J. E. Lloyd and the Creation of Welsh History: Renewing a Nation's Past

J. E. Lloyd and the Creation of Welsh History: Renewing a Nation's Past

by Huw Pryce


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J. E. Lloyd and the Creation of Welsh History: Renewing a Nation's Past by Huw Pryce

This is the first biographical account of John Edward Lloyd (1861-1947), widely regarded as the founder of the modern academic study of Welsh history. Published to mark the centenary of Lloyd’s most important achievement, A History of Wales from the Earliest Times to the Edwardian Conquest, this study reassesses Lloyd’s significance by setting his work in the context of his life and of the ideas and scholarship of his time. Through its detailed analysis of Lloyd’s work and its rich contextualization, the book offers fresh insights into ideas about history, education, culture, and national identity in Wales.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780708323892
Publisher: University of Wales Press
Publication date: 07/15/2011
Pages: 308
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Huw Pryce is professor of Welsh history at Bangor University.

Read an Excerpt

J. E. Lloyd and the Creation of Welsh History

Renewing a Nation's Past

By Huw Pryce

University of Wales Press

Copyright © 2011 Huw Pryce
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7083-2390-8


Welsh Liverpool, 1861–1877

* * *

The earliest surviving history written by J. E. Lloyd focused not on the early and medieval Welsh past but on his own life as a member of an ethnic minority in Victorian Liverpool, then a major European seaport and commercial hub of the British Empire. That, at least, is one way of viewing the diary entries he made throughout 1876 and the early months of 1877. Although these were not explicitly presented as history or even as autobiography, the 14-year-old Lloyd embarked on the enterprise with an eye to the future, prefacing his first diary with the declaration:

To keep a daily account of all that takes place in one's circle of life, is, if done carefully, not only a very useful and beneficial way of spending one's leisure, but also extremely valuable for future reference and instruction. Moreover many journals have been of public utility, and although it would be extreme audacity for me to suppose that my humble efforts should be so honoured, yet I cannot but hope that some good will accrue to myself and others, from them. This then is my Apology.

The persona he chose to reveal in the following entries throws vivid light on the world Lloyd inhabited in his early years, and thus on the key question of how his upbringing helped to forge the convictions and intellectual capacity that underpinned the decision, by his early twenties, to be a historian of Wales. That world was dominated by a middle class which, though clearly a product of its English urban environment, had a distinctive cultural identity sustained above all by the institutions and values of Welsh Nonconformity. Indeed, this Nonconformist culture not only encouraged the self-reflection evident in the diaries but also elicited Lloyd's first known historical work in the strict sense, and also his first work in the Welsh language, namely a competitive essay on ten famous Welshmen which ranged chronologically from the Puritan John Penry (1563–93) to the sculptor John Gibson (1790–1866). An understanding of this bicultural background is crucial, then, to any assessment of the young Lloyd's opportunities, experience and outlook before he commenced his studies at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth in October 1877.

By the time Lloyd was born in Liverpool on 5 May 1861, the town had over 440,000 inhabitants, among them a substantial minority of migrants, especially from Ireland but also from Scotland and Wales. His parents, Edward Lloyd (1837–1917) and Margaret Lloyd (née Jones; 1834–1921), had married in Chester Street Wesleyan Methodist chapel on 6 August 1860, shortly after their arrival in Liverpool from northern Montgomeryshire, where their families had deep roots and, indeed, were related, as we shall see. This was but one instance of a continuing influx from Wales whose scale appears to have been fairly constant throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, as about 20,000 Welsh-born people are recorded in Liverpool for each decade from 1851 (when they accounted for about 5.4 per cent of the borough's population). Moreover, this core was augmented by those, like Lloyd himself, who were born in the town to Welsh parents and brought up to speak Welsh and participate in Welsh religious and cultural activities: by 1900, this wider Welsh community may have comprised as many as 70,000 individuals (indeed, the city's lord mayor claimed it was as high as 100,000). Though socially and occupationally diverse, the Liverpool Welsh included a substantial middle-class component, involved especially in the building trades but also in timber yards, cotton warehouses and other retailing.

