Blaenavon

Young, Gameson, Miles and others

By David Young

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Blaenavon' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Blaenavon' page

1841-1851

This decade marks both an end and a beginning in our story: an end, because it brings us almost to the close of the settled life of generations near the Wiltshire-Somerset border; a beginning, because people born in this decade survived into the living memory of when I started these inquiries.

My great-great-great-grandfather John Young, born in 1788, died in 1850.

His son and daughter-in-law William and Letitia were living at Honeywick. William was an agricultural labourer, and by 1851 had five children living at home, all born in Pitcombe.

George and Martha James were living in Pitcombe, George working as a smith.

In 1842 William and Letitia's son Samuel was born. By 1851 he was living with his grand- parents George and Martha James - a significant development, because when he grew up, he in turn became a blacksmith and worked as such in the mining areas of South Wales and County Durham. Presumably he learned the trade from his grandfather.

South Wales

Two men whom Lewis Browning names as "good people among the Wesleyans" were William Miles and William Wathen, both of Quick Building, which was one of the oldest dwellings in Blaenavon, allocated, along with River Row and Bunker's Hill, for colliers and miners. Quick Building was in the town of Blaenavon, in the parish of Llanwenarth Ultra (or Upper). William and his wife Margaret Miles were already living there in 1832, and was still there in 1871. Margaret was born in Blaenavon in 1811 or 1812.

There was only one William Miles living at Quick Building - my great great grandfather born in 1806 in Nibley. His daughter Martha, whom we shall meet later in the story, survived into living memory of the time I began this research; and we have a photograph of her in her old age. His friend William Wathen came from Bristol.

Martha Miles, William Miles's daughter, was born in 1844, later to become Samuel Young's wife. Her mother Margaret was born in Blaenavon in 1811 or 1812. William was a collier, as we saw above. Martha was christened in the parish church at Blaenavon, as were various siblings from 1832 onwards. In May 1850 George, son of William and Margaret Miles, was born, and was given a Wesleyan christening on 30th June; their abode was Blaenavon.

10th April 1842 saw the birth of Thomas Gameson at Waungoch, Beaufort, then in Breconshire. His father Thomas was working as a brickmaker, and they lived at Beaufort Iron Works, Waungoch. I have been unable to discover where and when they moved, for Thomas does not reappear in the censuses till 1861; it was mentioned above that his son James Caradock was christened in 1853 somewhere in the Ebbw Vale and Crickhowell area.

We noted the birth in 1801 in Mangotsfield of William Watkins. In 1840 a daughter called Prudence was born to him, and was christened at Trevethin parish church. She must have died in infancy, for she does not appear in the 1851 census; and on 9th April 1843 another daughter was born, who was also named Prudence, and who later married Thomas Gameson. Prudence's mother was called Mary, but we cannot identify her further, because three men called William Watkins all married brides called Mary at Trevethin in the period 1833-1836, thus:

William Watkins (widower) = Mary Lewis (widow) 3.6.1833

William Watkins (bachelor) = Mary Bowen (spinster) 7.10.1835

William Watkins (bachelor) = Mary Edwards (spinster) 28.6.1836.

At the time of Prudence's christening at Trevethin parish church on 7th May 1843 they were living in Sowhill and William was a collier. In 1851 they were living in Garndiffeath, Trevethin. William was now a labourer.

Thus, by the end of this decade all my patrilinear great-grandparents had been born:

Samuel Young, 1842

Martha Miles, 1844

Thomas Gameson, 1842

Prudence Watkins, 1843

BLAENAVON 1852-1874

Blaenavon was also developing. In 1847 the turnpike road was made from Pontypool through Abersychan and over the Varteg Hill to Blaenavon. Then the Cwmavon parish road and the parish road from Blaenavon to Brynmawr were made. Between 1816 and 1850 Blaenavon's population grew from 2000 to 7500.

