Two successful soul-winners. —-Family, origin and credentials. — Of Baptist stock. —Reformers of Monmouthshire. —Pontypool. — Early environment. —Parents. —Granny Walden. —Rev. David Roberts. —Seth ‘s exploits as boy. —British School—First occupation. —Runner, wrestler and boxer. —Frank kept at school.
WHEN two such successful soul-winners as the late brothers, the Revs. Seth and Frank Joshua, appear, how natural the question: Whence came these men? What is their history? What were their credentials? They came from Pontypool, Monmouthshire, a town famed for its religious pioneers. Their family history is enshrouded in obscurity, but it is believed that the first Joshua settled at Pontypool many generations ago, and was a craftsman, either at Allgood’s Japan works or Hanbury’s iron works. The suggestion of a Semitic strain is quite in keeping with the passionate earnestness of the brothers in their religious consciousness, Constructive skill has marked the several branches of the family, and many mechanics, engineers, and carpenters have borne the name of Joshua.
The credentials of the renowned evangelists came from no earthly authority, but direct from God. It seems almost incredible that two brothers without any previous academic training could have so gloriously succeeded. However, their mission was not to the privileged, but to the neglected and outcast. Constant service produced in them a marvellous soul-culture. Endowed with splendid physique and endurance, and a voice which was in itself a fortune, they improved their gifts by entire consecration. Their tone of voice implied a rich spiritual nature. If Whitefield could sway an audience with “Mesopotamia,” the Joshuas could do the same with the “Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” To hear their reverent, throbbing, convincing, joyful rendering of that phrase was unforgettable. The secret of their great personal charm was the boundless grace of that full and free Gospel.
In our attempt to estimate their character we must needs glance at their early surroundings. They came of a sturdy Baptist stock, and were brought up in the atmosphere of religion and the traditions of the Puritan fathers. Monmouthshire has given illustrious religious reformers to the world since the fourteenth century, and not least among them stand the names of the Revs. Seth and Frank Joshua. John of Gaunt, the loyal supporter of John Wiclif, was a Monmouthshire man. His favourite residence was Grosmont Castle. Walter Brute, an Oxford graduate, and Lord Cobham (Sir John Oldcastle, martyred in 1418) were also natives of the county, and faithful followers of Wiclif. Walter Brute served nobly the cause of Free Religion. ‘He became a farmer and preacher of the Gospel. He was perhaps the first man in Wales to protest against the Papacy, false doctrines, and transubstantiation. The habit of conducting services in farmhouses long survived his day, and although persecution drove thereligion of the Lollards under ground, .the family altar and secret meetings kept it alive until the days of Oliver Cromwell, when the Puritan religion had free scope. No historian can afford to overlook this background even when dealing with modern religion in the county. Monmouthshire has glorious traditions in the realm of Free Religion, and the enthusiasm which one meets in certain districts is a heritage descended from generations of holy men and women who resisted and triumphed over adverse conditions. The spirit of William Tindale, who was born on the borders of Monmouthshire (if not in the county) pervades the territory of Upper Gwent. The ideals of these heroic pioneers were in the air breathed by Seth and Frank Joshua; and what shall we say of Pontypool, the town which gave the brothers birth? Valiant ministers laboured there assiduously forfreedom of conscience, speech and the press. The Rev. Miles Edwards prepared the soil at Pontypool for a rich harvest. The spirit of the Chartists also helped to create the environment of the Evangelists. Trosnant had a tradition of art, for Thomas Barker, R.A. (Bath), and Benjamin, his brother, both eminent painters were born there, when their father was painter of figures and animal subjects at the Japan works. Considering all these things we see that the early surroundings of Seth and Frank were well chosen, and that down deep in their hearts abiding impressions were made.
Seth and Frank Joshua were the sons of George and Mary Walden Joshua, who lived at the chapel house of the Welsh Baptist Chapel, Upper Trosnant, Pontypool. There were six children, George, John, Caleb, Annie, Seth, and Francis James (Frank)! The last three Sons became ministers of the Gospel. Seth was born on 10 April 1858, and Frank on 15 December, 186I. Their grandmother, known as “Granny Walden,” was caretaker of the above Welsh Baptist Chapel. She was a Puritan of the Puritans, well versed in Scripture and a strong character. Preachers loved to discuss Biblical texts with her, for she had an intelligent grasp of the Scripture, and of fundamental doctrines. Her grandchildren were regularly taught verses by her in their childhood. Seth seems to have been her despair on account of his rnischieviousness. He was “a broth of a boy.” She often remarked that unless he altered his ways he would end his days on the gallows. The thought of such a tragic fate coloured the young boy’s dreams, and robbed him of many a night’s rest. Seth Joshua always warned people not to frighten children in such a manner.
The Rev. David Roberts, minister of the Baptist Chapel, was a powerful preacher, and exercised a wonderful influence over the brothers. Caleb entered the Baptist ministry, as we shall record later. Young Seth was fascinated by Dafydd Roberts’s hwyl and mighty voice. He vowed that on a calm evening the preacher could be heard on a hill a mile off. Despite his boyish pranks he desired secretly to be a preacher like Roberts, his grandmother’s favourite theologian. Usually on a Monday morning Seth would crawl through the vestry window, enter the old fashioned pulpit, and before an imaginary congregation preach a rousing sermon, imitating the hwyl of David Roberts and his Bible-thumping. Alas, his grandmother caught him in the act of preaching one morning; and believing that he was doing it in mockery threatened condign punishment. With her broom she intended to chastize him, but he escaped. In her impotent fury she hurled the broom at him, but fortunately just missed his head. “Thank heaven,” exclaimed Seth, “that old broom missed the mark; and I have been in many meetings, where if dear old Granny could only be present to see the sight she would have shouted in her old Welsh way ‘Gogoniant.’”