Edward Lloyd conformed to this pattern, and his position in Liverpool illustrates how both previous occupational experience and kinship ties helped to determine the pattern of migration. He was brought up by his paternal grandmother on her remote hillside farm of Tynyfedw in the Hirnant valley near Pen-y-bont-fawr in Montgomeryshire, and retained a lifelong liking for the countryside and agricultural pursuits. He evidently received some schooling, and this helped to prepare him for the world of business, which he entered in the mid-1850s when he began work as an apprentice at London House, a general store in Llanfyllin, the nearest market town, situated some 6 miles south-east of his home, an establishment founded by the brothers Edward, John and Thomas Jones (although John soon returned to set up his own business in Liverpool, where he and Thomas had previously been apprentices to cloth and linen retailers). Significantly, the brothers were related to Edward Lloyd, being grandsons of his great-grandfather, Edward Lloyd of Penygarnedd Fach (1754–1825). Moreover, their sister Margaret Jones kept house for them, and quite possibly it was while working in Llanfyllin that Edward Lloyd first became acquainted with his future wife; such a combination of commercial and familial connections often paved the way for marriages at this period. Eventually, he followed the example of her brother John Jones and sought new opportunities in England. After a brief spell in Manchester, Edward Lloyd became an apprentice in a draper's shop in Berry Street, Liverpool, before establishing his own linen draper's shop in 1860 about half a mile away in his home at 184 Falkner Street, a business that continued until the Second World War.

The rapid commercial growth from c. 1850 to the early 1870s made this a propitious time for such an enterprise, and the Lloyd family – expanded by the birth of John Edward's two younger siblings, Margaret (Maggie) Alice (1864–1940) and Thomas Arthur (1866–1917) – seems to have prospered. Mrs Lloyd ran her home with the help of two Welsh-speaking servants from her native Montgomeryshire, and by May 1876 the business was doing well enough for the family to move from accommodation above the shop, on the fringe of the city centre, to a new house at 16 Overton Street, Edge Hill, just over half a mile away to the north-east. It took several months for the house to be got ready to the family's satisfaction, and the young J. E. Lloyd was impressed by the result: 'The walnut-graining in the dining-room is superb!' The property also boasted a breakfast room that looked out on a garden planted with holly, privet and rhododendrons purchased from a nursery in Walton, and Lloyd himself took pleasure in tending the garden. Yet there were limits to comfort, too: in winter his own room could be unbearably cold.

The residential environment of Lloyd's upbringing in Falkner Street and Overton Street were typical of the Liverpool middle class, and the same was true of many of his activities and attitudes. There is nothing to suggest that he or his parents exhibited 'the rampant snobbery' all too prevalent in some Welsh Nonconformist circles in Liverpool; however, Lloyd was clearly conscious of belonging to a class defined by a certain level of wealth and, crucially, by respectability. Thus, in recounting a visit to the resort of New Brighton in September 1876, he complained that 'the shore is very crowded and not very select in its frequenters', while the 'street-boys' who pelted him and his fellow pupils with snowballs appear to have been viewed as a nuisance rightly sent packing by a police officer. This is not to imply that the young Lloyd was averse to snowball fights in the right company; he also enjoyed fireworks, cricket, shinty ('A good healthy game'), bagatelle and charades. However, these and other recreations, notably playing the piano and harmonium, formed part of an essentially middle-class culture and outlook. So too was the commitment to Liberalism he shared with his parents. As well as supporting the distinctively Welsh Liberal goal of disestablishing the Church of England in Wales, the young Lloyd also showed sympathy for broader Liberal causes, notably through the strongly anti-Turkish sentiments he expressed in 1876, which were evidently indebted to the agitation, especially marked in northern England, condemning atrocities against the Bulgarians who had joined a wider Balkan uprising against Ottoman rule, and he attended a Liberal public meeting at Hope Hall in Liverpool in March of the following year.