The presence of both iron and coal in South Wales led to industrial development there from the second half of the 18th century. Contracts during the Napoleonic wars gave a stimulus to the growth of mines and foundries, and by 1815 South Wales was producing a third of Britain's iron output. By Victoria's time the emphasis was switching to "steam coal" for steam engines and shipping, and South Wales came to provide the biggest coal exports in the world. This considerable industrialisation required labour.

The south-western counties of England are frequently referred to as the region of greatest agrarian poverty in the early 19th century, with average wages (7/- per week) half those earned in Yorkshire. Agricultural workers had a miserable diet and appalling housing conditions. The Poor Law (Speenhamland outdoor relief, Poor Law Commission, 1834 Act and its workhouses) reflected a rural poverty that was particularly serious in the south of England. The Tolpuddle Martyrs, early trade unionists in Dorset in 1834 suggest an experience of hardship and discontent in the region.

One reason for this poverty in the SW was that there was no industrial area nearby to give a spur to wage rates. Also, prices were high during the era of the Corn Laws (1815-1846). Agricultural workers had supplemented their income with a cottage woollen industry, but this went into decline as it could not compete with the industrialisation in Yorkshire and Lancashire and the cheap cottons of Lancashire.

Meanwhile, population was growing throughout the UK because of declining infant mortality, vaccination, etc., and this led to surplus labour at a time when labour was needed in South Wales.

The following give further information on these trends:

P. Mathias, The First Industrial Nation (1969)

J.H. Clapham, Economic History of Modern Britain (1933)

J.L and B. Hammond, The Village Labourer and The Town Labourer

Richard Jefferies, The Toilers of the Field (1892, 1981)

The Great Western Railway Company opened their line from Newport to Blaenavon in 1852. This enabled iron, coal and other heavy goods to be imported and exported more cheaply.

Against this background occurred a far-reaching change in our family's way of life. In or about 1852 they left Somerset and moved to Blaenavon in Monmouthshire. One wonders with what mixed emotions of hope and regret they left the homeland of many ancestors and generations, and what belongings they took with them! Doubtless it was these trends which also prompted the moves that took William Miles and William Watkins from the Bristol area to Monmouthshire.

In 1861 William and Letitia were living at Bunkers with six of their children plus a lodger, Phillip Young, also born in Pitcombe - perhaps William's younger brother, born in 1834, although according to the census the lodger was 29 (i.e. born ca. 1832).

William is listed as a labourer at the coalyard; his son's marriage certificate of 1864 describes him as a miner. Daughter Mary A., aged 16, is already working in coke, and son William aged 14 is an iron miner.

Nearby is a lodger Benjamin Young, also from Pitcombe, who is a 17-year-old coal miner (i.e. born ca. 1844), perhaps the son of William and Letitia, who was 10 in 1851 - sometimes ages were not known or recorded accurately in those days!

William and Margaret Miles are living at Quick Building, and he is a labourer in coal. Living with them are their 27-year-old daughter Hannah, already a widow, and six other sons and daughters including the 18- year-old Martha, who is working as a brickmaker.

Samuel Young, my great-grandfather, continued to live with his grandparents George and Martha James in Pitcombe at least until 1861. Soon after he too moved to South Wales and worked as a blacksmith. He became acquainted with Martha Miles; indeed he "knew" her in the biblical sense, and they were married on 23rd April 1864 at Llanfoist parish church.

Three months after the wedding, on 16th July 1864, their first child was born, William, and was christened on 8th September by Rev. John Lewis at the Wesleyan Chapel, Chapel Row, situated very close to Quick Building, where a flourishing congregation met. In the 1851 religious census this chapel drew 200 worshippers in the morning, plus more than 180 scholars, 200 scholars in the afternoon, and in the evening 40 worshippers plus over 50 scholars. I was told (probably by my Aunt Fan Young) that the Youngs attended Chapel Row. This was called “Wesley Chapel”; it closed in 1920 and the congregation united with Park Street.

