Lewis Pocock: Begelly’s Renaissance Man

Following the completion of the new harbour and tramroad in the early 1830s, the Saundersfoot pits attracted various adventurers willing to risk their capital while aspiring to return substantial profits. They were a mixed lot: a Tenby wine merchant, London attorneys and north Wales gentry amongst them. Perhaps the most intriguing was Lewis Pocock, a man of eclectic interests.

Portrait of Lewis Pocock c.1847 Copyright: Trustees of the British Museum

Born in 1808 in London and educated in France, Lewis joined his brother, Samuel, and James Mark Child of Begelly House in 1838 to reconstitute the failed Tenby and Begelly Coal Company. Their aim was to exploit coal seams under Child’s estate in Begelly, working pits at Barley Park and Spadeland. By the mid-1840s they were probably the biggest employer in the local coalfield with up to 150 workers.

Getting his hands dirty in the local pits was just a part of Pocock’s interests. So important was he as a patron of the arts in Victorian Britain that he warrants an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (DNB). For example in 1852 he commissioned the “Proscribed Royalist” from the Pre-Raphaelite painter, Millais, and his own collection included paintings by JMW Turner and an extensive selection of items related to Samuel Johnson. His passion for the arts was more than just a hobby as in 1836 he co-founded the Art Union of London. In this he had two objectives, to encourage young artists and also to promote the appreciation of art to the expanding middle class. The DNB article describes the Union’s activity as “a subscription society…(publishing) a monthly journal, books, prints, and Parian reproductions of sculpture; it also organized artistic competitions, awarded prizes, and pressed for the subsidization of public art galleries”. Child and the coal company’s manager, Robert Brough, were subscribers to the Union.

There’s more. He patented at least two inventions, one of which was to purify sea water, and was involved in the early development of photography. Last and not least he was a director of the Argus Life Assurance Company. In 1842 he published a lengthy work on life assurance noted for its exemplary bibliography.

In the 1851 census Pocock stated his occupation as “coal proprietor”, an indication of the importance he attached to this part of his career. With all these other interests, why did Pocock choose to spend time and money trying to make a profit from Begelly coal? The answer is not clear. His father’s occupation, a coal merchant, may offer a clue and the 1841 census confirms that this was a trade his son continued. What is clear however is that his involvement finished in failure. When his partnership with Child terminated in 1843, Pocock continued to lease the Begelly mineral rights from Child until the early 1850s. An acrimonious court case full of claim, counter-claim and perjury accusations marked a depressing end in 1854 both to their relationship and of large scale mining in this part of Begelly.

Pocock died in 1882. Neither the DNB nor any of the contemporary obituaries I have found so far record his mining activity, an episode he maybe chose to forget.

Sources

Pembrokeshire Herald newspaper

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (requires subscription)

Note: updated some grammatical errors 050713