Yet More Digital Material Published – Land Tax 1798

We live in interesting times…

Ancestry.co.uk has today made the 1798 Land Tax Redemption Schedules available to search and view on their web site. As ever you will need to have the appropriate subscription to view these. Ancestry’s introduction to this set of Land Tax records provides little context for this collection so here’s an extract from the ‘Oxford Companion to Local & Family History’:

“…in 1698 the direct poundage rate was replaced by a system of quotas at county, hundred, and parish or township level. During the 18th century the tax evolved into a true land tax, assessed on land, buildings, and various forms of rents. Relatively few records survive before 1780, but from that date until the Parliamentary Reform Act of 1832 annual copies or ‘duplicates’ of the assessments owed by each owner of real property and by each of his tenants were lodged at the Quarter Sessions in order to establish a qualification for the vote at county elections. These duplicates survive in bulk amongst the quarter sessions papers at county record offices. The only return that covers almost all of England and Wales is that of 1798, kept in 121 volumes at the National Archives in class IR 23.”

Academic historians have for many years mused about the usefulness of Land Tax returns. However, I have found them very useful for tracing the tenure of the many small-holdings in the Saundersfoot area using the near-complete run for the 1786-1831 period held at the Pembrokeshire Record Office.

From my experience, there are three main benefits for researchers in this new publication.

Firstly, in its marketing, Ancestry is promoting this new material as ‘almost a mini-census’. In general there is a touch of hype to this but, for the Saundersfoot area, it is not far wrong. Many of our collier and artisan ancestors were granted leases to small-holdings of around one to ten acres or so. What is interesting and unusual is that their landlords granted these on extended terms, for example the survivor of three named lives. The reason why large landowners were keen on this is that such leases attracted voting rights for the tenants and, in the days of public polling, they assumed that these tenants, in consideration for (apparent) improved security of tenure, would vote according to their wishes. As a result, more colliers in our area are recorded in the Land Tax returns then you’d expect to find for other areas where such leases were uncommon.

The second benefit is that the schedules list not only the lessees’ names but also that of the landowner (or the ‘proprietor’ as Ancestry shows it as). Finding this name acts as a portal into landowners’ estate collections where rentals and leases can be valuable sources of material. For our area, much has survived and the collections for, in particular, the Picton Castle estate (mostly at the National Library of Wales – NLW) and the Gogerddan estate (again held at NLW) are real gems in providing further material for researchers.

Lastly, for those of us fortunate to have landowners in our trees, this publication gives a quick and efficient view of the land they owned across wide areas and also county boundaries. For example, although I am not linked in any way to them, in my research into the Child family of Begelly House I was unaware before today just how much land they owned in Carmarthenshire.

While there’s much of benefit, I do have the usual gripes about the standard of transcription that Ancestry has achieved. It is lousy. For example, St Issells has been transcribed throughout as ‘Saint Glsels’ – at least consistently. ‘Begelly’ thankfully is Begelly. But don’t get me started on the wierd transcriptions of many of the surnames!

Church and Chapel in the Saundersfoot area in the 1800s

Over the last ten years or so I have transcribed material from the surviving chapel registers to help with my research. Over the next few weeks I intend to publish these on the blog. This post asseses the importance of these registers for researchers.

The imminent publication by Findmypast.co.uk of their index to and images of the Pembrokeshire parish registers will be a great step forward for family historians – albeit at the cost of a subscription or a trip to the library. However, while these registers are important, don’t forget the extensive non-conformist tradition in Wales. Although the church was the largest religious denomination in the country around the middle of the 1800s, it had to compete hard for worshippers with growing support for non-conformism. In our area, according to the 1851 Religious Census, the parish church of St Issells could hold 350 people while the four chapels in the parish, all of them opened in the previous 40 years, could hold a total of 948. In terms of attendance, drawing a very rough estimate from the same source, the chapels were on average three-quarters full while the parish church was near capacity.

Map showing the opening dates and denominations of the chapels in Begelly & St Issells parishes (click to enlarge)

Map showing the opening dates and denominations of the chapels in Begelly & St Issells parishes (click to enlarge)

It is clear then that these soon-to-be-published parish registers are useful but that they tell less than half the story for family historians. The accompanying map illustrates the growth of non-conformism in the Saundersfoot area. Before 1800 the nearest chapel was the Baptists’ at Molleston, a couple of miles north of Begelly. Judging by the surviving baptism register, it attracted a handful of worshippers from the local coalfield. More important was the start of the Independent cause in the early 1800s centred on the parish boundary between Amroth and St Issells. Its success resulted in the opening of Sardis Chapel in between Hean Castle and Stepaside in 1810 followed swiftly in the 1820s by the Calvinistic Methodists at Zion (Begelly) and Bethesda (St Issells) together with the Primitive Methodists at Hill (St Issells). Further development occurred on the back of Saundersfoot’s growth from the early 1830s with the Independents opening Bethel Chapel in 1838 (now the Thomas Memorial Church) with the Baptists, Calvinistic and then the Wesleyan Methodists following suit over the next 30 years.

