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02 August 2020Our Early Twentieth Century Nursing Heroines

Our Early Twentieth Century Nursing Heroines

SANDRA DAVIES

Building on David Michael’s May 2020 essay 'When all this is over', it seemed an appropriate time to pay tribute to the predecessors of today’s heroic health professionals. The records released by the Wellcome Library of the UK & Ireland Queen’s Nursing Institute Roll (and, to a much lesser extent, the UK Midwives Roll and the Nursing Registers) give an insight into the lives and work of many thousands of women who served communities in this way before the advent of the National Health Service.

As far as Neath is concerned some passed through within a matter of weeks, while others gave diligent service here over many years. Not all were 'Queen’s Nurses'. Interestingly, a name which appears in all three of the above-named registers was Margaret Alice Bushell who qualified as a Queen’s Nurse in 1903 and initially lived at 116 Briton Ferry Road when she arrived at Neath around 1906.[1] She was among the first residents at the QNI Home before leaving in 1912 to take up a post as a school nurse employed by Glamorgan County Council.[2]  After several years spent working in her native Pembrokeshire, Margaret returned to the Home at Neath in 1926, again in the role of midwife.[3]  She possessed those two prized qualities of a nurse in Wales - she was Welsh-speaking and a cyclist!

It goes without saying that Margaret (like many nurses generally during this period) was unmarried. The QNI official record stated unequivocally 'Single or Widow' since upon marriage a nurse was obliged to resign her QNI status.  They were, however, permitted to re-join the Institute having been widowed.

An unexpected link with David’s article emerged during research.  One of our early Queen’s Nurses, Sarah Mary Jenkins of Bridgend, arrived in Neath in July 1900 and spent more than five years in the town ministering to the local population before leaving in September 1905 for Huddersfield, where she was to become Senior Nurse.  Her tenure was to be very brief, as Nurse Jenkins surrendered her badge and brassard[a] to the Queen’s Nurses’ Institute in December of that same year, as her health had 'given way'.[4]  Did she return to nursing after a period of rest and recovery, I wondered? Well, apparently not; for well within a year of her departure from Neath she returned, but this time as the bride of Dr John Mudie Morris, who was for many years the town’s Medical Officer of Health (MOH).[5]  Their first marital home was 100 Briton Ferry Road, before moving to 'Plasnewydd' in London Road (a substantial residence where Dr Edward Coyne and partners later practised).  By 1939 the Register lists them as settled at 'Gnoll Cottage'. 

Several girls from Neath were appointed Queen’s Nurses: Catherine Evans, a product of Gnoll School, worked in the town between April 1925 and June 1926 before moving to England, later returning to take up 'holiday work' in Gowerton and Llansamlet; Gnoll and County schoolgirl Blodwen Morgan spent her career in North Wales in the 1920s, before resigning to marry; and farmer’s daughter Jessie Trew, educated at Bryncoch National School, was deemed 'exceptionally capable' in her work at both Cardiff and Penmaenmawr before marrying in 1941.

Training at the Queen's Institute of District Nursing, Guildford,1944(Wikipedia Commons)

 Nursing at Cymla Tuberculosis Hospital, meanwhile, was part of the early training for Martha Russell from October 1914 to March 1915 before gaining admittance to the QNI the following year and working throughout the 1920s at Pontardawe and Resolven. 

Another who spent a short time at Neath in the Summer of 1916 was Meirion Evans. She left for military work, serving in stationary hospitals in Salonica and Constantinople and a casualty clearing station in Russia. It was little wonder that she could not settle to district work after these experienes. Following demobilisation in February 1920 she worked at the Ministry of Pensions.

Meirion was far from being the only nurse to suffer early burnout (it was not unknown even among those who remained in Britain). Another casualty was Margaretta Edwards. Having worked previously in Gower and Aberystwyth and described on her record as 'a capital nurse, keen and thoroughly reliable', Margaretta spent fifteen months in Neath before leaving in March 1924 due to ill-health.  She returned home to Trapp, Llandeilo, where she died three months later, aged 31.

Having spent almost three and a half years in Neath as both nurse and Health Visitor, Annie Richards (following departure for Cambridge in June 1915) later offered herself for military nursing, serving in Baghdad and Basra (1918-21).

Upon being appointed a Queen’s Nurse and midwife, young Edith Williams spent several months of 1922 in Neath. Her record was excellent, except for the statement that there was 'trouble about rash on babies'. The MOH advised resignation, but it did not seem to be her fault.   Whether that was her reason for leaving is unclear, but she moved to Guildford for a short period, then to Llanrwst before marrying in 1925. 

 

Relaxing at the Queen's Institute of District Nursing,Guildford (IWM)

 

It is impossible in a short article, to do justice to so many.  Looking back a century and more it is worth reminding ourselves of the sheer physical effort of cycling to and from patients’ homes in all weathers, nurses’ exposure to diseases for which remedies were less reliable or available and the strict constraints under which they were expected to live as members of the Queen’s Nursing Institute.

