Gibbs, Dr John Morel OBE

The Gibbs family came from Portland, where they were farmers and quarrymen. William Gibbs (born 1774) and his wife Sarah (née Wiggett) were the first members of the family to become Methodists. Their son William (1812-1870) married into the Angel family and after some years in Waterford settled in Cardiff. With the growth of Cardiff as a port, the family prospered as shipping magnates. They were related by marriage to the Morels and more remotely to the Corys (of John Cory & Sons).

John Morel Gibbs, born on 17 August 1912 in Penarth, was the son of John Angel Gibbs II (1880-1917) and Gladys, née Morel (1880-1951). (Sir Thomas Morel, mayor of Cardiff in 1899, was his grandfather.) From The Leys School he went to St John's College, Cambridge to read law. Later he took an MA in Psychology at University College, London, and qualified as an educational psychologist at Guy's Hospital. In 1939 he registered as a conscientious objector and worked at the West End Hospital for Nervous Diseases. Moving back to Penarth in 1946, he became a lecturer at University College, Cardiff and was also a Visiting Lecturer in Louisiana and Kentucky. He took a particular interest in social work, education policy and play therapy for children, and was instrumental in introducing a vocational course in Social Work at Cardiff. Other offices included that of chairman of the Central Council in Education and Training in Social Work for Wales and Educational Secretary and Psychological Consultant for the Marriage Guidance Council in South Wales.

In 1949 he became a director of the Morel shipping company, which was wound up in 1956. A generous philanthropist, he served the Methodist Church in many roles, including Chairman of the Board of Management of Methodist Schools and Treasurer of the Division of Education and Youth. He took an active interest in both the New Room, Bristol and Wesley's Chapel, London, both of which were supported by the family Trust. He was chairman of Aldersgate Productions and was the inspiration behind the Methodist Church Collection of Modern Christian Art. This was an expression of his and his wife's active interest in and support for British Modernism and its place in the life of the Church. He was a Sunday School teacher for 37 years and a local preacher for 49 years, and was Vice-President of the Conference in 1958. He died on 16 June 1996.

His wife, Sheila Margaret Noel Newton (1912-2004), was born at King's Norton, Birmingham on 21 January 1912. She was educated at Farringtons School, Chiselhurst. The family moved to South Wales in 1917 and, like the Gibbs, became actively involved in the life of Trinity Methodist Church, Penarth. She and John were married in 1937. During their years in London she was involved with the London Care Committee and they established a theatrical tradition at Clubland in Walworth. Among the plays she wrote were Militant and Triumphant (jointly with her husband) and The Twelve Dancing Princesses, and a dramatization of Pride and Prejudice. Back in Penarth, she was secretary to the District Manses Trust, which she was instrumental in establishing, and chaired the Gibbs Family Trust. She and John formed the Trinity Drama Group and wrote a history of Trinity Church. They gave the sites for the building in Penarth of Methodist International House and Morel Court MHA. Sheila was a representative to Conference for the first time in 1953 and was the first woman to be elected to the connexional General Purposes Committee. She died on 21 April 2004.

  • Methodist Recorder,10 July 1958; 4 July 1996
  • Conference Handbook, 1958
  • John M. Gibbs, The Morels of Cardiff (Cardiff, 1982)
  • Peter Wakelin, An Art-Accustomed Eye: John Gibbs and art appreciation in Wales 1945-1996(Cardiff, 2004)
  • Roger Wollen, The Methodist Church Collection of Modern Christian Art, an introduction (2004)
  • Alan R. Thorne, 'A Penarth Shipping Dynasty' in Bulletin of the Wesley Historical Society in Wales, no.2 (2012) pp.23-43