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26 Feb 2017

How an English town gave our two Welsh heroes an opportunity. Or, The Pub in Cwmneath

Oh for the opportunity of the early 1800s. According to Prof Hans Rosling, world population had just made the click into one billion. Daily wages would rise, and eventually life expectancy, children born per women would move to our current global values.

The rainmakers were our Industrial forebears. Would they seize new opportunities or die tryin'? To raise a family of hungry talent or live for Friday evenings - 500 gleaming pint glasses full of beer laid out ready for the end of the shift.

Jenkin and Jennet Price were at the apogee of industrial Welsh greatness, from its early beginnings of the homely zinc speltermen, tenders of the smokeless anthracite seam bordering the Beacons, and the canny forward-thinkers who knew it would very shortly be the time for industrial-scale coal-mining, iron smelting and associated haulage via cart, boat, canal.

Jennet's father had upskilled from humble joiner to the more valuable pattern maker at Neath Abbey's ironworks, puddlers pouring the melt into the wooden surrounds he'd made - for gates, poles, sheets, bolts, tools, and huge heaving sections.

Sleepy farming valleys were transformed with an influx of miners from north Somerset and a few from Ireland,  engineers and know-how from the Cornish.  Great structures and works would visit upon the valleys some extremely testing conditions under which the protestant workers thrived.

Jenkin Price, he of the fair hand, would not be working in the mines. Like his wife there would be a cottage or more of land, that was no longer profitable to merely farm.

So, with his wife, in 1806, his cottage opened its doors to the many passing workers as a hostelry. The Lamb and Flag at Glynneath was thus born. It was situate in the parish of Cadoxton and the area was then called Cwm-Neath or Vale of Neath, and this is where his daughters would give as their birthplace. I imagine it had some limited provision for horses, but being at the valley end, passing trade was limited.

I say his wife, not Jennet. The wife was Mary and Jennet was the youngest sister. I'm not sure what view the nascent independent chapels had, but for the Church in Wales, it allied itself firmly with Canterbury and when Mary died, in 1808, moving forward with Jennet would be impossible via the local churches.

Happily for our team, and for the goodly customers that the Lamb and Flag possessed, the Prices had a solution: a marriage, in Bristol, by Licence.

During those three days between a visit to the archdeacon and the church ceremony, a lot can happen. Enquiries could have been made in Neath, well if you can get a horse and rider away and returned in time; in Return of the Native, a young girl is ruined forever in those three days.

Now standing with the Prices on the wedding steps were in fact two Welshmen, Thomas and George Jones who I'm sure knew every little bit of the truth behind this border-skipped marriage. But they would certainly be keeping schtumm; and in any case may just have been cousins of Jennet that lived in Bristol.

We have compared the groom, Jenkin's, signature across the two marriages and even allowing for the stress of defying the English on alien soil, they're pretty identical.

It hadn't bothered me that the bride was recorded under her Anglicised name of Jane Reece. Jenkin's place of residence, however, did concern me: Glynhawye, Brecknockshire. Cousins have clarified that this was probably Glyntawye, i.e. Glyntawe, in the next valley, rather than Glenhenwye all the way East into Herefordshire.

On looking at my pencil transcription, I think they're right: it is Glyntawye. My options here are two: Jenkin panicked and made a deliberate error to throw any busybody from Bristol off the scent. It looks like an innocent scribal doo-doo, but was almost guaranteed to keep his family safe. Travelers who flitted between Glynneath and Glyntawe: er, likely, zero despite apparent proximity.

The other option is our over-zealous clerk, who had smugly "corrected" the name of Jennet Rees, extended himself still further by finding Glyntawe on his map, near Neath and thus concluding the ignorant couple had provided a (wrong) colloquial name for that place, which it was his humble duty to again correct.

The poor church took another battering from the same marriage laws in 1838 when some others of my relatives, goodtime money-to-spend Somerset yeomanry arrived at its steps. If we ignore the bride (who died six years later), you're left with her sister, Ann Feltham, and the groom whose signatures we see. Guess which illegal couple took to the altar not long after?

The Prices, you'll be relieved to hear, settled well into the Flagged Lamb on their return and were blessed with many babies whose names honour earlier family members (and were a real help in getting this far). Jennet's skills as hostess were even recorded in the local paper, before they both move on to bigger things in 1834, with the modern city of Swansea calling.

I wonder if they ever looked back on their escapade up to Bristol and whether they drank some of its sherry of-an-evening as an acknowledgement of the city's helping hand in their journey through Wales's most adventurous era.

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