Saint Dismus is the patron saint of undertakers. He is said
to be the “good thief” at the crucifixion and gives us the very gloomy word “dismal”.
This year, Phylip Jones in delivering the Annual Noel Thomas Memorial Lecture
gave a far from dismal lecture on the role of Abergarwed undertaker, John
Barclay, in inadvertently keeping a record of the social history of Resolfen in
his notebooks. Phylip explained, that he was reprising a talk he gave in 1985,
and he doubted whether many would remember it now though it was well worth a
John Barclay of the Stag, Abergarwed was the product of a
second marriage,his father in his will bequeathed him an apprenticeship as a
carpenter. His labours can still be seen in the ornate carpentry in Jerusalem
Chapel today. He ran an undertaker’s business and two small copy books remain
in his copperplate writing recording every death in the village between 1878
and 1910. There are over 1000 entries over the period. Three hundred and twenty
of the deaths are those of babies under one years of age and four hundred and
eighty eight are of infants under five (this was the normal infant mortality at
the time Ed.). The average life span of a resident at the time was twenty five
and a half years, and those who survived five years usually between forty five
and sixty years. Between the ages of fifteen and forty the majority of deaths
were women, undoubtedly because of the risks of childbirth and conversely, males outnumbered female deaths between forty
five and sixty years of age.
Phylip stated that the contents of the books gave him two
contrasting emotions. On one hand, a fascination with the names, occupations, addresses,
family links and historical footnotes . On the other, a revulsion at the young
deaths caused by common diseases such as “whooping” cough, diphtheria ,
scarlet fever and pneumonia which would be treatable today. Families were often
halved in size by epidemics.
Phylip then turned to the contents of the books. He referred
to taverns such as the long demolished “Bottle and Glass”, in Clyne and the
Ynyscollen Inn (now the Rock and Fountain). Farms such as Ty’n Garn and
Pencraignedd, which remained as family names decades after the homesteads had
been abandoned. Street that have now been subsumed such as Sims Terrace,
Jenkins Terrace, Erw Coed, Oak Villa and Jones’s Terrace (now part of
Commercial Road near Garfield’s shop).
|A child's funeral crossing from Glynneath Road c.1890|
Family names were also a fascination because the old Welsh
way of naming by taking the name of the father and grandfather following the
Christian name would conflict with the name in the Censuses following 1841. For
instance, one burial referred to the death of Billy Rhys Enoc in 1892, whose
official name was William Thomas. His mother in turn was Ann, and she was known
as Ann Rhys Enoc. A similar example was that of Mrs Jane Evans who died in
1907, a resident of Lyons Row she was known as Siân Dafydd Dafis. The concept
of “Mr and Mrs”, was largely absent in the monoglot Welsh culture of the
village at the time and it was more common to refer to people by their family
relationship. A concept which has to some extent continued in Resolfen is to
refer to non-local people by their places of origin e.g. Wil Cardiff or David Dafis Penderyn.
The footnotes in the copy books reveal some invaluable clues
as to the development and chronology of the village. The first funeral in John
Street occurred in 1901, the first death in Gored Terrace was in 1905 and the
first funeral in Cross Street occurred in 1906. Some people lived very long
lives and there six entries of residents surviving well into their nineties and
one Ann Howells had survived the entire nineteenth century having been born in 1799
and buried in 1904 at a hundred and five years of age.
Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mr Phylip Jones once again for a
remarkable insight into the history of Resolfen.
Labels: Resolfen around the trurn of the twentieth century.