Monday 4 September 2023

'There are only two things that have ever interrupted Welsh rugby'

 Reading Byron Rogers's wonderfully entertaining autobiography, Me: The Authorised Biography (the perfect title), I came across a passage which stopped me in my tracks.  The author is being shown round the club-house of the Glynneath rugby club by the Welsh comedian Max Boyce, the club's President at the time. 'I want to show you social history,' says Boyce, and leads him to the board listing the names of all Glynneath's captains since 1889. A black line is drawn under 1939-45 – no captain, for the obvious reason. Similarly 1914-19, no captain. 'But this is what I want to show you,' Boyce continues. '1904-1906 no captain. 1904-1906? Just a black line, and one word. Revival. An old man in the club said he remembered him, said he was an outside half called Roger Revival. That is how much people have forgotten. There are only two things that have ever interrupted Welsh rugby. Two world wars and a national religious revival.'
   I knew nothing of this great Revival, which not only stopped the rugby but more or less emptied the pubs and places of entertainment, filled the chapels to bursting point and sent thousands flocking to hear the most charismatic preachers, whose emotion-charged meetings, accompanied by music, led to huge numbers of public 'conversions' – a hundred thousand in Wales (from a population of barely two million), according to plausible estimates. The converted, as well as some of the preachers, began to have lurid visions, so inflamed were they by (what they took to be) the holy spirit.  'Some, understandably, went mad,' Rogers writes, 'the state of ecstasy and the terror conjured up being such that, in the early months of 1905 alone, sixteen people suffering from religious delusion were confined in Carmarthen Lunatic Asylum.' A friend of Rogers tells him of a sermon he had heard in which the preacher 'described a damned soul flitting back to the gates of Hell after aeons in the outer darkness, only to see that on the great clock the second hand had not moved.' Rogers's friend, 'who had heard that in 1904, was telling me about it sixty years later, for he had been unable to forget.
"And what came of it all in the end?" I heard my father ask the blacksmith of Llangynog.
"Nothing," the blacksmith said. "Nothing."'
   Nothing indeed. The Revival passed, having sparked a wider Awakening that spread into the rest of Britain and had an impact in many parts of the world, before in turn dying down. Now most of those great chapels of South Wales are serving other, decidedly secular (or non-Christian) functions, and church and chapel alike are in much the same state of decline as elsewhere in Britain. There have been no religious revivals comparable to the Welsh one in the years since. I guess the nearest things in my lifetime were imported from abroad, notable the Billy Graham missions, which certainly filled stadiums but were tepid, prosaic affairs compared to the white heat of the Welsh revival. The events of 1904-1906 have passed from living memory – not that long ago, and yet the whole thing seems to belong to another, far distant age. Indeed, with its emphasis on visions, music and mystical experiences, it was in itself a throwback to something far more vivid than what was offered by Welsh methodism. The Revival and its impact scarcely make sense to our present-day, secularised minds; the whole thing seems so impossibly remote from our times. That is how much people have forgotten. 


  1. We had that in the States, but it became a full-scale Prohibition lasting 14 years.

    How do you out-Puritan the Puritan's?

    1. Can't be done. In the end it was only on Sundays you couldn't get a drink in Wales (except of course you could). That didn't last either...