04 May 2021
The families of a nineteenth century entrepreneur


Philip John

On the west wall of St. Catwg’s Church, Cadoxton, are two memorial tablets in memory of members of the Sutton family.  The memorial tablet on the south side of the west wall is solely to the memory of Thomas Stephen Sutton.  His epitaph reads:

In Loving Memory / of / Thomas Stephen Sutton / of Glynleiros in this Parish / who died / December 19th 1896, / in the 78th year of his age. / Lifes race well run / Lifes work well done / Lifes crown well won / Then comes rest.

Accounts of the death and subsequent funeral of Thomas Stephen Sutton were covered by several newspapers.  It is from these newspapers that we learn that he had been ailing for some considerable time and that earlier in the year he had been seriously ill from an attack of bronchitis and congestion of the lungs.  The newspapers record that he died at Glynleiros on the morning of Saturday, 19th December 1896 at 9.30am.

Thomas was born in the Wiltshire village of Winterbourne Gunner [four miles from Salisbury] and one of five surviving children born to Job Sutton and his wife Mary.  The first two born children, both girls and the last born child, a boy, died in infancy.  Job (like his father before him) was a miller and married Mary Selwood (or Sellwood) in 1808 by licence at Porton, Wiltshire.[1]  In 1809 Job’s signature appears on a Meeting House Application for the Methodist faith in Winterbourne Gunner.  Of interest is one application made in 1818

'Winterbourne Gunner.  A chapel building and school room adjoining, all under one roof, the property of Elizabeth Sutton.  Job Sutton of Winterbourne Gunner.'[2]

Was this Elizabeth his mother? The existence of a school room could possibly explain where Thomas Stephen Sutton and his siblings received their early education.  A little over three months before Thomas was born his father sold,

'Part of the HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE of Mr Job Sutton, at Winterbourne Gunner, Miller; comprising bedsteads, feather beds, table, chairs, an 8-day clock, kitchen requisites and numerous other articles…'

but there is no explanation as to why he sold the items.  In 1842 the 'Corn-mill at Winterbourne Gunner, in the occupation Mr Job Sutton, was on Wednesday evening last wholly destroyed by fire, less than an hour from the commencement, the whole was levelled with the ground.'[3]  Job Sutton died in 1845 at Laverstock Mill, Alderbury[4], having been forced to relocate there following the fire and live with his eldest son John. 

At the time of writing nothing is known of the early years of Thomas Stephen Sutton.  The 1841 census accounts for his brothers whilst his sister is living in Cape Town, Africa with her husband the Rev. James Smeeth.[5]  However, there are no confirmed online sources relating to Thomas after his baptism in 1819 until a family notice in The Cambrian in 1844.  On 17th December 1844 Thomas, an ironmonger, married the widow Elizabeth Sarah Fear, in the Parish Church of St. Thomas, Neath.  Several months earlier, in April 1844, a report of the death of 'John West, an 18 year old shopman to Mrs Fear, ironmonger,' indicates that Eliza had, in name at least, taken over the ironmonger business of her husband who had died in September 1843.  In September 1845 The Cambrian carried an advertisement, placed by TS Sutton, for 'a young man who well understands the Welsh language for employ as an Ironmonger Assistant' suggesting that Thomas was now running the business.  Thomas vigorously entered into commercial and political pursuits and is noticeable in local newspapers mixing with the influential inhabitants of the town.  By 1848 he was an assessor [selection of an elected or unelected official] for Neath Town Council.  After his marriage he began to expand his sphere of business and in Hunt’s Directory of 1849, not only was he recorded as an ironmonger, Wind Street, but he was also the fire & life assurance agent for the Legal & Commercial Co. Ltd.  The following year Thomas publicly announced his 'determination to retire from the Retail Department of his business' and after selling-up his furnishings and ironmongery in December 1850, he moved to Longford Court where in the 1851 census he described himself as a General Commission Agent. The family residence of Glynleiros had, in addition to the servants quarters, six principal bedrooms, a drawing-room, dining-room, library and 'domestic offices of every description; ample stabling, coach-houses, lofts, cow-houses, and other buildings; with lawn, walled kitchen garden, orchard, and rich pasture land, comprising altogether about 23 acres.'

