Some More Jam Tomorrow…Welsh Parish Registers

Interesting post on Dick Eastman’s reliable genealogy blog… are one of the main partners in this project. In my post about their digitising and indexing of the Chelsea Pensioner records, I made the point that Findmypast could have provided more data in the index to more easily locate matches.

In the land of so many Thomas, Davies and Jones the new index must be more efficient to search.

Poor Law Records (Part Three)

This the third and final post assessing the value of surviving Poor Law records for both local and family historians.

Poor Law Correspondence Files

This is an extensive collection of documents held at The National Archives (TNA) recently brought to light by an equally extensive digitisation project. Unfortunately the Narberth Union files were not covered by the project. While the documents do contain rich pickings for family historians, searching them is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack – without knowing if the needle is there in the first place! For local historians with an interest in social conditions, these files are an important source. Going through the entire collection takes up to 3 days and, if you undertake this task, do not wear clean clothes!

There is a good description of the contents of these files on TNA’s web site but in, simple terms, they contain letters and reports sent to the Poor Law Commissioners in London together with notes of their actions and letter out. The commissioners’ role was to oversee the management of the Poor Law by the local unions throughout the country. Several of the local “great and the good”, recognising the importance of this role to influence local actions, frequently wrote to them to lobby on behalf of various local inhabitants where they perceived a wrongdoing by the local guardians. Rev Richard Buckby and James Mark Child, both JPs from Begelly, were frequent correspondents. Their letters, recorded in the TNA’s files, provide rich material about life in the Saundersfoot area from the 1834 to the end of the century.

For example, in 1846, Child wrote a letter on behalf of Jeremiah Phillips, a collier from Begelly, stating that he had had to give Phillips money out of his pocket to ensure he and his wife didn’t starve. Phillips was suffering from asthma and his wife crippled by rheumatism. Child asked why the guardians weren’t doing more for Phillips and his wife. The Narberth Union board’s response, again recorded in the files, rebutted Child’s complaint stating that they currently paid Phillips 4s a week and had received no complaints from Phillips himself that this was insufficient.

A second example comes from a short series of letters investigating the death of Emma Jenkins in 1846 at Kingsmoor, St Issells. One of the letters describes Jenkins’ diet in the last year of her life as salted meat, cabbage and potatoes for lunch and, in the evening, a cup of tea with bread and butter.

Much of the correspondence concerns the administration of the Poor Law in the locality. With so much money going through the system the opportunity for fraud was rife, something the commissioners attempted to keep an eye on by ensuring that effective auditing was carried out. For example, Lewis Nash, assistant overseer in St Issells, was investigated in 1849 for the embezzlement of £59 from the parish fund, a large sum of money for someone of his background. One of the letters described him as “wholly unfit to be appointed to such an office” and stated that the St Issells vestry had not taken out the correct sureties to cover such an eventuality.


The National Archives, Narberth Union Poor Law Correspondence Files

Sudden Or Unexplained Deaths

An interesting source for the study of Welsh history** before 1830 are the Court of Great Sessions records held at the National Library of Wales (NLW). From 1543 until 1830 Wales had its own legal jurisdiction covering criminal, civil and Chancery cases. It’s the criminal side this post concentrates on.

"Hillside", Begelly (early 1990s); scene of inquest into death of William John in 1792

The Court’s criminal jurisdiction was similar to that of the Assize courts in England. Using the surviving records it’s possible to analyse the history of crime in Wales and, to help local and family historians get started, NLW has created an on-line database of cases heard in Wales between 1730 and 1830. One of the classes of documents referenced on the database are coroners’ reports. According to Parry, the coroner was “obliged by statute to go the place where any person was found slain or suddenly dead and was required by to summon a jury of local men to view the body…and to examine witnesses and suspects…”

It appears, from comparing another source, that all coroners’ reports have survived for the local mining parishes around Saundersfoot for the period between 1786 and 1820. Thereafter until the abolition of the Court in 1830, the survival rate is about half.***

What do these reports contain? The various coroners were not consistent in the information they recorded. In the late 1700s the then coroner was particular about recording all the types of data shown in the following table. His successor in the early 1800s was less so.