Another important consequence of Edward Lloyd's commercial success was that it allowed him to provide his eldest son with a private education that laid the foundations for the latter's scholarly career. Admittedly, this education was relatively modest, even in the context of Liverpool. However, by 1870 he was paying £1 10s. per quarter for the instruction of 'Master Lloyd' at Chatham Institute, a small private school in Chatham Street – and thus close to the shop on Falkner Street – run by James Veitch, a graduate of Edinburgh University, and John Edward remained there until the summer of 1877. This investment paid off, as Lloyd succeeded in his Oxford Local Examinations, his subjects including Latin, French and German as well as geography, English literature and history. He also enjoyed physics and chemistry, but was less comfortable with mathematics, especially trigonometry. Besides its academic benefits, the school helped to extend Lloyd's social experience beyond the Welsh environment of family and chapel by facilitating friendships with some of his English fellow pupils. Above all, as his early diaries amply attest, this schooling gave him a command of English prose, and probably also helped to instil the notion – widespread among Welsh literati in this period – that English was the language of education and scholarship. By paying for an academic education, first in Liverpool and later at Aberystwyth and Oxford, Edward Lloyd evidently sought to give his eldest son an opportunity he had never had, an ambition that implied high expectations. However, his father also believed that John Edward should acquire some business experience through helping with the draper's shop – for example, by spending time there in the afternoon when Edward Lloyd went for his tea; by calling on customers to try and recover debts; and by assisting with the accounts, a task not always to Lloyd's liking: 'Did some of the Ledger for Papa. Stock-taking all ev[e]n[ing]. A very miserable sort of day.' Whether his father hoped that John Edward would follow him into the business is unclear; eventually, it was his younger brother Thomas Arthur who took this path. Be that as it may, it is tempting to speculate that these early spells of bookkeeping helped to hone the precise habits of mind that would characterize Lloyd's work as both scholar and administrator.

Important though the shop was in establishing the economic and social foundations of Lloyd's early life as well as in providing practical experience, its educational and cultural influence could not rival that of the chapel. For the middle-class Welsh population of Victorian Liverpool the town's Welsh Nonconformist churches were crucial both to defining social status and to maintaining a distinctive ethnic identity, and Lloyd's family was no exception. Admittedly, the family was unusual in that the husband and wife belonged to different denominations and attended different chapels. Lloyd's mother Margaret was a Wesleyan Methodist, his father a Welsh Independent or Congregationalist, and, while he followed his father, remaining a deeply committed Congregationalist throughout his life, Lloyd also attended services and other church events with his mother – who in turn was equally hospitable to both Congregationalist and Wesleyan ministers in her home. Although the differences between the two denominations were not huge, this early experience of religious tolerance may well have contributed to Lloyd's generally liberal outlook. The chapel to which Lloyd's father belonged had originally been established in 1853 by William Rees (Gwilym Hiraethog, 1802–83) as Salem, Brownlow Hill, but moved to a spacious new, mock-Italianate Romanesque building on Grove Street in 1867. Though not as grand as the Calvinist Methodists' Princes Road chapel, built to accommodate over 1,200 worshippers, Grove Street bore witness to a confidence typical of the town's Welsh Nonconformist congregations at that time; moreover, the chapel enjoyed considerable renown thanks to its founding minister, whose preaching, prolific literary endeavours and politically committed journalism had made him a major figure in Welsh public life, and by the later 1870s its congregation numbered over 300 members. Among these, Edward Lloyd enjoyed considerable standing as a deacon since 1869 and one of the most generous contributors, giving over £20 a year. He played a leading role in the difficult negotiations to find a successor to William Rees following the latter's retirement in 1875, negotiations which eventually resulted in a successful call to William Nicholson, who served as minister from the end of 1876 to his death, attributed to overwork, at the age of forty-one in 1885. While Edward Lloyd's prominence, further enhanced by his appointment as the church's treasurer in 1877, was doubtless related in part to his wealth and, quite possibly, the skill and tact for which he was praised in his business dealings, his commitment to the Congregationalist cause was deep and went back to his upbringing in Montgomeryshire. (It was entirely consistent with his position in Grove Street that he was one of the Liverpool-Welsh elite which established the town's Welsh National Society in 1885, serving on its council from the following year, and he later achieved civic recognition from the town's Liberal administration through his appointment as a Justice of the Peace.)

