Updates to Two Digital Collections

Good news for Pembrokeshire historians: there have been two significant additions in the last week to the amount of digital material available on the web.

Firstly, with the project to digitise its hard-copy newspaper collections still in full flow, the National Library of Wales (NLW) has added copies of six newspapers to the site in the last couple of days. From a local perspective, the most important of these is The Cambrian, a regional newspaper that was first published in 1804. This pre-dates the first county newspaper, the Pembrokeshire Herald, already on the NLW site, by 40 years. Access to this excellent site is free.

Secondly, Findmypast.co.uk have posted a note on their site to confirm they have recently added 1.2 million new parish records to their Welsh collection. Unfortunately I can’t find any detailed information to tell us what is new but I have emailed the company asking for this. You need a subscription to view the transcripts or scans of these records.

UPDATE (2nd July 2013):

Please note that the online publication of the Cambrian on the Welsh Newspaper Archive site means that the Swansea Library ‘Cambrian Index Online’ which covers this newspaper is now largely superseded. It does still serve a key purpose. The NLW’s collection does not include a full run of the Cambrian so the Index, while itself incomplete, may refer you to articles which have not been digitised but which you can access elsewhere (e.g. the British Library).

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.


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.

Some More Jam Tomorrow…Welsh Parish Registers

Interesting post on Dick Eastman’s reliable genealogy blog…

Findmypast.co.uk are one of the main partners in this project. In my post about their digitising and indexing of the Chelsea Pensioner records, I made the point that Findmypast could have provided more data in the index to more easily locate matches.

In the land of so many Thomas, Davies and Jones the new index must be more efficient to search.

A Serious Economic Hiatus in 1810?

Only 5 weeks on from starting this blog and I am going to break one of my “rules” that I will only publish one post a week. Here’s the second today.

I wanted to explain a teasing comment I made in the last paragraph of the previous post about the possible decline in mining activity in St Issells parish around 1810. The parish baptism register provides the evidence for this. Unusually for pre-1813 registers, it records fathers’ occupations for nearly all baptisms between 1798 and 1812 inclusive.

Click to enlarge

This chart compares baptisms for collier fathers against those with all other occupations for the years 1798 to 1820. The general trend suggests an equal split between colliers and other occupations over this period. There are two obvious exceptions to this rule: for 1809 and 1811 no collier baptisms were recorded. Moreover in 1810, there was only a handful. Closer analysis of the register shows that there were no collier baptisms between November 1808 and February 1812 apart from the 5 in 1810; 4 of these were in the last 2 months of that year. Fathers previously shown to have “collier” as their occupation were now “labourers”.

What is the explanation for this hiatus? There are two possible answers. The more obvious is that there was a change in the person recording the details in the register. It wasn’t the rector, Thomas Dalton; he remained in post throughout this period. However, rather than living in the parsonage close to the church, Dalton lived at Crunwear 6 miles away and employed a curate for local work. Maybe a new curate or parish clerk was responsible and simply preferred to use the term “labourer” instead of “collier”. In an area pock-marked with the detritus of mining activity, it is difficult to believe that a new curate would not have called a collier a collier!

An alternative explanation is the cessation of mining activity in the local pits for much of this period. Colliery accounts do survive for Moreton in the parish for 1810 and also for pits in Begelly so activity did not cease altogether. But, as the previous post shows, there were only 3 pubs in the parish at this time, compared with 7 around 1820 when there appears to have been more money around. This provides supporting evidence for my argument that the local industry was in trouble.

There’s a further point to add: on several later occasions during the 1800s local landowners paid colliers to repair roads during downturns in the local economy. In 1810 Lord Milford, owner of many of the pits in the local area, paid £15 to repair roads around Kingsmoor. Is this just a co-incidence or a necessary step to keep the locals from destitution and over-burdening the Poor Rate?

While neither explanation is water-tight, the second is my preferred option. Maybe a comparison with contemporary mining activity on both a regional and national basis will throw more light on what could just be a local problem. If I am right, I find it difficult to imagine the severe problems a 3 year stoppage would have wrought on the local community.

Comments are most welcome as always.

Don’t Forget The St Issells Burial Board Register

St Issells churchyard showing burial board plot area to left of wall on right, over ditch and through trees, November 2010. Click to enlarge

St Issells churchyard showing Burial Board plot area, to left of wall on right, including over ditch and through trees, November 2010. Click to enlarge

Did you know there was a municipal cemetery in the parish of St Issells in the 1800s? There was one, opened in 1862. But confusingly it forms a large part of the graveyard attached to St Issells parish church. If you know the spot, most of the area over the stream to the south-west of the church was effectively a municipal cemetery owned and managed by the St Issells Burial Board. Formed in 1861 under the auspices of the 1853 Burial Act one of the Board’s objectives was to provide the final local resting place for many from Saundersfoot and the surrounding area be they “church or chapel”.

At the time Saundersfoot was a growing hotspot of non-conformism. For staunch chapel goers, burial in St Issells parish churchyard before 1862 would have been anathema. The Burial Board cemetery changed matters: it was non-denominational and saved mourners having to travel more than a mile out of the village to the graveyards at Bethesda, Sardis or Cold Inn.

Thankfully the Burial Board burial register for 1862-1922 has survived. It is a treasure trove of useful information for family and local historians. At first glance the data contained in the register appears to be the same as in the parish burial register. This is wrong as the following table shows:

Name Same
Date of burial Same
Place of death Sometimes differs
Age at death Same
Description E.g. occupation, status such as widow or pauper
Officiating minister Name only
Plot number Should correlate with a plan that’s also part of the Burial Board collection – but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t!
Additional information For some burials only; e.g. cause of death especially where from a pit accident, or in 1866 cholera outbreak **

In reality the board register is a superset of the parish burial register. But there are exceptions to this rule. Sometimes the data does differ and in important ways. For example the parish register shows that William Davies died in 1898 at his home, Winifred Place (next to Saundersfoot station). The board register shows he died at Carmarthen Asylum. This entry is an obvious boon locating the death in a different registration district. So, even if you have already found your ancestors’ burials in the parish register, do make a note to check the board register as there could be additional helpful information.

St Issells Church – Burial Board plot stretches away to left

The register’s real strength is as a record of non-conformist burials for the Saundersfoot area. Analysis of the 1008 burials shows that 2/3rd of them were “church” burials, the rest being “chapel”. They include burials for Baptists, Independents as well as Primitive, Calvinistic and Wesleyan Methodists. Obviously it does not list burials at Bethesda, Sardis or Kingsmoor chapels. But with so few records surviving for the local chapels, the board register is a gem.


Pembrokeshire Record Office, St Issells Burial Board Register, 1862-1922 (ref HSPC/18/3).


I have a transcription of the register so if you require a look-up or two, do let me know. My transcription does not including plot numbers.

If you are a member of the Society of Genealogists, a database containing this register is available in the Members’ Area of the society’s web site.

** Nikki Bosworth of the Record Office published an interesting article on the register in the Dyfed Family History Society’s journal (April 2010) focusing especially on these additional comments.