Some Bedtime Reading

Two local history books were published late in 2010 during the hiatus on this blog.

Craig's Medal (reproduced courtesy of Janice Jackson)

Craig's Medal (reproduced courtesy of Janice Jackson)

One is by Saundersfoot-born Janice Jackson called “The Life of a Pembrokeshire Soldier, 1782-1854” about her ancestor, Philip Craig. A Pembrokeshire man he settled near Wooden around 1815 having served in numerous battles in the Peninsular War rising to the rank of sergeant. He certainly led a risky existence as his wounds and participation in the forlorn hope on two occasions pay testament to. He was later awarded the Military General Service Medal, something that all veterans could apply for, but it is the large number of clasps, twelve in all, that sets Craig apart from his peers. If you have mining ancestry in the Saundersfoot area, you may well have links to Craig’s extensive family. Keep an eye out for the July edition of the BBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” magazine where his story will be reprised at length.

Lexden Terrace, Tenby, the building of which was commissioned by John Rees

Lexden Terrace, Tenby, the building of which was commissioned by John Rees (Reproduced with permission of Pembrokeshire County Library Service)

The second book is “A Legacy of Opium” by Douglas Fraser. It is the history of three Rees brothers from Tenby who spent most of their working lives away from home in the Far East. They rode the wave of Britain’s aggressive trading growth around the Chinese coast, the middle of the three, John, playing a leading part in the formative years of the Jardine Matheson company. On his retirement to Tenby in the 1840s, he invested heavily buying the Jeffreyston estate and the associated mineral rights under parts of Jeffreyston, Loveston and Reynalton. The most conspicuous memorial to his wealth is Lexden Terrace, above the harbour in Tenby, which he commissioned in the early 1840s.

What is interesting about the men at the heart of these books is how far they travelled as well as the experiences they had. In the 1840s Rev Buckby of Begelly tried to explain the problems that the supposedly dissolute mining community faced believing that one of the root causes lay in the fact that “the population is mostly indigenous, not imported”. That Craig in particular, like other locals, returned to the Saundersfoot area with many rich military experiences behind him raises the question of how far he and his peers could influence their local community. If Buckby is to be believed, they could do little.


The Life of a Pembrokeshire Soldier 1782-1854, Janice Jackson, self-published, 2010

A Legacy of Opium, Douglas Fraser, Tenby Heritage Publications, 2010

Changing Attitudes To Women’s Employment In The Coalmines

Pembrokeshire Women on Windlass (from 1842 Royal Commission report)

Sketch of Pembrokeshire women working on a windlass (from 1842 report); work like this above- and below-ground often the preserve of women

There has been an interesting series of emails on one of the family history mailing lists this week discussing the occupations women had in Pembrokeshire coalmining. The local mines in our area have a reasonably well-documented history of employing women. For example, a list of employees for the pits at Ridgeway, Moreton and Begelly shows that in 1776-77 about 20 percent were female although how many  worked under-ground is open to conjecture. Another source, coroners’ reports into sudden or unexpected deaths in the coalmining parishes between 1786 and 1820, shows that 20 percent of all pit-related deaths were for women working under-ground. There’s further evidence for their general employment in the 1841 census returns as well as the report of the Children’s Employment Commission in 1842. Women were employed because they were paid less than men and labour costs were as important then as they are today.

