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.

They Don’t Make Them Like That Anymore…

I came recently across this short extract from the South Wales Daily News (5 June 1908) a reminder of what people do when there’s no sick pay or pension available to them.

“An Octogenarian Manager
62 Years at Saundersfoot Colliery
Mr John Thomas, under-manager at Bonville (sic) Court Colliery, Saundersfoot, is in his 82nd year, yet, notwithstanding his advanced age, he is able to work regularly and is at the colliery every morning at 5 o’clock. He has been engaged at Saundersfoot since 1846, and therefore has now completed 62 years’ service. If brought to the notice of the Board of Trade, this would entitle Mr Thomas to their long service medal. Mr Thomas has never been absent from work owing to illness”.

Thomas lived at Temple Bar on the parish boundary between Begelly and St Issells.

Cholera Amid The Bunting

Tuesday 4th September 1866 should have been a red-letter day for south Pembrokeshire. The railway linking Saundersfoot, Tenby and Pembroke Dock to the national rail network opened with great celebration: a special service carried the great and the good from Pembroke Dock to Whitland, welcomed by crowds thronging the platforms at Saundersfoot and Kilgetty stations to catch sight of the first train. In all ways this was good news for the local mining community.

The same day an event occurred just over a mile away near Hean Castle which took the gloss off these celebrations. For much of the summer the dead hand of cholera had inexorably made its way across the country. The death of John Thomas at Sardis Mountain after twelve hours’ suffering confirmed it had arrived.

No doubt memories of the disease’s previous visits to Pembrokeshire were vivid. Major epidemics had struck Wales in 1832 and 1849, the second of which caused such anxiety that people flocked to church and chapel in large numbers. Writing nearly four years later Rev. Thomas Ashford, minister of the local Zion and Bethesda Calvinistic Methodist chapels, recalled these increased attendances.

“The inhabitants were aroused out of their spiritual slumber, our places of worship were thronged, drunkards became sober, swearers began to pray, and many who had been halting between two opinions then gave themselves to the Lord and to his people. Thirty-five hopeful members were added to the church at Begelly and ten at Bethesda.”

In 1866 local newspapers had been both reporting the disease’s progress from London and Liverpool towards Pembrokeshire during the summer and including official recommendations as to preventative measures. Following John Snow’s work in London during the 1854 outbreak, one of these was to sterilize spring and stream water used for drinking and cooking, a good remedy which may well have reduced the number of deaths if it had been applied widely. That it was not resulted in at least eleven local deaths (shown in the following table) and more than 275 cases in the coalfield stretching from Saundersfoot to Lawrenny, very roughly five percent of the population.

Known local deaths from cholera during 1866 epidemic

Name

Residence

Death or burial date (D or B)

Age

John Thomas Sardis Mountain

4 Sept (D)

43

William Nash Begelly

6 Sept (D)

57

Philip Gunter Temple Bar

10 Sept (D)

43

Elizabeth Williams Sardis Mountain

10 Sept (B)

46

Margaret Hughes Thomas Chapel

12 Sept (D)

56

Ann Callen Sardis Mountain

14 Sept (B)

73

Mary Gunter Temple Bar

14 Sept (D)

10

Ann Williams Sardis Mountain

17 Sept (B)

20

Ann James Griffithston Hill

20 Sept (B)

7

Mary Williams Sardis Mountain

26 Sept (B)

11

George James Griffithston Hill

26 Sept (B)

26

Three mining families were hit hard by the visitation; in particular the Callen family of Sardis Mountain as not only did Ann Callen (widow of Joseph Callen) die but also her daughter, son in law and two grand-children.

This list is unlikely to be complete as new cases emerged in October as well, although by the end of that month the worst was over. Its range had been local  with few cases north of Narberth and seemingly none in Tenby. Indeed the Tenby Observer newspaper failed to record the outbreak at all, perhaps more concerned to keep such worrying news away from late summer visitors to the resort.

Sources

Death certificates, Begelly and St Issells parish burial registers & St Issells Burial Board register

Calvinistic Methodist Recorder journal, March 1853, article by Thomas Ashford

Note (23 July 2011)

There’s an interesting article discussing the main cholera epidemics in the county in  the recently-published 2011 edition of the Journal of the Pembrokeshire Historical Society (Number 20)

“Cholera in Pembrokeshire in the nineteenth century”, Dr Ray Jones

Copies available from the Pembroke Bookshop

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.