Thomas Watts was born in 1805 in Colchester, Essex, the son of John and Ann Watts. John Watts served in the Royal Pembroke Militia. 1 Following their return to Haverfordwest a second son, Frederick, was born. 2 Sgt Major John Watts, a veteran of the Battle of Waterloo, 3 retired from the Militia at the age of 60. He died aged 62 at his home on Tower Hill in 1830 and his funeral service took place on 4 June in St Mary’s church. His widow Ann continued to live in the town until her death in 1864.
Thomas Watts received a classical education at Haverfordwest Grammar School where the headmaster was Revd James Thomas, Vicar of St Mary’s. He was ordained by the Bishop of London in 1828, without a divinity degree, and given ten years to obtain the qualification at Cambridge. As a “ten year man” he graduated MA at Trinity College, Cambridge, on 8 March 1835. 4
In January 1829 Thomas Watts was married to Mary Lewis by licence at St Thomas Church, Haverfordwest, by Revd James Thomas, his former headmaster. Within months the couple sailed to Barbados where he was employed by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. From 1832 to 1843 he was schoolmaster at the Codrington Foundation School and chaplain to that Estate. He was also Vicar of Holy Cross Church from 1831 to 1843. Codrington College was founded in 1831 to train young men of African descent for the ordained ministry of the Church of England in the Caribbean and West Africa.
The annual reports to the SPG reveal his success in educating children and adults; “the interest evidently taken in the work by Mr Watts, and the exertions he is making, are fully felt and responded to, both by his own people and those around him.” 5 In May 1839 Watts wrote,
I witnessed on Sunday last a circumstance that struck me most forcibly. On looking round the Sunday school, which contained on that day 119 adults, all except two from neighbouring estates, I counted nine teachers with large classes who were young people belonging to Codrington. They were born, bred and schooled on the property, and now came forward willingly and cheerfully to assist their minister in the great work of religious instruction. Indeed, without their assistance, and that of four young men, students from the College, it would be impossible for me to give due attention to so large a school as we now have, the numbers on the list being about 200. 6
In 1838 his manager wrote,
The unwearied zeal of our Chaplain (Revd Mr Watts), not only in his Sunday lectures, but during the week, in discoursing with individuals and families, has also in no small degree contributed to tranquilize the minds of the people, and ensure order and understanding among them. 7
In 1843 Thomas Watts resigned from Codrington School after fourteen years on the island. Before leaving, in his position as senior chaplain he accompanied Bishop Coleridge 8 on his visit to various islands of the diocese, Tobago, Trinidad, Grenada, St Vincent and St Lucia. 9
Thomas and his wife had three children while in Barbados, Charlotte, John and Thomas Martin. Their youngest daughter was born in Haverfordwest. On their return to Wales the children were educated at the Hill Street school of Miss Mary Davies, a close family friend with strong family links in the West Indies.
Since 1587 Haverfordwest Corporation had been the patron of the living of St Mary’s Church. Following the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act in 1835 all corporations had to sell their church patronage under the direction of the Ecclesiastical Duties and Revenues Commission and apply the proceeds for the common use of the town. In 1836 the advowson of the rectory was ordered to be sold by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and a sale notice was published. 10 Tenders were invited to be submitted by 1 October of that year and a letter dated 2 December from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners accepted a tender of £800 made by Revd Watts. 11 He returned to Haverfordwest on a visit during 1836, 12 taking part in a public debate on the Irish Municipal Amendment Act 13 and officiating at the marriage of a friend at St Thomas Church. 14 The sale of the church was eventually signed and sealed in December 1837. The sum of £800 was later described as a liberal sum and larger than expected. 15
He returned to Barbados, being content to allow James Thomas to remain in position as vicar of the church until his death at the age of 81 in 1843. At this point Thomas Watts and his family travelled back to Haverfordwest and he was instituted as vicar on 7 October 1843, reading himself in with a public reading of the thirty nine articles. 16
Like most parish churches at the start of the nineteenth century St Mary’s contained large box pews,17 private seats used by the middle and upper classes. The poor of the parish were left with little or no space. In 1843 St Mary’s church provided seats for 522 of which only 36 were free and unappropriated, inadequate for a parish population of 1,565. Revd Watts therefore appealed to the Church Building Society for a grant towards his planned restoration of the church. The main thrust of his application, in accordance with the aim of the Society to increase accommodation, was that he wished to provide 214 extra seats which were to be free. He qualified the interpretation of free, stating that he was anxious to attract the families of male tradesmen and artisans who dominated the parish by appropriating some 50 to 60 seats to them, free of charge. As vicar, he wished to decide to whom they should be allotted. He described the parish as “abounding in dissent” and overrun with dissenters, and referred to the “disturbed state of the surrounding districts.” 18 This was the year in which two alleged Rebecca Rioters were tried at the Shire Hall. A grant of £100 was received.
