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Griffith Jones, (early 1684 – April 8, 1761), a minister of the Church of England famous for his work in organising circulating schools in Wales. His name is usually associated with that of Llanddowror, Carmarthenshire.
Jones was born in 1683 or 1684 at Pen-boyr, Carmarthenshire, christened on May 1 1684, and was educated at Carmarthen Grammar School. He was ordained in 1708 and appointed rector of Llanddowror in 1716, he remained there for the rest of his life.
He was an enthusiastic member of the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge and in 1731 he started circulating schools in Carmarthenshire in order to teach people to read. The schools were held in one location for about three months before moving (or 'circulating') to another place. The language of instruction in these schools was the language of the people, Welsh. The idea was taken up with enthusiasm and by his death, in 1761, it is estimated that over 200,000 people had learnt to read in schools organised by Jones throughout Wales.
Jones taught people to read in order that they might know those things that were necessary for their salvation – the curriculum at his schools consisted only in the study of the Bible and the Catechism of the Church of England. But in doing so he created a country with a literate population with a deep knowledge of the Christian scriptures. This in turn is believed by many to have played a key role in making the people of Wales so ready to accept Methodism.
Jones is often thought of as the forerunner of Methodist ideas in Wales. He was a powerful preacher and he would preach in the open air, as later the Methodists would do, and bring upon himself the censure of bishops for preaching at irregular meetings. He lent his critical support to the Methodist revival, and was associated with the early leaders. In fact Daniel Rowland was converted through his preaching.
His work was sponsored by the wealthy philanthropist Bridget Bevan, who continued to manage and support the schools after Griffith's death.
Bridget Bevan (née Vaughan), also known as Madam Bevan (baptised 30 October 1698 – 11 December 1779), was a Welsh educationalist and public benefactor. She was the chief supporter of the educational work of the evangelical Anglican priest Griffith Jones and the system of circulating schools they founded.
Bridget Bevan was born at Derllys Court, Llannewydd in Carmarthenshire, Wales in 1698. She was the youngest daughter of philanthropist John Vaughan (1663-1722), a patron of the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (SPCK) schools in the county, and his wife, Elizabeth Thomas (d. 1721). On 30 December 1721 at Merthyr church, she married a local lawyer and Member of Parliament for Carmarthen, Arthur Bevan (1689-1743). She was the heiress of her uncle, John Vaughan of Derllys.
She followed her father's interest in philanthropy and, in 1731, financially supported a local preacher, Griffith Jones, to establish an experimental school in Llanddowror, Carmarthenshire. This developed into the Circulating Welsh Charity School system, which moved from village to village and fostered education for children and adults throughout Wales. The education was given in the Welsh language. Much of Madam Bevan's considerable wealth poured into these free schools. After Jones' wife died in 1755, he moved in with Bevan; after his death in 1761, she assumed management of the project. During the following eighteen years she displayed considerable business acumen and organizational skills. Between 1736 and 1776, 6,321 schools were founded and 304,475 scholars, both adults and children, taught. It is estimated that at this time half the population of Wales had attended a circulating school, and the nation achieved one of the highest literacy rates in Europe. By 1764 news of the success of this educational initiative had reached the ears of Catherine the Great of Russia, who ordered her ministers to make enquiries about the scheme.
She died at Laugharne, Carmarthenshire in 1779, and left £10,000 of her wealth to the schools. Relatives however disputed her will and the case went into Chancery, where it remained for a period of thirty years, and grew to over £30,000. In 1804 the money was released and devoted to the educational purposes intended by Mrs. Bevan.
In 1854 the schools were absorbed into the system of the National Society, effectively ending the system of circulating schools that she had fostered.
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