Types of Data Recorded by Pembrokeshire Coroners, 1786-1830
Always Included Sometimes Included
Deceased’s details
  • Name
  • Parish of residence
  • Age
  • Occupation
  • (If an infant) Name of parent/guardian
Venue of inquest
  • Parish
  • Date
  • Name of venue
  • Person who lives there
  • Relationship to deceased
  • Occupation and/or status of host
  • Names
  • Signature or mark
Circumstances of death
  • Date
  • Place
  • Witnesses’ names
  • Cause
  • Description
  • Verdict
  • (If died in mining accident) the name of both the owner the colliery itself

I have posted a list of coroners’ reports for the local mining parishes (including Amroth, Jeffreyston and Loveston) for the 1786-1830 period. The list includes the circumstances of death, the name of the deceased and the parish where the inquest was held. There is obvious value in this data for family historians. For example, anyone researching the Ollin mining family from around Wooden will find their ancestor, John Ollin, in the list. He died in a mining accident in St Issells in 1828.

For local historians the value is equally obvious. I  used this source in a previous post to describe the problem of uncapped pits in the area. Among the many industrial-related accidents, several men fell from wagons moving coal to, and also on, Saundersfoot beach for shipping. With a long shoreline it is no surprise that others drowned in the sea walking along the coast or in boating accidents. These records provide a few snippets of their history.


** excluding Monmouthshire

*** I will post the records for the period 1732-1785 in due course


A Guide to the Records of the Court of Great Sessions in Wales, Glyn Parry, National Library of Wales, 1995

Poor Law Records (Part Two)

What I’d originally intended to be a two-part post on Poor Law records will now be in three parts. This is the second and it assesses two further sources.

Records of Narberth Union Board of Guardians

Other than the Abstracts described in the previous post, only a small part of the Union’s records has survived. The minutes of meetings are extant for parts of the period from 1834 to 1900. For local historians they provide an indispensable record of the decisions of this important group of men as the local newspapers’ coverage of these meetings is at best sparse. For example the minutes record the contributions of each parish to the Union to cover the costs of providing relief so it should be possible to track the peaks and troughs of the local economy from these data. It is also possible to assess the response of the guardians to emergencies such as the 1849 cholera outbreak.

For family historians there are some scraps to chew on as, particularly in the early minute books, there are references to cases of individual paupers. For example, in 1838 the Union agreed to cover the cost of the funeral of Philip Walters, aged 54 of St Issells, as his family had no money to bury him if the Union didn’t. In 1870 the minutes record that the Union clerk had to write to Richard Hare of St Issells requesting a contribution of 5s a week towards the maintenance of his son in the Joint Lunatic Asylum.

The most consistent entries in the minutes record the grant by the Union’s medical officers of  certificates to people suffering from illness or accident and who needed relief to help them stave off destitution. The case of Zachariah Harries (collier of Begelly and later St Issells) is a good example as he is listed at least 9 times over a 20-year period receiving certificates for typhus, smallpox, typhoid fever and lastly a bad kick to his knee. He did well to survive all those!

Parish Records

Again only a small portion of the parish poor law records have survived and that only for Begelly. These include the following:

  1. Overseers’ Account Book, 1833-1933
  2. Poor Law Accounts, 1837-1848
  3. Poor Rate Assessment, 1842

The most interesting to me, at least, is the first of these as it lists various inhabitants who were exempted in the 1840s from paying poor rate due to their own poverty, my ggg-gfather, William Nash and his mother being two of them. Another entry covers the agreement of the parish to pay 4s a week to the guardians in Liscard in Cheshire to support Elizabeth Lewis and her 4 children – formerly landlady of the Begelly Arms.

The Poor Rate Assessment also has a specific use. If you have looked in vain on the Begelly tithe award and map for your ancestors in the early 1840s, check the Assessment as it records all inhabitants in the parish, not just landowners and tenants. Because it uses the field numbering system established in the tithe award to locate each individual it is possible to track the habitation of each head of household using the Assessment. Using this I was able to find the places where William Nash and his mother lived.


If you are unfamiliar with the history of the Poor Law in England and Wales, take a look at Peter Higginbotham’s excellent site, It is a real treasure trove of information including modern pictures of the former Narberth workhouse buildings.


Pembrokeshire Record Office, Narberth Union Board of Guardians minutes (cat ref SPU/NA/2-4)

Pembrokeshire Record Office, Begelly Poor Law Records (cat ref HPR/110/15-18)

Some Jam Tomorrow…

The link below takes you to a good update on one of the National Library of Wales’ key digitisation programmes, that of its newspaper collection.