In 1857 a Licence (mainly promoted by Thomas) for the erection of a Gunpowder Mill near Hirwain [sic] was granted for the first explosives factory in Wales.[6]  In Slater’s Commercial Directory for 1858  Thomas has been elevated to appear under the heading of Gentry, not only as an agent for the Plymouth and Dartmoor Powder Company, but also as agent for two insurance companies; 1858 was also the year that he took out a patent for 'improvements in miner’s lamps.'  Whilst Thomas entered vigorously into many business pursuits, it was metal smelting that yielded him tangible results and allowed him to amass his considerable wealth.  Firstly, he went into partnership with Thomas Jenkins to create the firm of Sutton & Jenkins, iron merchants, Neath and then in or about 1885 he set up the firm of Thomas S. Sutton and Sons, metal smelters.  To facilitate his metal business he purchased a freehold yard and appurtenances in the Mill-lands in 1879.   Additionally, the firm [probably now managed by his two sons due to Thomas’s failing health] took out a lease on a warehouse and yard in Gasworks Road in 1896 – the year of his demise. 

Outside of his business interests Thomas was the chairman of the Neath Conservative Club and, as one of the founders of the Neath Constitutional Club, read the welcome address to Lord Iddesleigh at the opening of the Orchard Street premises.  After serving on the Grand Jury on several occasions he was, in 1885, appointed a magistrate for the county of Glamorgan.  Thomas was interested in archaeology and presented a paper to the Cambrian Archaeological Society when fifty of its members visited Neath Abbey.  Among his publications were The Romance of the Monastery of Neath and A Vision in the Valley of Life.  Although brought up in a Wesleyan-Methodist family [as was his wife] he became a staunch churchman at the Cadoxton church of St. Catwg's where baptisms, marriages and burials of the Sutton family took place.  He was buried in the churchyard 23rd December 1896 in a coffin of polished oak with massive brass mountings.  Although semi-private, in addition to family members, his funeral was attended by local dignitaries and some of his employees.  Thomas left a family of two sons, two daughters and three step-daughters; his wife having predeceased him in 1872 at the age of 63 years.

On the west wall of the church is found the second memorial tablet to the Sutton family being that to the memory of Eliza Sarah Maria Sutton and her mother Elizabeth Watson.  Their epitaph reads as follows:

Erected / in loving memory / of / Eliza Sarah Maria / Sutton / of Glynleiros / who died October 20, 1872, / aged 63 years. / Also of / Elizabeth Watson, her mother, / who died October 3, 1840. / Aged 61 years. / Their remains rest in the adjoining churchyard. / The righteous / shall be in everlasting / remembrance.

Mrs Eliza Sarah Maria Sutton was born in Shrewsbury in 1809 to the Rev. John Watson and his wife Elizabeth.  Rev. Watson had married Elizabeth Prosser the previous year in Tenby.  His commitment to the Wesleyan-Methodist faith meant that Rev. Watson would preach and lead worship, along with other preachers, in different churches within a circuit; the arrangements of which were drawn up quarterly.  Among the circuits that the Rev. John Watson worked were Pembroke 1807 & 1810 and Shrewsbury in 1809, which accounts for Eliza being born there.[7]  Eliza was probably given a non-conformist baptism in Shrewsbury which is a possibly why she was married in St. Peter’s Church, Carmarthen by Licence. Born into a family with deeply religious convictions, which had over years suffered intolerance, Eliza’s upbringing was in the hands of her mother, a single parent supported by her sisters and the Methodist Church movement.  Eliza first married John Simmons Fear, ironmonger, of Neath, on 9th April 1833 and the marriage licence, obtained three days previously, attests to the fact that both had attained the age of 21 years.  Various newspapers record that Eliza was the daughter of the late Rev. John Watson, Wesleyan minister.  John Simmons Fear and his bride retuned to Neath where, in May 1833, he announced he had 'commenced Business as a Furnishing and General Ironmonger in Market Street.'

The couple had three girls: Elizabeth Sarah, born in 1835; Maria Ann, born in 1837 and Ellen Jane born in 1839.  By the time of the 1841 census the family had moved to Wind Street, Neath, where they employed two live-in apprentice ironmongers and had two live-in servants. When in October 1842 John advertised for an active young man to start immediately as an assistant, was it Thomas Stephen Sutton who filled this vacancy?  Although John Simmons Fear died on 19th September 1843 in Bristol, his body was returned to Neath for burial at St. Catwg's church.  In April 1844 it was reported that 'John E West, shopman to Mrs Fear, ironmonger,' had died [John West was one of the two apprentices listed in the census of 1841].  This newspaper report seems to indicate that Eliza was now running the business.  In his will, made some six months before his death, John Simmons Fear made provision for his daughters and his wife Eliza as long as she remained his widow. He appointed his friend Mrs Elizabeth Thomas, of Carmarthen Town, a residuary legatee to administer the will in the event that Eliza remarried.  Of note is that James Fear [John’s father] did not make Eliza, or any of her daughters, beneficiaries in his will dated 10th October 1844.[8]   

Just over a year after her husband’s death Eliza married Thomas Stephen Sutton. During the time that the Sutton’s resided in Neath, Eliza gave birth to four children: two girls who were Ellen Agnes born in 1846 and Laura Maud born in 1848, and twins born in 1850.  One of these was still-born and Henry Ormond (the other twin) sadly lived for only seven days after his birth.  Whilst in residence at Longford Court, before they moved to their final residence Glynleiros, Eliza gave birth to another male child, Herbert Selwood Sutton, who was born in 1851 and in 1856, at the age of 47, Eliza gave birth to the couple’s last born child – Charles Edward Sutton.

