Maurice Jones (1863-1957) led St David’s College, Lampeter, for fourteen years, rescuing it at a time when its condition seemed desperate.
Maurice came from Trawsfynydd, a few miles south of Ffestiniog. He was the second of the seven children of William Jones, the village shoemaker, and his wife Catherine. However, although the home was humble, it was full of books. William was the only person in the village, apart from the rector, who regularly took an English newspaper. Maurice later wrote that his educational career was ‘entirely due to an accident.’ He was offered a free place at Friars School Bangor by its headmaster, D. Lewis Lloyd, the son-in-law of his local rector. After Friars School, he attended Christ College, Brecon when Lloyd moved there. Thus, Jones was saved from life either as a shoemaker or in the slate quarries of Blaenau Ffestiniog.
On leaving school, he went up to Jesus College, Oxford, where he took a first class degree in theology as well as coxing the college boat. He later admitted that he became a clergyman because the Church was the only body that would give him financial help whilst he was in training. However, he never regretted his choice. He was ordained deacon in 1886, only two weeks after finishing his course. He served curacies in Caernarfon and Welshpool, before applying to become an army chaplain for a stipend of £300 a year, (rather than £120 for a curate). Tragically, these years were marked by the death from tuberculosis of his first wife Catherine née Griffith and their two small children. He was to marry twice more; his second wife Emily née Longmore died in 1906. He married Jenny Bell in 1911.
Jones spent twenty-five years in the army, serving all over the world. Always good at handling men, he was particularly well suited to his role. He spent six years in Malta, where he was Chairman of the University Board of Examiners and of the Civil Commissioners. In the Boer War, he was chaplain to both Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener. Roberts attended three services every Sunday, Kitchener only one a week (to satisfy Jones). After that, Jones spent thirteen years in home postings, followed by a spell in Jamaica. When the First World War started, he was told that, as a senior chaplain, he would remain on the Home Front. He retired from the army as first-class chaplain in 1914.
Jones’ next career was as a country clergyman; he was appointed to the Jesus College living of Rotherfield Peppard, a few miles west of Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire. He was said to have been a preacher of tremendous power. Alongside his parish work, he was able to write and to act as a university examiner at Oxford. He had continued to study wherever he was stationed. He was awarded an Oxford BA in 1907 and then a DD in 1914 for his book St Paul the Orator, (Hodder and Stoughton, 1910). Now, he produced several books and a string of articles in Welsh as well as English. Over the next ten years he published The New Testament in the Twentieth Century (Macmillan, 1914); The Epistle to the Philippians (Methuen, 1918); The Four Gospels (SPCK, 1921) and The Epistle of St Paul to the Colossians (SPCK, 1923).
Jones was appointed principal of a dispirited St David’s College Lampeter in 1923. The scheme of his predecessor, Gilbert Cunningham Joyce, to turn it into a postgraduate theological college had failed, but it was riven by factionalism. It had only seventy students and its status and standards were lower than at any time in its history. Jones’ appointment was surprising. He was almost sixty; he had twice applied for the chair of Welsh and once for the principalship without making the shortlists. He later commented ‘After having been rejected on three previous occasions Lampeter in its distress had called me to come to the rescue.’
The Welsh language press was delighted at Jones’ appointment. Morgan comments, ‘Apart from the election of Timothy Rees to Llandaff …. , it is difficult to imagine a more inspired appointment within the new Church during these years.’ Jones’ solution to Lampeter’s problems seems to have been to increase the number of students, while leaving the college’s work largely unchanged. He began his work at Lampeter with a one-man recruitment campaign, preaching all over Wales, particularly in his native north. Jones visited several secondary schools where he discovered that St David’s College was completely unknown. The number of students rose from 75 in the summer of 1923 to 126 in October 1924. Under Jones, Lampeter was mostly a training place for future clergymen. He saw the college as ‘a home sanctified by religious discipline as well as sound learning.’
By the time Jones retired in 1938, Lampeter had two hundred students in residence. He had managed to raise Lampeter’s profile and morale, to place it on a firm financial footing, and to enhance the status of the Welsh language within it. Known as ‘Prinny Bach’, he was close to students. Price comments that ‘it is clear that this ‘wise, understanding and friendly man’ often went out of his way to help those in need and distress.’
Jones became a canon of St David’s cathedral in 1923. The same year, he also became a fellow of Jesus College, Oxford. In contrast, he was a member of the Gorsedd of Bards, with the bardic name Meurig Prysor. He was treasurer of the Eisteddfod from 1925 to 1938, almost becoming Archdruid in 1935. He was a vice-president of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion.
On his retirement, Jones moved to London, only for two homes to be bombed. In 1944, by now in his eighties, he became priest at Bradden, a small village in south Northamptonshire. After three years there, he moved back to London, still leading Sunday services. He died at his home in Addington, Surrey, in December 1957. The writer of his obituary in the Church Times commented ‘His short, stocky figure, pugnacious, with a zest for life; his amazing memory for names and faces, keen wit, sound scholarship and practical wisdom were sadly missed when, in his nineties, he found that his legs could no longer carry his heart where it longed to be.’
Price, D.T.W. (1990). A History of Saint David’s University College Lampeter. Volume two: 1898-1971. Cardiff: University of Wales Press
Canon Maurice Jones. (1957, December 9). Times. Retrieved February 17 2021 from https://link-gale-com.ezproxy.uwtsd.ac.uk/apps/doc/CS218323337/TTDA?u=walamp&sid=TTDA&xid=c4710a29
Canon Maurice Jones. Scholarly Principal of Lampeter. (1957, December 13). Church Times. Retrieved February 17 2021 from https://www.ukpressonline.co.uk/ukpressonline/view/pagview/ChTm_1957_12_13_013
Ellis, M. G., (2001). JONES, MAURICE (1863 - 1957), priest and college principal. Dictionary of Welsh Biography. Retrieved February 17 2021, from https://biography.wales/article/s2-JONE-MAU-1863
Morgan, D. (2011). The Span of the Cross. 2nd edition. Retrieved February 18 2021 from https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/The_Span_of_the_Cross/8TC-DwAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=maurice+jones+and+factionalism&pg=PT124&printsec=frontcover