The many volumes of records of that body lay bare the scrutiny to which each nurse was subjected throughout her career.[6]  It was entirely reasonable that her work and medical equipment should undergo inspection every six months, but the local nursing association also saw fit to dissect all aspects of a nurse’s character, their remarks lying indelibly until her career’s end and beyond. Very few of the comments which follow apply to nurses who served in Neath, but they give a flavour of what was endured.

A nurse reports to Matron (seated) on the cases she has visited that day (IWM)

Reports on nursing itself covered a spectrum ranging from 'conscientious, methodical, attentive, energetic' to 'satisfactory, acceptable' and then take a downward turn toward 'irresponsible, slapdash … a muddler lacking in method and gumption … a third-rate nurse, poorly educated.'

Also noted were an individual’s relationship with patients, whose opinions were canvassed (generally nurses were 'well liked' or even 'loved') along with her colleagues at the Home, where harmony was deemed crucial.  Again, some comments were very complimentary: 'irreproachable, amiable, refined and neat in appearance'; some less so: 'giddy, lacks dignity and discretion, always getting into scrapes … a mischief-maker, talkative and disloyal … harum scarum – troublesome about uniform and regulations … too keen about off-duty time, regardless of work … a peculiar woman with a curious disposition … not very strong, but improving since teeth overhauled' [what dentistry was this one wonders!].  In one case complaints led to a nurse being removed from the QNI Roll 'after later information'. And, of course, the cardinal sin: 'It was found that she had a child soon after marriage. She is not to be allowed to join.'

Clashes of personality in a Home could have serious consequences. We do not know how 'friction over a second-hand car' ended, but one situation reached such a pitch that it resulted in two resignations,   that of the senior nurse and her junior colleague, who 'could not get on.'  Inevitably this caused staff shortages, putting further strain on the remaining nurses until replacements could be found.

We can be very grateful to these women, whose actions undoubtedly saved many lives (perhaps those of some of our ancestors). There can be no doubt that sacrifice, of one sort or another, has always been a strong element of a nurse’s calling. 

The table below, includes those who spent a minimum of one year in Neath during the period covered by the Queen’s Nursing Institute Roll (Wales) - Volumes 1 & 2. The third column records the immediate reason why each nurse left her post, if stated.

Edith Eliza Please

Dec. 1897 – Jun. 1900

Matron at Kingsbridge, Devon

Sarah Mary Jenkins

Jul. 1900 – Sept. 1905

Senior Nurse, Huddersfield

Elizabeth West Thorpe

Nov. 1900 – Sept. 1904

Marriage

Elizabeth Ellen Jones

Sept. 1904 – Sept. 1910

Nursing at Clydach

Ethel Annie Lyon

Nov. 1905 – Oct. 1911

Assistant Co. Supt., Cornwall

Margaret Mankley

May 1909 – Jan. 1912

Other work

Ethel Penstone Short

Jul. 1909 – Dec. 1911

Nursing in England

Margaret Alice Bushell

Sept. 1909 – May 1912

School nurse, Glamorgan C.C.

Mabel Katherine Knight

Oct. 1910 – Dec. 1911

Nursing in England

Mary Miller, Superintendent

Nov. 1911 – Feb. 1913

Nursing abroad

Mary Barker, Midwife

Dec. 1911 – Dec. 1913

-

Elizabeth Robyns-Owen, M/w

Jan. 1912 – Mar. 1913

Ill-health

Annie Richards

Jan. 1912 – Dec. 1913

Health Visitor, Neath

Charlotte Scarfe, Supt.

May 1912 – May 1916

Nursing in England

Sarah Twigg, Supt.

Jul. 1913 – Jul. 1921

School nursing, Neath

Elizabeth Carter

Aug. 1913 – Oct. 1914

Hospital work

Beatrice Caroline Brooks

Apr. 1915 – Sept. 1916

Military nursing

Elizabeth B. Sprintall, Supt.

Jun. 1916 – Mar. 1920

Marriage

Margaret Elizabeth Cole

Jul. 1916 – Jul. 1917

Nursing in England

Clara Margaret Woodward

Dec. 1919 – Dec. 1922

Marriage

Hannah Marie Cutter

Nov. 1920 – Jul. 1927

Marriage

Mary Catherine Price, Supt.

Oct. 1921 – 1947, at least

Retirement

Rose Gwendoline Miller

Aug. 1922 – Aug. 1923

Ill-health

Margaretta Edwards

Feb. 1923 – Feb. 1924

Ill-health; died June 1924

Jeannie Anne Jones

Jul. 1923 – Oct. 1932

Nursing in England

Catherine Evans

Apr. 1925 – Jun. 1926

Nursing in England

Bronwen Jones

Aug. 1926 – Aug. 1928

Other work

Marjory Coslett

Sept. 1926 – Sept. 1928

Health Visitor training

Annie Roberts

Oct. 1928 – Sept. 1936

Marriage

Badges - Old & New - (QNI)

[This article is a supplement to a longer article that will appear in The Neath Antiquarian Vol.4 which will celebrate the centenary of the NAS in 2023]

Images appear courtesy of the Wellcome Institute, Imperial War Museum, Queens' Nuses Institute and Wikipedia Commons

[a] A brassard or armlet is an armband or piece of cloth or other material worn around the upper arm; the term typically refers to an item of uniform worn as part of military uniform or by police or other uniformed persons.

