A Glamorgan Family History
|Reverend Roger Howell
|Ancestors||Religious affiliation||Scholar||Teacher||Name Index||Descendants|
Roger Howell was apparently the 2nd son of his parents, John Howell Roger and Rebecca Jones. At the time of his birth, his parents were members of Gellionen Chapel, Pontardawe. The register of baptisms at the chapel shows that prior to his own birth in 1774, another Roger, described as the "first son of John Howell Roger" was born in March 1773 and baptised on 16th March that year. Presumably, this first son died and, as often occured in those days of high childhood mortality, the family name, Roger was preserved by passing it on to the next son.
Roger's own entry in the register states that he was born on 3rd March 1774 (during the reign of George III) and baptised 5 days later by the minister, Josiah Rees. There do not appear to be any further entries for children born to John and Rebecca recorded in the register. From the evidence of his family's long standing connection, I had supposed that Roger was born at or near the family home of Nantmoel Uchaf Farm on Mynydd Carnllechart (now commonly known as the Baran Mountain). The farm is situated in the Parcel of Rhyndwyclydach in the Glamorgan parish of Llangyfelach. Following a visit to Dr. William's Library in London, I now know, from a reference in the book, "Hanes Eglwysi Annibynol" by T. Rees DD & J. Thomas, that he was actually born at nearby Pwllfa Watkin farm. This fact is supported by the evidence of the Land Tax Assessments which record a John Howell as the tenant at Pwllfa Watkin from at least 1774 (the earliest legible record) until 1781. From 1782-1801, John Howell was the tenant of Ty'n y berth.
According to Ivor Griffiths' translation of J.E. Morgan's "History of Pontardawe", written in 1911, "...the Howells family have dwelt in Nantymoel for over six hundred years." While I cannot yet confirm this, some evidence of a long tenure comes from Gabriel Powell's Survey of the Lordship of Gower in 1764, which records John William Rhydderch and his son-in-law, Howell Roger as the freeholders of "Blaen Nant Mole Ycha". Howel Roger was Roger's grandfather and John William Rhydderch was probably his great-grandfather (see Ancestors). The earlier Cromwellian survey of Gower in 1656 lists an Isaac Roger as the freeholder in residence at Nantmole. It is probably the same Isaak (sic) Roger who is also recorded in the Hearth Tax assessments for Rhyndwyclydach in the year 1662 (reign of Charles II) as being liable for tax on 3 hearths.
Roger's family also had a long association with the dwelling, Ty'n y berth, which lay close to Nantmoel. While they didn't own this property, their tenancy can be traced back to at least the time of Powell's survey in 1767 when John William Rhydderch is recorded as the occupant. Nearly 10 years later, in the period 1775-6, one of Griffith Jones' Welsh circulating schools was apparently based there. From the evidence of Land Tax records, Ty'n y Berth seems to have been used on occasion as the home of either the prospective heir of Nantmoel or the retired owner.
The Howell family worshipped at the nearby, Non Conformist, Gellionen chapel, which had been founded in 1692 as a branch of the older, mother chapel at Cwmllynfell. In religious terms, Non Conformists might be described as those whose beliefs or ideologies differed from those of the established Anglican Church. There were numerous reasons for these differences, stemming from both theological and adminstrative dissent with the status quo and in Wales, the Church's failure to recognise and incorporate Welsh culture. This led to the foundation of many, so-called dissenting factions organising themselves variously as Independents, Baptists, Methodists etc. These factions also had their own sub-divisions, e.g Calvanistic or Wesleyan Methodists and General or Particular Baptists etc: adding to the religious tensions of the day. The Non Conformist movement was particularly active in this part of Glamorgan.
Gellionen chapel is sited above Pontardawe on Mynydd Gellionen at, what is today, an isolated place on the old main road from Neath to Ammanford. In the "History of Pontardawe", J. E. Morgan acknowledged 2 possible explanations for the chapel's apparently lonely position:
1)The passing of the Five Mile Act of 1665. This Act reflected the political climate of the day, which sought to limit the growth and influence of the Non Conformist movement, by distancing it's leaders from their congregations. However, the Act had been repealed by the time Gellionen was built and replaced by the Toleration Act of 1689 which granted freedom of worship to Non Conformists. Even so, the far-reaching influences of the Anglican Church meant that dissenters still suffered many social exclusions and limitations.
