WM Jones

WM Jones found fame as the creator of the "Jarge Balsh" books, comic tales of life in a North Somerset village in the 1920's written in local dialect. He was also a pioneer photographer, recording life in the early 1900's in the pit village in which he was born.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Jarge Balsh & WM Jones – Benefactor

Will Jones lives on in Coleford to this day in two gifts to the village. In 1958 he gave a new stained-glass south-east window to Holy Trinity church. A typically radical Will Jones project, the window is no exercise in Victoriana, all halos, flowing robes and little lambs. It is glaringly modern in concept and design, and depicts the story of David and Saul. Keith New, a pupil of his artist son, Dick, was commissioned to create the window on a theme chosen by Will Jones himself. Keith New went on to design some of the windows for the new Coventry Cathedral.
Keith New described his work in the “Coleford Parish Paper” of October 1958 thus. “The subject is taken from I Samuel xix 9-10: ‘And the evil spirit from the Lord was upon Saul as he sat in his house with his javelin in his hand: and David played with his harp. And Saul sought to smite David even to the wall with the javelin; but he slipped away out of Saul’s presence, and he smote the javelin into the wall: and David fled, and escaped that night.’
In the left-hand light Saul is shewn with his javelin raised ready to strike at David. He is robed in royal purple, and wears a crown upon his head. Above him a full moon lights the sky across which scud dark clouds, suggesting the evil spirit troubling Saul.
The right-hand light shews David kneeling with a harp looking up at Saul, trying to assuage the evil spirit afflicting his master. He is robed in blue, this colour signifying sincerity and godliness. Above him, coming from the clouds, is the Hand of God, holding a white dove from which stream golden rays. This symbolizes God’s special care for David, in view of his importance in the scheme of things leading to a point beyond the old order to the Birth of Christ in the new.
The main tracery light is filled with a pattern of three angels, sweeping down playing trumpets.”
In the same issue the vicar, Father John Sutters, did his best to justify the radicalism of the window to a sceptical congregation. “ For most of us in Coleford this window is a completely new experience, to which time will be needed to adjust ourselves. To begin with, it is stained, not just painted, as are our other windows, and so the colours are deeper and heavier. In the second place, in the central figures and the details of the background the artist has not been content simply to copy the stock ideas of what things and people look like to which we have grown used, but has expressed what the story of Saul and David means to him in the style of a young artist of 1958. But I think that the greatest shock for most of us, as we look at this window, is to realize that the Bible story, like whatever else deals with the whole of human nature, has to face the hideous wickedness of which human beings are capable. That, after all, is what the Crucifix has to tell us, if we were not hardened by seeing it so often. People often want to find comfort and soothing in Church: we like pretty-pretty pictures, soft sugary hymn-tunes, nothing to make us think or to stir us up; we want an escape from the harshness of life into a dream-world. But the religion of the Bible, and the Church, the religion of our Lord Jesus Christ, has to face and deal with ugliness and wickedness, not to ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist.
The window hits us. It is ugly; and its excellence is in its ugliness. It speaks of jealousy, hatred, spite and cruelty, and they did not die with Saul. I have seen them in Coleford: there have been times when I have been tempted to them in my own heart. This window stands to remind us of the devilish force of evil in our own lives, which we may never ignore or forget: but over against it God’s power to deal with it. It stands above the Confessional, the place where, if we will, we may face our worst selves, and by the self-giving love of our Saviour be forgiven and made clean and fit to serve Him. But so often we prefer to pretend that there is nothing wrong with us. This window challenges us whenever we look at it. I could wish that the artist had brought out in more striking contrast the answer to human wickedness which is given in the right had side of the window: but after all, we have only to turn our eyes to the Crucifix on the Altar and the light by the Aumbry which speaks of our Lord’s Presence to know where we may find forgiveness, peace and goodness.”
There may have been an element of “talking a good fight” in Father Sutter’s apology, considering the hostility which the new window aroused at the time. Even so, read over fifty year’s later, it deserves to be seen as a convincing and sensitive meditation on the qualities of a remarkable window. Sadly, Time itself has masked any opposition that the window might meet today. The trees outside the window have grown to shadow it, darkening the images which once were thought so controversial.
In 1962 it appeared likely that Coleford’s Miners’ Welfare Institute would be sold for building. It had opened in 1927, and this substantial building had provided two ground floor rooms, one used as a reading room and the other for two billiard tables, and a large upstairs room which, with a stage at one end, was used for meetings and concerts. Will Jones would have celebrated its arrival in the village. In “Discovering Somerset” the narrator in Chapter V suddenly mounts the high horse to declare, “A Government of vision would make it possible for men to follow an agricultural occupation in these villages and, at the same time, participate in the social amenities and opportunities for mental improvement now mostly confined to the town dweller. Each village would be provided with a building that contained a lecture or concert room, a good library and reading room, and smaller rooms for indoor games during the deadly dull winter nights.” This sounds more like a Will Jones letter to “John Bull” magazine than the young toff narrator of “Discovering Somerset”.
By the early 1960’s the Miners’ Welfare Institute was redundant. All the pits had closed, and the social needs of the area were well-served by the lavishly-appointed Coleford British Legion Club, opened in 1956. In its early years the Club’s weekend dances provided a popular battleground for some memorable punch-ups between gangs of lads from Pensford and from Peasedown.
When the abandoned Miners’ Institute looked likely to go for auction, Will Jones stepped in and bought it for the parish as a Church Hall. His negotiations with the Coal Board to purchase it as cheaply as possible were labyrinthine and ill-tempered, but in October 1964 at Harvest Festival he could hand it over to the Church and Parish. They sang “For he’s a jolly good fellow” and gave him three cheers, and in return at the entertainment which followed he gave them some of the old sketches.
The village meant a great deal to him. He could take Coleford out of his books but he couldn’t take Coleford out of the man.