The brothers attended a British School and paid one penny per week. “Come or stop away, which you liked,” said Seth, “and I stopped away.” How often he regretted his folly and wished that he might go back to school. He was conscious of a great handicap due to his truancy. The parents somehow allowed their impetuous son, Seth, to go his own-way without the needful direction in life. He was permitted to choose his own occupation; and anxious to earn an honest shilling he started himself. For three and a half years he drove a donkey. This was his first job, and he never regretted it. “I had more out of that donkey than I could get out of any College in the land. If I put his head one way he would put it the other; so I used to put his tail always toward the direction I wanted him to go. I bear many marks of his back kicks on my lower extremities. He was a great donkey to object. I maintain that if a man knows how to handle a donkey for three and a half years he is qualified to handle anything awkward.”
His brother John was a driver on the Great Western Railway, therefore Seth asked for work at the Pontypool sheds. “What do you want to do, my lad?” Asked the official. “Drive an engine.” “You must first go into the sheds and become a cleaner, and then fireman, and then a driver.” “Very well, sir,” said Seth, and he began work on the Monday morning as cleaner. Immediately he became a leader among the boys at the sheds as thrower of balls of waste at targets. Sometimes the target would be a man’s pipe and sometimes a ganger’s lamp. It was well for him that he had winged feet to escape from the clutches of those he tormented as “mucky shotter.” His swiftness as runner was noticed and he was encouraged to compete at sports meetings in the county. He won prizes at Pontypool, Newport, Abergavenny, and other places, and was regarded as the champion quarter-mile runner of Monmouthshire. Eventually he joined the Pontypool football team as a three-quarter. In those days it was the three-quarter line and Seth was the three-quarter. The fourth man has since been added. It came to Seth’s lot often to make the last sprint and touch the ball on the line. He played for the team for many years.
Between training times he fell in with a gambling and drinking crowd. Whilst in training fora race he was abstemious, but after the race was run gambling and drink claimed him. He became an expert in the art of self-defense, for he was speedy on foot and in all his actions. Then matches followed, and when no boxing match was arranged a contest would be improvised in a back lane or long room or some other place. The first to “bring claret” from the nose, or somewhere else, was the victor. “And now when I look back upon it, I think of the grace that stooped so low to pick me up. Do not ask me whether I ever saw a tear in mother’s eye? I saw hundreds. I was going headlong over mother’s tears and the billows of father’s prayers. How glad I am that mam and dad lived long enough to see my return home.”Frank his brother, the youngest of the family, never left school, and was altogether different in temperament.
Treforest. —Brothers in Church Choir. —Advent of Salvation Army. —Ted Rickett. —Dai Caravan. —Frank and Seth are converted. —Remarkable experiences. —Seth at Blaenavon. — Frank at Cinderford.
THE family removed from Pontypool to Treforest, where the father, a blast furnaceman, had found employment at the iron works. Seth became a carrier of pig iron. Equipped with a leather apron and leather cuffs he carried many thousands of tons of pig iron over the hot beds of the blast furnaces. If Monmouthshire had its evil temptations, the district of Treforest was much worse. Frank was engaged as a pupil teacher at a board school. Both brothers were fond of singing and joined the Glyntaff Church Choir, and the solo parts as a rule were entrusted to them. The Salvation Army settled at Treforest and placarded the place:
“This town will be bombarded.” Such an advertisement was unheard of in connection with religion, and the boys talked together about it, Seth acting as ring-leader. He was the chairman of the “Free and Easy” at the Rickett Arms Hotel. The landlady, a widow, Mrs. Plummer, expected to see him present at all the convivial gatherings, because he never failed to keep things going. Seth could play the piano, sing, and do all sorts of things, and was undoubtedly a centre of attraction. He could not get over the news that the town was to be bombarded. “Boys,” said he, “we are going to have some fun now. Look out! It has been pretty dead here for some time.’ Are you going to see this bombardment business? Very well let’s go down Sunday morning.” That was the first time for Seth to see the Salvation Army, and he did not know what to make of it. Girls with tambourines, wearing scuttle-bonnets, and standing in a ring on an old piece of ground, and praying for “this wicked town.” Wicked town and both he and Frank in the choir! Frank was the first to go to their meeting-place, called “the barracks.” They were shocked at the thought of a “barracks” used for the worship of God. A comrade, Ted Rickett, told Seth one night when they were practicing for Christmas: “Seth, your brother Frank has got it on him.” “What has he got, Ted? The measles or what? “ “He is going to the barracks. Take my word for it he has got it.” Just then Frank came to the door and Ted asked:
“What will you have to drink, Frank?” With bowed head he answered: “I don’t mind having a lemonade.” Ted nudged Seth and said: “He’s got it.”
The following morning at work Dai Caravan informed Seth that he had been to the barracks, and that he saw Frank go up to the penitent form crying like a kid. “What is a penitent form, Dai?” asked Seth. “What does he want at a penitent form? Doesn’t he come of a respectable family?” That evening he watched the procession, surmising that if Frank had been converted he would be with it. Frank was placed in the front rank, and his voice rang out clearly as they sang: “Fire away! Fire away!” This seemed beneath the dignity of one used to the Te Deumin the church choir. Seth felt ashamed of such conduct; but the thought came to him that Frank was going up and he was going down. Determined to choke the feeling he went to the Rickett Arms and banged the counter for a pint of beer, but the beer could not drown the thought. “It came up like a cork all the while.”
A blue ribbon army campaign had just started at Pontypridd, led by Colonel Colwill, of America, Rev. John Pugh, W. I. Morris, Pontypridd, and R. T. Booth. Over two thousand signed the pledge. Seth had just won a billiard handicap, and as he was coming out of the New Inn Hotel, Pontypridd, his old friend Dai Caravan met him and said: “Come up to the Gospel Temperance meeting at the Wesleyan to-night, Seth.” He went on condition that he might sit at the back. “Yes, sit anywhere, only come.” Seth’s favourite argument at the time was that “drink is the good creature of God.” Colonel Colwill began by saying: “I suppose there is someone here who says that drink is the good creature of God.” His reasons for total abstinence carried conviction. Frank also was at the meeting and went up to the table, signed the pledge, and received a blue ribbon badge. Seth with his strong bump of combativeness would not he beaten by his brother. Hundreds of people at the meeting were praying for Seth, for he was well known at Gelliwastad Chapel. When he marched forward to the table for his blue ribbon all clapped their hands with joy. Afterwards he called to see his sweetheart, who lived behind the chapel; and Ellen the cook, beholding the blue ribbon in his coat, went for a half-pint bottle of champagne. The sparkling drink said: “Drink, Seth, drink,” and he was about taking the glass when his, sweetheart came out of a side door.. She sprang like a deer between him and the champagne and said: “Seth, play the man.” This was “Mary, his good angel,” whom he afterward married.
