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.
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.
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
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
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.