While searching for ancestors who witnessed the Great Fire of London – an ongoing search – I discovered that my 10 x great grandfather Benjamin Troutbeck served on the 100 gun warship HMS Sovereign of the Seas, later renamed The Royal Sovereign.
While serving as a mariner on The Royal Sovereign, Benjamin participated in two major battles, the Battle of Beachy Head (1690) after which he made his will, and the Battle of La Hougue (1692). The ship went down in 1697, the year Benjamin died. Coincidence? More research required.
A romantic headline. Meanwhile, some of the sub-headlines are relevant today, and grim.
‘Wealthiest Woman in England Marries Penniless Poet – the Romance of Modern Times.’ The engagement of heiress Annie Winifred Ellerman to American poet and athlete Robert L. McAlmon is announced, Nottingham Journal, 14 March 1921.
My latest translations, the Spanish and Portuguese versions of The Devil and Ms Devlin, Sam Smith Mystery Series book fifteen.
Nancy Wheeler, my 3 x great grandmother, was born in 1857 in Lambeth, London the twelfth and youngest child of Henry Wheeler, and the fourth child of his second wife, Mary Ann Thorpe.
As a teenager, Nancy worked as a servant for James W Micklefield, a lighterman, and his young family. Lightermen transferred goods to and from ships on the River Thames.
In May 1873, aged sixteen, Nancy left James W Micklefield’s employment because she was six months pregnant. On 1 June 1873, she married the baby’s father, twenty-five year old James Noulton, in St Mary’s, Lambeth.
Along with the social stigma of giving birth to an illegitimate child, Annie would have faced practical considerations for herself and her baby, therefore whatever her romantic feelings towards James Noulton marriage to him would have appeared the best option. Although the parish would have granted Annie some relief, without James’ support circumstances might have forced her to place the baby in a foundling hospital.
Illegitimacy in England was never common. During the post-medieval period the figure was under two per cent. That number increased to three per cent between 1590 and 1610 and rose again to three per cent in the 1700s. However, by the 1840s seven per cent of babies were born out of wedlock, a figure that decreased to four per cent in the 1890s. When Annie was pregnant with her first child she was not alone, for around a third of women were pregnant at the time they took their marriage vows.
Earlier, in 1866, eighteen year old James fell foul of the authorities and spent three months in Wandsworth Prison. His crime: he stole fifteen feet of lead. James’ prison record reveals that he was 4’ 10” tall with a lean left leg. Blue eyed and fair haired, he worked in the local pottery. James entered Wandsworth Prison weighing 6st 12lbs and left weighing 6st 8lbs. After his release, James does not appear in the criminal records, so presumably he’d learned his lesson.
On 31 August 1873, Nancy gave birth to James Henry Noulton, the first of six children she had with James. The family lived at 13 Salamanca Street, Lambeth, while James worked as a cement porter. Charles Booth’s poverty map of Victorian London reveals that Salamanca Street was a poor area with families existing on 18s. to 21s. a week.
After her marriage, Nancy changed not only her surname, but also her first name. She created a new identity for herself as Annie Noulton, and gave that name to her fourth child, my 2 x great grandmother, Annie Noulton.
Aged forty, James died on 20 December 1888 and on 22 May 1893 at St John the Evangelist, Walworth, Annie married widower, Frederick Thomas Canty, a stoker. The couple produced one daughter, Elizabeth.
On 8 May 1897, Frederick entered the county asylum. He died in the asylum on 20 June 1897.
After a hard life in a rough neighbourhood, Annie died on 27 July 1904 aged forty seven. In her forties, she lived at 39 Neville Street, Lambeth. On 6 August 1924, Eveline Downing died from an illegal operation in Neville Street. The Coroner said that it was “a very unsatisfactory case that would have to be left undecided because there was a conspiracy of silence to defeat the ends of justice.”
Eveline Downing’s death remains a mystery, but what of Annie Noulton; why did she change her name from Nancy Wheeler? Her parents and upbringing offer an explanation and I will explore that in a future post.
