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01 February 2020A Pillar of the Community!

A pillar of the community!

Artefact from a Neath Valley Estate

KEITH TUCKER

Cathays Park in Cardiff is home to many fine examples of civic architecture that were built in the classical style largely at the opening of the twentieth century.  One such building on King Edward VII Avenue is now called the Glamorgan Building and forms part of the Cardiff University campus.  It was originally the County Hall of Glamorgan County Council and also the original location of Glamorgan Archives. 

Designed by Vincent Harris OBE (1876–1971) and Thomas Anderson Moodie (1874–1948) in the French neo-classical Beaux-Arts style, it opened in 1911 and today has a Grade 1 listing.

 Largely unnoticed on one of the now disused gateposts facing North Road at the rear of the building will be found a coat of arms and a plaque explaining its history

This pillar with the coat of arms of the Aberpergwm  family, the descendants of Iestyn ap Gwrgan, the last native chief in Glamorgan, whose motto has been adopted by the County Council, was removed from the entrance to the old drive of Aberpergwm House, Glynneath and presented to the Glamorgan County Council by Godfrey Herbert Joseph Williams, Esquire of Aberpergwm, Sept. 1951

 

The Williams family motto referred to, 'Y DDIODDEFWS Y ORFU' means 'He who suffers conquers'.  There were originally two such pillars which flanked the original entrance gateway and coach road to the Aberpergwm House on the old turnpike road. They feature in this early postcard circa.1890;

Amongst the collection of pictures held in Aberystwyth at the National Library of Wales is this early painting by the artist C Powell.  Entitled 'Aberpergwm Manor', it is believed to be circa. 1790.  Is it possible that the entrance pillars in the centre of the painting are the same ones? This would make the pillar a considerable age.  One can only wonder what became of its partner.

'Aberpergwm  Manor' - C Powell  c.1790 - National Library of Wales

 

Pillar with coat of arms as seen on North Road, Cardiff

KT Jan 2020

29 December 2019The Case of the Missing Bank Clerk

The Missing Bank Clerk

Phil John

When, on Monday, 23rd May 1904, Alfred Harger Scott left Neath to go on his annual vacation little did his landlady, or his employer, imagine that they would never see him again.  A man of many talents, he was an accomplished violin and piano player and collected gramophone records and musical instruments.  In fact, he was regarded as a bit of an antiquarian collecting old books, pictures and the like.  To his several landladies and customers of the Briton Ferry branch of the Capital & Counties Bank, he was a genial man held in high esteem.  However, his small circle of friends saw him as a man who could be quick-tempered and of uncertain moods – at times he would be delighted to see them and at other times his demeanour conveyed to them the impression that he wished they were the other side of the world.[1]  The eldest of five children born to Charles Scott, solicitor and his wife Helena Caroline Harger, Alfred was born on 27th June 1869 in the affluent London area of Primrose Hill.  As a youngster, Alfred attended the Grove Boarding School, in the village of Stonehouse, Gloucestershire.  In the 1891 census Alfred is recorded as working as a bank clerk in Ipswich where he took lodgings with the Spooner family; meanwhile his parents and his siblings were living in South Hamlet, Gloucestershire.  In or about 1894 Alfred took up a positon as a bank clerk with the Glamorganshire Banking Company at their Swansea branch.  While in Swansea he lodged in George Street and before he transferred to Neath he lodged at a property in Willow Place along with an electrical engineer and a solicitor.[2] 

In February 1902 Alfred transferred to the Neath branch of the Capital & Counties Bank (who had acquired the Glamorganshire Banking Company in 1889) taking lodgings at 45 London Road, Neath.  The manager of the Neath bank was John Griffiths who had known Alfred for several years having been sub-manager at the Swansea bank before being promoted to the Neath bank.  Griffiths employed Alfred as an agency clerk to be based at Briton Ferry.  Alfred would leave Neath each morning for Briton Ferry carrying with him a cash book and the estimated cash required for that day's business.  He would return in the afternoon and hand over the balance to a cashier who would confirm the balance and agree with the entries made in the cash book.  Since his coming to Neath, Griffiths had noticed a change in Alfred.  Griffiths liked Alfred and the two men initially got on well together in spite of Alfred’s 'peculiar ways.'  Alfred had frequently visited Griffiths' home in Swansea where he played the violin with Griffiths' daughter; since coming to Neath, however, Alfred had only visited Griffiths' Neath home three times in two years and Alfred was not known to mix with the other bank clerks outside of business hours.[3]

