The James Pantyfedwen Foundation began its operations on 1 April 1998 when a new Scheme was agreed with the Charity Commissioners. But the present Foundation is a successor to two former charitable trusts - the Catherine and Lady Grace James Foundation (established in 1957) and the John and Rhys Thomas James Foundation (established in 1967). Both these Foundations had been set up by the late Sir D J James whose aim was to create a permanent endowment to benefit the people of Wales. The first of these charitable trusts carried the names of his mother (Catherine James) and his wife (Lady Grace James) whilst the second bore the names of his father (John James) and his brother (Rhys Thomas James).
The Charity Scheme, together with the Local Scheme, for the James Pantyfedwen Foundation are based on the wishes and priorities set by the late Sir D J James, but these documents also reflect the fact that the needs of Wales are different from those which were given prominence half a century ago. Since 2015, the Foundation has interpreted its aims to include support for three specific groups of beneficiaries:
1. students undertaking postgraduate study;
2. individual chapels and churches for the improvement and repair of the fabric, with priority given to improvements linked to local mission and outreach projects; and
Guidelines for each of the categories listed above can be located on the website under the relevant headings.
Sir David James James was born in London in 1887 where his parents ran a milk business in the Westminster area. His poor health and, more particularly that of his younger brother, during their childhood years prompted the family to move back to Cardiganshire from where they had migrated some years earlier. They established themselves at Pantyfedwen which is located on the outskirts of Pontrhydfendigaid. But business difficulties in London prompted the young David James and his father to return to London which then became Sir David's home and the base of his business activities for much of the rest of his life.
His business interests were many and varied. They included milk, grain, brewing and animal foodstuffs. But he is probably best remembered for his involvement with cinemas. He entered the cinema business in 1920 when he opened London's first Super Cinema (the Palmadium in Palmers Green) with a seating capacity in excess of 2,000. At his peak of involvement he owned thirteen such cinemas, the most well known of which were Studios 1 and 2 in Oxford Street.
His marriage to Grace Stevens of Faversham was not blessed with children and this is perhaps one reason why he was determined to share his wealth with the people of Wales. During his lifetime he bestowed substantial gifts on a great variety of religious and educational causes. In his formative years he had thought of entering the Christian ministry and it is no surprise, therefore, that his generosity gave pride of place to those who wanted to become ministers of religion, to church buildings, to improving the salaries and pensions of the clergy and to fostering a greater level of ecumenical work. In this respect he campaigned actively to try and bring the different denominations in Wales to work more closely together. He also argued that Wales had far too many places of worship and that there needed to be a rationalisation and sharing of church buildings. Something of a prophet!
In response to his great generosity, David James received many accolades. These included an honorary LL.D degree from the University of Wales in1957, a knighthood in 1959, and the Freedom of the Borough of Aberystwyth in 1964.
When Sir David established the first of his charitable trusts in 1957, he was determined that the income be used solely for the benefit of Wales. For the first ten years of its life the charitable trust was administered from his business offices in London. He saw this as something of a paradox and he set about seeking a suitable site for a new suite of offices in Aberystwyth. Having located a site in Market Street, he was closely involved in the planning of the new building but, sadly, he died in 1967 shortly before the new offices were officially opened in 1968. The building which he planned and financed continues to be the Foundation's home today.
Sir David never officially retired from business life but towards the end of his life the scale of his involvement was much reduced. Lady Grace and Sir David spent most of their final years at Sutton Hall in Barcombe, Sussex, but they continued to make periodic visits to London and Wales. Lady Grace James died in 1965.