfilled. Lewellin having the survival of the college in view, did not discourage English and English speaking students from coming to the College.

Lewellin faced considerable hostility as he discharged his functions as Principal. Archdeacon John Williams, whom he succeeded as Vicar of Lampeter, had expected to be the first Principal but had a disagreement with Bishop Burgess over the direction of the intended College and had gone off to Scotland as the first Rector of Edinburgh Academy. He was a friend of Sir Benjamin and Lady Hall, later Lord and Lady Llanover who were fervent Welsh patriots and ready to condemn both Lewellin and Lampeter for perceived hostility to the place of Welsh in the Church in Wales.  Lady Llanover gave the site for Llandovery College, of which Williams became the first Warden but Lewellin attended the opening. Phillips denied that the foundation of Llandovery meant the end of Lampeter and indeed the Intermediate Welsh Institution was seen as furnishing suitable candidates for Lampeter which had been complaining of the low educational qualifications of its entrants.

It is clear from the reactions of those around him that Lewellin possessed an autocratic streak in his character. He ran the College in its early days as if it were a Grammar School as Browne pointed out to him not least in that in the absence of a Board, he kept all governance and financial functions to himself. For example, he was both Treasurer of College and supplied it with food from his farm, the Bryn, at a rate higher than normal. He did, however, accede to Browne’s requests and the governance of the college was brought more into contemporary practice. On the other hand, as he had not been a Fellow of Jesus, but a private tutor, he had no experience of corporate governance. Both students and staff, however found him personally kind hearted, even though  he himself admitted to a quick temper. The point has also to be made that the College, under Lewellin, supplied the needs not only of the Diocese of St Davids, as originally envisaged, but of the church further afield and did so by producing clergy of quality, who had taken full advantage of the opportunity offered them of a classical and theological education.

Two other factors need emphasis. When he arrived in Lampeter in 1826, he was unmarried. On 14 September 1831, he married Caroline third daughter of George Smith of Foelallt, a relative of Lord Carrington. She died in 1868. The eldest son was David, who died of heart failure in 1873 as a Superintendent of Police in Usk. In 1834, Emily was born, later the wife of the Revd OA Nares and the author of a memoir of her father; then Frances (Fanny) who died unmarried in 1866; then Llewelyn Alfred Treharne who died as an infant; and lastly George Smith Lewellin in 1840, who died as an unbeneficed clergyman and private tutor in 1919.

It was his father’s attempt to create favourable academic conditions for the latter’s academic career at Lampeter which led to a violent disagreement with the Vice Principal and Senior Tutor, Rowland Williams in 1860, recorded by Williams in the Tutors’ Register and which led Williams to write to the editor of The Welshman setting out the details of the matter.

The other factor which needs to be taken into account was Lewellin’s fragile health, a matter of long standing. By his own account, his father having been warned that he would not survive Oxford, he was in poor health during those years. Moreover he had been told that he would not survive five years at Lampeter. (He was seventy-seven when he said this) . In the 1860’s in letters to his nephew, Charles he speaks of being confined to his bed by various illnesses as well as going to Aberystwyth for his health. This, perhaps was why he depended on others to assist him during his long career.

In furthering the interests of his family, in his use of deputies and his enjoyment of sinecures, his involvement in civic life, especially in the magistracy, Lewellin is more a representative of a long eighteenth century than a dynamic Victorian. In his earlier years he was, however an energetic and  dynamic figure. As more than one of his colleagues and acquaintances pointed out, had he been able to retire at the normal time, he would have left a more fragrant memory than that of the upas tree. In the absence, however, of a pension  scheme — it is difficult to see how the parlous financial situation of St David’s College experienced during its early  decades would have permitted it — taken together with the fact that unlike several of his Vice-Principals, he did not become a bishop, he had no option but to remain in post as long as he did.   

Wyn  Evans.                                                                     Advent 2021.

This short piece depends greatly on DTW Price’s first volume of A History of St David’s College Lampeter; Mrs Emily Nares’ Pleasant Memories of Eminent Churchmen, with a Memoir of Dr. Lewellin, late Dean of St Davids, written about 1907 Mr. David Gorman’s article on Lewellin in Country Quest  and also on original material in the National Library of Wales and the  Roderic Bowen Library at Lampeter, to whose Librarians and Staffs I am deeply indebted for their unfailing assistance as I delved into Llewelyn Lewellin’s life and career.