Over the decades the census returns show that the Sutton’s were not extravagant with live-in servants.  In fact, on each of the census returns covering the period 1851 to 1891 only two female servants are in the Sutton’s employ as live-in servants.  What catches the eye when looking at these census returns is that the Sutton’s have, on occasions, employed female servants who were born in the Sutton’s 'home' villages i.e. Winterbourne Gunner (in 1850s) and Amroth (1860s and 1880s).

Eliza’s first born daughter, Elizabeth Sarah Fear, married Lewis Griffith Lewis, Chemical Manufacturer, on 1st Jun 1859 at the age of 23 – just over 3 years after the birth of her step-brother, Eliza’s last born child.  This would be the only marriage of her children that Eliza would witness as she did not live to see the weddings of her remaining children; Eliza died on 20th October 1872 aged 63 years.  Her obituary records that 'she was a women of strong intellect which she applied to the subjects of history, divinity, botany and general literature.'  The next of Eliza’s children to marry was Ellen Jane Fear who married Jenkin Lewis Thomas, Civil Engineer, on 17 December 1872.  Then in quick succession Emily Agnes Sutton married George Willes Ommanney, Engineer, on 5th March 1873 and Laura Maud Sutton married David Godfrey Thomas, Iron & Metal Merchant, on 11th August 1873.  Charles Edward Sutton married Frances Matilda Bevan, daughter of David Bevan of the Vale of Neath Brewery, on 1st July 1881.  His brother, Herbert Selwood Sutton, married Edith Amelia Bradford, daughter of Hugh M Bradford, Civil Engineer, on 7th April 1885 in Radnorshire. Mary Ann Fear remained a spinster and died in Neath in 1922 at the of 86 years.            

Eliza’s mother, Elizabeth Watson, is commemorated on the same memorial tablet as her daughter. The inscription to Mrs Watson records that she died on 3rd October 1840, aged 61 years and that her remains rest in the adjoining churchyard.  Following her death the Silurian General Advertiser, published on 10th October, contained the following family notice:

 'On the 6th inst. at Neath, Mrs. Watson, in the 61st year of her age, mother in law to Mr. J. S. Fear, ironmonger, Neath. She was for many years an exemplary member of the Wesleyan connection.' 

A family notice in The Cambrian followed a week later:

'On the 6th inst at Neath, Mrs. Elizabeth Watson, relict of the Rev. J. Watson, Wesleyan Minister.  She finished her course with joy, having served God for upwards of 45 years.'

Elizabeth was buried on 11th October 1840 and, given that the memorial tablet was commissioned some 32 years after her death, the newspaper notices appear to give more credence to a death date of 6th October.

Rev. John Watson married Elizabeth Prosser on 18th August 1808, in Tenby, by Licence obtained three days previously.  John Watson was born in 1768 in the parish of Alstone Moor, Cumberland.  He was deeply religious from an early age but received little religious instruction in his very early years and it was not until the age of 12, on hearing Methodists’ preach, that he became 'enlightened to the ways of God.'  At the age of 18 he became an itinerant preacher and at the age of 31 he committed himself to the Methodist church and from 1799 joined those Methodist ministers preaching and leading worship in different churches within a circuit. His first appointment was to the Malton circuit, Yorkshire.  In 1805 and 1806 he was appointed to the Cardiff circuit and it was whilst preaching in Abergavenny that his health took a turn for the worse; Rev. Watson believed his poor health was brought about as a result of sleeping in a damp bed.  To aid his recuperation he was assigned to the Pembrokeshire circuit for 1807 and 1808.  With improving health he married Elizabeth and after he had 'enjoyed a very comfortable yea' he was assigned to the Shrewsbury circuit where he arrived on the 28th August 1809.  However, after about six weeks the Rev. Watson’s health gave cause for concern and a steady decline in his wellbeing set in.   After Christmas a change of air was recommend and 'Tenby being thought very favourable for the proposed purpose' the now family of three returned in April 1810.  After a year and nine months of illness and his health shattered, in the early hours of Monday, 15th July 1811 the Rev. John Watson 'finished his course and entered into rest'  in the 44th year of his age.[9]