He gave up drink, smoking and bad language, and his old “pals” gave him up. Whilst walking about alone he passed an old mansion where Frank and others were holding a meeting. Good old Dai Caravan came out and said: “There’s a revival meeting here, Seth, and your brother Frank was praying for you now.” “Praying for me in public? Let him pray for himself in public, not for me. Look here, Dai, I am going down to Johnny Nokes’ wooden theatre.” Come on in here, Seth,” implored Dai, “there’s a beautiful meeting on.” “Look here, Dai,” rejoined Seth,” you got me to go into that place at Gelliwastad, and I signed the pledge. I will stick to it mind, but I am miserable. I do not know what to make of it.” He was in bad temper because all pleasure had been taken out of his life. Nothing daunted, the loyal Dai besought him to enter the meeting. “Perhaps you will get happy in here; come on in.” Seth went in and the place was all alive, some leaping, some shouting: “Thank God I am saved.” He knew them all, old bruisers whom he had punched and who had punched him, the rag-tag and bob-tail of Treforest, and all saying that they were saved. He could not understand it. Then a little girl stood and sang beautifully:
“I’m but a little pilgrim,
My journey’s just begun;
They say I shall meet sorrow
Before my journey’s done.
The world is full of trouble,
And suffering they say,
But I will follow Jesus
All the way.”
He dropped his head as if shot, and said: “I am going to Hell! “He felt that he was in it already. The workers asked those who were not saved to go to the penitent form. Seth warned them not to put their hand on him, or they would rue it. He was in a wild temper, and no one came to him. “The devil,” as he put it, “was having his last kicks.” At length he rose of his own accord and walked to the front. He knelt by an old broken chair, on old broken bricks, with a broken heart. When he rose he felt as if a great load had been rolled away from him. The tearsfell like a stream, and Dai Caravan told him afterward that he left a pool of tears behind him. That night he went to bed supperless, and in the morning on his way to work the whole world seemed changed. Birds never sang as they did that morning. The springtime of grace had entered his soul. That night he stood outside the Rickett Arms Hotel, and was hailed by his old churns: “Seth, come and have a drink.” “Boys,” he replied, “I have found another well; come and have a drink of it.” In his own characteristic words: “Thank God I took my stand then; it was neck or nothing.” Young converts he always exhorted to stand firmly where they were wont to fall; and although Herod might seek the young child’s life they would outlive him. “If only you will weather the first three months of your converted life, you will get on alright.”
Without any college preparation he entered into the work of the Gospel straight away at Blaenavon, where he followed two men—who had a mission in the centre of Cinderford—Joblin and Holt. Frank went to Cinderford where he became exceedingly popular as Gospel singer.
Frank arrives at Neath, Fair Week, 1882. —Account of first Sunday morning service, by Dr. Davies. —Other reformers at Neath, Rev. William Davies and Rev. John Wesley. —Seth joins Frank at Neath. —The reason why. —Seth knocked sinners down and Frank, picked them up. —Archdeacon Griffith a true, friend— First Mission Hall. —Quaker supporters and others. —Worked without Secretary or Committee. —Wonderful provision for them. —Seth’s wedding. —His description of first home. — Converted clowns and pugilists preach at Neath. —Summoned for Street obstruction. —Gaol threatened. —Fine paid by unknown friend.
FRANK Joshua, under the auspices of the Free Mission, Cinderford, was removed to the ancient town of Neath, in the county of Glamorgan, in September, 1882. His arrival coincided with the great pleasure fair held in the second week of that month, an old institution dating from the Middle Ages, and the rendezvous of thousands of people from the surrounding districts. The wonders of the 1882 fair have been long forgotten, but the fame of the Evangelist who had the courage to sing and speak in the open during the fair will never die. His handsome appearance and magnificent baritone voice captivated the crowd, and the new: mission became the talk of the town.
Some spoke disparagingly, saying that it was: a “novelty,” “a flash in the pan,” “unorthodox,” and that it would soon fizzle out, but God was in that heroic adventure, and the exploits of the last forty-three years declare its divine origin.
The late Dr. Llewelyn Davies, who lived in Orchard Street, opposite the Gwyn Hall, at the unveiling of the mural memorial tablet in the Flail to Frank, the gift of an anonymous admirer, August 9, 1922, related the following incident concerning the Evangelist’s first Sunday morning service in the town: — “I was in the surgery on a Sunday morning forty years ago when I heard a lovely voice singing outside. Strange, thought I, to hear singing on a Sunday morning, but on listening I discovered it was a hymn. I went outside and looked up and down the street, but I could not see anyone. Then I put on my hat and went as far as the Square. There at the corner where Lloyd’s Bank is now I saw a fine looking young man with about half-a-dozen supporters. This young man was your late pastor, and he was playing an accordion and singing till the town rang. I watched the half-a-dozen grow into a procession, which paraded the streets singing, led by Frank Joshua. His faultless character and gentleness made him a mighty power for good. I do not think he had a temper. He was always so gentle and meek and sympathetic. What wonders have been wrought since that first Sunday morning service which I had the pleasure of attending in the Square.”
