Gwynne Henton Davies, M.A., B.D. (Wales),
M.A., B.Litt. (Oxon.), Hon. D.D. (Glas., Florida)
Baptist Preacher, Old Testament Scholar, College Principal
(Aberdare Boys’ County Intermediate School, 1918-22)
Gwynne Henton Davies was an eminent scholar of the Old Testament and Hebrew. After beginning as a Baptist preacher in London, he commenced upon an academic career which spanned the following 34 years. He became the Principal of Regent’s Park College, at Oxford from which he retired in 1972.
He was born in Aberdare into a Welsh speaking family on 19 February 1906, the son of John Davies1 and Edith Myfanwy,2 (née Henton), both born in Aberdare. His father was a colliery accountant and cashier, who lived in Harlech Villas, Highland Place and later at Graig House. His mother was a member at Calfaria Welsh Baptist Chapel, Monk Street, and brought up her son there when Revd James Griffiths was pastor, (a position he occupied 1890-1930). There was a younger son, John Mansel Davies (1911-64), who became a solicitor with the Co‑operative Wholesale Society in Manchester.
Gwynne Davies attended the nearby Town (Council) Elementary school in Clifton Street, and from there in 1918 gained scholarship entrance to the Boys’ County School in Trecynon. He gained his CWB Senior Stage Certificate3 in the summer of 1922, and then left the school and entered The Perse School in Cambridge. His studies there gained him an offer of a place to study Philosophy at Queen’s College, Cambridge. However, because of an unexpected financial crisis4 in the family, he did not take up the offer.
Returning home to Wales, he entered upon a long period of higher education, initially to University College, Cardiff in 1924 to start a course in Philosophy. However in 1925, he changed his main university subject to Hebrew and transferred to the Baptist College, Cardiff. He graduated in 1928 with a first-class B.A. degree in Hebrew and Syriac, and a year later was awarded an M.A. with distinction for a thesis entitled ‘An investigation into the origin and growth of the conception of theocracy in Israel.’
He commenced work on a postgraduate B.D. in 1931, but an opportunity arose for study at Oxford which he accepted. After two years there a B.Litt was awarded in 1933. After Oxford, he spent a year in Marburg in Germany attending lectures at the university; and finally, he studied rabbinical Hebrew in London for part of an academic year. These later years at university were supported by scholarships from the Dr. Williams Trust and from the Baptist Union of Great Britain.
In 1935 he returned to Wales and completed his B.D. (Wales), gaining a distinction in Church History. In that same year he married Annie Bronwen Williams, eldest daughter of G.H. Williams of 41, Ninian Road, Cardiff. The marriage took place on September 3rd, in Woodville Road Chapel.
His first post after completing his formal education was as a pastor at the West End Baptist Church, Hammersmith, London, a position he occupied 1935-38. His ordination and induction on October 10th 1935 was attended by numerous distinguished baptist clergymen, but a large party of friends from Calfaria in Aberdare also attended, together with their pastor Revd D. Herbert Davies, (pastor 1932-47). Whilst in London, Gwynne and his wife settled at 12 Ashchurch Park Villas, W.12, and during this period their daughter Yona Wynfron Henton Davies was born in 1938. Their second daughter Edith Elaine Henton Davies was born in 1943 in Bristol.
In 1938, the family moved to Bristol where Gwynne had been appointed tutor in Hebrew and Old Testament Studies at Bristol Baptist College, and where he stayed for thirteen years. Whilst there the University of Bristol also employed him appointing him as a lecturer in Hebrew. (1946-51).
In 1951 he was invited to become the first Professor of Old Testament Studies at the University of Durham, a post which he accepted and occupied until 1958. In his final year there The University of Glasgow conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity, D.D. It was also during this period, in May 1952, that he returned to Aberdare to preside on the occasion of the Calfaria Chapel Centenary Service.
In 1958, he was invited to become Principal at Regent’s Park College, succeeding Robert L. Child, who had held the position from 1942. In 1957 this college had attained the status of a Permanent Private Hall,5 an educational institution within the University of Oxford, in this case affiliated to the Baptist Union of Great Britain. Whilst there he oversaw several developments of the college buildings: the addition of the Balding Block; the construction of the south side of the quadrangle; and the refurbishment of several interior spaces. He also increased the modest staffing levels of the college, and reintroduced non-theological students alongside the ministerial students. The Baptist Union also benefited from his services on the Council during this period, and he became President of the Baptist Union, 1971-72. He also found time to follow his original vocation by continuing to preach, a practice which continued right up to his death.
Dr Davies contributed many articles to various academic journals and to Baptist Union pamphlets. The extent of these publications is best seen by reference to D. Hugh Mathews’ entry in the Welsh Biography Online (see below). In 1960, he wrote The Story in Scripture. The Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible in shortened form. Arguably, a more populist publication appeared in 1970 in the Teach Yourself Series: Who’s Who in the Bible. This book was published under his own name together with that of his wife Annie Bronwen Davies. In 1970 a Festschrift was published by the SCM Press in honour of Dr Davies, edited by John I. Durham and J. R. Porter, and entitled Proclamation and Presence: Old Testament Essays in honour of Gwynne Henton Davies.
Dr & Mrs Davies retired to Pembrokeshire in 1972, and lived at Headlands, in Broad Haven, Pembrokeshire. It was from this county that the family of Mrs Davies originated. Dr Davies continued to play an active part in Baptist life, preaching and lecturing, at home and abroad. After twenty years of retirement together Mrs Davies died in January 1992, aged 88.
Gwynne Henton Davies died October 22, 1998, aged 92. He died in Charlotte, North Carolina, whilst he was on his thirty-second visit to the USA. After cremation in Charlotte his ashes were returned to Wales to be scattered at Headlands in Broad Haven.
This appreciation of the life of Gwynne Henton Davies is based almost entirely on material kindly supplied by the library of Regent’s Park College, and on the biographical details written by D. Hugh Matthews in the Welsh Biography Online, http://wbo.llgc.org.uk/en/index.html
The Biographical Index of W.W. Price, (at the National Library of Wales and Aberdare Public Library)
Early editions of The Aberdare Leader in Welsh Newspapers Online;
CR. August 2014.