My historical novels are great fun to write, but it’s always lovely to return to Sam, a bit like returning home after a holiday. Here’s Stormy Weather, book eighteen in my Sam Smith Mystery Series, available for pre-order from today.
Pregnant in a pandemic. My life is never dull. While Alan and I set about the pleasant task of selecting a name for our baby, Faye interviewed candidates for the role of maternity leave assistant.
Our plans were going well until a friend was murdered. The evidence pointed to a hitman, a professional killing. A further murder underlined the fact that the stakes were high, that someone had a secret to hide.
Who was behind the murders? And what was the secret they were desperate to hide?
Stormy Weather, an investigation that threatened my life, and my baby’s, a case that revealed that greedy men are prepared to kill anyone and anything, including our planet.
Amazing to record that over a quarter of a million of my books have now been downloaded. I honestly thought that if that figure reached a hundred it would be remarkable. Many thanks to everyone who has made this possible.
Swansea Market, 1880.
🎼🎼🎼 Oh the Deadwood Stage
is a-rollin’ on over the plains 🎼🎼🎼
Deadwood, South Dakota, USA, 1876
On 19 December 1778, Marie Antoinette gave birth to her daughter, Marie Thérèse, in front of 200 people. Her maid said, ‘The persons who poured into the chamber were so numerous that the rush nearly killed the Queen.’ These persons included two chimney sweeps who climbed on the furniture to get a better view.
Locals use German military equipment as they man the barricades during the liberation of Paris, August 1944.
The 1930s, fashion Canadian style. Cone-shaped face masks to protect your face in a snowstorm.
Now aged 99 and resident in New Zealand, Phyllis Latour is the only surviving female SOE agent from the Second World War. She served in France under the code name ‘Genevieve’. You can read my appreciation of this remarkable woman here
My 2 x great grandfather, William Howe, was born on 3 March 1855 in South Corneli. His parents were William Howe of St Brides and Mary Hopkin of Corneli. He was baptised on 6 April 1855, Good Friday.
In 1861 William was living with his parents and siblings, Hopkin and Mary Ann. Lodgers, David and Ann John, also lived in the house. The census shows that William was attending school and his main language was Welsh.
Newspaper reports of the time show that William’s father, also William, owned a bank account, which suggests that the family were careful with their money and had a few spare pennies to stash away for a rainy day.
By 1871 William had left school and found work as a servant, farm labouring for Thomas Powell in Newton Nottage. He was one of three farm labourers and two domestic servants working for the Powell’s. One of the domestic servants was Mary Jones. Mary introduced William to her sister Ann, and the couple started courting.
On 13 November 1876 William won five shillings for plowing half an acre of land with a pair of horses within four hours. Five shillings was the equivalent of a day’s wages for a skilled tradesman.
On 5 December 1878 William married Ann. Ann was born in Corneli on 22 April 1854, the youngest child of David Jones of Merthyr Mawr and Ann David of Margam. William was still working as a farm labourer at the time of his marriage. Interesting that when William recorded the family birthdays in the Howe family Bible he did not know the exact date of Ann’s birthday. A typical man?!
William and Ann were married at Hermon Methodist Chapel in Bridgend, a grand chapel for a grand occasion. They signed their names, thus proving that they were literate, and the marriage was witnessed by William’s brother, Hopkin, and Ann’s friend, Mary Phillips.
By 1881 William had returned to Corneli. Along with his wife Ann, he lived with his father-in-law, David Jones, and their baby daughter, Mary Ann, born in 1879. A niece, Elizabeth Burnell, Mary Jones’ daughter, was also living in the house. Elizabeth Burnell was living with the Howe family because Mary Jones was suffering from a chronic mental illness that stayed with her for the rest of her life. The family were now in North Corneli and William was working as a railway packer.
Around this time William would walk three miles to Newton – and three miles back – three times a week to receive lessons in English and other subjects. Each lesson cost one penny.
