Dictionary of Welsh Biography

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RICHARDS , WILLIAM ( 1749 - 1818 ), General Baptist minister, theological and political controversialist, and antiquary ;

b. about the end of 1749 at Pen-rhydd, Pembs. , near Cardigan . His parents were Baptists , the father ( Henry ) a member of Rhydwilym , and the mother of Cilfowyr . Their son was baptized ( 1769 ) at Rhydwilym ; but in 1758 the family had removed to Pen-coed , Meidrym, Carms. , and it was Henry Richards who sold the land for building Salem Baptist chapel near Meidrym ( 1769 ); in that chapel ( 1773 ) William Richards began preaching . As a child he had little schooling, but from 1773 till 1775 he was at the Baptist Academy at Bristol . He was settled as pastor at Pershore in 1775 , but removed in 1776 to King's Lynn , where he spent the rest of his life, apart from fairly frequent sojourns in his homeland — notably during an illness which lasted from Sept. 1795 till March 1798 , and again when from the end of 1799 till the beginning of 1802 he resided at Parc-Nest near Newcastle Emlyn . He was a fair classical scholar , and developed a vigorous English style, but none the less clung to his Welsh , as is proved by his scathing pamphlets in Welsh , not to mention his English-Welsh Dictionary ( 1798 ; the Welsh - English section was left in manuscript) — indeed, his ‘ Cambrian accent ’ aroused amusement among his English fellow-ministers. His ministry at Lynn was energetic for a long time, but after 1802 became little more than nominal. He abandoned Calvinism quite early, and later also Trinitarianism ; yet he abjured the designation ‘ Unitarian ’, and seems rather to have been a Sabellian . But he never parted with baptism by immersion and ‘close communion,’ holding that the practice of the Early Church in both matters was forever binding upon Christians . Indeed, his interpretation of the whole history of the Church was that it was a process of deterioration from primitive Christian standards — see, e.g., his pamphlet The History of Antichrist ( 1784 ; Welsh version Llun Anghrist , 1790 ); his daily life was ordered by asceticism, and his charities frequently impoverished him. He first aroused public notice ( 1781 ) in debates on baptism , with English Independents ; and from 1788 till 1791 he and Benjamin Evans of Dre-wen ( 1740 - 1821 ) (q.v.) contended in Welsh on this subject. It must be confessed that Richards , in his debates, would lose all self-control; his sufficiently prickly fellow-heretic Charles Lloyd (q.v.) could say of him that ‘ his irritability was incredible .’

Richards 's political views resembled those of his friend M. J. Rhys (q.v.) . He greatly admired America , and left his library to Rhode Island University , which in its turn conferred a LL.D. degree upon him; he was a firm believer in the ‘ Madoc ’ legend. Though a hater of Popery, he pleaded for Catholic Emancipation. He welcomed the French Revolution , and defended it; hence his Reflections on French Atheism and English Christianity , 1794 , and his Food for a Fast-day , 1795 ( Welsh version, Ymborth ar Ddydd-Ympryd ). He was considerably angered by the persecution of some West Wales Dissenters which followed the French landing at Fishguard in 1797 , and although the Welsh pamphlet Cŵyn y Cystuddiedig , 1798 , and its English version The Triumphs of Innocency are anonymous, nobody doubts that Richards was their author .

Before and after the West Wales Baptist schism of 1799 , Richards rushed into the fray, against Calvinism and against the ‘Methodistical’ and revivalistic tendencies of the Particular Baptist leaders. He poured forth a series of ‘Occasional Leaflets’ ( Papurynnau Achlysurol ); these are now very scarce. His chief opponents were Evan Jones ( 1777 - 1819 ) (q.v.) of Cardigan and Joseph Harris ( Gomer , q.v.) ; the pamphlets, on both sides, are scurrilous and even libellous. After the death of his wife (a daughter of Maneian-fawr farm near Parc-Nest ) in 1805 , Richards was long a hermit. In these years he published his History of Lynn (2 vols., 1812 ), which is well spoken of, and his biographical and historical articles in the Monthly Repository — afterwards published in volume form, The Welsh Nonconformists's Memorial , 1820 . Only a few cronies were admitted to his company in his last years. He d. 13 Sept. 1818 .


  • John Evans , Memoirs of the life and writings of the Rev. W. Richards, LL.D … with some account of the Rev. R. William, founder of the State of Rhode Island (London, 1819) , 1819 ;
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (by Alexander Gordon );
  • Trafodion Cymdeithas Hanes Bedyddwyr Cymru , 1930 (corrections in the 1931 issue), with fuller references, and excerpts from Richards's pamphlets.
  • [Add now Journal of the Welsh Bibliographical Society , vii, 32-6.]


Emeritus Professor Robert Thomas Jenkins, C.B.E., D.Litt., Ll.D., F.S.A., (1881-1969), Bangor

Corrections and additions:


He entered Bristol Baptist Academy in 1775 and was there for one year only.


Dr John A. Oddy, King's Lynn, Norfolk

Published date: 1959