Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Williams, William (1781-1840)

WILLIAMS, WILLIAM, generally known as Williams of Wern (1781–1840), Welsh preacher, born in 1781, was the sixth child of William and Jane Probert of Cwmhyswn-ganol in the parish of Llanfachreth, Merionethshire. The father, whose christian name became his son's surname, was a small farmer and carpenter, and young William worked as carpenter for several years. In his nineteenth year he commenced to preach in connection with the independent church of Pen-y-stryd, and, being practically without education, he went for nine months to a school at Aberhavesp, near Newtown, and then for four years (1803–7) to the dissenting academy at Wrexham. While a student here he used to preach in the smaller villages of the district, and this led to his being invited to become the pastor of two exceptionally weak churches at Wern and Harwood (now Brymbo) in the parish of Wrexham. After a year's probation he was ordained on 28 Oct. 1808. But he by no means confined his labours to this narrow sphere. He formed, and for some years supervised, churches at Llangollen and in the mining districts of Rhos and Ruabon; he was one of the chief organisers of the Welsh Union, formed in 1834 for the liquidation of chapel debts, and himself gave material assistance in many ways to the poorer churches of Flint and Denbighshire. But, above all, he periodically made several preaching tours throughout the whole of Wales. ‘Williams o'r Wern’ thus became a household word among Welshmen everywhere.

In 1836 Williams became pastor of the Welsh Tabernacle, Great Crosshall Street, Liverpool. There he remained but three years, returning to Wern with broken health in October 1839. Domestic anxieties to some extent accounted for his condition. He had married in 1817 Miss Rebecca Griffiths of Cheshire, a lady of some means, by whom he had two sons and two daughters. His wife died on 3 March 1836, which event probably led to his first removal. His eldest daughter died in February 1840; and Williams himself followed on 17 March 1840. His eldest son, James, died, also of consumption, in March 1841. They were all buried at Wern, where a memorial column, provided by public subscription, was erected in 1884. His two surviving children emigrated to Australia.

Williams, it is generally admitted, was one of the greatest preachers Wales has ever produced, and among the congregationalists (whose preaching since his days has been largely influenced by his style) he has probably never been equalled. He was a man of much personal beauty, his eyes being specially attractive, while his voice was sweet, flexible, and powerful. The chief characteristics of his sermons were their lucidity and the novelty and pertinence of their illustrations. Some of the most powerful of them were, it is believed, composed as he journeyed on horseback from place to place, so that only a few were left behind him for publication.

[Dr. William Rees (‘Hiraethog’) [q. v.] wrote a Welsh biography, or ‘Cofiant,’ of Williams (Llanelly, 1842), which was translated into English by J. R. Kilsby Jones, and published, with portrait, as his Memoirs in 1846 (8vo, London, printed at Leominster). A fuller Welsh biography, with two portraits and illustrations, by the Rev. D. S. Jones of Chwilog, was issued in 1894 from Dolgelly. An English translation was made by the Rev. Abraham Roberts for Mrs. Kelso King of Sydney, N.S.W. (a granddaughter of Williams), for private circulation in Australia. See also Hanes Eglwysi Annibynol Cymru (Rees and Thomas), iv. 15–24; Davies's Breezes from the Welsh Hills, pp. 339–340, 369, 458; Morgan's Ministerial Record of Williams, 1847; Owen Jones's Some of the Great Preachers of Wales, pp. 297–354; Homilist, iii. 210; Foulkes's Enwogion Cymru, pp. 1038–48; J. T. Jones's Geiriadur Bywgraffyddol, p. 649; Rees's Hist. of Protestant Nonconformity in Wales, p. 393; Owen Thomas's Cofiant Jones Talysarn, pp. 960–4; Cymru, 1894, vii. 170; Gwyddoniadur Cymreig, 1st edit. x. 200–6.]

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