Monday, July 22, 2013

Forgotten Radnorians - The Nabob

Here's a face that wouldn't look out of place perusing the stock pens at Llanelwedd, although in reality he found fortune in the Orient rather than the hills of Radnorshire.

It's a paradox that although Welsh was in rapid retreat across the Radnorshire countryside during the late 18C and early 19C, this only seems to have inspired some of the county's sons to take a deeper interest in the language and its antiquities.  For example the autodidact William Probert of Painscastle translated Y Gododdin and Edward Davies of Llanfaredd's researches earned him the sobriquet Celtic Davies.  Another who can be added to the list of the Welsh Language's Radnorian well-wishers was the man pictured, Thomas Phillips (1760-1851)

Although Phillips was born within the sound of Bow Bells, he came from a Nantmel family and spent part of his childhood in the county.  Having made a fortune in India and consolidated it with the purchase of a profitable estate in the Windward Islands, he returned to London and devoted himself to educational philanthropy.

Phillips gave over 22000 books to St David's College, Lampeter, endowing a chair of natural science at the college.  He also planned to endow a chair of Welsh but the Anglican hierarchy were having none of it.  Suitably rebuffed Phillips and his Radnorian friend John Jones of Cefnfaes planned to open their own Welsh Educational Institution in Rhayader.  Problems purchasing suitable land saw them transfer the project to Llandovery, leading to the opening of the College on St David's Day 1848. Phillips provided £4666 and 7000 books towards the new institution, in his will he would leave a further £12000.  Phillips and Jones stipulated that the Welsh language be taught at the college and that, for some portion of the day, it should be the only medium of communication and instruction.  A man ahead of his time.

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