Revd John Herring was the minister of Bethania Chapel from 1811 until 1832. He died after an illness that lasted some months. He left a wife and 7 small children. What else do we know about him?
The piece in the Dictionary of Welsh Biography can be read here:
Well there is a story that one fine summer’s day in July while he was on one of his preaching tours in north Wales, he met the famous Revd Christmas Evans who took one look at him and said “What a strange thing to see a herring on top of a mountain”. Quick as a flash Herring replied “ Surely not more than to see Christmas in the middle of summer?” Touche as they say.
In another version the two were on top of the Frenni Fawr. By 1909 the story had changed a bit:
Christmas Evans and John Herring meet. When Mr Herring saw his friend, he shouted ‘Strange, strange, to come across Christmas in the middle of summer.’ ‘Yes, it is’, replied Mr Evans, ‘but stranger still to meet a live herring on top of a mountain.’
His unusual surname was an opportunity for many a story: Once, down in Llanboidy, he was preaching so eloquently that Mr. Powell, Maes-gwyn, a prominent local man asked ‘Who is that? ‘Herring, Cardigan’ was the reply from someone sitting nearby. ‘No, not a herring, he said but a Salmon.
But there is more to the Revd John Herring than an unusual surname.
In 1836, four years after his death D. Roberts, Llandiloes, published a booklet entitled: Derwen Wylofain.
The short biography included reveals a little of his background:
John was born to Thomas and Sarah Herring, Llanyspyddyd, Breconshire in 1789. His father died when John was 4 or 5 years old. His mother remarried and the family moved to the iron works at Ebbw Vale. John was employed at the local blacksmith.
His humorous character was revealed early on. ‘How many sects are there?’ he asked his employer one morning.
‘I think there are five of any use, and those five are in our house. My stepfather is Indepenent, my mother a Methodist, I will go to the Quakers and I’ll make my cat a Wesleyan and the little dog a Baptist’. Indeed he took his dog with him one Sunday morning to see a baptism in the Sirhowy river by Tredegar deciding to throw the dog in the river when the Revd Edward Davies was preaching. But it was not to be. Listening to the sermon he became a believer and it was he who was baptised and not the dog. He became a member of the Baptist Church at Tredegar in 1804. [Siloh says Revd. B. James (Edwards, Bethania, p. 30)]
The rest, as they say, is history…
He began preaching when he was 16 years old. Under the influence of the Revd John Hier, Basaleg, he was accepted as a student in the Colege at Bristol when he was 20/21 years old. He had had enough after a year. ‘What is the use of Hic, Haec, Hoc, to save souls’
On a preaching tour he was invited to Bethanis and accepted a calling in 1811. He remained there until his death in 1832.
- He was an exceptional preacher.
“he was one of the funniest and most popular preachers of his day”
“he was possessed of a prolific understanding, a multitude of words, a natural and effective eloquence, a tenacious memory, proper gestures, a melodious voice
But he wasn’t a perfect man ‘despite his excellent qualities he was not without his weaknesses’ (these are not listed).
- He was an excellent organiser. He drew up a list of rules and regulations on to how to organize a Church in a pamphlet entitled: ‘‘Penderfyniadau i’w gosod mewn gweithrediad yn Eglwys y Bedyddwyr yn Methania, Aberteifi, a fabwysiadwyd mewn Cyfarfod a gynhaliwyd Tachwedd 18fed, 1829,’ [Decisions to be undertaken at Bethania Baptist Church, Cardigan, and adopted in a Meeting held on 18th November, 1829’]. He elaborated on many issues: Covetousness–its harm; Generosity–its appeal; Ministers–their maintenance; The Poor–how they should be considered; Discipline–its rule; the neglect of assembling.
- He was a litterateur: He edited the Greal y Bedyddwyr for a year, and then for a further two years with J. M. Thomas.
He died at Llwynpiod, Cardigan on 2 April 1832, after an illness that had lasted some months. He was buried at Cilfowyr.
He married twice. First to Elizabeth, the daughter of the Revd Griffith Davies, minister of Rehoboth. She died in 1823 leaving three daughters: Mary, Elizabeth and Anne. His second wife was another Elizabeth (Lewis, Crugmor.) They had four children from this marriage.
His second wife died a fortnight after John leaving seven orphans – among them:
Ann, 12 year old (blind and of unsound mind); Dinah, 8 year old (later married James Morse, Trehowell); James, 7 year old. He is listed in 1901 as a retired mariner and living in Northgate Tce. He had married the daughter of the Revd. T. J. Morris and was a member of Capel Mair. He died in 1907; Sarah, 4 year old; Eleanor 2 yea rold. She is listed in 1851 as a housekeeper in Quay St; in 1861 as a housemaid in St Mary St (to Thomas Morgan, solicitor). She was a member at Bethania and died in 1898.
A number of prominent people from the chapel and surrounding district established a fund to help the children.
David Mathias, Cardigan
Timothy Thomas, the elder
William Richard, Penyparc
Daniel Davies (Independent minister), Cardigan
John Morgan, Blaenffos
Daniel Davies, Swansea
Awdl Bryddest Farwnadol i’r diweddar Barch. John Herring, Aberteifi: An elegy to the late Revd John Herring, Cardigan by Asaph Glyn Ebbwy (Thomas Williams, Tredegar). Please see the Welsh version for the 30 verse elegy!