Neath to-day is quite a cosmopolitan town. Local industries have brought together people from all parts of the country. Strangers were not so gladly entertained in the town in past generations. The burgesses were jealous of their ancient rights and protected them with rigour. The town, had its own laws in Tudor times; and old customs, die hard. Newcomers were suspect, especially in a religious sense. Some of the noblest religious benefactors in the history of the borough at first received scant courtesy—benefactors who afterwards have been canonised. Let two names suffice, those of the Rev. William Davies, curate of Llantwit, and the Rev. John Wesley. William Davies, a fervid religious reformer in the eighteenth century, encountered fierce opposition from the leading citizens because he protested against the low morals of the town and sought to improve them. Fortunately, Mr. Pinkney, the rector, would hear nothing against his energetic curate while he was alive. However, after his death Davies was removed from his office, but not from his work. His zeal took him into the houses of the people and the playing fields. The ruins of the old Chapel at Gyfylchi on the top of the mountain above Pontrhydyfen proclaim his fame, and the tablet at Bethlehem Green Methodist Chapel reminds the town of its deep obligation to him.
The Rev. John Wesley, who visited Neath in 1746, 1758, 1767, 1768, 1769and 1781, met with wicked opposition at first, but subsequently became a welcome visitor. In 1746 “one man would fain have interrupted and had procured a drunken fiddler for his second.” Wesley disarmed them, “so the gentleman stole away on one side, and the fiddler on the other.” There were multitudes of hearers at Neath during his last visits, for he was regarded as the prophet of God.
Frank Joshua received anything but a cordial welcome from certain old inhabitants at the beginning: He had to combat not ”drunken fiddlers” but bawling and furious innkeepers. He also has been canonised, and may be called the St. Francis of Neath. Of the work begun by him we may say in the words of Isaiah, “The little one has become a thousand.”
Several people have asked why Seth came to Neath after Frank, and not with him. From Seth’s own lips we furnish the, answer: “Joblin and Holt, of Cinderford, took Frank to Neath, and although I had no means I said ‘I will get there, and will save him from them.’ Those two men wanted to exploit Frank’s voice, and my purpose in coming to Neath was to save him out of their hands.”
Seth and Frank joined together to labour in the town; and in their ministry may be regarded as Peter and John. They began at the spacious station square. “Neither of us could preach a sermon,” said Seth. “I know now what a sermon is, but Idid not know then any more than the man in the moon. Frank would sing, and I would pray, and then we would sing a duet, and then we would give our testimonies. Although we had no preparation, praise God, hundreds were saved.” Frank used to say that Seth knocked sinners down and he picked them up. After the fearless fighter had done his work the peerless comforter took charge. Converts rallied to their standard, and the town was literally turned upside down. Vestries were borrowed for meetings, and the Quakers gladly loaned their meeting-house in James Street. Could the walls of that old Quaker chapel but speak of those wonderful nights when souls were brought out of darkness into the light of Truth we should have thrilling epics. Every night after the meeting the women would set to and scrub the floors clean. Fortunately, an anonymous friend supplied the brothers with a tent, which was fixed at the corner of Alexandra Street, and filled to overflowing every night. Even when rain percolated through the canvas the crowd remained steadfast. It was not unusual to see women with umbrellas open inside the tent. Adverse weather had no effect upon the ardent worshippers. The Rev. John Griffiths, Archdeacon of Llandaff and Rector of Neath, took a personal interest in the evangelists and their converts. It was his custom to give them Holy Communion At St. David’s Church at eight o’clock on Sunday morning, the converts marching thither in procession fromthe tent. Some busybody wrote to the Bishop stating that the people who thus partook of the Sacrament had not been confirmed, and the, practice was discontinued, but the Archdeacon’s friendship was not affected. Love feasts were then observed regularly and they were seasons of rich blessing.
For some time the missioners met for worship at the old Tabernacle Baptist Chapel in Water Street, but it was wholly inadequate to meet the growing crowds. It was there that I attended the first meeting held by Seth and Frank. How well I remember that Saturday evening when I was separated from my father by the singing crowd in the street and how we found each other later at Water Street Chapel. The fervent prayers and hearty singing still resound in my ears. The bliss of that first meeting is ever an inspiration. Unfortunately neither Seth nor Frank kept the records of those apostolic times. They were too busy harvesting souls to attend to diaries. The foundation stone of the first Mission Hall was laid by Sir H. Hussey Vivian, Bart. M.P. April 17 1884. Its accommodation was for about one thousand people, with provision for a gallery to be fixed if necessary. The gallery was never erected, and the Hall is now used for weeknight services and Sunday School. Archdeacon Griffiths, the Prices, the Gibbins, and other well-known residents took a profound interest in the erection of the first hall. Archdeacon Griffiths arranged a bazaar at Alderman Davies’s School, and the proceeds were a splendid nest egg for the new building. The hail was vested in a number of trustees, including Archdeacon Griffiths, Frederick J. Gibbins, and his brother, Henry Price and W. G. Hibbert. The people gave gladly toward the building fund for they had a mind to work.
For several years the brothers had neither secretary nor committee. The collections were taken away on Sunday night, but not counted till Monday morning. The bills for the week were paid on Monday, and when all the obligations were discharged the exchequer very often had only a few coppers left. Once the surplus was four pence and one halfpenny. How could they divide such a sum? “Frank, you take 2½d. this week and perhaps it will be the other way next week.” Thus they toiled for God without salary, but He provided great and wonderful things for them. In a happy moment of recollection in March, 1923, Seth told the people at the Hall: “On the other side of Jordan we are going to send a bill in, and you will have to stump up. Frank is over; he cannot send his bill in to you here. I will say this to his memory, I never heard a word of complaint from him in all my life.”
Seth married the good angel who told him to “play the man” when tempted to break his temperance pledge at Pontypridd—Miss Mary Rees, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Rees, New Park Farm, Liantrisant. Archdeacon Griffiths officiated in the presence of a large crowd at the Church of St. Thomas, Neath. The wedding had been fixed for Saturday, but the Archdeacon failed to return from London in time owing to another pressing duty, therefore the ceremony took place on Sunday morning, September 23,1883. Mrs. Joshua had kept company with Seth for several years before his conversion, and was a member of the Church of England. Her own words are best heard a good deal about his running, wrestling, boxing and billiard playing, but Seth was always a gentleman. He could not even then do a mean thing. However, I told him one night that I could never be his wife unless he gave up the drink, and he did. The money he had saved for our wedding was spent on mission work at Blaenavon. We married sooner than we expected because the landlady, Mrs. Moore, was leaving the town and Seth was offered the house. When I look back I am filled with wonder and praise. It was a most amazing time, living by faith and yet wanting nothing. I never handled a salary till we went to Cardiff. When ever I wanted anything Seth would say “Pray first, Mary, and when you receive never forget to return thanks. His faith was endless.”
