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Interview with Father Jones

The Rev. Victor Jones (Father Jones) was the driving force in the rebuilding of St. Mary's Church at Caerau after its partial destruction in the 1950s. Rosemary and Delia (and Delia's husband, Tony, as chauffeur, photographer, and sub-editor) fortunately made contact with Father Jones where he now lives near Worthing, having moved there from Seaton in Devon.

The following is a slightly edited transcript of our "interview" with Father Jones at his house on 2 December 2006.

Delia:Where were you from originally?
Fr. Jones:Blackweir, in the centre of Cardiff. My family came to Ely when I was one year old and I attended the Church of St. David's, Cowbridge Road, and sang in the choir as a boy. When I was a student I preached my very first sermon in St. Mary's Church (before it closed for the first time in the fifties) and I lost my way in my notes. Vicar Evans said if I wished I could preach at St. Mary's.
Rose:How did you go about restoring St. Mary's?
Fr. Jones:I asked for permission to rebuild it and the Bishop (of Llandaff) said "Yes". He probably thought I would have a body of helpers.

When I first went up to see the church (it was then a heavily vandalised ruin), I thought, 'thank goodness the communion rail is still there'. The Cross on the top of the church tower was also very important to me in my efforts to rebuild the church.

I had been working alone on the site of the church for about 12 months. A couple of the young lads and lasses from St. Timothy's (where Fr. Jones was priest in charge) used to come up to make tea and bring me biscuits. When I had built up to the level of the wall plates, I thought I would never have the strength to finish it.

As I stood there one afternoon working out where the altar was going to be, and feeling exhausted, I said a prayer: 'Lord, I don't think I can do this, I cannot finish this'. As I said these words, the sun came out behind me and cast a shadow of the tower cross, which fell on the east wall where the altar would be. I felt this could not have happened in a million years, and I believe it was a sign from God. I have had a few signs from God over the years, and He always chooses the sky to send his messages. He showed me then that I would have the strength to finish the church.

Tony:It was a Herculean work.
Fr. Jones:It took two years.
Delia:Presumably other men helped you?
Fr Jones:Yes, whenever they had some free time. Do you remember Charlie Jewell? He was a bus driver and was one of the church servers and sidesman. He and I went up and looked at the ruin and I told him that I was rebuilding this church. He said 'I will help you'. Charlie was still doing his normal job and every evening I went up to work on the church, but he could not help me as much as he would have liked since he did not have the time, having a wife and young family. I devoted a lot of my time to St. Mary's. Sometimes I slept up there while the rebuilding was going on. (see the photo of Fr. Jones on the small camp bed).

I went to Wenvoe Quarry, where the people had a connection with the church. I said "I am Father Jones from Ely and I am rebuilding the church, but I have no stone". They said "How much do you need?" and gave me the stone for the work.

I also had no scaffolding. I was down on the ground to begin with, when I started the rebuilding, but when the walls got too high I was given some scaffolding by local trades people.

When the church was reconsecrated by the Bishop of Llandaff, the Archdeacon preached the sermon. I could not get in. I was outside with the crowds - there were no seats!

Delia:I have a photograph (see History of the Church) of people queuing up at the church waiting to go in.
Fr. Jones:That's right, the church was already full of VIP's! They could not get the people in.
Delia:Tell us about your work in St. Tim's.
Fr Jones:After the war people from the blitzed areas of Cardiff were rehoused in Ely. You could not get into St. Tim's because lots of people from the estate (Ely) came. It was always full. I took the service at 8.00, went home for breakfast, back again at 09.30 am for Family service, home again, then Sunday School at 11 am; home for lunch, then Baptisms at 4.30. and back again for the evening service at 6.30pm. I took the AYPA Youth club after church and various clubs during the week, including Scouts on Friday evenings. And I was rebuilding the church as well in my spare time.
Delia:We were children and we were not really aware of the colossal work that was going on. Do you remember my grandmother Mrs Quick?
Fr. Jones:I do. She was one of the loveliest women in the Parish. She used to come up to the church, but I didn't know she was your grandmother. I also remember Mrs. Mawn (Rosemary's mother). She played the organ and was a stalwart of the church.
Delia:Mrs. Quick brought me up when my mother died. I was three when I came to live with her. She used to attend the church with Mr. John, the church warden. I remember he had a black Rover car and when Granny was in her eighties, he would drive her up the lane to St. Mary's. Before that she would walk up the hill, even in her late seventies.
Fr. Jones:Mr. John and his wife lived in Cowbridge Road. After the Second World War, the council housing estate of Ely was built up around the old village of Caerau.

