Zion Calvinistic Methodist Chapel, Begelly

This was taken shortly before closure

Zion Calvinistic Methodist Chapel, Begelly (abt 2005)

Fifteen months later than promised, here’s the second in an irregular series of descriptions of  some of the local chapels together with transcriptions of family history records related to the relevant chapel.

This one concerns the small Calvinistic Methodist (CM) chapel which sat next to the main Tenby to Narberth turnpike road in the ‘Begelly’ part of Begelly parish. (Cold Inn Baptist Chapel is in the ‘Williamston’ part). It was built on land leased to the trustees by James Mark Child of Begelly House at what appears to have been a peppercorn rent.

Zion’s early history is reasonably well-documented. In 1853 the then minister, Thomas Ashford, wrote about the chapel’s founding in 1828 and its continuing struggles. He noted that its sister chapel, Bethesda, was established two years earlier three miles to the south along the same road. What is particularly interesting is his commentary about the effect of the 1849 cholera outbreak. He reports a rush of locals to join the chapel, this increase in the congregation perhaps requiring a gallery to be added in 1851. As we perhaps would expect, we know from other sources that an injured miner, Philip Gunter, was around this time running a small school in the chapel, using “one square table…and ten benches”.

The building you see in the photo is not the original chapel. Instead this was rebuilt in the mid-1860s possibly as a response to the great religious revival of the earlier part of the decade. In April 1866 a special train was laid on from Tenby to bring worshippers to the re-opening event at which seven sermons were preached.

The chapel’s principal competitor was St Mary’s parish church a few hundred yards down the road towards Tenby. The Rev. Richard Buckby, the rector at the church between 1839 and 1884, had a strong reputation for keeping his church full. Analysis of baptism data bears this out. In neighbouring St Issells parish church, there is a gradual drop in the numbers of colliers getting their children baptised in the local church from 1830 onwards. In Begelly the figure remains high suggesting that the colliers at least had their children baptised and remained loyal to Buckby’s church, instead of turning to the chapel.

It would be useful to have some idea of the growth in membership of the chapel. Such data survive for other denominations in annual publications such as the Baptist Union Handbook and the Congregational Yearbook but I have yet to find a similar series covering the CM chapels. We know that, in the early 1900s, the congregation ‘was filling the chapel’ but by the 1930s it was in decline. Zion shut a few years ago and the building has now been converted into housing.

As for any records, little appears to have survived. Unlike Kingsmoor PM Chapel, I have not found any accurate lists of deacons or trustees. There is a baptism register covering the 1820-37 period. Although the title states it to be for Zion CM chapel, I surmise that it also covers Bethesda as there are several baptisms from the Wooden area. I have included a transcription of this register on the following attachment together with details taken from some of the gravestones (in the yard to the left of the chapel building in the above photograph) and also marriages reported in the gossipy Narberth Weekly newspaper.

Click on the following to download the Genealogical Data for Zion CM Chapel

Do let me know if you spot any errors by emailing me at snorbensblog@aol.com


Above photo copyright of Humphrey Bolton under the Creative Commons licence.


Religious Census, 1851

Calvinistic Methodist Record, (March 1853)

History of South Pembrokeshire Calvinistic Methodist Churches, William Evans (1913)

The Story of Begelly, W R Morgan, Gomer Press (1980)

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)


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.

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



Death or burial date (D or B)


John Thomas Sardis Mountain

4 Sept (D)


William Nash Begelly

6 Sept (D)


Philip Gunter Temple Bar

10 Sept (D)


Elizabeth Williams Sardis Mountain

10 Sept (B)


Margaret Hughes Thomas Chapel

12 Sept (D)


Ann Callen Sardis Mountain

14 Sept (B)


Mary Gunter Temple Bar

14 Sept (D)


Ann Williams Sardis Mountain

17 Sept (B)


Ann James Griffithston Hill

20 Sept (B)


Mary Williams Sardis Mountain

26 Sept (B)


George James Griffithston Hill

26 Sept (B)


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.


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.


Acreage (approx)

Evidence of financial problems

George Hughes


He died in the Narberth workhouse in 1847; had farmed abt. 30 acres up to 1816 but then ran into financial problems
Sarah Phillips


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


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


Financial problems leading to bankruptcy in 1855; his problems are documented in a previous post
Richard Morgan


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.


** 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.



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


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.

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.

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

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.


Pembrokeshire Herald newspaper

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (requires subscription)

Note: updated some grammatical errors 050713