A Weaver's Tale
Thomas Griffiths was born in the year 1798 in the reign of mad George the Third. He lived at Penbontbren, a fifty-acre farm in the parish of Llangunnor on the south side of the river Tywi at Carmarthen town. He was one of five children Mary, his only sister was five years older, then came William junior, then David and Richard was seven years younger. There may well have been other siblings who didn’t survive, but none are recorded in the Llangunnor parish records. Thomas’ father William was a tenant farmer and he and his wife Catherine would have found it hard to make a living on the damp and marshy land that lies to the north of the old A48 trunk road at Nant Y Caws on the banks of Nant Pibwr. William and Catherine may well have supplemented their income from farming with home weaving on a small loom as many did.
As Thomas was growing up he would be expected to work from a very early age. Formal education of any kind was sporadic, and for girls, non-existent. According to the evidence Catherine, Thomas’ mother could not sign her own name and used a cross on official documents, this doesn’t mean that she was unable to read, she probably could and would have learned to read the Welsh Bible at Sunday school. The family was monoglot Welsh speakers, as the later available censuses record, but it is unclear as to which denomination they belonged: at this time all baptisms, marriages and burials were conducted at the parish church.
Tragedy struck the family in the spring of 1809 when the father, William Griffith died at the age of thirty-nine when Thomas was eight years old. It’s impossible to say why he died, whether from illness or accident but he was buried in the hillside churchyard at Llangunnor. Possibly the churchyard with the loveliest view anywhere in the world, as it faces east up the lush Tywi valley.
As was common in those days, Catherine was soon to remarry, within eighteen months she had met a young widower nine years her junior and were married by licence at Llangunnor church. It seems that they had one child, John, born in 1816. There may have been other children who didn’t survive, but no records have been found. It also must be noted that she was forty-five when John was born. When Thomas was twenty, tragedy hit the family again, Richard Rees his stepfather died. He was also thirty-nine, and like William Griffith, is buried in Llangunnor churchyard. Penddaulwyn Isaf farm still survives and straddles the road from Llangunnor to Capel Dewi to this day.
Catherine went on to farm for another forty years. She never hired help as such, but always employed her own kith and kin. She died in 1859 at eighty-eight years old. She is also buried in Llangunnor where her gravestone still stands under the shade of the ancient yew tree near the western wall.
At this time the port of Carmarthen was thriving with the export of all kinds of produce including tin plate, coal, slate, cheese, butter, timber and pickled salmon. Most important of all for this story is that it was a center for the wool trade with several woolen mills and weaving sheds in the Pentrefelin area of what was the biggest town and the busiest port in Wales. It’s in Carmarthen Town that Thomas met Hannah William. They were married in Saint Peter’s church in November 1826. Their first child Mary was born on the 17th of June, 1827. She was christened in Tabernacle chaple, on Waterloo Terrace. This is a baptist chaple and maybe Hannah's family denomination. Their second child, John was born in1829 and was christened in Saint Peter’s Church. These are the only record of christenings that have come to light so far, as Hannah may have been baptist subsequent christenings were possibly carried out at Bethel Baptist chapel in Llangyndeyrn. The records are being searched for. Saint Peter’s Church records also show that they lived on the main route in to town running up from the old town bridge, Bridge Street. This was quite a respectable address in Carmarthen, but these were turbulent times with social and political unrest and even rioting a common event in the town. This may well explain why Thomas, Hannah and the children left for greener pastures.
We next find the Griffiths family in Pandy, Llangyndeyrn during the recording of the 1841 census. Pandy has disappeared, but the tithe maps of the day show many small cottages with a garden in the Felindre area. Felindre was a hamlet probably developed specifically to provide homes for the weavers and other workers at the Drysgeirch corn mill and the woolen mill up-stream. The family had grown; there were now seven children. There was Mary, John, Sarah, David, William, Elizabeth and baby Catherine, only two weeks old. Thomas was a weaver at William Harris’ woolen mill, ‘The Factory’. This mill was housed in a relatively small building no bigger than a barn on the side of the hill about eighty meters from Thomas’ next home. More space was needed for the growing family, so Thomas and Hannah were provided with Ty’r Tranch, still small by today's standards, but bigger than ‘Pandy’, which was probably no more than one room. Ty’r Tranch had two ground floor rooms and space in the roof for the children to sleep accessed by a ladder. It had a good-sized garden with a pigsty and the soil quality looks good to this day!
