Yet More Digital Material Published – Land Tax 1798

We live in interesting times… 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!

Changing Attitudes To Women’s Employment In The Coalmines

Pembrokeshire Women on Windlass (from 1842 Royal Commission report)

Sketch of Pembrokeshire women working on a windlass (from 1842 report); work like this above- and below-ground often the preserve of women

There has been an interesting series of emails on one of the family history mailing lists this week discussing the occupations women had in Pembrokeshire coalmining. The local mines in our area have a reasonably well-documented history of employing women. For example, a list of employees for the pits at Ridgeway, Moreton and Begelly shows that in 1776-77 about 20 percent were female although how many  worked under-ground is open to conjecture. Another source, coroners’ reports into sudden or unexpected deaths in the coalmining parishes between 1786 and 1820, shows that 20 percent of all pit-related deaths were for women working under-ground. There’s further evidence for their general employment in the 1841 census returns as well as the report of the Children’s Employment Commission in 1842. Women were employed because they were paid less than men and labour costs were as important then as they are today.

As many of you no doubt know, 1842 was a pivotal year in employment law relating to coalmines when Parliament passed the Mines & Collieries Act banning women as well as girls and boys under the age of ten from working under-ground. It may be thought that, following the passing of the Act in 1842, the local colliery proprietors would adhere to the new regulations. There is clear evidence that they did not. In 1846 a government  report, commissioned to assess how effectively the new Act was working, found that the Pembrokeshire colliery proprietors were reluctant to stick to the law:

“The practice of allowing females to work under ground was common in this district before the Act passed. It has now been pretty generally abandoned. In the few instances in which it is retained the managers pleaded as an excuse the very low rate of earnings of the colliers, and the difficulty the women had in obtaining work; also, that of the few who were so employed the greater number were either orphans or widows, or girls who had lost their fathers. Being made acquainted with the necessity of conforming to the law, the managers undertook to use their best endeavours to aid these poor women to obtain other means of getting their living, either by engaging them for work upon the pit bank, or putting them in the way of some other employment. From the disposition manifested by the managers of these works, I have great hope that this will soon be done, and that on a future visit to the district I shall find no need of further measures to put the law in force. The complaints of coal proprietors in other localities, that they are subjected to undue competition from those who continue to use female labour, will suggest an additional reason to the latter for the necessity of its final abandonment within a short period…”

Map (surveyed abt 1815) showing site of death of Martha John at Moreton Colliery, 1847

Map showing Moreton Colliery, scene of death of three youngsters in 1847 including Martha John, her presence under-ground contrary to 1842 Act (Map: copyright Cassini Publishing Ltd)

This optimism was mis-placed in the short-term. In July 1847 Martha John of Prouts Park and two boys, all aged about thirteen, fell to their deaths in the shaft at Moreton colliery as they were being transported down to the pit floor.

Six months later, a correspondent to the Pembrokeshire Herald reported that two boys and two girls of unknown ages were severely burned in an explosion under-ground at one of the pits on land owned by James Mark Child of Begelly House. This correspondent certainly took a stance, reflecting on the death of Martha John and the injury to the two girls that “it is to be much regretted that women, contrary to the Act of Parliament, are allowed to work underground in all this district”. His report concluded by suggesting that Child, in his capacity as a local magistrate, intended to write to the Home Secretary, Sir George Grey, complaining that this practice was still going on. (It is a pity that no correspondence between Child and Grey on this matter has so far come to light at the National Archives).

There was some logic in Child leading this campaign because, as a magistrate, if anyone had the rule of law at heart it was him. However, Child faced insurmountable problems as, according to Connop Price, the Act “lacked bite, because it made no provision for penalties, or for further inspections.” **

Of course there is a paradox here as Child had conflicting interests. On the one hand he was supposedly an impartial magistrate. On the other he was certainly a partial capitalist owning the land on which these mines were operating and in whose success he was keenly interested. After all, the more coal sold, the more profit Child made. Were he that conscientious about his role of magistrate, he could have obliged the lessees of his mineral rights through the terms of their lease to stick to the law!