(Some time in the period in 1865-1872 Horeb became a Wesleyan chapel, the purchase being completed in 1866 or 1867. This gave Blaenavon two Wesleyan chapels, namely Chapel Row and James Street. James Street's congregation moved in 1885 to the new building in Park Street mentioned elsewhere in this narrative.)

We saw above that Martha's father gained a name as a Wesleyan. The christening of William Young in 1864 is the first record I have found of Methodism among the Youngs themselves. Perhaps this influence came at least partly from the Miles family.

It was largely through the influence of Thomas Deakin, a coal and mine manager, who was a Wesleyan, that the Chapel at Chapel Row was built. It was a custom in days gone by for workers at the mines to worship at their boss's chapel, and perhaps this was another influence which pointed Samuel to the Wesleyans. Again, we shall probably never know the whole truth.

On the last day of 1865 Samuel and Martha's daughter Sarah Ann was christened by the Rev. Mark Davenport at Wesley Chapel, and on 5th November 1867 a second William was born (the first having died) and was christened by the Rev. John Bramley on 19th July 1868 in Wesley Chapel.

In the period 1863-1873 George and Ann Young, Benjamin and Sarah Young, William and Elizabeth Young, and John and Mary Young, had children christened among the Primitive Methodists in Blaenavon. I cannot say whether these Youngs were also related to Samuel.

In 1871 Samuel and Martha and their children Sarah A., William and Margaret were living at Back Rifle Street, Blaenavon. There was a Back Rifle Street and a Top Rifle Street by the Rifleman's Arms pub, but today new roads are there and only "Rifle Street" remains. Samuel was still a blacksmith.

William and Letitia (spelled Latisia) are living in at Bunkers Hill, Blaenavon; William is aged 55 and working as an iron stone miner. Their sons William and George, also iron stone miners, are living with them, as well as their 11-year-old daughter Elizabeth.

Also in 1871 we find two families living in the small terraced house at 10, Lower Waun (also spelled Wain) Street, Blaenavon:

(1) Thomas Gameson, aged 64 and now unable to work, with his wife Susannah, and two unmarried sons William (38) and Henry (18). Why is his wife now called Susannah? I assume she was the same lady who appears earlier as Hannah, and who later died in 1883 aged 69.

(2) Thomas Gameson aged 28, a stoker, his wife Prudence, their two sons Thomas and William (aged 3 and 1).

Also living with them was William Watkins, Prudence's father, now a widower aged 70 and unable to work.

William and Margaret Miles were living with their sons Aaron and Henry (17, 15). William, now aged 65, and Aaron were both labourers in the iron works, and Henry was already a coal miner.

A good impression of the society in which these people lived may be gained from two novels: Alexander Cordell's Rape of the Fair Country and Richard Llewellyn's How Green was my Valley . (The latter is said to be set in Gilfach Goch.)

And so life in Monmouthshire continued for the Youngs till about 1874; but then came a further major upheaval: they moved for a few years to the village of Quebec, Co. Durham.

BLAENAVON, 1879-1922

After some years in Quebec, Samuel and Martha moved back to Blaenavon. We do not know why or when.

In 1880 on February 10th my grandmother Alice Maud Gameson was born. We shall return to her story a little later.

My Grandfather, Philip Young

My grandfather, born (as mentioned above) in February 1876, wrote the story of his conversion to Christ in verse. He tells us that his parents did their best to train him in the fear of God, but in vain. They were “forced to use the rod”. He used to play the fool and disturb the others at Sunday School. In time he came to feel he was too old to continue going to Sunday School, or indeed to “tread the paths of good.” But he sensed that it was also dangerous to “drift out into the world”, and so joined the International Order of Grand Templars, which was a temperance movement.

His enthusiastic nature soon showed itself as he brought more recruits to the movement than others did. They started a children's lodge to warn them of the curses of wine. He became the Chief Templar.

Then he started to play football. The game itself carried no harm, but he came to feel later, as he looked back, that it had drawn him into bad company. Previously he had never even liked beer, but now he began to drink it.

