Mary Jones Story
The story begins in Llanfihangel-y-Pennant, a small country village, in a valley at the bottom of a mountain called Cader Idris, in the county of Gwynedd, Wales.
It was here that Mary Jones was born in December 1784, in a poor wool-weaver’s cottage called Tŷn-y-ddôl, by the banks of a tumbling stream, which was not much more than four stone walls and a yard for the chickens.
Nearby is Pennant Farm, which was much grander than the house where Mary was born.
At that time people in the Welsh countryside were very poor. There were no real schools and very few people could read. Before Mary was five years old, her father died, so her mother had a struggle to make ends meet as a poor weaver.
Mary would have worked hard in the small garden growing vegetables, and looking after the chickens. She had no school to go to, but as she grew up she wanted to know more about God.It was also at this time that more people in Wales started getting very interested in the Bible. This was known as a religious revival, and was led by Methodist preachers. Mary and her mother attended meetings for Bible reading and prayer led by William Hugh of Llechwedd.
These meetings gave Mary a great love for the Bible which sadly she could not read. It was not until she was 10 years of age that she learnt to read, at one of the schools near Abergynolwyn, that had been set up by Thomas Charles, a well known preacher from Bala. When Mary could read there was still a problem. Welsh Bibles were far too expensive for Mary’s mother to buy.
Mrs Evans who lived at Penybryniau Farm, about two miles from Mary’s home, heard about Mary’s love for the Bible. She invited Mary to visit her farm as often she wished, so that she could read from her Bible. Mary would walk to Penybryniau every week in all weathers to read and learn passages from the Bible in Mrs Evans’s parlour.
Her dearest wish was to have a Bible of her own and she decided to save every penny to buy one. This was a difficult task because in those days Bibles cost a lot of money.
Mrs. Evans Parlour
Mary saved every penny she earned. At the end of the first year she had saved only 5 pence, and at the end of the second year this had grown to only 13 pence. It was not until she was 15 years old that she had saved enough money for a Bible.
Not Enough Bibles
Now there was another problem. There were very few Welsh Bibles, and they were often very difficult to get hold to get hold of. At that time the King’s printers in London were the only ones who were allowed to print Bibles, and they demanded to be paid for the Welsh Bibles before printing them. They knew that most Welsh people could not afford to buy their own Bibles.
The printing of Bibles for the home required a lot of money. This was provided from sponsors and organisations such as the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and the Religious Tract Society. For example, the first Welsh Bible for the home (rather than the big Church Bibles) was printed in 1630. This was made possible by a gift of £1000, which was a huge sum of money in those days, being given by two Welshmen living in London.
Mary’s Own Story
The story of how Mary Jones obtained her Bible from Thomas Charles can best be told in Mary’s own words, spoken to Lizzie Rowlands. As a young lady Lizzie used to read the Bible to Mary when she was old and blind. This is Mary’s account:
“One stormy Monday morning I was walking to a farmhouse about two miles from my home, a gentleman riding on a white horse and wearing a cloth cape came to meet me and asked me where I was going through such wind and rain. I said I was going to a farmhouse where there was a Bible, that there wasn't one nearer my home, and that the mistress of the farm said that I could see the Bible, which she kept on a table in the parlour so long as I took my clogs off. I told him that I was saving up every halfpenny this long time to get a Bible but that I did not know where to get one. The gentleman was 'Charles of Bala', he told me to come to Bala at a certain time, that he was expecting some from London and that I should have one from him.
When the time came my mother put the money and a little bread and cheese in one end of the 'wallet' and my clogs in the other, and I set off for Bala on a fine morning, resting where there was a stream of clear water, to eat the bread and cheese. I came to Bala trembling and knocked at the door of Mr Charles' house.
I asked for Mr Charles and was told that he was in his study at the back of the house. I was allowed to go to him and he told me that the Bibles had not arrived. I started to cry because I did not know where to stay. He sent me to stay with an old servant of his who had a house at the bottom of his garden, until the Bibles came. When they came Mr Charles gave me three for the price of one. I set off home with my precious burden, I ran a great part of the way, I was so glad of my Bible".
(K. Monica Davies, Journal of the Historical Society of the Presbyterian Church of Wales, Vol.3 Oct. 1967 PGs 74-80)
Excitement in Wales
In September 1806, when the first copies of the Bible Society’s Welsh New Testament reached Bala, there was jubilation. The newspapers of that time record that on the day the Testaments were expected to arrive in Bala, extraordinary things happened. From early morning, groups of people could be seen gathering from the outlying country. When news came that the load was approaching the town, crowds rushed out to meet it.The horse was taken from the cart, and strong young men took its place. They pulled the cartload joyfully into town, where they received a wonderful welcome from the crowds gathered in the streets. Thomas Charles hardly had time to unload the Bibles before they were all sold; such was the people’s need for God’s word at that time.
An Example for Us.
What lessons can we learn from this wonderful story of Mary’s love for the Bible, the word of God? It is a story which describes what Mary was prepared to do in order to buy a Bible, and how valuable it was to her. It surely puts us to shame! For now we can all have Bibles, they are not expensive and plentiful. But do we read them? Do we long to have our own Bible, and treasure its message of hope and light in a dark world?
Life Long Treasure
Later, Mary married a weaver, Thomas Jones, and settled in Bryncrug, where she had six children. All except a son, Ioan, died in infancy or childhood. Ioan and his family emigrated to America. In about 1852 Mary lost her husband, and spent the last twelve years of her life alone and in poverty. Mary kept and cherished her Bible to the end of her days, and later it was passed on to the British and Foreign Bible Society. It is now kept in the Bible Society library in Cambridge University.
One of the other Bibles obtained by Mary Jones went to her aunt, and was later given to Mary’s friend Lizzie Rowlands. It is now in the National Library of Wales. The third Bible has disappeared, but it was probably taken to America by loan.
(A copy is on view at the Welsh Bible Exhibition)
The Rest of Mary’s Story
Mary read from her Bible daily until she died in 1864, at the age of 80 years, but her story does not end there. The need for Bibles, for people like Mary Jones, showed that something had to be done. It was important to make sure that people could have their own Welsh Bibles in their homes. The stock of Bibles published by the SPCK in 1799 was soon exhausted and Thomas Charles decided to go to London and beg for more Bibles for Wales. On December 7th 1802 Thomas Charles attended a meeting of the Religious Tract Society held in a warehouse on Swan Wharf, near London Bridge. This was owned by a man called Thomas Hardcastle. It was not a good time to talk of new ideas, but the men who met that morning were determined that everyone could have their own Bible.
"If for Wales, why not for England, why not for the whole world?"said one of them.
And so in 1804, the British and Foreign Bible Society was founded. It turned out that Thomas Charles had started something bigger than the printing of Bibles for his own country. Since then the Bible Societies have printed millions of Bibles. Today the Bible is printed in over 2,230 languages.
Memorial in Llanfihangel-y-Pennant