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Scotsborough: Imaging a Medieval Mansion House


Scotsborough: Imaging a Medieval Mansion House

 By Roger Turvey

Scotsborough is located on a sloping hillside overlooking the Ritec less than a mile north-west of modern Tenby or Tenby extra-mural. When it was built sometime in the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century, it stood more than a mile from the town walls of medieval Tenby and lay within easy reach of the sea. Prior to its silting and reclamation the marsh that is the Ritec today was then an inlet of the sea. Like Boulston on the Cleddau it may have possessed a landing bay but this is not certain. Indeed, we know comparatively little about the origins of this house, who built it, when and why which is perhaps surprising given its standing as one of the more significant gentry houses of the late medieval and early modern period. This short piece is not intended to be a definitive study of the house and its history but simply to serve as an introduction to a larger project currently in hand and to highlight its existence in a selection of the images that still survive of this once great Pembrokeshire manor house.


The families most associated with the house are that of Perrot and ap Rhys. The Perrots were first on the scene in the early fifteenth century but it is not certain if they were the original builders of the house. A cadet branch of the senior Perrot line of Eastington and Haroldston, the first of the family mentioned as being of Scotsborough (c.1405) was Thomas Perrot, burgess, merchant and one time bailiff and Mayor of Tenby. That said it is possible that Thomas’s father Peter was the man responsible for founding this particular branch of the family sometime in the mid fourteenth century. Whatever the truth of the matter it is certain that by the beginning of the fifteenth century Thomas Perrot and his brother David were well established members of Tenby’s social and mercantile com­munity.

As the century wore on the family acquired more property to add to their landholding in the vicinity of the town, namely, Knightston and Cornishdown both of which lay in a line rising up the valley from Scotsborough. By the time of John Perrot’s death in 1569, the last of the family in the male line, the three manors had largely become synonymous in terms of landholding forming a solid block of territory. It was the marriage of Perrot’s heir Catherine with John ap Rhys of Rickeston that put Scots­borough, and its two sister manors, at the disposal of new owners. With her death, in September 1614, and burial in Gumfreston Church, the Perrot interest in the property ceased. Henceforth Scotsborough would pass through several generations of the ap Rhys family, one of whom was named Perrot ap Rhys in acknowledgement of the debt the family owed to the Perrots, before they too divested themselves of the property, first by way of mortgage in 1689 and then by sale in 1706. Thereafter, the house declined both in status and repair as it was leased out to a succession of tenants.

One of those tenants was a well-to-do squire from Tenby, Walter Middle­ton, who may have been responsible for inviting the great Welsh antiquary and scientist, Edward Lluyd, to stay at Scotsborough in February 1698.1 It is from ‘Scochburg’ that Lluyd wrote to his friend ‘ye Revnd. Mr. John Lloyd, at Gwersylht (Gwersyllt), near Wrexham’ in which he complained of the less than hearty welcome he received from the people of Tenby who suspected him and his companions of being tax collectors or ‘Jacobite spies’.2 By the early nineteenth century Scotsborough had been subdivided into separate units housing several families of agricultural workers. By 1824, plagued by disease, it had been abandoned and the rot set in. Ironically, while Scotsborough decays Cornishdown and Knightston still survive albeit in modern reconstructed form.

It is probably fair to say that today Scotsborough stands as a monument to our apparent indifference to the care and consolidation of our built heritage. Long forgotten and much neglected it will likely fall further into disrepair and perhaps even disappear if nothing is done to save it. In the twenty-six years since I first visited the house, it has deteriorated to such an extent that it is now fenced off with signs warning visitors of the dangers from falling masonry should they dare to approach its ruins. Twice only in the near two centuries since its abandonment has the house attracted the serious attention of historians; firstly in 1906 when Edward Laws surveyed, photographed and wrote about the house and, secondly, in 1989-90 when Paul R. Davis 3 surveyed and reconstructed through various line drawings the development of the house from its medieval origins to its heyday in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Scotsborough truly is one of the lost houses of Wales.4

PHS 2010 p 89 Fig 1 001

PHS 2010 p 89 Fig 2 001



























PHS 2010 p 89 Fig 3 001

PHS 2010 p 89 Fig 4 001












PHS 2010 p 89 Fig 5 001
























  1. Edward Laws, ‘The House of Scotsboroug h, near Tenby’ , Archaeologia Cam­ brensis, Sixth Series, Vol. VI (1906), 81-92. Francis Jones, ‘ Rickeston and Scotsborough’, The Pembroke Historian, II (1966) , 19-47. There is some dis­pute over who leased the house when Lluyd came to stay; Laws has Henry Hilling, yeoman, while Jones has Middleton. In terms of social status and dating of the material evidence, Middleton is preferred.
  2. Laws, op.cit., 91.
  3. Paul R. Davis, ‘Scotsborough House, a survey of a ruined mansion near Tenby,’ Archaeology in Wales, 30 (1990) , 28-32.
  4. E. L. Barnwell was the first to put pen to paper with his historical survey of the house and its owners, the Perrots, which he published in a series of articles printed in two volumes of the Archaeologia Cambrensis over two years in 1865 and 1866. They were republished in book form and entitled Perrot Notes in 1867.

In Search of a Church …. or Two……


In Search of a Church …   or Two

By Sue Lloyd

At first glance there would seem to be a proliferation of churches in the ancient village of Templeton. But delve into history and it reveals no church building of any great antiquity. The derelict 13th century Mounton Chapel although now situated within the Templeton boundary was always a parish in its own right and only amalgamated into Templeton in the 20th century. The established church of St Johns was not built until c.1860, Molleston Baptist Church although founded in 1667 was not built until 1731 and The United Reform Church, built in 1833 replaced a former building built in 1813.

According to local legend St Johns church was built on the site of an earlier chapel that belonged to the Knights Templar. Early Pembrokeshire histor­ians perpetuate the tale of the Knights Templar, Richard Fenton in his Historical Tour through Pembrokeshire describes Templeton as:

Being the favourite resort of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, for the season which they enjoyed the recreation of hunting. It is the skeleton of a large village consisting chiefly of a row of houses on each side of a great road leading to Tenby. It exhibits here and there the ruins of pretty large houses, and the remains of a cross now overturned, its shaft lying in one place and its pedestal in another. On the east side of the street a little recessed in a field, stands a fragment of what I suppose was once a chapel from its site due east and west, tradition likewise tending to confirm it.1

The shaft of that cross now stands in the churchyard of St Johns and it must have had some significance to be re-erected when the new church was built. St Johns church is situated on the east side of the village.

Fig. 1: Shaft of cross at St Johns church, Templeton.

Fig. 1: Shaft of cross at St Johns church, Templeton.

Whilst trawling through the records in the National Archives, I came across a document with the heading ‘ Order by official of St David’s settling a dispute among the parishioners of Narberth, Molleston and Templeton over the maintenance of their church’ dated 1386.2 I requested a copy of the document but was disappointed when I received it. I had expected it to be in Latin but I had not expected the writing to be so small. Firstly I tried to copy each letter to enable easier translation but this proved extremely difficult and in the end I gave up. I then tried to find a local translator but could not find any one willing to take on the difficult translation. In the end I responded to an advertisement in a Family History magazine. The translator was unable to provide a word for word trans­lation but was able to under stand the gist of the document which it appears was a complaint by the men of Templeton against the charges that they had to pay for the upkeep of Narberth Church. The men of Molleston, Narberth and Templeton all paid an equal amount for the upkeep but the men of Templeton were also keeping a chapel in Templeton. The judge­ment by the clerk at St David’s was that Templeton men should only pay 10 shillings towards Narberth, whilst they were maintaining the Temple­ton church. The men of Molleston and Narberth should pay 20 shillings.

Fig. 2: Plan of Templeton Village.

With proof of a 14th century church in the village I now needed to find its location. As well as the legend that the site is the same as the current church there is also mention of a site higher up the village behind the old post office. Searching through the Non-conformist history I came across the mention of a Meeting House in Templeton and of two brothers, James and John Relly (c.1722-79).3 They are said to have been born in Jeffreyston. James Relly was converted by the Calvinist Methodist Evangelist, George Whitefield when he attended a meeting with the intention of making trouble. James was so impressed by Whitefield that he was converted and became one of his preachers. The brothers had meeting houses in Pem­broke and Templeton, which may have been redundant Anglican churches or just private dwelling houses. Both the brothers were prolific writers of hymns and sermons and other theological works.4 James Relly was an extrovert and he was often criticised for his religious works and his private life. After he toured the West Country and Ireland he broke with White­field and moved to London, succeeding John Wesley as preacher at the Meeting House in Bartholomew Close and finally to Crosby Square.5 There was a lot of disagreement between the Methodist around this time and James Relly was the subject of much vilification by both the organised church and the Nonconformists. He was accused of being an Antinomianist but this did not discourage him and his brand of religion became known as Rellyanism or Rellyists.

John Relly who was said to be the quieter of the brothers remained in Pembrokeshire and continued to preach at Templeton. He was involved with John Harries of St Kennox and also the Moravians who often used his Rellite Meeting House at Templeton.6 The Moravian said about Templeton:

lt had an almost Athenian love of novelty in religion: soon after 1800 there was a Unitarian congregation there for a while; possibly the semi industrial character of the place (there were collieries there) may have had something to do with this religious restless­ness.7

John Relly often preached at the Moravian chapel. He died in 1777 and was buried at Carew. After his death the Rellites faded away probably turning to other forms of religion.

Fig. 3: Drawing of James Relly (1722-98). [published by kind permission of Peter Hughes, Dictionary of Unitarian Universalist Historical Society].

Fig. 3: Drawing of James Relly (1722-98). [published by kind permission of Peter Hughes, Dictionary of Unitarian Universalist Historical Society].

A disciple of James Relly, John Murray, emigrated to American and in 1780 was instrumental in founding the American Universalist Church based on Rellyism.8 In the history of the American Universal Church they state that James Relly converted to Calvinism circa 1742 and became a preacher at Rhyddlangwraig (also spelt Ridllaniregg) Narberth.9 So far I have been unable to trace Rhyddlangwraig, it could it be the name of the Templeton Meeting House or is it yet another church? In Lewis’s Topo­graphical Dictionary of Wales he states about Templeton:

‘The cottages in this village have an appearance of great antiquity, and the remains of numerous ruined buildings, together with the tradition that there was anciently a church or chapel here on the site of which is a building, subsequently used by a congregation of Unitarian dissenters, and now as a schoolroom, in connection with the established church, afford evidence of its having been at one time a place of greater importance.’10

This is more confusing because the schoolroom for the established church is on the west side of the road opposite the church. The URC schoolroom is on the east side but at the top of the village. Now I have four possible sites and just to add to my confusion another old legend suggests an ancient church in fields leading from Chapel Lane to Chapel Hill Farm at the back of the village. Another church or just a red herring?






  1. R. Fenton, A Historical Tour through Pembrokeshire (2nd edn., Brecknock, 1903), 137.
  2. The National Archives, E.135/23/55 (219660).
  3. National Library of Wales – Welsh Biography Online ‘Relly’.
  4. Ibid.
  5. British History on line, E. Webb, The Records of St Bartholomews Priory and St Bartholomew the Great, Vol. 2, 159-180.
  6. R. Jenkins, ‘The Moravian Brethren in North Wales’ , Y Cymmrodor, XLV, 40.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography, ‘James Relly’ by A. Hill www.25.uua.org/uuhs/duub.
  9. Andover-Harvard Theological Library (Online) BMS.444, Reily, James 1772- 1778.
  10. S. Lewis, Topographical Dictionary of Wales (1833).





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By John Burgess

‘Stokey’ Lewis was Pembrokeshire’s only Great War VC, as well as Wales’s youngest VC won at the age of 20 in the Salonika campaign in Greece and so he is the county’s highest decorated World War 1 soldier.1 The County Echo acclaimed Lance Corporal Ben Rees of Lower Fishguard as the only Pembrokeshire soldier to receive 3 gallantry medals in the war.2 He won the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the Military Medal and bar in almost exactly six months between 25th March and 2nd October 1918 on the Western Front and therefore he is the county’s most decorated World War 1 soldier. He was one of only three Lancashire Fusiliers to win three gallantry awards and the only soldier in the 35th Division to win these three particular medals and therefore he is one of a very select band of ordinary soldiers numbering probably hundreds of the 8 million or so British soldiers who served in the Great War.3 This article tells his story.

The early history of the Rees family of Fishguard deserves another article because it is a classic microcosm of nineteenth century West Wales history. As one historian has put it, ‘ the dissident south-west of Wales . . . was being transformed into the service centre of a new industrial society in the south-east’.4 Between 1810 and 1837, the family progressed from the slate quarries of North Pembrokeshire to the Tredegar ironworks, to the Bridgend collieries, to the boom town of Cardigan, Wales’s second port, and even­tually to Wallis Street, Fishguard as marine store dealers. In 1849 the whole family converted to the Mormon Church and emigrated from Liverpool in April 1855 eventually reaching Salt Lake City. The late 1850s were a dif­ficult time for the Mormon Church with the Mormon War of 1858 and as the Saints split in 1859 so did the Reeses. By 1861, father was back in Fishguard as a china and earthenware dealer leaving mother and one son in Spanish Fork, Salt Lake City.

Ben Rees’s father was born in New Orleans in 1860 as the family was returning from America and he became a respectable shopkeeper and china dealer rentin g premises in Bridge Street, Lower Fishguard, from the Yorke family of Langton Hall. He also owned property in Wallis Street and served on local inquest juries as a pillar of the community. His wife, Jane, is remembered for pushing her china and crockery cart up the steep Fishguard hill from Lower Town to her stall in Market Square.

Fig 1: Ben Rees's birthplace: Bridge Street, Lower Town, Fishguard.

Fig 1: Ben Rees’s birthplace: Bridge Street, Lower Town, Fishguard.

Ben was born in 1889 and was lucky enough to have a complete secondary education at the new County School in Ropeyard Lane, which was one of the best in Wales for maths in 1901 and had a new science laboratory from 1904. 5   At the 1919 civic presentation to Ben, his ex-headmaster, Owen Gledhill, said that Ben was ‘ a lad who stuck at a thing, however difficult it might be, until he mastered it’. This could be coded language for some academic slowness because Ben left the County School just before his 19th birthday in summer 1908. 6

He landed on his feet with a first post as a draper’s assistant at William James ‘s Siop-y-Bobl emporium next to the church on Main Street, Fish­guard, the largest shop premises in the county   according to the local paper.

Two of the James children were at school with Ben and Ben’s uncle David Rees, a prominent local councillor, owned a bakery on Main Street and used the passageway next to Siop-y-Bobl to reach his outbuilding s and these factors might explain how Ben obtained this plum position.7 Pro­motion came in September 1911 with a shop assistant position in David Morgan’s department store in The Hayes , Cardiff. 8

Fig 2: Ben Rees

Fig 2: Ben Rees

As an unmarried shop assistant of 25, it would have been expected that he would join up at the outbreak of the First World War and a B. Rees, Welsh Regiment, is listed among 70 Fishguard and Goodwick men enlisted before August 27, 1914. He signed on in Goodwick.9 As with 80% of Great War soldiers, his service papers did not survive the Blitz, but the local press enables us to reconstruct his military career in some detail.

In October 1915 he was home on leave as a member of the Royal Flying Corps and 4 months later he was with the Roya l Field Artillery. This was a common progression for signallers, as Ben was to become, because it gave training in coordination of artillery barrages with ground and air operations. At the end of 1916, he was with the Royal Sussex regiment.10 From early 1917 to March 1918 when he was with the 17th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, there is nothing definite about his service career.

The 17th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, was a Kitchener unit raised at Oldham and it became part of 104th Brigade, 35th Division. This bantam division was originally for recruits below the regulation 5′ 3″ height but the blood letting of 1915-16 meant that by 1917 it was restocked with normal sized men. 264 other ranks were drafted into 17th Battalion in September 1917 and another 172 in November – the last major blood transfusions before the Marc h 1918 battles – and therefore it is 1ikely that Ben Rees was in the Lancashire Fusiliers towards the end of 1917 if not earlier, and he may have participated in the Houthulst Forest engagement abut 4 kilometres north of Ypres as part of the battle of Passchendaele . 11

We know for sure that as the British lines creaked and buckled following the Ludendorff offensive of March 1918, 1 7 th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers marched to the front line at Maricourt on the Somme on the 24th March. The next morning at 7.45 at least five German divisions unleashed gas and artillery onto 35th Division. By the afternoon, Ben Rees’s battalion was in Maricourt Wood and the Germans were shouting through the trees as they advanced. At 18.00, the battalion was part of the rearguard cover­ing a general withdrawal to the Albert-Bray road, which was successfully accomplished by 2.45 on March 26th, and it is during this action of 25/26 March that Ben Rees was awarded the Military Medal. The Brigade War Diary says that no communication was possible with the artillery on 25/26 March and during his civic reception in 1919 it was said that during the retreat:

He kept communications going between his Headquarters and battalion for 48 hours not in the ordinary way by telephone but by flash lamp. I know that the flash-lamp is the last thing a signaller resorts to because it exposes his position to the enemy and subjects him to heavy fire. 12

35th Division was sent to Aveluy Wood near Authuille on the Ancre River, 2 miles north of Albert in April to prepare for an attack to dislodge the Germans from part of the same wood. Zero hour was 3.25 on June 1st and two companies of 17th Battalion and all of 18th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, were committed to the attack. The heavy undergrowth in the wood made communications a nightmare and early on it was necessary to use runners or power buzzers. By 7.30 the 2 battalions had lost contact with each other because shells had broken the power buzzers and nearly all signallers were casualties so there were no runners . It was not until 11.00 that a vital 15 minute communication window was re-established but by the afternoon the Germans had counterattacked and the British were back to square one. Ben Rees won the bar to his Military Medal for his part in creating that 15 minute window and Brigadier-General Sandi­lands presented the ribbon to him on 24th June.13

July and August were months of recuperation and refitting for 35th Division in readiness to participate in the September offensive to cross the River Lys. 17th Battalion’s objective was to take the Zandvoorde Ridge near Hill 60 and Canada Tunnels. The attack commenced at 5.30 on September 28th in driving rain but by the end of the day 6,000 yards had been gained including Hill 60, Sanctuary Wood, Shrewsbury Forest and Zandvoorde Ridge. The only hiccup had been a temporary communications break between brigades and divisions at midday. 17th battalion attacked again at 14.00 on 30th September in more wind, rain and mud and met stiff resis­tance. During the night, the Brigade War Diary notes:

Communication by means of wireless and telephone was estab­lished and maintained throughout operations between divisional HQ and battalions.