In 1894 he “had a spree”, as he puts it, whilst his mother was back in County Durham for a week's holiday. His money ran out, and a friend suggested they should become soldiers. So, the following morning, along with three others, he went to Brynmawr and “got sworn in”. The sergeant gave them each a shilling, and they were told to return the following morning on the 10 o'clock train.

When he arrived home, his father Samuel fell into a dreadful rage: he had wanted his help in the garden for the day, which Philip had been well aware of, and Samuel told him he should be ashamed of his escapade. When he told Samuel he had enlisted and would be away for three months, it caused Samuel to feel that his cares, and his hopes, in Philip's upbringing had been wasted.

The following morning he went off to Brecon, but he soon found out that army life was not what he had hoped for. He even had to pay for his tea! He also knew that his course of action would bring heartache to his parents - but also that they would be praying for him.

He began to compare army life with home, “where all is bright and free” - where he could be his own boss once the day's work was done. He wrote home, requesting £1 to buy himself out, and promising to mend his ways.

He received the money on a Sunday morning, with joy to know that he would soon be back home with family, and with freedom. His friends were pleased to see him back too. He determined to try to make amends.

But he did not leave those whom he later came to see as bad company; he seemed to have no will-power to do so. “I drank and drank with all my might... a craving had begun.” The family began to experience a creeping dismay about him.

His craving (he tells us) did not stop at drink, but he “went further into sin, vile passions... lust of the flesh... a low, licentious life.”

In the course of time, his way of life wrecked his health. Yet the more he drank, the more he felt the fire fanned within him.

His parents prayed for him daily, asking God that their son would give up drink and sin and follow Christ. They tried to persuade him - and he promised to start a better life. But he made the attempt only on the strength of his own willpower, without seeking the help of Jesus Christ. A glass of stout one night led to this temptation: I've broken my vow anyway now, so I may as well drink on. He drank worse than previously; his parents' pleas were in vain.

He decided to try his hand at gambling, to win money for more ale. Sometimes he spent all Sunday at cards, and in the evening went to “the tap-room” with his friends. Sometimes he lost all his money, but he thought he would attempt to borrow more. He went to the pawn shop, putting in his watch and chain. He lost the fear of God's just wrath.

His parents persuaded him to join a band of Templars, and again he formed the intention of making amends for all he had done. For a time things went well. But then: “suddenly I fell. I thought that I could be like some who take a glass and stop.” Very soon, the old craving worked within him again. He would try to stop, but was powerless to do so.

During the six-month South Wales strike, which lasted from 1st April till 1st September 1898, he never took his strike pay home. Ale was twopence a pint, and that is what the money was spent on. He tried to gather and sell coal during the strike, to get money for beer. When this failed, he decided to steal one load from his parents' cellar - after all, he reckoned, it was coal which his father helped to dig out. He knew Samuel would be very angry when he discovered the theft, especially as the money would be spent on beer. He got home drunk that night, and a major row ensued. Samuel told him to leave. But his mother soothed Samuel's anger.

Philip himself now felt that Christ was wrestling with his conscience.

Once again he vowed to be a better son when the strike was over and work started again. But though he tried to mend his ways, again it was in vain. Within two months he was worse than he had been before, and he even freely cursed his parents.

They did not turn him out of the home, but they felt they were trying in vain to bring him to see sense. They continued to pray that he would come to recognise his folly.

He felt helpless. Even his wardrobe was suffering from his expenditure on drink. Christmas was spent in a drunken haze. His new year's resolution for 1899 was to be a total abstainer - but he broke it on New Year's Day! He felt all hope of improvement had gone, that he would never be good.

Nonetheless, he had been aware for some time that the Spirit of God was striving with him - that Jesus Christ was, as it were, “knocking at the door” of his life, ready and willing for Philip to receive him.

