William Howe and Ann Jones

The Day They Married: William Howe and Ann Jones

My 2 x great grandparents William Howe and Ann Jones, pictured, married on 5 December 1878, a Thursday. The couple married in Hermon Methodist Chapel in Bridgend, five miles from their home village of South Corneli. How did they travel there? Maybe on the Great Western Railway, which had been running through South Corneli since 1850. Maybe they walked – five miles was a gentle stroll in those days. Or maybe via horse and carriage. I have no evidence, but I suspect the latter. And I can imagine the streets lined with well-wishers as the carriage travelled through the various villages.

William and Ann c1908, colourised, possibly taken to commemorate their 40th wedding anniversary.

Hermon Methodist Chapel was first built in 1780, rebuilt in 1825 and rebuilt again in 1862. The present chapel was built in the Classical style with a gable-entry plan, two storeys and tall round-headed windows.

William and Ann were staunch Methodists who attended Capel-y-Pil in North Corneli. The Welsh Methodist Revival, an evangelical revival, revitalised Christianity in Wales during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and maintained a strong grip on many communities until the First World War when, because of the great suffering, religious belief in general was questioned. The local chapel was central to many lives. It was certainly central to William’s life and so strong was his commitment that in later life he became a deacon.

Ann’s friend, Mary Phillips, and William’s brother, Hopkin, witnessed the ceremony. Hopkin, a minister, also assisted in the service. That must have been special for William, to share the day in that way with his brother. 

On the day of William and Ann’s wedding, the Central Glamorgan Gazette reported the Queen’s Speech, the war in Afghanistan, and a serious railway accident. Interest in the war in Afghanistan was so great that newspapers ran advertisements for full colour maps of the country, price one shilling.

The newspaper reported that, “The sixth session of the ninth Parliament of Queen Victoria was opened on Thursday, by Royal Commission, the Commissioners being the Lord Chancellor, the Dukes of Richmond and Northumberland, Earl Beauchamp, and Lord Skelmersdale. The members of the House of Commons assembled early, but neither in that House nor the House of Lords did any prominent member of the Government or Opposition appear.” The proceedings were “very quiet” and the Queen made “a short speech.”

The railway accident occurred on the Brecon and Merthyr Tydfil Junction Railway, one of the busiest mineral lines in South Wales. A train laden with coal and drawn by three engines was proceeding towards Brecon. It arrived at a sharp incline, about six miles from the town, when it left the rails. At high speed, the train crashed into a massive stone bridge, which spanned the parish road, completely cutting it in two. Two of the engines fell on to the road, followed by the trucks. The destruction was enormous. Four people were killed, all railway officials. Four others were seriously injured with two not expected to live. The accident was attributed to a defect in one of the rails.

The newspaper also featured advertisements for various pills and tonics, ‘cure-alls’ supported by numerous testimonials. One such tonic was ‘Mexican Hair Renewer’ for ‘grey, white and falling off hair.’ No disagreeable smell. Promotes hair growth on bald spots. A bargain at 3s 6d a bottle.

William’s occupations over the years reflected the change in society, away from rural work to industrial employment. His jobs included farm labourer, railway packer and limestone quarryman, an occupation that spanned two-thirds of his working life. He suffered a life-threatening accident at the quarry when he fell in February 1895, but recovered to become a foreman. Possibly, his connections in the Methodist Chapel helped him to secure this position. As a deacon and headman of the village, akin to a local mayor, he was a leading figure in his community.

A newspaper clipping with photographs from the 1920s.

As a teenager, Ann worked as a domestic servant. When married, she was a ‘housewife’ tending to her family’s needs. William and Ann produced nine children, so she was certainly busy. In common with many Victorian couples they lost a child, William David Howe, in infancy, and tragically a teenage daughter, Priscilla, who died on 6 November 1913 during an operation. I wonder if these tragedies affected their faith. It would appear not because they remained committed to the chapel throughout their lives.

As a new wife, Ann shopped in the village stores, and visited markets and fairs. William attended rugby matches and participated in plowing competitions, winning prizes. The couple enjoyed lectures at the chapel, plus musical evenings with readings and renditions by local performers. They were also members of local charity organisations and tended the family allotment.

On William and Ann’s wedding day, the newspapers reported that: “The electric light was used at Portsmouth for the first time at East Hants grounds, giving a light equal to 1600 candles. The objects within a reasonable distance of the light were rendered as bright as day.” 

Lighting was a big feature around the time of William and Ann’s marriage. Some notable dates: 14 October – the world’s first  floodlit football match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield. 28 October – the first floodlit rugby match, Salford. 13 December – electric street  lighting introduced in London. 18 December – Joseph Swan invented the incandescent light bulb. Also during the week of their wedding, Edison announced that he had perfected a machine for measuring the current used in the electric light.

Further afield, President Hayes of America reviewed episodes of the yellow fever epidemic, and recommended that Congress should give the whole subject its early and careful consideration. Thankfully, there were no epidemics in South Corneli at this time.

Corneli Cross, c1946. The villages of North and South Corneli were similar in the Victorian era.

In the 1880s South Corneli and surrounding villages contained: six gentry, four reverends, two schools, five blacksmiths, four boot makers, two builders, two butchers, one cement manufacturer, two chemists, three coal and iron proprietors, twenty-eight farmers, twenty-two grocers, sixteen inns, eight retailers of beer, two ironmongers, two lime merchants, three drapers, two maltsters, three tailors, two churches, five chapels, three community overseers and two railway stations. The community was rural with a large limestone quarry (which still exists), predominantly Methodist and politically Liberal.

Why did William and Ann marry? I strongly suspect it was for love. Born within a year of each other, they were brought up in a small village of three to four hundred people, a village where everyone knew their neighbours.

Yet the key to William and Ann’s relationship can be found with Ann’s sister, Mary Jones – William and Mary both worked as labourers on Thomas Powell’s farm in Newton-Nottage and it’s likely that William got to know Ann through Mary. Later, Mary spent her adult life in an asylum and her daughter, Elizabeth Burnell, lived with William and Ann.