To see what will be included, I searched the contents of the Library’s collection on the Newsplan Cymru site. The results of the search make a distinction between what the Library has on hard copy and its large microfilm collection. The Library has confirmed that it’s just the hard copies that will be made available in 2012. Amongst other titles, we will therefore  get access to a complete run of the Pembrokeshire Herald (from 1844-1910), but only some editions of the older regional titles such as The Cambrian and The Welshman and very few of the various Tenby newspapers of the late 1800s. Missing gaps tend to be well covered by the microfilm collection.

If this sounds like I am carping,  I am not. The Library’s web site states that access will be from “wherever and whenever it is convenient to the user and completely free of charge”. Whatever local material they make available will be a great boon.

Poor Law Records (Part One)

In such a poor area as Saundersfoot the Poor Law system played an important role in keeping many out of destitution. This two-part post assesses the surviving Poor Law records to see what value they have for both family and local historians.

The history of the Poor Law can be split in two: firstly, from about 1600 until the mid-1830s, each civil parish was required by statute to raise funds to support its own poor. Records for our area for this first phase are scant: only the Overseers’ Accounts for East Williamston for 1781-1807 & 1826-27 have survived but these are largely illegible due to damp and also incomplete.

From 1834 onwards the system changed to a union of parishes run by a board of elected guardians. The local union was based at Narberth and covered 46 parishes surrounding the town with the new workhouse, completed in 1839, on the road south from Narberth to Begelly. Several sets of records have survived and this first post looks at the most detailed of these, namely the “Abstract and List of Paupers” published by the Union twice a year. Fifteen copies are extant out of a possible run of 21 for the years 1872-1881. The following breakdown shows some of the interesting data contained in the abstracts:

1. All those paupers receiving “outdoor” relief either in kind or by money showing age and address of recipient, reason for relief. Names are listed by parish.

Several of my ancestors appear:

  • Susanna Nash (my gggg-gmother), aged 83 of Thomas Chapel, received £1 13s due to old age. This payment lasted for 11 weeks at 3s a week in 1871
  • The sum of £1 1s was paid by the Union towards the cost of Frances Nash’s funeral (my g-gfather’s sister) in 1881

2. All those paupers receiving “indoor” relief in the workhouse showing age, the number of days in the workhouse and the parish covering the cost.

  • William Nash (aged 10) and his brothers John (8) and Isaac (7), all of Begelly and cousins of my g-gfather, each spent 236 days in the workhouse in 1878. (Their widowed mother was in Carmarthen gaol at the time)

3. All those paupers in the Joint Lunatic Asylum at Carmarthen including the name of the parish covering the cost of their stay.

  • John Belt, aged 23 of Small Drink, Begelly, was in the workhouse in late 1878 but by 1881 he had been moved to the Asylum

This is rich information for family historians.

For local historians the period covered by these abstracts is of significant interest as well. Throughout the 1870s the history of local mining was punctuated by several lengthy stoppages. If these were due to strike action, the Union was under no obligation to offer relief but with little money in the local economy there were many others who suffered as well. Together with other sources, the data in the abstracts can be used to assess the response of the Union to these calamities.


My thanks to Gerry Brawn for pointing this source out to me.

I have copies of the abstracts for the parishes of Begelly & East Williamston, Reynalton and St Issells. If you have labourers, miners and widows amongst your ancestors living in these parishes at the time but you can’t get to the Record Office, leave a Comment on this post or email me at and I will check the lists for you.


Pembrokeshire Record Office, The Narberth Union Abstract and List of Paupers (cat ref HDX/1026/1/x)

Pembrokeshire Record Office, East Williamston Overseers’ Accounts (cat ref HPR/110/13 & 14)

Morgan Hughes: A Riches to Rags Story

Although this post is longer than normal, I trust you’ll find this tale of another local colliery proprietor worth persevering with.

Morgan Hughes was born in Hackney, east London around 1802. Although his father was for a time a wine merchant in the area, both parents were descendants of lesser gentry from around the Carmarthenshire/Pembrokeshire border area. They were rich enough that the father’s estate was valued around £2000 when he died in 1814.