He changed his place of work from Dodd's Slope to Milfraen Pit, which seemed to offer an opportunity to earn more. He started on a Friday morning, worked till Saturday afternoon, then “started on the spree. I drank all day that Sunday.” On the Monday, there was danger at the pit, so he was not working. He went straight to the pub, stayed all day, got drunk, squandered his pay. His mother came to the pub and asked him to come home, but he said he would stay a little longer. In fact he did not leave till closing time, all his money spent.

Martha was waiting for him; Samuel was in bed. He was too drunk to wash and go to bed, and lay down on the floor. “If only I could quench my thirst, I would never have any more beer!”

When he did go to bed, he was unable to sleep, and his brain was in a whirl. At midday he came downstairs, wanted nothing to eat, and went back to the pub. But he knew he had to stop. He sat, thinking of his likely fate.

His drinking partners were making fun of him and whispering. He vowed he would have no more: his boozing was over; from now on he would be a different man.

Wednesday found him back at the pit, but his mind was in such a state that he could not work. When he was hoisted up from the pit that night, he remembered all his sins, and knew that if he were to die, he was unprepared to pass through death. One of his workmates felt the same.

He resolved not to go out that night. The temptation pulled at him, but he felt the Holy Spirit “strive mightily”, and he sensed that the time for decision had indeed come. Feeling very weary he went to bed, but thoughts of dying filled his mind and sleep would not come. Yet he seemed to hear the Lord's whisper: “Cast your burden on me!”

He asked Samuel to come and pray with him, but Samuel, having prayed for him all those years, was too full to do it. So Philip sent for William Bower, who lived close by. Despite the late hour, William came.

He found Philip with his face in his hands. He felt he had been too sinful, that God would not forgive, cleanse and accept him. But William pointed out that Jesus had said that “whosoever” may come and he would give rest to those who do come. We need only to believe, no other work of merit is required, for God's peace to come to the heart. Philip could hardly grasp the fact that salvation is that free - that Christ's blood was shed at Calvary for just such wretches as he felt himself now to be.

He got down on his knees; William prayed; Philip asked God for forgiveness. God heard and accepted his prayer: he always hears and accepts the prayers of truly repentant sinners.

Soon Philip knew that he had truly found the Saviour, and he was filled with a new joy. Assured of God's favour, he knew his sins were forgiven, and death would be followed with eternal life.

Next morning he went to work feeling a different man - his heart happy and light, a new life within him, his burden gone. His workmates could see the joy on his face; he felt full up with God, born again, a new creation, washed from his sins by the blood of Christ.

He sang hymns, he praised Jesus Christ, he thanked him for what he had done within him. Now he resolved not to go to hell with his former friends, but to heaven where millions praise God, and where is Jesus, the sinner's friend.

The old temptation came that very day, Satan tempting, the craving pulling at him. But he held fast. At home that night he read the Bible, found strength, and discovered that through trust in the Lord, Satan's power is overcome. He had come to know that truth of these words: “Jesus died for me.”

Others' recollections can expand Philip's own record.

One story from (I believe) his daughter-in-law Fan (née Fanny Griffin) is that he was on the way home one night from Cae Wight (the area which includes the top of Wain Street and the present-day garages) on the road towards Abergavenny, rolling drunk, when he saw a vision of the Devil and went home to plead with his mother for help.

In 1977 I received some letters from Willie Aston, who wrote:

I knew your grandfather, Philip Young, very well. I came into contact with him at our church, Park Street, Blaenavon, very often.

As a young man, he went off the straight and narrow path, somewhat, and took to drink. One Saturday evening, he was drinking in the Forge Hammer Public house [later Blaenavon Bookshop, Broad Street], when a young Salvation army lass, named Alice Gameson, came in selling copies of the War Cry. When she saw your Father [sic], and knowing his family connections, she said to him, “Phil, I am sorry to see you here. Come out, Phil.” He did so, and started to go to chapel again, Alice went with him, and he often told of it. He told of the awful battle he had to keep out of the public house. The very smell of the beer and sawdust as he passed a Public House was like a magnet to steel, and he had almost to run past to avoid going in again. But he held firm and steadfast and became a member of Park St Methodist Church, and eventually, an assistant class leader to a Mr Wm Bower, then, following Mr Bower's death, the leader of the Class. He also became am local preacher, and for many years... he served our circuit faithfully and well. He was a very acceptable local preacher, whose services were always in demand. In 1913, in company with Mr William Mortimer, he became a founder member of Park Street Wesley Guild.