William became Headman in South Corneli and through his learning he helped the villagers with their reading and writing. Another duty of the village Headman was to lead the band of mourners as they carried a coffin from home to burial ground, many miles sometimes, over fields and mountains. He was living at a time of changing attitudes, and he seized the opportunity to improve himself and give help and support to the less educated in his village, a Howe trait that can be traced back many generations.
By 1891 four more children had appeared in the Howe household: Christiana in 1881, Evan in 1885, Elizabeth in 1887 and William David in 1890. Sadly, William David died on 20 May 1891. The family were now living in South Corneli, two doors down from Ty Draw. The house had three rooms and William was working as a stone quarryman in the limestone quarry. His parents, William and Mary, lived next door.
In February 1895 William had a life threatening accident in the quarry, which was recorded in the South Wales newspapers.
In 1901 William was still working in the quarry and his family were living on Porthcawl Road, South Corneli. Now, they had a four-roomed house. They also had four more children: William, born in 1892, Margaret, born in 1894, Priscilla, born in 1897 and Edith, born in 1899. Along with Elizabeth and Mary Ann, all were living at the house. William was now bilingual; he could speak Welsh and English. And although his mother, Mary, had died in 1897, his father, William, still lived next door.
Along with a host of other people William Howe was fined five shillings on 16th February 1906 for not sending his children to school. He was a platelayer on the railways at this time and the fine is interesting because it seems to go against his character of a well-respected member of the community and chapel. Also, William was a firm believer in education so he must have had a good reason for not sending his children to school. Unless any further evidence comes to light, we can only guess at his reasons.
By 1911 William and Ann had been married for 32 years. All the family, except Christiana, were living in a five-roomed house in South Corneli. William was an excellent gardener and grew fruit and vegetables to support his family and augment his wages.
Tragedy struck the family when on 6 November 1913, Priscilla, William and Ann’s daughter, died during an operation. She was sixteen years old. Evidently, Priscilla had a sweet voice because she sang at the Corneli Literary Society concert in December 1909.
William’s wife, Ann Jones, died on 29 February 1916 of Bright’s disease. She was sixty-one. Ann was buried at St Mary Magdalene, Mawdlam, plot A118. The census described Ann as a ‘housewife’, but one suspects that there was much more to her than that. She gave birth to nine children and no doubt supported her husband in the running of their home and allotment. In all probability, she shared William’s Methodist beliefs, although the fact that she was buried at Mawdlam and not at Capel-y-Pil adds an element of mystery.
By the 1920s William had become one of the elders at Capel-y-Pil Methodist Chapel. Therefore he was in the company of some of the leading land owners in the area. His house in South Corneli was called Lilac Cottage and William was now a foreman at the quarry. In his youth, his ambition had been to become a Methodist Minister. However, family finances dictated that only his older brother, Hopkin, could train for the ministry.
On 14 May 1933 William died at ‘Woodview’, North Corneli. His son, Evan, was at his side. The Howe family continued to live at Lilac Cottage in South Corneli while William was buried with his wife, Ann, at St Mary Magdalene, Mawdlam.
Lilac Cottage, home to my 3 x great grandparents, William and Mary, and my 2 x great grandparents, William and Ann.
In the twentieth century, William David Howe, his wife Gwendolyne and their children lived in Lilac Cottage, followed by my great grand aunt, Mary Ann and great grand uncle, Evan. Mary Ann lost a leg as a child and Evan was blind in later life. Both were great ‘characters’.
It’s very satisfying when readers enjoy your books and this comment about Eve’s War: Operation Locksmith is particularly pleasing. “The writing has such historical authenticity it made me feel as though Eve had written her own story. Highly recommended.” 🙂
The brave Americans who fought fascism in the Spanish Civil War. “Somebody had to do something.”
A Mercedes 35 hp motor car, 1901. Designed by Wilhelm Maybach and manufactured by Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft of Cannstatt, Germany, these cars achieved great success in the early years of motor racing.
