Kingsmoor Primitive Methodist Chapel, St Issells parish

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.

(Former) Kingsmoor Primitive Methodist Chapel - picture reproduced with permission of Rosemary Bevan

(Former) Kingsmoor Primitive Methodist Chapel – picture reproduced with permission of Rosemary Bevan

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
John Waters Begelly Engineer
Thomas Walters (sic) Kingsmoor Engineer
David John Stepaside Manager at Iron works
William Phillips Kingsmoor Coalminer
John Phillips Kingsmoor Coalminer
Henry Phillips Kingsmoor Coalminer

New trustees at 6 June 1896

John Roblin Norland House Joiner & builder
John Harries Brinn Alma Cottage, Kilgetty Engineer
George Brinn Kilgetty Engineer
Thomas Jenkins Hill Miner
Richard Lewis Kilgetty Miner
William Hilling Pentlepoir Miner
James John Fold Park Miner
Richard Thomas Hill Carpenter
William Thomas Hill Fireman

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 snorbensblog@aol.com

Click on the following link to download the extracts (opens in MS Excel or compatible spreadsheet)

Kingsmoor Chapel baptisms & sundry marriages & burials data

References

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

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.

Note

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

Sources

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

Stepaside’s Man in Shanghai

James Thomas was born near Stepaside in March 1843 into a poor coalmining family. Their house overlooked the construction of the new ironworks which started in 1848 and also the large pit sunk at Grove in the mid-1850s. With a thirsty workforce on the doorstep it is not surprising his father opened the house as a pub.

Rev James Thomas. His obituary in the Times newspaper recorded "His pastoral work there is still well remembered as well as his tall handsome figure and his long beard, then black, which endeared him to the Chinese."

Rev James Thomas, 1843-1933

Twenty-five years later, in 1868, the newly-ordained Reverend James Thomas arrived with his wife in Shanghai, a missionary sent out to China by the London Missionary Society (LMS), the same evangelical organisation that employed Dr David Livingstone in his early days in Africa. Thomas had a tough job on his hands: after just over 30 years the Shanghai mission had around 130 members amongst the local population of millions in the city and its hinterland. He did not last long giving up missionary life after three years and instead accepting the call to become minister of the Union (Congregational) Chapel amongst the opium dens and brothels on the river front in Shanghai. By 1877 he was back in England appointed as regional secretary to the British & Foreign Bible Society firstly in Derby before taking up the same role in London in 1885 where he made a name for himself as an able administrator and successful fund-raiser. He retired in 1919.

How did Thomas rise from Stepaside poverty to the heights he did? Education is the answer. Whether he attended any of the local schools around Saundersfoot is not known but his obituaries do record that he attended the only establishment providing secondary education in the county, the grammar school at Haverfordwest. Using income from two 17th century charitable endowments the school offered free education – but not books or digs – to a small number of  “the poorer sort of people” teaching subjects such as English grammar, History, Geography, Latin and Greek.

He was at the school during a period of great flux. Following the less than ringing endorsement it received in the  Government’s  1847 report into education in Wales, the school was reconstituted in 1855 and then moved to new buildings a year later. Unfortunately its pre-1855 records have not survived so there is no official record of his attendance nor is it clear how Thomas benefitted from these changes. The records that do survive show that he was the last local boy from a mining background to attend the grammar school during the 1800s.

Leaving school he appears to have been apprenticed to a Mr Evans, a chemist, druggist and bookseller in Narberth. He also attended the Tabernacle Independent church in the town where he came under the wing of the minister, Rev. Joseph Morris, and it was he who recommended Thomas to the LMS for training as a minister and missionary. Importantly the society also agreed to pay most of his costs to attend the non-conformist theological Cheshunt College north of London starting in 1863. He graduated in the summer of 1867, was ordained at Narberth in August, married in September in Bristol and sailed for Shanghai in October.

Sources

The Times newspaper, 1933

Blackheath Local Guide newspaper, 1933

Congregational Year Book, 1934

School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London, London Missionary Society archive

Pembrokeshire Record Office, Haverfordwest Grammar School Admissions Register, 1855-1909 (cat ref. SSR/2/7/4)

The History of the British & Foreign Bible Society, William Canton, Murray, 1910

The History of Haverfordwest Grammar School, G Douglas James, (no publisher’s name), 1961

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)

Begelly

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.

Interested in Evans & Hitchings of Stepaside?

I know there are a couple of regular readers of this blog who are interested in the extensive and complex Evans family of Stepaside and I suspect there are several more.

A probate document held at the Pembrokeshire Record Office should be of interest if you are one of them. Dated 11 November 1842 it concerns Nicholas Hitchings of Tenby’s estate and, as it lists most of his extended family, it establishes links between the various strands of Hitchings and Evans of Stepaside. I did not extract all the details but here’s a list of one part of the family, the children of Nicholas’ sister Mary Evans (nee Hitchings):

  • Martha Allen, wife of Benjamin of Eastlake, Amroth
  • William Evans of Stepaside, mason
  • Henry Evans of Little Kilvelgy, St Issells, farmer
  • Nicholas Evans of St Issells, carpenter
  • David Evans of Pleasant Valley, Amroth, tailor
  • Mary Absalom, wife of Benjamin, Redwalls, mason
  • Thomas Evans of Penrath, St Issells, farmer
  • Ann Morris, wife of William, Stepaside, blacksmith
  • Ann Evans, farmer of Begelly, widow of late John Evans

Family history would be so much easier if documents like this existed for all families!

Click here to link to the Record Office’s catalogue entry for the document.

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

Name

Residence

Death or burial date (D or B)

Age

John Thomas Sardis Mountain

4 Sept (D)

43

William Nash Begelly

6 Sept (D)

57

Philip Gunter Temple Bar

10 Sept (D)

43

Elizabeth Williams Sardis Mountain

10 Sept (B)

46

Margaret Hughes Thomas Chapel

12 Sept (D)

56

Ann Callen Sardis Mountain

14 Sept (B)

73

Mary Gunter Temple Bar

14 Sept (D)

10

Ann Williams Sardis Mountain

17 Sept (B)

20

Ann James Griffithston Hill

20 Sept (B)

7

Mary Williams Sardis Mountain

26 Sept (B)

11

George James Griffithston Hill

26 Sept (B)

26

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.

Sources

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

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.