I’ve taken my family tree back to 1663 with the discovery of my 8 x great grandfather, John Howe, born in St Hilary, Glamorgan. Pictured, (Wikipedia) the 14th century parish church at St Hilary where John was baptised. I’m now searching for his wife and children.

I’m researching the family of my 8 x great-grandfather, John Howe, born in 1663. I’ve discovered that he had at least four children. The gap between Joseph and Rebecka strongly suggests that he had at least four more, but they are lost to the historical record.

No further details are available for Rebecka and John junior, but Priscilla married Thomas Deer and they had at least one daughter, Ann, born 23 July 1738 in St Hilary, Glamorgan.

John’s fourth child, Joseph, is my direct ancestor and my next task is to learn more about him.

Priscilla was a very popular name in my family and it featured in every generation well into the twentieth century. The choice of Joseph and Rebecka suggests that their father, John, was a devoted Christian and a regular attender at the parish church of St Hilary.

There is no mention of John’s marriage or his wife – women were often overlooked in the historical record – and in the seventeen century the trade or craft of a person was not often recorded, unless they were landowners or skilled artisans. St Hilary was an agricultural community at the time so it seems highly likely that John and his family worked on the land.

My 7 x great-grandfather, Joseph Howe, was born in 1693 in St Hilary, Glamorgan. He married Elizabeth, c1711, and they produced four children, Elizabeth, Dorothy, Mary and John. The gaps in the historical record suggest that the couple had at least four more children; they brought up a large family, which was common until the second half of the twentieth century.

Little is known of daughter Elizabeth and Mary while, sadly, Dorothy died within days of her birth, another common occurrence for the time. John is my direct ancestor, and more about him next time.

In the late seventeenth century into the early eighteenth century the population of St Hilary stood at around 150 with Welsh the dominant language. Formal education was rare in those days, but from 1675 a charitable trust, the Welsh Trust, ran a small school in the village with ten pupils attending in 1678. Religion was central to this form of education and lessons were conducted by vicars and churchwardens.

St Hilary was an agricultural community so Joseph probably worked on the land. He died on 5 July 1742. Elizabeth survived him by nearly nineteen years and died on 1 May 1761.

At this stage, the Howe family had been in St Hilary for a hundred years, and more. And they would remain there for another generation, thanks to my 6 x great-grandfather, John.

The Million Pound House

My ancestors in St Hilary owned Howe Mill, which recently went on the market for well over a million pounds.

I read about Howe Mill in a gazetteer that included this line ‘the Regency finery of Howe Mill’. The Regency refers to the period 1795 to 1837. However, further research revealed this entry, ‘Thomas David of Howe Mill was buried in 1699.’ Therefore, the mill existed in the seventeenth century and the Regency finery must refer to a refurbishment.

Howe Mill ground corn until the end of the nineteenth century. It was active in 1889, but maps published in 1899 list the mill as disused. It is situated within a twelfth century ringwork enclosure that might have served as the caput for the knight’s fee of Llandough. 

Howe derives from the Old Norse, haugr, which means hill, knoll, or mound. The Vikings settled, peacefully, in the Vale of Glamorgan in the ninth century so it is possible that my Viking ancestors acquired land that became a ringwork enclosure then a mill. Before 1699 their descendants sold the mill for a considerable sum of money. 

My St Hilary ancestors were wealthy. I know this because for many generations they held prominent places within the community. From a financial point of view they were lucky, probably because of a Viking who settled in the area and made his home on a piece of prime land.


The Howe family Bible. The Bible belonged to my 2 x great grandfather, William. William was a deacon in the local Methodist chapel. His brother, Hopkin, who died at forty, was a minister. It’s possible that Hopkin bequeathed the Bible to William.

The text is in Welsh, though the colour plates are captioned in English. The Bible is huge. You need to be a weightlifting champion to pick it up.