The Eiffel Tower under construction, 1887-1889.
An example of the sabotage work undertaken by my SOE agents Eve, Guy and Mimi in my series Eve’s War Heroines of the SOE.
One of the great deception plans of the Second World War. British soldiers moving inflatable tanks on the south coast, 1944. The idea was to confuse the Nazis about the size of British forces and the D-Day landing zones. Amazingly, the plan worked.
My 2 x great grandfather, William Howe, married Ann Jones in 1878 and they had nine children. However, before exploring their lives there is a mystery to solve: why was their nine year old niece, Elizabeth Burnell, living with them in the 1880s?
Elizabeth Burnell was the daughter of Ann’s sister, Mary Jones and Thomas Burnell. Elizabeth had three sisters, Mary Ann, Louisa and Esther, so to unlock the mystery we must explore the records associated with the Burnell’s.
The son of John Burnell and Elizabeth Poole, Thomas Burnell was born on 13 September 1846 in Minehead, Somerset. John was a farm labourer and Thomas began his working career aged fourteen as a plough boy.
In his early twenties, Thomas made his way to Wales, to the New House Inn in North Corneli to be exact, where he lodged while working as a haulier, a miner responsible for transporting coal within a coal mine. We are in the 1870s and Thomas is one of thousands of men who have arrived in the South Wales Valleys to mine the ‘black gold’, the rich seams of coal.
During the summer of 1871, Thomas found himself in Newton-Nottage. It’s highly likely that he was working on the land as an agricultural labourer at this time and that he met Mary Jones there because she was working as a servant at Grove Farm, Newton-Nottage.
Thomas and Mary married on 12 September 1871 at the parish church of Newton-Nottage. Thomas was a labourer, which confirms that he returned to the land. They signed their names with a mark, as did their witnesses, Evan Lewis and Jane Hughes. Evan was Mary’s half-brother and Jane was, presumably, a friend.
Thomas and Mary’s four daughters were born in 1872, 1873, 1877 and 1879. The gap in 1875 is suspicious. Did Mary miscarry that year, or was she and Thomas living apart for some reason? Thomas had returned to the coal mines as a coker and was living in various locations as he sough employment. In normal circumstances, his wife Mary would have moved with him.
While Elizabeth lived with my 2 x great grandparents, William and Ann, Mary’s other children, Mary Ann, Louisa and Esther, moved around the South Wales coalfield with their father, Thomas. Meanwhile, where was Mary?
Mary was born c1849 to David Jones and Ann David. She had an older half-brother, Evan Lewis, and a younger sister, my 2 x great grandmother, Ann Jones. Therefore, a small family for the Victorian era.
Mary’s father, David, a labourer, was 51 when she was born, while her mother, Ann, was 37. There is a disjointed feel to this branch of my family, with many gaps in the historical record, inaccuracies with ages and unconventional relationships. I sense that these people were struggling for companionship and materially to survive.
Mary Jones gave birth to Esther Burnell on 5 June 1879 at the Level Crossing, Ty Newydd, Llangeinor. Esther’s birth wasn’t registered until 14 July 1879, which suggests Mary was not well after the birth. I’ve managed to track down her full medical record and it reveals that she was indeed ill, so ill in fact that she had no option other than to enter the local asylum.
Mary Burnell was admitted to Angelton asylum on 19 May 1880, aged 29. A collier’s wife, her location was listed as Bridgend and Cowbridge, which suggests that her family was constantly on the move in search of employment.
Mary’s medical record states that her first ‘attack’ was of seven days duration the cause ‘probably puerperal’ and therefore related to the birth of her fourth daughter, Esther. The doctors did not regard Mary as epileptic or dangerous, but they did list her as suicidal because she tried to throttle herself. Also, her husband Thomas had to lock up all knives, ropes and ‘other articles with which she could have destroyed herself.’
At this stage, Mary had been ‘dull’ for four months, ten months after Esther’s birth.