The vicar launched a public appeal for funds to restore the church which was described as much dilapidated, mainly due to its being used as a prison for the French soldiers who landed near Fishguard in February 1797. Accommodation was to be increased by the installation of new pews, with new flooring and a new east window in the chancel. 19 After four months work the church was reopened on 26 August with a service at which two sermons were preached, one by the Bishop of the Diocese and the other by Rt. Revd Bishop Coleridge, Revd Watts’ bishop in Barbados.
Revd Thomas Watts soon became involved in the life of the community. He chaired a public meeting in January 1844 to consider the best method of relieving the wants of the labouring poor. It was agreed that a labour fund would be set up with the clergymen of each parish collecting subscriptions. 20
Having been so heavily involved in education in Barbados, it is not surprising that he continued this interest in Haverfordwest. In April 1844 he preached a sermon at a service to raise funds for the National Society, provider of church schools, stressing the importance of schools and education; “Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” 21 He was instrumental in the formation of the new National School, designed to educate 537 children, in Barn Street in 1850. 22 He was appointed by the Common Council as a trustee of Haverfordwest Grammar School. He claimed his right as Vicar of St Mary’s to be a trustee of the Tasker’s Charity School 23 and at the 1844 annual meeting applied for Common Prayer books to be obtained for the use of the boys at church. Despite strong opposition to this by some of the trustees, it was agreed that twenty copies should be ordered and that the children of Tasker’s School be ordered to attend the church every Sunday morning. 24
Revd Watts was a magistrate for the town, Chairman of the Quarter Sessions and Vice Chairman of the Board of Guardians. 25 In 1845 he was appointed secretary to the newly formed local branch of the SPG which determined that sermons in aid of the society should be preached each January in the parish churches of the town. 26
He has been described as a “cautious conservative” 27 in his churchmanship. In restoring the church he did not take the opportunity to reorder the church as a clergyman sympathetic to Tractarianism might have done. 28 However, a letter in the Pembrokeshire Herald strongly criticised the new stained glass window for “throwing a dim religious light through the interior of the church”. 29 In 1850 his decision to ban the church bell ringers from ringing a peal to celebrate the arrival in town of Dr Bunting, a prominent Wesleyan, was criticised in the press. 30 A few months later, at a public meeting, Revd Watts strongly opposed the interference of the Pope whose Papal Bull had restored the Roman Catholic diocesan hierarchy in Britain. 31
The 1851 Religious Census provides a record of attendance at St Mary’s on 30 March. In completing the return Revd Watts stressed that he had not given notice of the count in advance. He recorded that 333 attended morning service plus 81 Sunday school scholars, with 495 present at the evening service. 32
In 1858 he applied to the bishop for permission to hold two benefices, Vicar of St Mary’s and Perpetual Curate of Haroldston St Issells. At the same time he was coming to an arrangement to sell his interest in St Mary’s to the new owner of the Picton Castle estate, Revd JHA Philipps (Gwyther), who became Vicar in 1859. On leaving St Mary’s Revd Watts was presented by the Lord Chancellor as Rector of Herbrandston but he retained a strong interest in St Mary’s. He died at his son’s home, Dairy Park, age 59, in July 1864. His funeral service was held at St Mary’s and he was buried in the parish cemetery at Portfield. 33 His will, dated 22 June 1864, reveals that he was still owed £500 by Revd JHA Philipps to whom he had sold his interest in St Mary’s, and that he still had a mortgage on the plantation of Stewards Hill, Barbados. 34
- The Pembroke Militia had reassembled in March 1803 and marched to Essex from Haverfordwest, establishing HQ at Colchester in July. Their base remained there until 1807. Presumably the Watts’ home was where the Regiment was based, hence the birth of Thomas in Essex.