As many of you no doubt know, 1842 was a pivotal year in employment law relating to coalmines when Parliament passed the Mines & Collieries Act banning women as well as girls and boys under the age of ten from working under-ground. It may be thought that, following the passing of the Act in 1842, the local colliery proprietors would adhere to the new regulations. There is clear evidence that they did not. In 1846 a government  report, commissioned to assess how effectively the new Act was working, found that the Pembrokeshire colliery proprietors were reluctant to stick to the law:

“The practice of allowing females to work under ground was common in this district before the Act passed. It has now been pretty generally abandoned. In the few instances in which it is retained the managers pleaded as an excuse the very low rate of earnings of the colliers, and the difficulty the women had in obtaining work; also, that of the few who were so employed the greater number were either orphans or widows, or girls who had lost their fathers. Being made acquainted with the necessity of conforming to the law, the managers undertook to use their best endeavours to aid these poor women to obtain other means of getting their living, either by engaging them for work upon the pit bank, or putting them in the way of some other employment. From the disposition manifested by the managers of these works, I have great hope that this will soon be done, and that on a future visit to the district I shall find no need of further measures to put the law in force. The complaints of coal proprietors in other localities, that they are subjected to undue competition from those who continue to use female labour, will suggest an additional reason to the latter for the necessity of its final abandonment within a short period…”

Map (surveyed abt 1815) showing site of death of Martha John at Moreton Colliery, 1847

Map showing Moreton Colliery, scene of death of three youngsters in 1847 including Martha John, her presence under-ground contrary to 1842 Act (Map: copyright Cassini Publishing Ltd)

This optimism was mis-placed in the short-term. In July 1847 Martha John of Prouts Park and two boys, all aged about thirteen, fell to their deaths in the shaft at Moreton colliery as they were being transported down to the pit floor.

Six months later, a correspondent to the Pembrokeshire Herald reported that two boys and two girls of unknown ages were severely burned in an explosion under-ground at one of the pits on land owned by James Mark Child of Begelly House. This correspondent certainly took a stance, reflecting on the death of Martha John and the injury to the two girls that “it is to be much regretted that women, contrary to the Act of Parliament, are allowed to work underground in all this district”. His report concluded by suggesting that Child, in his capacity as a local magistrate, intended to write to the Home Secretary, Sir George Grey, complaining that this practice was still going on. (It is a pity that no correspondence between Child and Grey on this matter has so far come to light at the National Archives).

There was some logic in Child leading this campaign because, as a magistrate, if anyone had the rule of law at heart it was him. However, Child faced insurmountable problems as, according to Connop Price, the Act “lacked bite, because it made no provision for penalties, or for further inspections.” **

Of course there is a paradox here as Child had conflicting interests. On the one hand he was supposedly an impartial magistrate. On the other he was certainly a partial capitalist owning the land on which these mines were operating and in whose success he was keenly interested. After all, the more coal sold, the more profit Child made. Were he that conscientious about his role of magistrate, he could have obliged the lessees of his mineral rights through the terms of their lease to stick to the law!

Analysis of women’s occupations listed in the 1851 census for Begelly, East Williamston and St Issells parishes shows that 92 women had some sort of role working for the local mines. (Co-incidentally this figure represents 20 percent of all people shown in the census returns with pit-related occupations). The census enumerators describe their work in various ways and, although such terms as “collier” and “employed in coalmines” suggest that some women were still working under-ground, this is hardly incontrovertible evidence.

By 1853 it appears that the practice had died out, a conclusion inferred from the annual report of the government’s Inspector of Mines. While he makes no reference to the employment of women under-ground he suggests that a new concern had replaced it, one that questioned why women were employed at all in any manual pit work. He wrote: “Although the employment of women almost universally to bank the coal develops their frames and physical strength. I hear many objections made to this custom, and its influence in their moral and domestic duties.”

Women continued to find work at the collieries at least into the early 1900s. Government reports show that 40 women were at work in the Pembrokeshire coalfield in 1895 although by 1905 this number had dropped to just four.


