“Murder most foul” in Bridgend Road

by admin on May 30, 2011

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Matricide – “Murder most foul” in Bridgend Road, Pontycymer

Submitted by David Jones

Matricide is an extremely rare occurrence and quite possibly the only ever case of it in Wales took place on Tuesday 10th September 1907 at 7 Bridgend Road, Pontycymmer. My Grandmother, Sarah “Sally” Garfield lived just three doors down at number 13 and despite being only four years old at the time often referred to this murder throughout her life although her memory of it was somewhat sketchy in later years. I therefore researched it.

Number 7 Bridgend Road (now demolished) was the Stills family home who were originally a Derbyshire mining family but had arrived here from Nottingham to work in the mines some sixteen years earlier in 1891. The family was comprised of mother Rachel (70), father George Snr (66) and brothers John (21) and George (30). The family were heavy drinkers and the police were regular callers to domestic disputes that often took place at their home.The mother Rachel Hannah Stills would go to the snug of the Royal Hotel just a few yards away and return home drunk daily. Her son George Stills (30), who was known as “Notty” was a regular at the Ffaldau Arms. Notty worked in the International Colliery, Blaengarw and also played cricket for Blaengarw Cricket Club. There were no licensing hours restrictions prior to 1914 and the Stills family took full advantage of this.

7 Bridgend Road - (demolished about 1966)

On the morning of Tuesday 10th September 1907, “Notty” Stills went to the Ffaldau Arms early and got very drunk which was quite normal behaviour for him. At this time, his mother Rachel was in the Royal Hotel doing very much the same.

At around 12:50pm both Notty and his mother went home. Inside their house an altercation then took place which projected the town of Pontycymmer on to the front pages of all Welsh newspapers.

Two sisters named Margaret (12) and Rebecca Leyshon (14) were returning back to Bridgend Road school after lunch and their attention was drawn through the front downstairs window to the lifeless body of an old lady who was laying on the floor of her front room. The young girls panicked and ran across the road. At this time the door of number 7 opened and “Notty” Stills appeared, covered in blood and shouted something in Welsh.

A few minutes later Stills reappeared but this time he was dragging the body of his mother behind him. He dumped the body on the pavement outside his house, lifted up her dress and covered her face and went back inside the house, slamming the door behind him.

Rachel Stills had severe facial and head injuries and had been beaten and kicked to death by her son. Her other son John had been in the house at the time of her death but had taken no part in the attack.

The police were called and “Notty” readily gave himself up saying, “I’m the one that you want”. He was taken to Pontycymmer Police Station where he was duly processed and interviewed and awaited to be conveyed to Cardiff Prison to be remanded.

A huge, hostile crowd had gathered at Pontycymmer Train Station in anticipation of getting at least a view of the killer and many would clearly have lynched him there and then. With this in mind Stills had been smuggled out of the rear of the Police Station and taken to a part of the railway line near the Alexandra Hotel where the train was stopped in between stations and he was then hidden in the guards van. The police plan worked perfectly.

The community leaders of the Garw Valley at this time were mainly the Clergy, Vicars, Ministers and Deacons etc of the numerous Churches and Chapels and they were outraged by the apparently lax licensing laws and lawlessness that prevailed. This caused much correspondence in the Glamorgan Gazette and one such letter from the committee of the Pontycymmer Constitutional Club responded along the lines of “Don’t blame us, we turned down George Stills for membership” !!!

Stills was visited in prison by his father and the Minister of Noddfa Chapel where his father forgave him.

His trial arrived with almost indecent haste, in just over three months later on 21st November 1907. He pleaded “not guilty” stating that he had only struck his mother once. The jury inevitably saw through this lie though by hearing about the severity of Rachel Stills’ numerous injuries.

Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree

On the second day of the trial a sensation ensued when the courtroom was visited by the most famous actor of the time, Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree (who was Oliver Reed’s Grandfather). He was performing at a play in the nearby New Theatre and decided to attend the visitor’s gallery of this perversely celebrated trial.

George “Notty” Stills was found guilty and after a last breakfast of bread, butter and tea was hung at Cardiff Prison at 9:00am on Friday 13th December 1907 by hangman Henry Pierrepoint.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Gerald Jarvis June 3, 2011 at 10:01 am

Bethan,
Great stuff! I particularly like the Con clubs swift denial of all responsability in the matter. Is there anymore blood and thunder to be unearthed in the Garw?
Gerald Jarvis

2 Gerald Jarvis June 3, 2011 at 10:05 am

David Jones,
I accidentally credited Bethan with your story by mistake. Sorry David.

3 barbara brooks (New Zealand) June 9, 2011 at 1:47 pm

Great reading the stories from the Garw.Keep up the good work and hope you are having plenty of support.

4 Paul and Alison Davies August 16, 2011 at 11:55 am

I have been wondering whether you would consider compiling a list of Garw people who have gone on to become world famous in their various fields ? Contributors could give brief details of the achievements, dates etc. Garw Valley’s very own Hall of Fame!

What do others think?

5 Paul and Alison Davies August 16, 2011 at 12:05 pm

Sorry! I posted this idea in the wrong section and have re-submitted it under “Contact Us”. I didn’t mean to suggest that George ‘Notty’ Stills was worthy of a place in the suggested Garw Hall of Fame!!

6 David Jones August 16, 2011 at 12:20 pm

The world famous fighter pilot Raymond Collishaw’s mother was from Station Row, Pontyrhyl. Her name was Sadie Jones and she emigrated to Canada back in around 1890. Ray’s acheivements were incredible and he is a Canadian national hero even though he had two Welsh parents. I am working on his story as my next article. He was my first cousin, twice removed. He visited the (then) family home at Pant Street, Pantygog on at least two occaisions back in the 1930′s.

7 admin August 17, 2011 at 12:35 am

great idea! i will put it to the members in our next meeting. thanks for the idea :)

8 c t davies October 5, 2012 at 12:50 pm

This is a remarkable story which I had never heard before. Firstly was the scene of the murder in Pontycymmer or in Pontyrhyl? My maternal great grandfather Jenkin 3rd Thomas 1837-1904 built a row of houses in what was then known as West Rhondda, Pontyrhyl. In his Will of 1904 he leaves the houses numbers 7-14 inc. Treharne Row, to family members, Jenkin then living at no. 11. The last member of my family to live in this house was my great aunt Mrs Mary Ann Mordecai. Am I correct in thinking that Bridgend Road now includes these houses? If so, are the numbers today the same as they would have been at the time of the murder? With my grandfather’s love of local and family history I do not know why such an event was never remarked upon. Thank you Mr Jones for bringing it to my attention. My apologies if I have mistaken one location for another.
Colin Thomas Davies.

9 David Jones October 22, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Colin,
This location was in Pontycymmer, about half way between the Bridgend Road School and Royal Hotel on the opposite side. So as you walked down Bridgend Road towards Pontyrhyl it would have been the 7th house on the left hand side. This block was demolished in about 1966.
Regards,
David

10 David JK Jones July 27, 2013 at 11:51 am

I said that “Quite possibly, the only case of matricide ever in Wales”. – However, I have subsequently found out that Pritchard Lewis aka “Dic Tamar” murdered his mother in Merthyr in 1854, for which he pleaded guilty and was hung in the town.

11 Stephen Tomlinson May 12, 2014 at 5:32 pm

I believe that Rachel Stills was my great, great grandmother. As a child growing up I was fascinated by the brass snuff box that stood on my grandparents mantelpiece. The snuff box contains the words Geo. Stills Pontycymmer. My grandfather always said that the snuff box belonged to a great uncle that was hung for murder.

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