All these put pressure on St Issells and Begelly churches and the parish registers tell a story of decline in numbers. While many left for the chapels, it should not be forgotten that something like 50 percent of the population at the time (for England and Wales) did not attend church or chapel in 1851.

That is not good news for family historians hoping to find material in the local registers. Nor is there much good news in the survival rate for chapel registers in the Saundersfoot area. At best it can be described as patchy.  Some registers have survived, the Primitive and Wesleyan Methodists in particular being well-covered, but there is next to nothing that I am aware of for the two Independent and three Calvinistic Methodist chapels and nothing at all for the Baptists.  With so many gaps I hope you will find some material of interest in the transcripts that I post over the next few weeks, starting with the baptism register for the Kingsmoor Primitive Methodist Chapel.

Note:

The Old Series Ordnance Survey map on which the above graphic is based, surveyed around 1815,  is reproduced with the permission of Cassini Publishing Ltd.

NLW Newspaper Digitisation Project – update

Back in October 2010 I posted a note about the future of the National Library’s project to digitise and publish on-line its newspaper collection. Well, the future is almost with us. NLW has posted an update on its blog today…expect a summer baby.

This is good news of course seeing that the albeit wonderful British Library/Findmypast project to digitise so much of the British Library’s huge collection contains as yet little Welsh material and none at all for our area.

My comments about the NLW project seventeen months ago still remain: their site will be free to use so no payment required BUT the NLW project is limited to only newspapers it is has original copies of. So, we will be to access a complete run of the Pembrokeshire Herald but little of the various late 19th century Tenby newspapers, many of which were so gossipy.

I wonder whether the British Library will arrange for the papers that it has copies of that NLW doesn’t have to be digitised under the Findmypast contract. Yes, we will need to pay for access but at least they will cover the gaps. I will do some digging.

Roll on summer!

A Problem with Ancestry.co.uk and the 1911 census?

The indexed and digitised census returns provided by the likes of Ancestry and Findmypast have been a boon to family historians over the last 10 years. With so many millions of names published on-line we of course expect there to be errors and for the most part we can work with this – as long that is the database that provides the data to us is working correctly.

I prefer Ancestry’s database to Findmypast‘s as the former allows you to search on any piece of data while Findmypast is more restrictive. For example, on Ancestry, there’s no need to enter a name at all so you can search on parish name alone if you want to. This is very useful for those of us with local history interests as well as genealogy.

However, there seems to be a problem with Ancestry.co.uk’s 1911 census database currently. The following is a good example of the problem. In the England database**, try searching on the following index field alone by entering the following wildcard “Pem*” in the “County or island” of birth field and for the 1911 census you will see that there are currently 483 names returned. By comparison, the same search for the 1901 census returns 9880 names. Part of the explanation lies in the fact that Ancestry has yet to finish indexing the 1911 census for England, claiming a worthy 75 percent coverage so far. While this explains part of the discrepancy, the above shows that it can only be a small part of the cause.

Another example confirms that Ancestry’s database appears to be in a mess. My great-grandfather, Richard Nash who was born in Begelly, was living in Newcastle upon Tyne in Northumberland at the time the 1911 census was taken. I can find him searching on Ancestry by entering “Richard” and “Nash” with “Northumberland” for his county of residence. The search returns just two “Richard Nash” and my ancestor is one of these. That is good. But try searching for surname “Nash” with “Pem*” in the “County or island” of birth. He does not appear.

Has anyone else encountered problems such as these?

Note:

** you will need to be a subscriber to Ancestry to follow these examples.

Finding Chapel Burials

One of the most popular posts on this blog has been the discussion of the St Issells Burial Board register and its importance in recording non-conformist burials in the area. That so few records for local chapels have survived makes the register an important tool for finding the burials of around 400 people who do not appear in the parish registers.

Not everyone was buried at St Issells church. Many were buried in large chapel graveyards. To help those readers who do not live close to the area locate these burials I have published on the GENUKI site 2 sets of data I have collected in the past few years for each of the following four chapels:

Plan of Saundersfoot area showing 19th century chapels highlighting Bethesda, Ebenezer, Sardis & Zion in particular

Local chapels established in 1800s (Click to enlarge)

Begelly

Ebenezer Baptist Chapel, Cold Inn, East Williamston

Zion Calvinistic Methodist Chapel

St Issells

Bethesda Calvinistic Methodist Chapel

Sardis Independent Chapel

Partial transcriptions of stones in chapel graveyards

Although far from complete I have transcribed genealogical information from gravestones in these chapel yards.  There will no doubt be some errors in this work as many stones are difficult to read – especially as one of the masons had a penchant for an illegible gothic script! Do let me know if you spot mistakes or have material to add.