Mary’s medical record states that, ‘She says she has committed a sin against the almighty for which she will not be forgiven. And that she is eternally lost and that I have sold her to the Devil.’
Mary was admitted on 19 May 1880, but she was in the asylum on 20 and 27 April when she ‘slept a little, took food, but was very dull and miserable.’
In May, Mary passed the time with her sewing. However, she experienced a major psychotic episode on 9 May when she cried loudly and threw herself on the ground. She imagined that she was a snake and had married the Devil instead of her husband.
This pattern of sewing and disturbing delusions continued throughout the summer.
In September 1880, Mary stated that she had ‘done something seriously wrong.’ Her behaviour was good, but sometimes she could be ‘silly’.
There was no change in Mary’s condition for over a year. On 11 February 1882 she broke some windows and cut her hand. Was this a suicide attempt? The doctors didn’t think so and made no mention of attempted suicide in their notes.
The note dated 12 December 1883 is potentially revealing. ‘This woman is rather reserved, getting into solitary corners apart from her neighbours. Her memory is deficient and her morals have apparently been loose.’ Could this imply that Thomas was not Esther’s father and that the birth triggered guilt about an affair followed by a psychotic reaction?
By June 1884, Mary had become, ‘A rather troublesome woman, often interfering with others and at times destructive. Very demented.’ This pattern of behaviour continued until December 1885 when Mary settled down.
However, by June 1886 Mary was ‘foolish’ again. She suffered from housemaid’s knee throughout the summer. The nurses bandaged her knee, but she kept on removing the bandage. Nevertheless, her knee healed.
On Christmas Eve 1886, Mary stated that she had been in the asylum for eight years. In reality she had been there for six years. She also stated that she had been in Heaven and that it was a room with glass walls, which housed Jesus. She was industrious and always kissed the floor after washing it.
As the years rolled on, the pattern continued. The staff at the asylum regarded Mary as a good worker who saw herself as sinful. She heard voices at night from the spirits in the loft and regarded the other patients as her sheep.
While Mary suffered in the asylum, her husband Thomas Burnell continued to work in the coal mines. He needed help to look after his children and enlisted Mary Williams as a ‘housekeeper’. However, the couple soon became lovers and in the space of eight years produced five children. Obviously, Thomas had decided that his wife Mary would never leave the asylum and that he had to get on with his life. The hard graft of coal mining took its toll on his health, however, and by 1896, at the age of fifty, he was dead.
On 24 September 1889 while working in the kitchen, Mary threatened to ‘cut her little head off’ twice during the day. As a result, the staff confined her to the ward under constant supervision.
On 7 February 1891, the doctors transferred Mary to Parc Gwyllt, a new hospital that housed patients deemed incurable. After eleven years of psychiatric care the doctors decided that Mary’s condition would not improve.
By 1896, Mary’s profanity and sexual delusions were becoming more pronounced, which resulted in regular obscene outbursts. This pattern continued for the next seven years.
During January 1903, Mary was ill with influenza and an attack of facial erysipelas. She made a good recovery and returned to stable physical health.
In August 1908, Mary imagined that she was married to Samuel Butler, 4 December 1835 – 18 June 1902, author of the semi-autobiographical novel, The Way of All Flesh, a book that attacked Victorian hypocrisy. At this point, Mary called herself Mary Burnell-Butler. Butler never married. Indeed, he had a predilection for intense male friendships, which are reflected in several of his works. One wonders why Mary felt attracted to him.
The final entry in Mary’s medical record, dated 20 January 1909, stated that she was ‘mentally feeble’ and suffered from auditory hallucinations.
Aged 67, Mary died on 19 January 1919 at Parc Gwyllt of heart disease, ‘duration unknown’. Her death certificate also acknowledged that she suffered from dementia.
Mary’s daughter, Elizabeth, left my 2 x great grandparents home to nurture her own family. In 1891 she married William Cocking and the couple had six children.
