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Sarah Davies


Sarah Davies was born in Llansawel, Carmarthenshire, in approximately 1829. She was the daughter of Abel Davies, a labourer (according to her first marriage certificate) or farmer (according to second marriage certificate). I don’t know who her mother was.


Sarah was working as a general servant on the 1851 census, at Coed-y-Cadno Farm, Llanvihangel Pontymoile (at least a Sarah Davies of the right age and birthplace was working there at the time).


She married John Pitt on June 25th 1853. Within seven months of the marriage, their first child was born, so they must have known each other for at least a couple of months before the wedding! Their residence was said to be St. Woolos parish, Newport at the marriage - I wonder whether they were actually working there at that time, or whether there was another reason for marrying there. It appears that both John and Sarah would have been working in the Glascoed/ Pontymoile area prior to the marriage (at the time of the 1851 census), and that they were certainly living there from February 1854 when their first child was born. By 1861 they were living at Panta House and I believe that this may well have been their residence throughout their time at Glascoed.


John and Sarah had 5 children, all born at Glascoed: Sarah Ellen Pitt (born 1st Feb 1854), Henry James Pitt (born 5th September 1856), William John Pitt (born 1859), Alice Ann Pitt (born 1862) and Thomas Jesse Pitt (born Boxing Day 1864).


When John died in August 1865, Sarah was left to bring up five children on her own. I do not know for sure what happened initially, but by 6th October 1868, Sarah re-married to James Williams - son of Walter Williams (one of the Rioters). James had been born in Llanvihangel Pontymoile, but lived for a large portion of his life in Glascoed. At the time of the marriage, Sarah was said to be living at Penpedairheol in Gelligaer parish (at least according to the wedding certificate), although newspaper articles at the time show that she actually was still living in Glascoed, with James Williams as her “lodger”/ common law husband.


Sarah also 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. Another lodger, James Williams, was to later marry Sarah.


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.


On the 1871 census her youngest son Thomas Jesse was staying with his Aunt, Ann Davies and Uncle Thomas Davies nearby at Gwaunyrallt, Hengoed, Sarah was apparently close to Ann, partly evidenced by Thomas Jesse continuing to live with his Aunt and Uncle - he was there for the 1881 census too, listed as a son (adopted I guess). Thomas’ descendant told me that their family oral history reports that Thomas had left home after falling out with his father. The “father” must have been James Williams, since his natural father, John Pitt died when Thomas was just 8 months old.


James and Sarah continued living at Rose Cottage, where Alfred, their first son was born in 1869 until their deaths in the early 1900s.


James and Sarah had at least two children - certainly Alfred (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 Pitt. Alice 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.


Sarah died on 13th January 1901 at Rose Cottage of “General debility, 26 days”. Her husband, James, continued to live at Rose Cottage, Glascoed, after Sarah’s death - he was there on the 1901 and 1911 censuses. He married again shortly after Sarah’s death - to a Mary Ann - probably in 1901 or 2.


Census entries:


1851 census at Coed-y-Cadno Farm, Llanfihangel Pontymoile.


1861 census census at Panta House


1871 census (No name)


1881 census Near Penywood


1891 census at Rose Cottage


1901 census Widower James living at Rose Cottage


Records


Death certificate, 13th January 1901.