In which The Author does some genealogical research
The Street Names Project has taken me into the medieval period over the past couple of days. Who needs a TARDIS when you’ve got a Reference Library full of unusual books, and several websites compiled by enthusiastic researchers devoting their time to transcribing old records?
My first foray into the past took place before Xmas, when Geoff and I were exchanging ideas about the direction of the project. There’s an area of the Cynon Valley known as Tyntetown (or, alternatively, Matthewstown), between Mountain Ash and Abercynon. The streets of this small area have interesting names: Walsh Street, Halswell Street, Bagot Street, Homerton Street and Milbourne Street. They were obviously worth a mention in our book.
Geoff had been doing some digging in the archives, and found that they were all names connected with the aristocratic Kemeys-Tynte family of Cefn Mably, an old manor house between Cardiff and Newport. Sir Charles Kemeys-Tynte had owned much of the land in that area in the mid-nineteenth century. The street names (as well as the name of the settlement itself) obviously reflected his family’s connection to the area.
Geoff suggested that I should have a look at Thomas Nicholas’ book The History and Antiquities of Glamorgan and its Families, first published in 1874. Luckily for us, it was reprinted in 1970 by the Barry-based historian and publisher Stewart Williams (best known for the long-established Cardiff Yesterday series of books), and Aberdare Library have a copy in the research room.
It’s a fascinating book. It begins with a ‘General Description of Glamorganshire’, encompassing pen portraits of the key towns and the landed gentry who lived in some of the grand houses. Starting in Cardiff and around the coastline, Mr Nicholas made his way into the Valleys, where I found this fantastic paragraph:
The Valley of Aberdare, further up [from Pontypridd], has become a trough, full of human beings, as its bottom, deep underground, is full of superior steam coal. When Malkin visited these parts there was but a small struggling village here. The deep underground wealth as yet lay quietly undiscovered, and but a few scratches on the surface gave Aberdare and Hirwaun a scanty supply of coal. Now the bowels of the earth are torn out and thrown on to the surface; the sides of the mountains are rent, and made to pour out hills of swarthy rubbish; trains that seem of interminable length are for ever conveying towards the sea the coal and iron extracted from these cavernous depths for the behoof of all lands; Cyclopean “works” are everywhere smoking, burning, hammering, melting, smelting, and moulding. At certain hours, the “pits,”, all but bottomless, belch out their myriads of grimy, blackened human forms, each with a Davy lamp in hand, who hasten to their humble homes to wash, feed, and rest. In great counting-houses, rows of clerks record and cast up results and profits; and somewhere or other estates are bought and “families” are founded. A new world of industry, a great population, have started up within thirty years. In this neighbourbood are Dyffryn, the residence of the Right Hon. H. A. Bruce; Abernant House, the residence of Richard Fothergill, Esq., M.P.; Aberaman House (late Crawshay Baily, Esq.); Maesyffynnon (David Davis, Esq.); Llwydcoed (Rees H. Rhys, Esq.); Penderyn, in Breconshire (Rev. C. Maybery); and several others of good standing (Nicholas, 1874: 15).
At the end of the book, Mr Nicholas listed the key players in mid-Victorian Glamorganshire society. The obvious names are in this section: The Marquess of Bute; Henry Austin Bruce (the first Lord Aberdare); Robert Thompson Crawshay (who lived at Cyfarthfa Castle in Merthyr Tydfil); Richard Fothergill, the MP for Merthyr Tydfil. There are also names which shed light on street names throughout the county and beyond: the Duke of Beaufort, with his obvious connection to Ebbw Vale; the 4th Earl of Dunraven (Dunraven is a name widely found around Bridgend and into the Rhondda Valleys); Christopher Rice Mansel-Talbot, whose father Thomas Mansel Talbot lived at Margam Park and gave his name to nearby Port Talbot. There are also some names which I remember from working in Cardiff: Edward Romilly, Thomas Picton Turbervill, John Stuart Corbett and so forth. Those were just a few of the distinguished Victorian Glamorganshire families, many of whom can be traced back to Normal times.
I found this interesting page in An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Glamorgan Vol IV. It lists the prominent names before the Civil War, and some of the families are probably still highly placed in Welsh civic society today.
Thanks to Geoff’s unearthing of the Kemeys-Tynte connection, I had something to go on.
I used the open source GRAMPS software to start constructing a family tree of the Kemeys-Tynte family, using the information in Mr Nicholas’ book as a starting point. From there I dived into Burke’s Peerage
for some more details, and then to an amazing website called simply The Peerage
This is the work of one man, a self-confessed ‘somewhat eccentric’ New Zealander named Darryl Lundy, and it’s taken him years to compile. Mr Lundy himself adds the following disclaimer to his information: ‘WARNING: this page is still under construction – it probably contains lots of typos and errors. Check it again in about 1221 days and it should be fixed.’ Yeah, I know that feeling too.