Mrs Elizabeth Watson was the daughter of Benjamin Prosser, Excise Officer and his wife Sarah Palmer who married in St. Elidyr’s Church, Amroth, Pembrokeshire, on 20th July 1769.  Elizabeth was born in 1779 at Kilanow Farm in the parish of Amroth.  From an account written by her son-in-law [ Rev. John Watson] we know that she was one of five children born to Benjamin and Sarah.  Unfortunately, it is not possible to identify her siblings sine the christening records for the parish of Amroth before 1786 have not survived.  Elizabeth’s mother was devoutly religious being influenced by an event she experienced when she was six years old.   Sarah’s only brother was seriously ill, and apparently dying, which greatly distressed the little girl.  Kneeling down she asked the Lord to spare him another night and astonishingly the little boy didn’t expire that night and began to make a recovery; later in life Sarah’s religious convictions would cause tension within her family and conflict with some of her neighbours.   After 18 years of marriage Sarah’s husband died leaving her with five children to provide for.  She remained a widow for five years during which time she was persecuted for her religious beliefs by some of her neighbours. When an offer of marriage came she accepted it believing it would be for the comfort and benefit both of herself and family.  But her new husband, Mr Burton Burton, deceived her both as to his financial circumstance and his religious beliefs.  Following the death of Sarah’s only son [Elizabeth’s brother] the family moved to Brecon where Sarah wished to join the Methodist faith.  Her husband strongly objected to this until he became aware that his time was nigh and a few days before his death earnestly desired the Methodists to pray with him and for him.

                                                  A recent image of Kilanow Farm                                           public domain

After the death of her second husband Sarah and her daughters returned to Kilanow, the family farm, but struggling with the oppression of their neighbours the family made the decision to rent out the farm and move to Tenby.  Shortly after moving there, the first Wesleyan-Methodist chapel to be built in Tenby opened in 1804.  Mrs Sarah Burton (as she was then) died on 31st May 1811 in Tenby, in the 61st year of her age (13 months after her mother’s death and less than two months before the death of her son-in-law, the Rev. John Watson).[10]  Within a very short period Mrs Elizabeth Watson’s life had been turned upside down with the death of her mother (Mrs Burton) and then her husband. Following the examples of other religions the early Wesleyan-Methodists’ had set up a subscription scheme to enable retired ministers and the widows and orphans of ministers of the faith to receive a small annuity.  There are no records that I have found to substantiate that Elizabeth and her daughter benefited from the 'Preachers’ Fund' but I suspect that some provision for Elizabeth and her orphaned daughter would have been made given her circumstances.  

A lease dated 1st November 1824 reveals that Elizabeth had moved to Carmarthen and was living with her spinster sister Jane Prosser.[11]  The lease also reveals that Sarah (another of Elizabeth’s sisters) had married Thomas Watts, Esq. and was living in the Shropshire town of Ludlow.  Pigot’s directory of 1830 records Elizabeth Watson of Cambrian-place, Carmarthen, under Academies and Schools which suggests that she possibly had an income from teaching.  In 1833 two events associated with Elizabeth followed in quick succession; firstly in April, Elizabeth’s daughter married John Simmons Fear at St. Peter’s church, Carmarthen and then in June, Elizabeth’s sister Jane died at the age of 57 (Jane was subsequently buried in St. Elidyr’s churchyard, Amroth).

When Elizabeth moved to Neath, or where she consequently lived, is not known.  However, given that her only daughter gave birth to her three grand-daughters between 1835 and 1837 it might be speculated that she lived with her daughter and son-in-law John Simmons Fear and their family.  Elizabeth Watson, died in Neath and was remembered as 'an exemplary member of the Wesleyan connection who finished her course with joy, having served God for upward of 45 years.'


[1] Wiltshire Parish Records

[2] Wiltshire Dissenters’ Meeting House Certificates and Registrations 1689-1852 – Edited by JH Chandler

[3]Salisbury and Winchester Journal – 27th June 1842

[4] Laverstock Mill, Alderbury at one time made high quality paper for banknotes, it is now the Bombay Sapphire Distillery; the water being particularly pure.

[5] The Wesleyan-Methodist Magazine for 1853

[6] The Cambrian – 10th April 1857

[7] Wesleyan Methodism Circuits in England, Wales and Scotland 1765 to 1885 (with names of the Preachers who have travelled in them).

[8] Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills

[9] The Wesleyan-Methodist Magazine -  1813

[10] Some Account of Mrs Sarah Burton by Mr John Watson published in The Wesleyan-Methodist Magazine -  1813

[11] Pembrokeshire Archives

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