The attack continued to the 2 October but resistance was so strong that little progress was made. Ben Rees was awarded the Distinguished Con­duct Medal for his role in this battle and no fewer than three Divisional Brigadier Generals recommended him for the award. The citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and extreme devotion to duty during operations east of Ypres 28th September to 2nd October 1918. As a linesman he went out time after time under heavy fire, repairing the wires immediately they were broken. Through his splendid dis­regard of danger and energy, communication was maintained for his battalion and two other brigades. 14

Fig 3: Ben Rees's medals.

Fig 3: Ben Rees’s medals.

During the night of 26th October, 35th Division was again in the front line at Aveighem, about 40km east of Ypres, where several days of fierce fight­ing followed to secure the River Scheidt crossings. Brigadier Sandilands called the operation on 31st October to push the Germans back from the south bank of the river ‘the finest achievement of 104 Brigade during the war’.15 The 17th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, attacked at 5.55 and achieved its objective north of Kerkhove by 9.55 and General Plumer, the army commander visited 35th Division HQ to express his appreciation. Ben Rees is listed as wounded in the daily list of 7th November in the War Office Weekly Casualty List and on 5th December he is known to have been receiving treatment in Barry Red Cross Hospital. It is probable that he was gassed during the late October battles because his obituary noted that ‘the effects of being wounded and gassed undoubtedly hastened his death to a marked extent’ and another newspaper mentioned ‘a serious disability suffered during the last war’.16 After the Chlorine (1915) and Phosgene Gas (1916) periods, over 160,000 British soldiers were in­ capacitated by Mustard Gas between July 1917 and the end of the war. It quickly affected the eyes but skin in flammation took several hours to develop and the treatment included complete rest, light diet and possibly a saline drip and oxygen for several hours a day. Survivors were usually out of danger in a fortnight and fully recovered after a few more weeks and the typical mustard gas casualty had burns, severe inflammation of the throat and lungs and conjunctivitis and bronchitis were very common. Ben Rees’s death certificate includes chronic asthma as a cause of death.17

It is not clear how long Ben was in Barry Red Cross Hospital but he was certainly demobilised and back in Fishguard by 6th February 1919.18 With three gallantry medals won in six months, it is not surprising that Fishguard Council, chaired by his baker uncle, David, honoured him and other Lower Town medallists with a civic presentation in Lower Town Methodist Chapel on 5th September. Lady Jones of Pentower and Miss Chambers of Glynymel presented the medals to Ben who is described as a Lance­ Corporal in two papers but as a private in the London Gazette, the War Office Casualty List, and the Western Mail. 19

Ben Rees married Frances Owen, daughter of a Cardigan haulier at Llechryd in 1920 and the couple lived at Enslin Villa, St. Mary’s Street, Cardigan, throughout the 1 920s. At some point in this decade he became the South Wales representative for the Leicester clothing company, Wolsey Limited, which is not surprising given his pre-war experience in the drapery business. His only daughter was born in 1922 and in 1929 he was initiated into Teifi Masonic Lodge. The following year he was given the honour or carrying the new Cardigan British Legion standard on the dedication march. In 1935 or 1936 the family bought 13 Greenland Meadows in a leafy new Cardigan housing estate overlooking playing fields and within a stone’s throw of the County School and the war memorial.20

Fig 4: Greenland Meadows, Cardigan.

Fig 4: Greenland Meadows, Cardigan.

By now his health was failing and the Second World War re­duced the retail market so from June 1941 Ben was working in the Royal Naval Armaments Depot in Trecwn as a Temporary Clerk Grade 3 in the Main Office on a salary of £3/12/0 per week. He died on 5th December 1943 aged only 54 having ‘suffered in­tensely’ for a number of years, as the obituary reported, and he was buried in Cardigan cemetery. His prosperous com­mercial traveller lifestyle can be judged by the fact that he left effects to the value of £2,584/8/0.

If this ‘most modest of men’ who ‘never spoke about his war achievements was indeed Pembrokeshire’s most decorated Great War soldier, as the County Echo suggested , it is time that the achievements of this ‘Fishguard Superhero’ were more widely known in his home county and that has been the purpose of this article. 22


Fig 5: Ben Rees's grave in Cardigan cemetery.

Fig 5: Ben Rees’s grave in Cardigan cemetery.



  1. W. Ireland, The St01y of Stokey Lewis VC (1985).
  2. County Echo 5/12/1918.
  3. J.C. Latter, History of the Lancashir e Fusiliers 1914-18, 2 volumes (1949 ) and H. M. Davson, History of the 35th Division in the Great War (1926).
  4. G. A. Williams, The Welsh in their History (1981), 45.
  5. County Echo 16/12/01 1/09/04.
  6. County Echo 11/09/19 and Pembs. Record Office, Admission Register Fishguard County School 1901-9.
  7. County Echo 28/09/11 and 11/05/05 and 28/06/06 and 27/06/07 and 24/06/09.
  8. County Echo 28/09/11.
  9. County Echo 03/09/14 and 10/09/14.
  10. County Echo 07/10/15 and 04/05/16 and 10/02/16 and 21/12/16.
  11. Davson, 35th Division and J. W. Sandilands, A Lancashire Brigade in France ( 1919) and PRO, WO95/2484, War Diary of 17Bn. L.F.
  12. PRO, WO95/2483, 104 Brigade War Diary and WO95/2484 and County Echo 25/4/18 and 11/09/19 and London Gazette 12/06/18.
  13. Latter, Lancashire Fusiliers 1914-18, I, 354-6; Davson, 35th Division, 230-3 and Sandilands, Lancashire Brigade in France, 53-5. PRO, WO95/2484, War Diary of 17Bn. L.F., PRO, WO95/2483, 104 Brigade War Diary and County Echo 27/06/18 and 11/09/19 and London Gazette 07/10/18.
  14. See note 13 and Supplement to London Gazette , IO January 1920, 453.
  15. J. W. Sandilands, A Lancashire Brigade in France (1919), 759.
  16. PRO, War Office Weekly Casualty List, Nov. 12, 1918, 31 and County Echo 05/12/18 and 09/12/43 and Cardigan and Tivyside Advertiser 10/12/43.
  17. L. F. Haber, The Poisonous Cloud: Chemical Warfare in World War 1 (1986 ).
  18. County Echo 06/02119.
  19. County Echo 11/09/19 and Pembroke County Guardian, 10/09119 and Western Mail 06/09/19.
  20. Tivyside Advertiser 1920 ‘s and l 930’s and Library of United Grand Lodge of England.
  21. RNAD Trecwn Letter, Western Telegraph 11/12/43 and Somerset House Wills Letters of Administration.
  22. Western Telegraph 11/12/43 and County Echo 05/12/18.






By Simon Hancock

The Great Eastern is one of the most famous and instantly recognizable ships in British maritime history. In Pembrokeshire terms the main association is the twelve unhappy years spent in retirement at Milford Haven [1874-86] after her cable laying days were over. Two earlier visits to Neyland during 1860-62, noted for their feverish expectation of com­mercial development and unprecedented influx of day-trippers has been comparatively overlooked.

Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel [1806-59] and originally. conceived as the Leviathan, the Great Eastern’s keel was laid down on 1 May 1854 and boasted sail , paddle and screw propulsion. The behemoth displaced 22,500 tons and was 692 feet in length,1 making it much the largest ship ever built. It took months of agonizing effort to finally launch her from the yard at the Napier Yard, Milwall, an ordeal which seemed to typify the economic disappointment and shee r bad luck which dogged the Great Eastern ‘s 30 years of service. By the end of January 1858 the cost of construction stood at £732,000, double the original estimates. 2 The launch was eventually accomplished on 31 January 1858.

After surviving a serious internal explosion off Margate on 9 September 1859, [an event which apparently finished off an already gravely ill Brunel]3 and a ferocious eighteen hour storm off Holyhead ,4 the vessel was moved to Southampton for the Atlantic passenger route. The maiden voyage to New York began on 17 June 1860 with a complement of 418 crew but only 35 passengers. The voyage took 10 days and 19 hours. At New York the Great Eastern was hailed as the wonder of the modern age and perhaps a welcome diversion from the turbulent political storm clouds which were gathering that summer of 1860. When the price of admission to board and inspect the vessel was reduced to 50 cents an astonishing 143,764 sightseers visited in less than four weeks. 5 T he Great Eastern received the ultimate accolade when, on 23 August 1860 President James Buchanan and his staff spent two hours inspecting the ship.6

Even as the Great Eastern was being constructed at the Napier Yard, feverish speculation was being made regarding which port or locality in the United Kingdom would host the monster’s proposed Atlantic crossing route. A number of local commentators not surprisingly favoured the port of Milford and especially the newly-created ‘ port’ of Neyland. Doubtless much of this fancy rested upon Brunel’s knowledge of the capabilities of the Haven and his recorded visits to the locality. The great engineer surveyed the Haven on 16 October 1851 on board the Cambria steamer, seeking a site for the terminus of the South Wales Railway.7 During one of his later visits, I 9 July 1857, there was much speculation as to the object of his visit. Hopes were entertained ‘it had something to do with the Haven as to its being the place of arrival and departure for the Great Eastern. ‘ 8

Whatever the long-term intentions of the owners of the Great Eastern, a large measure of both expediency and commercial judgement underscored their negotiations with the South Wales Railway Company when it came to the ship’s return voyage to the United Kingdom in August 1860. 9 The railway company, mindful of their investment at Neyland [the railway had opened on 15 April 1856] offered berthing accommodation there. In their half-yearly report of the directors of the railway company, it was announced how ‘accommodation has been provided for enabling the process of cleans­ing her bottom to be proceeded with; and it is hoped that the selection of Milford Haven as the return port, on her first voyage, will benefit your traffic and provide a wise choice on the part of the owners of that vessel.’ 10

The accommodation in question was a huge wooden gridiron constructed on the foreshore at Neyland opposite the Pembroke Dockyard. The huge undertaking gave employment to 200 men for over two months . The beach was excavated to a distance of 550 feet and a wooden structure erected consisting principally of two huge grids, each 150 feet in length. Two ‘dolphins’ 30 feet in height were also built for the Great Eastern to li e against as wel1 as act as guides in the actual beaching operation. The grid­ iron was constructed by engineers of the South Wales Railway Company who also added a pier of loose stones to enable visitors to have a ready made access to the ship at any state of the tide. The gridiron cost nearly £1,000. 11 Doubtless the directors considered this a wise investment as they anticipated significant revenue from visitors anxious to view the world ‘s largest ship at Milford Haven. In early August 1860 the company were inviting tenders for the supply of refreshments for first and second class excursionists with contractors to sup ply all necessary plates, china, glasses and waiting-on staff.12

The Great Eastern left New York on 16 August 1860 with several score passengers including a ventriloquist and ‘improvisatore,’ the Wizard Jacobs and his brother the intriguingly-named ‘ Goblin Sprightly.’ 13 In mid­ Atlantic the ship’s screw shaft gave out 14 but after temporary repairs were carried out progress was resumed. The Great Eastern reached the mouth of Milford Haven on Sunday 26 August 1860. As though the arrival of the world ‘s biggest ship was not of enough attraction, the recent arrival of the eleven Royal Navy warships of the Channel Fleet made for further novelty and surprise. The 121-gun Royal Albert carried the flag of Vice-Admiral, Sir Charles Freemantle. 15 The presence of both fleet and largest com­mercial vessel on the globe clearly under scored the unrivalled port facilities of Milford Haven, a fact which contemporaries were quick to allude to.

The Great Eastern was met at St. Anne’s Head by one of the Neyland to Waterford steamers, the City of Paris , which manifested ‘an amount of enthusiasm for which we were hardly prepared … round after round of cheers, which our passengers returned much more heartily than they would have done had they known the demand that was soon to be made upon them for that exhaustive vocal performance.’ 16 As they rounded Stack Rock the Channel Fleet anchored in a double line. Passing at a rate of twelve knots an hour the Great Eastern was greeted with cheers from the crews in the rigging ‘and mounting with the activity of cats , were soon clustering on every yard , mast and spar to get a good sight of the great ship that was now dwarfing their own magnificent craft to the proportions of a cock boat.’ 17 Immense numbers of spectators lined every spot from Hazel­ beach to Neyland and Hobbs Point to Barrack Hill at Pembroke Dock. The Great Eastern moored a mile below the Dockyard and her 63 passengers were disembarked.18

On 28 August 1860 the leviathan was thrown open to the public where the steamers of Messrs Ford & Jackson [who operated the steam packets from Neyland to southern Ireland] conveyed visitors from Milford, Hobbs Point and Neyland. The fare and entrance fee were 2s.1’J The Great Eastern’ s seven months or so out of active service ironically proved to be highly remunerative for the long-suffering shareholders or the company, even if the sums expended on repairs proved to be rather substantial. Even before the vessel was floated up to the gridiron something of a frenzy of public interest manifested itself in the thousands of sightseers eager to see both Great Eastern and Channel Fleet.

By early September two special excursion trains arrived at Neyland, in addition to the well-patronised scheduled regular services. One train from Merthyr carried 1,100 visitors, the great majority of whom were obliged to stay out all night, there being no available beds at either Neyland or Pembroke Dock.20 Other excursionists came from London, Cheltenham and Gloucester. Some visitors arrived by sea on specially organised trips from llfracombe and Ireland. One correspondent remarked ‘Fancy the perpetuation for one month of the scenes of which Neyland has been the centre for the last three or four days; hundreds of visitors arriving by every train; refreshment rooms which used to be deserted are now crowded; vast masses lining all the approaches to the station.’ 21 For Neyland such interest was heaven sent. It was remarked how when such ships as the Great Eastern visited on a regular basis ‘that which now aspires to be the town of New Milford will have realised all that local enthusiasm anticipates as its brilliant destiny. At present it deserves attention principally as com­bining something of the rudeness of a new settlement with the comfort of a new hotel.’ 22

By early September around 2,000 people a day were visiting Neyland with passengers paying 1s. more than the usual fare from stations along the South Wales route. The company had speculated by building the gridiron and found itself handsomely rewarded with greatly increased passenger revenues. The owners of the Great Eastern likewise shared in the bonanza ‘and as the daily expenses of the ship are very trifling, the shareholders may congratulate themselves that she is earning something toward s a dividend. Evidently she will remain an object or curiosity wherever she may be, and her exhibition may be relied upon as a source or revenue .’ 23

The advent of sightseeing on this unprecedented scale was symptomatic of the development of recreational travel which started with the most prosperous in society and quickly moving down the social scale.’ 24 Above all it was the railway which made this new mobility in leisure possible with advice and reports regularly appearing in the local press testifying to the growing habit and ritual of annual holidays. 25 Despite the euphoria of the welcome given to the great ship the economic problems for the owners and shareholders were real enough. The crew of 403 was paid off over two days, a process complicated by disputes.26 There was no dry dock to receive the Great Eastern, only the gridiron and little by way of shoreline organisation.27 Once the coal on board had been discharged and every disposable weight had been sent off 28 by Captain Vine Hall, the difficult operation of beaching the ship could be contemplated. This task was duly accomplished on Sunday 16 September 1860, when, with the aid of a powerful tug, she was placed on the gridiron ‘with as much precision as a Thames steamer.’29 Those on the bridge included Captain Hall, Mr Brereton, Captain Thomas T. Jackson, the ship’s agent, Mr lvemey, the Queen’s harbour pilot and several other gentlemen. The Great Eastern was safely docked and was almost ‘a noble monument to the memory of I. K. Brunel, as he may be said to have given his own life to render his darling project a success.’ 30

The beaching was a success despite ‘blowing half a gale of wind.’31 With the Great Eastern on the gridiron visitors were able to walk entirely round the hull and afforded even greater opportunity for inspection. The South Wales Railway Company organised a number of special excursion trains, charging 4s.6d. a head to include entrance fee for the vessel. On I October 1860 one train with 39 carriages conveyed 2,700 passengers. Among them were the 17th division of Glamorgan Rifle Volunteers, raised and equip­ped by Mr Evan Evans of Neath. They marched into the ship preceded by their band playing a quick step.32 The visitors came from every social class, ‘from the merchant to the squire.’33 Despite the unprecedented number of visitors there was apparently little merchandising, merely a few trinkets, engraved shells and the like for purchase34 and there were repeated com­plaints concerning the lack of refreshments. Some enterprising Llangwm women saw their opportunity and offered to sell oysters to the hungry visitors.

Fig. 1: Photograph of the Great Eastern on the gridiron at Neyland (Courtesy of the Institute of Civil Engineers of Wales).

Fig. 1: Photograph of the Great Eastern on the gridiron at Neyland (Courtesy of the Institute of Civil Engineers of Wales).

Although visitor income was appreciated by both Great Ship Company and the railway company, there were significant repair and maintenance issues which brought the Great Eastern to Pembrokeshire. Concern was expressed at the state of the ship’s bottom. Consequently it was reported how 200 men would be employed to scrape and clean the weeds and barnacles after which McInnes copper paint would be applied. 35 Any sus­pected deterioration was soon demonstrated to have been greatly over­stated. Equipped with lanterns ‘and like so many disciples of Diogenes’:16 inspectors went wading through mud and the bars of the gridiron in search of marine algae. All that they found were a few small tufts of weed and a few limpets no more than half an inch in height. Nevertheless, the men were put to work and the weed and shells removed.

