J. Mansel John, B.A.
Baptist Minster and College Professor
ABGS 1922 - 1929
James Mansel John was born in Trecynon on 22 April 1910. He was the eldest of the three children on of Thomas David John and his wife Jennet, (née George), who in turn were both Aberdarians from Gadlys Uchaf. Mansel had a younger sister Beryl, and the third child was William Esmor John, who also attended the County School, entering in 1930. Their father was initially a collier, then a fireman and eventually an overman in a local colliery. The family1 attended Heol-y-Felin Welsh Baptist Chapel in Bell Street.
Mansel’s elementary education took place at Park School, Trecynon and The Higher Standard School in the Gadlys. He transferred to the Boys County School in September, 1922. At school he was very keen on rugby football, and he was given a trial for the Welsh Schoolboys’ team. He took his School Certificate in 1926, and Supplementary mathematics in 1927, at which point he became a Student Teacher. He took his Higher Certificate in 1929 and moved in the same year to the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire, at Cardiff, to read history. He graduated in 1933, and was awarded the James Neobard Scholarship to help Baptist students to study at Mansfield College, Oxford, a college whose original purpose was to provide further education and theological training for nonconformist ministers.
Due to illness in his final year, he left without graduating from Mansfield College. Consequently, he was offered the opportunity of proceeding to a B.Litt. instead, but was simultaneously called to the pastorate at Alfred Place Baptist Church in Aberystwyth, a position which he accepted. He was ordained there in 1937. While a minister at Aberystwyth, Mansel John lectured in the extra-mural department of the university.
It was also during his period at Aberystwyth that he met Margaret Parry from Machynlleth, an organiser with Urdd Gobaith Cymru. The two were married in Machynlleth in early 1944. They had two sons, born in 1945 and 1947.
His career in the church was interrupted briefly by a year at Harlech College, 1946-47, where he accepted an appointment as history and sociology tutor. He resumed his pastoral ministry when he moved to Bethlehem, Newport, Pembrokeshire, (1947-52). The next move was to industrial south Wales to be minister at Ebenezer, Aberafan, (1952‑59). It was during the period in Aberafan that his wife Margaret died in 1955.
His final move occurred when he accepted the post of tutor in Church History at the Baptist College, Roath, Cardiff. He commenced his work at the College in January 1959. In August of that same year he married Dorothy Penhale, a schoolmistress from Aberafan. They had one son born in 1963.
Mansel John had a charismatic personality and was a very eloquent and persuasive preacher, but he also had a multitude of other achievements: he was an able musician and when a student at Cardiff he played in a quartet that broadcast regularly on Welsh BBC programmes; he served on the executive committees of Undeb Cymru Fydd2, and the Welsh Association of Youth Clubs. He was a writer and contributed regularly to Seren Cymru, Y Goleuad, Y Faner, Y Dysgedydd, Trafodion Cymdeithas Hanes y Bedyddwyr and Seren Gomer. He was also a contributor to the Dictionary of Welsh Biography down to 1940, (1959)3.
During these latter years he was also in demand as a broadcaster on the wireless in Wales. He could be heard in Welsh programmes such as ‘Gwybod y Gair’ and ‘Gair yn ei Le’, whilst he also contributed to English programmes such as ‘Lift up your Hearts’ and ‘The Epilogue’. Shortly before he died, Mansel had finished editing a collection of essays for the first volume of Welsh Baptist Studies. Mansel was the instigator of this project, and he intended that several more volumes should follow. However, his death occurred before the book was published, and the project was abandoned. Fortunately, publication did take place, and the first and only volume was published posthumously in June 1976.
Mansel John died suddenly on 19 January 1975 at the age of 64 at his home in Cardiff. His funeral was held at Thornhill Crematorium, Cardiff, on 22 January.