I used to enjoy listening to him giving his testimony at our weekly fellowship meeting. His conversion was very real and he often spoke of the saving and keeping power of his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Your grandfather often spoke at our Guild, at least once every session, he would give an address, and he seemed to revel in finding an unusual title for his subject. One was Multum in Parvo much in little. On one occasion, our Secretary, Mr Tom James, asked Phil for the title. Phil, in one of his teasing moods said “MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS”. Mr James took him at his word, and that was the title that appeared on the syllabus, so your grandfather had to speak on that subject. He said, “I must be about my father's business”, and my “Father's business should be everyone's concern” and finished with a quotation from one of Charles Wesley's great hymns

'Tis all my business here below

To cry, 'Behold the Lamb.'

On one occasion, your grandmother, who had a large family, gave birth to triplets, and your grandfather was the butt of much good-natured chaffing over the event. When asked for the title of the address for that year, he said “A three-fold wonder”.

Nearly all the members of the guild turned up that night, expecting to have an amusing account of the doings of the triplets. - But Phil had the last laugh, he gave us an excellent address on the TRINITY, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, One in three and three in one. "A three-fold wonder".

Among the records of Park Street church are the minutes of the local preachers' meetings. The entry for 16th December 1901 reads: "It was decided... that Mr. P. Young and Mr. Cooke of Blaenavon receive notes to preach during the Quarter." In March 1902 it was resolved that they be continued on notes. On 2nd June "it was decided, after hearing reports, that Mr. P. Young, Blaenavon, be received as a Preacher on Trial". After four quarters 'on trial', in June 1903 "Reports were presented of the Services of Bro. P. Young, Blaenavon, and after an examination conducted by the Superintendent it was unanimously resolved that he be admitted to the full Plan."

Many local preachers' meetings held from 1903 record him as present, including the one held at 7 p.m. on 14th September 1903 - the day my father was born!

From January to December 1904 he was planned to preach at Llanelly Hill, Abersychan, Race, Cwmavon, Griffithstown, Cwmbrân, Pontnewydd, Victoria, Pontypool, Varteg, Park Street (Blaenavon), Garndiffaith, Clydach, Pwlldu - in all fifty-one services. The Monmouthshire Free Press for 2nd December 1904 reported an “excellent” temperance meeting - though not a large number of people had attended - held that Tuesday, at which Philip was one of the speakers. He was booked for forty-three Sunday services in 1905. In January 1906 Wesley Chapel, Blaenavon, was added to his ministry.

There is a remarkable historical background to the religious life of Blaenavon within the period when my grandfather began his many years of service as a Wesleyan local preacher. By early December 1904 the Welsh Revival of 1904-5 had reached Blaenavon. The Monmouthshire Free Press supplies the following information concerning Blaenavon:

The spirit of the Revival was beginning to be felt. There were special prayer meetings all last week at King Street Baptist Church. - 9.12.1904

There was by now undoubtedly a great feeling of spiritual revival. Prayer meetings were being held nightly at several churches, notably Horeb Baptist. - 16.12.04

Almost all the chapels of the town were holding services nightly. There was the same spontaneity as was familiar at Evan Roberts's meetings in other places, and there were splendid results. It was decided to hold a prayer meeting every afternoon at each of the chapels connected with the Free Church Council. All other meetings in connection with the various Nonconformist chapels were being put aside for the revival prayer meetings. - 23.12.04

At almost all, if not indeed all, of the town's chapels revival services are being held. There have been over two hundred conversions, some truly remarkable. - 6.1.05

