Friday, October 27, 2006

Henry Richard: Welsh Disestablishment 3

The town of Tregaron in Ceredigion (formerly Cardiganshire) is one of the most beautiful old places in the world. And I ought to know. I've seen the pyramids, St. Petersburg, Victoria Falls. A little old town nestling in the hills, it is grouped, like many towns in Ceredigion, around a central square. And, in the middle of that lovely square is a mighty statue of a bearded man, apparently in the act of delivering a speech. This is Henry Richard, 'The Apostle of Peace.'

Born in Tregaron in 1812, son of Ebeneser Richard, a nonconformist Minister, he was ordained and spent much of his life ministering in London. It was there, in 1848, that he was appointed secretary to the Peace Society. It was in this period that he first became involved in the movement to disestablish the Anglican Church, organised under the banner of the Anti-State Church Association (later the Society for the Liberation of the Church from State Control).

In 1868, he was elected Liberal MP for Merthyr Tydfil, at that time the largest town in Wales, defeating Cabinet Minister Henry Austin Bruce (also a Liberal). An activist, a Nonconformist and a Liberationist, Henry Richard had actively condemned the Church in Wales, as well as establishments in general.[1]

Such was his activity as MP, he became known as 'the Member for Wales.' At the same time, he published a little book of Letters on the Social and Political Condition of Wales. In this, he attacked the Church in Wales fiercely, declaring that it was unrepresentative and largely anglicised.[2] The balance of Anglicans to nonconformists was 20 to 1 against the established church. Indeed, so low was the condition of the Church in Wales that there was not even sufficient provision of seats in Churches for all Welshmen.[3] On this basis, the Church should thank the Chapels for saving them the embarrassment of having to turn people away!

However, when, in 1869, following the disestablishment and disendowment of the Church of Ireland, Watkin Williams, the member for Denbigh, introduced a motion advocating the disestablishment of the Church in Wales, Henry Richard opposed it, both as coming too soon, and as lessening the case for general disestablishment. [4] Despite the use of arguments appealing to Welsh nationality, Henry Richard was not about to see the Welsh situation remedied if that meant that the Church remained established in England.

[1] Henry Richard, Letters on the Social and Political Condition of the Principality of Wales (London, 1866), p.2.
[2] Bell, Disestablishment, p.228.
[3] Richard, Letters, pp.15-23.
[4] Jones, Congregationalism, p.207-8; Kenneth Morgan, Freedom, pp.10-11.
(Apologies are offered for the lack of direct quotations of Richard. Sadly my copies of his letters are both currently not in my possession. From the next post on, I shall be using books that are currently in my shelves)



Post a Comment

<< Home