Seth’s description of his first home lingers in one’s memory: “We landed in Alfred Street. Not a very flash place. There was no swank at all. All that I could do at that time was to rig up a room for Frank, and then another bedroom and the kitchen, which was more like a scullery. The front room had the blinds down. We started like that.”
Mrs. Joshua called her husband “my spiritual father.” “One day he turned to me, and asked, ‘Mary, are you saved?’ Surprised at such a question Isaid ‘Well, you know, Seth, that I have been confirmed.’ ‘Yes, my dear,’ he added, ‘and vaccinated; but are you saved?’” He was the means of leading her into a fuller life and joy than she had ever imagined.
Frank and Seth were brought before the magistrates for street obstruction at the Pump, Penydre, and were fined. A great stir was occasioned in the crowded court by a woman convert, who cried, out: “Those men on the bench are men of sin. I know them and they know me. These men of God have saved me, and you on the bench would stop their good work; but you cannot.”
The brothers refused to pay the fine and the alternative was imprisonment. At the time they were living in Alfred Street, and Seth had just married. “Well, this is a good beginning,” said Seth. His wife prepared a substantial dinner, and the brothers talked about the service they intended holding in prison. If Paul and Silas sang praises at midnight in the Philippian gaol Seth and Frank would emulate their example. “Where are the police? They are a long time coming.” A messenger brought the news that the police had intended to seize some of the furniture for the fine, but the crowd had taken the horse out of the shafts, and that the proposal had ended in a fiasco. Then another messenger came and informed them that they could not go to prison after all, because some unknown person had paid the fine.Converted clowns and pugilists found an open door for preaching at Neath. Freddy Wilson and Dunn, both converted clowns, officiated at the Hall and attracted the multitude. Mrs. Joshua could relate some extraordinary tales about certain, odd, visiting-preachers whom she entertained at Neath.
Seth keeps a Diary, 1887—1890. —Programme of meetings for the week. —Open-air services. —Favourite spots in the town. —Fierce opposition. —Cottage prayer meetings. —Buying books. —Tract distribution. —Beech tree in Gnoll Woods. —Bibles sold at Neath Fair. —Preaching to showmen. —Sequah’s visit. —Coal waggon as pulpit. —Crier’s bell. —Family altar. —Gospel Temperance. — Evidence before Sunday Closing Commission.
FORTUNATELY, Seth kept a diary between the years 1887 and 1890, and his entries enable us to see with what diligence and prayer the cause was fostered. Great social reform work was carried on in the face of overwhelming odds in the spirit of triumphant faith. people wonder at the present activities of the Forward Movement Hall, but the seeds of such an abundant harvest were sown in tears beside many waters. The brothers and their co-workers desired intensely to possess God, and their desire has been granted. Both Seth and Frank were at their post of duty early and late.
On Sunday the following services were held: 7.30 a.m., prayer meeting; 10.30, open air; II; preaching; 2.30 p.m., school; 5.30, open air; 6, preaching. Meetings were conducted at the Hall every night of the week, including prayer meetings, Band of Hope, band practice, choir practice, holiness meeting and a number of open-air services. The brothers laid the greatest emphasis upon open-air work, and were most assiduous in their devotion to it. In the open they found scores of their most remarkable converts. Their brave example might be emulated by bands of earnest Christians to day with amazing results.
Many spots in the town have become consecrated ground on account of the earnest prayers offered in open-air services conducted in wind and rain. Under conviction of sin many seekers dropped on their knees in the middle of the ring.
“Held an open-air service near the lodging house. While singing the hymn, “Just as I am,” a man came into the ring and gave himself to the Lord. He knelt down on both knees. I feel sure this was sincere.”
Before public houses, in courts, lodging houses, the Cattle Market, Weigh Bridge, the Square, at the Pump, Penydre, Tynycaeau (Prospect Place),’ Melincryddan, Briton Ferry, Neath Abbey, and Skewen, successful open-air meetings were held.
Tuesday, 22nd Jan., 1889. “At 7.30 we held a splendid open-air service near the Falcon public house. Some drunken women were very much used of Satan, but the truth triumphed. Inside I was helped to speak on laying aside every weight. There was much conviction. Again Satan sent in a drunken man who persisted in striking matches to light his pipe. Again, the Lord was the King of Kings.”
On Saturday, 27th July, 1889, the police told the open-air company to move on from near the police station, then from the top of old Market Street, from Water Street, and from near the railway station. They were also much interrupted by a drunken man and .a Punch and Judy show, but through it all “we had a good time and Christ was exalted.” On the 24th August they were ordered off by the police from a spot near the White Hart, and because there was no obstruction of street traffic they refused to move. The captain of the army suffered seven days’ imprisonment for a like offence. Seth believed that the Mayor was responsible for police interference and was determined if possible to put out the light of open-air testimony.
“Monday, 3rd February, 1890. Visited several sick ones to-day. Great numbers are sick in Neath. Held an open-air service near the Falcon public house. Large crowds stood around. When I began to speak the landlady soon commenced to mock and jeer. I got warm and my voice became loud like a trumpet. As I raised my voice she raised hers. This drew a large crowd, and I had much liberty. In the Hall two souls sought mercy—a man and woman. The man came from the Public, so the Devil kicked, knowing what was going on.”
“Wednesday, 2nd April, 1890. To day we stood in open air near the Shakespeare and Narrow Gauge. They thumped the pianos and made a noise inside to drown, perhaps, the convictions aroused in the consciences of those inside.”
Good Friday, 4th April 1890. Was helped to-day to enter into the worship of my Lord. We had a service at II a.m., and one at 7 p.m. In the open air we were much opposed by a publican. While I was speaking he was very wrathful, but the truth triumphed. We afterwards had a very blessed meeting in the Hall when many spoke with power.”
