Jack Jones - 1884-1970

The Public Library, Rhiwbina, Cardiff, CF14 6EH
Novelist. Born in Merthyr Tydfil, Glam., one of a miner’s fifteen children, he began working underground at the age of twelve and joined the army five years later, serving in South Africa and on the north-west frontier of India. After the First World War, during which he was wounded in Belgium, he became active in left-wing politics and in 1923, while a member of the Communist Party, he was elected miners’ agent for the Garw Valley. After five years he left both job and party and, between 1928 and 1932, was a member in turn of the Labour Party, the Liberal Party and Oswald Mosley’s New Party. During the 1930s he had a variety of jobs, including those of cinema manager and navvy, and he was frequently unemployed. An experienced platform speaker, he visited America in 1941 and 1942 on behalf of the British Government and again in 1949 under the aegis of the Moral Rearmament Movement.
He took up serious writing during a period of unemployment in 1928, when he was living in Rhiwbina, Cardiff. His first attempt, a novel of some quarter of a million words, entitled Saran, was never published, but a much reduced version of it appeared as Black Parade (1935). His other novels include Rhondda Roundabout (1934), Bidden to the Feast (1938), Off to Philadelphia in the Morning (1947), Some Trust in Chariots (1948), River out of Eden (1951), Lily of the Valley (1952), Lucky Lear (1952), Time and the Business (1953), Choral Symphony (1955) and Come, Night; End, Day! (1956), the last five of which were of inferior quality. Among his finest achievement was Unfinished Journey (1937), the first of three volumes of autobiography. The others were Me and Mine (1946) and Give me back my Heart (1950). He also wrote three plays, Land of my Fathers (1937), Rhondda Roundabout (1939) and Transatlantic Episode (1947), and a biography of David Lloyd George, The Man David (1944).

Jack Jones undertook much research into the histories of the towns which are the background of his novels and this method resulted sometimes in works on excessive length. He was widely read in modern prose fiction and drama, where his preference was for the naturalism of the earlier American novelists, such as James T. Farrell and John Dos Passos. His strength as a writer lies in his understanding of and complete sympathy with working-class life in the industrial valleys of Glamorgan in the late nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, and in his ability to portray that life with warmth and fidelity. Written in an unpretentious style, his best novels have great narrative vigour, much humour and pathos, a wide variety of vivid scenes and a host of vital and bizarre characters, while his autobiographies present a volatile and expansive personality, facing with courage the many sorrows and hardships which beset him.

(Information taken from Meic Stephens’ New Companion to the Literature of Wales, University of Wales Press, 1998)
This plaque was created with support from the Rhys Davies Trust.

Top image taken from the first series of Literary Postcards produced by Literature Wales and The Rhys Davies Trust.
Photograph by Julian Sheppard / National Library of Wales