On Monday, 23rd May 1904, the day of his departure, Alfred settled up his lodging account, paying four weeks in advance and telling Miss Thomas (step-daughter of Mr Parker, the landlord, who was in America with his wife at the time) that he was due back in three weeks.  He told Miss Thomas that he had not quite made up his mind where he would end up – possibly Glasgow via London.  When asked if anyone was going with him he replied, “No. I've lived alone for years. I shall take my holidays alone.”[4]  Some ten days after Alfred was due back, reports of his disappearance appeared in the local newspapers stating that inquiries had been made by the bank and by Miss Thomas, but that they had been fruitless.  Over the coming weeks the newspaper reports began to reveal some hitherto unknown facts such as: Alfred had taken only sufficient clothing to cover his holiday leaving behind several suits of clothes; numerous articles of considerable value; that he was well supplied with money having received a substantial cheque from his father.  Left at his lodgings were his collections of violins, mandolins, guitars, a magnificent gramophone with hundreds of records and a number of valuable meerschaum pipes (unsmoked).[5]  As days passed new revelations grabbed the reader’s attention – after visiting Scotland Alfred might have subsequently crossed over to Amsterdam, and 'a gentleman who has had some connection with American liners and with whom Mr Scott was on friendly terms' informed one newspaper that “Mr Scott called upon me a few days before he left, and made inquiries with reference to rates from Liverpool to New York, the steamers running, times of departure, etc.  Mr Scott said he was making inquiries on behalf of a friend who intended going to America for a few weeks.”  The theory that Alfred never intended to return was put forward by one of Alfred’s friends.  Not only did he receive a postcard, signed 'Farewell – A.H.' but before Alfred went away a conversation had taken place between them.  According to this friend Alfred intended to go away for a time and had made up his mind 'to chuck music.'  He wanted his friend to accept his music, which his friend did on the condition that it was to be returned when Alfred came back.[6]  A letter sent to Miss Thomas from Alfred’s mother only confirmed that the family had no knowledge of their son’s whereabouts.  She [Mrs Scott] had understood that he was going to Scotland and the family were expecting him home for a few days on his return journey.  She was 'much puzzled what to say or do as to his things. If we get no news in a short while I will write you again and possibly come to Neath.'  Concern over Alfred’s disappearance was shown by one ex-landlady from Swansea, who came to Neath to make inquiries.  She met with a correspondent of The Cambrian stating that 'she knew Mr Scott very well and liked him very much, he being a genial and straight-forward gentleman.'  The correspondent told her that no one knew where he had gone, or where he was, and so the lady went on her way to Alfred’s lodgings in London Road.

Newspaper interest into the mysterious disappearance of Alfred Harger Scott began to wane towards the end of June 1904 and on 2nd July 1904 what appeared to be the last article on the subject appeared in the Weekly Mail.  Then, on Monday, 5th September 1904, the Evening Express included the sensational account of the suicide of a passenger that had taken place on board RMS Campania, on 9th June 1904.  When George and Anne Parkes, the parents of Miss Thomas, returned home to 45 London Road on Saturday, 3rd September, after five months in America, they had a remarkable tale to tell.  They were passengers on board RMS Lucania[7] and when the ship passed the steamer Campania mid-ocean they overheard a gentleman speaking of a suicide that occurred on board the Campania when en-route for New York on 9th June.  This, briefly, is the newspaper’s account of the gentleman’s story, as told by Mr & Mrs Parkes: - 'We sailed from Liverpool on 4th June. On board there was a man who seemed very peculiar. At times he would maintain a morose reserve and at others he would join in the games going on.  On the morning of the 9th June, he suddenly left the smoke-room and I said to my companion, "That man is going wrong, I'll warrant.”  We left the smoke-room a few minutes later and went on deck. We had not been there three minutes before the man rushed up, brandishing a hatchet.  He was in a frenzy.  He shouted as he ran up and down.  “I feel I'm going mad. What shall I do?  What shall I do?” One of the crew caught hold of him, but he broke away and jumped overboard.  The liner was stopped, but nothing was seen of the poor fellow after.  He was a man of medium height, inclined to be stout.  He was bald on the top of the head, but had curly hair at the sides. He walked with a slight stoop and wore gold-rimmed glasses.  He was well dressed and seemed to have plenty of money.  His age, I should say, would be about 40.'  The description apparently tallied accurately with that of the missing bank clerk and further, the time scale was a fit.  Other newspapers headlined the narrative as 'Curious Resemblance' and 'Remarkable Coincidence.'