Whilst on the gridiron a new brush to the aftermost bearing of the main screws haft was introduced. A Board of Trade examination of 27 Sep­tember 1860 noted the screw shaft bearing being worn down in its bed to the extent of four inches at the outer end. It was further recommended that feed pumps be fitted to the screw engines. The surveyor’s report stated how new decks would be required costing in the region of £ 15,000. 37 Clearly any anticipation of the Great Eastern sailing to the United States on 17 October 1860 was impossible. Instead, the ship was put into a state of ‘permanent efficiency and . . . all current expenses be forthwith reduced to the minimum consistent with the safety and interest of the vessel.’ 38 The Great Eastern was to rest her bones on the gridiron at Neyland for the winter of 1860 – 61 although Captain Hall was quick to refute any claims that the damp climate of Milford Haven would be detrimental to the machinery and splendid hangings of the saloon.39

During the winter the Great Eastern was placed in the care of Captain Tho mas T. Jackson, the agent, two assistants and ten crew members includ­ in g an auxiliary engineer. Despite the inclement weather the ship remained open to visitors although the average fell to 25-30 a day, a far cry from the 19 ,000 excursionists who visited in September alone.40 The Great Eastern spent a quiet, undisturbed winter at Neyland ‘in calm, wondrous security .’ 41 During January 1861 various repairs were carried out under the super­ intendence of Captain Carnegie, so that she might leave as announced for New York in the Spring.42 The most formidable task was the replacing of the upper deck which had been constructed of unseasoned timber. Mr James Gaddarn [1822-90] a Neyland shipbuilder secured the contract and he employed a good number of hands to complete the work on time. 43

By mid- February 1861 a number of sailing and engineering officers had joined the ship in preparation for fitting her for sea.44 Such feverish activity renewed interest in the vessel which had lain at Neyland for six months. The date announced for her removal from the gridiron, 26 March 1861 was coincidentally the day before the launch of the 91-gun HMS Defiance from Pembroke Dockyard. The combination of these two note­ worthy maritime events, it was expected, would generate considerable public interest. To cater for the demand Edward Williams, manager of the South Wales Hotel, Neyland, endeavoured to lay on refreshment s of every description ‘at moderate charges.’ 45

Exactly six months and ten days after she was beached at Neyland, the Great Eastern was floated off the gridiron. Two small steamers towed her head southwardly and the paddle wheels were put into gentle motion and the mooring chains let go. The ship moored off Milford town to take on coal, cargo and passengers until her second voyage to Ne w Yor k. As anticipated, largenumbers of spectators assembled at every possible location to see these events including Neyland, Hobbs Point. the Signal Station and the fortified battery. 46 At nine o’ clock on the evening of 1 May 1861 the Great Eastern left Milford Haven bound for New York, the first time in the history ‘or this great and hitherto most unfortunate undertaking the directors have been able to keep faith with the public in the matter of punctuality of sailing .’ 47 Thus ended the Great Easte rn ‘s firsl sojourn in the Haven. It had been a memorable and impressive one, marred by tragic­ comic episodes of the litigation betwee n John Scott Russell and the owners of the Great Ship Company. Shortly after the appointment of Captain Carnegie RN to command the ship , the High Sheriff of Pembroke­shire boarded the vessel and placed an attachment on the ship under a court award of £24,000 to Russell for building costs and repairs.48 The Great Eastern’s second Atlantic voyage took nine days and thirteen hours, but given the war fever gripping the United States her arrival in New York went virtually unnoticed.

The highly visible presence of the world’s biggest and most celebrated vessel in their midst must have done much good for the economic prospects of the new community of Neyland. Ne wly-established inns like the Picton Castle Hotel, Lawrenny Castle Hotel and Mariners must have done a rare trade. Many were not slow to spot an economic opportunity. One indi­vidual, D. J. Olver, based at No. 2, Picton Terrace, Neyland, offered hair dressing services 49 to those visiting the Great Eastern. Later, the same individual offered photographs of the ship on the gridiron for 2s.7d. free of postage.50

The Neyland of the late 1850s and 1860s witnessed a large number of property transactions, especially leases from the principal landed estates, the Picton Castle and Lawrenny Castle Estates. One Jesse Evans, a native of Nolton, took leases of ground as early as May 1857  51 and more on 7 October 1859. 52 These were clearly pieces of ground on which dwelling houses and shops would be erected. Of particular interest was a memorandum of agreement between Thomas Evans of the Great Eastern Inn, Jesse Evans, mason and the Rev. J. H. A. Philipps or Picton Castle. The memorandum was dated 19 April 1862 .53 Clearly a public house bear­ing the sign of the famous ship was opened either in late 1860 or in 1861 . When the 1861 census was taken the only residents at home were Matilda and Mary J. Evans, aged fourteen and ten respectively, daughters of Jesse Evans. The latter kept another public house named the Traveller’s Rest at Parryville on the road to Honeyborough.54 Interestingly 3d. brass checks or tokens for use at the Great Eastern Inn or Hotel were issued by Jesse Evans and around five examples have been identified.

Fig. 2: Brass 3d. check of the Great Eastern Inn or Hotel.

Fig. 2: Brass 3d. check of the Great Eastern Inn or Hotel.

The most permanent record of the Great Eastern’s presence at Neyland in the early 1860s was the naming of a terrace of houses, actually being constructed at the time of the great ship’s arrival and a short distance from the location of the gridiron. The 1861 census records the course of erection or eight houses between Picton Terrace and Trafalgar Cottage. This row of dwellings was later named ‘ Great Eastern Terrace.’

After being chartered by the British Government to transport troops to Canada [June-July 1861] the Great Eastern’s third voyage to America began at Liverpool on 10 September 1861. On the second day she encoun­ tered a severe gale which caused the ship to roll heavily. The starboard paddle wheel was smashed to pieces and the vast iron rudder post was sheared off 2 feet above its collar. Ironically, the Great Eastern had left Liverpool with 400 passengers and freight ‘considerably larger, indeed than she has been favoured with on any previous voyage.’55 Temporary repairs were carried out at Queenstown , Ireland and on 6 October 1861 she set sail for Milford Haven where more permanent repairs would be carried out. On 7 October 1861 the Great Eastern lay off the town of Milford. The 5,000 tons of coal on board were advertised for sale 56 and the presence of the ship once again proved to be a considerable attraction.

During the latter months of 1861 repairs were carried out at Milford. These included the replacement of fittings and furniture demolished in the gale, while saloons and berths were rearranged and put in order.57 The principal repairs were new paddlewheels, rudder head and sailing gear. One of the principal contracts was awarded to James Gaddarn of Neyland that ‘spirited s hipbuilder’ 58 to build a large coffer-dam in order to facilitate repairs to the sternpost and rudder. This work required all the men in his employ.

On Sunday 16 February 1862 an attempt was made to berth the Great Eastern on the gridiron. The attempt ended in disaster. Assisted by three steam tugs, she rounded the Wear Point but during the operation the snapping of a hawser drew into the screw of the Great Eastern a boat containing men belonging to HMS Blenheim. Thirteen men threw themselves into the water, the remaining were ‘rapidly sucked into the maelstrom of waters formed by the screw revolution.’ 59 Two men were drowned, Thomas James of Milford and a boy named Kinston, a native of Ireland. To compound the horror, the Great Eastern struck HMS Blenheim carrying away her bow sprit, jib-boom and foreyard. The damage was estimated at £350.60 The 60-gun screw ship of 1,822 tons, guardship in the Haven and commanded by Lord Frederick Kerr had sustained considerable damage.

On Monday 17 February 1862 another attempt was made to put the Great Eastern off the gridiron. This time the manoeuvre was successfully accom­plished within an hour. This tragic incident added to the ships reputation as being a decidedly unlucky vessel. Later that day a number of men scraped the bottom of the ship and painted her. The public were permitted once again to inspect her.61 By early March the new after sternpost was being caulked watertight while a cracked plate was being attended to.62 On 16 April 1862 the Great Eastern left the gridiron for the second and last time and she sailed off for Milford without a mishap. The new paddle­ wheels had been fixed and the ship ‘rendered as perfect in all respects as money, experience and forethought can make her.’63 Improvements to the saloon and state rooms had turned the ship into a veritable floating hotel.64 One of the improvements, admittedly minor in nature, was the extra dial to the lobby clock, the work of Thomas Williams, watchmaker of Mariners Square, Haverford west.65

Fig. 3: Postcard of Great Eastern Terrace, Neyland.

Fig. 3: Postcard of Great Eastern Terrace, Neyland.

The remainder of the career of the Great Eastern was a continuation of the disappointments and misfortunes which had dogged her since her very inception, although she did much valuable work in laying transatlantic telegraph cable. After her lengthy retirement at Milford Haven she was sold and ended her days as a showboat at Liverpool before being broken up. For Neyland, memories of the Great Eastern ‘s visits soon faded. On 15 September 1862 the Great Eastern Inn was sold at public auction on the instructions of the Trustees of the Pembroke Dock No.2 Benefit Building Society66 and the premises eventually became a domestic dwelling known as New Milford House. The gridiron was removed in December 1864, according to the evidence of James Gaddarn, shipbuilder, when he gave testimony at the Pembrokeshire Spring Assizes of 1865.67 The action was taken by Francis Trewent against the Great Western Railway Company [which had incorporated the South Wales Railway Company] for damages for the use of the foreshore and trespass when the Great Eastern was beached at Neyland. The plaintiff was awarded £30 and the defendants were advised to pay another £30 if they wanted to avoid further action.

The Great Eastern never returned to Neyland although she was berthed at Milford Haven for over a decade. Her two visits to the new railway com­munity of Neyland represent most noteworthy and interesting occurrences and an example of the novelty of popular mass day-tripping, itself a product of the railway age.


    1. James Dugan, The Great Iron Ship (Stroud, 2003), 13.
    2. Patrick Beaver, The Big Ship (London, 1969), 45.
    3. T. C. Rolt, Isambard Kingdom Brunel (London, 1957), 298.
    4. Dugan, The Great Iron Ship, 50.
    5. Francis Rowsome, ‘The Strange Story of the Great Eastern’ , Harpers Monthly Magazine, 178 (Dec. 1938-May 1939), 511.
    6. Daily News, 24 August 1860.
    7. Pembrokeshire Herald, 17 October 1851.
    8. Ibid., 24 July 1857.
    9. The National Archives, CRES. 58/854.
    10. The Times, 21 August 1860
    11. The Welshman, 24 August 1860.
    12. Haverfordwest & Milford Haven Telegraph, 8 August 1860.
    13. Rowsome, op. cit., 507.
    14. Dugan, op. cit., 79.
    15. The Morning Chronicle, 25 August 1860.
    16. Pembrokeshire Herald, 31 August 1860 .
    17. Ibid.
    18. Haverfordwest & Milford Haven Telegraph, 29 August 1860.
    19. Ibid.
    20. Ibid., 5 September 1860.
    21. Ibid.
    22. Pembrokeshire Herald, 7 September 1860.
    23. Daily News, 17 September 1860.
    24. Judith Flanders, Consuming Passions. Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain (London, 2006), 212.
    25. Peter Bailey, Leisure and Class in Victorian England (London, 1978), 60.
    26. Pembrokeshire Herald, 31 August 1860.
    27. Dugan, op. cit., 80.
    28. Daily News, 17 September 1860.
    29. The Morning Chronicle, 21 September 1860.
    30. The Times, 19 September 1860.
    31. Pembrokeshire Herald, 21 September 1860.
    32. Haverfordwest & Milford Haven Telegraph, 3 October 1860.
    33. Pembrokeshire Herald, 19 October 1860.
    34. Ibid., 14 September 1860 .
    35. Daily News, 17 September 1860.
    36. The Morning Chronicle, 21 September 1860.
    37. Pembrokeshire Herald, 19 October 1860.
    38. Ibid.
    39. The Times, 16 October 1860.
    40. Ibid., 30 October 1860.
    41. The Morning Chronicle, 22 January 1861.
    42. Pembrokeshire Herald , 25 January 1861.
    43. Potter’s Electric News, 23 January 1861.
    44. Pembrokeshire Herald , 15 February 1861.
    45. Ibid., 15 March 1861.
    46. Potter‘s Electric News, 3 April 1861.
    47. The Times, 3 May 1861.
    48. Dugan, op. cit., 84.
    49. Pembrokeshire Herald, 19 October 1860.
    50. Ibid. , 21 December 1860.
    51. Pembrokeshire Record Office. O/RTP/Sir R. B. P. Philipps. 7/18.
    52. Ibid.
    53. Ibid
    54. 1861 Census returns for the Parish of Llanstadwell.
    55. The Mornin g Chronicle, 19 September 1861.
    56. Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, 27 October 1861.
    57. The Morning Chronicle, 19 December 1861.
    58. Tenby & Pembroke Dock Gazette, 23 January 1862 .
    59. Haverfordwest & Milford Haven Telegraph , 19 February 1862.
    60. Dugan, op. cit., 83.
    61. Haverfordwest & Milford Haven Telegraph , 19 February 1862.
    62. Daily News , IO Mar c h 1862.
    63. Ibid ., 17 April 1862.
    64. Haverford west & Milford Haven Telegraph, 23 April 1862.
    65. Ibid., 7 May 1862.
    66. Ibid., l0 September 1862.
    67. Pembrokeshire Herald, 10 March 1865.



















Infectious Diseases in Pembrokeshire in the Nineteenth Century




By Ray Jones

In the nineteenth century, the people of Pembrokeshire, like those else­ where, lived under the permanent shadow of disease and death. Although there is a good deal of information on these conditions, it is impossible to record, classify and quantify every disease nineteenth century inhabitants may have suffered. Most ailments will have gone unrecorded and any consideration of nineteenth century disease is constrained by lack of diag­nostic accuracy and the fact that national recording of diseases did not begin until the establishment of the Registrar General’s office in 1837. Further, the registration of births and deaths was not made compulsory until 1874 and there was no requirement to list some important diseases for many years, in some cases not until the twentieth century.

Most feared were the infectious or contagious diseases (now know as communicable diseases) , especially cholera, typhus, typhoid, (both called ‘fever’,) influenza , diphtheria, scarlet fever and tuberculosis also known as the ‘white plague ‘ or phthisis. Smallpox was also endemic for much of the century. These diseases were feared because of their epidemic and endemic status; onset was often sudden, spread rapid and cause unknown. Morbidity and mortality were high. It was believed that diseases were caused by poisonous gases (miasma) from piles of filth, or by a particle (contagium) arising spontaneously which carried the ‘poison’ of the disease. It was also thought disease was a punishment for the ungodly and early in the century, that disease s were caused by spells cast by witches (maleficium). There was no concept of public health and it was generally thought that the State should not interfere with the ‘sanctity of the domestic hearth and the decent seclusion of private life ..   .’1   It was regarded as intolerable that the Government should meddle with ‘ individual liberty , personal dignity and social propriety” and this included the health of the populace . Public health measures ‘did not form a plank in any ministry’s platform and neither political party had developed a comprehensive ethic, or philosophy of public health.’ 2 However, this attitude began to change when it was realised that cholera was advancing across Europe and it was inevitable it would reach Britain. There were four major epidemics of cholera in Britain in the nineteenth century and it is generally agreed that the cholera epidemics were the greatest stimulus to the improvement of public   health and   limiting infectious  diseases  in the nineteenth century. This was despite the fact that notwithstanding its severity, death rates from cholera were fewer than death rates from the other infectious diseases. This emphasis, it is believed, was because cholera tended to attack all social classes whereas the other diseases tended principally to attack the poor or labouring classes. The detailed effects of cholera in Pembroke­ shire will be considered elsewhere.3 This paper will focus on the other diseases listed above.


Typhus was one of the major killing disease of the nineteenth century 4 although it was not clearly distinguishable from typhoid fever (often called enteric fever) until about 1866 (‘fever’ was also used, at that time, as a generic term for a number of pyrexial diseases, as early symptoms were similar). The disease is caused by a bacterium Ricke1sia prowazekkii; the bacteria live in infected humans and are transmitted from person to person by the human body louse Pediculus humanis. Undernutrition, close con­finement and unsanitary conditions are predisposing causes. These are thought to be the reasons the disease rarely affected the upper classes.5 There were eight major epidemics of typhus in the UK in the nineteenth century with Swansea, Merthyr Tydfil and Neath being the towns most effected in Wales.

Cases of typhus were supposed to be reported to the Registrar General’s office but it was not separately reported from typhoid until 1869. However, although typhoid can be fatal, most people recover and it is thus likely that the data before 1869 will only slightly over-estimate typhus deaths.

Chadwick considered that typhus was ‘the constant accompaniment to life in the courts, closes and wynds [and] an unerring index of destitution’ 6 and it caused a death rate of 14 per 1,000 living in the UK in 1846. 7 Although it is known deaths from typhus declined in the latter part of the nineteenth century, it is nevertheless surprising that there is little mention of typhus in the Pembrokeshire Medical Officer of Health (MoH) reports perused. Perhaps it was not reported because such a report would have drawn attention to poor living conditions, highlighting the deprived state of the dwellings and the need to spend money on improvements. It is also pos­sible, that as typhus tended principally to attack the poor, they did not seek medical attention and thus there is no record. Some death rates for typhus in Wales and Pembrokeshire are shown in Table One.


Year Wales Pemb rokeshire Source
1837 693 47 Annual Report of Registr ar General Vol. 3









1839 1,489 95
1840 ‘over 900’ 106 G. Penrhyn Jones.

‘ Y Teiffwys yng Nghymr u’

Y Traethodydd

Cyf. 3 (1959) ,





‘over 110’




‘about 1,100’

1870 123
1872 4  


Tenby Museum SE/24/4/5

1874 2
1 875 I
1877 I
1880 23 G. Penrhyn

op. c it.

Jo nes
1884 2 Tenby Museum SE /24/4/5

G. Penrhyn Jones

op. cit.





1897 2 Pembs .

Archive Office Annual Report: Sanitary Ins pector H west Rural 189 15

Table One: Deaths from Typhus in Wales and Pembrokeshire. (Blank S pace = No Data).


Typhoid, also known as enteric fever, is an infection of the intestinal system caused by bacteria of the Salmonella genus . It is transmitted by food or drinking water contaminated by the faeces of infected people or carriers. Recovery is natural but the disease can be fatal. T he re we re scattered cases of typhoid in Pembrokeshire throughout the century but most quantitative information comes from the last quarter. Some details are shown in Table Two. Haverfordwest, with a population of about 6,500 at this time, was badly affected and there is evidence that some data reported from the town council to central government shows fewer cases and deaths than actually occurred as indicated by local MO Hs reports to the local authority. This may have been an effort to show that Haver­fordwest was not badly affected – towns were often anxious not to let it be known that there were infectious diseases in their area.

Table Two: Some Typhoid Outbreaks in Pembrokeshire in the Nineteenth Century. (Blank Space = No Data).

Table Two: Some Typhoid Outbreaks in Pembrokeshire in the Nineteenth Century.
(Blank Space = No Data).













Following the 1880 outbreak in Haverfordwest, the Local Government Board called for a report on the prevalence of typhoid in the Borough. The report severely criticised the sanitary state of the town and its water supply and required the Sanitary Authority to ‘diligently exercise … the powers they possess [for the prevention of infectious disease] under the Public Health Act of 1875 … 8     The 1884 outbreak in Broad Haven, in which 48 residents of the population of 271 population were afflicted, was thought to be due to contamination of the village well. The village squire then kindly allowed the villagers to use the water from his private well. Unfortunately, this was found to be more contaminated than the village well!


