David Griffith (1841-1910) was a schoolmaster, curate and diarist. His writings are an invaluable source for the history of the Anglican Church in Wales.
Griffith was born at Tŷ Cnap, Bontnewydd, near Caernarfon. He attended the local church school and eventually became a pupil teacher at the school there. After that he entered the North Wales Training College, Caernarfon. Although he left without a certificate, he was given an uncertificated teacher’s post at the school at Capel Curig, owing to the patronage of the dean of Bangor, James Henry Cotton. He stayed there for fourteen years; his diaries are full of information about the people, places and folklore of the area.
In 1875, he entered St David’s College, Lampeter, to take the two-year certificate course. Several bishops accepted this biennial route as a qualification for ordination. Like Griffith, most of those following it were former schoolteachers, with a good knowledge of religion but little ability in Classics. He felt sorely handicapped in competition with his better educated fellow students; he also found the ex-public school pupils snobbish.
From 1877 to 1883, Griffith served as curate of St Mary’s church, Aberdare, a few miles south of Merthyr Tydfil. However, he regarded his colleagues there as Romanizing priests; he also disliked the English congregation at St Elvan’s church. When he became curate of the Welsh church, St Mair, he criticised the puritanism of its congregation and the influence of ‘chapelisers’ who had defected from the Welsh chapels. On 22 September 1881, he wrote in his diary ‘English organists are the death of our Welsh psalmody.’
After his stint in Aberdare, he moved back to North Wales; from 1883 to 1896 he was curate of several parishes in Anglesey. After short stays in Gaerwen and Amlwch, he spent nine years in Pentraeth. Eventually he fell out with the wife of the rector. He noted in his diary, ‘the churchkilling Rectoress pounced upon us mercilessly for introducing the office of Holy Baptism into the Public Prayer for Sunday morning.’ The situation deteriorated rapidly. When Griffith refused to apologise, he was given three months’ notice.
A series of other short-term posts followed; he worked at Trefdraeth still in Anglesey, Hirwaun, Deri near Bargoed and Mallwyd. His last post was at Cwmafon, a couple of miles south of Blaenavon. Griffiths appears to have been a difficult man. He was ultra-sensitive, prone to morbid imaginings and so unforgiving that he even kept anniversaries of some unpleasant incidents. He had all kinds of prejudices – against the Englishry of the Church in Wales, against the Salvation Army, against Unitarians. As he failed to gain promotion, he grew embittered against the Welsh Bishops, believing them to be out of touch with Welsh life. However, he was also extremely generous to tramps and the destitute, meaning he was always poor. He was tireless in visiting his parishioners and noted for his care of the sick and elderly. He took great interest in the history and traditions of the local church, contributing numerous articles to Yr Haul and the Anglican Cymro.
Griffiths died on 12 January 1910, still a curate. Several years later, his old parishes contributed towards adding a memorial stone to his grave. His papers are held in Bangor University Archives.
Richards, T., (1959). GRIFFITH, DAVID (1841 - 1910), schoolmaster, cleric, and diarist. Dictionary of Welsh Biography. Retrieved December 1 2020, from https://biography.wales/article/s1-GRIF-DAF-1841
Description of 'David Griffith, Curate, Journals and papers of David Griffith, Curate, 1853 - 1896. Archifdy Prifysgol Bangor / Bangor University Archives. GB 222 BMSS DG' on the Archives Hub website. Retrieved December 1 2020 from https://archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk/data/gb222-bmssdg
Notes and comments. (1990). Journal of Welsh Ecclesiastical History, 7, 84. Retrieved December 1 2020 from https://journals.library.wales/view/1127665/1128296/83#?cv=83&m=6&h=&c=0&s=0&manifest=https%3A%2F%2Fdamsssl.llgc.org.uk%2Fiiif%2F2.0%2F1127665%2Fmanifest.json&xywh=-1670%2C-48%2C5804%2C3549
Price, D.T.W. (1977). A history of Saint David’s University College Lampeter. Volume one: to 1898. Cardiff: University of Wales Press
Roberts, R.O. (1961). David Griffith (1841-1910). Province, 12(2), 60-66; 12(3),103-106