Robert Ambrose Jones, literary critic and writer on politics and religion, died 100 years ago this year. Better known as Emrys ap Iwan (Emrys being the Welsh form of Ambrose) he was the first minister of Tabernacl chapel, Well Street, where his achievements are now corfkrnemorated on a new plaque.Born in 1848 at Abergele, he was the son of a gardener at Bodelwyddan, who, at the age of 18 decided to become a student at Bala theological college. Having learnt German and French from a German neighbour, he called himself a European, and in 1874 went to teach English at a private school in Lausanne, Switzerland.After his return to Wales he was regular writer for Y Faner (Thomas Gee’s weekly paper, founded 1859), and was also one of 200 contributors to Y Gwyddoniadu Cymreig (1854-1879), the 10-volume encyclopædia published by the Gee Press, Denbigh. He was an important forerunner of modern Welsh nationalism; he
aimed to inject self-confidence into the Welsh when imperialism was rampant and the nation was being told that its language was useless and would surely die.Welsh was not then an official language, and could not be spoken in courts of law. Many miscarriages of justice took place because the accused had no idea what was going on. In Ruthin in October 1889, Emrys accompanied Thomas Davies, a farm worker, accused of stealing a kiss from his employer (a woman!). Emrys ap Iwan insisted that Thomas, who could not speak English, should be allowed to give his testimony in his own language, and that he, Emrys, should be allowed to defend him. There was consternation and Emrys was daubed as an ignorant peasant by the English press—although he spoke four languages, and his English was in fact superior to that of most of the jury. This was probably the first-ever Welsh language protest.The Calvinistic Methodists had refused to ordain him in 1881 because of his opposition to the building of English-language chapels in Welsh-speaking areas. He was finally ordained in Mold in l883, and spent the rest of his life as a minister at the Tabernacl, and Rhydycilgwyn in Rhewl. Tabernacl was officially opened on Census Day, 5th April l891, when Emrys was one of the nine who preached. He has played an active part in the design of the chapel with its seats placed in the form of an amphitheatre and a mosy ub-non-conformist slender tower.Heavily influenced by the unorthodox French theologian and mathematician Blaise Pascal (1623-62), Emrys ap Iwan’s collection of sermons (”Homiliau”) published in 1906 and 1909 are considered literary masterpieces. He died of liver cancer in Rhewl in January 1906, aged 58. He is buried at the chapel cemetery at Rhewl.
In July 2006, HAFINA CLWYD looked at a distinguished past citizen of Ruthin