Music was in his blood – and his roots are in Mold.
By Goronwy Wynne
Come with me to a house in the High Street in Mold. The date is 14 June 1815 ( four days before the Battle of Waterloo ). This is the home of Enoch and Catherine Lloyd and they have just celebrated the birth of their third
Enoch Lloyd is a cabinet-maker and a lay preacher with the Baptists, and a man ‘who reads good books.’ His wife, Catherine’s maiden name was Ambrose and her nephew was the Revd. William Ambrose, who was known by the bardic name Emrys. It was he who penned the familiar couplet
Segurdod yw clod y cledd
A’i rwd yw ei anrhydedd.
The Lloyds already had two sons, Isaac and Peter, and their new-born John, is the subject of our story.
As the boys grew up they became something of an ecumenical family. Isaac attended the Parish Church, Peter worshipped with the Congregationalists, while John went to the Methodist chapel ‘to hear good singing.’ Isaac, the eldest, received a good education and became master of the National school in Mold. He was known in the town as a mathematician and a good public speaker. He became friendly with John Blackwell, the poet Alun who lived in the town, and in 1824, when Alun was a young student at Oxford, it was Isaac Lloyd who read his letters to his parents and wrote back to him on their behalf.
In 1830 the family left Mold. Enoch and Catheirine moved to Warrington and John went to Liverpool to join his brother Isaac who was teaching in the city. The father, Enoch Lloyd, was now ordained as a minister with the Baptist Church but his time at Warrington was not without excitement. Dissension raised its head and the local church became split into two factions. Things came to a head one Sunday when a rival preacher insisted on occupying the pulpit in the place of Enoch, and a constable had to be found to restore order!
John had now settled in Liverpool and attended the Tabernacle Chapel, which had the reputation of having the best singing in the city. The young John was by now developing his musical talents. He composed hymn-tunes and formed a choir, ( he had already written his first tune ‘Wyddgrug’ at the age of sixteen ) and it was about this time that he adopted his mother’s maiden name and became John Ambrose Lloyd. He was now teaching at the Mechanics Institute, and at the age of twenty-four he got married. His bride was Catherine Evans, like himself, a native of Mold. He continued composing, established tonic solfa classes and introduced ‘difficult anthems’ to the Welsh congregations in Liverpool.
When he was twenty-eight he published his first book Casgliad o Donau (A Collection of Tunes). At this time, the 1840s, Welsh life in Liverpool was buzzing, and John established the Liverpool Welsh Choral Society with himself as conductor. It flourished for some eleven years but was disbanded when he left Liverpool.
This was a pioneering period. Many chapels had no organ, but the time was ripe for rapid development in congregational singing. John Ambrose Lloyd cultivated a circle of friends who would meet at his home to make music. It was here that one of his best-loved tunes ‘Eifionydd’ was first heard, and we can imagine the group of singers sitting around the fireside as John passed around handwritten copies of his hew hymn-tunes. About this time he became an active member of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society, which had been established in 1840. He attended the choral rehearsals regularly, learning the standard repertoire and making friends with established musicians, including William Thomas best who later became organist of St.George’s Hall.
In 1847 John and Catherine Lloyd, who now had four children, lost their little daughter Mary Elizabeth who was only four years old. Times were difficult. Money was scarce, and after much agonising, John decided to leave his teaching job at the Mechanics Institute. He tried unsuccessfully for various posts on Merseyside beforeeventually accepting employment as North Wales Manager for Messrs Woodall & Jones, tea merchants, with whom he remained for the rest of his life.
The family now left Liverpool and set up home at Bwlch Bach ( now Gorse Hill) just south of Conwy. It was here that ‘ Teyrnasoedd y Ddaear’ was composed – by far the best, and certainly the most popular of his anthems, and one that is still performed regularly. By now the family was growing, with four boys and two girls; the eldest being eleven years old, and their father was concerned at the lack of suitable schools in the Conwy area. So, after about a year, the family moved to Chester, where they lived for twelve years.
Ambrose Lloyd’s work for the tea company now took him all over North Wales, and beyond, and his fame as a musician preceded him wherever he went. Concerts were arranged to coincide with his visits. At Aberystwyth he became friendly with Edward Edwards, a well known choral conductor in that town, who plied his trade as a shoemaker, and one May morning, after meeting on the main street we read of the two of them walking arm in arm, one in his leather apron and the other in top hat and frock coat singing phrases from Mendelssohn’s Elijah. The mind boggles !
In 1864 there was yet another move, this time from Chester to Rhyl. By now the family had grown to six boys and five girls, and they formed the backbone of the choir at the Water Street Congregational Church in the town. Once again, John Ambrose Lloyd attracted the attention of other musicians and the Rhyl Amateur Choral Society was formed. There was even a move to establish a Choral Union covering the whole of North Wales, but by now his health was giving cause for concern and the scheme never materialised. However, he continued to write hymn-tunes and anthems and in 1873 he published his second collection of hymns and tunes under the title Aberth Moliant ( An Offering of Praise ). This contained 726 hymns and 344 tunes, of which forty-seven were by Ambrose Lloyd himself. In addition, there were many tunes based on traditional Welsh melodies, thirty German Chorales and nine tunes by J.S. Bach.
