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John Pitt


John Pitt was my Great-Great Grandfather. He was always a bit of an enigma to me - the man whose origins seemed impossible to pin down. I started trying to locate his origins as a teenager in 1980 and have finally (2013) found the missing piece of the puzzle!

Facts I know about him:

He married Sarah Davies on 25th June 1853 at St. Woolos, Newport and they settled at Panta House in Glascoed.

They had several children, Sarah Ellen PittHenry James Pitt, William John Pitt, Alice Ann Pitt and Thomas Jesse Pitt.

He was a Master Stone Mason, who probably owned “Pitt’s Quarry” (referred to in a Turnpike Trust account of c. 1862) near Glascoed.

His father was named as John Pitt (Mason) on his marriage certificate.

He is reputed to have taught children to read in Glascoed (according to family oral history).

He died of small pox (varisla) on 9th August 1865, at Glascoed. It’s a shame he didn’t read or take notice of the warning in the 1858 Usk Observer. Or even this article from 1865

I finally stumbled across the piece of information in a newspaper article from 1852 that confirmed his origins the other evening! It’s a long story I won’t bore you with, but I finally managed to confirm that the John Pitt, living at Court Farm, Llanfihangel Pontymoile was not a labourer, as stated on the census, but a stone mason! It’s confirmed in this article, where he appeared as a witness in a court case. He opened his testimony (thank you John!) with these words: “John Pitt, being sworn, said: I am a mason, staying at the Court Farm, near the Horse and Jockey”.

If he had not been so difficult to trace, I don’t think I’d have started doing what has been a fascinating study into Glascoed and would have put all my efforts into finding out more about the Pitt family. So in a way, I’m grateful that he was so difficult to trace - without that I would not in all likelihood have made the decision about 5 years ago to start digging deeper into Glascoed, by reading newspapers and exploring other sources. I hoped that by doing this, I would at the very least find out some interesting things about a village where a number of my family were living in the 19th century and may even stumble across the answer to the enigma who was John Pitt. And I have found both. Anyway, that’s enough rambling - I’ll continue to tell you more about John.

Why did he come to Glascoed? I have wondered whether he came to Glascoed in connection with the Railways. The Coleford, Monmouth, Usk & Pontypool Railway, which was authorised under an Act of August 20, 1853, started from a junction with the Newport, Abergavenny & Hereford Railway, at Little Mill, near Glascoed, to Coleford. There would have been plenty of work for stone masons on the railway at this time, so basing himself at Panta House in Glascoed would have been ideal - he was just a short walk away from Little Mill. Prior to this, there was work available on the new “Monmouthshire Railway and Canal Company” line linking Pontnewynydd with Newport. Work on this line lasted several years - it was first opened in 1852 although the line was extended in 1853 and could explain how he and Sarah came to be in Newport in 1853. Alternatively, he may have been an itinerant mason, following the work to the burgeoning industrial areas around Pontypool, like many others, or could have come having been invited by his extended family.

Birth year: Possibly 1818? His age was noted as 32 on the 1851 census, of “full age” on his marriage certificate of 1853, 38 on 1861 and 48 on death certificate. It’s hard to say for sure which is correct - possibly none of these, although there is every possibility that each person asked his age may have guessed it! My estimate is that he would probably have been born around 1818/19. This would tally with his age on the 1851 census - his death certificate indicates an 1816/17 birth year. The 1861 census (which I find difficult to trust since the birthplace is just stated as a very generic “Gloucestershire”) would have indicated 1822/23. So my best guess is 1818.

Where was he on the 1851 census? Court Farm, Llanfihangel Pontymoile.

There were two John Pitts in the Glascoed area - Our John Pitt was at Court Farm, Llanvihangel Pontymoile, working as a labourer, aged 32, from Chilworth (probably Chelworth) in Wiltshire. It is a neighbouring farm to Coed-y-Cadno, where John’s future wife Sarah Davies was working as a servant in 1851. This was confirmed as him in the 1852 court case article where he was a witness (see above).

The other John Pitt, on the 1851 census in the local area was a carpenter, aged 23 living in Panteg with a William Sheldon, also a carpenter. This John was from Ledbury, Herefordshire, which is close to the Gloucestershire border. I have now definitely ruled him out from our search! This John Pitt married the Sheldon’s daughter, Mary Sheldon in Abergavenny in 1855. By 1861, she was back (as Mary Pitt) living with her parents as a widow. I believe that her husband John died in 1860.

