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A Local Hymn Writer: William Lewis of Abermawr

In the late eighteenth century, there was a hymn writer, William Lewis, who lived in a cottage near Abermawr and composed hymns such as Y Cyfaill Gorau and Cof Am Y Cyfiawn Iesu which were sung in chapels throughout Wales in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

WILLIAM LEWIS William was a carpet weaver and deacon at Llangloffan Chapel. His brother, Thomas Lewis, was a minister at Llangloffan during this period, dying in 1823 at the age of 91. William and his wife, Phoebe, had two children. His son, William, left the area as a young man and it is believed died, aged 16, sailing around the coast of North Africa. Nobody knows when William, the father, died, but it is believed to be around 1793/4. His book of hymns, Hymnau Newyddion, was published in 1798.

HIS DAUGHTER, MARIA A memorial to William Lewis is on the wall in Llangloffan Chapel. Another memorial in the chapel commemorates Joseph Harris (Gomer) 1773-1825, a Baptist minister, author and journal editor. On 1st January 1814, he launched the first Welsh-language weekly, Seren Gomer, in Swansea. He had been baptised at Llangloffan about 1792/3. William and Phoebe’s daughter, Maria, married John Bowen, a labourer from the St Nicholas area. They settled in Llanwnda and had several children. Maria was living with her daughter and son-in-law, Mr and Mrs David Lewis, of Llanwnda, when she died in 1862, aged 83.

GRANDCHILDREN AND GREAT-GRANDCHILDREN This brief family history was compiled by the minister of Harmony Chapel, Pencaer, Revd William Rees, who published the results of his research in Seren Gomer in 1889. By that date only two of William Lewis’s grandchildren, Henry Bowen of Penrhyn and Phoebe Lewis of Pontiago, were still alive and living locally. Phoebe Lewis, the granddaughter of William and Phoebe Lewis, had a son, Thomas, who left home and found work as a labourer in St Nicholas. In 1864 he married Mary Griffiths in St Nicholas Church and they had three children. Sadly, Mary died, aged 34, in December 1875. Thomas remarried a couple of years later. His second wife was Sarah Edwards. They had one child, John, who died aged six in 1882. Thomas was a life-long member and deacon of Llangloffan Chapel. He died in 1922, aged 83.

MATHRY One of Thomas’s children from his first marriage, Ann, married John Thomas, a butcher, the son of John (a butcher and farmer) and Mary Thomas of Cross House, Mathry. John Thomas senior was a member, church warden and sexton of Mathry Church until his death in 1924. His wife had predeceased him many years earlier, in 1898. Both are buried in Mathry churchyard. When the father died, John and Ann Thomas moved to Cross House. John Thomas junior died on the last day of 1941. Like his father, he had been a church warden at Mathry Church. His wife, Ann, a life-long member of Llangloffan Chapel, died in 1953.

A LASTING MEMORIAL A poem, a song, a hymn: these are artefacts that never die. As had been the case with her father, Ann requested that one of her ancestor’s hymns be sung at her funeral. One of John and Ann’s children, Sarah Ann, married Morgan Couzens in 1926, then one of the offspring, Jane Couzens, married Hywel Harries in 1962. In 2018, another local descendant of William Lewis, Dilys Thomas, died aged 99 years. One of William Lewis’s hymns was sung at the funeral. The hymn writer from Abermawr who died over two hundred years ago has not been forgotten.

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