[1] UK Midwives’ Roll, 1910

[2] UK & Ireland Queen’s Nursing Institute Roll of Nurses, Wales, Volume 1 

[3] UK Midwives’ Roll, 1926

[4] UK & Ireland Queen’s Nursing Institute Roll of Nurses, Wales, Volume 1

[5] Civil Registration Marriage Index 1837-1915 – The marriage took place at St. Luke’s, Battersea in May 1906 

[6] There are two volumes for Wales; and as many as 42 for England, covering the period 1891-1931

01 August 2020VAUGHAN'S TOWER

 

Vaughan's Tower

 

PHILIP JOHN

Early in 1864 the proposal for the building of a new church in Neath (led by the Rector John Griffiths) was gaining momentum with the site for building, together with a contribution of £200 to the subscriptions list, being made by Howel Gwyn.   Donations to the subscription list (which included £500 from Nash Vaughan Edwards Vaughan) were so good that on the advice of Mr Vaughan it was decided to engage the architect John Norton to submit plans for a new church[1].  The plans were ambitious – a large church accommodating 1,200 worshipers at an estimated cost of £6,400.  While the design met with general approval, there was considerable concern about the cost which appeared, to some of the community, to be beyond their ability to raise the necessary funds.  However, it was decided to proceed with Norton’s plans but, to begin with, only to erect the nave [the area of the church where parishioners, or congregation, sit or stand] and chancel [the space around the altar for clergy and choir], leaving the church proper to be completed by future generations.[2]

The original contract for the first phase erection of the church was awarded to Messrs Jones & Son of Gloucester, with the tower portion of the new church being discontinued after reaching a height of 60 feet and a temporary wooden roof constructed for its protection (as stipulated in the contract). The building had impressed all that saw it, but now some criticised the temporary works for giving the place of worship an unsightly appearance of having a stump attached to it.  One such critic was Mr Vaughan who offered 'to present the bride with a diamond necklace,' as he expressed his intention to fund the cost of the completion of the edifice.[3] Builders were sought and the tender submitted by Mr Alfred Bucknell's was accepted.  He undertook to complete the work without removing the new organ erected in the chapel at the base of the tower.  In addition he also committed not to take any materials through the inside of the building during the construction work.  To achieve this, a massive scaffold was erected on the south side of the tower; the materials for the work being raised with chain and pulleys worked by [real] horse power.  A revolving crane, designed and constructed specially for the work was erected on the top of the scaffolding, allowing each stone to be lowered into its place.  Before work commenced a strongly reinforced waterproof platform was constructed (for the protection of the organ) in case any heavy stones or other materials should fall through the opening into the tower.  The tower was completed without injury to those engaged on the project.  However, in November 1868, a high wind caused part of the woodwork to come crashing down on to the roof of the chancel. The force of the falling debris broke away the rafters in the interior of the building and caused considerable damage to the upper part of the ornamental tiles.[4] 

The tower was eventually completed in 1869, at a cost of £1,300, but without a clock or bells [it was intended that 8 bells and an illuminated clock would be included].[5]  However, it did have a wrought iron weather vane with a gilt cross and cock surmounting the spire, which was also fitted with a lightning conductor.  The tower’s benefactor, Mr Nash Vaughan Edwards Vaughan, died at Inchbae, Ross-shire, Scotland in 1868, before completion of the tower.  In recognition of his generous contribution a memorial tablet with the words 'Vaughan’s Tower' was fixed to the outside of the tower beneath the three single-light lancet windows. 

Nash Vaughan Edwards was born in London on 22nd May 1811 to John Edwards and his second wife Sarah Parkin (widow of James Dalton).  Nash was probably named after his father’s relatives, John Nash the architect and William Vaughan of Lanelay Hall (near Llantrisant).  Nash’s formative years were spent in the company of other young gentlemen.  From the diaries of Lewis Weston Dillwyn (who was foremost among the political opponents of Nash’s father) we learn that Nash and John Dillwyn (Lewis’s eldest son) were friends and that Nash was a frequent house guest at the Dillwyn household.  Nash was educated at Eton College and Christ Church College, Oxford, where he enrolled at the age of 17.[6]  Following the death of William Vaughan at the Edwards' family residence in Regent Street, London, Nash’s father was granted by Royal Licence ' the use of the surname Vaughan in addition to and after Edwards.'  In 1832, aged 21, Nash Vaughan Edwards Vaughan, as he had become known, was appointed one of the Deputy Lord Lieutenants of Glamorgan.  The following year Nash’s father died at their Regent Street home and Nash inherited both the estates of Rheola and Lanelay.  Nash married Harriet Amelia, second daughter of Edward Swainston Strangways, Esq., of Alne Hall, Yorkshire in 1834.  The couple had two children together but sadly both died in childhood and were buried in St. Mary’s Church, Alne.   At the age of 27 Nash was appointed Sheriff of Glamorgan.  He was also a Justice of the Peace for Glamorgan, Brecon and Ross, and was on the Grand Jury that in 1843 prosecuted some of the Rebecca rioters.  There is plenty of evidence showing his generosity to good causes; he was a very liberal subscriber to the Public Reading Room in Resolven which opened in January 1856 and in 1865 he proposed 'a new and more commodious infirmary' for Swansea giving £1,000 towards its funding.  He built a private chapel at Rheola and provided land for a new church in Resolven.  In the parish of Neath (where he owned little or no property) he financially supported the new St. David’s church in Neath from its inception contributing £500 and a further £1,300 for completion of the tower.[7] 