“Saturday, 5th April 1890. We stood near the Elephant and Castle. We were much interrupted by people in drink, and by a publican named Skinner. Most appropriate name for every publican.”
Monday, 7th July 1890. This night we had a most fierce opposition while in open air. Two publicans got enraged. One danced in our ring and sang a comic song, while the other blasphemed fearfully and called us fearful names. He caught hold of me and pulled me about. The crowd, taking our part, broke in and pushed them. Our open-air was broken up. We marched to the Hall and were used in bringing one soul to Christ.” One who jeered at them met a sad end in 1890. “To-night (Friday) I saw the young woman who jeered at us the last two Saturday evenings carried home dead. She had drowned herself in the canal. She has come to a sinner’s end. I conducted a prayer meeting at Tynycaeau.”
One Wednesday evening while an open-air service was being conducted a man with a performing monkey stood near. Seth wrote: “The monkey drew a large crowd, but only a few stood around the open-air until the man took his monkey away. It reminds me of the lunatic who exchanged a sovereign for a brass button.’
As many as five cottage prayer meetings were held some nights. “Tom Lloyd and Frank reported good prayer meetings on the Green and at James Street” is a frequent entry.
When hostility was fiercest he wrote: “What I believe we need in these days is a special grace to enable us to keep pegging at it.” They pegged at it till the opposition pegged out.
The brothers studied hard to feed their own minds and the flock. How pathetic to read the accounts of their book purchases at the second-hand stalls in the markets at Neath and Swansea. Seth’s joy was unbounded when he brought home the works of Sibbes, Howe, Owen, Manton, Baxter, Wesley, Dale and others “Rose at six this morning and enjoyed reading Luke I and Dr. Sibbes’ ‘Bruised Reed’ Went to Cardiff Exhibition and bought books. History of the Puritans and Manton. Much blessed in reading. Owen on Communion with Christ.”
The converts were treated to a substantial diet of theology as well as singing. Every available means was used to bring the gospel before the people. Tracts were constantly distributed. Opposition served to intensify zeal and to increase the workers. “Hallelujah! gave tracts outside cookshop until nearly eleven o’clock. There was much opposition.”
The brothers found quiet in the Gnoll Woods for study. Seth had his “beech tree” there, where he spent much time in prayer and meditation, as his diaries testify. “I see God In all things” he wrote in 1889, after a walk around the mountain at the back of the Gnoll. Well could he repeat the words of Emerson: -
I laugh at the lore and the pride of man,
At the sophist schools and the learned clan;
For what are they all in their high conceit
When man in the bush with God may meet.
No opportunity of bringing the Bible before the public was missed, and Seth sold Bibles at the Neath Pleasure Fair. “Thursday, Sept. 13th, 1888. To-day was Neath Fair. I stood in the market selling Bibles. I had many a chance to drop a word, which I embraced. Frank, Mr. J. Ray, and others distributed tracts and conducted open-air work. I sold Bibles ‘to the: value of £4 5s Id.”
“Thursday Sept. 12th 1889. To-day I spent in the market selling Bibles. It is Neath Fair, and thousands of people are here. I sold £4 worth of Bibles, and gave a large number of tracts. Frank and others also distributed tracts.”
“Thursday, 11th Sept., 1890. I had a stall in the market as in previous years for the sale of Bibles. I sold Bibles to the value of £5 9s. Id., and had many opportunities to speak a word for Jesus.”
“Friday, 12th Sept., 1890. Caught cold in the, Fair yesterday.”
On the Sunday after the Fair Seth and Frank spoke to the showmen. “Sunday, Sept. 16th, 1888. Service amongst the shows in the Fair from 3.30 to 5 p.m. About 2,000 people.” On Monday Seth suffered from his exertions, the sun having affected his head while speaking from the stage of one of the shows.
Souls were sought everywhere and at all times. Souls were the wages of Christ. If Sequah or any other popular vendor visited the town the enthusiastic brothers were there calling attention to the merchandise of heaven.
“Tuesday July 1st 1890. We are having, good services, but Sequah, who has come here, hinders the work by exciting the crowd and taking away the people.” On Sunday, July 13th, “Sequah had a meeting at 8 o’clock in the Gwyn Hall, which was packed. The collection was in aid of our tent.” Seth made good use of Sequah; and his references to teeth extraction accompanied by brass band music were amusing.“I am here to extract the teeth of the dragons of evil,” said the preacher, “and Gospel truth is the pincers.” He preached from Sequah’s carriage on Sunday evening, July 20th, at 8.15 p.m. in the Corporation Field, to two thousand people. “I felt power while speaking. One backslider restored.”
In May 1890, a coal waggon was borrowed, and they proceeded to preach at Cadoxton. The entry is characteristic. “Tuesday, 13th May. To-night we took a coal waggon, some chairs and a table over to Cadoxton, and held a gospel service there. ‘A large number came and helped us, and the people of the village came out in a body. A number of young men had agreed to oppose, but when we commenced they lost power to act. We had a splendid meeting. Marched back to Neath behind the waggon. I feel led to continue this work.” The service which began with the coal waggon as platform ended in a Gospel tent being fixed at Cadoxton.
“Friday, 18th July. Went in search of a field in order to erect the tent at Cadoxton. One man refused, but another door opened. We took back the seats and chairs from the tent this evening. ‘Twas a most difficult work.”
“Monday, 21st July. Erected the tent at Cadoxton this evening. I feel much opposition in this village. We had an encouraging meeting for the first.”
“Tuesday, 29th July. Again we had a good meeting in the tent at Cadoxton. Mr. Howel Howells spoke from the incident on Mount Carmel. He was much helped.”
“Friday, 8th August. We took down the tent at Cadoxton and fixed it at Skewen.”
