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26 Feb 2017

How an English town gave our two Welsh heroes an opportunity. Or, The Pub in Cwmneath

Oh for the opportunity of the early 1800s. According to Prof Hans Rosling, world population had just made the click into one billion. Daily wages would rise, and eventually life expectancy, children born per women would move to our current global values.

The rainmakers were our Industrial forebears. Would they seize new opportunities or die tryin'? To raise a family of hungry talent or live for Friday evenings - 500 gleaming pint glasses full of beer laid out ready for the end of the shift.

Jenkin and Jennet Price were at the apogee of industrial Welsh greatness, from its early beginnings of the homely zinc speltermen, tenders of the smokeless anthracite seam bordering the Beacons, and the canny forward-thinkers who knew it would very shortly be the time for industrial-scale coal-mining, iron smelting and associated haulage via cart, boat, canal.

Jennet's father had upskilled from humble joiner to the more valuable pattern maker at Neath Abbey's ironworks, puddlers pouring the melt into the wooden surrounds he'd made - for gates, poles, sheets, bolts, tools, and huge heaving sections.

Sleepy farming valleys were transformed with an influx of miners from north Somerset and a few from Ireland,  engineers and know-how from the Cornish.  Great structures and works would visit upon the valleys some extremely testing conditions under which the protestant workers thrived.

Jenkin Price, he of the fair hand, would not be working in the mines. Like his wife there would be a cottage or more of land, that was no longer profitable to merely farm.

So, with his wife, in 1806, his cottage opened its doors to the many passing workers as a hostelry. The Lamb and Flag at Glynneath was thus born. It was situate in the parish of Cadoxton and the area was then called Cwm-Neath or Vale of Neath, and this is where his daughters would give as their birthplace. I imagine it had some limited provision for horses, but being at the valley end, passing trade was limited.

I say his wife, not Jennet. The wife was Mary and Jennet was the youngest sister. I'm not sure what view the nascent independent chapels had, but for the Church in Wales, it allied itself firmly with Canterbury and when Mary died, in 1808, moving forward with Jennet would be impossible via the local churches.

Happily for our team, and for the goodly customers that the Lamb and Flag possessed, the Prices had a solution: a marriage, in Bristol, by Licence.

During those three days between a visit to the archdeacon and the church ceremony, a lot can happen. Enquiries could have been made in Neath, well if you can get a horse and rider away and returned in time; in Return of the Native, a young girl is ruined forever in those three days.

Now standing with the Prices on the wedding steps were in fact two Welshmen, Thomas and George Jones who I'm sure knew every little bit of the truth behind this border-skipped marriage. But they would certainly be keeping schtumm; and in any case may just have been cousins of Jennet that lived in Bristol.

We have compared the groom, Jenkin's, signature across the two marriages and even allowing for the stress of defying the English on alien soil, they're pretty identical.

It hadn't bothered me that the bride was recorded under her Anglicised name of Jane Reece. Jenkin's place of residence, however, did concern me: Glynhawye, Brecknockshire. Cousins have clarified that this was probably Glyntawye, i.e. Glyntawe, in the next valley, rather than Glenhenwye all the way East into Herefordshire.

On looking at my pencil transcription, I think they're right: it is Glyntawye. My options here are two: Jenkin panicked and made a deliberate error to throw any busybody from Bristol off the scent. It looks like an innocent scribal doo-doo, but was almost guaranteed to keep his family safe. Travelers who flitted between Glynneath and Glyntawe: er, likely, zero despite apparent proximity.

The other option is our over-zealous clerk, who had smugly "corrected" the name of Jennet Rees, extended himself still further by finding Glyntawe on his map, near Neath and thus concluding the ignorant couple had provided a (wrong) colloquial name for that place, which it was his humble duty to again correct.

The poor church took another battering from the same marriage laws in 1838 when some others of my relatives, goodtime money-to-spend Somerset yeomanry arrived at its steps. If we ignore the bride (who died six years later), you're left with her sister, Ann Feltham, and the groom whose signatures we see. Guess which illegal couple took to the altar not long after?

The Prices, you'll be relieved to hear, settled well into the Flagged Lamb on their return and were blessed with many babies whose names honour earlier family members (and were a real help in getting this far). Jennet's skills as hostess were even recorded in the local paper, before they both move on to bigger things in 1834, with the modern city of Swansea calling.

I wonder if they ever looked back on their escapade up to Bristol and whether they drank some of its sherry of-an-evening as an acknowledgement of the city's helping hand in their journey through Wales's most adventurous era.

18 Feb 2017

Twin of my Valley: Decisions in Iron, 1840s Wales

Women in my family were no strangers to long journeys. In the 1790s, my ancestress Ann Morgan left Cadoxton by Neath for the large town of Newport where her husband worked on the building of ships.

In around 1830-33, perhaps after she had died, her granddaughters made the same journey all the way back. They were the 20 year-old twins Blanche and Elizabeth Morton. They were coming, with their parents and siblings, to begin a connection with Abercanaid and more importantly, its canal.

It was only while having an Italian cappuccino with my mother yesterday that some extra pieces of the puzzle tumbled into place. And only the previous week that I'd realised the women were twins...

In 1834, the stronger twin, Blanche, probably in town no more than a year was courted by William Francis an ambitious puddler living with his parents in Picton Street, Caedraw. Somehow he petitioned the Lords of Cyfarthfa Castle and was successful, that he and Blanche should marry in their church, Vaynor, up in the hills. I have been there, in 1995, as I descended into the valley towns after a spring lambing the border country.

