The life of a nonconformist minister in rural Gower born at the time of the French Revolution might appear of little interest, compared with events elsewhere while
was becoming an
industrialised nation. Welsh-speaker
William Griffiths, who had served in the militia at the time of the Napoleonic
wars, became a familiar and respected figure throughout the peninsula during a
lengthy ministry, being described on his gravestone as “The Apostle of Gower”. Britain
Born into a religious family in north Pembrokeshire, William Griffiths was conscripted when aged 19 into the Carmarthenshire militia, which involved such duties as guarding French prisoners of war in
Bristol, and marching to to quench a miners’
strike. In the challenging surroundings
of the regiment he stood firm with others of Christian faith. After five years he was demobbed in Durham , and replaced
his brother as a Pembrokeshire schoolteacher, where he was encouraged to preach
in local chapels. Manchester
In peninsular Gower Lady Barham had settled at Fairy Hill to establish chapels and schoolrooms, initially at Burry Green, Cheriton and Penclawdd. When in 1816 the Calvinistic Methodist meeting in Fishguard received her request for an assistant, they recommended William Griffiths. So the twenty-nine year-old left his schoolwork and set 1set out for Gower.
William Cowper’s observation that “God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform” would soon be demonstrated in his experience, for Lady Barham changed her mind; possibly she was persuaded to use college-trained ministers like those of the Countess of Huntingdon’s Chapel, which used to stand near
. Since William Griffiths had made the
journey, Lady Barham permitted him to stay temporarily to assist in
Penclawdd. When Cheriton’s minister and
replaced him, before he was moved to a new work at Pilton Green. Griffiths
After two years, church politics intervened: Lady Barham requested that her secretary William Hammerton be ordained minister of Paraclete Chapel,
without the customary probationary period.
This caused her to secede from the Calvinistic Methodists (now the
Presbyterian Church of Wales), so out of loyalty to them and to the sadness of
his congregation, William Griffiths left her employment. Newton
With several supporters like William Voss of Nicholaston, the abandoned chapel at Oldwalls was repaired to become the centre of Calvinistic Methodist ministry in rural Gower. The situation changed again after Lady Barham’s death, for her eldest son, who inherited the Burry Green and Cheriton Chapels, employed William Griffiths as their minister, with a manse provided after years of living in lodgings. His ministry now followed the pattern of a fortnightly circuit of the three chapels, where he became a familiar figure riding his grey mare, as well as holding meetings in homes. William Griffiths never minced words – when the 1833 equinoctial tides had unearthed Spanish dollars in Rhossili Bay from the fabled wreck of the “dollar ship” during the 17th century, and people rushed to dig in the sands, he deplored their eagerness to grasp transitory earthly treasures rather than seeking enduring heavenly ones. What would he have said of our modern pre-occupation with entertainment, sport and the lottery?
For many years he undertook an annual four- to six-week tour of North Wales, preaching twice daily, sometimes taking the paddle steamer to preach in
Liverpool. But the death of Rev. Samuel Phillips of
Fairy Hill caused him much concern, for the Llanddewi Vicar had squandered the
inheritance of both his wives (one a daughter of Lady Barham), and left
servants unpaid and large debts outstanding.
called him a “victim of his own extravagance and folly”, but it was a setback
to the cause of the Christian gospel. Griffiths
When William Griffiths died aged 74 in 1862, his obituary in The Cambrian fittingly described him as “The Apostle of Gower”. Perhaps his finest memorial is that amid all society’s changes, after 200 years Burry Green Chapel still proclaims the Christian message Sunday by Sunday.