The term influenza was not used in Great Britain until 1743. Some believe that ‘ague’ may have referred to influenza while others say ague described ‘malarial fever.’ Influenza is caused by a virus or viruses and is transmitted from person to person by aerosols in the breath. There was no requirement lo re port the disease until 1881 and it was not separately recorded by the Registrar General until 1891. However, it is known that there were seven e pide mics in the UK in the nineteenth century, the worst being in 1847 whe n deaths increased by 83% in children, doubled in adults and increased two and a half times in old age. Total deaths were about five times greater than deaths from cholera in 1849. 9

Influenza would have been particularly difficult to diagnose accurately and relatively little attention is paid to it in the Pembrokeshire MoH reports surveyed. Mention is made of a ‘recent epidemic’  in Fishguard in 1890 10 and the same report quotes a further outbreak, with no deaths, in December of 1890. A further case is reported 11 in 1891 and there were four deaths in 1895, all in Fishguard. 12 Of more significance is 93 deaths from influenza – a serious epidemic – in the Haverfordwest District of Haver­fordwest Rural Sanitary Authority in 1891 13 falling to four deaths in 1896. 14  St. David’s had an ‘influenza epidemic in early 1890 ‘ 15 without deaths but two deaths were recorded in 1889.16  In 1892, the disease was described as ‘prevalent’ in St. David’s with two persons dying.17 Haverfordwest Urban Sanitary Authority had one death from influe nza in 1890,18 one in 1896, five in 1897 , four in 1898 19 and seven in 1899. 20 Five people died from influenza in Tenby in 1895. 21


Smallpox, so called to distinguish it from the Great Pox (syphilis), is also a virus disease and has a high mortality rate. There are three forms of smallpox, two being comparatively minor, with the virus Variola major being the cause of the true virulent disease. An attack with one form can protect against infection with the other forms. Accurate figure s for the incidence of smallpox are only availab1e since 1884 when notification became compulsory but the disease has been known since ancient times . There were at least six epidemics in the eighteenth century with at least three in Haverfordwe st, in 1722, 1729 and 1731- 1732. 22 Over 200 people had the disease in Haverfordwest in 1722 with 52 deaths. 23  There were at least five epidemics in the UK in the nineteenth century with smallpox being responsib1e for about 11% of recorded deaths in the 1837-1840 out­ break.24 From about 1840, deaths declined with the last major outbreak being in Gloucester in the 1890s. 25

The first mention of smallpox in Pembrokeshire in the nineteenth century that could be traced, was in the Prison Surgeon’s Journal or 1831 – 23. 26 ‘ The patient was given treatment – ‘white bread and milk ‘ together with ‘… a little extra fire for every evening, and a small quantity or brandy daily for three days’ plus one extra blanket. 1838 saw ‘ virulent smallpox’ in Narberth 27and in 1857 there was an outbreak in Pembroke Dock, said lo have been brought in by a ‘swarthy tinker [who had] arrived overnight from Swan­sea.’ 27 The dockyard was closed and eight people died.28 One case of smallpox occurred in Milford Haven in 1872, but no further cases were reported from there until 1892 when there were two further cases.29 There was a plan to have a smallpox hospital at Milford but the inhabitants would not allow it because it would mean that suspected cases would have to travel through the town and fatal cases transported to the cemetery!

In 1887 there were three fatal cases, one each at Llanglydwen, Stepaside and East Williamston, all in the Narberth area. These were all attributed to the use of impure water. Nothing further occurred until a ‘suspected’ case at Narberth workhouse in 1890. 30 was reported this being the last mention of smallpox in that area that could be traced.

In 1882 a MOH Report to Pembroke Rural Sanitary Authority 31 described a case at Carew, said to be in a man from Pembroke Dock who had contracted the disease there. The Report added there had been an outbreak at Pembroke Dock and ‘… [smallpox] was on the increase not decrease.’ No evidence to substantiate this claim could be traced. One fatal case at Tenby, in 1872, was described, this being the only mention in Tenby MoH Reports.32 There was no further mention of smallpox in the documents studied until 1884, when Haverfordwest Rural Sanitary Authority received a report from their MOH33 saying there had been no deaths from smallpox in the district. A similar Report of 1891 again reported no deaths from smallpox.34 However, in 1892, the MOH of the Haverfordwest Urban Authority wrote of smallpox where ‘each outbreak had been brought in by the migratory population – Haverfordwest is constantly in danger of importing [infectious] disease … [and] there is a tendency to conceal cases.’ 35 He went on that there had been one case in an adjoining town (probably Pembroke Dock) and a ‘serious epidemic’ there in the last quarter. This is the last mention of smallpox in the local documents perused.

The incidence of smallpox was in decline in the last part of the century and this was one of the very few diseases contained by medical advances of that time. This was due to vaccination, the injection of the virus of cowpox into the skin; this gives protection against the virus of smallpox . and hence the disease. Also used was variolation, the injection of pus from a smallpox lesion, which usually gave a mild infection and thus immunity. However it occasionally gave severe or fatal attacks and the recipient was always highly contagious.

It is generally believed that smallpox vaccination was introduced by Jenner, but more recently the work of Jesty has been given more prominence. 36 Benjamin Jesty, a Dorset farmer used a stocking needle to inoculate pus from cowpox lesions into the arm of his wife and sons in 1774, 22 years before Jenner inoculated eight year old James Phipps. Variolation was introduced to Britain in 1717, when Lady Anne Wortly Montague, the wife of the Ambassador to Turkey and their two children were inoculated. However, there is evidence that variolation was used in Pembrokeshire at an earlier date. Letters dated 23 and 28 September 1722 in Philosophical Transactions from Perrot Williams MD, a physician at Haverfordwest stated ‘[variolation] has been practised since time immemorial in this part of Wales ‘ and that it was a ‘ very ancient custom.’ And there is a record of a woman from Milford Haven selling the pus from three smallpox pustules for one shilling for use in variolation before 1717.

It is believed variolation was successfully used to prevent the spread of the disease and reduce death rates in the several seventeenth and eighteenth century outbreaks and ‘a substantial proportion of the poor were im­munized .’37 However, there was strong opposition to its use, partly because of side effects and partly because it was thought illogical to deliberately infect people. With the success of vaccination, variolation was banned and vaccination made compulsory. Pembrokeshire did well in this programme with 86% of babies vaccinated by 1890. 38


Of all the diseases that attacked and killed the population in the nineteenth century, tuberculosis (TB), also known as consumption, phthisis and the ‘White Plague’ was probably the worst, perhaps accounting for one-third of all the deaths in this period, more than cholera and smallpox put together.39 It is caused by a bacterium, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, conclusively shown by Robert Koch to be the cause of tuberculosis in 1886 – ‘ the final nail in the coffin of the miasmatists.40 Tuberculosis is principally a respi­ratory disease but the organism can attack every organ in the body including bones and glands, particularly the neck glands, this latter being known as scrofula and also King’s Disease or King’s Evil because it was believed it could be cured by the touch of the King of England or France. This was introduced in the days of Edward the Confessor (1003-1066) and lasted until it was stopped by George I (1714-1727) because he thought it was ‘ too catholic.’ Indeed there was a ritual for the ceremony in the Book of Common Prayer as late as 1633 and it is recorded Charles II touched 92,107 people. There is no record of how many were cured.

Tuberculosis was not a fully notifiable disease until 1912 but it was tabulated in Registrar General’s Reports in the nineteenth century. Deaths from tuber­ culosis were reported intermittently and for Pembrokeshire, no significant information could be traced until the last quarter of the century. This is shown in Table Three. However, because of relatively poor diagnostic tech­ niques and the ability of tuberculosis to mimic other diseases, especially in its early stages, such data should be treated with care. By 1898, when there were 20 deaths from tuberculosis in Haverfordwest, it was reported ‘it is thought that 20% of all milk cows in England and Wales carry tuber­ culosis.’ 41

Table 3: MoH Reported Deaths from Tuberculosis (all forms) in some Pembrokeshire Towns. (Blank Space = No data).

Table 3: MoH Reported Deaths from Tuberculosis (all forms) in some Pembrokeshire Towns. (Blank Space = No data).


Scarlatina or scarlet fever, these names being used interchangeably, is primarily a disease of children with 95% of cases being under the age of 1042 although it can also attack adults. It has been named and identified since 1749 although the exact cause was not established untill899. It was listed with fever and typhus in the Registrar General’s Report of 1838 and with diphtheria until 1860. Thus, earlier epidemics cannot be separately distinguished. Scarlatina can be caused by a number of bacteria now col­ lectively known as Group A streptococci and is transmitted by aerosols or direct contact. Initially there is a sore throat and headache with fever, vomiting and swollen neck glands but the bacteria can rapidly enter the blood stream causing septicaemia (blood poisoning).

The first record of the disease in Pembrokeshire traced, was in 1818-1819 when there was an ‘outbreak’ in Haverfordwest gaol.43 The gaoler requested six extra sheets and six extra mattresses so that the sick could be kept in one room and this was agreed. Little further was reported until several decades later when there were several severe outbreaks throughout the county. Some details of these are given in Table Four. As well as the data sampled above there were several reports of other outbreaks but without quantitative information although the reports noted cases occurred or were confined to one district.

Attempts were made to isolate sufferers and there were complaints about the lack of an isolation hospital. Houses and clothes were disinfected and an advice leaflet was printed. It was believed that not all cases were being reported and it was decided to prosecute infringements and in 1895, Joseph Challender of St. Thomas Green, Haverfordwest, was brought before magistrates for ‘default in notifying the existence of Scarlet Fever in his house and allowing his child to be exposed to the Public after notice was given by the Medical Officer of Health to isolate the boy.’ 44 In 1872 Tenby school s were closed for 16 weeks and Haverfordwest Urban schools were closed for 12 weeks in 1891. Also in 1891, schools were closed in Mathry, Hayscastle and Brawdy, cases isolated and houses disinfected as far as possible’ (Report’s italics).45 The 1896 outbreak in Haverfordwest Rural district were ‘spread throughout the year and district’ ; it was decided not to close the schools but the inhabitants of Keeston parish were banned from attendance for two years. However despite the outbreak, Pembrokeshire did not do so badly – the death rate from scarlatina in Haverfordwest for the period 1881-1890 was 1.67 per 1,000 living compared with 2.58 for the whole of England and Wales for the period 1848-1872.

Table Four: Some Scarlatina Outbreaks in Pembrokeshire (Blank Space = No Data).

Table Four: Some Scarlatina Outbreaks in Pembrokeshire (Blank Space = No Data).



























Table Five: Some Diphtheria Epidemics in Pembrokeshire. (Blank Space = No Data)

Table Five: Some Diphtheria Epidemics in Pembrokeshire. (Blank Space = No Data)


























Diphtheria is also caused by a bacterium Corynebacterium diptheriae there is sore throat, heart failure and septicaemia with a membrane grow­ ing across the trachea(windpipe) often to the point of asphyxiation. The disease has also been called ‘croup,’ ‘putrid sore throat,’ malignant sore throat’ and ‘ throat fever.’46 As with scarlatina, most of the information in the county comes from the latter part of the century and some details are given in Table Five. There were also deaths in 1877, 1878 and 1879 in Tenby.47

Unlike MoH reports on most other diseases, additional comments were often made on the incidence of diphtheria, for example, ‘ houses and family filthy’ 51, ‘ diphtheria has been hanging about the Western Cleddy [sic] and its branches for years’ 52 ‘all cases aged 1½ -18 years ,’53 ‘all in one family of eight’ 54 and ‘ in people assembled at marriage festival.’55 As with scarlatina, several schools were closed, for varying periods, up to one month and following the 1888 outbreak in Llandisssilio/Clunderwen, a ‘Local Report’ was made to the Local Government Board. There were critical comments on the state of the villages but no cause for the outbreak could be found. 56

In the nineteenth century, the diseases described were endemic in Pem­brokeshire, as they were among poor people in all parts of the UK. The bulk of the populace lived short, brutal lives in constant fear of the killer diseases described in this paper. The not untypical life of a labouring class family in the middle of the nineteenth century, surrounded by disease may be summarised by reference to the Merriman family of Begelly.57 Nearly all the family are thought to have died of tuberculosis.

John Merriman married Eliza Richards on August 15, 1844. They had ten children between 1845 and 1865.

Their first born Thomas born 1846 died in 1862 aged 17. The second son William born 1849 survived.

Baby born 1853 died of diarrhoea 1854 aged 11months.

George born 1860 died 1863 aged 3.

John born 1863 survived.

Mother Eliza died 1865. Eliza died 1867

Maria born 1851 died 1868 aged 17.

Thomas born 1865, died 1869 aged 4.

Jane born 1864 died 1872 aged 18.

Emma born 1859 died 1872 aged 13.

‘There was no medical attendant for all but one of the dead’.

The tragedy of this family truly encapsulates the effects of infectious diseases in Pembrokeshire in the nineteenth century. The marvel is that anyone survived to provide the heritage of good health enjoyed by so many today.


          1.  Anthony   S. Wohl, Endan gered   Lives: Public Health in Victorian Britain (London, 198 3),   3 2 .
          2. Klaus -John Dodds, ‘Much Ado about Nothing? Cholera , Local Politics and Health in Nineteenth Century Reading ‘ , The Local Historian, Vo l 2 1.4 ( 19 9 1 ), 168-176.
          3. T. Jones , ‘ Cholera in Pembrokeshire in the Nineteenth Ce ntury’ , Journal of the Pembrokeshire Historical Society, No. 20 (20 11 ). Forthcoming.
          4. Patrick Murray , Medical Microbiology (London, 1990), 128- 129.
          5. Pickstone, ‘ Death, Dirt and Fever Epidemics : Rewriting the History of British “Public Health” 1780 – 1850 ‘ , in T. Ranger and P. S la c k (eds.), Epidemics and Ideas: Essays on the Historical Perception of Pestilence (Cambridge, 199 2), 130.
          6. Edwin Chadwick , Report on the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population of Great Britain, 1842 (ed.), M. W. Flinn (Edinburgh, 1965), 8-9.
          7. Ibid., 10.
          8. Pembrokeshire Record Office. Dr. Parsons’ Report to the Local Government Board on the Prevalence of Typhoid Fever in the Boro ug h of Haverfordwes April, 1881. HAR/HE/1/13.
          9. Creighton, o p. cit., 215-219.
          10. Pemb R.O. Clerk of the Peace . General Correspondence. PQ/ C/1/91.
          11. Pemb R.O. MOH Report Fishguard District. 1891. HAR/HE/ 1 /6
          12. Ibid., 1895. HAR/HE/1/7.
          13. Pembs. R.O. MOH Report Haverfordwest District. 1892 HAR/HE/1/10. 14.
          14. Ibid., 1896. HAR/HE/1/12.
          15. Ibid., MOH Report. St David’s District 1890. HAR/HE/1/2.
          16. Ibid., Clerk of Peace. General Correspondence. PQ/C/1/90.
          17. Ibid., MOH Report. St David’s District. 1891. HAR/HE/1/20.
          18. Ibid., Minutes, Corporation of Haverfordwest acting as Urban Sanitary Authority. 1880-90. HAM/SE/1/6.
          19. Ibid., 1891-1895. HAM/SE/1/6.
          20. Ibid., 1899-1908. HAM/SE/1/17.
          21. Ibid., Report of Tenby MOH 1895. TEM/HE/1/1.
          22. F. Cartwright, A Social History of Medicine (London, 1977) , 91.
          23. G. Penrhyn Jones, ‘Y Frech Wen yng Nghymru’ , YTraethodydd, Cyf. 3 (1959), 171-181.
          24. J. R. Smith, The Speckled Monster (Chelmsford, 1987), 14.
          25. Roy Porter, The Greatest fit to Mankind (London, 1999), 650-651.
          26. Pembs. R.O. Records of the Court of Sessions of the County of Pemb roke. Surgeon’s Journal 7. 1820-1835. PQ/AG/72.
          27. Ibid., Haverfordwest Board of Guardians Minute Books. SPU/HA/1/2/F62.
          28. Vernon Scott, Pembrokeshire Life (June 1997), I
          29. Pembs. R.O.  Milford Port Sanitary Authority Minute Book. 1874-1926 D/MPH/1/1.
          30. Pembs. R.O. Minutes Narberth Rural Sanitary Authority. NAR/SE/ 1/2.
          31. Pembs. R.O. Minute Book Pembroke Union Rural Sanitary Authority I 881- 1900. PER/SE/1/4.
          32. Tenby Museum. MOH Report to Tenby Board of Health, SE?24/4/5; see also TEM/SE Box
          33. Pembs. R.O. MOH Report. Haverfordwest Rural Sanitary Authority 1884. HAR/HE/ 1/9.
          34. Ibid., HAR/HE/1/10.
          35. Pembs. R.O. Minutes of the Corporation of Haverfordwest Acting as Urban Sanitary Authority. 1891-95. HAM/SE/l/6.
          36. See for example, Patrick J. Pead, Vaccination Rediscovered: New Light in the Dawn of Man’s Quest for Immunity (London, 2006).
          37. J. R. Smith , The Speckled Monster, 13.
          38. Pembs. R.O. HAM/SE/1/6.
          39. F. B. Smith, The Retreat of Tuberculosis I850-1950 (Lo ndo n, 1988), I.
          40. Galina Crawford, ‘A Short History of Bacteriology’, Biomedical Scientist, 3 (2005) ,
          41. Pembs. R.O. HAM/SE/1/16.
          42. Anthony S. Wohl, op cit., 279.
          43. Pembs. R.O. Surgeons Journal (No. 7). I 820-1835. PQ/AG/72
          44. Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, July 24, 1892.
          45. HAR/HE/1/20.
          46. Anthony S. Wohl, op cit., 131.
          47. Tenby Museum. MOH Report to Tenby Sanitary Authority (1884) SE/24/4/5.
          48. Urban and Rural Social Conditions in Industrial Britain. Reports to the Local Government Board 1869-1902. Series Two (Brighton, 1979), Report No. 402. (1888) (Microfiche).
          49. Idem., Report No. 602. (1899).
          50. Idem., Report No. 642 (1901).
          51. Pembs. R.O. HAR/HE/1/14.
          52. Idem., HAR/HE/1/19.
          53. See note 48.
          54. Pembs. R.O. HAR/HE/1/7.
          55. Idem., HAR/HE/I 1.
          56. See note 48.
          57. Data slightly modified from: B. W. Richards, ‘The Merriman Family of Begelly’, Dyfed Family History Society, Vol. 4 ( 1992), 153-154. (Some diagnoses are slightly conjectural).