In February 1870 a storm caused considerable damage to the church over two days.  It completely stripped the roof near the tower and over the nave and partly stripped the roof over the chancel.  Coping stones were displaced and all the stone crosses on the pinnacles and gables were blown down and smashed to pieces.  The iron-work of the steeple weather vane was also badly bent and water poured through the roof which filled the organ pipes.  The church’s finances were inadequate to cover the repair costs and appeals to the congregation for increased offerings fell short of the necessary figure.  Then one Sunday in August the Rector informed the congregation that by an act of great generosity by a benefactor, residing near Swansea, the whole expense of repairing the tower would be paid for.[8]  It was John Dillwyn Llewelyn, of Penllergaer, the boyhood friend of Nash Vaughan Edwards Vaughan, who was the benefactor [John Dillwyn had assumed the additional surname of Llewelyn on the death of his maternal grandfather].[9]

Late in November 1871 a gas illuminated clock, paid for by Mrs Jennet Morgan, was installed in the tower, but within two months gale force winds had damaged the centre glass of two of the clock faces.  In 1873 the Council took on the expense of illuminating the clock only to extinguish the illumination in 1876, since it had been condemned as useless at night.  In September 1873 as the clock was being wound, the wire rope of the striking weight snapped sending a 3cwt iron block smashing through the double doors of the belfry tower and then partially demolishing the swell box and pedal pipes of the organ. The vagaries of the British weather continued to play havoc with the church and Vaughan’s Tower.  In December 1891 what was described as a hurricane swept over the town causing further damage to the church roof.[10]  In 1893 'extra-ordinary repairs' to the tower and roof costing £1,600, were undertaken by Holway and Parsons of Swansea, necessitating a suspension of services.  At the start of the twentieth century the clock in the tower of St David’s was the greatest offender in the town when it came to punctuality.[11]  The Rector and Neath Council disagreed on funding for either the repair or replacement of the clock, so that by 1912 the clock had stopped working with its hands stuck at 12.50.[12] 

A much larger clock mechanism (with bigger clock faces) and a carillon was installed as a War Memorial.  A plaque erected in December 1923 to the side of the South porch informs the onlooker thus;

[Fidelis ad Finem - faithful to the end][13]

In 2013 a campaign was launched to raise £500,000 to cover the cost of repairs to the church tower, chancel and Lady Chapel.  The scope of work included re-roofing, timber repair, and the refurbishment of the rainwater goods; tower louvres; leadwork and the finial ironwork.  Also included were restoration work to the clock and clock faces and some work to the carillon. New capital works included the installation a ladder to improve maintenance access to the tower.

Probably the finest structure in the town and iconic of Neath 'Vaughan’s Tower', colloquially referred to as 'The Vaughan Tower', impacts in an unobtrusive way, the daily lives of hundreds of people.  Whether waiting for a bus, or just passing by, people glance up to check the time of day or hear the Westminster chimes marking the hour, half hour and quarter hour. 

 


[1] John Norton had been engaged by NVE Vaughan to build a chapel overlooking the lake near Rheola House.  Later the foundations became unstable and it was ultimately demolished.- britishlistedbuildings.co.uk

[2] A History of the Churches in the Parish of Neath with Llantwit – Editor: Rev. WP Thomas

[3] The Brecon & County Times – 13th February 1869

[4] ibid

[5] The Welshman – 3rd April 1868

[6] Oxford University Alumni 

[7] The Cardiff & Merthyr Guardian – 26th September 1869

[8] Western Mail – 16th August 1870

[9]  Lewis Weston Dillwyn Diaries – (refers to Dillwyn's son having his friend Nash, the son of John Edwards of Rheola staying as a house guest at Penllergaer).

[10] Western Mail – 14th December 1891

[11] The Cambrian – 18th September 1903

[12] Herald of Wales – 30th May 1918

[13] Chimes relates to the additional mechanism fitted to the clock in order to mark every quarter of an hour (Westminster chimes). Strictly there is no 'peal' since the bells are hung 'dead' and cannot be used for full circle ringing. They are a ring of bells installed as a carillon, which is a set of bells that may be played musically using a keyboard or other mechanism.

