What would John James Esq think?



The plot of land, generously donated by John James to the Temperance Cause, now houses Fishguard’s Theatr Gwaun. It not only serves alcohol in its friendly bar but allows us to take the glass into the auditorium. Is John James, who supported the  Cause, turning in his grave?

Screen Shot of John James' diary

Photo courtesy of Chris Simpkins

Extraordinarily, we can all come to our own judgement on that question and, what’s more, get to know John James a little, by reading his diary for the year 1846. John James was born in 1814 and lived all his life on the family farm, Trenewydd, Llanwnda, west of Fishguard. It was a large farm, 200 acres or so, and there were several labourers and servants working for the family. In his diary John James records the events that held significance for him: the weather, the work on the farm, his religious life and farming and community festivals.

I now begin a new year it is the Lords Mercy,soon I must begin to live in a new World This will be the last year to many, why should I think it will be my last Have I a house not made with hands in heaven Enable me O Lord to spend this year nearer unto thee than ever before.

I now begin a new year it is the Lords Mercy, soon I must begin to live in a new world This will be the last year to many, why should I not think it will be my last Have I a house not made with hands in heaven Enable me O Lord to spend this year nearer unto thee than ever before. (Photo courtesy of Chris Simpkins)

The life of this God-fearing, devout man was spent on his farm. He seldom ventured beyond his immediate community other than to visit the local fairs, to buy or sell his livestock or to hire labour. His accounts of trips to Fishguard, Mathry and Newport all include the price paid or received for pigs, cows or horses. His one journey to Cardiff took two days in a sailing ship in strong winds and troubled seas.

On the land he grew oats, wheat, barley, hay and potatoes and was greatly occupied with moving stones, either to clear the land or to accumulate building materials – perhaps both. The weather for the year was warm and dry in the summer months but otherwise and wet with untypical heavy snows in November and December.

The early January entries remind readers that Christmas and New Year were celebrated according to the old calendar. ‘Old Xmas day’ was observed on 6th January, with fiddlers at the house who earned 1/6d for their playing and ‘Old Sallarn’ (Hen Galan) was kept on 13th January, a pig having been killed the previous day. In September, at the end of the harvest, the family provided a ‘neck’ feast, a traditional celebration with pagan roots, offering a jug of ale and a silver coin for the reapers.

Other than with farming matters John James was concerned with the life of the local chapels to which his family was very generous. He attended three different places of worship on a Sunday and biblical references make up more than half of the entries in his diary.

Over the years John James prospered. The significant legacy from his parents, his diligent stewardship of the farm, his support for the local community and his generous and genuine support for the chapel meant that he ended up as a JP and with a responsibility for the running of the local workhouse. A pillar of society.

Between 1801 and 1851 it is estimated that an independent chapel was completed every 8 days in Wales and the James family at Trenewydd were enthusiastic contributors to the growing total. But enough was probably enough and John James’ bursting bank accounts could later be tapped for other worthy causes. He owned several properties and farms rented out to others so it’s no surprise that he could donate town-centre land for development by the Temperance Cause. His diaries are low on introspection or clues as to his state of mind but a couple of comments hint that he wasn’t mean spirited. I’d guess that he’d be able to reconcile Theatr Gwaun’s bar with his Christian beliefs.


John James’ diary,  owned and recently brought to light by Hedydd Hughes, can now  (I think) be seen in Haverfordwest. The text, however, has been scanned and transcribed by Chris Simpkins for Prosiect Llên Natur ( Cymdeithas Edward Lloyd). She not only  deciphered the difficult handwriting and imputted 351 records into the Llên Natur Tywyddiadur database but also summarised the entries and added her own substantial research to an account on her own website. This was a fascinating project. Please click the link, make further acquaintance with John James and enjoy Chris’ work!

About bookvolunteer

I'm passionate about books, about Oxfam and about making the world a better place. When I'm not filling the shelves in Oxfam Wilmslow, I might be found reading the books I've bought in the beautiful surroundings of North Pembrokeshire.
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1 Response to What would John James Esq think?

  1. cilshafe says:

    This is exceptionally interesting, and I knew nothing about Chris Simpkins’ website. Thank you so much for drawing attention to it, (I’m intrigued by Old Sallarn and can find no references to it – except this one! – when I google.)
    I feel a trip out to Tynewydd coming on…

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