“Thursday, 14th Aug. Temperance meeting in the tent. Crowded. The Skewen Fife Band assisted. At the close a very large number signed the pledge. All the cards were filled and several more desired to sign.” The following day was boisterous, and Seth worked hard to save the tent from the wind. This tent cost them £50, but was a great acquisition to the work at the Hall. Seth was conductor of the Brass Band, which was used for open-air services. For some time he used a crier’s bell to announce open-air meetings, and the novelty of it attracted the crowds. He roused a whole street one Sunday morning by ringing the Bell and shouting “Fire! Fire!” People ran out of their houses asking, “ Where, where, Mr. Joshua?” “In hell,” he answered, “and there you will all be if you don’t attend the Sunday morning prayer meeting.”
Seth and Frank carefully observed their seasons for private prayer. The family altar was kept in good repair, and all the church members followed their example. The ashes of indifference, worldliness, unbelief, tradition, were not allowed to choke the fire of this altar for they were taken outside the camp morning and night. “Martin Luther had so much work to do as a reformer that he could not hope to get through it without spending three hours a day in prayer.”
Gospel Temperance was in the forefront of their ministry. Total abstainers alone could be members at the Free Mission. The brothers conducted successful Temperance missions in different parts of the country. W.H. David, solicitor, Neath, accompanied them to Merthyr, Pontypridd, and other towns. The brothers spoke on the Temperance platform with Dr. John Thomas, Liverpool, Plenydd, Rev. Morris Morgan, Dr. John Pugh, Rev. W. I. Morris, Pontypridd, and a host of others. Having heard a London orator on Temperance, “who spoke much but said little,” Seth wrote on 4th March, 1889: “I lean more and more to the solid and the serious side of the Temperance question I rather think we defeat our ends when we make a meeting the occasion for jokes and mimicry. The subject to me is too solemn. However, it takes. This is an age of froth.” He gave excellent evidence before the Commission on Sunday Closing in Wales, June 14th, 1889, based upon his experiences at Neath. Distressing disasters through drink were witnessed by them in the town. “Dr. — visited. Gifted man. Lost sight of Christ by reading philosophical works. Drinks heavily. Fell downstairs. Once a preacher of the Gospel in Scotland. ‘I hope,’ he said, ‘God has not given me up.’”If members by any chance disagreed at the Mission they were invited to the front to pray and make it up, and this method never failed. Posted up in a prominent place in the vestry may be seen a card with the inscription that it is quite as much a Christian duty not to take offence as not to give offence.
Moral condition of Neath. —Prayer for blessing, —Seth saves the Neath Y.M.C.A.—Some notable converts at the Mission. —Ton Thomas (Twm y Glomen), Charlie the Gipsy, David Thomas (Dai Mali), Maggie the Nuts. —Evan Rees, one of the four Founders of the Sunday School. —Jim Currie’s escape. —The last groat in the house and the reward.
The moral condition of Neath weighed heavily upon their souls. “This town is corrupt,” “This town is wicked,” are entries often met with in Seth’s diaries.
“14 Feb. 1887 (Monday). We spent a precious time in prayer at two o’clock to-day. We are praying for a general revival of religion in Neath.”
Sat. 2 Feb. 1889. We all agreed to lay hold of God for blessing upon Neath. My soul is much exercised. I could not eat my dinner to-day on account of it.”
“Friday, 15 Feb. There is a growing desire to see God’s work revive. I feel sure God is not going to leave us much longer without His Divine blessing upon Neath.”
“6 Aug. do. The deadness, of things weighed me down. I was not better until I wept away the heaviness and had much prayer.”
At the close of 1889 he wrote: — “God has permitted me this year to see 455 souls seeking Christ.” The previous year the total was 348, of whom 219 came forward at the weeknight services. Souls were saved at the 7.30 prayer meetings on Sunday mornings.
Seth gave short shrift to those who yielded a good work because of difficulties.
“Thursday, 13 Feb., 1890. Attended the annual meeting of the Y.M.C.A., * (Footnote: Jubilee services in connection with the Y.M.C.A. were held at Gnoll Road Chapel, October 13 1925, when Dr. Orchard, London, officiated.) Queen Street. Took the chair, and was helpful in hindering an effort to extinguish the Association altogether because of its £100 debt. I feel the Y.M.C.A. has a good work to do, and those who talk of burying it should go and bury their unbelief.”
“27 Feb. I am convinced that utter indifference has settled down upon the well-to-do of this town. My heart is heavy while I think of the money-hunger shown by so many professors of Christ.”
His self-criticism was quite as impartial: “Have been led into close communion to-day. I find I am far too leaky. I get and lose too soon.”
“Who can enumerate all the brands plucked from the burning at the Mission? Where can one find more interesting “human documents” than are to be found there? How difficult to select examples from such a host? The following were once “broken earthenware,” but were wondrously restored by Grace early in the history of the Cause: —
TOM THOMAS, locally known as “Twm Glomen” (Tom Pigeon), one of the early converts, has remained faithful to this day. Before his conversion Tom was a terror to the police of the town and was continually before the magistrates for fighting and drunkenness. “I have paid in fines enough to cover the cost of the old Town Hall.”