Four years later, the weaker twin, Elizabeth, married in Merthyr parish church to James Jenkins and settled near the Cyfarthfa lords's Iron Bridge, Ynysgau, central Merthyr. James was a nailer in the iron works.

In 1841 both women are in Merthyr, age given as 25, meaning 25-29.

As the 1840s rolled around, opportunity was springing up around south Wales. Blanche and William seized the moment and in 1848 arrived in the sulphurous fog of Briton Ferry, in the navigable lower reaches of the Neath, to work again as a puddler in the iron furnaces there. They were midway through the births of their seven children.

In 1851 both women give their age as 39 and as neither could have been any older, nor would they likely to be aggrandising their years, I suspect these are true and both are born therefore in December of 1811, by comparison with William's family bible entry for Blanche.  At this point Blanche is in Briton Ferry and Elizabeth still in Ynsygau.

Elizabeth and James made their decision to leave later, after they had finished having children, and watched 7 die. Merthyr had been horrendous for them and in the late 1850s they came to the ironworks of Aberdare where their family still have connections to this day.  No more children arrived, but equally, none died.

The twins' family would not remain in Briton Ferry, nor in Aberdare. After seven years, Blanche and William move to Morriston ironworks. Their only son was 17 and they probably wanted to get him apprenticed in the tinplate works there, rather than continue in the scorching hell of the ironworks. This would fit William's ambitious nature.

In 1875 we assess the roll of the twins' dice. Because in 1875 in Morriston, the Dyffryn tinplate and steel works would open providing lifelong employment to Blanche's only son and grandson (who didn't take it). We have the desk presented to us from that works 35 years later.

But in 1875 in Aberdare, that was the year the iron works shut, having been good for Elizabeth's husband and son for a 20-year period.

As for the twins, Elizabeth had survived her only daughter dying in childbirth and died age 55 in Aberdare, 1867 two years later, while Blanche lasted another year in Morriston. Her portrait is painted in Swansea (by Chenhall) and survived. She had refused a final move from her persuasive husband, to join family up in Bishop Auckland. William finds work as a "forge agent" within the year up there taking his only daughter with him. Perhaps he finally escapes the furnaces?

Elizabeth's husband James has the misfortune to survive beyond 1875 he is nearly seventy and unable to join the rush for the Rhondda coal mines. He has no choice but to return to the hated iron works of Merthyr and their tyrannical masters where he ends his days alone, still working at 75, lodging in the town.

A word on infant mortality. Elizabeth has 8 children over a dozen years against Blanche's six, and both have a final child after a gap, Blanche having the longer gap. So perhaps Elizabeth was the stronger twin after all? Neither was as strong as their mother (who attained 70 and bore live twins twice) nor grandmother (age 101).

Blanche lost 5 children out of 7 (all age 1 or over) while Elizabeth lost 7 children out of 9 (most known to be under 1). So perhaps Blanche's milk was stronger or just the air in Merthyr worse.  Both girls used the name Margaret for daughters but not each other's names.

My mother asks why the birth of twins in the family stopped? Perhaps the way the gene worked you had to be born a twin to have twins, and the industrial era killed off infant twins either in the womb or in early life. Not sure. Blanche and Elizabeth's mother was a twin.

Many more questions to be asked about these valleys seen through the prism of the two twins.

11 Feb 2017

Clues for those who know

Back in 2015 I wrote a posting about the 1939 Wife Swap couple which blew up the internet.

I had found that identity of Richard Bowman's second wife Louisa May, who had taken the name of his first wife, the real Louisa May.

Louisa May not have been who she said she was.  In fact she certainly wasn't.  The fact that she's described as somebody called Millie on her probate record was very helpful.

Millie's three full names meant there was only one birth that fitted, a Miss Millie Moucher born Kent 1901.  But what was her story and how did the years enable her to become Louisa Bowman by the 1930s?

We needed to press pause on that enquiry until the GRO indexes of November 2016 revealed her mother's maiden name, she was the only surviving child of Mrs Mildred Moucher by her husband.  And what should the census records reveal, that Millie senior had taken on a new man, Mr Stockton, by 1911 and was living with him without benefit of clergy.

Both women disappear entirely from the records, and who knows if Mr Stockton, with the relatively senior role of Chief Stoker in the Navy, stuck around.

Except he does.  Buried in the transcription of Millie (sorry 'Louisa') and her family in the 1939 register is her step-dad, Mr Stockton, still going strong and described as a widower.

I had birth records for all Millie's children except the eldest, presumably born before her liaison with Mr Bowman, namely Dorothy P Bowman.  I find her birth as Dorothy P Stockton in the late 1920s with mother's name Stockton.  Last piece of jigsaw fitted.

7 Feb 2017

You've Got No Chance

Want to pin down Mary Francis born 1848 in Briton Ferry.  Well, good luck.
She's at home in 1851 and again in 1861, but not so's you'd know as she's down as Margaret (the name of her deceased sister).
In 1871, she's with her father up in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, but they are both listed as born Glamorganshire, making her one of 11 born in about the right period.
After she marries (1875) her age is listed wrongly in all censuses up until the end.  I only found the marriage as we had a garbled version of her married name from the family bible.  And no mention in either record of the fact she'd been married before up in Durham.

Want to find this lady, another one of my Grandpa's fearsome great-aunties, in the records?  Sorry: you've got no chance!