The Last of the Symmons of Llanstinan



By Roland Thorne

The last of many articles contributed by Francis Green to the West Wales Historical Records of which he was editor, was devoted, in 1929, to ‘The Symins of Martell and Llanstinan’. Despite the title, this seems to have been prompted chiefly by Green’s abiding interest in the Wogan family. Sir William Wogan of Llanstinan, a prosperous lawyer who died in 1710, left his estates to a young Symmons relative, his first cousin’s second son. The earlier evolution of the squires of Martell in Puncheston up to that point had presented Green with enough problems, and it was perhaps with some relief that he offered pride of place to a detailed terrier of Sir William’s estate in Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire. The acquisition of these properties, with some others in Radnorshire and English counties, transformed the status of Wogan’s heir and his family to an extent to which the article barely does justice; and it culminates abruptly in the sale of the estates and the exile to London of their owner, John Symmons junior, whose later life is passed over.1

Fig. 1: Llanstinan as it appeared in a sale catalogue of 1856.

Fig. 1: Llanstinan as it appeared in a sale catalogue of 1856.

John Symmons, the fortunate heir to Llanstinan, born on 12 Sept. 1701, was the fourth but second surviving son of John Symmons of Martell and Martha, nee Harries, of Tregwynt, Granston. His elder brother, Thomas, who went to Pennsylvania as a young man, did not reside at Martell on his return, but leased the Wogan property of   Llwyndyrys,  Cardiganshire. John, or his father John who had served as sheriff of the county in 1713 as of Llanstinan and had been disappointed not to be the actual heir to Wogan ‘s estate, presented a silver chalice to Puncheston church in 1725 , engraved quarterly with the Symmons arms, per fesse argent and sable three trefoils countercharged, and crest, a lion’s head erased. On 11 April 1729 John Symmons was at the head of 14 Pembrokeshire landowners who as a grand jury petitioned the justices in Great Sessions against the recruitment of emigrants to Pennsylvania among labourers in the county to the detriment of farmers at harvest time when they had in consequence to pay more for labour, and charge more for corn. On Thomas’s death , unmarried, in 1741, John, whose father’s death in 1730 had left him sole master of Llanstinan, was able to add Martell to his estate and soon after­wards acquired an entire set of 48 engravings made by Nathaniel and Samuel Buck of Welsh castles. That year he unsuccessfully contested the county seat for Pembrokeshire against John Campbell of Stackpole , a supporter of Walpole’s ministry, thereby costing Campbell dear. The con­test was close, but Symmons’ petition against the return was withdrawn as part of a compromise, 3 February 1743. Symmons was the Tory candidate ; his father had voted for the Tory Barlow in the 1710 county election. In 1742 a Llanstinan mare was mated with a stallion belonging to Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, the North Wales magnate, whose Toryism was supposed to be tinged with Jacobitism. When Symmons married it was to Maria , daughter of Charles Philipps of Sandyhaven, St lshmaels, Pembrokeshire, a fellow member of the Society of Sea Sergeants, the Tory association for south-west Wales, also allegedly Jacobite. Symmons was to act as co­ secretary at their Swansea meeting in 175 2. He was painted by Robert Taylor and placed in the Sergeants gallery in the hall of their erstwhile president at Taliaris, in a blue velvet coat, gold buttonhole and wig. Another portrait of him was in 1785 in the drawing room there, in fawn velvet, gold lace and white satin waistcoat, neckcloth and wig. There was also one of his brother George, who died unmarried in 1755.

John Symmons had entered parliament after a contest on a vacancy for Cardigan Boroughs, 20 March 1746. The seat was vacant on the death of Thomas Pryse of Gogerddan, whose heir was a child. It was supposed that Symmons, whose modest power base was the former Wogan property in Cardigan and district, might hold the seat until the heir John Pugh Pryse came of age, as long as he secured Gogerddan backing. He was accord­ingly returned unopposed in the 1747 and 1754 general elections, and in 1760 headed the list of Cardiganshire magistrates, but in 1761 Sir John Philipps of Picton Castle, who as a trustee of the estate had been his broker with Gogerddan, was powerless to prevent Herbert Lloyd of Peterwell from snatching the seat. Symmons had been a silent member of the Tory opposition in the Commons. Herbert Lloyd’s late brother John Lloyd had been the county member when, in 1748, he and Symmons became bene­factors of St Mary ‘s church, Cardigan, the recast bells of which pealed again at their expense, for the first time since 1705. 2

John Symmons senior was buried in Llanstinan on 5 Sept. 1764, nearly a year after his wife. His younger son Charles’s obituarist in 1826 described John senior as ‘an English gentleman of the old school’. As an MP he had a London residence, and when his heir John had matriculated from Jesus College, Oxford on 4 October 1762 aged 17, his address had been given as St James , Westminster. John junior claimed, on his deathbed, that St James was the parish of his birth, on 22 August 1744 . He later claimed Richard Philipps, the future Lord Milford, and John, heir to Sir Thomas Stepney, 7th Baronet of Llanelli, as two of his schoolfellows. The younger son Charles, born in 1749, was sent to Westminster School, Glasgow University and Lincolns Inn (1765). John graduated MA at Oxford on 30 May 1766. In 1802 he was to present a chased silver cup and cover weighing 128 ounces to Jesus College.3 He inherited an encumbered estate. His father had mortgaged Martell and Colston in Little Newcastle in 1745 to Thomas Tucker of Sealyham, in 1753 to Perrott Williams of Haverfordwest and London, and in 1763 to Peter Holford of London, the mortgage then standing at £2,500. John was due to enter on his estate on coming of age, and did so on 18 Feb. 1766 . He also inherited Longwood in Castlebythe with a moiety of Skyber, Letterston, which his father had purchased between 1757 and his death. When later he disposed of his estate, the moiety of Skyber was evidently sold to the cadet branch of the Symmons family associated with Colston, Little Newcastle. In December 1768, on the death of Pryse Campbell, MP for Cardigan Boroughs, Symmons, a mere voter in the Pembrokeshire county election that year, was interested in contesting the vacancy, but was discouraged by John Pugh Pryse of Gogerddan and Lord Lisburne, as not having sufficient support. By 1769 the mortgage charge had risen to £7,000. John seems a while before this to have been somewhat unhappy.

He had embarked on a visit to the Continent with John Stepney and Mr Lloyd of Cilgwyn, and was with them at Marseilles in February 1767. They planned to move on to Switzerland and thence to Florence. In view of Symmons’ low spirits, conveyed by letter to him in London, Maurice Morgann (originally Morris Morgan), a friend of the family, offered to fetch him home from France. Maurice’s elder brother William of Blaenbylan had been one of four trustees for the late John Symmons’ estate in a will of 9 July 1757 which never went to probate and had sojourned at Llanstinan when tormented by gout. Maurice Morgann conveyed the news of young John to Miss Martha Maria Lewes of Gelli­dywyll in Cenarth, whose turn it was to live at Llanstinan in the absence of her cousins the Symmons brothers. She was dismayed, but a subsequent letter from Morgann assured her that John had recovered his equilibrium and hoped to proceed to Florence. Miss ‘Molly’ Lewes died in 1782. When the brothers’ absence became permanent, the old house decayed steadily: John Stepney likewise abandoned Llanelli House. When John Symmons witnessed Morgann’s will in 1795, he was a Londoner like Morgano. ·In 1798 Morgann, who had been involved by Lord Shelburne sixteen years before in a mission to the rebellious colonies, presented his American papers to Symmons, who fortunately deposited them in the Royal Institution in 1804. It was as a friend of the late Morgano that William Cooke dedicated his didactic poem bearing the title ‘Conver­sations’ to John in 1807; and in 1815 he and his brother Charles were invited to provide proof, if they could, that Morgano had written poetry under the pseudonym of Malcolm MacGregor, and were asked, in 1816, whether Morgann had written the ‘heroic epistle to Sir William Chambers’, which Charles disclaimed. 4

Marriage to an heiress was an obvious solution for John Symmons. This took place at Bath Abbey on 27 March 1773, his bride being Ann, child­less widow of William Trevanion (1727-1767) of Caerhayes, Cornwall, Tory MP for Tregony, whom she had married in 1758. Ann was the only daughter and heir of George Barlow of Slebech (1717-1757), who had also been a Tory MP, suspected of Jacobitism. The marriage witnesses were Jane Gwynn and Maurice Morgann. It may be noted that from the time of Ann’s first marriage the manorial courts of Slebech, Minwear, Welsh Hook in St Lawrence and Skyber in Letterston were united, their court rolls being subsumed under Slebech. Caerhayes passed to her late husband’s sister, but she and John Symmons visited it in company with Maurice Morgann. Ann, whose birthday according to her mother fell on 8 June, was over seven years older than her second husband, having been baptised at St Mary’s Haverfordwest on 7 Nov. 1737 as Ann Blundell, daughter of Ann Blundell, ‘who affirms herself to be the wife of George Barlow of Slebech’. She died without issue before 18 April 1782, leaving John in command of Slebech. He had rather overreached himself by razing and rebuilding his wife’s home, which she had found irksomely uncom­fortable, on site. This was achieved in 1776 , the architect being Anthony Keck; not without some suggestions and drawings from Symmons. The castellated mansion had three storeys in front and four behind, and a new stable block. In 1779 John Calvert of Swansea , his site manager, won a court case against Symmons over expenses at Slebech Hall. In the same year his neighbour John Wogan of Wiston appointed Symmons one of the three trustees of his will, and later he was to be a trustee of Wogan’s daughter Susannah’s marriage to Thomas Stokes of Haverfordwest. Other­wise his role as squire of Slebech was somewhat inconspicuous. He had in 1774 been required to fence the churchyard. As lay patron of Llan­stinan, he had presented Rev. John Davies (1768), followed by Rev. William Williams to the rectory of Llanstinan. The latter he went on to appoint to Yerbeston and Minwear, and in 1781 to the perpetual curacy of Slebech. The year before, with John Bartlett Allen, he was a trustee for the sale of Sir John Stepney’s Pembrokeshire properties.5

The sale of his late wife’s, and his, local estates proceeded quite rapidly. The mortgage due to Peter Holford had risen to £13,000 by 1775, and in 1782 Symmons sold sufficient land in Cardiganshire to raise £14,452 to clear the mortgage. By June 1782 he sold Slebech for £70,000, and in 1783 Martell and Colston for £15,680, and soon afterwards Llanstinan, in each case to William Knox, until lately under secretary for the American colonies. Knox, who spent £90, 854 and five shillings in all, negotiated the sale of Slebech to Nathaniel Phillips in 1792. After Knox’s death in 1810 Llanstinan was bought by Sir John Owen of Orielton. In 1794 his mother­ in-law Ann Barlow appointed Symmons as her executor, entrusting to him her personalty, which included over £3,000 in cash and £1,100 in bond s. Since 1784 Symmons’s life had been based on London. He had written sagely and sardonically to his mother-in- law from Park Street on 1 May that year about the state of the Pembrokeshire county election; and from Grosvenor House on 14 November 1785 suggesting it was time that the fine Barlow family portraits, which had been exempted from the sale of Slebech, were moved to her house in Haverfordwest, else he was willing to take care of them. It seems that Mrs Barlow obtained them, as eleven of them are mentioned in her inventory at death. In 1788 he was still at Grosvenor House. Subsequently he seems to have looked out of town for a residence . In 1791 he acquired Richmond House, in King Street, Twicken­ham from the Hon. Thomas Fitzmaurice of Lleweni, but he sold it next year.6

Within a few years he acquired Paddington House, previously the property of Denis Chirac, south of Paddington Green. There he was a neighbour or Charles Francis Greville (1743-1809), who had lived there with his mistress Emma Hart before her marriage in 1791 to Greville’s uncle Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803). The latter had obtained the Milford Haven estate through his previous childless marriage to Catherine Barlow of Colby in Wiston, and Greville was his chosen heir. Catherine had been first cousin once removed to John Symmons’ late wife Ann. Symmons appears to have sent to Greville in 1793 an itinerary or a journey he had recently made through southern England. Symmons’ new home had three storeys, three chimneys and nine windows at the front or each storey, one being set in the front door of the ground floor. It might pass for a suburban villa version of Slebech Hall. An engraving of about 1796 shows five ornamental vases distributed on the roof, and The Ambulator in 1811 adds that there were four very fine bronzed antique figures in front of the house. Inside, mention was made of a hospitable table, and a museum which included an ancient dagger. There was a side entrance to the right, and a gate to the grounds on the left. Like his neighbour Greville, he imported plants for his garden.

He became a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1795, serving as a member of its council. In 1797 his nurseryman William Salisbury produced a cata­logue of the garden, published as Hortus Paddingtoniensis. Symmons had written the introduction to William Aiton’s Hortus Kewensis, an account of the royal gardens at Kew, in 1794, and acquired a property near Hampton later, but quickly disposed of it. While Greville went on to become a founder of the Royal Horticultural Society in 1804, Symmons’ plant col­lection, exotic and indigenous, and arranged according to the Linnean system, was by 1811 a memory, replaced by ‘common vegetation’. This lapse doubtless precluded this model garden from figuring in the later annals of gardening in this country. He appears in fact to have retreated from London life, taking a lease of Britwell House, Burnham, Bucking­hamshire in August 1797, and renewing it in July 1801. Britwell had for some time previously been associated with Roman Catholic families, and the lease was subsequently ceded to Lord Grenville, whose wife was a Catholic.7

It was with Britwell as her address that Martha Symmons, described as John’s daughter, married at Alcester, Warwickshire on 23 August 1800 Anthony Carlisle (1768-1840), a native of Stillington, county Durham, and from 1793 a distinguished surgeon, trained by John Hunter, at the Westminster hospital. Carlisle pioneered an effective amputating knife and was also interested in winged flying and a form of photography. With William Nicholson (1753-1815), he discovered electrolysis shortly before his marriage, decomposing water into hydrogen and oxygen by experi­menting with Alessandro Volta’s newly discovered chemical battery. This inspired Sir Humphrey Davy and Michael Faraday in turn to further discoveries. Later knighted, Carlisle is said to have been the model for Mary Shelley’s Dr Frankenstein; he was a friend of her father William Godwin, and had attended her mother Mary Wollstonecroft’s deathbed after giving birth to Mary. He and his wife lived in London where, after lecturing on anatomy in full court dress in his prime, he was latterly often observed near his Langham Place residence ‘with an old Welsh wig on that a hackney coachman would not wear’. A patron of artists, including Turner, he collected a gallery of paintings. His widow survived him, dying at Mitcham Green, Surrey, on 17 April 1842 aged 62. When his burial took place at Kensal Green, there were more friends than relatives: they appar­ently had no issue. 8

It seems that Symmons, having ‘a most ample fortune’, had foregone the joys of gardening for those of ‘a bibliomaniac and print collector’. On 11 Dec. 1795 he had bought by private contract, before their auction by Leigh and Sotheby, the most extensive collection of topographical drawings of England and Wales ever sold. On 23 April 1804 ten thousand of these prints were sold for him by King the auctioneer. In 1828, when it was sold, his library comprised 40,000 volumes ‘of very mixed character’. In 1814, already possessed of Hutchinson’s collection for Huntingdon­ shire, he purchased further heraldic items for the same county by Rev. Robert Smyth, and was reported to be seeking an editor for all these. Fail­ing to find one, he returned Hutchinson’s three volumes to their previous owner Lord Carysfort. His young librarian John Dillon was the author of a tragedy, ‘Retribution’, staged at Covent Garden Theatre on I January 1818. Another librarian of his earlier was a French emigre named Gauthier de Brecy. Spurred on perhaps by his brother, he had been one of a trio of patrons who put the Royal Literary Fund on a permanent basis in 1797. He was a patron of the Royal Institution to promote science, and readily subscribed to numerous new publications and to other charities. To Bishop Burgess of St David’s he presented illustrations from a French 16th century prayer book, now in Lampeter College Library. In 1805 he bought the lease of Chesterfield House, Blackheath, formerly the Earl of Chester­ field’s, but assigned it in 1807 to the Duchess of Brunswick.’)

There was to be a second Welsh interlude in Symmons’ life, this time in Carmarthenshire, not Pembrokeshire. In his ancestral county he had inherited an interest in industrial investment. His uncle Thomas Symmons had purchased the Llechryd iron forge in 1729, but his father went on to sell it in 1751 to Walter Lloyd of Coedmore. John himself joined Lord Milford and Henry Leach in partnership to work Llanfyrnach silver lead mine, let to them by his friend Maurice Morgann. In 1783 he sold his share to Lord Milford for £746 odd. On 26 May 1780 Symmons had let a slate quarry in Mynachlogddu to William Marsden for 11 years at six­ pence for every thousand slates. In Carmarthenshire he had purchased from Sir John Stepney, in the early 1790s, the property of Buwchllaeth­ wen in Llangennech, of which his father-in-law George Barlow had been tenant. He was the last of the gentry to live there, and according to his friend Fenton embellished the place. The block added has been attributed to William Jernegan ( 1750-1836, the London-born architect of Swansea. In 1804, as of Buwchllaethwen, Symmons served as highs heriff of Carmarthenshire. He also acquired with his residence collieries and tram­ works. By one account he had paid £30,000 or so for these and about eight years later sold for £70,000 to entrepreneurs, namely Charles Greville’s nephew the Earl of Warwick and John Vancouver, whom the Earl housed on site to superintend the mines Vancouver resided in what was now styled Llangennech Mansion, but the Earl had overspent and had to cede the estate back to Symmons in November 1 806 . A year later he resold the mines to Messrs Davenport, Morris and William Rees, the la t being Symmons’ agent, with an advance of money to spur the m o n. They failed in 1814, and Symmons resumed ownership. In 1 822, as lay patron, he presented Rev. John Thomas to the perpetual curacy of Llange nnech. This time he did not succeed in selling the works until 1 824 when Edward Rose Tunn o of London, with partners, worked the Spitty copperwork s started by the preceding trio. So ended the second Welsh phase of Symmons’ life. By   1823   his residence was Ewhurst Park, Hampshire.10

Fig. 2: Buwchllaethwen, Carmarthenshire (1789)

Fig. 2: Buwchllaethwen, Carmarthenshire (1789)

John Symmons gave the impre ssion that he had remarried at some point before 1804. His second wife, Elizabeth Mary, nee Session, if the spelling of her maiden surname in his Belgian death certificate is to be trusted, bore him two sons. Yet according to a marriage recorded in Edinburgh between John Symmons and Elizabeth Mary, her surname was Sessions, her father being named Richard Sessions. This marriage took place on 11 April 1811, long after their sons’ births. She died on 2 June 1813 ‘after a long and painful illness … an affectionate wife, a tender mother, and a sincere friend’. At a later stage he took a third wife, young enough to be his granddaughter. Her name was Charlotte, nee Evans. They had no children, and she survived him many years, dying of ‘natural decay certified’ at 16 Princess Terrace, Chalk Farm, London on 13 Jan. 1869 aged 77, described as ‘widow of John Symmons gentleman’. Her death was registered by Rebecca Linton of the same address six days later. There was apparently no will. Charlotte had been living at the Polygon, Somers Town, St. Pancras, at the time of her husband’s death on 20 August 1831. His death registration at Toumai, made on 22 August, which would have been his 87th birthday, stated that he died at IO p.m. at 48 Grande Place. This was attested by two of his neighbours in Grande Place, Philippe Depret and Pierre Vanwanbeke.

