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Dear Reader #144

Dear Reader,

My latest translation, the Dutch version of Operation Zigzag, Eve’s War Heroines of SOE, book one.

My latest article for the Seaside News.

John Howe, my 5 x great grandfather, was baptised on 28 April 1761 in St Hilary, Glamorgan. He was one of only ten children baptised in the village that year, including a set of twins. John’s parents were farmers so he spent his formative years learning the business of farm management.

John Howe married Cecily Lewis on 1 January 1785 in Cowbridge, Glamorgan. Cowbridge was the nearest market town to John’s home in St Hilary and it’s likely that he met Cecily there during a social event connected to the market.  

Cecily was born in Cowbridge in 1764 and it was the custom that marriages took place in the bride’s parish.

The interior of Holy Cross Church, Cowbridge (People’s Collection Wales).

Like his father before him, my 5 x great grandfather John Howe was an Overseer of the Poor. In 1797 he paid 2s 6d to ‘Ten men in distress coming from the sea.’ The Vale of Glamorgan coast is beautiful, but dangerous due to hidden rocks.

Le Vainqueur, which sank off Sker Rocks on 17th December 1753.

Taxes greatly affected the direction of the Howe family. In 1798, my 5 x great grandfather John Howe featured in the Land Tax Redemption register for St Hilary ten times (out of twenty-seven entries). Most people featured once while John’s brother, William, featured twice. 

John wasn’t ‘Lord of the Manor’, that title fell to the Bassets (although their influence was on the wane), but he was certainly ‘Mr St Hilary’.

The Land Tax became a permanent charge on the land in 1798 and was fixed at 4/- in the pound (20%). However proprietors were given the option to pay a (considerable) lump sum or purchase government stock to free themselves from future liability.

By 1799, the Napoleonic wars had taken their toll on Britain. The British royal treasury was running out of money to maintain the royal army and navy. Soldiers were starving and His Majesty’s navy had already mutinied. For Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, the solution was simple: impose an income tax.

Under the Act of 1799, all citizens who earned above £60 were to pay a graduated tax of at least one percent. Those with an income of over £200 were taxed ten percent. Some people regarded the tax as a patriotic duty while others complained. 

I don’t know what John Howe thought of the taxes, but it seems they were the reason why he moved his family ten miles west to Coity breaking the Howe connection with St Hilary, which had lasted over 200 years.

After 49 years of marriage, Cecily died  on 7 May 1834, aged 70 while John died on 4 February 1835, aged 73. The couple are buried together in Coity.

John and Cecily’s grave in Coity.

On Wednesday 4 April 1787 Cornelius Gordon and his wife Mary Bevan were gardening, and arguing, at their house in Crichton, Llanrhidian when Mary collapsed. A servant, Thomas Westley, and a neighbour, Elizabeth Long, helped Mary to bed. She slept while Cornelius continued his gardening.

The following morning, Cornelius told his servant Thomas to get Mr Thomas Williams, surgeon and apothecary, from Swansea. Surgeon Williams arrived at Crichton to find Mary dead. Relatives arrived. Accusations were made.

On Friday 6 April 1787, Gabriel Powell, Coroner, summoned twenty-four ‘honest and lawful men’ and held an inquest into Mary’s death. Evidence was taken. The servant, Thomas, “didn’t see anything” while Surgeon Williams stated that “the deceased did not die from a violent blow.”

A second surgeon, Thomas Sylvester, supported Surgeon Williams. The coroner’s inquest concluded that Mary died ‘by the visitation of God’, and she was buried the following day. However, Mary’s family were not happy and they intervened.

On Tuesday 10 April 1787, Rowland Pritchard, a Justice of the Peace, ordered Charles Collins, a surgeon from Swansea, to exhume and examine Mary’s body. He discovered a fractured skull, consistent with a violent blow, possibly caused by a spade. 

Surgeon Sylvester changed his tune and supported Surgeon Collins. Servant Thomas was questioned. His statement revealed that Cornelius had struck his wife about the head, and that during their marriage they had ‘frequently had words’.

Cornelius Gordon was tried four days later, found guilty, and sentenced to death. He was hanged on Stalling Down, Cowbridge, on 20 April 1787, a fortnight after the murder. This was the last hanging to take place at Stalling Down.

In the mid-1800s a Mrs Howe (first name sadly not recorded) spoke to David Jones an antiquarian. She said that as a young child she was taken up to Stalling Down to witness the execution of Cornelius Gordon.

Mrs Howe recalled the scene as Gordon’s family stood by with a coffin ready to transport his body back to Crichton. Mrs Howe stated that at the moment of the execution “the whole ground trembled, as with an earthquake.”

Next week, the Howes in America.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

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