In the January 1913 Alfred’s mother died and her obituary stated that 'The chief mourners were: — Mr Charles Scott, Mrs Henry Knowles and Miss KH Scott (daughters) Mr Herbert H Scott (son), Mr Henry Knowles (son-in-law), Mrs HH Scott (daughter-in-law) Dr Wilkin, Mr WS Knowles…'[8]  No mention of Alfred was made, but his brother and three sisters were accounted for.  However, when in 1921 Alfred’s father (Charles Scott) died; his obituary stated 'She [Mrs Scott] predeceased him in 1913. There was issue of the marriage two sons (Mr Alfred Harger Scott, who is abroad and Mr Herbert Harger Scott) and three daughters (Mrs Henry Knowles, Mrs Yates, and Miss Katharine Harger Scott), to the sympathy...'[9]  So Alfred was not the passenger who had allegedly committed suicide aboard the RMS Campania![10] 

In fact it would be another eight years before Alfred departed this life.  He died on 29th December 1929 in Toronto General Hospital, at the age of sixty, a single man.   His Death Certificate records the names of both of his parents, his occupation as a Violin Maker and that he was in hospital for three weeks before his death.   Alfred Hager Scott was buried on 2nd January 1930 at the Scarborough Lawn Cemetery, York County, Canada.   

 

 

 

[1] Evening Express – 28th June 1904

[2] Electoral Rolls for Swansea 1839-1966; 1901 Census – (West Glamorgan Archive Services)

[3] The Cambrian – 1st July 1904

[4] Ibid

[5]meerschaum pipe is a smoking pipe made from the mineral sepiolite, also known as meerschaum.

[6] The Cambrian – 1st July 1904

[7] RMS Lucania - was scrapped by Thos. W Ward after being damaged by fire at Liverpool on 14th August 1909

[8] Gloucester Journal – 18th January 1913

[9] Gloucester Citizen – 20th October 1921

[10] RMS Campania was built for the Cunard Line by Fairfield & Co. in 1839. Sold to the Royal Navy and converted to a seaplane carrier.  Whilst in the Firth of Forth, severe weather caused her to drag her anchor and after striking the bows of the battleship HMS Revenge she later foundered.

01 December 2019Murder on the N&B

Murder on the Neath & Brecon Railway

PHILIP JOHN

During my time working as part of a team in St. Catwg’s churchyard recording memorial inscriptions, the 'Murder Stone'erected over the body of Margaret Williams, was probably the most visited grave in the churchyard.  Some sightseers would often ask where it could be found, whilst others seemed to know where to find it.  As they had come specifically to view the monument most of them had heard or read the stories associated with the inscription.  Standing in front of the memorial before taking their photographs, many of these visitors would ask if the murderer was ever caught.  No one ever asked the awkward question if there were any more murder victims buried in the churchyard.  Sadly, there are more murder victims buried in St. Catwg’s churchyard.  This is an account of one such victim whose grave I suspect gets no visitors.

On the morning of Friday, 24th April 1868, the mail train left Neath at 4.15 am on its routine run to Brecon.  That morning the train was made up of one engine and tender, four goods vans, one third-class carriage, one composite carriage [multi-class compartments in one carriage] and one brake van.  John Dixon was the engine driver with William Brenton the stoker and George New the passenger guard.  The goods vans were loaded and the mail was in the brake van with George New.  There were no passengers on board.

