The Beginning of a Mining Community

Submitted by Colin Davies

As far as the history of mining communities in the Garw is concerned, Blaengarw was the youngest. There are three geographical features which help define the boundaries of interest. To the west is Mynydd Moelgilau; to the north is Mynydd Blaengarw, and Mynydd Llangeinor is the eastern boundary. It is only to the south that an arbitrary decision was required. Today the point where Victoria Street, Pontycymmer, runs end on into King Edward Street, Blaengarw, is easy to find. In the past, however, the nearest natural feature was the brook at the down-valley end of Tymeinor Farm.

The 10 yearly Population Census taken in 1881 does not show any recent housing and the total number of residents was only 36. The following illustrates the slow residential growth considering that expansion of the upper valley appears to have begun as early as 1875.

The area includes Pwllcarn; Blaengarw Farm; Nanthir Farm; Tymeinor Farm, and in 1881 the huts on the Nanthir
1841 – 24
1851 – 22
1861 – 21
1871 – 23
1881 – 36

The major collieries were the Pwll Carn Colliery started in 1873; the Glengarw (Ballarat) in 1876, and the Garw (Ocean) in the early 1880s.

The oldest dated building noted on a personal visit was the small chapel in Katie Street on which was carved:- “The first place of worship built on Blaen Garw 1885”

Other datable Public Buildings noted were St James (Church of England) 1890; Tabernacl (Trefnyddiaeth/Methodist) 1891; Bethania (Bedyddwyr/Baptist) 1890; Blaengarw Workmens’ Hall 1894 and the earliest purpose built school in 1886. Once source mentions however that church services were being held in the Nanthir Hotel as early as 1883.

By the time of the later Population Census the figures were:

1891 – 2462
1901 –  3799
1911  – 4301

These are open to scrutiny as it unclear as to where some of the smaller terraces lay. Some may have been amalgamated under a new name. Henry Street, or Kendry Street as one lady suggested; has never been found other than in the 1891 census, and its location is still a mystery.
By studying the street names from the census 1891 — 1911 it is possible to picture, albeit in time-lapse format; the growth of building. For example Pretoria Street has only four houses which did not appear until 1911, but how much earlier had they been built? One long time resident mentioned that their home opposite the old school in King Edward Street was built in 1900.
Parish records can help by giving an address for the individual and thus date its existence. Chapel records are steadfastly unavailable, and public cemetery documents may not be available for search by the general public. There are no church or chapel burial grounds in the upper valley; and the only Public Cemetery is below Gelli’ron farm, Pontycymmer. With the need to purchase costly Birth, Marriage and Death certificates to extract datable information, again inhibits in-depth study.

An approach to the local authority was made as to the availability of any early plans of development, and their advice was to consult Ordnance Survey maps. The frequency at which these maps are up-dated helps little with research.

There are many social and personal reasons why people migrate, too many to go into here. Recently married men would need stable employment to support their family, something the annual hiring-fair could not always provide. Promotion based upon experience, up-to-date equipment in new sites, better wages elsewhere, or a decline in local employment, all encouraged making a move.
Rural employers did not necessarily provide housing, and if they did it was probably “tied” to the job. Coal owners and other major employers sometimes built terraces or little estates for their employees. In records, such as the census, the phrase “private houses” appear, these were usually erected by entrepreneurial builders for purchase or for rent.

So where then did the community originate? Statisticians and demographers tend to look at NUMBERS and sub divide accordingly. Many come to general conclusions; however they do not have the need, or the intimate knowledge of the family and local historians, for pulling statistics apart.

Initially an experienced workforce would be required to sink the shafts and begin winning the coal. Some of this manpower would have come from within the Garw itself, however more would have come from further afield. As the collieries expanded their workings, support came from inexperienced local labourers that were bolstered by further incomers. The opening years of the collieries, as mentioned above; and the low population figures during the same period, indicates the workforce was living elsewhere.
A look through the 1891 census shows that people were said to have been born far and wide. One man was born in America, whilst another in India. It must be made clear here that the place of birth does not necessarily indicate that the individual was living there ten years previously. One often finds husbands, wives, and their children said to have been born many miles apart, not only from each other, but also from where they were living at an earlier time.

To attempt to trace the previous whereabouts of any individual can be time consuming and does not always produce a result. Those children aged less than ten years old can lead to finding when, and where from, the family had recently moved. The use of Birth, Marriage, and Death certificates can be an accurate source for dating the movement of individuals. An expensive venture when undertaking population studies. As in the old wild-west films, once someone had found gold or silver, the message went back home to encourage family and friends to join them. The same could be said of the Garw mining boom. Browsing through the records show little enclaves of migrants from the same locality living in the same street or even sharing the same address.

The 1891 census gives a brief insight into the level of migration from one corner of Wales.
Cardiganshire born 170.
Carmarthenshire born 179.
Pembrokeshire born 253.