** Connop Price pg 83



Children’s Employment Commission Report, 1842 (click for downloadable copy of South Wales report; this is required reading if you have ancestors in our area)

National Library of Wales, Journal of colliers’ turns (ref. Picton Castle 4076)

National Library of Wales, Court of Great Sessions Gaol Files containing coroners reports (click for list of and extracts from local reports)

Ordnance Survey map of St Issells area c. 1818 (Copyright Cassini Publishing Ltd)

Pembrokeshire Herald newspaper

Report of the Commissioner to inquire into the Operation of [the Mines & Collieries Act, 1842] and into the State of the Population in the Mining Districts, 1846

The National Archives, Annual Report of Inspectors of Mines, 1850-54 (POWE 7/1), 1895 (POWE 7/31) and 1905 (POWE 7/41)


Pembrokeshire The Forgotten Coalfield, Martin Connop Price, Landmark Publishing, 2004

Landshipping Pit Disaster, 1830

Another new item that has appeared during the six month hiatus on this blog is local historian Gerry Brawn’s article in Pembrokeshire Life magazine about a little-known disaster at a colliery in Landshipping. Although the pit is not strictly in the area covered by this blog as it is five miles or so to the west of Saundersfoot, it is important as it is the start of a sequence of increasingly serious accidents in the Pembrokeshire coalfield which culminated with yet another at Landshipping in 1844.  The 1838 Thomas Chapel disaster is part of this sequence.

Thanks to Gerry for providing the following abstract from his article:

“Landshipping, although some way from the coal mines of Begelly and its environs, deserves a mention because of the substantial coal workings in this area, known both as “The mines to the east of the Cleddau”, and also for the infamous accident at the Garden Pit in 1844 where some 40 lives were lost when the River Cleddau broke into the workings.

This church was much re-built in 1848-50

St Marcellus Church, Martletwy, much re-built in 1848-50, scene of the miners’ burials in 1830

However on 3rd August 1830 a disaster occurred at Landshipping Colliery which was owned by Sir John Owen. Reported in The Cambrian newspaper of the 7th & 21st August 1830, it was the result of an explosion of firedamp and claimed the lives of 5 miners.  This is a list of the victims together with the dates of their burial and abode.

6th August ~ John Rees of Weston, age 24

6th August ~ David Rees of Weston, 20

6th August ~ Roger John of Weston, 17

8th August ~ Thomas Eynon of Landshipping, 19

23rd August ~ John Dally of Millbank, 16

They were interred at St Marcellus Church, Martletwy; the curate, J.K. Humphrey, was the officiating minister in all cases.

A fuller account of this disaster is published in Pembrokeshire Life magazine, January 2011 issue.”


The above picture is copyright to Humphrey Bolton and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence.

The Pembrokeshire Record Office’s New On-line Catalogue

Following a six month hiatus in new posts on this blog, there is much that is new to talk about. The most important for researchers is the Pembrokeshire Record Office’s new on-line catalogue.

For one of the smaller record offices to have achieved this is a tour de force and an obvious boon for those of us who live far away from the office. We can plan our visits more efficiently and then use our time more effectively when there.

There are some strengths and weaknesses to the system. Firstly, the strengths:

  1. The interface is simple to use. However, do read the entries in “About the catalogue” and “How do I search the database” as these contain useful guidance on getting the most from this resource.
  2. One of the strengths of the record office’s existing paper-based catalogues is the large amount of information that entries contain. As these catalogues have been mostly scanned rather than re-keyed, this strength has been retained. This link provides an albeit extreme example of this – the original cataloguer was obviously taken by the wording to include a lengthy extract from one of the conditions of the lease.

(Whether you would have wanted Captain Child, father of at least four illegitimate children, to lecture your children on “such subjects as shall tend to do good to the minds and souls of those who may be present to hear him” is a matter for conjecture!)

While the technology used to scan the entries is a strength, it has provided a weakness. The date format used by various cataloguers over the years is not consistent so searches may not return entries in the order you would expect. This problem is gradually being addressed and it does not inhibit the system’s overall usefulness.

Like any new system you may encounter teething problems. If this happens, do let the record office staff know. Contact details are to the right of this page.

All in all this on-line catalogue is a great step forward for researchers into local and family history in Pembrokeshire opening up the vast array of source material the record office has.