Analysis of women’s occupations listed in the 1851 census for Begelly, East Williamston and St Issells parishes shows that 92 women had some sort of role working for the local mines. (Co-incidentally this figure represents 20 percent of all people shown in the census returns with pit-related occupations). The census enumerators describe their work in various ways and, although such terms as “collier” and “employed in coalmines” suggest that some women were still working under-ground, this is hardly incontrovertible evidence.

By 1853 it appears that the practice had died out, a conclusion inferred from the annual report of the government’s Inspector of Mines. While he makes no reference to the employment of women under-ground he suggests that a new concern had replaced it, one that questioned why women were employed at all in any manual pit work. He wrote: “Although the employment of women almost universally to bank the coal develops their frames and physical strength. I hear many objections made to this custom, and its influence in their moral and domestic duties.”

Women continued to find work at the collieries at least into the early 1900s. Government reports show that 40 women were at work in the Pembrokeshire coalfield in 1895 although by 1905 this number had dropped to just four.


** Connop Price pg 83



Children’s Employment Commission Report, 1842 (click for downloadable copy of South Wales report; this is required reading if you have ancestors in our area)

National Library of Wales, Journal of colliers’ turns (ref. Picton Castle 4076)

National Library of Wales, Court of Great Sessions Gaol Files containing coroners reports (click for list of and extracts from local reports)

Ordnance Survey map of St Issells area c. 1818 (Copyright Cassini Publishing Ltd)

Pembrokeshire Herald newspaper

Report of the Commissioner to inquire into the Operation of [the Mines & Collieries Act, 1842] and into the State of the Population in the Mining Districts, 1846

The National Archives, Annual Report of Inspectors of Mines, 1850-54 (POWE 7/1), 1895 (POWE 7/31) and 1905 (POWE 7/41)


Pembrokeshire The Forgotten Coalfield, Martin Connop Price, Landmark Publishing, 2004

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

Pubs To The Left Of Them And Pubs To The Right

The quotations from Rev John Williams in the previous post seem to portray a Welsh equivalent of “Merrie England”. What led to “sin and impropriety” in his eyes were no doubt ingredients of a good night out to be savoured by many.

By the 1850s, hard drinking had taken on a darker aspect. Reminiscing in 1934, the 90 year old Edward Thomas recalled the endemic drunkenness in the Stepaside area in the 1850s. So bad was it that women could not walk out alone in the evening “for if they were not molested, insults would be heaped upon them from all sides”. Others supported this view.

What had changed in the intervening 50 years or so?

"Spread Eagle", Begelly (Picture courtesey of Gerry Brawn)

The combination of two factors explains the change. Firstly, the building of the harbour at Saundersfoot and the tramroad to Thomas Chapel in the early 1830s brought about a short boom in mining activity in the area. Population levels surged with the increase in Begelly and St Issells tracking the national trend rather than Pembrokeshire’s low-key growth. For the workers beer was the chosen drink as it was believed to be healthier for them. With the quality of local water supply so doubtful, there was some truth in this. More workers with more money represented a perfect opportunity for any seller.

The second factor was the Beer Act passed by Parliament in 1830. This relaxed the licensing laws by introducing a new class of retailer, the beer-shop owner. Unlike pub licensees, prospective owners did not need approval from magistrates to sell beer; rather they just paid a sum to the Excise for the privilege. The role of magistrates in controlling their communities had been paramount to local administration for 250 years and more. The magistrates sidelined, the floodgates opened: between 1830 and 1832, the number of people licensed for the sale of beer in West Wales leaped from 158 to 1226! In the face of so much competition, retailers had to fight for business with one key tactic being to sell strong beer cheaply.

