John Washington-Jones (1887-1974) was an Anglican clergyman, who worked as vicar to the Welsh colonists in Patagonia.
Washington-Jones was a local man; he was born in Pencarreg, only four miles south west of Lampeter. His parents were Rachel and Thomas, a farmer. He entered St David’s College in 1909; to help with finances he also worked as a dental assistant! Washington-Jones graduated in 1912; his son Richard and grandson Niall were also to graduate from Lampeter, wearing the same hood.
Washington-Jones was licensed as a curate in 1913; his first post was at Llantrisant. In 1915 he married Myfanwy Jones at St Illtyd’s Church, Pembrey. By this time, he was working as a curate at St James’s church, Blaenavon.
However, in 1919, John, Myfanwy and their young son Richard sailed for Argentina. He spent the next seven years as vicar to the Welsh colonists in the Lower Chubut Valley, Patagonia, supported by the South American Missionary Society. The valley had first been settled by the Welsh emigrants just over fifty years earlier. By the end of the 19th century, their numbers had risen to 4 000 people.
Welsh emigration to the Chubut Valley had largely ceased with the outbreak of the First World War. The last group of 120 colonists arrived in 1911. However, most of the Welsh-speaking clergy active in Patagonia were sent out from the homeland. Their input was vital in injecting new ideas into the struggling communities. The people driving manifestations of Welsh culture were mostly ministers of religion, although their time in Patagonia was often relatively short.
Church people were in a small minority among the settlers, but there was not the tension between church and chapel goers experienced in Wales. Washington-Jones was based in Trelew, a medium-sized town founded by the Welsh settlers in 1871. The settlement’s importance had increased with the construction of the railway to Puerto Madryn in 1889, allowing for easy export of agricultural produce. Washington-Jones served two churches twenty miles apart, St Mark’s church, Trelew and Llanddewi Church, Dolavon. The chapel in Dolavon was a simple brick-built church, first opened in 1891. Its founder was Revd Hugh Davies, the first Anglican priest to minister in the Chubut Valley.
Washington-Jones also opened a school for the children of the settlers, again named after St David.
Life was harsh and people were required to be very resourceful and independent. It still took three days in a horse-drawn carriage to travel to the colony from the end of the railway! The Eisteddfod was a major annual event. It was held in the mill house; the bags of wheat were used as seating. It lasted several days, with the judges coming from the whole of the Chubut Valley.
Washington Jones returned to Britain, during the General Strike of 1926. His next post was as Rector of St Michael’s Church, Cwmafan, a few miles north west of Neath. He stayed there until 1941. He then became Rector of St Ilan’s church, Eglwsilan, about seven miles south of Caerphilly. He stayed in Eglwsilan until his retirement. He died in 1974; St Ilan’s contains a stained glass window in his memory.
Washington-Jones, N. (2020). The long arm of Lampeter academicals. The Link, 76, 17. Retrieved November 16 2020 from https://www.uwtsd.ac.uk/media/uwtsd-website/content-assets/documents/alumni/lampeter-society/the-link-summer-2020.pdf
New curates. (1913, September 29). Cambria Daily Leader. Retrieved November 16 2020 from https://newspapers.library.wales/view/4425771/4425773/33/
Burryport wedding. (1915, January 27). Cambria Daily Leader. Retrieved November 16 2020 from https://newspapers.library.wales/view/4098337/4098340/46/
Brooks, W.A. (2012). Welsh Print Culture in y Wladfa: the Role of Ethnic Newspapers in Welsh Patagonia, 1868-1933. (Doctoral thesis, Cardiff University, United Kingdom). Retrieved November 16 2020 from https://orca.cf.ac.uk/46450/1/WelshPrintCultureInYWladfaWalterBrooks.pdf
Every, E.F. (1915). The Anglican Church in South America. Retrieved November 20 2020 from http://anglicanhistory.org/sa/every1915/01.html
Howat, J. (2003). Anglican Church Records in the Welsh Colony, Chubut Valley, 1883 to 1903. Retrieved November 20 2020 from http://www.argbrit.org/Patagonia/patagoniabapts.htm
Brebbia, C.A. (2007) Patagonia a forgotten land: from Magellan to Perόn. Southampton: WIT Press