John Howe, my 5 x great grandfather, was born on 28 April 1761 in St Hilary, Glamorgan. His parents, John and Mary, were successful farmers so it’s probable that John spent his formative years learning the business of farm management.
The parish register confirms John baptism. Note the small number of births, marriages and deaths in the parish between 1760 and 1762.
John married Cecily Lewis on 1 January 1785 in nearby Cowbridge, Glamorgan. The location is significant because for well over a hundred years all of the Howe’s activities, including births, marriages and deaths, had centred on St Hilary. The family was branching out, which ultimately would lead to mixed fortunes.
Cowbridge was a market town so it’s easy to imagine that John met Cecily there while on farm business. Cecily was born in Cowbridge in 1764 and the custom was that marriages took place in the bride’s parish.
Some genealogists list Cecily’s parents as John Lewis of Swansea and Elizabet Humphreys, but I have found no records to confirm that fact. Lewis is a very common surname and without cross-references it is difficult to identify the correct ancestor.
The parish record reveals that John was literate, but Cicely signed her name with a cross. The witnesses were John’s younger brother, William, and John Jenkin, a ‘Gentleman’ of Cowbridge, which confirms that at this time the Howe family were still members of the gentry.
Continuing the story of my 5 x great grandparents, John Howe and Cecily Lewis. The couple married on 1 January 1785 in Cecily’s home parish, Cowbridge, Glamorgan. Five children followed: John (yet another one) my 4 x great grandfather, born 26 February 1786 in St Hilary, Glamorgan; Cecily, born 20 January 1789 in St Hilary; Priscilla, born 13 November 1793 in St Hilary; Richard, born 1 January 1797 in St Hilary – what a wonderful twelfth wedding anniversary present that was; and William, born on 1 February 1799 in St Hilary. Sadly, young Cecily died on 20 April 1798.
Well into the twentieth century, on average a couple produced a child every twenty-four months. However, John and Cecily’s children were born three or four years apart, hence ‘only’ five additions to the family.
Like his father before him, John was an Overseer of the Poor. In 1796-7, he paid 2s 6d to ‘Ten men in distress coming from the sea.’
In 1798, the Howe family featured in the Land Tax Redemption register twelve times, far more than any other family in St Hilary, which indicates that they were farming more land than anyone else in the parish.
Early in the nineteenth century, John and his family left St Hilary, moving ten miles west to Coity, breaking the family’s bond with the parish. Why did they leave?
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 he moved his family to Coity.
The impressive nature of John and Cecily’s gravestone suggests that the couple lived in some style in Coity. By this stage the family had become scattered, living in various towns and villages throughout Glamorgan.
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.
Tugged away from their St Hilary roots, future generations of the Howe family lost their gentry status. Although a member of the family did become deputy prime minister of Britain in the 1980s, most branches led humbler lives, including John and Cecily’s son, John, my 4 x great grandfather.
My 4 x great grandfather, John Howe (yet another John), was baptised on 26 February 1786 in St Hilary, Glamorgan. Baptisms usually took place within a week of birth, so his birthday was around 19 February 1786.
John’s parents were John Howe and Cecily Lewis, wealthy farmers. However, in 1799 the government introduced the first-ever income tax and that tax put a dent in the family’s finances. After over a hundred years of farming in St Hilary, they moved away. John moved ten miles west to St Brides.
A Victorian Gazetteer described St Brides as, ‘A parish in the Hundred of Ogmore, in the county of Glamorgan. It is situated on the coast of the Bristol Channel, at the mouth of the River Ogmore. A special interest attaches to it as one of the earliest seats of the native princes. It has still some vestiges of the ancient castle of Dyndryfan (Dunraven), the traditional residence of Caradoc (Caractacus), and considerable remains of Ogmore Castle, a fortress of equal antiquity. The church is ancient, and has some fine monuments of the Butler and Wyndham families. The Calvinistic Methodists have a chapel in the village. Along the coast are several large and curiously-formed caves, one of which, of great depth, is called the “Wind Hole.”’
St Brides was a larger parish than St Hilary and therefore offered John greater employment opportunities. However, the population of St Brides actually declined throughout the nineteenth century, from 914 in 1841 to 621 in 1891.
It’s interesting that this branch of my family, over hundreds of years, continued to move west, in John’s case six miles along the coast to Tythegston, where he met his bride-to-be, Christiana John, daughter of Evan John, 1755-1832 and Mary 1757-1837.
A topographical dictionary of 1833 stated that the population of Tythegston stood at 404. The parish contained good arable and pasture land along with coal, iron ore and clay for making bricks. The parish also contained a school for ‘the gratuitous instruction of poor children.’
Christiana was born on 31 December 1795 and baptised on 6 January 1796. Her name became popular in the Howe family and can be found in numerous generations. It would seem that unlike her husband, John, she did not receive a formal education because when the couple married she did not sign her name, applying an ‘x’ instead.
Christiana was pregnant when she married John on 17 April 1819, in Tythegston. She gave birth to Edward in St Brides on 22 July 1819. William, my 3 x great grandfather, followed on 14 September 1823, along with Mary in 1827, Evan in 1828, Thomas in 1831, Richard in 1833, Cecily in 1836 and, at the age of 43, John in 1839. Christiana’s husband, John, worked as a thatcher while she obviously had her hands full at home.
Continuing the story of my 4 x great grandparents, John Howe and Christiana John.
The introduction of the census in 1841 opened a window for genealogists by providing more details about our ancestors. That said, the 1841 census was basic with names, approximate ages and occupations. Places of birth were often confused or deliberately misrepresented (so a person could claim local poor relief) with places of residence. In contrast, the 1851 census was more detailed and reliable.
The 1841 census found John Howe in St Brides with his wife Christiana and three of their children, Thomas, Richard and John.
In 1851, John was living in Ogmore in the parish of St Brides with Christiana and two of their children, Cecily and John. John senior was a thatcher, a decent trade that earned him £75 per annum, a good wage considering that labourers earned £40 and women £10 per annum. Living in Ogmore as a thatcher it’s almost certain that John worked on the roofs of these cottages in nearby Merthyr Mawr.
As we struggle with Covid, so our ancestors had to combat cholera. Between 1829 and 1851, cholera invaded many communities. The outbreak in 1848 claimed 52,000 lives in England and Wales. Over time, communities improved their sanitation, but the connection between good health and care of our environment is still a lesson we struggle to learn.
John died, aged 70 (some records incorrectly state 73) of ‘old age’ on 24 December 1856 and was buried two days later. His son, Richard, witnessed the death certificate with a cross.
In 1861, Christiana was living with her daughter, Mary, also a widow, at the age of 34. Ten years later, Christiana was living alone next door to a miller, where her daughter Cecily was a servant. Her son, Evan, lived next door.
Christiana died on 10 July 1874 aged 78 of ‘cancer and general decay’. Her son Evan was present and he applied his mark on the death certificate. John and Christiana are buried together in St Brides churchyard.
The Howe family, tight-knit and prosperous in St Brides and St Hilary, now dispersed to various parts of Glamorgan where they experienced mixed fortunes.