On the last day of March, 1922, I called at his house to enquire after his health, for he had been captive for some weeks. Hearing my voice at the door he invited me into the parlour, where he was resting. “You see I am a bit of a gentleman to-day, living in the parlour,” he said. “Come on to the fire, for it is a desperately cold day. March is going out like a lion, isn’t it?” “Yes,” I answered, “but you have a comfortable place here.” “True, but it was not like this with me forty years ago. Then I had no furniture except a few boxes. I was the biggest sinner in Neath. This is not bounce, remember, but the naked truth, and if grace saved a man like Tom Thomas, no man need despair.” “Yes, you had a wonderful change,” I remarked. “Unto Him be the glory for keeping me without a fall. Bear in mind that I have met with a thousand temptations during my pilgrimage, but I have been unceasing in prayer and work in order to keep the Tempter away.” “And how were, you converted? Tell me about it.” “With pleasure. Thank God that the Joshuas ever came to Neath. One Saturday night—it was the fair week in 1882—Frank Joshua was singing in the Square, ‘ Where is my wandering boy to-night? ‘ and although at the time I was under the influence of drink he got me. I had a godly father, whose Welsh Bible was always on the table beside the loaf of bread. I felt guilty, because I had caused the old people so much trouble, but I was brave and refused to be conquered by a hymn like that. I went back to the public house and had more beer. Then I took my Sunday allowance in a jar and went home. I fell asleep on the hearth but sometime during the night I heard a voice saying ‘Tom, Tom, thou art gone far enough.’ Thinking it was the voice of my poor wife from upstairs I turned on my side and went to sleep again. Once more I woke and heard the same words Then the voice sobered me, and I cried, ‘Lord, is it Thou? Have mercy upon me and I will never touch the beer again.’ I got up, opened the back door, and hurled the jar of beer which I had for Sunday against the wall outside and said, ‘There, Satan, take that as the first clout from me, I have received many from thee.’ Praise God, I have never looked back since. But I was tried severely. Passing the T——— public house, my old mates made fun of me at the head of the procession. ‘ Look at Tom leading; he is a beauty to lead. Give him a fortnight and he’ll be back.’ They poured beer on my head from a window upstairs, but I controlled myself and said, ‘ Thank God, it’s outside me, boys, and not inside.’ My dear wife and the baby in her arms were drenched with beer too, but we are nothing the worse to-day for such a treatment. The following summer I had to go to camp with the Volunteers and they gave me charge of the beer. I prayed earnestly for help to resist, for I would be in the smell of it every day, and thanks be to Him, He kept me. I was called all kinds of names by those with whom I used to drink. A bully came to me one day and would have hit me had I not been cautious. ‘Forgive me this once, Lord,’ I said, and I landed him one till he went sprawling. Then I was sorry, but he got up a better man. I knocked religion into him, for he joined the Salvation Army and became an officer.”
CHARLIE THE Gipsy and his family were brought into the Kingdom by Seth and Frank. Charlie had a tent on Cimla Common. The children, Elvira, Tilly, Sally and Seth, were treated to their first Sunday dinner by Mrs. Seth Joshua. The Gipsy was a well-known character at the Mission.
DAVID THOMAS (Dai Mali) became one of the brightest spirits at the Mission. He was born at the Merra, and when he came to Christ could neither read nor write. His first prayer in public lives in the memory of some of his old comrades. “Lord, Thou hast a big job on hand now that Thou, hast brought me to religion; I can’t read nor write. Thou must teach me” The prayer was answered speedily, for several members, as well as the Joshuas, taught the new recruit, and in six months “Dai Mali.” could read very well and write a little. His continued application filled all, with wonder. In the open air he was most effective, for he had been redeemed from low depths of sin. As a collier he worked at Court Herbert, and soon after his conversion, the overman, Thomas Williams, noticed that Dai’s boots had seen better days. “Dai,” said he, “these boots are too small for me although made to measure. I wonder will they fit you?” “Fit me, Mr. Williams, l am sure they will, for I have asked the Lord to have mercy on my poor feet.” “Call for them, Dai, at my house on your way back from work.” One evening David Thomas entered the ring at an open-air service and said: “Lord, make us shining Christians; we have been shining long in the service of Satan. Yes, Lord, shining like (what shall I say?)--shining like blacking”
“Did I ever tell you the story of the conversion of MAGGIE THE NUTS?” asked Frank one day.
“No, but I should like to hear it.”
Maggie was a strange character, a vendor of nuts and other things, which she used to hawk about in a basket. Before her conversion she lived in a lodging house in an old part of the town, and was addicted to drink. Late one night, and in a drunken state, she returned to town and found the front door of’ the lodging house locked. Knowing of an old outhouse in the backyard she crept into it through the window. As soon as she reached the floor she felt herself instinctively in the presence of a strange animal. Poor Maggie felt the nose of the beast and its warm breath. In her terror she dropped on her knees and prayed: O Lord, save me and I’ll never touch the drink again.’ The animal withdrew from her and Maggie huddled up in the corner began to sing one of our Mission hymns. Some time during the night the owner of the animal woke up and heard the singing of the unfortunate woman. He got out of bed and listened. To his horror the hymn came from the outhouse where he had placed his performing bear. Terrified, he opened his bedroom window, and spoke soothing words to Bruin. Then he rushed down stairs and unlocked the door where his strange pet was lodged. To his utter amazement he found in the far corner the hapless singer and the bear lying down quietly. ‘You can thank God, my woman, that you are alive,’ said the man. ‘I have,’ answered Maggie, I know He has saved me from the beer and He has saved my soul the same time.’
“Did you ever hear anything more thrilling?” asked Frank, “and Maggie kept her vow except once. She slipped on one occasion through strong drink, but afterward was a beautiful Christian. Her fall was atoned for, and her restoration was complete and, touching. She had great faith and in her way rendered remarkable witness.”
Frank preached a funeral sermon in memory of Maggie and another well-known character, Caroline Lloyd, who passed away about the same time.
EVAN REES was converted in the tent at Alexander Street, and has occupied a prominent position as officer from the start. He was one of the first four to found the Sunday School. His own class of girls was gathered from the meanest streets in the town. The proprietor of the “House of Lords” acted vilely toward the missioners and threw half a gallon of beer at them. All the members of that family died in distress. Evan Rees when young worked at Treforest and remembers a publican there, an ex-champion, challenging Seth Joshua against anyone in the county for three things—running, wrestling and boxing. This aged and highly respected officer of the Church cannot mention the names of the two brothers without tears in his eyes. He is our authority for the following incident: —When the brothers were holding an open air service before the White Hart, a pickier who knew Seth at Treforest came up in drink. He entered the ring when Seth was speaking and began to defame the evangelist in vile terms. Seth listened patiently and then asked. “Well, Jim Currie, have you finished? You know very well, Jim, that if I could put my Christianity aside for five minutes how you would look.” That was enough, for Jim made his escape as quickly as possible, and the service proceeded, not without some amusement.
While Evan Rees was at Seth’s house one morning a man in poor circumstances came to the door for assistance. “Mary,” said Seth to his wife, “I am giving away the last groat. The Lord will provide.” Walking down the street a little later Seth met a gentleman who shook him by the hand and left a sovereign in it, “Here, Mary, paid sixty-fold already.”