His will, dated 15 April 1828, in which he describes himself as ‘late of Paddington House’, had left all he had to his wife and younger son ‘George Symmons’. Possibly his library sale of 1828 had not raised enough to keep him in England. From Tournai, now situated in the new kingdom of Belgium where he had resided for ‘about a year’, he sent via Anthony Picquot, a friend travelling to England, an urgent memorandum to his attorney Robert Maugham of Chancery Lane about 27 July 1831 , when his death ‘might happen at any moment’ , desiring that his elder son, named as ‘Charles Symmons’, might be included in the partition of his estate. This, the sole evidence of Symmons’s wish to alter his will, was delivered to Maugham by Picquot on 30 July, but news of Symmons’ death arrived before Maugham could amend the will by adding the memorandum as a codicil or make a fresh will, options offered him by the deceased, to whom no confirmation could be sent before he died. An affidavit to this effect was dated 23 September, and sworn then by the widow and by another deponent, Richard Hodgson of Salisbury Street in the Strand, as also by Maugham on 29 September. They had all three confirmed that the memo­randum bore John Symmons’ usual handwriting and signature. It was the elder son who was granted administration of the will in London on 30 Sept. 1831, the widow and the other son renouncing probate. Symmons had died ‘suddenly without previous illness’.

His estate was valued at £450, a modest sum considering how much money had once passed through his hands. His simple will being confined to family members, there was no duty to pay on it. A curious and not entirely reliable account of his life was sketched from a conversation with Symmons’ banker and ‘very particular friend’ Chambers, brother-in-law to his brother Charles’s wife, in the Fleet Prison on 29 June 1837:

He married a very rich woman. He remembers he sold an estate in Wales which fetched £’120,000. At one time he was   worth £200,000. He died about 90 years of age in France, and could not command £100 at the time of his death. At the period of Mr Chambers’ bankruptcy Symmons owed him £27,000, for which he held security and the debt was paid off. He considers that Dr Charles Symmons received £100,000 from his brother, including interest, during a period of forty years. There was a regular allow­ ance of £700 a year which Mr Chambers contracted to pay to him on behalf of the brother, who nevertheless was always obtaining further sums from him, and borrowing from Mr Chambers what the brother was also obliged to pay. John had a library of 40,000 volumes. Jack, the son of Charles, was intended for the law but never practised. He died in Paris fully dependent on his uncle. John Symmons wrote on financial matters; in one of his brochures he referred to a friend who was Mr Chambers for information.

Regarding his generosity to Charles, a document found by Francis Green among the Colby muniments at Ffynone, Manordeifi indicates that John was born before his parents’ marriage. This discovery being made when he sold his Pembrokeshire estate, his brother Charles was induced to join with him in conveying properties to Thomas Knox, being his father’s legitimate heir. This document dated 30 Sept. 1804 was a case for counsel, submitted to Charles Butler, an eminent London barrister on behalf of a would be purchaser from Knox of the estate sold to him by the Symmons. This ‘case’ opened a can of worms. John had long promised Charles an estate in appreciation of his role in the sale, and in 1784 settled £200 a year on him and his wife, and provided £3,000 for their children. It also emerged that their father’s will could not be found, but that a deed of 2 March 1764 showed that their father was preparing to set aside his will of 1757 to set about disentailing and disposing of part of his Pembrokeshire property, in collusion with John Hensleigh of Panteg, Llanddewi Velfre and David Hughes of Harmeston, Steynton. Any prospective pur­chaser from Knox would need to use Charles again for the conveyance, and if Charles was given a full explanation of the reason for this, the two brothers might fall out. so the purchase was evidently suspended.

His two sons were:

Charles Augustus John Symmons, born 9 July 1804, and baptised at St James, Paddington on 6 August following. At the time of his charge of the inheritance in 1831 he lived at 22 Queen Street, Golden Square, London. He had married at St Pancras Old Church, 17 November 1825 Joanna Elliot of that parish. Of their three children, Ellen Mary Elizabeth was born 17 March 1826, and baptised on 28 April at Old St Pancras, and Herbert John George, sometimes known as George, was born in 1830 , also in London. In December 1839 this family arrived in Western Australia in the ‘Jean’. In March 1841 a second daughter Amy was born there, in Perth, where Ellen married an assistant surgeon to the 51st regiment named George Cunningham Meikleham on 8 August 1845 , and they lost an infant child in 1846. In 1855, aged 35, he was serving in the Crimean War. Meikleham subsequently transferred his services with the 70th regi­ment as surgeon, to Auckland, New Zealand, where he arrived from India in 1861. George Symmons, who played cricket for the gentlemen of Perth, died unmarried on 17 August 1857 aged 27, and was buried in East Perth cemetery. There his mother Joanna joined him after her death on 16 Sept. 1858 aged 58. Amy married on 10 November 1874 William Pearce Clifton (1816-1885), a pioneer settler and widower, and they had issue Edith Ellen, born 1878, Richard Symmons Clifton (1879-1942) and Brenda (1883-1963). Charles Symmons had been a civil servant for thirty years, starting as a Protector of Natives. He contributed to G. F. Moore’s dictionary of the Nyungar aborigines ‘ vocabulary in 1842, and wrote sym­pathetic annual reports on them. He was Immigration Agent in 1855; superintendent of police for a few months in 1858; and a resident magis­trate in 1866. He later became a J.P. in Fremantle and Vasse, and died in Bunbury on 18 Oct. 1887, He had spent three months in Engl

Fig. 3: Bookplates of Charles and John Symmons.

Fig. 3: Bookplates of Charles and John Symmons.

and in 1878, and had journeyed to Colombo the year before his death.


George Richard Edwardes Symmons was born in 1806. He matriculated from Queens College, Oxford, his third given name rendered ‘Edward ‘ , on 4 Dec. 1824 aged 18. He did not graduate. He died, apparently unmarried and intestate, at 28 Bidborough Street, off Grays Inn Lane, St Pancras, on 17 May 1850, aged 44. He was described as ‘ gentleman’, his third given name was then rendered ‘Edwards’ , and the cause of death was ‘consump­tion uncertain certified’. The registrar was informed by Maria Chapman, of the same address, three days later. 11

John Symmons’ brother Charles, a respectable clergyman and doctor of divinity well educated in the classics, withall a writer of poetry and bio­grapher of John Milton, had predeceased him, dying at Bath on 27 April 1826. Charles had five children with his wife Elizabeth, married in 1779, daughter of John Foley of Ridgeway, Pembrokeshire, and sister of Admiral Sir Thomas Foley (1757-1833), a favourite colleague of Lord Nelson’s. Elizabeth died at Penylan, Carmarthenshire, on 25 June 1830 aged 75, and was buried at Llangathen, the home parish of her mother Sarah, nee Herbert, of Court Henry. Only the two eldest children survived their father, John, who was to die without issue, and Fannia, wife since 1813 of Lt.­ Col. John William Mallett. The younger son Charles died at 21 and Caroline, a budding poet, aged 14. The youngest daughter Maria, Mrs Vernon of Hanbury, Worcestershire, left issue, inserting Foley, but not Symmons, into the Vernon nomenclature. Charles Symmons had befriended the future statesman William Windham of Felbrigg while at Glasgow University. In 1793 Windham, a former Foxite Whig, went over to Pitt’s government with the Portland Whigs, and accepted office. Charles’s avowed dissent from this conduct made it difficult for Windham to obtain Charles’s wish for the living of Lampeter Velfre to supplement that of Narberth, which he had held since 1778, but Windham succeeded in 1794. He was not so indulgent about further applications for patronage from Charles, who got John to write to Windham on his behalf, on 25 February 1798. John had put himself on a sounder footing with Windham by sending him on 14 Dec. 1797 a friend’s war funding plan. On 15 Sept. 1800 he further sent Windham a memorandum on the alarming shortage of provisions, which elicited an appreciative reply, and led to further correspondence between them that year, John enlarging on abuses arising from the current scarcity of bread.

Under the pseudonym of ‘an independent gentleman’, he published Thoughts on the present price of provisions as a pamphlet the same year. In the Register of National Archives index John Symmons, given the death date of 1832, is described as both horticulturalist and political reformer. He had been the former, but the latter needs qualification. He was in 1810 admittedly the author of ‘Reform without innovation or cursory thoughts on the only practicable reform of Parliament consistent with the existing laws, and the spirit of the constitution’, a 23-page pamphlet intended as a reproach to more radical reformers. Twelve years later he is credited with another effusion on the ’cause and cure of national distress addressed to all ranks of people’, under a pseudonym. This was no doubt the essay for which his banker Chambers provided information.

John Symmons’ other friendships for which written evidence survives suggest more interest in matters of general culture, scientific, artistic and antiquarian, than politics. Richard Fenton of Fishguard was a friend of his and his brother’s from their young days, and paid tribute to them in his published Tour through Pembrokeshire. The naturalist Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) received several letters from him – in April 1788 he sent Banks an Egyptian mummy case, its hieroglyphic inscription then undecipher­able. Ten years later he sent a journal kept by one of his gardeners, John Haxton, while in China in the retinue of Lord Macartney’s mission to the Chien Lung emperor, and given by Haxton to Charles Greville, for Banks’s inspection. When Banks approved of the journal, Symmons invited him to visit him and discuss Chinese plants. In 1799 he sent Banks his future son­ in-law Anthony Carlisle’s paper on the arterial system of a ‘tardigrade animal’ and the animal itself for display purposes.

From a letter dated 4 May 1804, it emerges that Symmons, a fellow of the Royal Society since 10 July 1794, was anxious to promote the election of Richard Duppa (1770-1831) to it. This bid was unsuccessful, whereupon he tried to rally Banks to Duppa’s cause, offering to send Duppa’s book, presumably his memoir about Richard Glover, thought by Duppa to be the author of the anonymous political letters of Junius. Banks at once declined to discuss Duppa’s rejection, and disclaimed qualification to judge Duppa’s book. In 1814 Symmons resumed advocacy, on behalf of the Prince Regent’s oculist Sir William Adams (1783-1827), having seen him cure a blind person, as Adams wished to become a fellow of the Royal Society. Two letters to Banks received two rebuffs, the second doubting whether Adams stood at the head of his profession, the first having pointed out that the Society played no role in professional promotion. Another friend of Symmons, the artist Joseph Farington, reported the farmer’s chagrin at his failure to secure Duppa’s election in l 804. Previous references to Sym­mons in Farington’s diary show that he was an FSA in 1797 and a member of the Dilettanti Society in 1799. In 1810 he was successful, with Sir Henry Charles Englefield, 7th and last Baronet, in promoting the election of John Buckler (1770-1851), a topographical artist, as a member of the Society of Antiquaries, Buckler having twice previously been blackballed. Between 1799 and 1814 he corresponded occasionally with the literary ex-diplomat Caleb Whitefoord and his widow Mary, afterwards Mrs Lee.

An undated letter to Symmons from Thomas Johnes of Hafod, Cardigan­shire, also survives, but is of little interest compared with one that Johnes wrote to James Edward Smith (1759-1828) , founder of the Linnean Society in London, on 26 December 1801 to say that he had not heard nor seen anything of Symmons since his own return to Wales, and supposed he had returned to London on account of the wet weather, leaving building work incomplete. He added that Symmons would probably sell the improved building, being incapable of remaining long in one place. This may well refer to his Llangennech residence. In a further letter of 22 September 1803 to Smith, Johnes adds that he owes a Chancery suit in which he is engaged entirely to his ‘friend’ Symmons. 12

The last good word on John Symmons was published by his former protege John Taylor in 1833:

a more liberal, elegant, and hospitable character never existed. He is still alive [sic], at a very advanced age, and with a reverse of fortune, which all who knew him must deeply regret, as it was chiefly the result of the generosity, I may say, the magnificence of his mind, his confidence in false friends, and an incautious disposal of his property. He found it necessary to leave England, and I fear is involved in the unhappy events which now overwhelm the Netherlands to which country he has retired, and where he intended to pass the remainder of his life.


 The writer is indebted to two friends interested in the history of the Symmons family, Mr Richard Davies of Little Newcastle and Mrs Jean O’Driscoll of Llanelli, for their encouragement and for advice on several points. I am particularly in­ debted to Mrs O’Driscoll for her discovery of John Symmons’ will of 1831, notice of his daughter Martha and the recent published material relating to his Llan­gennech estate. Madame Chantal Fleurquin, archivist at Tournai, kindly provided the details from his death certificate, the source for the maiden names of his second and third wives. Mr Thomas Lloyd kindly supplied architectural and other information and illustrations.


  1.  F. Green, ‘Symmins of Martell and Llanstinan’ , West Wales Historical Records, xiv, 207-233, particularly from page 220 onwards.
  2. NLW I8097C, Green mss 220, 403; J. T. Evans, Church Plate of Pembs (1905), 81; F. Jones, ‘Disaffection and dissent in Pembrokeshire’, Cymmro­dorion Transactions (1946-7), 222; NLW, 1710 poll book, mistakenly dated 1714; History of Parliament: The Commons 1715– 1754 (ed.), R. Sedgwick (1970), I, 373; II, 460, and The Commons 17541790 (ed.), Sir L. Namier and J.Brooke (1964), I, 462; III, 175; West Wales Historical Records, iii, 160, 177; P. D. G.Thomas, in Cardiganshire County History (ed., G. H. Jenkins and I. G. Jones, 1998), III, 352-7; D.W. Howell, Patriarchs and Parasites (Cardiff, 1986), 103, 123, 126-7 , 133; Bethan Phillips, Peterwell (Llandysul, 1983), 76, 134; NLW ms 13661; Francis Jones, ‘The Society of Sea Serjeants’, Cymm. Trans. (1967), 57-91, and ‘Portraits and pictures in ‘Old Carmarthenshire houses’, Carmarthen Historian, ed. V. Jones, (1968), v. 43; Dictionary of Welsh Biography sub Symmons family of Llanstinan, mistakenly giving him a death date in 1771. That article confines itself to John senior, his younger son Charles, and the latter’s son John.
  3. Gentlemans Magazine, 96 (1826), ii, 566; Carmarthen R.O., Stepney mss f. 66, J. Symmons to A. Goodeve, 26 Nov. 1811. Alumni Oxon (ed.), J. Foste sub Symmons, John; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), sub Symmons, Charles; E. G. Hardy, Jesus College (1899), 220.
  4. Green, op.cit. ; NLW, Eaton Evan s and Williams mss 33 10 , 3 374, 40 2 1, 11068, 11071-2; 1768 poll book; P. D. G. Thoma s, op.cit. p.360; NLW MS 6104, M. Morgano to M. M. Lewes , 3 Fe b. 1767 and ensuing letters to her ; Francis Jones, ‘Gellidywyll’, Ceredigion, vol. 8 (1979) , 387 and ‘Blaenbylan’ , ibid ., vol. 7, (1975), 321, 326, 329; WWHR , iv, 192; A New classified Catlogue of the Library of the Royal Institution (1857), 592; Gent. Mag. , vol. 77 (1807), 643; vol. 85 ( J815), ii, 486 ; vol. 86 ( 1816), I, 34.
  5. ‘Registers of Bath Abbey 1569-1800’ , Harleian Society, 27 (1900), 289; Facult y Office Marriage Licences Index 17511775 (Society of Genealogists, 1999 ), 826; Jones in Journal of the Historical Society of the Church in Wales, xix (1969) , 14 – 16; NLW, Slebech mss, 731 -2 and NLW ms 6104, Mrs. A. Barlow to Sir John Barlow, 16 Oct. I 756 , and further letters cited by F. Jones in ‘Some Slebech Notes’ , National Library of Wales Journal, vii, no. 3 (summer 1952), 5 et seq; The Buildings of Wales ( Pevsner), Pembrokeshire (ed.), Thomas Lloyd, J. Orbach and R. Scourfield (2004), 452-3; WW HR , ii , 258-9, 303; iv, 203-4, 249; vi, 226 , 228 ; NLW, Church in Wales deeds, SDCh 47 and Eaton Evans and Williams mss.
  6. F. Green, op. cit. ; NLW, Slebech mss, 750 , 752 and NLW ms 6 104 , J. Symmons to Mrs A. Barlow , 7 June 1782 and 14 Nov. 1785; The Banks Letters (ed.), W. R. Dawson (London, 1958), 802.
  7. British Library Mss, 4270 I , ff. 271-4 ; Victoria County History: Middlesex (1989) , ix, 186 ; Notes and Queries (1 2 th se r.), v, 265 ; vi, 192 ; The Mirror of Literature, Amusernent and Instruction (1 833 ), 40; J. T ho rne, Handbook to the Environs of Lond n (1876), 634; Topographical History of Surrey (ed.), E.W. Brayley (1841), 341 ; Centre for Bucks. Studies, Britwell leases, D 39/37-41.
  8. Gent. Mag., 1800 , ii , 69 1, which incorrectly dated the marria ge 8 July 1800, also 1840, ii, 660 and 1842, i, 565 ; The Medical Times (1841), 79.
  9. Notes and Queries (12th ser.), v, 265 ; vi, 298; Mag., vol. 84 (1814), ii, 445; W. C. Macready, Reminscences (187 5 ), i, 159; The Modern Language Review ( 1905) , 18 ; The Royal Literary Fund (I 866) , 8; D. Lysons, The Environs of London (1811), iii, 525.
  10. Michael Evans, ‘ Coedmore Forge, Llechryd ‘ in Carmarthenshire Studies (ed.), T. Barnes and N. Yates (1974), 186-195; D. W. Howell, op. cit. , 103 , citing Coedmore deeds of 22 Dec. 1729 and 24 Dec. 1751 in Cards. Record Office; 106, citing leas es in Picton ms 4077 , NLW; and 107, citing Pembs. Record Office, D/RTP/SLE; Alun Richards , The Slate Quarries of Pembrokeshir 176 cites the sale of Fforest, Cilgerran by John Symmons to Thomas Lloyd of Coedmore for £3 ,000 in 1790 ; F rancis Jones, Historic Carmarthenshire Homes and their Families (Carmarthen, 1987) , 19 sub Bwlchllaethwen; NLW MS 2065E, Richard Fenton’s annotation sub Llangennech Park to Thomas Falconer’s mss Tour of Wales (with thanks to Mr Thomas Lloyd for this refer­ence); Robin S. Craig, R. Protheroe Jones and M. V. Symons, The Industrial and Maritime History of Llanelli and Burry Port 1750 to 2000, 31, 38, 75, 115, 560; Carmarthenshire Notes (ed., Arthur Mee, 1891), iii, 44. A Llangennech lease to which John Symmons is a signato ry, as of Paddingt on House, dated 21 Dec. 1826, is in the Clayton mss at Surrey History Centre; Joanna Baillie, A Collection of Poems (1823), subscribers’ list.
  11. Gent. Mag., vol. 83 (1813), i, 595; Family Records Centre, London, PROB 11/1788 , death cert. of Charlotte Symmons, 1869, and estate duty register, [R26/1273/82;   Archives   de   J’etat   Tournai,   death   registration;   Gent.   Mag., vol. 74 (1804), ii, 687 ; E. H. Barker, Literary Anecdotes and Contemporary Reminiscences (1852), 115-116 ; Haverfordwest County Library, F. Green mss, vol. 25, 360 (the much longer original is in NLW, Ffynone (Spence Colby) mss 2385, listing deeds otherwise available in   NLW, Eaton  Evans and Williams mss 33 05 , 3738 , 4220 , 4309; Latter Day Saints, IGI sub Charles Augustus John Symmons; Dictionary of Western Australians 1829- 1850 (ed.), P. S tatham, I, 328 , 1850 – 186 8, ed.   R. Erickson, ii.8 16 ; with additions from the Bicentenary edition of the same (ed.), R. Erickson; P. Conole, Wes tern Australian Police Commissioners, on line,  which shows a photograph   of  Charles Symmons; I. Gluckman, Touching on Death, a medical history of early Auckland , (2000), 277; Alumni Oxon s ub George R. E. Symmons and death cert. of the latter, 1850 , National Archives .
  12. Gent. Mag., vol. 75 (1805), i, 584 and 96 ( 182 6), i.565 -567 ; Elizabeth Symmons’ tablet in Llangathen church,  kindly  reported by Mr Thomas Lloyd; British Library, Add.   Mss,   3787 7, ff. 203, 272; 37879, ff. 223, 229, 235; 37880, f.9; British Library public catalogues sub Symmons, John FRS; Richard Fenton, Historical Tour through Pembrokeshire (l 8 10) , 342 , ( 1903 editio n), I 88-9; The Banks Letters, 802-3; Farington Diary (Yale, ed.), ii , 936; iv , 1195 ; vi, 2468; x, 3631; British Library, J. Symmons to Caleb Whitefoord and his widow Mary  in Add. Mss,   36593-6; Cambridge University   Library, Add. Mss,   8202/ 12 ; R. J. Moore-Colyer, A Land of Pure Delight (19 93), 159 and l77, citing Linn. Soc. (Smith),   16, ff.13 l, 146.
  13. J. Taylor, Records of My Life (l 833), 436.