Travelling on the mainline the stoker, Brenton, was standing on the sand box sanding the rails when he noticed that the points at March Hywel Colliery sidings were 'turned' into the colliery siding.  Parked in the siding were some colliery coal trucks.  William Brenton alerted John Dixon who immediately put the engine into reverse.  The passenger guard, George New, on hearing the engine going into reverse applied his hand brake.  The train slowed but it was too late to stop it turning into the sidings.  As the train reached the points John Dixon jumped off the foot plate on to the main line.  The train continued over the points towards the coal trucks standing in the siding. With the engine working in back gear, and braking through two locked chock blocks, it collided with the coal trucks throwing William Brenton off the footplate.  When he got to his feet he could see that two of the goods vans had been derailed falling onto their sides; the remainder of the train’s goods vans and carriages were still on the main line.   

William Brenton could hear someone groaning so called out “Where are you mate” and made his way towards the cries of agony.  John Dixon was pinned under the first goods van with his leg doubled up to his shoulder; his arms were free of the toppled goods van; he had been dragged about 12 yards under the van.  Meanwhile, George New had left his compartment in the brake van and run forward to the overturned vans.  He and William Brenton tried in vain to free John Dixon and realised that they were not going to free him on their own.  George New set off back down the main line to Neath Station to get help.  John Dixon was eventually freed and transported back to Neath and a doctor summoned to attend to him at the Foresters' Arms in Bridge Street.  Dr. Robert Wrentmore Thomas, a practising surgeon, arrived to find Dixon’s right leg completely smashed from a few inches below the hip joint, and the flesh was lacerated badly. The left leg below the knee was also completely smashed; there were no other injuries except to the legs.  Dixon succumbed to his injuries and died shortly before eight o’clock.

Back at the crash site Mr George Caulfield, an engineer of the Neath and Brecon Railway, was examining the scene.  He arrived about six o’clock and his focus soon became the points which were self-acting to be always in position for main line operation.  When trucks were to be moved from the siding the guard of the train turned the points so as to take them on to the main line.  Caulfield found a stud-pin, used to lock the points as an additional security, had been broken and its locking chain missing; the fact it was broken would not materially affect the operation of the points.  Superintendent Phillips, of the Borough Police, produced a stone he believed had been used to keep the points open; there were no similar stones found on that part of the line.  Caulfield also found a mile-post, about one-eighth of a mile from the crash site, had been taken up and thrown into a field. 

The coroner, Howell Cuthbertson, opened the inquest into the death of John Dixon at the Railway Inn, Neath, on the same day as the fatality.  In addition to the obvious witnesses, Benjamin Pitcher, another goods guard on the Neath and Brecon line, was called to give a statement.  He confirmed that he found the stud-pin broken and the locking chain missing on the Wednesday previous, but that the points were in good working order and that the mile post was up.  Pitcher had reported the damage to the platelayer in charge of that section of line [the plate layer was subsequently dismissed for not securing the points].  William Brenton, when questioned, confirmed the engine left the main line and went into the 'six-foot way'[1] followed by the tender which was pulled off the rails by the rest of the train.  He also confirmed that on the evening previous to the collision he had been on the last train to pass the points before the mail train that left Neath.  Caulfield deposed “Some person must have meddled with the points, or the engine would not have left the main line.”   The last witness called was Superintendent Phillips who was of the opinion that one man could not have done the mischief as the points would not remain open unless held.  The Coroner having summed up the evidence drew the attention of the jury to the principal facts as stated by the witnesses.  A verdict of 'Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown' was returned by the jury.[2]

John Dixon’s epitaph:

THIS STONE / IS ERECTED / BY HIS FELLOW SERVANTS / TO MARK THE SPOT / WHERE LIE THE REMAINS / OF JOHN DIXON / ENGINE DRIVER / WHO MET WITH HIS DEATH / ON THE NEATH AND BRECON / RAILWAY APRIL 24, 1868 / AGED 52 YEARS.

 

[1] 'six-foot way' - the distance between the siding and the main line.

[2] The Brecon County Times Neath Gazette and General Advertiser: 25th April 1868 & 2nd May 1868.

 The Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian: 2nd May 1868 and The Railway Times: Vol. 3I - 19th September 1868.

 

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