Search This Blog

Follow by Email

18 Feb 2017

Twin of my Valley: Decisions in Iron, 1840s Wales

Women in my family were no strangers to long journeys. In the 1790s, my ancestress Ann Morgan left Cadoxton by Neath for the large town of Newport where her husband worked on the building of ships.

In around 1830-33, perhaps after she had died, her granddaughters made the same journey all the way back. They were the 20 year-old twins Blanche and Elizabeth Morton. They were coming, with their parents and siblings, to begin a connection with Abercanaid and more importantly, its canal.

It was only while having an Italian cappuccino with my mother yesterday that some extra pieces of the puzzle tumbled into place. And only the previous week that I'd realised the women were twins...

In 1834, the stronger twin, Blanche, probably in town no more than a year was courted by William Francis an ambitious puddler living with his parents in Picton Street, Caedraw. Somehow he petitioned the Lords of Cyfarthfa Castle and was successful, that he and Blanche should marry in their church, Vaynor, up in the hills. I have been there, in 1995, as I descended into the valley towns after a spring lambing the border country.

Four years later, the weaker twin, Elizabeth, married in Merthyr parish church to James Jenkins and settled near the Cyfarthfa lords's Iron Bridge, Ynysgau, central Merthyr. James was a nailer in the iron works.

In 1841 both women are in Merthyr, age given as 25, meaning 25-29.

As the 1840s rolled around, opportunity was springing up around south Wales. Blanche and William seized the moment and in 1848 arrived in the sulphurous fog of Briton Ferry, in the navigable lower reaches of the Neath, to work again as a puddler in the iron furnaces there. They were midway through the births of their seven children.

In 1851 both women give their age as 39 and as neither could have been any older, nor would they likely to be aggrandising their years, I suspect these are true and both are born therefore in December of 1811, by comparison with William's family bible entry for Blanche.  At this point Blanche is in Briton Ferry and Elizabeth still in Ynsygau.

Elizabeth and James made their decision to leave later, after they had finished having children, and watched 7 die. Merthyr had been horrendous for them and in the late 1850s they came to the ironworks of Aberdare where their family still have connections to this day.  No more children arrived, but equally, none died.

The twins' family would not remain in Briton Ferry, nor in Aberdare. After seven years, Blanche and William move to Morriston ironworks. Their only son was 17 and they probably wanted to get him apprenticed in the tinplate works there, rather than continue in the scorching hell of the ironworks. This would fit William's ambitious nature.

In 1875 we assess the roll of the twins' dice. Because in 1875 in Morriston, the Dyffryn tinplate and steel works would open providing lifelong employment to Blanche's only son and grandson (who didn't take it). We have the desk presented to us from that works 35 years later.

But in 1875 in Aberdare, that was the year the iron works shut, having been good for Elizabeth's husband and son for a 20-year period.

As for the twins, Elizabeth had survived her only daughter dying in childbirth and died age 55 in Aberdare, 1867 two years later, while Blanche lasted another year in Morriston. Her portrait is painted in Swansea (by Chenhall) and survived. She had refused a final move from her persuasive husband, to join family up in Bishop Auckland. William finds work as a "forge agent" within the year up there taking his only daughter with him. Perhaps he finally escapes the furnaces?

Elizabeth's husband James has the misfortune to survive beyond 1875 he is nearly seventy and unable to join the rush for the Rhondda coal mines. He has no choice but to return to the hated iron works of Merthyr and their tyrannical masters where he ends his days alone, still working at 75, lodging in the town.

A word on infant mortality. Elizabeth has 8 children over a dozen years against Blanche's six, and both have a final child after a gap, Blanche having the longer gap. So perhaps Elizabeth was the stronger twin after all? Neither was as strong as their mother (who attained 70 and bore live twins twice) nor grandmother (age 101).

Blanche lost 5 children out of 7 (all age 1 or over) while Elizabeth lost 7 children out of 9 (most known to be under 1). So perhaps Blanche's milk was stronger or just the air in Merthyr worse.  Both girls used the name Margaret for daughters but not each other's names.

My mother asks why the birth of twins in the family stopped? Perhaps the way the gene worked you had to be born a twin to have twins, and the industrial era killed off infant twins either in the womb or in early life. Not sure. Blanche and Elizabeth's mother was a twin.

Many more questions to be asked about these valleys seen through the prism of the two twins.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for commenting on my blog! Your comment will be live once moderated. You don't need to log in - just select 'anonymous' from the dropdown menu.