01 July 2020Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Place

LIEUTENANT- COLONEL ROBERT PLACE

PHILIP JOHN

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Place of his Majesty's 41st Regt. of Foot - painted by William Charles Ross (1829)

Reading the transcriptions of journals and memoirs written by his contemporaries, you are left in no doubt that Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Place was a highly respected officer by those who knew and served with him.  His first British Regiment was the 77th Foot which he joined in 1804 as a Cadet.[1]  Robert’s initial rise through the ranks in 1807 to Ensign and then Lieutenant was on merit, but from 1809 his promotions were by purchase [the practice of paying money to be made an officer].  By payment, a commission as an officer could be secured thus avoiding the wait to be promoted on merit or seniority.  In 1809 Lieutenant Place was made Captain and in 1819 a Major (both made by purchase).  Finally, in 1825 the unattached Major (on half-pay) purchased the commission of Lieutenant-Colonel of Infantry.[2]  Around 1826, a Light Battalion of infantry was formed by the amalgamation of light infantry from the Queen’s and other regiments of foot and it was Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Place, of the Queen’s, who was given command of this new battalion.   When the commander of the 41st Regiment died in August 1827, it was Robert Place who was appointed as the Regiment’s new commander - [this would be his last command].

A memorial tablet to him is situated on the north wall of the chancel of St. Catwg's Church.  The epitaph reads as follows:

Robert Place was one of ten children born to John Place and his wife Sarah Dumayne; the couple married in Bassaleg, Monmouthshire in 1776.  John Place [Robert's father] was born in Cornwall in 1756 but his father [Robert's grandfather] also named Robert, had moved to Neath Abbey by 1758  to start and manage the smelting of copper at the Mines Royal Works, Neath Abbey. In the same year, his son Edward was baptised at St Catwg's.   A surviving ledger from 1795, kept by John Place, records that there were 38 furnaces at the works capable of producing 17 to 20 tons of copper a day; evidently the Mines Royal Works at Neath Abbey was a considerable undertaking by this time.

Prominent in every aspect of life in Neath and its district the Place family occupied a house at Neath Abbey for nearly 60 years before they moved to Cadoxton Cottage, a property with a

                     'dining-room 19½ by 15 feet, drawing-room 16½ by 14 feet, breakfast-room 14 feet square, six bed-rooms,                        kitchens, cellars, and all suitable domestic offices; gig-house and ample stabling.'

 

This was a most commodious property when compared to the two roomed 'back-to-back' or 'through houses' having two rooms downstairs and two upstairs, occupied by working families of this period. [3]     John Place, who had been a Magistrate and Deputy-Lieutenant for Glamorgan died in 1821 at Cadoxton Cottage aged 65 years.  His wife Sarah Place put the property up for lease, fully furnished, in 1826 and moved to Neath.  Having outlived three of her ten children, she died in Neath in 1829; her dying wish was to be buried with her husband at St Catwg's. 

Robert Place served the majority of his career in the 77th Regiment of Foot (The Duke of Cambridge's Own) which was a line regiment of the British Army raised in 1787.  The regiment was given a county designation, becoming the 77th (East Middlesex) Regiment of Foot in 1807.  At the beginning of July 1809 Lieutenant Robert Place was appointed Captain of a Company of the 77th Regiment, by purchase - the previous incumbent having retired.  On 30th July, Captain Place was among some 40,000 soldiers and 15,000 horses, together with field artillery, to cross the North Sea and landed at Walcheren.   The Walcheren Campaign involved little fighting, but heavy losses from a sickness popularly dubbed 'Walcheren Fever' accounted for the loss of over 4,000 British troops [only 106 died in combat].  The 77th Regiment embarked for Spain in June 1811 for service in the Peninsular War under the Duke of Wellington.  It saw action at the Battle of El Bodon in September 1811, followed by the Siege of Cuidad Rodrigo and the Siege of Badajoz.  The 77th Foot then fought at the Battle of Bayonne in April 1814 before returning home in August that year. 

Although we do not know how long Captain Place had known Margaret Elliott, or even where they met, they married in Clifton, Bristol on 13th October 1814, less than two months after the return of the 77th Regiment from France.  Margaret was the youngest of six daughters born to Philip Elliott and his wife Elizabeth Mundy; she was also the sister of Mrs Diana Ainsley Bowzer.[A]

In 1823 the 77th Regiment was posted to Belfast and in 1824 to Stoney Hill, Jamaica, where the Regiment (compared to other Regiments stationed in Jamaica) suffered the most from sickness – known locally as 'black vomit fever'.  The Army reported that in the ten months in Jamaica up to the 28th February 1825 the Regiment had lost two officers, two sergeants, 56 rank and file, three women and 18 children.  By June 1825 British newspapers were quoting reports in the Jamaica papers,

'.. that whilst our squadron on station healthy [Royal Navy] the troops had suffered from sickness – 77th Regiment had lost one hundred men and eight officers.'

