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This report is taken from PN Review 235, Volume 43 Number 5, May - June 2017.

Letter from Wales Sam Adams
ON THE FIRST Saturday in March we took our seats in the usual place at Cardiff Arms Park for the home match against Munster, in the outcome a disappointing affair. At one stage quite early in the game some ragged, badly-pitched singing broke out – like a rash, you might indeed say for the discomfort it brought, and it soon petered out. ‘Guide me O Thou Great Jehovah’ can rarely have been rendered so badly. It was emblematic of the change that has overtaken the cultural life of Wales in the last half century. There is no holding out now against the forces of mass entertainment, inane celebrity and internet communication, but some vestiges of a distinctive, common culture still existed even among rugby spectators in Wales when we were young. It manifested itself in the impromptu singing of hymns, in choral harmonies, by many thousands of ordinary people enfolded for a couple of hours in the shared experience of a hurly-burly performance on a muddy field. Although we did not recognise it at the time (it didn’t cross our minds), this marked the end of the great Nonconformist chapel tradition that had endured since the early decades of the eighteenth century.

One of the founders of that tradition, William Williams, fourth child of John and Dorothy Williams, was born early in 1717, just three hundred years ago. His father, a small farmer, had the good fortune to marry into a somewhat wealthier family, and his bride, in due course, inherited their farm, which was called Pantycelyn – ...

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