The total represented 22.5% percent of Blaengarw’s population. Again it must be mentioned that not all of the above were necessarily living in their birth-place at the time of the 1881 census.

It is important to bear in mind that not all migrants were trades or craftsmen specific to the mining industry. Overlooking the manufacturing and retail classes would be a grave injustice. Although some occupations were useful both above and below ground, the support services, e.g. the grocery and hardware businesses, were essential to the success of the community. Another valuable workforce was that employed by the numerous railway companies, who would also have initially drafted in experienced personnel.
Many retailers, watching more of their customers disappear over the horizon, would soon realise that to follow on behind was the best thing to do, and sooner rather than later The construction trades, which included migrant masons; must have initially preceded most of the other above-ground support services. The number of local families, whose sons became builders, as well as becoming colliers, certainly changed the face of life for many old-time residents.

Under this increased new customer base local retailers could either expand, or submit to incomers taking potential new trade. It was not unknown for migrant shopkeepers to bring their experienced, unmarried, staff with them. The advantages in doing so was that the premises and stock could be set-up quickly, thus attracting custom with the minimum of delay.

Example 1. Possible Non-Colliery Mining Experience.
1891 census at 28 Blaengarw Road
Evan Morgan coal miner born Cwmystwyth, Cards. Ann Morgan wife born Ponterwyd Cards. No children named. Four boarders born Ysturntuen, Cwmystwyth, and Ponterwyd, Cards.
These places were part of the lead mining area in the Rheidol and Ystwyth Valleys, and experience may have been gained there before migration.

Example 2. Possible Colliery Experience in another District.
1891 census at 19 Nanthir Road
James Davies coal miner. Mary Davies youngest child listed aged 6 .Six lodgers coal miner, labourers, and tailor
born Begelly, Pembs. born same born St Issells, Carew, and Gumphreston etc.
The lodgers’ birth-places are within a couple of miles of Begelly and suggests that some may have been employed in the local coal mines prior to migrating. The harbour at Saundersfoot (St Issells) was used for the export of coal from the district.

Example 3 Possible Re-Location of Non Industrial Trades and Occupations_
1891 census at 11 Nanthir Road
William James grocer born Cardigan Town, Blodwen James youngest child listed aged 3 born same two assistants and a servant all said to have been born in Cardigan Town

The ages of the assistants and servant in 1891 suggests that they were probably too young to have been employed by Mr James for very long before the migration. The sudden appearance of a young unmarried person far from home can be a bit of a mystery; however, re-location could be the solution.

Example 4. Known Changes From Rural Work to Industrial Occupations
1891 census at 32 Marion Street
Daniel Davies 26                 b. Letterston, Pembs.
Martha Davies 27                 b. same
Thomas Hy. Davies 03       b. Llangeinor Glam
Wm. JohnDavies 01            b. same
Henry Jenkins 60                b. Letterston, Pembs
Samuel Jenkins 24              b. same
Timothy Davies 21               b. same
Thomas George 20              b. Brawdy, Pembs

1891 census at 6 Main Street

Thomas Jenkins 26              b. Letterston, Pembs
Eliz Jenkins 30                      b. Llanychaer, Pembs.
Wm Hy. Jenkins 03              b. Blaengarw, Glam.
John L . Jenkins 3m             b. same
Benjamin Thomas 32           b.  Llanychaer, Pembs
Anne Thomas 35                    b. same
John Thornas 20                    b. same
David Comack 26                   b. Dinas, Pembs
Elimbeth Canza 28                 b. same

There is no mention in the original records as to the actual relationship between the head of the household and their “lodgers, boarders, or visitors”. The Jenkins in both homes were the family of Mrs Davies, and the Thomas were the family of Mrs Jenkins. The two households demonstrate the close family links that were maintained in new locations.

From certificates it is known that Mr & Mrs Davies were married during July 1886 in Letterston and their son T.H. was born in Blaengarw in February 1 888. This narrows down the time frame in which migration took place. Another point to note here are the birthplaces as they appear in the census. The younger sons in both families were born in Marian Street, and not 3 miles apart as the above suggests. In this example Llangeinor refers to the parish and not to the community.

Example 5.
A Close-Knit Enclave.

1911 census at Nos. 1-4 Pretoria Street

1 Mr & Mrs David and Margaret Evans
2 Mr & Mrs David and Sarah Llewellyn
3 Mr & Mrs Daniel “Dynamite” and Ann Howells
4 “Gwendraeth House”, Mrs Lucretia Samuel.

Mr & Mrs Llewellyn were the parents of Mrs Evans and of Mrs Howells; and Mrs Samuel was the widow of Mrs Llewellyn’s 1st cousin William Samuel. Other Samuel family members also came to Blaengarw.

