George Eyre Evans

Geraint H. Jenkins

Page 3 of the Centenary address delivered at the Annual General Meeting of the Society, held at the Belle Vue Hotel, Aberystwyth, on 18 April 2009.

Our second chief founder was also born in England, though much less is known about him than is true of George Eyre Evans. A many-sided man, the Revd Edmund Tyrrell-Green was Professor of Hebrew and Theology, a lecturer in architecture, and precentor at St David’s College, Lampeter. Born in Westminster on 19 March 1864, he was not without impressive family connections. His father served as high sheriff of Oxfordshire and was an intimate friend of William Thackeray. Blessed with many of the social and cultural advantages denied to Eyre Evans, Tyrrell-Green enrolled at St John’s College, Oxford, graduated in 1886, and then served as curate of St Barnabas Church, Oxford, for three years before taking up a lectureship in Hebrew and Theology at Lampeter in 1890. Most of his published work in the late Victorian era was devoted to historical and doctrinal matters, and his most notable undertaking was The Thirty-Nine Articles and the Age of the Reformation (1896). A pious, serious-minded man – Evelyn Lewes described him as being ‘a fine fellow in the pulpit’- Tyrrell-Green had the good sense to marry a girl from Llanrwst, Margaret Roberts, who became a rather undistinguished writer of poetry and prose. Both husband and wife developed a deep affection for Ceredigion and, as the latter put it, ‘the mystery of thy mountains’. An enthusiastic cyclist, Tyrrell-Green was a familiar figure in the countryside, and as a cultivated scholar he appears to have been held in great esteem by staff and students alike, not least because he was a highly sensitive and effective teacher of musicians and carol singers. In 1900, however, he unexpectedly fluttered Anglican dovecots in Lampeter by defecting to the Liberals and supporting the cause of disestablishment. It was around this time, too, that he succumbed to the beguiling charm of George Eyre Evans, the freethinking Unitarian and irrepressible antiquary.

Evans’s links with the college at Lampeter were long-standing. It amused him greatly to inform his Anglican colleagues that the stones on which the college had been built had been hewn and dressed by his grandfather, Esau Evans, a staunch Unitarian stonemason from Llanybydder who had died, aged eighty-two, in 1868. Moreover, Evans’s father, the Revd David Lewis Evans, who spent the last years of his life living with his son in Aberystwyth, could lay claim to have been the last person living in the county who had actually seen the unforgettable Iolo Morganwg, one of the founders of the Unitarian Society of South Wales and a stout supporter of churches within the celebrated ‘Black Spot’. As a young boy, his mother had taken him to a service at Alltyblaca and whispered in his ear: ‘See lad, there is the great and good Iolo’.

When Tyrrell-Green and George Eyre Evans met, they immediately established a bond of friendship, even though the latter could not resist twitting his learned friend by reminding him of the Unitarian foundations of his workplace at Lampeter. Drawn together by their love of antiquities, church architecture and baptismal fonts, they travelled together often and collaborated closely on several projects. Perhaps inspired by Evans, Tyrrell-Green became a leading expert on baptismal fonts in England and Wales, and he published many examples of them, including his own line illustrations, in the Transactions of the Cymmrodorion for 1918-19 and subsequently in a book entitled Baptismal Fonts: Classified and Illustrated (1928), which highlighted notable examples at Llanfair Orllwyn, Llangoedmor, Llannarth, Llanwenog and Tregaron. Tyrrell-Green was no mean artist and some of his pen-and-ink drawings, made in France, Italy, England and Wales, are pleasing to the eye. Church towers and spires were particular favourites of his and in the volume Parish Church Architecture(1924) he expressed his deep affection for emblems of the communion of saints: ‘They are our ideals written in stone . . . as a witness for God from generation to generation’.

In many ways, therefore, George Eyre Evans and Edmund Tyrrell-Green were birds of a feather, and they were certainly prepared to sink their theological differences and conflicting perspectives on life for the sake of the preservation of their adopted county’s historical traditions and architectural styles. In his volume on Cardiganshire, Evans voiced his admiration for the Lampeter professor, ‘whose facile pen has well served his College, and adorned this book’. For his part, Tyrrell-Green readily acknowledged the value of Evans’s vivid and emotional attachment to the past and the influence of his copious publications. Both men cooperated harmoniously during the deliberations which occurred in the months leading up to the formation of the Society and it was entirely fitting that Tyrrell-Green should have been elected the first Chairman of the Executive Committee and also editor of the Transactions of the Society. Edmund Tyrrell-Green is one of the forgotten men in our county’s annals. He deserves better.

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