Williams, Jane (DNB00)

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WILLIAMS, JANE (1806–1885), Welsh historian and miscellaneous writer, generally known as ‘Ysgafell,’ was the daughter of David and Eleanor Williams of Riley Street, Chelsea, where she was born on 1 Feb. 1806. Her father, who held an appointment in the navy office, was descended from Henry Williams (1624?–1684) of Ysgafell, near Newtown, Montgomeryshire, a convert and friend of Vavasor Powell [q. v.], with whom in 1654 he, Richard Baxter, and others, signed a remonstrance on behalf of the nonconformists of the Welsh borders against Oliver Cromwell's assumption of supreme power. After the Restoration Williams suffered much persecution, and his name is still traditionally associated in Montgomeryshire with a miraculous crop of many-eared wheat, which was regarded as a special blessing bestowed on him (Williams, Mont. Worthies, pp. 310–12).

Owing to her weak health, Miss Williams spent the first half of her life at Neuadd Felen, near Talgarth, Breconshire, where she acquired a knowledge of the language and a taste for the literature of Wales. Here she also made the acquaintance of Lady Llanover, who introduced her to many literary friends. From 1856 onward she lived in London, first at 9 Hans Place, and afterwards at 30 Oakley Crescent, Chelsea, where she died on 15 March 1885, and was buried in Brompton cemetery.

She was the author of the following works, the later of which show much literary skill, and are written in a clear and vigorous style: 1. ‘Miscellaneous Poems,’ privately printed at Brecknock, 1824, 12mo. 2. ‘Twenty Essays on the Practical Improvement of God's Providential Dispensations, as Means to the Moral Discipline to the Christian,’ London, 1838. 3. ‘Artegall; or, Remarks on the Reports of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the State of Education in Wales,’ two editions, Llandovery and London, 1848, 8vo. 4. ‘Cambrian Tales,’ a series of Welsh sketches with numerous original poems interspersed, first published in Ainsworth's ‘Magazine’ for 1849–50, and reprinted in 1862 under the title ‘Celtic Fables, Fairy Tales and Legends.’ 5. ‘The Literary Remains of the Rev. Thomas Price (1787–1848) [q. v.], with a Memoir of his Life,’ Llandovery, 1854–5, 2 vols. 8vo. 6. ‘The Origin, Rise, and Progress of the Paper People; for my Little Friends,’ with eight coloured illustrations by Lady Llanover, London, 1856, 8vo. 7. ‘The Autobiography of Elizabeth Davis, a Balaclava Nurse,’ London, 1857, 2 vols. 8vo. 8. ‘The Literary Women of England’ (down to 1850), London, 1861, 8vo. 9. ‘A History of Wales derived from Authentic Sources,’ London, 1869, 8vo. This work, the result of much research, not always, perhaps, sufficiently critical, is her best production. It comes down to the end of the Tudor dynasty, and remains, even to this day, the best history of Wales in the English language.

‘A History of the Parish of Glasbury’ by Miss Williams appeared in ‘Archæologia Cambrensis’ for 1870 (4th ser. i. 306). In 1843 she translated from the original French an essay by Dr. Carl Meyer, on the comparative philology of the Celtic languages, which was subsequently given the premier position in the first number of the ‘Cambrian Journal’ (1854, i. 5). Brinley Richards, in the preface to his ‘Songs of Wales,’ acknowledged her ‘kind and valuable aid’ in the preparation of his work.

She is to be distinguished from a contemporary of the same name, who, like herself, was both a friend of Lady Llanover and a writer on the folklore and music of Wales.

(Maria) Jane Williams (1795–1873), born in 1795, was the second daughter of Rees Williams (d. 1812) of Aberpergwm in the Vale of Neath, Glamorganshire, by his wife Ann Jenkins of Fforest Ystradfellte. Southey corresponded with Rees Williams in 1802; while his son, William Williams (d. 19 March 1855), who was a considerable traveller and linguist (Cambrian Journal, ii. 125), was the first to suggest, in 1836, the formation of the Welsh Manuscripts Society.

In 1826–7 Jane made a collection of the fairy tales of the Vale of Neath, which were first published in the supplemental volume of Crofton Croker's ‘Irish Fairy Legends’ (1828, iii. 207 et seq.), and subsequently reprinted in an abridged form in the ‘Fairy Mythology’ (ed. 1850, pp. 414–19) of Thomas Keightley (1789–1872) [q. v.], at whose suggestion the collection seems to have been originally made. She and her sister were regular attendants at the Eisteddfodau held at Abergavenny under the patronage of Lady Llanover, and at the fourth annual meeting in October 1837 (not 1838, as stated on the title-page; see Seren Gomer, November 1837) she was awarded the prize for the best collection of unpublished Welsh music. This was published in 1844 under the title of ‘Ancient National Airs of Gwent and Morganwg’ (Llandovery, fol.), with Welsh words and a few translations supplied by Crofton Croker and others. This collection, which is arranged for the harp or pianoforte, was formed by noting down the various airs from the songs of the peasantry, chiefly in the Vale of Neath, the best known of the airs thus rescued being ‘Y Deryn Pur’ and ‘The Maid of Sker.’ Miss Williams subsequently noted down many additional airs (which after her death were delivered to Lady Llanover with a view to publication), and she also rendered much assistance to John Parry (1776–1851) [q. v.] when preparing the last edition of his ‘Welsh Harper’ (1848), as well as to Brinley Richards and John Thomas (1795–1871) [q. v.] for their respective collections of Welsh songs.

In October 1838, at the ensuing Eisteddfod, another prize for the best arrangement of any Welsh air for four voices was awarded to Miss Williams (Seren Gomer, November 1838). She was also a most skilful player both on the harp and guitar, while she was described by Henry Fothergill Chorley [q. v.] as being ‘in her day the most exquisite amateur singer he had ever heard’ (All the Year Round, 3 Oct. 1863, p. 131; cf. Henry Richard, Letters, pp. 38, 50).

She died in 1873 at Ynyslas, a house close to Aberpergwm, in which she had spent most of her life, and was buried at Aberpergwm chapel. A sketch of her as a young girl, with a guitar in her hand, was reproduced in the ‘Red Dragon’ for June 1883.

[In addition to the authorities cited, information was kindly supplied as to Jane Williams (Ysgafell) by her niece, Miss Eleanor M. Williams, Aylestone Hill, Hereford, and the Hon. Miss Emma Laura Shaw-Lefevre, who were the executrices of her will; see also Notes and Queries, 20 Nov. 1869; Old Welsh Chips, p. 313; and Poole's Illustrated Hist. of Breconshire. As to Jane Williams of Aberpergwm, information was kindly supplied by his Honour Judge Gwilym Williams; see also the Literary Remains of the Rev. T. Price (Carnhuanawc), ii. 95; Bishop Thirlwall's Letters to a Friend, p. 6; and M. O. Jones, Cerddorion Cymreig (Welsh Musicians), pp. 143, 160.]

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