The evangelist Sidney 1 Evans visited Blaenavon for two days, during which time nearly three hundred people professed faith. Converts are coming in night after night, and prayer meetings are held every night in all the Nonconformist chapels as well as in the churches. The Nonconformists are now “going out into the highways to bring them in”, manifesting a zeal which had not been common for very many years. Remarkable meetings were held underground in this mining community and some notable characters were brought to repentance “in the bowels of the earth”. - 20.1.05

It is worth giving a fuller report, extracted from the one in the Monmouthshire Free Press of 13th January, of Sidney Evans's visit. The report carries a subtitle: “the town deeply influenced” and tells how “the waves of the great Welsh Revival swept over the town of Blaenavon on Tuesday and Wednesday in great force.”

For some time, some glorious times have been seen at several of the Nonconformist chapels. By way of preparation [for the visit of Sidney Evans and his lady missioners] a great united prayer meeting was held at the Primitive Methodist Chapel on Monday evening, when the spacious edifice (the largest in Blaenavon) was filled with an eager and expectant congregation. Passionate appeals were offered that the blessing of God would rest upon the following two days' services.

Tuesday's campaign commenced at Bethlehem Chapel at 11 o'clock. Upper Wesley Chapel [presumably Park Street, which had seating for 500 people] was the scene of the afternoon service, and for some time prior to the time announced for starting (2.30), crowds of the inhabitants took their seats in the large building. The chapel was, in fact, practically filled long before Mr Evans arrived, but the congregation filled up the interval with various well-known hymns and choruses. Mr Evans lost no time in making his way to the pulpit... A man sitting under the gallery broke out into prayer pleading most earnestly for the conversion of all the sinners in Blaenavon - it was only with the greatest difficulty that he proceeded with the prayer, his emotion almost overcoming him on several occasions, but he concluded triumphantly in repeating the verse “Jesu, lover of my soul.” The congregation answered with “Whiter than snow”, but long before the conclusion of the hymn a man in the gallery was seen to rise and pray most earnestly. For a time it was impossible to hear his utterances, but gradually, as the singing died away, he was heard to say that he was one of the forty men who the previous day had left their stalls in the mine, and attended a prayer meeting in the bottom of the pit. “I have not been looking for Christ for years, and I did not find him until I attended that blessed prayer meeting in the mine.”

“Songs of praises” was next sung, followed by “Diolch Iddo”. Miss Watkins, one of the lady revivalists, read of portion of scripture relating to the Prodigal Son, and interspersed the reading with various remarks. There were many persons [she said] who were members of churches, but 90% of them were only sleeping members. They went to church three times a Sunday, but it was only a farce, and when they came out of church they did not talk about the sermon, but rather curiously enquired of each other about the latest fashions etc. A young wife said she had been praying for her husband for years, but he had not yielded, which she thought was due to the fact that she had not been a true Christian.

It was about 4 o'clock when Mr Evans appealed to those who had surrendered themselves to Christ to stand up. “O happy day” was started, and as verse followed verse the spirit of the meeting grew in fervour. Further appeals rang out. Another attempted to pray, but the strains of “For the Lion of Judah” swept all before them.

Dusk was setting in, but the meeting showed no sign of abatement. “Save my fellow workmen by me” came an agonised appeal from a voice in the gallery, and the audience helped to add conviction by singing “Come, sinner, come,” followed by “I need Thee, Oh I need Thee.”

As a final shot Mr Evans asked those who would pray before coming to the evening meeting to stand up, and his request met with a ready response. Bring some of your unconverted friends with you and pray for them in the meeting. Another related how he had not shaken the hand of a fellow member for six months, but the Revival had altered his feelings. Scores of persons followed with vows of allegiance to the Saviour. Mr Evans again earnestly appealed to the congregation to offer their petitions for the evening service. The doxology then closed the afternoon proceedings, darkness settled upon the scene, and the people went to their homes with their spiritual appetites sufficiently whetted to give anticipation of a glorious night meeting. Twenty conversions were notified.

