Researching the First World War using new digital content

On Thursday 28th November 2013, the Welsh Government Minister for Culture and Sport launched “The Welsh Experience of the First World War” website. This rather passed me by so I am grateful to a post on the Rootsweb forum for the news.

The website address is which is where you’ll find a brief description of the objective of the project. A useful blog accompanies the site and this includes a full list of the primary sources that will eventually be published on the site. Whether you have local and/or family history interests for the First World War period, this site should prove a good resource.

I say ‘should’. Currently the technology for viewing on-line content is flaky but, with the excellent pedigree of the Welsh Newspapers site behind it, this should only be a temporary inconvenience.

As ever, we want more digital material. While the Haverfordwest & Milford Haven Telegraph has been digitised, the two papers local to the Saundersfoot area, the Tenby Observer and the Narberth Weekly, have not. A quick search of the Telegraph’s content suggests that its coverage of Saundersfoot events and people is limited. For example, we’ll miss the in-depth reporting of the Narberth Rural Military Tribunal, a key feature of the Narberth Weekly.

Putting this to one side, we have much to be thankful for especially as access is free.

Who links Saundersfoot to the Nobel Peace Prize?

The answer is the Rev. William Evans Darby, nominated for the Prize in seven out of thirteen years between 1901 and 1913 for his work as secretary to the Peace Society.

William Evans Darby with the National Memorial for Arrest of Armaments with over 100,000 signatures (Courtesy of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection, American Peace Society Records)

William Evans Darby with the National Memorial for Arrest of Armaments with over 100,000 signatures (Courtesy of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection, American Peace Society Records)

Born in Laugharne in Carmarthenshire in 1844, his parents soon moved to Saundersfoot where William spent his formative years. Apparently the family descended from Anglo-Irish stock with an estate based around Leap Castle in Co. Offaly. He had several illustrious members in his extended family. The writer of one of his obituaries claimed that William’s great-grandfather was Admiral Sir Henry D’Esterre Darby (friend of Lord Nelson), although the precise relationship is in some doubt. Another was John Nelson Darby, a key member of the non-conformist evangelical Plymouth Brethren in the mid-1800s. Yet another will be familiar to anyone who has studied English medieval history as William’s great-nephew, Prof. Sir H C Darby, was the author of the ground-breaking seven-volume geographical analysis of the Domesday Book first published in the 1950s.

On the one hand, it is therefore perhaps not surprising that William rose to the status he did. For 26 years from 1889, he was secretary of the Peace Society, an organisation formed by Quakers in 1816 for the “Promotion of Permanent and Universal Peace” taking a leading role in setting the organisation’s strategy. He travelled widely in Europe and North America speaking at annual peace congresses and also published extensively on topics such as peace, international law and temperance.

On the other, however, irrespective of his family’s lineage, William’s success is surprising. His father, Evan, was one of several harbour pilots at Saundersfoot, a competitive business heavily dependant on the ‘boom or bust’ coal trade. According to his obituary writers, William’s family lived in the poverty that affected so many around the area. Narberth Poor Law Union documents confirm this: his father was a pauper in the 1870s. At one point the local community had to club together to pay for repairs to his vandalised sails.

William Evans Darby's gravestone at the City of London Cemetery, buried 13 November 1922

The inscription on Darby's gravestone remembers him as "An Apostle of Peace"

How did William rise from this? Like his contemporary, the Rev. James Thomas, education is the answer. Set to follow his father’s maritime career, his potential was spotted by a local teacher who ensured that William received good and prolonged schooling. Unfortunately, unlike Thomas, there is no record of which school he attended but it may have been at New Hedges (a mile south west from Saundersfoot) where he later taught.

William completed his formal education at the non-conformist theological college, New College, London, in the mid-1860s. Student records for this period are currently unavailable so it is not clear how William could afford this final step but he was later ordained into the Independent church becoming minister at various chapels in England between 1868 and 1889.