Indeed in 1827, when the 22nd Regiment were garrisoned at Stoney Hill barracks the Regiment lost seven officers and 122 men to black vomit fever in two months.[4]  Sometime during his posting to Jamaica Major Robert Place was placed on half-pay and so, in May 1825, he purchased the Commission of Lieutenant-Colonel of Infantry.  Following a recruitment drive for Regiments stationed in India in February 1826, he was appointed to the Queen’s Royal Regiment of Foot (also known as the 2nd Regiment of Foot) and dispatched with the reinforcements to Bombay.  In September an expeditionary force against the Rajah of Koolapore in the Mahratta country to the South of Bombay, was put into the field.  The light company of the Queen’s with the light companies of the 20th and other regiments were formed into a light battalion, under Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Place of the Queen's and proceeded to Koolapore.  Place’s health was so bad that his doctor advised against active service and that Place should relinquish the command.  Typical of the man, he told his doctor “I go - [even] if I die on the road.”  Whilst engaged on this campaign he was appointed by the Commander-in-Chief in India to take command of the 41st Regiment of Foot, which was garrisoned at Koolapore and once again duty and honour took precedence over private considerations.[5]

His Last Command

Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Place of the 2nd Foot was appointed to the 41st Regiment of Foot on 30th August 1827, following the death of Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Latouche Chambers who died the previous day.  Weakened by a bout of cholera and suffering from a severe attack of liver complaint [cirrhosis of the liver], a kick from a horse confined Lieutenant-Colonel Place to his sickbed; meaning that he was unable to attend the accompanying ceremony on the surrender of the Rajah of Koolapore.  Now began the long and torturous return journey to Belgaum.  Setting off in the very early hours of the morning and travelling between thirteen and sixteen miles a day, the company reached Belgaum on 20th December.  Gravely ill, Place coined his last will and testament on 27th December, after which his doctors decided that should his condition improve he should be removed to the coast for embarkation to England.  With the death of two other officers diagnosed with liver attack, a decision was made to transfer him to the coast and so on 7th January 1828, at four o’clock in the morning, began the march to Vingorla which they reached on 12th January.  Suffering from fever, hot and cold fits and excruciating pain, Place lingered on until his death which was recorded as midnight on the 18th January 1828.  An autopsy, performed at ten that morning, revealed multiple conditions to his internal organs in addition to abscesses on his liver.  His body was interred with military honours on a hillside in an obscure part of the country with the service led by James Welsh of the East India Company.[6]

At the age of fifty, his wife Margaret remarried in 1832, but her second husband died 8 years later.  She lived out her remaining years with a companion and servant preferring lodgings to owning her own property, dying at Clifton, Bristol in 1872 aged 90 years.

Memorial to Robert Place at St. Catwg's Church

Of the Lieutenant-Colonel’s siblings;

 Catherine Place, the eldest of the Place children was born in 1779 in Neath Abbey (her parents John and Sarah were about 23 years old).  She married William Llewellyn, a surgeon of Brombil, Margam and Court Colman, Bridgend at St Catwg’s Church in 1818.  She died on 3rd November 1848 at Court Colman aged 69 years. 

Thomas Dumayne Place was a solicitor, Mayor of Neath, Magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant of Glamorgan.  He married Mary Jones of 'Glanbrane', Llansamlet in 1807 at St Catwg's Church. He built the houses named 'Glyn Leiros' around 1824 and 'Ffrwd Vale' around 1841, where he died from cholera on 30th August 1849 aged 69 years.

John Place was a surgeon and militiaman who was appointed Second-Lieutenant and Surgeon to Major Thomas Lockwood’s Forest Volunteers at the age of nineteen.  After many years spent abroad, in the capacity of surgeon, his health deteriorated to such an extent that he was forced to return home.  After lingering more than two years in a state of suffering, he died at Cadoxton Cottage in 1823 at the age of 38 years.

James Place started his military carrier at the aged fifteen when along with his brother Robert, he also entered the Native Indian Army, in Bombay as a Cadet.  In 1812 he was promoted to Ensign [without purchase] in the 65th Regiment of Foot, that had been posted to India in 1811.  Over the next eight years he was further promoted to Lieutenant and then to Captain, both on merit.  At the age of 35 Captain James Place was listed by the army as being on half-pay.  He remained on half-pay until his death in 1847 at Cheltenham, at the age of 58 years.  His body returned to Neath and was interred at St Catwg’s Church on 2nd January 1848.

William Place was a volunteer who also received promotion in 1812 to the position of Ensign with the 77th Regiment of Foot, which was then serving in Spain.  In October 1814 William was promoted to Lieutenant [again on merit], but within the space of three months he was placed on half-pay.  William died in Portpool Lane, Holborn, in 1830 at the age of 39 years.

Edward Holden Place was a surgeon who lived at Maesyberllan House, near Resolven.  Although he had one son (Thomas Holden Place), with his servant Joan Morgan, he remained a bachelor.  Edward died in 1867 at Maesyberllan at the age of 74 with the proceeds of his estate (which amounted to £28 2s 6d) administered by his nephew William Llewellyn of Court Colman.  

Sarah Place was born in 1795 and was the second daughter to be given this name (the first Sarah having died in infancy in 1785).  She first married William Walter Jones of Gurrey, Carmarthenshire, in 1817 and the couple had two children before William’s death in 1828.  She remarried in 1833 to Henry Carnegie Carden in Cheltenham and shortly after the couple moved to Paris.  It was here that her daughter’s marriage took place at the house of the British Ambassador in 1836 and where in 1865, Henry took out a patent for 'an improved metronome or apparatus for measuring intervals of time.'  Henry died a widower in Paris in 1886.  In the absence of a death of burial record for Sarah Carden at present, it is likely that Sarah also died in Paris.

