Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Legacy of Anna Thomas of Pantygarn, Eglwyswrw (1840-1907)

On September 10th 1864, two neighbouring Eglwyswrw families in north Pembrokeshire, the Lewis and Thomas families of Carnhuan and Pantygarn respectively, joined together in holy matrimony.

150 years later to the day, the same family live at the two farms in question, Carnhuan and Pantygarn and are now 3rd cousins. In 21st century rural community life, this is rare feat of endurance.

The Year? 1849
Stephen Lewis was my gg-grandfather and he moved to my maternal family farm at Carnhuan aged 27 with his father Thomas Lewis and grandparents Stephen and Eleanor Lewis in 1849. Anna Thomas meanwhile moved with her parents David (Dafydd) and Elizabeth (Leisa) Thomas as the youngest of 8 children, to neighbouring Pantygarn in that very same year of 1849 as a mere 9 year old. Anna was 18 years younger than her future husband, Stephen.

The Year? 1864
15 years later, these two families would join together when Stephen married his much younger neighbour at Cardigan Registry Office on 10th September 1864. On the marriage certificate however, it gave Stephen's age as 32 and not 42, as was in fact the case. They went on to have 6 children - David, Margaret, Elizabeth, Stephen, Griffith and Harry.

A copy of Stephen and Anna's Marriage Certificate
from 10th September 1864. Stephen was 10 years older
than stated.
Stephen Thomas Lewis, born 1870, was my great-grandfather and he would go on to farm Carnhuan after the death of his uncle Griffith (his father Stephen Lewis' older brother) in 1895. The farm then continued in the family through his son John Rees Lewis (1909-1991) and to this present day with his son, my Uncle Howard Lewis.

The family of the youngest of the 6 children meanwhile, Harry, would go on to farm the maternal farm at Pantygarn through his son-in-law Daniel Morgan. Daniel's grandson Harry Lewis Morgan (see what they did there?!) now runs the farm with his young family.

Anna Thomas (1840-1907) & Stephen Lewis 1821-1924)
What then happened to the original pairing that gave us today in 2014 the owners of these two neighbouring farmsteads?

Stephen went on to live to the grand old age of 102. Born in late December 1821, he died in April 1924. His obituary referred to him as the 'Grand Old Man of Pembrokeshire'.

His much younger wife Anna however had predeceased him by over 16 years in December 1907 after 43 years of marriage. But despite her relative youth compared to that of her husband, there was no doubting the boss in this relationship.

Bethabara Baptist Chapel
Because Anna was the daughter of a staunch Baptist family. Her parents had started up the local Sunday School from their Ty Rhos home in the foothill of the Preseli Hills in the early 1820s before her father Dafydd, a mason helped to build the local Baptist Chapel, Bethabara at Pontyglasier near Crosswell in 1826.

The children were all brought up with the faith with two of Anna's brothers going into the Ministry - Stephen Thomas and Benjamin Thomas were well regarded Baptist Ministers and the latter a well known Welsh Bard who worked under the Bardic name 'Myfyr Emlyn'.

Stephen's family were Anglican - he was baptised in June 1822 at Eglwyswen Church - within half a mile of the soon to be founded Bethabara Baptist Chapel. By 1864, now living in Eglwyswrw, the local village church was just down the road from the farmsteads of Carnhuah and Pantygarn. Bethabara Chapel meanwhile was a further distance away but to which were the 6 children sent?

Yes, Anna wore the trousers here and David, Margaret, Elizabeth, Stephen, Griffith and Harry were sent to chapel...and not to church.

The main two protagonists moving forward, Stephen Thomas Lewis and Harry Lewis, were deacons at Bethabara, long after their parents were both buried there in the shadows of the main building and within a short distance of Anna's devout parents Dafydd and Leisa Thomas who died in 1874 and 1864 respectively. The former passed away on Christmas Day and the latter just 6 weeks before the marriage of her youngest child.

The Legacy of Anna Thomas
I knew that sometime, somewhere, I would be baptised. My simple but quiet faith has over the years been tested but deep down, it was more a matter of when, not if.

I attended Martletwy Sunday School in the south of the county and with my paternal grandparents interred there, I always believed that the same would be said for me. But when my father passed away and on his instructions was interred at my maternal chapel home at Bethabara in the north of the county, it made me re-consider everything.

After many years of thoughtful consideration, my family history odyssey of late, with the exceptional influence of Anna Thomas in the forefront of my mind, finally helped me make up my mind.

So it was in early July this year that I was baptised in the external baptismal pool in the cemetery grounds at Bethabara, within a small distance of the final resting places of my father, my maternal grandfather John Rees Lewis and his wife Sarah Anne Morgans, his parents Stephen Thomas Lewis and Martha John Rees and his parents of course, Stephen Lewis and Anna Thomas. Not forgetting her own parents Dafydd and Leisa Thomas.

I felt as if I'd come home and as I moved from the chapel towards the vestry for some light refreshments, I planted a kiss on the headstone of old Stephen and his dominant wife Anna.

Had their families not have moved to Carnhuan and Pantygarn respectively in that year of 1849, it is highly unlikely that they would have married 15 years later on this day, 150 years ago. In which case of course, I would not be here now, telling you their rather unique story.