2)The second more probable explanation was the convenience of the central location for the scattered, mainly agricultural, local communities that the chapel served.
Despite this connection to Gellionnen, the Howell family were part of a body of Trinitarian Independents (believing in the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost) who were increasingly unhappy to follow the theological trend towards Unitarianism (God as a single entity) that their minister, Josiah Rees was encouraging. Around the time of Josiah Rees' death, these members broke away from the chapel and began to meet instead at local farms such as Llwyn Ifan, just west of Nantmoel Uchaf, and later Nantmoel Uchaf itself. Eventually, these farms were unable to accommodate the growing numbers of like-minded members and Roger's father, John Howell leased them some land at Nantmoel to build a new chapel. This chapel, named Y Baran, was completed in 1805 and on March 14th that year, Roger Howell was ordained as it's first minister.
Ministers who took part in his ordination service were: David Peter, Carmarthen; David Davies, Llanybri; John Abel, Kidwelly; Thomas Bowen, Neath; John Davies, Alltwen; John Davies, Llansamlet; Evan Evans, Penygraig; William Gibbon, Capel Sion and 2 Baptist ministers, Mr. Rees, Felinfoel and Mr. Davies, Salem.
From a memorial biography in "Hanes Eglwysi Annibynol" and an entry in "Oriel Coleg Presbyterraidd Caerfyrddin 1796-1899" by Evan Pan Jones, it is now clear that Roger studied for his ministry at the Presbyterian College at Carmarthen. According to it's authors, the details of the memorial biography are based on a letter published in the Welsh language, Congregationalist magazine, "Y Diwygiwr" (The Reformer) by Roger's son, John in 1845. Carmarthen College is where Gellionnen's minister, Josiah Rees and many contemporary Non Conformist ministers also received their theological instruction. Roger attended the college from 1796 to 1800 after having first studied historical linguistics at a school in Swansea under a Mr. Rees.
Like an earlier namesake, (his great grandfather) Roger was a scholar with a life-long thirst for knowledge. Records exist of his subscription in 1812 to "Y Geiriadur Saesneg a Chymraeg" (English/Welsh dictionary) by the lexicographer, William Evans, which demonstrates his interest in language. He also subscribed in the same year to to an historical publication called "The Life of Merlin" - which claimed to interpret Merlin's prophecies and predictions as well as provide a chronological history of "all Kings and Memorable Passages of this Kingdom". In 1816 there is a further record of his subscription to the religious publication, "Hanes Crefydd yn Nghymru, o'r amser daeth y Cymry i Ynys Brydain, hyd yr amser presennol" by D. Peter - one of the ministers who officiated at his ordination and was also a teacher at Carmarthen College. These 3 examples provide an insight into the range of Roger's reading. Besides his sermons, he was himself a published author and The National Library of Wales has a record of a small, 8 page pamphlet "Ymweliad a Mynydd Gellionen" (A visit to Gellionen Mountain) written by Roger circa 1800. Unfortunately, this is currently not available.
Having been born in 1774, Roger was a childhood contemporary of Owen Rees (son of Rev. Josiah Rees of Gellionen) who was born 4 years earlier in 1770. Owen Rees went on to become a renowned publisher - forming a partnership with Thomas Longman of London. The establishment of publishing houses such as Longmans (which still exists) was a reflection of the growing trend towards universal literacy encouraged by bodies such as the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (S.P.C.K.) and Griffith Jones' circulating schools. Literacy and education had become powerful forces for liberation in the lives of ordinary people - a fact recognised by the dissenting religious movements who saw literacy, in particular, as a means of providing religious instruction and moral guidance for the masses. But the consequences of this empowerment were far-reaching and Roger would certainly have been aware of the tremendous upheavals taking place in all aspects of late 18th century/early 19th century life. From the breadth of his reading, he would also probably have had some knowledge of the contemporary men and women who energized these changes.