Dictionary of Welsh Biography


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WILLIAMS , THOMAS (‘ Capelulo ’; c. 1782 - 1855 ), reformed drunkard, itinerant bookseller, ‘character’ ;

born in Llanrwst, Denbs. , about 1782 the son of a hatter and baking-woman . His father came from Capelulo , Dwygyfylchi , Conwy , which is how he gained his nickname. He was a hostler and carriage driver for a while before enlisting as a soldier , seeing service in the Napoleonic wars and then in South Africa , South America and India . His predeliction for drink got him into trouble frequently both in the army and after returning home, and he lived by begging , entertaining , singing and recounting his escapades and adventures . Granted his lifestyle as a drunkard and adulterer , there can be no doubt about his skill as an oral storyteller and this is what characterized his life after his religious conversion about 1840 . He became a zealous teetotaller and a dangerously witty speaker for the cause. He became a well-known character, famed for his memorable sayings, his simple-minded attitudes (probably more feigned than real as he revealed a sharp wit when provoked), his humour and his ability to entertain audiences with accounts both of his reformed and his dissipated life .

His chief patron was John Jones , the Llanrwst printer ( 1786 - 1865 who helped him to make a living by selling songs and ballads, almanacks and books .

Most of what is known of ‘ Capelulo ’ is found in his autobiography published by John Jones in 1854 . This is a literary version of what the author said ‘in his own words’ and its honesty is a remarkable feature. Robert Owen Hughes Elfyn based his memoir on the autobiography but also brought together many stories in oral circulation or found in magazines, succeeding in capturing the flavour of Capelulo 's lively oral style. He died in Llanrwst and was buried there, aged 73, 14 Feb. 1855 .

Sources:

  • The autobiography was reprinted with an introduction by Gerald Morgan , Lle diogel i sobri, sef hunangofiant Thomas Williams (Capelulo) , Llanrwst, 1982 ( 1982 );
  • Robert Owen Hughes (Elfyn) , Capelulo , Caernarfon, 1907; 1927 (1907, 1927) .

Author:

Dr Brynley Francis Roberts, Aberystwyth

Published date: 2001