Lloyd became a member of Grove Street on 7 November 1875. There is nothing to suggest that he shared the dissatisfaction of some other contemporaries, stemming in significant part from their weak grasp of the Welsh language, with the Welsh Nonconformist churches of Liverpool which their parents obliged them to attend. Quite the contrary: he responded enthusiastically to sermons and prayer meetings that inspired him. For example, after Rowland Williams (Hwfa Môn, 1823–1905) preached at Grove Street on 8 September 1876, Lloyd wrote: 'I am myself very fond of his graphic delineations, and touching episodes; so much so that I could listen for a very long time without feeling at all wearied or fatigued.' Even his critical comments suggest disappointment at a failure to meet higher standards rather than dismissal of the religious tradition in which he was raised. His upbringing certainly ensured that Lloyd was deeply immersed in Welsh Nonconformist culture. In addition to his regular attendance at services and other meetings in Grove Street and elsewhere he came into personal contact with a host of ministers who stayed at his home while on preaching engagements. Some of these early experiences left an abiding impression: he retained vivid memories of Gwilym Hiraethog in the years after his retirement in 1875, while a few weeks before his death Lloyd recalled meeting as a child an elderly minister who could remember the famous Methodist hymn writer William Williams, Pantycelyn (1717–91).

Above all, the chapel was the principal forum for the expression and practice of the Christian faith which was a fundamental aspect of Lloyd's life. Though conventional, his declaration at the beginning of 1877 sounds sincere: 'May I do more for the cause of Christ this year than ever I have done yet, and may his grace keep me "unspotted from the world".' The quotation from James 1:7 is but one illustration of the profoundly scriptural emphasis of the Nonconformist culture to which Lloyd subscribed. Admittedly, while not yet espousing the higher criticism and its associated theological liberalism, by his mid-teens he believed, following Gwilym Hiraethog, that Christian faith could accommodate aspects of secular culture and learning, provided these did not conflict fundamentally with biblically revealed truth (a viewpoint that put Darwinian evolution beyond the pale). That Lloyd was no rigid literalist is clear from a paper he read to Grove Street's literary society on the 'Agreement of Geology and Scripture' in December 1875. This defended the compatibility of the creation story in Genesis with the findings of nineteenth-century geology by offering an interpretation of the biblical account, which, while claiming to adhere accurately to the original Hebrew, offered a metaphorical understanding of the period of time signified by the seven days of creation, being indebted to the work of the Evangelical Scots journalist Hugh Miller (1802–56), 'the leading popular expounder of geology in the 1840s and 1850s', whose views on this question had also been welcomed by Hiraethog. Science and religion met again in April 1877, when Lloyd read another paper to the chapel's literary society on 'The atmosphere', which appeared later in the year as its author's first substantial published article. Nor did Lloyd see any fundamental conflict between his faith and the enjoyment of literature. Commenting on a story he found 'interesting and "adeiladol" [edifying]', he wrote in his diary:

I differ very much from those who condemn all fiction as weakening the intellect and disturbing the mind by unnatural ideas ... if every work is selected with due caution as to its moral and religious tone and the reputation of its writer, great benefit is derived from the perusal of fiction.


Excerpted from J. E. Lloyd and the Creation of Welsh History by Huw Pryce. Copyright © 2011 Huw Pryce. Excerpted by permission of University of Wales Press.
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Table of Contents


List of illustrations,
List of abbreviations,
Part One A Historian's Life,
1 Welsh Liverpool, 1861–1877,
2 Expanding Horizons: Aberystwyth and Oxford, 1877–1885,
3 Towards A History of Wales, 1885–1911,
4 Historian of Wales, 1911–1947,
Part Two The Making of a Nation,
5 A Nation Revived: Lloyd and Modern Wales,
6 Assumptions and Methods,
7 Origins: From Prehistoric to Post-Roman Wales,
8 Tribal Wales: Society and the Church,
9 Princely Wales: Rulers as Nation Builders,
Conclusion: Creating Welsh History?,

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