- St Mary’s Church. Baptism Register, 3 April 1814. The family’s address was Back Lane, in the parish, one of the small streets which at that time ran behind the north side of upper High Street.
- Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, 30 June 1915.
- www.ancestry.co.uk/db.aspx?dbid=3997 (Cambridge University Alumni database)
- Archives of the SPG. C/WIN/BAR/1-12 file 74. The 1833 report, p 61, states; It appeared from the returns forwarded by the Chaplain, the Rev Mr Watts, that the daily schools on the estate contained 67 children of whom more than 50 were able to read; that the Sunday School contained 50 [additional to the daily schools] all of whom were able to read well; that a Sunday School was kept in the Chapel for adults, both belonging and not belonging to the estate, which was attended by 24 of the former and 70 of the latter; and that another Sunday School had been opened recently for children not belonging to the estate, of whom the number already under instruction was 30. Over 600 people attended Sunday services. The text continues to report on the good conduct of the slaves.
- Ibid. The 1840 report, 56.
- Ibid. The 1838 report, 108.
- William Hart Coleridge was the first Bishop of Barbados and the Leeward Islands, holding the office from 1825 to 1842.
- Frederick Watts, brother of Thomas Watts, remained in Barbados. He was the Police Magistrate of St Philip. His descendants still live on the island.
- Pembrokeshire Record office D/RTP/PIC/11.
- PRO D/RTP/PIC/13.
- www.the-saleroom.com/en-gb/auction-catalogues/a-bainbridge-and-co/…/pdfexport A William IV silver ink stand, complete with silver-mounted glass wells, flat candlestick and chained extinguisher, with a presentation inscription to the Revd. Thomas Watts from the Congregation of the Society’s Chapel in the Island of
Barbados on his re-visiting England Feby 20th 1836
- Cambrian, 25 June 1836.
- Cambrian, 7 January 1837. Revd Thomas Watts officiated at the marriage of Revd Thomas Davies and Hannah Turner at St Thomas Church.
- Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, 6 June 1860.
- Carmarthen Journal, 13 October 1843.
- Richard Fenton, Historical Tour through Pembrokeshire. London. 1811. 213.
- Lambeth Palace Library, ICBS 3322.
- Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 19 January 1844.
- Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 26 January 1844
- Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 5 April 1844.
- The Welshman, 12 April 1850.
- Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 6 December 1844.
- Carmarthen Journal, 22 December 1843.
- The Welshman, 29 July 1864.
- Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 3 January 1845.
- John Morgan-Guy. ‘Sermons in Wales in the Established Church.’ in Keith A Francis and William Gibson (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the British Sermon 1689-1901, Oxford University Press, 2012. 192
- Tenby Parish Magazine 1872 .53. It was reported that high pews in the chancel faced west meaning the congregation’s backs were to the altar, pews in the nave faced east and those in the north aisle, south, while the choir sang in the organ gallery at the west end of the church.
- Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 15 November 1844. The cost of this window was raised by public subscription in memory of Revd James Thomas
- The Welshman, 25 October 1850. In February 1851 the Town Council investigated the ownership of the bells; this was part of a series of problems caused by the wording of the contract of purchase of the advowson.
- Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser, 6 December 1850.
- I. Gwynedd Jones & D Williams. The Religious Census of 1851: A Calendar of the Returns Relating to Wales: Vol 1 South Wales. Cardiff UWP 1976. 422
- His wife died in November 1863, aged 58. His mother died soon after his death, her entry being immediately after his in the burial register.
- Pembrokeshire Record Office. Francis Green Papers Vol. XVIII. 431.