Ann Place was the youngest of Robert’s siblings, died 'after a painful, lingering illness' in 1817, at Cadoxton Cottage aged 20 years.

End Note:

The 41st Regiment of Foot was initially raised by Colonel Edmund Fielding in March 1719 as Edmund Fielding's Regiment of Foot.  Fielding recruited from regiments and from the Chelsea out-pensioners [soldiers incapable of normal service through disease, age or injury].  For much of its early history the Regiment undertook garrison duties at Portsmouth.  It was renamed the Royal Invalids in 1741 and it was numbered the 41st Regiment of Foot in 1751.  In 1782, when other regiments took county titles it was denoted as the 41st (Royal Invalids) Regiment of Foot.  When in 1787 it ceased to comprise of invalids and became a conventional line regiment, the title Royal Invalids was dropped.  The regiment received a territorial affiliation in 1831, becoming the 41st (Welch) Regiment of Foot.  In 1881 the 41st (Welch) Regiment of Foot and 69th (South Lincolnshire) Regiment of Foot amalgamated to form the Welsh Regiment, by which it was known until 1920 when it was renamed The Welch Regiment.  Today, after further amalgamations, we know it The Royal Regiment of Wales.


[A] Diana Ainsley Bowser and her husband move to Tynyrhoel, Tonna, in or about 1807 but her husband’s circumstance led to a move to Briton Ferry where, in March 1814, at the age of 38, she died in child-birth leaving 10 children to be cared for. 


[1] Alphabetical List of the Officers of the Indian Army – Dodwell & Miles (1838)

[2] The London Gazette – various dates

[3] The Cambrian -  29th April 1826

[4] The Sessional Papers (1852) -  Parliament Publications (1852)

[5] Historical Record of the Second or Queen’s Royal Regiment of Foot - Richard Cannon (1838)

[6] Military Reminiscences - Colonel James Welsh (1830)

 

The portrait of Robert Place from the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection is by permission of the Brown University Library - https://repository.library.brown.edu/studio/item/bdr:227386/

 

 

29 June 2020THE STONE WITH A HIDDEN SECRET

THE STONE WITH A HIDDEN SECRET

Keith Tucker

The quite large old stone had been in the churchyard of St. Mary Llansawel for longer than anyone could remember.  A large sandstone lump much weather beaten and eroded; it had obviously been worked by skilled hands for a specific purpose many centuries ago.  Due to the square socket cut into its upper face, the conclusion arrived at by clergy, historians and antiquarians was that this stone had formed part of a churchyard cross.

That decided, it languished in the churchyard left in peace until 1931 when a rearranging of access and general 'tidying up' of the burial ground required to be relocated. Under the direction of the vicar Walters, two sextons set about moving the stone.  Thereby, on laying the stone on its side the long forgotten 'secret' was discovered; a large hollowed out recess.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why was this done, was the obvious question?  There was no reason to suspect that it was done purely to make the stone lighter and easier to manipulate. The vicar contacted Glen A Taylor, a leading light of the Neath Antiquarian Society, expert in church architecture and the driving force behind excavating the Neath Abbey ruins.

Glen Taylor viewed the artefact, took photographs and formulated his own conclusions, as can be seen in his letter to the vicar on 25th June 1931 with the accompanying sketch and conjectural construction.  The following day, he also wrote to Aymer Vellance who was a leading authority on churchyard crosses hoping to have his opinion confirmed or refuted.

Sadly, we do not have the reply. As to what, if anything, was hidden in the recess? - Well, the stone (remainig in positon) keeps that secret still.

 

 

01 June 2020William Gronow

WHO WAS WILLIAM GRONOW?

Grafting onto the Family Tree

Martyn J Griffiths

We know a great deal about William Gronow but there has been speculation about his family origins ever since one his sons rose to fame or infamy.

William Gronow, 1771-1830, lies buried in a very large grave at Cadoxton Church.  In fact, it is probably the largest grave in a very big churchyard.  The grave measures 4 metres by 5 metres yet he is the only person buried there.

His list of achievements goes on and on:  surgeon, apothecary, man-midwife, banker, portreeve, colliery owner, land owner, property owner in the town of Neath, magistrate, deputy lieutenant, etc, etc..  He was married twice and had three children.  Through his first marriage he had a grandson, Gronow Davies, who was one of the first to win a Victoria Cross for action in the Crimean War.  His eldest son, from his second marriage, was Captain Rees Howell Gronow, soldier, failed parliamentarian, author, dandy and friend of royalty; his 'Reminiscences…' made him a celebrity in his day and his accounts of Waterloo gave him a kind of immortality even though he ended his days a pauper.  The younger son, Reverend Thomas Gronow, also gained some notoriety for the problems he presented during his incumbency at Cadoxton-juxta-Neath between 1821 and 1834.  There is an excellent article about him in Morgannwg L1, written by Rev. Roger Lee Brown.