After the publication of Aberth Moliant Ambrose Lloyd’s health continued to deteriorate and as a last resort he was advised to take a cruise to Egypt, sailing on the Thesalia from Liverpool on 11 September 1874. Many of his letters home survive but they make rather sad reading. By early November the Thesalia returned to the Mersey, but by then he was too ill to travel home to Rhyl. He stayed with his brother-in-law in Liverpool where he died a few days later, on 14 November 1874, aged 59. He was buried at the city’s Necropolis cemetery at the top of Brunswick Road. This resting-place was deconsecrated in 1898 and it became a public park.
John Ambrose Lloyd was a pioneer. At the time of his birth in 1815 music in Wales ( and in England ) was at a very low ebb. In his Oxford Companion to Music Percy Scholes describes the early nineteenth century as ‘an undistinguished period in English music’ Sterndale Bennet, John Stainer and Arthur Sullivan were not yet born and it would be another fifty years before Elgar. The only church musician of note was S.S. Wesley, grandson of Charles Wesley, who was born in 1810, and Ambrose Lloyd corresponded with him on many occasions and received help and advice on matters of harmony.
In Wales, the main musical traditions were folk songs and harp melodies. There was almost no published music other than for the harp before 1800, and surprisingly, Brinley Richards, author of Songs of Wales says that there was not a single choir of note in the whole of Wales in 1832.
At about the time of Ambrose Lloyd’s birth things began to change. John Curwen introduced the tonic solfa system, which took off like wildfire and John Roberts (Ieuan Gwyllt, 1822-1877) revolutionised hymn-singing in non-conformist Wales as a composer, writer and teacher. Ambrose Lloyd was a major contributor to this renaissance in choral and church music.
As a conductor his services were in demand all over Wales and he established choirs in Liverpool, Chester and Rhyl.
He served as an adjudicator at many eisteddfodau, setting new standards of performance. But, it is as a composer that his memory lives on.
His output was considerable, including
Altai, Bridport, Cromer, Downing, Eifionydd, Groeswen,
Henryd, Mary, Rhyl, Whilford, Wyddgrug, etc.
Most famously : Teyrnasoeddy Ddaear
Y Blodeuyn Olaf and Y Wenynen
Including : Gweddi Hahaccuc
2 published collections of hymn-tunes :
Casgliad o Donau (1843) and Aberth Moliant (1873)
Ambrose Lloyd suffered from a lack of good Welsh texts for his anthems, part-songs and cantatas. Some of the words he set to music are superficial, or worse ! It is no coincidence that most of his best works use words from the Bible, Teyrnasoeddy Ddaear being the obvious example. In spite of this he achieved a standard that merited a number of tributes from both his peers and successors. Dr. Joseph Parry famously said that Ambrose Lloyd composed the best hymn-tune Eifionydd, the best Welsh anthem Teyrnasoeddy Ddaear, and the best Welsh part-song Y Blodeuyn Olaf. Idris Lewis, Head of Music, BBC Wales, writing of him in 1945 says, ‘Undoubtedly one of the best Welsh composers, in some respects he is the best of them all.’
He received many honours and accolades, including an oil painting by Richard Norbury, commissioned by his friends in Liverpool, which can now be seen in the Daniel Owen Centre, Mold. The Rhyl Library has a brass and oak memorial plaque commemorating his time at Rhyl, with the words, ‘One of the sweetest composers.’ His birthplace in Mold High Street, now Barclay’s Bank, is marked with a stone plaque, and a supermarket in the town bears the somewhat awful mongrel name ‘Canolfan Ambrose Lloyd Centre.’
He was widely admired and honoured during his lifetime, and very many memorial festivals and Cymanfaoedd Canu have been held over the last hundred years to celebrate his life. However, the greatest tribute to John Ambrose Lloyd is the fact that so many of his hymn-tunes continue to be sung today throughout Wales and beyond.
Lloyd, C. Francis,
Cofiant John Ambrose Lloyd (1921), Cyfieithwyd a golygwyd gan Elfed.
‘John Ambrose Lloyd, an Appreciation,’ Welsh Music, Vol.4. (1974)
Evans, D. Emlyn,
‘John Ambrose Lloyd,’ YGeninen, Cyf.HI (1885)
‘John Ambrose Lloyd – Bywgraffiad,’ Y Cerddor ( 1 Ebrill, 1 Mai 1892)
Daniel Owen – Bywgraffiad (1903)
Griffith, R. D.
Hanes Cymru Cymilleidfaol Cymru (1948)
Cerddoriaeth yng Nghymru (1945)
‘ O L ‘
‘Cymry ym Mynwentydd Lerpwl,’ Y Dysgedydd (1906)
They Lived in Flintshire (1960)
Tonau a ‘u Hawduron (1967)
The Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion’s A Dictionary of Welsh Biography down to 1940 (1953).
There are a number of items in the Flintshire County Library and the Flintshire Record Office. Many of Ambrose Lloyd’s published and manuscript works are in the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, and the British Library, Great Russell Square, London.
Copyright of articles
published in Ystrad Alun lies with the Mold Civic Society and individual contributors.
Contents and opinions expressed therein
remains the responsibility of individual authors.