Caernarfon Ddoe/Caernarfon's Yesterdays header


Caernarfon has always been renowned for its choirs, be they Mixed, Male Voice or Ladies, and they in turn have won numerous choral competitions in the National Eisteddfod of Wales, and have brought many trophies back home to the delight of the townspeople. The following, however, is the story of one such achievement by a Mixed Choir which resulted in the creating of much bad feeling amongst its members.

In 1889, William Jones, conductor of the Caernarfon Vocal Union, decided to enter his choir in the main choral competition of the Aberhonddu (Brecon) National Eisteddfod, where £50 in prize money and a gold baton inscribed with the words "Môr o gân yw Cymru i gyd" (All of Wales is a sea of song) was on offer to the winners of the competition. According to the rules, the gold baton was to be returned at the end of twelve months, but could again to be competed for, and should any choir win the competition 2 years in succession, it would be allowed to keep it.

An unknown, but successful, local conductor.
An unknown, but successful, local conductor
It was William Pritchard Morgan, the owner of the Gwernfynydd Gold Mines, Meirionnydd, and a native of Newport who had presented the baton to the National Eisteddfod, which was held at Wrexham in 1888. The Newtown Choir was victorious on that occasion, but it was to a joyful Caernarfon that the baton came in 1889.

Having won it once, the conductor, William Jones, a clerk, was determined to enter the competition the following year with a view to winning the baton outright. Both he and his brother, David Jones, a chemist in Bangor Street, who acted as his deputy and treasurer of the choir, worked tirelessly to get the choir up to standard for the competition at the Bangor National Eisteddfod of 1890. Some members recognised the signs of their conductor are burning ambition to own the baton and this created dissent amongst them. James Jones, who worked in the Gas Works, was most vociferous in his criticism of the conductor, and he raised the question of ownership were the choir to be successful a second time. This happened a few days before the competition and William Jones became furious, dodged the question, and insisted that winning was the only thing of importance. Should they not win the question would not arise. This appeared to pacify Jones the Gas and his followers at the time.

Three choirs had entered for the competition viz. Blaenau Ffestiniog, Talsarn and the Caernarfon Vocal Union, but Talsarn withdrew, leaving only two. The two test pieces were "The Brook" by Tom Price and "Bydd Melys Gofio y Cyfamod" by Isalaw, and the judges were unanimous in their praise and declared the Caernarfon Choir victorious. William Jones was in ecstasy and not in the least concerned about the likely reaction of his critics.

There were celebrations in Caernarfon that night, and for days to come. The baton was displayed in a shop window in Palace Street, and there was an unparalleled feeling of civic pride in the town. But, when the euphoria abated and things began to return to normal, the question of the ownership of the baton again raised its head. To whom did it belong? Was it now the property of the choir or was it the conductor's?

The question was put to William Jones, and he was adamant that it was his. It was in his possession and he was not prepared to share it with anyone. The choir disagreed and set up a committee to discuss the matter. Jones the Gas was elected Secretary and he was asked to write a letter to William Pritchard Morgan, who had presented the baton to the National Eisteddfod. He was made aware of the dispute and asked for his opinion. Morgan's reply was that the baton should be placed in the charge of an official of the choir e.g. the Treasurer and that the conductor should not keep it, but be allowed to have the use of it on special occasions. Should the choir appoint another conductor, then it would be he that would have the right of use.

William Jones was informed of the contents of Morgan's letter, but was not prepared to move from his standpoint, and would not even accept a compromise suggested by a member of the choir i.e. that the baton be housed on display in the Council Chamber at the Institute. He refused to discuss the matter further, insisting that the baton was his property and would hold on to it come what may.

In view of William Jones' stubbornness, the choir decided to take legal action and the case was heard at the Small Debts Court by Justice Horatio Lloyd in January 1891. Barrister J Bryn Roberts M.P. appeared on behalf of the choir and Honoratious Lloyd Q.C., for the defendants William and David Jones. The latter argued that the usual custom at an Eisteddfod was for the monetary prize to be shared equally amongst all members of a choir, but that a cup, shield, or in this case a baton be awarded to the conductor, and kept for 12 months. But, as the choir had won the competition twice in succession, it became the sole property of the conductor. Bryn Roberts disagreed by stating that the rules of this particular competition made it perfectly clear that the winning choir was to receive both the prize money of £50 and the baton.

The Caernarfon Choir at Liverpool in 1913.
The Caernarfon Choir at Liverpool in 1913
As the case went on and witnesses were called, it became evident that there was a serious rift between the two sides, and even though William Jones remained stubborn, he at least kept his dignity. Jones the Gas and his colleagues, on the other hand, were vitriolic in their condemnation of him. The Judge, according to the press, appeared to enjoy the drama, but it was he who eventually had to decide in favour of one or the other of the opposing parties.

He was faced with two choices, to side with what was regarded as normal Eisteddfodic practice, or to comply strictly with the rules of this particular competition. As was expected, Jones the Gas had presented him with William Pritchard Morgan's letter stating that the baton should not be the sole property of the conductor, and that it should be kept by an official of the choir. The Judge took a few days to consider before announcing his verdict, which was "That all members of the choir including the conductor were joint owners of the baton and that it should be sold and the money shared equally amongst them."

This was a shock to both sides, but the verdict had to be complied with. Subsequently, an auction was held at the Market Hall, Palace Street, in February, 1891. Amongst the many hundreds gathered there was a representative of the choir who bid up to £48, but the baton was eventually sold to a Swansea businessman for £50. William Jones was also present but did not bid.

It was learnt, later, that the businessman was in fact a member of the Abertawe (Swansea) 1891 National Eisteddfod Executive Committee and acting on its behalf. Had the members of the choir known that, one wonders whether they would have outbid him and thus kept the baton in Caernarfon?

The Auctioneers charged £4 in commission for the sale of the baton, leaving £46 to be shared, but as the legal costs amounted to £80, the conductor and all members of the choir had to make up the difference of £34 from their own pockets.

It was later revealed that the Abertawe 1891 Eisteddfod was offering the gold baton in the main choral competition and that the conductor of the winning choir would be allowed to keep it. Caernarfon Vocal Union decided to compete under a new conductor, but was placed second to the Llanelli Choir, the baton being won outright by their conductor Mr. R.C. Jenkins.

© T. M. Hughes 2013