William Jones [William Jones]

Hughes, T.Rowland

This novel was written in Welsh and is largely set in south Wales. A humorous work, it recounts the story of a north-Walian slate-splitter or quarryman who decides to escape a domestic situation quite devoid of bliss — his wife Liza is a caricature ‘bad wife’ who dishes up tinned food and spends his money hanging out in the cinema with Ronald Coleman, Gary Cooper et al.

Amidst the Punch-and-Judy of an awful marriage is a fascinating description of the small world of north Wales in the 1930s. Small world seems to translate as ‘small-minded’ as doughty William Jones explores the naughty world of south Wales, shown as having quite different mores. In fact the south seems gay and libertine to the pious ‘Northman’: ‘As he approached the Workmen’s Hall William Jones glared indignantly at a party of youths and young girls who had gathered there before going off on their bicycles down to the sea. He didn’t like their bare legs, their low-necks and their riotous merriment’.

Also shown as part of life in south Wales is an underclass dwelling beyond the respectable if poor Nelson Street, where William finds refuge from his wife’s carry-on, in Stub Street, described as ‘smelly and filthy’. Hughes writes about lives under siege from unemployment in the years of the Great Depression and

about a culture of people ready to help each other out.

The kind of Welshness that maintained the language was inevitably tied up with a certain defensiveness, as witnessed by William Jones’ recall of  childhood  holidays in Liverpool: ‘They used to stay with Jim Roberts, who kept a little shop there, and their father used to spend most of the week talking with Jim about Llan-y-graig and the quarry, and scowling at every word of English he heard in the shop or on the street’. RK


At last he rose from his block, resolved to show Liza who was who and what was what. Feeling thirsty, he thought he would go to the mess-hut for a drink of water, he would also have a word there with old Dafydd Morris the caretaker. There’s a character for you said William Jones to himself on his way through the gallery. The old fellow lived by himself on the outskirts of the village and drew a small wage from the quarry authorities for looking after the mess-hut. The members of the mess, too, paid him a penny-per-head weekly. … his cat (Gwen

— Ed.) was his constant companion. He carried her daily to the quarry in a basket under his arm and talked to her incessantly from morning to night. William Jones found him leaning on the handle of his broom and holding forth to the cat, which was sitting on the corner of one of the tables. The old man was very deaf, so had not heard footsteps at the hut door.

 “I don’t care what you say’, were the words which fell on William Jones’ ears, ‘‘but this world isn’t getting better but getting worse. Is it?”

The cat didn’t know.

“How many were in the Prayer Meeting Monday night, uh?”

Gwen couldn’t remember.

“Well, I will tell you. Ten. Ten over twenty? No, only ten, and two of those don’t count. Coming there to play the organ Dick Jones’ boy was, and come to open and lock up the chapel Ned Williams had.

And how many were in the Seiat*?”

The cat had lost all interest and was busy licking its paw.

“Listen to me when I am talking to you, now. Asking I was how many were in the Seiat, isn’t it? Thirteen and there were our children among those. And here’s another question for you. What will become of the chapel in twenty years? Uh? You don’t know? I don’t know, neither.” 48