John David Davies and the St Gabriel’s Episcopal Chairs

The episcopal chairs in St Gabriel’s church and the altar in the Lady Chapel are almost certainly the work of the Revd John David Davies who was the rector of Llanmadoc and Cheriton between 1860 and 1911 and a man of many parts. He was a pioneer Anglo-Catholic, the first Anglican priest in the old deanery of Gower to teach the principles of the Oxford Movement and the first Anglican priest in the deanery, perhaps in the diocese of St David’s, to wear the full eucharistic vestments since the Reformation changes of the sixteenth century. His rectory at Llanmadoc became a Mecca for churchmen who sympathised with his views and a holiday retreat for distinguished Anglo-Catholics such as Fr Arthur Stanton of St Alban’s, Holborn and Fr Benson, founder of the Cowley Fathers.

Davies was a distinguished local historian whose four-part History of West Gower is still heavily used and continues to fetch high prices on the rare occasions when it comes on the second-hand book market.

When not engaged in church work, in writing local history and in translating Latin documents, Davies was to be found in his well equipped workshop. Here he would construct bookcases, book-ends, trays and cupboards for sale in his church bazaars to raise funds for church restoration. But he also produced more ambitious work in the form of skilfully carved church furniture. He constructed the altar, altar rails and choir stalls at Cheriton and also produced similar work for neighbouring churches. All the roof bosses at Llanrhidian church are his work and he constructed too the altar and bishop’s chair for his friend and fellow Anglo-Catholic, the Revd Stephen William Jenkins when he was rector of Oxwich (1879-1918). In 1890 the sister of Colonel W. Llewellyn Morgan (another friend of Davies and the author of An Antiquarian Survey of East Gower) presented St Gabriel’s with two episcopal chairs made by Davies. One was retained by St Gabriel’s, the other given to its daughter church of St Augustine’s where it long remained in the north aisle.

John Davies was a shy, retiring man who is reputed never to have taken a holiday. Well before his death the then bishop of St David’s wanted him to accept the office of rural dean of West Gower as a small token of recognition of his long services to the church in the area but he refused.

The St Gabriel’s chairs have all the decorative hallmarks of Davies’s work: the roundels or rosettes and the spiral strapwork which are to be found on the altar and altar rails at Cheriton church. It is to be hoped that they will be treasured as examples of the workmanship of a distinguished pioneer churchman of our area.

© F.G. Cowley