And what of Esther? After a tough upbringing she established herself in the world. At the turn of the century, she moved to Cardiff where she was employed as a servant, looking after a middle-aged man, Aaron Rosser. The 1901 census described Aaron as an ‘imbecile’. Undoubtedly, Esther knew about her mother and decided that the goal in her working life was to help others less fortunate than herself.
Mary’s sins, were they imagined or real? To Mary, they were real, yet her medical notes make no mention of any facts to suggest that she had sinned. In the Victorian asylum, therapies were basic with little hope of offering a cure. Mary worked and the asylum provided food and a bed, but for 39 years she suffered with her delusions, her mistaken beliefs born out of physical illness, the attitudes of a deeply religious community and a susceptibility to mental health problems doubtless inherited from her ancestors.
Exciting news. Sam’s Song is #1 in Australia. Sam is also top five in America, Brazil, Britain, Canada, France, India and Spain while Operation Zigzag is top five in Spain and France, and Betrayal is #1 in America 🙂
My 3 x and 2 x great grandfathers, both William, worked at this quarry so would have been aware of this shocking incident. Maybe they witnessed it.
The apartment of Gustave Eiffel in the tower he designed, 1909.
A Christmas card sent to Sergeant Major Fear in 1918. From The People’s Collection Wales.
Frost on the sand dunes this week.
Mary Francis, a friend and neighbour of my 3 x great grandmother, Mary Hopkin.
At 12.15 a.m., on Thursday 17 September 1890, Mary Francis, also known as Bopa, died; she was 110 years old.
Mary Francis hailed from Llansamlet, near Swansea. According to her obituary in the Glamorgan Gazette she was born on the 15th August 1780, the youngest of seven daughters.
Around 1810, Mary arrived in Corneli where she worked as a servant to Owen Howells at Pen-y-Mynydd Farm. Her first husband was a collier named Griffiths. In search of work, the couple returned to Llansamlet, only for Mr Griffiths to expire when he fell into a canal. A widow, Mary went into service at Aberavon.
Mary’s fortunes changed when she returned to Corneli to work on Ty Tanglwst Farm. There, she met one of the farm-hands, David Francis. The couple married on 21 May 1814 and they settled at Ty Capel, adjacent to the chapel, where Mary lived for the rest of her life.
Mary Francis had six children, four of whom were still alive at the time of her death. Her mother, reputedly, lived until she was 111 years old and she is buried at Llansamlet. Mary’s husband, David, died on the 2 November 1839, aged fifty-nine, and so Mary lived as a widow for a further fifty-one years.
The Gazette remembered Mary as an industrious, respectable woman whose faculties remained clear until her closing years. Apparently, she could distinguish people at a considerable distance and her hearing and mind were well preserved.
Physically, she was short and of small proportions and, like many of her generation, she could neither read nor write. Throughout her working life Mary was employed on various farms in the neighbourhood and was also in demand as a midwife and feather cleaner.
When she was seventy years old Mary broke her leg in an accident and from that point on she was compelled to seek parish relief. Of a religious disposition, Mary regularly attended Capel-y-Pil; she had a fine voice and she loved the hymns. When she could no longer attend the chapel the Rev. E. Williams, himself eighty, would visit her at home.
In her younger days Mary would frequently walk with my 3 x great grandmother, Mary Hopkin, fifteen miles to Neath market to sell their homemade dresses.
Unfortunately, in the last two years of her life Mary was confined to her bed, except for a few hours when she would sit by the fireside. During those final years people would call on her and leave donations.
When Mary Francis died her body was covered with a white sheet strewn with sweet scented thyme and rosemary. She was buried at Mawdlam Church and an estimated 1,000 people attended her funeral.
Life for my 3 x great grandparents, William Howe and Mary Hopkin was hard, typical of working class Victorians. They lost four of their five children, in infancy, young adulthood and middle age. They also lost three of their grandchildren.
