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James Williams. 1835.



James Williams was born circa 1834. His birthplace is unclear, since he variously states his birthplace as Lanviangel (I assume Pontymoile), Glascoed, Lanvrechva and Llanbaddock on censuses. He worked as a labourer and married three times.

His first wife was Anne Prichard (born c 1832, the daughter of David Prichard, a labourer). They married on 13th August 1860 at Mamhilad parish church.

Anne appears to have died before James married Sarah nee Davies (the widow of John Pitt of Panta House) at Gelligaer Parish Church, Glamorgan on 6th October 1868. They had already been living at Glascoed, with James being Sarah’s lodger as I learned from newspaper reports.

When John Pitt died in August 1865, Sarah was left to bring up five children on her own.


Sarah had some run-ins with one of the neighbours, Hannah Lewis. In 1866 we read an account in the Usk Observer, and the Monmouthshire Merlin where Mrs Lewis accuses Sarah of carrying on with her husband, Philip Lewis. The rights and wrongs of this case are lost in the mists of time, but certainly the Judge felt it necessary to bind Hannah Lewis over to keep the peace. Sarah denied all wrongdoing and any interest in Mr Lewis. She did explain that she had hosted a “biddle” or “tidley-wink” selling beer or spirits without a licence. Philip Lewis had actually been the informant on Sarah’s husband, John’s death certificate and was present at the death.


Sarah would have supplemented her income by offering lodging, as we see from this 1868 report over unpaid “lodging and garden stuff” from June to September 1867 - this lodger was Isaac Lindsay. James Williams was a lodger too - and was to later marry Sarah in 1868.


In May 1868, the fight with the Lewis’ (who lived only a hundred yards or so down Pergoed Lane from Rose Cottage) rose to new levels, with the new man in Sarah’s life, James Williams  fighting with Hannah and Philip Lewis. The judge summed up by saying “that the evidence had been of that contradictory nature, that it was impossible to know which to believe.“ We are in the same position - what is clear is the simmering resentment between the two families. An interesting side-note from this story is the suggestion that villagers (including the Lewis’) had made and burned an effigy of James Williams - over quite what we don’t know for sure, although it is clear that Sarah was expecting a child by James Williams by this point (the child was born in October) with James being her lodger.


Further newspaper articles (and here and here) concern the death soon after birth of James and Sarah’s baby in October 1868 just days before her wedding. Sarah appears to have chosen to marry in her sister’s parish to get away from the local area, where people would have known that had been living “in sin” with James Williams. The articles concerned the illegal burial of her new-born son (James was the father) on 20th September 1868. The baby died just four and a half hours after his birth. He was said to be a weakly child, who died of convulsions in the arms of his Grandmother, Rachel Williams, who had acted as midwife. He did not “catch” to the breast, although this was shown not to be a factor in his death. There was some commotion at Sarah’s insistence that the baby be given some gin and water, although again the Doctor at the inquest felt that this was helpful rather than dangerous. James buried his new-born son very late at night, accompanied by a witness, Richard Arnold (of the Maesmawr family). Within 12 years, Sarah’s eldest son, Henry James Pitt was to marry Richard Arnold’s daughter, Mary Ann (my great-grandparents). The full accounts can be read in the Free Press (the fullest article), County Observer and the Monmouthshire Merlin.


Sarah was a widow for 3 years, until her marriage to James Williams. She did not have an occupation listed on her marriage certificate. We know from the Free Press newspaper report that James Williams was her “lodger” so presumably supported Sarah - he was a lime burner at this point. Witnesses were Thomas Price and Margaret Davies - I wonder whether she was Sarah’s sister? Both James Williams and Sarah left their X mark rather than signed the certificate, indicating that they had not learned to read. Sarah’s first husband John could sign his name and apparently taught some of the children of Glascoed to read - obviously had not succeeded or tried with his wife.


After their marriage, James and Sarah continued at Rose Cottage (and were certainly there from 1869, when Arthur, their first son was born).

James and Sarah had at least two further children who lived beyond infancy - certainly Arthur (born in 1869 at Glascoed) and Rachel, born in 1871 at Glascoed. An Ethel Williams is listed as their child on the 1881 census aged 3 months. It’s possible that this is their child, although it is more likely that Ethel Williams was actually Ethel Pitt, daughter of Alice PittAlice was aged 18 at the time and unmarried. I will need to invest in Ethel’s birth certificate to unravel this I reckon. An Ethel Pitt was born in Pontypool registration district in this period - something that is probably too much of a coincidence for this theory not to be true. There were no Ethel Williams birth registrations in the same timescale (from Oct ‘80 to Mar ‘81). On the 1891 census, an Ethel Pitt (Grand-daughter) was listed at the property, aged 11, born Trevethin. Both of Alice’s married siblings (Ellen and James) were living in the Pontypool/ Trevethin area at this time. Also on the 1891 census, we find an Alice Edwards, grand-daughter, who must have been the daughter of Alice Pitt and her husband, Robert Edwards, a furnaceman from County Durham.

James’ wife Sarah died in 1901. Her death was registered in Pontypool registration district, and it is almost certain that she was still living in Glascoed at this point. Her husband, James, continued to live at Rose Cottage, Glascoed, after Sarah’s death - he was still there at the time of the 1911 census, with his third wife Mary Ann, by now a retired farm labourer. They married in the April-June Quarter of 1902 in the Pontypool Registration District. Mary Ann’s name at the time of the marriage was Williams, although I am not sure whether this is her maiden or married name.

Census entries:

1871 (No name)

1881 Near Penywood

1891 at Rose Cottage

1901 Widower James living at Rose Cottage

1911 James living with his third wife Mary Ann at Rose Cottage