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.
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|
|Thomas Walters (sic)||Kingsmoor||Engineer|
|David John||Stepaside||Manager at Iron works|
New trustees at 6 June 1896
|John Roblin||Norland House||Joiner & builder|
|John Harries Brinn||Alma Cottage, Kilgetty||Engineer|
|James John||Fold Park||Miner|
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Click on the following link to download the extracts (opens in MS Excel or compatible spreadsheet)
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