RULED OUT: The only John Pitt, stone masons of broadly the right age in the UK, that I found on census indexes were both dead by 1861. One was from Northumberland (and from death registers of that locality, appeared to have died in the mid 1850s. His father was John Pitt, stone mason. Northumberland seems too far away to be reasonably considered, also. The other was from Bath Place, Stroud, and was the son of a John Pitt, Mason. I have seen his will, and noted that he died in 1851 or 52 (can’t remember off hand!) so that eliminates another John!

There was also a John Pitt, labourer aged 26 from Gloucestershire living at Chepstow.

And where on the 1861 Census?

At Panta House. I believe that he moved with the family to Rose Cottage, Pergoed Lane before his death in 1865. My reasons for believing this were that by 1868 it is pretty clear that his widow Sarah was living at Rose Cottage. It seems that of the times we hear of John between 1861 and his death, it was in conjunction with other residents of Pergoed Lane - his 1862 run in with Martha Meredith (of Sunny Bank Cottage) for trespassing (also reported in the Free Press). The Free Press account on the same date sheds more light on the cause. It appears that Martha (probably on behalf of the Meredith family - see their involvement in the “Glascoed Riots”) took exception to John erecting a hedge around his land. The land (belonging to the Duke of Beaufort) was disputed. Since Panta House was half a mile from the Meredith’s house (“Sunny Bank”), while Rose Cottage was merely 200 yards from Sunny Bank, it seems highly likely that the Pitts had recently moved to Rose Cottage and were enclosing and protecting their newly rented land.

The fact that Philip Lewis (of Bush Cottage) was the informant on the death certificate in 1865 (being present at the death) provides further evidence (Bush Cottage was “next door” to Rose Cottage).

PARENTAGE: The only indicator I have of John’s parentage is his marriage certificate, which states that John’s father was a John Pitt, Occupation Mason. I have been unable to find a reasonable baptism record, with a John Pitt, son of John Pitt (stone mason). Well there is one in Stroud, but I have ruled this one out since he died in 1851 or thereabouts.

I have read that where a man was unsure of his father’s name (or didn’t want to admit to having been born “illegitimately”) it was common for them to supply their father as being the same name and occupation as themselves. This is another possibility - I haven’t yet found a suitable suspect born in or around Chelworth, or in Gloucestershire.

Alternatively, the record might have been destroyed or not yet widely available as a transcription, or he could have been nonconformist so not baptised as a child or even of a rare non-church affiliated family?

Newspaper Reports

The first report was entitled “Disgusting case” from 1851 - a John Pitt accused a lady he had spent an hour with one evening (who sounded like a lady of the night!) of stealing his watch. This COULD have been the other John Pitt living locally (the carpenter) but I’ve got a sneaking suspicion it may have been my Great-Great Grandfather, with his strong sense of (in)justice! I might be wrong though! Sorry Grandfather!

In 1852, John Pitt was a witness to the stealing of some articles including a joint of beef and some stockings from the Horse & Jockey pub next door to the farm where he was living (Court Farm).

John tried to take Martha Meredith to court in 1862, for trespass. Not sure what the outcome was, since no reports found in later newspapers, but it was interesting to see him mentioned. Martha would probably have been aged about 15 at this time. When I first read this story, I assumed that Martha was probably scrumping for apples! Usk Observer 12th April 1862.  

John took a customer to court for non-payment of a bill in 1863. The customer alleged that John “came and went as he pleased” and had not earned the money - I choose to believe my Gt-Gt Grandfather’s story, but you must make up your own mind!Two other reports mention a John Pitt ... not really sure whether this was our John, or alternatively, the other local John Pitt, a railway worker from Llantrissent. Usk Observer articles from June 28th 1862 and August 23rd 1862.

Once again John was a witness at court, called as an expert witness for the defence in 1864, measuring a disputed area of land. The judge agreed with his estimate of size, but not necessarily his estimate of the value of stock the defendant had lost.

The final reports are from the Usk Observer in 1864 and 1865 where the tenant farmer at Pergoed farm (just down the lane from Rose Cottage) was accused of illegally selling dung to several local people including “a person named Pitt”. I love the image that the prosecutor, Henry Watkins, watched the alleged offender, George Roberts, spreading manure around my Gt Gt Grandfather, John’s orchard from behind a hedge!

Conclusions

How can we get a true idea of a man who died well over a century ago? He was born 101 years before I was even born. I find it interesting that there is still a tiny piece of oral history in the family about him after all this time - that he taught children in the village how to write.

It seems to me that he was someone who worked hard for a living and was prepared to travel where the work was to make a new life for himself. He seems a man with some social conscience - following suspects who he thought had committed a crime, serving as a witness in court cases and prosecutor rather than one who was taken to court and taught others how to read and write. I would have liked to meet him!


Records:


Census: 1851, 1861