The lists are in no particular order.

Lists of burials extracted from the Narberth, Whitland & Clynderwen Weekly newspaper (1906-42)

I have published on the GENUKI site details of burials reported in the Narberth Weekly. It was a marvellously chatty newspaper during this period, a journalistic equivalent of parish pump gossip. Often lengthy reports of both deaths and funerals include the cause and location, extensive biographical material, names of attendees at the funeral with relationship to the deceased and even details of the wreaths.

You may find an ancestor appears in both the graveyard and newspapers lists.

If you find anything of interest and want to check the newspapers, the following repositories hold copies:

  • British Library (Colindale): 1906-42 (1912 incomplete)
  • Haverfordwest Library: 1910-23 (incomplete)
  • National Library of Wales: 1916 (incomplete), 1924-26, 1928-34, 1937-40

Alternatively post a note on this blog or email me at snorbensblog@aol.com and I will return any additional material I extracted.

As ever I wish to express my thanks to Gareth Hicks for letting me publish this information on the Pembrokeshire GENUKI site he maintains.

Interested in Evans & Hitchings of Stepaside?

I know there are a couple of regular readers of this blog who are interested in the extensive and complex Evans family of Stepaside and I suspect there are several more.

A probate document held at the Pembrokeshire Record Office should be of interest if you are one of them. Dated 11 November 1842 it concerns Nicholas Hitchings of Tenby’s estate and, as it lists most of his extended family, it establishes links between the various strands of Hitchings and Evans of Stepaside. I did not extract all the details but here’s a list of one part of the family, the children of Nicholas’ sister Mary Evans (nee Hitchings):

  • Martha Allen, wife of Benjamin of Eastlake, Amroth
  • William Evans of Stepaside, mason
  • Henry Evans of Little Kilvelgy, St Issells, farmer
  • Nicholas Evans of St Issells, carpenter
  • David Evans of Pleasant Valley, Amroth, tailor
  • Mary Absalom, wife of Benjamin, Redwalls, mason
  • Thomas Evans of Penrath, St Issells, farmer
  • Ann Morris, wife of William, Stepaside, blacksmith
  • Ann Evans, farmer of Begelly, widow of late John Evans

Family history would be so much easier if documents like this existed for all families!

Click here to link to the Record Office’s catalogue entry for the document.

Poverty Among The Farmers

I considered splitting this long post in two but opted to retain as one to maintain cohesion.

Picton Castle (Copyright Tudor Williams licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence)

The general poverty of coalmining families in the Saundersfoot area in the 1700s and 1800s is well-known. What is less well-known are the problems faced by the local farmers. In parts of England and Wales farmers made good profits from the changes of the so-called “agricultural revolution”. This is certainly not the case in this part of Pembrokeshire, the following example of a group of farmers from around Thomas Chapel illustrating how precarious the business of farming was.

This table lists five farmers all of whom faced varying degrees of financial jeopardy during the 1810-65 period. At one time or another, they each farmed more than 30 acres as tenants of the Picton Castle estate (PCE) and, with this size of farm, could make a living from farming alone rather than needing to have a second occupation.

Farmer

Acreage (approx)

Evidence of financial problems

George Hughes

3

He died in the Narberth workhouse in 1847; had farmed abt. 30 acres up to 1816 but then ran into financial problems
Sarah Phillips

38

She farmed at Bramble Hill; by 1849, she was twelve months in arrears on her rent; distress levied by PCE on her goods and in receipt of relief as a pauper through the 1870s
Sarah Hughes

38

Increasing arrears of rent owed to PCE from 1849; 18 months behind by 1851; died in poverty, documented in article in Haverfordwest & Milford Haven Telegraph
Morgan Hughes

55

Financial problems leading to bankruptcy in 1855; his problems are documented in a previous post
Richard Morgan

40

Bankruptcy, 1863

What was the cause of the problems? The answer is not clear. Farming is and always has been a precarious business with Nature, through disease, drought and fire, often making the difference between success and failure. But local farmers faced man-made problems as well, some of which they could control and others they could not.