William’s working life reflected the changing landscape. Instead of a lifetime spent labouring on the land, he left farming in his twenties to become a collier in the recently established coal mines. He returned to the land only to work in the local limestone quarry during the second half of his life. Meanwhile, Mary was a dressmaker walking fifteen miles to the market to sell her dresses. Social life for the family revolved around the Methodist chapel.
Mary had strong material instincts. She brought up her niece, Ann Price, and looked after an orphan, Ann Beynon. Later, she brought up her grandson, Edward Reynolds. Her house was a home for waifs and strays.
On 12 July 1897, aged 79, Mary died of ‘senile decay’. Her son, William, was at her side. The inscription on her gravestone, written in Welsh, reads, ‘To walk in honour to the land of peace. May the good lord return her soul to me.’
Those words on Mary’s gravestone were obviously written by William. He died of bladder and prostrate disease, and exhaustion, on 31 December 1903. Edward Reynolds’ wife, Rachel Thomas, was at his side thus maintaining a link with the Reynolds family that existed for sixty years.
Delighted that my Eve’s War Heroines of SOE series will now be translated into Portuguese, as well as Spanish and German.
27 October 1865. My 3 x great uncle, Thomas Reynolds, made the newspapers in a bastardy case, which wasn’t proved. Maybe it was coincidence, but after this incident he married two other Mary’s, in 1867 and 1875.
The perfect job for the dentophobic.
Byline Times intends to publish Byline Wales. Very excited to be in discussions with their editor about playing a role.
29 May 1858. Some things are timeless. The issue of vaccination.
Smallpox was a common killer in nineteenth century Britain. It spread rapidly and killed around 30% of those who contracted it and left many survivors blinded or scarred. In the 1850s, the government passed a series of laws that made vaccination against smallpox compulsory.
Mary Hopkin, born in 1818, my 3 x great grandmother, gave birth to five children: Thomas Reynolds born 1842, Margaret Howe born 1851, Hopkin Howe born 1853, William Howe born 1855, and Mary Ann Howe born 1858. However, only one of her offspring, my direct ancestor William, survived her.
Margaret Howe was born on 23 January 1851 in South Corneli, Glamorgan. Sadly, she died of ‘brain fever’ on 30 December 1853 in St Brides, Glamorgan. Through her husband, William, Mary had a number of relatives in St Brides, but it’s not clear why Margaret was there and why Mary wasn’t with her. Did Mary have the fever too and was too ill to look after her child? Whatever the reason for Mary’s absence, Margaret’s death was a deviating blow for the family.
Mary Ann was born on 20 June 1858 in South Corneli, Glamorgan. Like her mother, Mary, Mary Ann was a dressmaker. Amazingly, a letter written by Mary Ann in 1877 survives.
As well as sentimental value, the letter is interesting in that it is written in English by a native Welsh speaker, it mentions using the recently installed railway network and, more poignantly, Mary Ann states that she is well ‘at present’. Mary Ann endured poor health throughout her short life and died on 21 January 1886, aged twenty-seven.
South Corneli, October 3, 1877
I have taken the pleasure of writing these few lines to you in hopes to find you well as I am at present. Dear Cousin I could understand in Mary David’s letter the note you sent me that you was greatly offended to me and I don’t know the cause of you being so offended to me unless it is the cause of not sending your hat. The reason I did not send it because you told me you was coming to the tea party. You said that nothing would not keep you from not coming and I have not had no chance of sending it after unless I send it by train. Please write and let me know for what you are offended to me for. I am very uneasy ever since I did receive the note and I do think you don’t care much about me ever since you went away. I do only wish for you to write to me to tell me the reason by return.
So no more at present. From your cousin,
Mary Ann Howe
Mary Ann Howe died of ‘cardiac syncope’ or heart failure. Her brother, Hopkin, a Methodist Minister, was at her side. She died at Alexandria Road in Pontycymer, fourteen miles north of Corneli. What was she doing there?
