Kingsmoor Primitive Methodist Chapel, St Issells parish

Of all the non-conformist chapels shown on this map, the one with the best archive available to researchers is that for the Kingsmoor Primitive Methodist Chapel in St Issells parish. The chapel was part of the Pembroke Dock Primitive Methodist Circuit which covered several stations throughout the southern part of the county. Circuit baptism registers have survived and these cover much of Kingsmoor Chapel’s existence. The circuit minutes and various other documents are available too. What is missing are registers for the first twenty years or so of the chapel’s life (from the late 1820s) together with anything covering marriages and burials. This is unfortunate because there was an extensive burial ground in use around the chapel although whether it was fully utilised is open to conjecture.

(Former) Kingsmoor Primitive Methodist Chapel - picture reproduced with permission of Rosemary Bevan

(Former) Kingsmoor Primitive Methodist Chapel – picture reproduced with permission of Rosemary Bevan

This rich archive attracted Dr David Howell, an historian with local roots, to write an assessment of the circuit’s history which, for anyone with ancestry in the Saundersfoot area in the Victorian period, is worth reading.Ref 1 He raises three points I will explore in more depth in this post. Firstly, Howell discusses the vicissitudes the chapels faced, particularly during the national economic stagnation of the 1870s and 1880s, together with the consequent waves of emigration that hit membership and therefore funds. Table One illustrates this problem: three of the 1868 trustees emigrated, two with large families to Australia (John & Thomas Waters) and one to the south Wales coalfield (David John). But what is also pertinent is that many of John Phillips’ children moved to Glamorgan and those of William Phillips have evaded detection in the census from 1871 onwards. Later newspaper reports confirm that two of them lived in the US, a point that chimes with the note in the circuit minutes that 25 members of the circuit left for the US in the summer of 1871 ‘owing to the Kingsmoor coalmasters ceasing to work their pits’. The chapel lost much of its ‘next’ generation.

Another point that stands out in Howell’s article is that the Primitive Methodists consisted of and, importantly, were run by a mostly working class membership. The registers bear this out as does the following trustees’ list. (The term ‘engineer’ here typically refers to a man working with a pumping engine at the local pits rather than the modern associations of professional qualifications). In contrast the churchwardens of Begelly church were mainly farmers of more than 50 acres.

Trustees at 31 July 1868

Alexander Waters Thomas Chapel Engineer
John Waters Begelly Engineer
Thomas Walters (sic) Kingsmoor Engineer
David John Stepaside Manager at Iron works
William Phillips Kingsmoor Coalminer
John Phillips Kingsmoor Coalminer
Henry Phillips Kingsmoor Coalminer

New trustees at 6 June 1896

John Roblin Norland House Joiner & builder
John Harries Brinn Alma Cottage, Kilgetty Engineer
George Brinn Kilgetty Engineer
Thomas Jenkins Hill Miner
Richard Lewis Kilgetty Miner
William Hilling Pentlepoir Miner
James John Fold Park Miner
Richard Thomas Hill Carpenter
William Thomas Hill Fireman

Notes on former trustees

Thomas Walters Kilgetty Engineer (Australia)
David John Pontycymmer, Bridgend Engineer
Henry Phillips Kingsmoor Coalminer (buried Sardis)

Table One: trustees of Kingsmoor Chapel in 1868 & 1896 Ref 2

Lastly, Howell describes the low membership numbers of the chapels on the circuit. In a small chapel with around 40 members it is not surprising then that certain families were cornerstones of chapel life. The Brinn family appears to have been at the heart of matters in the late 1800s. Brothers George and John Harries Brinn became trustees in 1896 as did their future brother-in-law, James John. In 1909 this same John Harries received a silver-mounted walking stick with ‘JHB’ engraved to mark his 35 years as choir conductor. He had also been a preacher on the circuit for 35 years, superintendent of the Sunday School for 30 and found time to be the treasurer both of the trust fund and the Band of Hope. He retired in 1915 as the railway engine driver for presumably Bonvilles Court Coal Co Ltd, the break, according to the local newspaper, being his first in 41 years.Ref 3

Unfortunately John Harries Brinn was also at the heart of some gossip that spread far beyond the parish pump. In 1883 national newspapers recorded that:

“Rev John Higley, Primitive Methodist Minster and singleman…eloped with the wife of Mr John Brinn, local preacher of the same denomination. Higley lodged with Brinn and on Wednesday, the runaways left for Carmarthen, Mrs Brinn taking her only child and a sewing machine. She left a letter for her husband stating that he need not inquire after her as she would not trouble him again.” Ref 4

By the 1891 census, husband and wife had been reunited. Of course we don’t know the full story but, even so, his death in the Cardiff Workhouse in 1920 attracts more than the usual sadness.

Small though membership was there are still close to 240 local baptisms recorded in the first circuit baptism register. This is an important resource for family historians so I have attached extracts from this register together with a list of burials conducted by Primitive Methodist ministers from the St Issells Burial Board Register as well as a few marriages I came across in the Narberth Weekly newspaper. If you find something of interest in these or have anything to amend or add, particularly marriages, please do let me know by posting a note here or contacting me on snorbensblog@aol.com

Click on the following link to download the extracts (opens in MS Excel or compatible spreadsheet)

Kingsmoor Chapel baptisms & sundry marriages & burials data

References

1. D. Howell, “Primitive Methodism in Pembrokeshire: the chapel in a rural society”, The Pembrokeshire Historian, vol.7 (1981) pp.52-60

2. Pembrokeshire Record Office, DFC/M/8/88

3. Narberth Weekly newspaper, 25 March 1915

4. Lloyds Weekly newspaper, 11 March 1883

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.

St David’s Day news

I see from Chris Paton’s blog that the Welsh parish register collection is due to go live on Findmypast.co.uk later today.  The article he links to suggests this includes 9 million records for baptisms, marriages and burials.

Obviously you will have to pay to get access to both the index and digital copies but this is a big step forward for the many researchers who live nowhere near Wales.

UPDATE:

Doh! I knew I should have waited for the press release before posting the above. As you’ll see from this site, the Pembrokeshire records have not been posted yet, only those for Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire, Denbighshire, Flintshire and Glamorganshire. I say only but this is still a big step forward as many of us will have ancestors who migrated from the Saundersfoot coalfield to Glamorgan and with Carmarthenshire so close to our area, you may find some interest there too.

The Pembrokeshire records are, according to the press release, due for posting in the “following weeks”.

Once we have the Church records online, what’s the likelihood of the Chapel records being posted too? A long way off methinks.