At the risk of being unduly critical it can’t be said that his professional life was wholly successful. He was declared bankrupt in 1885 following some ill-advised dabbling in local politics in Chippenham, Wiltshire. More importantly, the outbreak of war in 1914 shows that the Peace Society failed in its objectives, suffering much criticism from around 1900 for its passivity as Europe headed towards war. When William retired in 1915 the once-thriving society was effectively moribund. He was never awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.


My thanks to Annette Harrison, a descendant of Evan Darby, for her help with this post.


Tenby Observer newspaper

Western Independent newspaper

Herald of Peace journal

Congregational Year Book, 1923

Pembrokeshire Record Office, Narberth Poor Law Union Abstracts (Cat ref. HDX/1026/1/15)

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (subscription required)

The British Peace Movement, 1870-1914, Paul Laity, Clarendon, 2002


The next few posts on this blog will cover the biographies of various men (no women yet!) who left the Saundersfoot coalmining community for careers that had little or no relevance to their backgrounds. In the 1800s, this type of departure from mining was uncommon. What made these people take a different course from their peers? How did they achieve it?

My great-grandfather, Richard Nash, is an example of this. He grew up in a mining family in Begelly in the 1860s leaving the village around 1880 to become, amongst other roles, a captain in the Salvation Army, an evangelist and a brewer of temperance drinks. By comparison his four uncles moved from Begelly to the south Wales coalfield in the early 1870s but all remained miners. It is not clear whether he had any different opportunities than they did. The problem is that I don’t know what set him apart and this provides the reason why I won’t write a separate post about him.

Another example is the story of William Morris who left Stepaside to eventually become a director of a mining company in Australia. This post was provided by Joyce Phillips and I know from the number of hits and from email feedback how interesting readers found it.

If you would like to contribute something along these lines, do drop me a note to



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.

Some Bedtime Reading

Two local history books were published late in 2010 during the hiatus on this blog.

Craig's Medal (reproduced courtesy of Janice Jackson)

Craig's Medal (reproduced courtesy of Janice Jackson)

One is by Saundersfoot-born Janice Jackson called “The Life of a Pembrokeshire Soldier, 1782-1854” about her ancestor, Philip Craig. A Pembrokeshire man he settled near Wooden around 1815 having served in numerous battles in the Peninsular War rising to the rank of sergeant. He certainly led a risky existence as his wounds and participation in the forlorn hope on two occasions pay testament to. He was later awarded the Military General Service Medal, something that all veterans could apply for, but it is the large number of clasps, twelve in all, that sets Craig apart from his peers. If you have mining ancestry in the Saundersfoot area, you may well have links to Craig’s extensive family. Keep an eye out for the July edition of the BBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” magazine where his story will be reprised at length.

Lexden Terrace, Tenby, the building of which was commissioned by John Rees

Lexden Terrace, Tenby, the building of which was commissioned by John Rees (Reproduced with permission of Pembrokeshire County Library Service)

The second book is “A Legacy of Opium” by Douglas Fraser. It is the history of three Rees brothers from Tenby who spent most of their working lives away from home in the Far East. They rode the wave of Britain’s aggressive trading growth around the Chinese coast, the middle of the three, John, playing a leading part in the formative years of the Jardine Matheson company. On his retirement to Tenby in the 1840s, he invested heavily buying the Jeffreyston estate and the associated mineral rights under parts of Jeffreyston, Loveston and Reynalton. The most conspicuous memorial to his wealth is Lexden Terrace, above the harbour in Tenby, which he commissioned in the early 1840s.

What is interesting about the men at the heart of these books is how far they travelled as well as the experiences they had. In the 1840s Rev Buckby of Begelly tried to explain the problems that the supposedly dissolute mining community faced believing that one of the root causes lay in the fact that “the population is mostly indigenous, not imported”. That Craig in particular, like other locals, returned to the Saundersfoot area with many rich military experiences behind him raises the question of how far he and his peers could influence their local community. If Buckby is to be believed, they could do little.


The Life of a Pembrokeshire Soldier 1782-1854, Janice Jackson, self-published, 2010

A Legacy of Opium, Douglas Fraser, Tenby Heritage Publications, 2010

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