By the 1851 census things had changed; Mary, John, Sarah, David and William had left home, William (WG2) we know was by now living with his unle Richard in Llanelli, and there were three new children. There was Herbert, Catherine and baby Harriet who was eleven months old. Elizabeth who was now 12 was still at home and it seems that the Catherine in the ’41 census had died at a tragically young age and the new Catherine was already 4 years old. Catherine was an important name to the family. It was the name of their grandmother of course who was still farming Penddaulwyn Isaf with her sons William and John. On the day of the ’51 census she had visitors. Two of Catherine’s grandchildren, Mary and David, had traveled from Llangyndeyrn, some five miles away to see her. They would have walked through Llangyndeyrn village, then north on a cross-country route using the byways and footpaths over farmland. They exist today as public rights of way. The most direct route would have taken them across the Swansea to Carmarthen turnpike at Nant Y Caws. They probably passed their father’s birthplace at Penbontbren and then on to Penddaulwyn land before dropping down to the Vale of Tywi.
Ten years later, at the time of the American civil war, life in Felindre was continuing at it’s own pace. The census of ’61 shows that Thomas was still working at the Factory woolen mill as a weaver; he was now sixty years old. Hannah, who was now fifty-eight, still had Elizabeth and Catherine at home. Herbert, who would have been eighteen by now, was well in to his chosen career, probably working on a local farm as an agricultural labourer. The employer’s farm would also be his home. William Griffiths by this time was twenty-three years old. The railway had reached Carmarthen town by 1850 and William would have been recruited amongst hundreds of other local men in search of adventure.
By the census of 1871 little had changed. The seventy-year-old Thomas was, incredibly, still working as a weaver at the woolen mill, a job he’d worked at for maybe more than forty years. But it meant that the family could continue to live at Ty’r Tranch. Elizabeth was a thirty-year-old dressmaker, still single. There is no mention of Catherine, but as she reappears in the next census, she was probably away for the night, maybe visiting friends or relatives. She may even have left home temporarily to go in to service. As she was twenty-two years old , she may well have had many years of experience of working by now.
The 1881 census shows considerable changes. Thomas had finally retired from his work as a weaver at the Factory and consequently had to move out of Ty’r Tranch. He was now eighty-two years old and living in the shadow of the parish church at Llangyndeyrn. The census records his home as being ‘Village Court’ and in fact the cottage still stands outside the Farmer’s Arms to this day. Its name is ‘Cwrt’, probably a reference to a much earlier building on what is a very historical site. Hannah is eighty years old and daughter Catherine seems to have returned to care for her ageing parents. Another reason for her return is that her sister Elizabeth had married James Thomas in 1874 and by now was a mother of three. She had a small cottage in the village where her husband made a living as a boot maker and Eliza, as she was known, did some work as a dressmaker.
In the following decade Thomas Griffiths’ story comes to an end. In August 1889, at the age of forty-three, Catherine died at ‘Cwrt’ cottage. Her father Thomas, was ninety-one years old and her mother, Hannah, was eighty-nine. It’s likely that both were dependent on Catherine for day-to-day needs like meals or bathing. On the other hand, it may have been Catherine that was dependent, especially in her last years where she may have been suffering before finally succumbing to the illness that killed her. We won't know until further research is done. Within three months Hannah had died, she was eighty-nine years old. The aged Thomas Griffiths certainly would have needed care. Eliza by now had moved her family to live in Pont Antwn, a mile or so down the valley. This is where Thomas would spend his last months. He lived to the age of ninety-two, and died in December 1890. He is buried in the churchyard at Llangyndeyrn, where his small white gravestone lies to the west of the western door. The inscription is bearly legible and it wont be long before the effects of weathering will be complete.
The search for the Griffiths branch of the family roots began with inscriptions in stone in ancient graveyards and Latin parish church records written in copperplate by quill and ink, it ends with this record produced on computer and published on the Internet. Thomas Griffiths the weaver was born in 1801, it took two hundred years for his story to come to light, and for many of his descendents comes the realization that the wheel has turned and in coming to live in this part of Wales we have in fact, come home.