I won’t describe Mr Lundy’s site in detail (you can check it out for yourself if you’re interested), but it saves a hell a lot of work in trying to work out exactly where you are in the very complicated Burke’s Peerage listings.
I was in the fifteenth century before deciding that was far enough back. It was time to explore sideways, and see whom the various sons and daughters had married. To my surprise, Charles Kemeys Kemeys-Tynte (yes, that really was his name!) had married Elizabeth Fothergill, the daughter of Richard Fothergill. That name rang a loud bell immediately, so I emailed Geoff with my findings. The Richard in question turned out to be Richard Fothergill III, whom Geoff described as ‘a failure in business’ or something similar. There must be a jinx on people called Richard the third, I think.
On Monday I decided to look into the Carne family, who obviously gave their name to Carnetown in Abercynon. I fired up GRAMPS, started a new tree, and began with John Whitlock Nicholl-Carne, who was listed in Mr Nicholas’ book. He lived at St Donat’s Castle, which later became the home of press baron William Randolph Hearst, and is now the base of Atlantic College.
That solved the mystery of St Donat’s Church in Abercynon – and immediately opened another can of worms. J. W. Nicholl-Carne was the son of Rev Robert Nicholl and Elizabeth Carne. She, in turn, was the daughter of Charles Loder Carne. He lived at Nash Manor, just outside Cowbridge in the Vale of Glamorgan. That solved the mystery of Nash Street, at least.
Yesterday I tracked the Carnes back in time and across the marriages, using another handy website called Family Search
. After a little while I found some Bassets, whose ancestral home was at Old Beaupre near St Hilary. There’s a Bassett Street in Abercynon, and a Bassett pub in Cilfynydd (although I don’t know whether it’s still open), so I’m assuming the family were connected to those names. Then – surprise, surprise – I found Grace Mathew of Aberaman.
I already knew that the Mathew family were an old established family in the Cynon Valley. I also knew (from John Mear’s book on Cwmdare) that three of the Mathew daughters married into land-owning families – such as the Gwynne-Holfords, of Buckland House in Breconshire. It seemed from my initial noodlings that this large family would hold the key to much of the land ownership in the Cynon Valley.
This morning, I’ve been doing some more work on the Mathew tree. I’ve got as far back as the early fifteenth century, and I’ve found a Kemeys. I don’t know whether that particular Kemeys is on my other database yet, but when she is I’ll be able to tie those two together.
If you’ve been watching Wolf Hall you’ll be familiar with the way that the key Tudor families (the Seymours, the Boleyns, and so forth) were so keen to make the ‘right’ marriages. That would ensure that their heirs and successors had the right name, as well as a title (in other words, influence in Parliament), property and money. Well, I’ve been doing this sort of research for a few years now, and I remembered something that Vicki F. said to me about ten years ago.
She’d been reading one of David Icke’s books, and she made a comment about the so-called ‘Illuminati bloodlines’ (whether you believe in them or not is up to you). Vicki pointed out that when someone ‘makes it rich’, they very soon get elevated in society by means of knighthoods and/or peerages. This qualifies them to make the ‘right’ marriage (thus ensuring that the money and the title come together), and get access to policy makers at the highest level.
Let’s take one example. Nobody in power was going to pay much attention to plain old Alan Sugar when he started out in business. However, once he made his fortune he was given a knighthood, and then elevated to the peerage. As Lord Sugar, he can bend the ear of any Government minister he likes.
This sort of social mobility through wealth creation has been going on since time immemorial – and it’s still very much the case, apparently. A few weeks ago I read an article (Muston, 2014) in the Independent online, which turned out to be old(-ish) news. It was a review of a book called The Son Also Rises by an academic named Gregory Clark. To state his argument very briefly, our chances of getting on in life depend very much on what our great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfathers did. If I’d still been working in the trade, I hope I’d have come across this book a lot earlier. I might try and get my hands on it when I’m in London tomorrow – it sounds like a fascinating read.
It’s little surprise that the same surnames crop up throughout British history down the generations, if Mr Clark’s argument holds any water. Even if the surnames disappear (when daughters get married), the same wealth and influence continues to exist. I’ve seen this in microcosm, just looking at the family trees of the people who owned the land in Aberdare and the surrounding area. The newly-wealthy industrialists were soon recognised by the honours system. Then they became eligible to marry the daughters of minor nobility, and the wealth and influence became concentrated in fewer hands.
We enlightened Westerners often criticise the tradition of ‘arranged marriages’ in the Indian subcontinent, but our elite families have been doing exactly the same thing for generations. It’s only the proles who get to choose, because we’ve got nothing to gain and nothing to lose. On the other hand, the landed gentry and the monied classes maintain their age-old tradition and keep it in the family.
Nicholas, T. (1874) The History and Antiquities of Glamorganshire and its Families. London: Longmans, Green & Co (reprinted by Stewart Williams, Barry.)
Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales (1981) An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Glamorgan Vol. IV: Domestic architecture from the Reformation to the Industrial Revolution. Cardiff: HMSO.