Dictionary of Welsh Biography

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EVANS (née FRANCIS ), MARY JANE (‘ Llaethferch ’; 1888 - 1922 ), elocutionist ;

b. 3 Feb. 1888 , in a house at Reed Row , Godre'r Graig , Swansea Valley , the daughter of Charles Francis , conductor of Ystalyfera Band , and his wife, Mary Ann Hutchings . Both Charles Francis and his father, George Francis , who came to Ystalyfera from the Caerleon district, Mon., were able musicians . The parents of Thomas Hutchings , Mary Ann 's father and also a musician , came from Bristol to run a school in Swansea ; after the father's death, the mother took charge of the ‘College' School near Ystradgynlais . After travelling in many countries, Thomas Hutchings moved to Ystalyfera where he worked in the tinplate works . Through her mother, his wife was also from a musical family, the Anthony s of Cwmaman . Hutchings and his wife both worked, as children, in the tinplate works . When Mary Jane was five years old, her family moved to live with her mother's parents at Cwmtawe Villa where they kept a few cows and sold milk . The little girl carried two pitchers of milk to customers on her way to Panteg School because, at this time, her father worked at the Ynysmeudwy tinplate works . For this reason, she later took the name, ‘ Llaethferch ’ ( Milkmaid ). Despite a musical education given by local teachers, she showed little inclination for playing a musical instrument. William Asaph Williams gave her singing lessons but this again did not interest her because of her great love was reading and literature . She took part in recitation competitions and also participated in the quarterly meetings of the Sunday schools in the Panteg area. During the Revival of 1904-05 , she was received as a member of Panteg Congregational church ; she was among those members released in 1905 to establish a church in Godre'r Graig . On the initiative of her minister , Ben Davies ( 1864 - 1937 ; DWB , 110) , she took lessons in recitation with David Thomas Jones . Mary Jane now began to recite at literary meetings and at eisteddfodau ; she became famous as ‘ Llaethferch ’ and won many chairs and cups. In April 1909 , she entered the Old College School , Carmarthen run by Joseph Harry (see above ); in order to meet the fees, her family sold the cows. She was placed in a class of talented students and a special course on literature was arranged for her. Mary Jane preached for the first time at Godre'r Graig on 8 July 1909 ; she usually included a recitation with the sermon. In 1912 , she took an examination in elocution and obtained the grade of A.E.V.C.M. at the Victoria College of Music . For a time, she taught at Tro'rglien School , Cwmtwrch , and attended the Royal Academy of Music in London for two terms in order to perfect her English , but lack of money cut this course short in Jan. 1916 . She discovered an interest in drama and formed a drama company at Ynysmeudwy . She performed with Gunstone Jones and Gwernydd Morgan and also performed with her own company in Gruffydd o'r Glyn by Alarch Ogwy . Her delight in recitation competitions hindered her from rehearsing with the company. She turned to presenting dramatic recitations on her own or with a soloist so that she could obtain a respite and the audience given some variety. These recitations were very popular both in Wales and in parts of England between 1918 and 1922 . The programmes contained rich and varied material both in English and Welsh . Her most popular piece in Welsh was ‘ Cadair Tregaron ’ by J.J. Williams (see above ). In 1921 , her writing paper described Mary Jane Evans as the winner of a crown, 11 cups, 68 chairs and 396 other prizes at eisteddfodau . She achieved little success as a reciter at the National Eisteddfod ; she was given an award at Swansea in 1907 and acted as an adjudicator at Barry in 1920 and Corwen in 1921 . She considered extending her tours to London , America and Japan but four years of performing throughout Wales proved too much for a constitution which was not strong. Mary Jane Evans d. on 25 Feb. 1922 at her home in School Street , Maerdy , Rhondda . Her body was carried to her parents’ home at Wigfa near Ynysmeudwy on the following Thursday and she was buried in the graveyard at Godre'r Graig on Saturday, 4 Mar. For a period of less than four years, she appeared like a shooting star over the halls and chapels of Wales where she delighted many audiences and became, for that short period, the most famous woman in Wales .

Without telling her parents, she m. William David Evans on 5 Mar. 1919 ; he was a teacher in the Maerdy elementary school and had been discharged from the Army , suffering from the effects of poison gas at Ypres . A penillion singer to the accompaniment of the harp , he won prizes at the National Eisteddfod . He was the conductor of the Maerdy United Choir .


  • Ben Davies (ed.), Llaethferch. Er Cof (Ystalyfera, 1923) , 1923 .


Evan David Jones, F.S.A., (1903-87), Aberystwyth

Published date: 2001