Nowhere, however, has there been printed any proof positive of William Gronow's ancestry, but that has not stopped a great deal of speculation.

When William Gronow died in 1830 The Gentleman's Magazine made no reference to his family's illustrious past.  However, by 1862, these fables start to emerge.

 

Burke's Landed Gentry of 1862 set the seal of approval on the family when referring to the Reverend Thomas Gronow of Ash Hall and speculated that the Gronow family 'was a very ancient family originally seated in north Wales where they had large landed possessions.'   A knighthood and a relationship to the Tudor royal dynasty are mentioned, as well as links to eminent relations in Pembrokeshire.

 

 

 

The Gentleman's Magazine of 1866, reporting the Captain's death, spoke of him being of 'an ancient Welsh family'; and Roger Lee Brown continued in the same vein stating that William Gronow 'seems to have belonged to a cadet branch of the once influential family of Gronow'.

All of these lineages seem to emanate from the introductory chapter to Volume 1 of Captain Gronow's book about himself, published in 1862, which gives details of the family claims to ancient ties.

The Welsh have always been proud of their ancestry and many books have been written about the genealogies of the princes.  In Cadoxton church are plaques created by Philip Williams of Dyffryn which are believed to present the longest family tree in Wales.  On there you will find Iestyn ap Gwrgan last prince of Glamorgan (said in the Gwenllian Chronicle to be the worst prince ever seen in Wales.), kings of north Wales, Gwent and Dublin and even Old King Cole together with a host of other characters from Welsh history [never let the truth stand in the way of a good story]!  Iestyn ap Gwrgan is said to have had 13 children and almost anyone living in south Wales in the mid-nineteenth century might claim descent from him.

Captain Gronow told a good tale.  He was regaled in the courts of England and France and his fame as a raconteur meant that when he published the four volumes of his 'Reminiscences…' between 1862 and 1865 it was a best seller.  Perhaps he would not have been so popular in certain quarters if it had been known that his grandfather was from humble origins.  Perhaps hints at illustrious ancestors were his way of getting round the problem [nothing concrete, mere suggestions].

Captain Rees Howell Gronow; one of the most celebrated dandies

New evidence has now emerged which throws doubt on all these grand connections.

Lewis Herbert was a joiner/carpenter from Cadoxton who had built up a substantial property portfolio in the town of Neath.  By the time of his death around 1821 he owned the freehold on several properties in Wind Street and also had the leasehold on five properties in High Street.  In his will[1] he does not mention a wife or any children and leaves all his wealth to two main beneficiaries.  One is William Herbert Elias who was a tallow chandler in High Street and was probably a nephew.  The other was William Gronow, then of Court Herbert, was the greater beneficiary, being left all the freehold properties.

Lewis Herbert's wife, Elizabeth, is named as a 'life' in an indenture dated 1813, referring to properties in High Street and Wind Street, Neath[2].  Her age is shown as 66.

The link between Lewis Herbert and William Gronow is found in the marriage at St. Thomas' church on 23rd June 1788, of Lewis Herbert, widower, and Elizabeth Gronow, widow, both of that parish.  Was Elizabeth Gronow mother or much older sister to William?  The answer to that lies in an earlier marriage, again at St. Thomas', on 22nd September 1770 between Thomas Gronow and Elizabeth Moore.  William [from his burial record] was born about a year later so there is little doubt that he was Elizabeth's son.  There is no reference anywhere to any other Gronow children so it is likely that Thomas Gronow died shortly after the marriage.

Marriage record of Thomas Gronow and Elizabeth Moore

On the banns to the above marriage record[3] Thomas Gronow is shown as 'blacksmith', which is certainly not someone belonging to the gentry class.  Furthermore, he could not sign his name and instead made his mark.  It is likely, therefore, that it was Lewis Herbert who gave his stepson a first step onto the ladder and provided him with the means to gain an apprenticeship to become a surgeon.  There is no doubt that William Gronow rose to become one of the senior citizens of Neath by his own means thereafter.

It is still possible that the Gronows were descended from one of the noble families mentioned in Burke's Landed Gentry but in Wales, almost everyone with Welsh lineage is probably descended from one line or other of the fertile Welsh princes, so that in itself would not be unusual. Proof of such descent is, however, very rare.

What is most likely is that Captain Gronow embellished possible links to the family name and when put into print for his 'Reminiscences…' it became accepted as fact.  If indeed there was a link, then it is lost in the mists of time as there is no earlier record than Thomas Gronow's marriage in 1770.

Anyone wishing to research the Gronow name before his marriage might have problems since there is no record of him in Neath prior to that date.  The bondsman on the Marriage Bond was Thomas Rimbron 'of the parish of Llandaff'.  Bondsmen might be a relative or friend of either party so there is a possibility that the Gronow family came to Neath from the Cardiff area.

The lesson here is 'don't believe everything you see in print'.  

[1] D/D Z 238 - WGAS

[2] D/D Gn428 - WGAS

[3] dated 1st September 1770 - NLW

 

 

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