Pits and Pubs in Begelly c. 1830-60 (Map: copyright Cassini Publishing Ltd) Click to enlarge

It will come as no surprise that various enterprising locals spotted the opportunity to turn a profit by establishing beer-shops** in the 1830s-1840s. The map of the mining part of Begelly parish illustrates what happened. Prior to the 1830 Beer Act, there had been just 2 pubs in the parish, the Spread Eagle and the Miners Arms, both on the Tenby turnpike. By the late 1840s the collieries at Thomas Chapel and Hackett had provided the stimulus for at least 4 new beer-shops all close to the pithead. These must have competed aggressively for the limited business of both the few locals and, more importantly, the 100 or so miners working in the Thomas Chapel area. With few alternative attractions, many no doubt preferred the companionship of their workmates and at least one too many beers.

This over-supply of beer seems as preposterous today as it was to some at the time. In 1854 James Mark Child of Begelly House, a local magistrate, complained that having beer-shops close to the collieries at Thomas Chapel (and Stepaside) was “highly demoralising” to the neighbourhood. But even in his official capacity he was powerless to shut them down en masse. Only local economic forces made the difference: apparently none of the beer-shops survived the closure of the last pit around Thomas Chapel in the late 1850s.


** The Swan might have been an alehouse, not a beer-shop.

Map used in second graphic: copyright Cassini Publishing Ltd. Maps available for purchase either as printed edition or by download.



Many and varied! Let me know if you have a specific question.

Narberth, Whitland and Clynderwen Weekly News

Pembrokeshire Herald


Drink and Sobriety in Victorian Wales c.1820 – c.1895, W R Lambert, University of Wales Press, 1983

Industrial Saundersfoot, Martin Connop Price, Gomer Press, 1982

The Pubs of Narberth, Saundersfoot and South-East Pembrokeshire, Keith Johnson, Logaston Press, 2004

How Old Is Begelly House?

The Child family was the dominant local resident gentry in the Begelly area for at least 150 years. Little is left now to mark their presence except their residence, Begelly House. As with many old houses, the date of its construction is not obvious to the untrained eye. Thankfully there are two sources of information provided by “trained eyes” that provide professional insight.

Begelly House (front) c 1910 (Copyright Jon Mein)

Firstly, investigators from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales describe Begelly House as follows:

“The present house, a rather stark cube, was probably built/rebuilt in the second quarter of the nineteenth century…”

This is not much to go on. A second and more recent source is the Pembrokeshire edition of CADW’s “The Buildings of Wales” series. The authors describe the house as having a “mid-C19 refronting to a house built c. 1750” and comment specifically about a mid-1700s staircase.

Taken together these sources indicate a two-stage building process: the first in the mid-1700s followed by a second about 70 to 100 years later. How, if at all, do these dates correlate with what is known about the family’s history?

If the “mid-1700s” is taken as an accurate date range, the answer is the first date at least does tie in nicely with a change in circumstances for the family. John Child, then head of the family, died in 1734 leaving as orphans his four young children. Their guardian whisked the children away to Tenby, collecting rents from the estate but without investing any money to maintain the empty family house. One contemporary source stated that by the mid-1740s the house was “in decay” (TNA C 12/1801/3). So, it is probable that when John’s son, James Child, took control of the estate around 1748 he was forced to knock down the existing structure and rebuild from scratch. Short of money, James would have delayed building work until the mid-1750s at the earliest to accumulate the necessary funds from rentals and sales of coal.

Any correlation between the second phase of development and the family’s history is less clear-cut. The re-fronting may have occurred when the then family head, James Mark Child, stepped back from investing his own money in the local mines and turned to national politics instead: he stood for Parliament in 1841 and threatened to stand a second time in 1847. So it is possible he spent money re-fronting his house to provide the effect of a modern building befitting the grand political aspirations of a local businessman.

Other than the church, is Begelly House the oldest surviving building in the parish?


RCAHMW’s web site including description of Begelly House

“The Buildings of Wales: Pembrokeshire”, Thomas Lloyd, Julian Orbach and Robert Scourfield, Yale University Press, 2004

Details of the sources for the Child family history available from the blogger.