The Llewellyn family were experienced colliers from Llansamlet; and the Samuel families likewise from the Llanelli and the Gwendraeth Valley Districts. With the birth in Llansamlet of the youngest Llewellyn in 1886, and a death of one of their children in Blaengarw during 1888, helps to date the period in which migration took place. One could almost say they travelled in company, at least part of the way, with the Davies and Jenkins families.

Although the subject of in-migration to Blaengarw has been touched upon above, the matter of out-migration, or even emigration, must be mentioned. It is known from research that some of the Davies, Jenkins, and Samuel families returned home to rural occupations before 1901. The change from the open air and the “hole in the hedge” living conditions of many rural workers, to one of cramped and dangerous conditions underground, did not always agree with everybody. The health of individual family members may also have been a contributing factor in such cases of returning to a familiar locality. At least two children, one aged 4 years and the other 2 years; died of Scarlet Fever in 1888.

The families in Examples 1 & 2 above are still subject to research from the 1881 census to confirm whether or not their previous occupations were industrial. They illustrate the initial “Let’s stick together” comradeship inherent in migrant communities.

As time went on and new neighbours married into each others families, their family trees became so heavily intertwined that only one polite expression sums up the situation for researchers, that is to say –

” My cousin’s uncle, is my uncle’s cousin!”

8 comments Add yours
  1. Thanks to Colin Davies for this most interesting article. I have been doing family research online on behalf of a friend whose grandfather, William Parry was born in 6 Marian Street, Blaengarw in 1929. His father, Henry Parry, was married to Gwladys Jenkins (b. 1900), a daughter of Thomas Jenkins of Letterston, Pembrokeshire, who is mentioned here. His sister, Martha, was married to Daniel Davies. I noticed that Henry Jenkins and two sons, Samuel and Thomas, came to Blaengarw from Letterston to work in the mines and they lived with Daniel and Martha. Henry’s wife, Anne, stayed in Letterston. It seems that the men were following the work. I was wondering if Colin has any more information about the Jenkins or the Parrys that he’d be prepared to share. There were Jenkins and/or Parrys at 6 Marian St from 1891 until 1929 at least. Thanks again. Pádraic

  2. Hello Mr Harvey,

    Daniel Davies and his wife Martha nee Jenkins were the parents of my paternal grandfather Thomas Henry Davies born Blaengarw 1888. I did me Mrs Gwladys Parry, my grandfather’s 1st cousin once or twice briefly before her death. Until 1983 I knew nothing of the Blaengarw cousins, and Mrs Parry answered my appeal in the Western Mail for information.

    I would be only too pleased to help with the Jenkins family tree, if you would like perhaps to let me know how we can correspond direct. I don’t know if the GVHS can organise a membership list that can only be accessed via the Secretary.

    I am also related through my maternal grandfather Jenkin Ll. Thomas born Bettws Parish 1881 to a Harvey family descended from my great grandfather’s cousin Jenkin Thomas, Tynton. Would you be linked to them?


    Colin Thomas Davies

  3. Hi Colin, what a great read!

    The reason I happened upon your page is that I was looking for the location of Nanthir Rd. My great grandfather spent years as a collier, while his wife and children remained in Cardiganshire. He lived on Oxford St. in 1891, but his mother-in-law’s cousin had moved his grocery business and staff to Nanthir Rd. In fact, he is the Willam James you have used for one of your examples above!
    As I`m sure you’re familiar with, the census information was often written down incorrectly, and so it was with William James. He did not come from Cardigan, Cardiganshire, as written on the 1891 census, but from Aberpeithnant Farm, Ponterwyd, near the source of the Rheidol. The 1901 census had him from Melindwr, Cardiganshire, which was an improvement!
    It seems he moved his grocery business down around 1888 (his first daughter’s birth was registered at Bridgend). In 1911 the family are living on Banadl Rd., Aberystwyth.
    By the way, further to your ” My cousin’s uncle, is my uncle’s cousin!”, it seems the same was true (to a certain extent) around Plunlymon. William married Deborah Morgans, his mother`s half-sister! Therefore his Grandfather was also his father-in-law, and his children had John Morgans as grandfather on one side of the family tree, and great-grandfather on the other!

  4. Helo can any body please tel me who W Tomas was and did he own the NANTHIR Hotel ?

  5. Hello, sorry but due to circumstances I have only just discovered your request for the location of NantHir Road. If you were to follow the main road up the Garw at the end of Oxford Street runs end-on into Victoria Street, which runs into King Edward Street, Blaengarw. This in turn runs into NantHir Road. Higher up NantHir Road forks right, whilst the left fork Bridge Road runs into Blaengarw Road. I hope this helps and again I apologise for the delay in replying. I will read through your reply again and see if anything else comes to mind. Colin

  6. I am researching my mothers family. CLARA MUREEN PROTHERO. Nee. JAMES born ca 1931, mother Florence JAMES Nee GILES, father David JAMES

  7. Hi there, I think it would be best for you to post this on the Facebook group as more people will be able to help with your query!

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