There is a lot of history connected to the Church site, the Hill Fort, with connections to the Iron Age and later Roman times, and it has been suggested that some of Cromwell's troops hid in the vaults of the church during the battle of St. Fagans in 1648. There have been several churches on that site, going back to the 9th Century, and beyond. (See History of the Church).

Delia:What happened to the vaults beneath the church?
Fr Jones:There were a lot of skeletons in the vaults and I discovered this when I was repairing the floor and it collapsed and I found the steps going down. I reported it to the Bishop, and he said "they are graves, do not disturb them." So I filled it in.
Rose:I know local boys found their way down those steps by lifting a stone slab which resembled a flat grave stone near the porch.
Fr. Jones:A lot of the original stuff went - slates from the roof and the bell and other ancient relics.
Delia:Do you remember the little Sunday School parties held up on the hill fort, on Mothering Sundays and Whitsun? We (the children) would sit on the fort ringwork and present posies of primroses to our mothers (in my case, my grandmother). Miss Curtis and Miss Harry, a Parish Worker, were the Sunday school teachers at the time.
Fr. Jones:I remember Miss Curtis and I was very fond of her, she was a lovely woman.
Delia:She died shortly after we started trying to preserve what is left of the church. It was just when we were beginning to get somewhere that she died.
Fr. Jones:A friend of mine, who was one of my scouts when I was a clergyman in the Canton part of Cardiff, came to visit me here, where I live now. He was writing a book and there is a bit in his book about me and St Mary's and how I 'ran away to sea' when I was fourteen.
Delia:Where did you live in Ely and how long were you at St Mary's?
Fr Jones:5 years. I lived at 96 Heol Carnau, just below the church.
Rose:Did you ever become a parish priest again?
Fr. Jones:Yes, but not in Wales. When I returned from my naval service, I wrote to the Dean of Llandaff whom I thought was my friend. I asked whether he would employ me in the Llandaff Diocese, but he turned me down. I wrote to the Bishop of Truro, who I thought would give me a job, but he did not either.
Rose:Why was that?
Fr Jones:I don't know. I was working at the coastguards, and a friend of mine got me a job as a Curate at Portishead. I was there for three years, but I was never a vicar. I have not been in a job since then, but I take services every Sunday. I am currently preaching in my local area (Sussex) in three churches.
Delia:Are you paid for this?
Fr. Jones:No. It is voluntary work that I am doing now.
Rose:How else do you spend your time now?
Fr. Jones:I look after people in the parish. Two weeks ago I started to learn the violin (see photo of Fr. Jones playing the violin, which he made himself). I used to make violins. Now I am learning to play. I always loved music but my family were too poor for me to have lessons. I would have liked to learn when younger, but I think now I have left it too late.
Delia:What was your last position in the Royal Navy?
Fr. Jones:My last job was as padre at H.M.S. Sultan in Gosport (1975-1976). I have preached on a voluntary basis at churches in whose parishes I have lived. I moved about quite a bit since leaving the Royal Navy.
At this point, Father Jones produced tea and two excellent cakes, which he had baked.
Tony:Compliments to the chef! Did you learn to cook in the Navy?
Fr. Jones:No - Delia Smith is my guide.

Father Jones is now in retirement, but has recently been offered a post taking services at a local church, which has lifted his spirits tremendously. He lives alone in a church-owned house, and has two daughters and a son in Australia. He devotes his time to helping people of his adopted Parish. Father Jones has not visited St. Mary's since he left Cardiff, but he is very happy that the remains of the church are still standing and that the roof cross remains visible from the road. He does not have a computer and so cannot view this web site.