National problems

Map showing farms around Thomas Chapel which experienced financial problems c.1840-63 (Begelly tithe map reproduced courtesy of Pembrokeshire Record Office, HDX/1210/1)

The period covered by the Napoleonic Wars represented a boom time for farmers with foodstuffs in short supply due to a run of poor harvests and difficulties obtaining imports. Welsh landlords took advantage of this, some rents more than doubling. In Pembrokeshire the PCE increased its rents by about 77 percent between 1790 and 1820 and George Hughes was a possible victim of this.** William Ormond was Hughes’ predecessor paying 8 shillings an acre in the early 1790s and then 18s from 1799 by which time he was already behind on his rent. With this indicator that the rent was already too high, Hughes took over the farm in 1800 but signed a new lease in 1808 at 22s. It may be no coincidence that he gave up this lease around 1817 shortly after the economic bubble burst, possibly unable to pay his way. David Thomas of Ramshorn farm took over from Hughes but at just the 18s an acre that Ormond had originally agreed in 1799.***

The period from around 1815 to the mid-1840s was punctuated by several economic downturns. Around 1822 for example, many of the local land agents reported to the proprietors the difficulty they found collecting rents. Unfortunately the PCE rentals do not survive for this period so it is impossible to assess how bad the problem was around Thomas Chapel. The rentals do survive to illustrate the problems around 1840, the period of the Rebecca Riots. By 1843, for example, Sarah Phillips of Bramble Hill and Richard Morgan were a year behind on their respective rents.

Regional problems

Contemporaries often noted that west Wales farmers lacked the capital required to make a success of their farms. With storage either poor or non-existent they sold grain at low prices after harvest only to have to re-purchase during the winter months at a high price. Farmhouses too were poor: in 1827 John Francis, tenant of Churchlands farm at nearby Reynalton, was living with his family in an outhouse as he did not have sufficient funds to build a new farmhouse. The supply of capital through banks in the area offered little salvation as they frequently came and went. George Hughes was a victim of the crash of the Narberth & Pembrokeshire Bank in 1826 committed to debtors’ gaol at Haverfordwest by the assignees in bankruptcy of one of the partners.

Local problems

In 1801 the vicar of Begelly, Rev John Williams, provided a pithy description of the main preoccupation of the farmers in his parish. They were

“…chiefly engaged in leading coal and culm to the shore; which they are bound to do by a covenant in their lease. Depending principally upon this business for their livelihood, they greatly neglect the cultivation of their farms.”

There is some evidence of increased activity in the coalfield in the mid-1820s with the work of the Tenby & Begelly Coal Co in the van which, if true, would have provided an Indian summer for the farmers’ carting business. But it did not last long. In 1833, the opening of the tramroad from Thomas Chapel colliery past the pits at Barley Park rendered this occupation largely obsolete.

Operation of the local mines caused another problem to farmers. Even on the comparatively small-scale in which the local mines operated, they left their mark on the landscape. An observer in 1806 noted that “…the whole country is defaced by the large coal slack heaps, many in almost every field and common…”. This must have caused problems to Sarah Hughes in particular. Thomas Chapel colliery was operating on her land from possibly as early as 1825 but definitely by 1838. When operations ceased there in 1854, a new shaft was sunk at New Hayes, also on her land. There is little evidence in PCE documents that she was granted any abatement in her rent to cover for the losses she suffered in the quality and amount of land she held.

For want of conclusive evidence any explanation of what caused this flurry of financial problems around Thomas Chapel remains conjecture. The general vicissitudes of farming in the first 40 years of the 19th century established a tough environment for farmers to succeed in. Regional issues such as lack of capital exacerbated these problems. What remains unclear however is to what extent the local coal industry effected the farmers. For example, how much revenue they lost from the tramroad replacing any carting business is unfortunately hidden from our view. Whatever happened, it is clear that the local farmers, like the coalmining families, often shared similar doubts about where their next shilling was coming from.

Notes

** Howells pg 9

*** It cannot be said with certainty that Ormond, Hughes and Thomas farmed the same amount of land but, judging from the available primary sources, it is more than likely.

Sources

Primary

The National Archives, Parish Acreage Returns 1801 (HO 67/22)

National Library of Wales, Picton Castle estate rentals and leases

Pembrokeshire Record Office (PRO), Debtors’ gaol records (PQ/AG/8)

PRO, Harcourt Powell estate papers (D/POW/H/191)

London Gazette (on-line)

Haverfordwest & Milford Haven Telegraph

Narberth, Whitland & Clynderwen Weekly News

Secondary

Pembrokeshire County History vol. IV, Modern Pembrokeshire, 1815-1974, David W Howell (ed.), Pembrokeshire Historical Society, 1993

Industrial Saundersfoot, Martin Connop Price, Gomer Press, 1982

Land and People in Nineteenth-century Wales, David W Howell, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977

Aerial view of Thomas Chapel today showing some  change in the landscape (such as new housing on Broom Lane) from the above tithe map. The spoil tips have of course been removed.