By 1825, his mother was living in a house on the sea front at Saundersfoot, at the time a hamlet of little more than a dozen dwellings. Saundersfoot’s position as the centre for shipping coal from the local mines impaired what might otherwise have been an idyllic situation. Her house overlooked this scene. Her son, Morgan, lived with her. His late second cousin, Elizabeth Davies, had married one of the local coal entrepreneurs, James Mark Child of Begelly House. No doubt captivated by what he saw, and aged just 23, Hughes together with Child and five others formed the Tenby and Begelly Coal Co to exploit various local opportunities. Hughes took about 20 percent of the shares and also the position of managing partner.

The company rarely prospered and by 1833 was insolvent. Only repeated cash advances by Child kept it afloat. The other two remaining partners, dissatisfied with his work, sacked Hughes from his management role in 1834. When in 1837 he assigned his shares to Child, their value was next to nothing.

Hughes’ failings did not stop him looking for further opportunities. After all, this should have been a period of success for the local coal trade following the completion in 1833 of the new harbour at Saundersfoot and the tramway from there to the pit at Thomas Chapel, a mile further beyond Begelly House. The auguries were good enough to tempt Hughes to lease this colliery.

It is not clear when he signed this lease. Documents show that he had control of the colliery in 1838 but he had possibly signed as early as 1834. The fact that he mortgaged his interest in his mother’s estate for £1500 in 1835 provides a clue that he needed money around this time, probably to provide the capital base to work his new colliery. If so, this was a high-risk strategy. In liquidating this future asset, Hughes was betting both his and his family’s future on the success of his colliery.

Disaster struck in June 1838: six miners were drowned at Hughes’ pit when they cut through to old water-filled workings. Capital would be required to make it workable again and sales lost in the meantime. The auguries were starting to look less attractive! It probably took up to twelve months before the pit was back in operation. Whether he had been successful in making a profit before the accident is not known but there’s little doubt he was eating into his £1500 fund. Maybe because of this Hughes was now working the pit as lead partner with several other men including his brother, Rev. John Williams Hughes of Oxford. But sales were poor. This set him on a collision course with the directors of the Saundersfoot Railway & Harbour Company, the owner of the harbour and tramway. In building the tramway to Thomas Chapel they, too, had spent large sums of money and relied on Hughes to provide a good return on this investment. While other busier pits did make such good returns for them, his was negligible.

Frustrated by his perceived mismanagement of the colliery, the Harbour Company’s normally dry minutes are punctuated by increasingly vitriolic attacks on Hughes culminating in the following in 1845:

“…the only company not proceeding satisfactorily is the Thomas Chapel Co…and I don’t hesitate to say that that concern will ever be the incubus** of this district while Mr Morgan Hughes spends 3/4th of his time in London amusing himself and others with schemes of which he lacks the means and industry to mature…he so sadly mismanages (the company).”

The Harbour Company was right in its assessment. By 1850, Hughes’ money had run out. The Picton Castle estate terminated his colliery lease. In business terms he reached his lowest point in 1854 in debtors’ gaol in London, a bankrupt.

Hughes died on the 23rd March, 1864 at Barnwood Hospital for the Insane near Gloucester. He had returned to Saundersfoot in the late 1850s and had tried to resurrect his mining career but with no success. The fact that he had recorded his occupation as “proprietor of coal and iron mines” in the 1861 census perhaps indicates what his state of mind was, something of a fantasy as there are no records pointing to any interests he had had in the local mines for over ten years. The last two months of his life are gruesome: his attempt to emasculate himself in January 1864 – reportedly due to some sort of dementia – made him something of a cause celebre in his final days in Saundersfoot. The cause of death at Barnwood was recorded as “exhaustion from determined persistent refusal of food under influence of mental delusions”.

If his own decline was not sad enough, the effects of his business failure continued to be felt after his death. While two of his five children married local tradesmen, another, Caroline, did not enjoy any sort of comfort. Spending time in the Narberth workhouse with her two illegitimate children, she appears to be a victim of her father’s failed gambles.


** An “incubus” is an evil sprite, something from the dark recesses of nightmares.

My thanks to Sue Kane, a descendant of Morgan Hughes, for her help in unravelling his family history.


Pembrokeshire Record Office, Saundersfoot Railway & Harbour Company minutes (cat ref D/MER/55 & 56)

Pembrokeshire Record Office, Picton Castle estate records (D/RTP/RBP)

Gloucestershire Archives, Barnwood Institute records

TNA, Exchequer Court records

London Gazette newspaper

Pembrokeshire Herald newspaper