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ABERYSTWYTH (1787-1860), Jane Ross. The Author, Aberystwyth, 1989. viii +
59pp. £ 2 ( £ 2.50 including postage from The Author, School House, North Road,
Aberystwyth SY23 2EL).
John Hughes was a central figure in the religious life of Aberystwyth from 1827, when
he became the incumbent of St. Michael's, until his death in 1860. A local boy, whose
father was a magistrate and mayor of Aberystwyth, Hughes attended Ystradmeurig
Grammar School. Ordained by the Bishop of St. Asaph in 1811, he served curacies in
Wales and England before returning to Aberystwyth as Perpetual Curate of St.
Michael's. In 1834 he became also Vicar of Llanbadarn Fawr and so he remained until
1859 when, at the age of 72, he was appointed Archdeacon of Cardigan.
Jane Ross's short study seeks to document Hughes's life and to show something of the
significance of his ministry. In addition to published sources and the manuscript
collections of the National Library of Wales the author has had access to private family
It is evident from this account that John Hughes's principal claim to fame is as a leader
of the evangelical party within the established church in Wales. From the beginning of
his ministry he was uncompromisingly committed both to the evangelical position and
the cause of the established church. It is abundantly clear that both of these convictions
are shared with equal fervour by the author. For example, writing of the influence in
Wales of the Oxford Movement, the author states:
If the Oxford Movement was unsuccessful in making obvious inroads in terms of
ceremony, it showed consummate skill in elevating the sacraments at the expense of
preaching, thus weakening the Welsh church at its strongest point. This debility
admits of no speedy recovery.
John Hughes would have entirely agreed. As a zealous evangelical churchman he
perceived his mission field as the Nonconformists, and especially the Calvinistic
Methodists; and his enemy as the Puseyites. The former were to be won back to the true
church, while the latter were to be resolutely opposed and defeated. One of the more
interesting passages in the book relates to Hughes's consternation when faced, as vicar
of the parish, with the necessity of preaching at the consecration of the newly erected
Puseyite church at Llangorwen. Ironically, partly as a result of the building of this
church within his parish, Hughes was accused in a letter to the Welshman of being a
Tractarian sympathiser.
Inevitably, given his theological position, preaching lay at the heart of Hughes's
ministry. One chapter is devoted to 'Preaching and Teaching' and it is the author's
contention that Hughes and his fellow evangelicals owed their success in the battle for the
souls of the Nonconformists in large part to the fact that they 'out-preached' the
Methodists. Much of the interest of the book, indeed, lies in its account of Hughes's
contribution to the development of an Anglican response to the Methodist threat. The
evidence here suggests that he played a significant part in leading and unifying
evangelical efforts to stabilise the church's influence in rural Wales and to regain some
of the ground lost to the Methodists.
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