Cymdeithas Hanes Resolfen History Society

A web log for the Resolven History Society which publishes articles and stories related to Resolven and the immediate surroundings.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Case of the Missing Gold Sovereigns

During our very interesting talk by Robert King last month, some members have asked whether we could go on one of his ghost tours of Neath. This would not seem to be a  problem, though Robert will charge a small fee per member. During the talk some members gave some of their own recollections of family ghost stories, and here is one them in full. 

The strange tale of the missing gold sovereigns

The following tale is one that I first heard in the funeral of my grandfather, the Reverend John Jones,  in 1973. In the after-funeral tea, the family began reminiscing about the days gone by and the tale of Will Aby’s ghost made an appearance. My grandmother’s maiden name was Harris, the “is” being significant because it was different to the other Welsh ‘Harries’ family spelled with an e. The main point being was that Harris was Jewish in origin and possibly hailed from either “Horvitz or Horovitz. The compilers of the 1871 Census were known to Anglicise names, and it was around this time that many of our modern Welsh surnames appeared. The family was known as the “Welsh Jews” locally, since they had a distinctively Jewish facial appearance which was not surprising since they hailed from one William Abraham reputedly the first Jew in Neath and resident in the ‘Mera’, district of the town – now Water Street. The Mera was a wild area, frequented by a transient population of immigrants, much like some British cities today. Eastern Europe was the scene of violent pogroms which expelled the Jews from Russia and they eventually fetched up in places such as the industrial cauldron of late nineteenth century south Wales.  A single man, William Abraham ’Horvitz’had married a gentile and the family then ceased to be Jewish since the Jewish line is maternal.

William Abraham (or Will Aby as he was known), had a reputation as a hoarder and was known to  delight in taking out his bag of gold sovereigns at night and counting them, to the envy of his relatives. When he died, the family searched high and low for the treasure but to no avail, the fortune of gold sovereigns had gone with him. Such was their panic that the little house was stripped of everything including the floor boards but with no success. However, the ghost of Will Aby was often seen by the family late at night counting his gold hoard. Several members of the family claim to have seen the ghost (including my late father), whom he described as a Dickensian figure in a night shirt and a “Willy Winkie”, hat (sic.), reminiscent of modern day descriptions of Scrooge .One of my great aunts (Mary or Molly, I‘m not sure) had such a good relationship with the ghost that she happily shared a bedroom with him. Whether this was a ruse to have a room of her own,  in an age of larger families, we shall never know.

Some years later in 1978, I visited my grandmother with my wife, Maggs (then my girlfriend) in Digby Road, Llantwit. During the journey to Neath I had recounted the tale of Will Aby to her. On reaching the house, much to my utter amazement my grandmother had a copy of the Evening Post with a story in it about the finding of a bag of gold sovereigns in Water Street. This was in the foundations of what is now the Tesco Metro and multi storey car park in the region of Will Aby’s  house .It would appear that he had taken to hiding the gold coins in a secret cache in the foundations of his abode  and must have died suddenly not revealing its location to anyone. My great uncle, Alfred Harris, did try to claim the gold with no success, and as far as I know it was taken to the vaults of the Bank of England as treasure trove.

How much truth is in this story? Quite a lot I would contend. William Abraham was a real person, though whether he was Horvitz or Lewinsky is open to doubt. The gold existed, though how it came his way is unknown and was the cause of frantic searching by the family. When I was contacted on a totally different matter by a distant relative, also named Harris from Clyne, our telephone conversation quickly came around to the discussion on Will Aby’s sovereigns which proved that we were indeed related. Historically, Water Street was the location of a Jewish ghetto in Neath during the nineteenth century and he did indeed reside there. The question of the ghostly apparitions is the only fragment of the story which does not readily pass muster. The people who admitted to seeing the ghost gave identical descriptions of him, though presumably some had also known him when he was alive. My late father was a GP and a practising Christian who was not readily known to spread fanciful stories about ghosts, yet he believed the account in its entirety. Obviously, there are embellishments and undoubtedly exaggerations surrounding this tale, but the coincidence of telling the story to a neutral and at least figuratively ‘finding’, the gold minutes later takes some beating. If I’m allowed some poetic licence it was almost as if Will Aby was telling me, that neither I nor anyone else would get hold of his fortune.

Trefor Jones ( 24/11/14)


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