Wives, Widows and Will-making in Tudor Pembrokeshire





By Roger Turvey

Women, whether they were wives, widows or spinsters, rarely wrote about themselves so that lives lived as wives, mothers, sisters and daughters often went unrecorded. This largely explains why we know virtually nothing from personal writing about the daily lives of all but the most extraordinary or wealthy of women. It is perhaps ironic that whereas in life the majority of women are observable only indirectly, often cited in impersonal legal documents or in genealogies, in death they are probably at their most visible. Will making served not only as a testament to the distribution of a person’s possessions and property but as proof positive of their existence. Yet even here in their desire to make their testamentary mark, women found themselves at a disadvantage when compared to men for of the 2 million wills which survive from the mid sixteenth to mid eighteenth century approximately 400,000 are by women and of these around 80 per cent were by widows.1 Liberated by the death of her hus­band the widow was largely free of the constraints imposed upon her by the legal framework and moral mores of contemporary society. Widow­hood was a period in a woman’s life when she was most clearly identi­fiable as an independent agent, in essence, a full legal person. Unlike a spinster who often remained financially dependent on the family, the widow had access to money and property that ensured a measure of financial independence.

Married women were precluded from making wills except with the con­sent and by special arrangement with their husbands. Only the most enlightened and liberal of the latter, of whom there were precious few, permitted their wives a free hand to dispose of their personal possessions.2 With this in mind it is perhaps no surprise to learn that married women were responsible for less than one per cent of wills drawn up in England between 1558 and 1700. 3 The wills cited and printed in Appendix II are examples drawn from widows and spinsters who lived their lives as part of Pembrokeshire’s landowning elite but, as will become clear, even within this privileged class there were variations in wealth and status. The fact that they are transcribed and published here for the first time adds to their value as documents that provide an extraordinary insight into an hitherto little explored area of gender-related history, namely, the lives, deaths and will-making activities of some of Tudor Pembrokeshire’s wives, widows and spinsters.

It has been calculated that the proportion of women who made wills in England and Wales during the sixteenth century was somewhere between 13 and 18 per cent. 4 In Pembrokeshire this figure falls to a little over 10 per cent for out of a total of 175 wills currently recorded as extant for the period between 1485 and 1603 only 19 were drawn up by women.5 The majority of Pembrokeshire women who made their wills were widows. Of the 19 female testators only two were clearly spinsters; twelve described themselves as widows or can be identified as such from their wills. The status of the remaining testators cannot be ascertained so easily but there can be little doubt that not a single one made their wills whilst they were married and their husbands lived.

Of the 175 Pembrokeshire wills the vast majority were made by minor landowners or people whose landed interests were confined to the county within the boundaries of the diocese of St. David’s. These landowners were subject to the authority and administration of the bishop and so had their wills recorded and probate granted in the diocesan court. On the other hand, the majority of the wealthier and more consequential land­ owners, often people who possessed property within and outside the diocesan boundary, had their wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in London. The wills discussed here are mainly from women who are to be found in this latter group and range in date from 1504 to 1603.6 Geographically they are drawn from across the county being resident in large towns such as Haverfordwest and Tenby or in more rural areas like Llanfrynach and St. Dogwells when they died (see Fig. 1 ). Although it is likely that the majority were Welsh-speaking the wills are written in English, the language of law and government in Wales since the passing of the so-called Acts of Union between 1536 and 1543.7

Wills survive largely in register copies so we are dependant on the truthfulness and accuracy of the clerks responsible for their transcription. 8 Unfortunately for those testators who hailed from Wales the London­ based English clerks had great difficulty transcribing Welsh personal and place names so that some adjustment is often necessary to understand who, what and where was intended. That said it is clear from the St.David’s probate records held at the National Library of Wales that even some of the bishop’s own clerks sometimes exhibited a degree of tran­scriptive inaccuracy that border on the criminal. For example, Lleucu becomes Llyky and Katherine is transformed into Katterynge! Neverthe­less, if handled with care, and error aside, these documents are invaluable as evidence of the social, economic and religious lives of women who had the authority, influence and means to leave their mark on history.

Fig 1: Map of Pembrokeshire parishes showing the locations of the will-makers

Fig 1: Map of Pembrokeshire parishes showing the locations of the will-makers

The contents of wills must be approached with caution not only on account of the quality of the transcription but in terms of understanding the processes and pressures involved in will making. Wills were public documents framed and structured to a particular formula that were made typically in the presence of friends and family, hence the witness list at the end. In addition, they were legal documents that were transcribed by a clerk and probably read by the bishop or his officials to verify their con­ tents. Women, more than men, were subject to the influence of scribal opinion and the forces of compulsion, perhaps even coercion, which were brought to bear on the dying by those pressing around them. Unsurpris­ingly, given what was at stake in terms of property and possessions, some wills were subject to dispute and litigation. Although most disputes involved the disappointed challenging the validity of a will, rarely the sanity of the will-maker, some contested the appointment of executors. In such instances probate was usually delayed until the matter was resolved in court. In Pembrokeshire litigation was rare but not unheard of, for example, the will of Elizabeth Lougher of Tenby was subject to challenge with the court’s final judgement being given in the form of a sentence .9 Nuncupative wills, such as that by Elizabeth Green of Castlemartin, 10 were often carefully scrutinized by the authorities in case of abuse or in search of evidence that might hint at pressure being brought to bear on the testator.

It is generally agreed that most sixteenth-century wills exhibited highly conventional statements, most especially in the religious preamble, and that many of the apparently individual expressions were dictated by the scribe rather than to him by the testator. Nevertheless, their formulaic nature does not entirely undermine their usefulness as evidence because even conventional expressions were shaped by social custom, especially those determined by the gender of the will maker. Indeed, in late Tudor England and Wales distribution to charitable causes were marked by gender distinction: men’s wills more often gave to the poor-box or for general distribution at the discretion of the executors while women seemingly gave for specific needs such as the repair of hospitals , helping sick people, road improvement, helping maidens to marry (or in the period prior to the dissolution of the monasteries, encouraging them to become nuns) and making scholars of the poor by putting their young to school.

Examples of such generosity can be found aplenty in Pembrokeshire wills. For the ‘reparation’ of the almshouses in the town of Haverfordwest, Margaret ap Gwilym (d. 1556) left 20s. 11 Anne Jenkyns 12 (d. 1570) left the parish of Cilgerran a legacy of 40s. followed by a more specific gift to its poor of £6 8s. 4d. To her unmarried daughter, Elizabeth, she bequeathed the considerable sum of £100 along with a stock of cattle but only on condition she followed ‘the advyse and councell of my sonne Thomas Revell in bestowinge of her selfe in marriage’. This concern for helping maidens to marry also extended to her niece, Sage Walter, who would benefit to the tune of £6 8s. 4d. but only if she ‘do take a husband by the advyse consent and agreement of my Sayed sonne Thomas’. In an act more characteristic of her male counterparts Elin Cathern (d. 1568) donated the meagre sum of a shilling to the ‘poore menns boxe’ of the parish of St. Martin’s, Haverfordwest.13 In keeping with the greater generosity of her gender Winifred Brown (d. 1594), gave those of the parish poor of Carew who attended her funeral the sum of £5 and ‘ unto six maides that shall carry me to churche ffive shillings apiece’.14 In stark contrast is the will of Tangustl Welcock (d. 1549) who did not leave the poor of the parish of Llawhaden so much as a brass farthing let alone any donations in kind such as a jug of ale or free supper. Such uncharitable disregard for the needs of the poor or parish are rare but they did occur, though if current conventional Welsh wisdom is to be believed this was more likely to happen in Cardiganshire than in Pembrokeshire!

It has been calculated that women’s wills accounted for nearly one third of all charitable bequests suggesting that giving to charity was dispro­portionately led by them. Such gift giving on the deathbed plainly con­stituted a continuation of one’s life work to distribute alms to the poor and in so doing conveyed a sense of communal responsibility. In the opinion of J. S. W. Helt Tudor women drew their charitable inspiration from Christ’s injunctions in Matthew 25:35-37. 15

For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.

Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 16

Helt rightly argued that traditional religion taught that money should be given to good causes but as to the crucial question of why women rather than men were more disposed to follow the precepts of the Bible or the extolling of pulpit preachers, there is no definitive answer.

Wills provide an insight into the role of women in memory that cannot be obtained from other sources. Testamentary gift-giving played a central role in the efforts of dying women to define their post-mortem identity and to secure their place in the folk memory of their respective communities. Their identity was an issue, apart from the spinster, because marriage involved moving to a new home, perhaps the adoption of a new family but certainly the assumption of a new surname. Multiple marriages, punctu­ated by periods of widowhood, led to frequent changes of name, family loyalties and obligations. It is interesting to note that some women, as widows, made their wills in their married name while others returned to using their maiden name. The reason for this is not altogether clear but it may have been a means by which women could re-assert their indepen­dence by recasting their identity . For example, within eighteen months of losing her husband, Sir William Perrot, Joanna, his widow, opted to make her will in her maiden name of Wogan.17 There is nothing to suggest the two had fallen out or were estranged but the fact remains Joanna had, bar one, an entirely different list of witnesses to those who attended her hus band at his death. It is perhaps ironic that those who chose to draft their wills in their married name could not have done so had they still been wed for although widows and single women had the right to leave personal property by will married women did not.

The majority of women maintained ties with and loyalty to the family of an earlier marriage while others ‘adopted or suffered from a kind of social amnesia’ 18 treating their current or last husband as the only one with whom they had spent part of their lives. Those women happy to acknowl­edge wider family ties were willing to perform what they saw as their duty by distributing legacies of lands and goods from previous marriages. Thrice married Anne Jenkyns left legacies not only to the children of her first and second marriages but to her brothe r’s daughter also. In a feat of familial unity she entrusted the care of her daughter from her second marriage, Elizabeth Phaer, to her eldest son of her first marriage, Thomas Revell. Family ties often influenced a woman’ s choice of executor, the majority were men, the eldest son, but occasionally a woman was appointed to manage the probate process and distribution of moneys and goods. There were exceptions to the rule as in the case of Margaret ap Gwilym who opted to appoint a husband and wife as joint executors of her will and estate. On the other hand, Elizabeth Lougher (d. 1595) chose to split the responsibility between her son, John, as executor and sister, Anne, as over­seer.19

Widows were entitled to a third of their husband’s estate. These portions, known as dower, were intended to provide widows, and any children not heirs to their father ‘s property, with the means to lead a comfortable life until their own deaths. As the chief marital entitlement the extent of the dower was often agreed and settled before the husband drew up his will. The possession of dower property was nearly always only held for the life of the widow and upon her death would revert back to the heir. Conse­quently the widow had no right to either sell or lease this property but this did not prevent her from acquiring additional property which she could dispose of as she wished. Thus was Anne Jenkyns able to bequeath to her youngest son not only ‘one hundrcth poundes’ but ‘my townhowse in … Kilgerran’ .20 Should a widow remarry and outlive her second (sometimes a third or even a fourth) husband she would be entitled to a third of his estate also. Thus dower made the widow very attractive in the “marriage market” but it also conferred on her a measure of social and economic independence which would be lost on remarriage. Indeed, in a world dominated by men women only truly enjoyed the freedom to conduct their personal lives as they wished  when they entered  what some historians have termed “free widowhood ” .21

Secure in the property rights and income that flowed from marriage the wealthy widow had the financial means to play a significant role in the local economy. Widows, along with single women, could not only hold property they could buy, lease or sell property, sue and be sued , borrow or lend money. Some widows were a force to be reckoned with, for example,

Elizabeth Lougher had in her possession a sum in excess of £2,300 to bequeath to family, friends and servants.22 The ability to dispose of such a huge sum of ready cash is rarely found in Pembrokeshire wills but in a thriving port and commercial centre like Tenby it may not have been unusual. The bequests to servants testify to the part played by women in the maintenance and employment of indivi duals and families in the locality. From the will of Anne Jenkyns we know that she employed at least three trusted servants along with an unknown number of ‘ household servantes ‘to whom she left the total sum of £14 ‘ to be destrybuted accord­inge to the discrecon of my executor.’ 23 Elizabeth Lougher was rather more generous leaving some £73 to be divided between six named servants, both male and female. 24

The will and testament was, in esse nce, the testator’s last act in life and the aim was nearly always to satisfy the needs and wants of the family. Daughters were almost always at the forefront of a testator’s thoughts whether they are male or female . If a father had not made provisio n for his daughter then this was left to the wife. In most cases the bequest involved money to be used as a dowry in order to attract a suitable husband. Among the most generous in respect of moneys left to her daughters was Elizabeth Lougher who bequea thed £2,000 to her three daughters: Lettice £800, Elizabeth £700 and Jane £500. For the majority of testators the sums bequeathed to daughters was rather more modest being on average between £50 and £100. The lowest sum bequeathed as dowry for a daughter was the £10 Ellen Scourfield (d. 1582 ) received from ‘my father Harry Skorfilde [sic] gave towards my marriage which sum is now in the hands of my brother John.’ 25 Unfortunately for Ellen she never lived long  nough to marry so that the dowry, alo ng with her worldly goods amounting to £7 2s. 8d., were left in he r will to her sister and executrix Jane.

The concern shown by a mother for her children is understandable but to be able to dispose of her assets according to her ‘free’ will was dependent on her status. Widows were, to a large extent, in charge of the ir own destinies and therefore free to do as they wished. In view of the freedom and inde­pendence that widowhood conferred it is perhaps surprising that so many women remarried. Of course one can but wonder what kind of moral and social pressure was brought to bear on women to either remarry (or marry if a spinster) or remain single but the loss of the testamentary capacity of married women involved not just interference with their ability to act inde­pendently but possible changes in the settlement of property or money.

In the opinion of Judith Jones the fascination of wills is that they are ‘the most human of the documents which survive in any quantity from the sixteenth century’.26 The truth of that statement is self evident and this article is but a modest example of what can be achieved when the spotlight is shifted away from the male majority to the will-making activities of the female minority. This is a subject that demands and fully deserves further investigation.27

Fig. 2: A copy of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury Will Registers. The registered copy of the will of Anne Jenkyns is shown listed with others drawn from different parts of the country. (TNA: Crown Copyright)

Fig. 2: A copy of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury Will Registers. The registered copy of the will of Anne Jenkyns is shown listed with others drawn from different parts of the country. (TNA: Crown Copyright)

Appendix I

List by date of the Wills and Testaments of Women in Tudor Pembrokeshire



Joanna Perrot of Haroldston (W) E.21 l/395(L) 1503
Elizabeth Newton (W) 1524 PROBl l/2l(L)
of Monkton
Tangustl Welcock (W) of Llawhaden 1549 PROBll/32
Margaret ap Gwilym (W) 1556 PROB I1/38
of Haverford west
Elin Cathern (W) of Haverfordwest 1568 PROB I l/50
Anne Jenkyns (W) of Cilgerran 1570 PROBll/52
Ellen Scourfield (S) of St. Dogwells 1582 SD/1582/9
Katherine Elliot (W) 1594 FG, Vol. 10, 170 28
Winifred Browne (S) of Carew 1594 PROBJ 1/84
Elizabeth Lougher (W) of Tenby 1595 PROBl l/85(L)

Saige Don (W) of Llanddewi Velfrey  1601                    SD/1601/15

Elizabeth Powell (W) of Newton North 1601                 SD/1601/52

Joanna Cod (W) of Warren 1601                                      SD/1601/70

Elizabeth Green of Castlemartin 1602                            SD/1602/l 3

Anne Rees (W) of Bletherston 1603                                SD/1603/5

Morfydd Thomas (W) of Llanfyrnach 1603                   SD/1603/62

Janet Harding (W) of Rudbaxton 1603                          SD/1603/102

Agnes Shepperd (W) of Talbenni 1603                          SD/1603/112

Gwenllian dau. of Llywelyn of Llangolman 1603         SD1603/l17


E             The National Archives, London, Exchequer documents Ancient Deeds Series.