In 1882, the people of Pontycymer built the Bethel Methodist Chapel (pictured) with modifications added in 1885. The design incorporated a Romanesque style with two storeys, a gable-entry plan and round-headed windows. It seems highly likely that Hopkin was visiting the chapel, accompanied by his sister, Mary Ann. Mary Ann fell ill and was taken around the corner to a house in Alexandria Road where she died.
Because of her letter, I feel close to Mary Ann as an ancestor and remain grateful for her words and the insight into her life.
My 3 x great grandmother, Mary Hopkin, gave birth to Thomas Reynolds on 15 January 1842 in South Corneli, Glamorgan. Thomas’ father, also Thomas, died three years later.
In 1851, Thomas was living with his mother and stepfather, William Howe, and attending the local school. At nineteen he was a carter on a local farm, Morfa Mawr, and in 1867 he married Mary Rees who gave birth to a son, Edward, eighteen months later.
Mary died soon after the birth and while Thomas worked on a farm closer to his mother’s home, Edward lived with his grandmother.
Thomas married Mary Morgan on 15 May 1875 in their local church at Mawdlam. Three children arrived in four years: William 1876, Jenkin 1877 and Catherine 1880. Thomas was a railway packer at this time, living on Heol Las in North Corneli.
Mary died on 13 October 1886 and Thomas died five years later, on 11 March 1891. He was 49.
Thomas left a will bequeathing £79 7s 0d to his son Edward, the equivalent of two horses, eight cows or 242 days pay for a skilled tradesman.
For my 3 x great grandmother, Mary Hopkin, now aged 72, this was a bitter blow, the loss of her third child. Sadly, more tragedy was to follow.
In regard to family life, Mary Hopkin’s second son, Hopkin Howe, followed a similar path to his half-brother, Thomas Reynolds.
Born on 16 June 1853 in South Corneli, Hopkin lived with his parents, siblings and cousin, Anne Price. Anne married David John, who joined them in the family home in South Corneli. This was a significant event for Hopkin because David John was a blacksmith and he taught him the skills of his trade.
In 1871, Hopkin was living with a Welsh family in Stockton, Durham while he plied his trade as a blacksmith. Stockton was the home of the railway and Hopkin’s skills were in great demand.
When Hopkin returned to Wales he changed career. He became a Methodist Minister. The chapel had always been central to the Howe family and it was Hopkin’s great ambition to become a minister. Having saved enough money to finance his training, Hopkin toured South Wales as a preacher of the gospel.
Hopkin married Elizabeth Jones in 1884. This event brought great pleasure and tragedy. Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth May Gwendoline Howe, on 27 November 1885, but died in childbirth. Deprived of her mother, baby Elizabeth died in infancy. One can only imagine how these events tested Hopkin’s faith.
Hopkin married again, Sarah Ann Jones, in December 1890 and he continued to tour South Wales preaching the gospel. However, he died four years later, of a lumber abscess, an infection in his spinal cord, on 19 February 1894. He left a will bequeathing £119 to Sarah Ann, the equivalent of a year’s wages.
My 3 x great grandmother, Mary Hopkin, was 75 at this time. She still had her husband, William, at her side and her only surviving son, also William, lived with his family next door to her.
Marie-Madeleine Fourcade led the French Resistance during the Second World War. This exchange of messages with British Intelligence (MI6) explains how she assumed command.
N1 = Georges Loustaunau-Lacau, founder of Alliance, the French Resistance network.
POZ 55 = Marie-Madeleine Fourcade.
“N1 arrested this morning STOP Network intact STOP Everything continuing STOP Best postpone parachuting next moon STOP Confidence unshakable STOP Regards STOP POZ 55”
From MI6: “Who’s taking over?”
“I am STOP POZ 55”
The Second World War. Inside an Anderson shelter on Christmas Eve.
In this month’s bumper issue of our Amazon #1 ranked magazine…
A Celtic Christmas, stories, articles and gift ideas based on a Celtic theme. Plus seasonal features to entertain you during the festive season and all your regular favorites.