PROB      The National Archives, London, Prerogative Court of Canterbury Will Registers.

SD           National Library of Wales, St. David’s Diocesan Records. FG     National Library of Wales, Francis Green Printed Records.


 Appendix II

Sample of Printed Wills


Tangustl Welcock of Llawhaden          29 Marcgh 1549                                

TNA,   PROBll/32

Drawn up: 16 February 1549.

Probate granted: 29 March 1549.

In dei nomine Amen the xvi daye of Ffebruary the yere of our lorde god a thousande five hundreth fourtie and eight the reigne of Edward the Sixte by the grace of god of England, Ffraunce and Ireland king defender of the faith, supreame hed of the churche of England and Ireland under god the thirde yere of his most gracious Reigne. I Tangluste Welcock of the parishe of Llawhaden wedowe in the deane[ary] of Dungledy and dioc[ese] of Seynt Davieth being hole in mynde and memorie fering the danger of deathe do make my testamente and last will as hereafter [… ]. In primis, I do bequeth my soule unto Almightie god my body to be buried in Cristen buriall. Item, I do give and bequeth to my sonne Richard Wilkyn my greate pann, coverled and a pewter dishe. Item, I bequeth to my sonne Henrey Wilkyn my greate crock[?] [… ] and oxen and vi shepe. Item, I bequeth to Anne Smith a blanyget. Item, I bequeth to D[avid] Ieuan his wife a smock. Item, I bequeth to Owen Shilde a growne shepe. Item, I bequeth to Lewis Wilcock his daughter a growne shepe. Item, I bequeth to evry of my godchildren iiid. And by this my last will I do declare all maner of wills or testaments that I have made or declared before the making herof to stoned as voyde and of none effecte but this my last will and testament to stoned in effecte. And if I may be able to ryde or to be carred in any wise my mynde ys to comm to Yeuan Butler and to Agnes Wilkyn my daughters [law] all thereof of my goodes there to remaine during my life with therein and to occupie my goodes at my pleasur during my life. And yf it please god I departe this transitory worlde before I comm to my sonne in lawe Yeuan Butler and to Agnes Wilkyn my daughte r. I do make and ordeyn Yeuan my sonne and Agnes my daughter to have, occupie and myore all the rest of my goodes not bequeathed and to receve all my debtes in whosovere his handes they be as hereafter[… ]. In primis D[avi]d M[ere]dith xx s., John ap Ieuan de Vayner xviii s., John Lloyde de Drewen iii s., John Vachan his wife de Pembr[oke] xxxiii s. iiiid., Thomas Smith de Daelbonne xx d., Richard Gelin de Dalebonte iii s., Ievan Moris v s., Henry Lloyd iiii s. viii d., Henry Maythew xi s. iiii d., Greffith Tailor viii s. iiii d., D[avi]d ll[ewelyn] [… ] Noxe [?] xx s., Arthur Berkby xiiii s., Lewis Lloyd iiii s., John Tailor vi s. viii d., Morgan Harry vii s., Phillip Bramhell v s., John Roblyn v s. xi d., R[ees] Fole vi s. viii d. This be the names of the witneses to whom I declared unto them this my last will and desired them to testifie the same at my tyme they be requisit so to do John Lloyd clerk curat of Llanhedeg, Thomas Gitto with others


Margaret ap Gwilym of Haverfordwest (W) 16 April 1556 

TNA, PROBll/38

Drawn up: 27 March 1551.

Probate granted: 16 April 1556.

In the name of God Amen the xxvii daie of the month of Marshe in the yeare of owre lorde god a thousande five hundred fyftye and one the fourthe yere of the raigne of owre most gracious sovereigne Larde Edwarde the sixte. I Margarete ap Gwyllim of the towne and countie of Haverforde West in Southe Wales widowe being in my goo d and hole minde and of a perfect remembrance [… wde] and praise be unto all­ mightie god make and ordaine this my presente testamente contenynge therin my last will of the disposition of a11 my goodes and cattells move­ able and unmoveable which that I have of any other to my use hathe within the realme of England or Wales and the dominion of the same in maner and forme followinge that is to witt. Ffirst I geve and bequeath my sowle unto the infinite mercy of allmightie god maker and redeemer of the same moste humbly bestowinge my saide rede[emer] and maker that he for his sonne Jesus Christes sake my mediator and advocate maie have mercy and pitie upon the same. And by his grace to provide that after the departure therof owt of my naturall body it maie be conveyed and directed towards the waye of everlastinge salvation. And my bodie to be buried in the parishe churche of owre Ladie within the towne and countie of Haverforde Weste aforsaide. Also I will that my executors herafter named and ordained as sone after my departure as they maye doe give to the poore people at my burial aswell two peces of fryses as also twoe poundes of money by penny dole amongst them to be devided. Also I geve and bequeathe to the reparation of the Almies house there xxs. Also I reserve out of this my laste will and testamente xii heades of Cattell and fortie shepe to be distributed divided and given by myne owne proper handes as shall thinke most mete, best and conveniente so for to doe. Also I will that all debtes sufficientlie proved to be due by me by any writinge or other­ wise to any personnes truelie contented and paide by myne executors herafter named and constituted in as conveniente time after my departure as it canne be broughte aboute. The residue of all my goodes and cattells moveable and unmoveable and debtes after any debtes paide my funeral expenses performed and theise my legacies in this my presente testamente and laste will subscribed I holye geve and bequeathe to William Aprice of the towne and countie of Haverforde aforesaide gentileman and to Elizabethe his wife whome I do make and ordeine and constitute to be whole executors. And I utterlie revoke and a[d]null all and everie former testamente or testaments, will or willes, legacies be[… ]stes executor or executors, overseer or overseers by me in anywise before this time made, named or caused to be made or named , willed and bequeathed or at any time herafter shall name and appointe to be myne executor or executors otherwise than is specified, mentioned and named in this presente testa­ mente and last will to be my executors. In witness wherof to this my presente and laste will I have putte my seale the daie and yere above written. In the presence of theise personnes whose names as subscribed John Sutton, Maior of Haverforde was presente at the sealinge herof Rice Morgan and Richarde Whithe, bailiffs of Haverforde.


Elin Cathern (W) TNA, PROBll/50   30 April 1568

Drawn up: 6 April 1568.

Probate granted: 30 April 1568.

In the name of God Amen. The sixt daye of Aprill anno domini 1568 et anno regni domine Elizabeth dei gratia Angliae, Frannie et Hibernie regne and ordained as sone after my departure as they maye doe give to the poore people at my burial aswell two peces of fryses as also twoe poundes of money by penny dole amongst them to be devided. Also I geve and bequeathe to the reparation of the Almies house there xxs. Also I reserve out of this my laste will and testamente xii heades of Cattell and fortie shepe to be distributed divided and given by myne owne proper handes as shall thinke most mete, best and conveniente so for to doe. Also I will that all debtes sufficientlie proved to be due by me by any writinge or other­ wise to any personnes truelie contented and paide by myne executors herafter named and constituted in as conveniente time after my departure as it canne be broughte aboute. The residue of all my goodes and cattells moveable and unmoveable and debtes after any debtes paide my funeral expenses performed and theise my legacies in this my presente testamente and laste will subscribed I holye geve and bequeathe to William Aprice of the towne and countie of Haverforde aforesaide gentileman and to Elizabethe his wife whome I do make and ordeine and constitute to be whole executors. And I utterlie revoke and a[d]null all and everie former testamente or testaments, will or willes, legacies be[… ]stes executor or executors, overseer or overseers by me in anywise before this time made, named or caused to be made or named, willed and bequeathed or at any time herafter shall name and appointe to be myne executor or executors otherwise than is specified, mentioned and named in this presente testa­ mente and last will to be my executors. In witness wherof to this my presente and laste will I have putte my seale the daie and yere above written. In the presence of theise personnes whose names as subscribed John Sutton, Maior of Haverforde was presente at the sealinge herof Rice Morgan and Richarde Whithe, bailiffs of Haverforde.


Elin Cathern (W) TNA, PROBll/50  30 April 1568

Drawn up: 6 April 1568.

Probate granted: 30 April 1568.

In the name of God Amen. The sixt daye of Aprill anno domini 1568 et anno regni domine Elizabeth <lei gratia Angliae, Frannie et Hibernie regne fidei defensoris est I Eline Chatherne alias William of the towne and countie of Haverford West widowe beinge hole of mynde and of good and perfect remembrance thankes be unto almightye god but sycke in bodie do make this my last will and testament in maner and forme folowinge that is to saye ffirst I bequeath my soule to almightye god my maker and redeemer my bodie to be buried in the parishe church of Seint Martynes in Haverford West aforesaid. Item, I give unto the poore menns boxe of the same parishe of Seint Martines twelve pennce. Item, I do give unto my brother Sir James William knyghte my rounde table of Cypress. Item, I do give unto my daughter Jane Chatheme a Spruce cheste the greatest that I have savinge one and the best fetherbed that I have savinge one with appurtenances. Item, I do give unto Jane Abowen her daughter one fether­ bed. Item, I give my sonne William Chatherne the fetherbed with the bed­ stead and all the appurtenances to the same belonginge whereon. Item, I do give unto Elizabeth Nethell half a dozen platters and a fether bed. Item, I do give guaranteed and by this my last will and testament I do freely and clearly confirm and bequeath my sonne John Chatharne all that my house tenement or bergage with a garden to the same annexed with all and singular thappurtenances to the same belonginge sett lyeng and beinge in the towne and countie of Haverford West adjoynynge to the churche yard of Seinte Martines abovesayed wherein I do now dwell together with all and singuler other my landes, tenements, mesuages, borgages, gardens, rentes, services, revicons and hereditamentes with all and singuler ther appurtenances whatsoever I have or of righte owght to have sett lynge and beinge in the towne and countie of Haverforde West or the proximate of the same or within the countie of Pembroke orelse where wheresoever to have and to holde all that my saide house, tenement or borgage, with the sayde garden and all other thappurtenances to the same belonginge wherein I do now dwell and all and singuler other my saide landes, tene­ ments, mesuages, borgages, rentes, services, revercons and heredittamentes with all and singuler ther appurtenances whatsoever to the saide John Chatherne his heires and assignes forever of the cheife landes of the [… ] by rentes and services thereon [delve] and of right heretofore accustomed and lykawise all the rest of my goodes moveable and unmoveable not geven or bequeathed I do give and bequeath unto the said John Chatharne whome I do make, ordaine and constitute my hole and sole executor to order and dispose the same as he shall thinke best and moste corvenient. In witnes whereof I have hereunto sett my seale the daye and yere above-written witnesses by her requested Richarde Ho[we]11, Meredeth apowell, Roger Mercroft, D[afyd]D Routh, Edmond Harrys, John Keney, Jankin Vane, William Johnes, Moris Canon, Thomas Wallyn, Robert Laye




 Anne Jenkyns of Cilgerran (W) 3 July 1570

TNA, PROBll/52

Drawn up: 7 October 1569.

Probate granted: 3 July 1570.

In the name of God Amen. The seventh daye of October in the yeare of our lord god a thousand five hundreth three score and nyne. I Anne Jenkyns of Kilgerran in the countye of Pembroche wydowe being sycke of bodie but whole of mynde doe make my last will and testamente in maner and forme followinge. Ffirst I bequeathe my soule unto allmyghte god my creatore and redeamer and my bodie to be buried in ye parishe churche of Killgerran. Item, I bequeath unto the parrishe of Kilgerran a xis. Item, I doe give and bequeath to the poore a vi li.vi iis . iiiid. to be destributed by the handes of myne executour. Item, I doe give and bequeath unto my sonne Thomas Revell all my righte and interest which I have in ye lease and patent of the demaynes and forrest of Kilgerran with ye house and furnyture as yt nowe remayneth. Item, I doe give and bequeath unto my sonne John one hundreth poundes and my townhowse in the towne of Kilgerran. Item, yf my daughter Elizabeth Phaer do take and followe the advyse and councell of my sonne Thomas Reve11 in bestowinge of her selfe in marriage then I give and bequeath unto the sayed Elizabeth ye some of one hundreth poundes and all the stocke of cattell nowe remayn­ inge upon the tenements of Owyn Geradd and moundyvye otherwise my sayd sonne Thomas to use his owne discrecion. Item, yf my nease Sage Walter do take a husband by the advyse consent and agreement of my Sayed sonne Thomas, then I bequethe unto her the some of a vil. xiiis. iiiid.. Item, I do give unto My servaunte Rhys ap Richard a v 1.. Item I do give unto John Morgan a xis. Item, I do give unto Owen Gwyn a xis. Item I do give and bequeth unto the resydew of my household servantes a v 1. to be destrybuted accordinge to the discrecon of my executor. Item, I do give unto Edward Rychard a xxs. Item, I do give towards the mendinge of the highe wayes abowte ye towne of Kilgerran a xxs. Item, I doe constitute and apointe my wellebelovyt sonne Thomas Revell my full and hole executor of this my last will and testament and Mr Barlowe of Slebech and Mr John Mortymer overeers of this my last will and testament, witnesses of the makinge of the forsayed testament Elizabeth Phaer, Re[es] ap Richard, John ap Morgan, Willyam Whyte, Owen ap Griffith, Willyam Barrett, Gryffith Rees, Sage Walter, Eva Richard, Margarett v[erch] Phe[llips] and others


 Winifred Browne of Carew (S) 13 November 1594

TNA, PROBll/84

Drawn up: No date.

Probate granted: 13 November 1594.

In the name of God Amen. I Winefriede Browne of Carewe etc (sic) make this my last will and testament in writing. Ffirst I bequeathe my sowle etc (sic). Item, I give unto Robert Browne and Armiger Browne my brothers either of them one hundreth marks to be paide within one yeare after my decease. Item, I give unto my sister Ffuther twenty poundes of good Englishe money and all my apparrell and jewels whatsoever excepte one aggett whiche I give unto M[istress] Bridgett Downes. Item, I give unto Mr. Robert Sapcote thirty poundes of good Englishe money. Item, I give unto Marie Jerningham my mother twenty poundes. Item , I give unto my cosen Edmond Billingforde tene poundes. Item, I will that ffive poundes shaJbe distributed and given upon my burial daye to the poore people there assembled and mett together. Item, I give unto six maides that shall carry me to churche ffive shillings apiece. Item, I give unto every of my mothers servanntes bothe men and maides twenty shillings apiece. Item, I give unto my keeper mother Clerke forty shillings. Item, I give towards the funeshing of my ffathers tombe in Walton Churche in Suff[olk] twenty poundes. All my other goods and money I give unto my brother John Browne. Item, I will and my minde is that all the legacies and somes of money before bequeathed shalbe paide within one yeare after my decease and I doe make my executor of this my last will Mr. William Sydner of Blunston Esquyer these being witnesses George Heball and Mrs Anne Jermingham.


  1. These figures apply to England and Wales. Amy Louise Erickson, Women and Property in Early Modern England (London, 1993),
  2. For a useful discuss ion of the legal rights of married women, see H. Helm­ holz, ‘Married Women’s Wills in Later Medieval England’ , in Sue Sheridan Walker (ed.), Wife and Widow in Medieval England (Michigan, 1993), 165-82.
  3. M. Prior, ‘Wives and Wills, 1558-1700’, in Chartres and D. Hey, eds., English Rural Society, I500-1800: Essays in Honour of Joan Thirsk (Cambridge, 1990), 208-10.
  4. Erickson, Women and Property, 204-5.
  5. Figures are drawn from and based on probate records held in the National Archives, Londo n, and the National Library of Wal This doe s not include the wills of those people who owned or disposed of land in the county but res ided elsewhere. If these wills were taken into account the number of surviv­ing probates connected with Pembrokeshire would rise significantly. See Appendix I for a list of the Pembrokeshire women who sought probate between 1503 and 1603 . See also Helen Chandler, ‘The Will in Medieval Wales to 1540’ (University of Wales, M.Phil. thesis, 1991).
  6. See Appendix
  7. The earliest wills, dating from before the mid to la te 1520s , we re written in Latin the language of the However, the Reformation contributed to the decline in the use of Latin as the medium of expression in will making.
  8. The single known exception is that of Joanna Perrot (nee Wogan) whose will is original and not a copy lodged in the PCC or Bis hop ‘s For a fuller dis­cussion of her will, see R. Turvey, ‘Until Death Do Us Part: The Last Wills and Testaments of a Husband and Wife in Early Sixteenth Century Pembrokeshire ‘ , JPHS, No. 18 (2009), 11-32.
  9. TNA, PROB11/85. The dispute involving the terms of Elizabeth Lougher ‘s will was bitter and protracted. I hope to return to this subject in a future
  10. NLW, SD/1602/13.
  11. See Appendix II,
  12. , II, IV.
  13. Ibid ., II,
  14. , II, V.
  15. S. W. Helt, ‘Women, memory and will-making in Elizabethan England’, in Bruce Gordon and Peter Marshal (eds.), The Place of Death: Death and Re­ membrance in Late Medieval and Rarly Modern Europe (Cambridge, 2000), 188-205.

16. Quoted from the King James Version. 17. Turvey, JPHS, N 18 (2009), 27-30.

17. Turvey, JPHS, No.18 (2009), 27-30

18. Joel T. Rosenthal, ‘Fifteenth-Century Widows and Widowhood: Bereavement, Reintegration, and Life Choices’, in Walker (ed.), Wife and Widow, 40.

19. TNA, PROBll/85.

20. Appendix II, IV.

21. See Sue Sheridan Walker, ‘Introduction’ , in Walker (ed.), Wife and Widow, 3.

22. TNA, PROB11/85.

23. Appendix II, IV. To her chief servant, Rhys ap Richard, Anne left £5. To John Morgan and Owen Gwyn she bequeathed £2 apiece. The sum of £5 was shared among the remaining unnamed servants.

24 TNA, PROB11/85.

25 National Library of Wales, SD/1582/9.

26. Judith Jones, Monmouthshire Wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canter ­ bury, 1560-1601 (Cardiff, 1997) , 54.

27. For a useful discussion of women’s wills in the period after 1600 see Gerald Morgan, ‘Women’s Wills in West Wales, 1600-1750’ , Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion (1992), 95- 114. Pembrokeshire is only briefly touched on in this article.

28. Transcript only. The original will of Katherine Elliot has not been locate d.