It was decided to hold the evening service in the Workmen's Hall, the most spacious building outside of Cardiff. As early as 6.30 this Hall was full, but by 7 o'clock every available chair and space was occupied and special efforts had to be made to keep the aisles clear.

The article in the Free Press is long, and I have extracted the above excerpts, as it reports on a meeting held at “Upper Wesley” chapel, which I take to be Park Street chapel, where my family worshipped and which had replaced James Street in 1885. Reports in the Free Press continue:

The revival continues with unabated enthusiasm, including excellent meetings underground at midday prayer meetings. Seven hundred and fifty people have professed faith in Christ. - 27.1.1905

At Horeb Baptist thirty-six males were baptised on Wednesday; females were baptised on the Friday. - 3.2.05

Revival services were being conducted with vigour and success with nightly meetings in all the churches of the town. The number of converts was steadily increasing. Forty-eight people were baptised at King Street Baptist chapel on Sunday, and the church was crowded to the doors for the event. - 10.2.1905

By mid-February not so many converts were coming, but there had already been over a thousand. Nonetheless, revival meetings continued and every church was holding a meeting each night in the hope of some wanderer coming in. Forty-nine were baptised on Sunday at King Street Baptist chapel, and there were more to follow. - 17.2.1905 and 24.2.1905

Considerably more than a thousand conversions had been registered, but they continue to come. All other meetings have been cancelled in favour of the revival. - 3.3.05

By mid March the slackening in the revival meetings was again noted, and several places were no longer holding nightly meetings, the usual pattern of services having been resumed. - 10.3.1905

Also in mid March 1905 a very successful evangelistic mission was held at the Wesleyan Chapel by William Norwell, the connexional evangelist. Large congregations assembled, and there were very good results.

In June 1907, at a local preachers' meeting, "at the request of the Brethren Mr. P. Young kindly promised to give a paper at the next Meeting, bearing upon the work of preaching." Later, he "gave an excellent paper, which dealt with the work of the Preacher. It was much appreciated by all present. A hearty and unanimous vote of thanks was accorded him."

In March 1908 Philip was appointed a trustee of Park Street chapel.

From June 1909 a Mr. West of Blaenavon accompanied him and Mr. Mortimer to their appointments and assisted in the services preparatory to receiving a Note.

In 1990 I met an elderly man near the place above Blaenavon where Pwlldu had been. In conversation I mentioned I was Philip Young's grandson, and he said, "Wasn't he a minister?" That was about 65 years after Philip left Blaenavon. There must have been something about his preaching for it to have lived so long in local memory!

In 1920 he was a trustee of the united trust on the fusion of the two churches, Wesley (Chapel Row) and Park Street.

On Tuesday 11th October 1921 the Rev. Dinsdale Thomas Young of Westminster preached at Park Street Wesleyan Church. He was one of the last great Evangelical leaders of British Methodism.

The Wesleyan Guild Anniversary Sunday, 25th March 1923, was celebrated at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. The preacher was the Rev. Norman G. Dunning of Cliff College. It was under his ministry that my father came to faith. That evening, Philip was booked to preach at Pwlldu.

In the period 21st January 1923 to 15th April 1923, he was planned to preach twelve times in the Circuit. After that, the plans have not been kept at the County archives.

Very late in his life my father wrote a page of autobiography. Sadly he never continued it, but he did include this sentence: “I had the very good fortune to be blessed with very good parents.”

Philip and Alice's life was not unacquainted with grief. The following of their children died in the period 1913-1920: Alice Maud (age 3); Winifred May (age 1); Lily Martha (age 8 months). My father remembered Philip coming downstairs after the death of one, with the dead child in his arms, and saying that though he had so many children, he loved each individually and grieved over the death no less.

It is interesting to note how ideas of what a Christian ought and ought not to do change with the times! (Not, of course, ones which are specifically mentioned in the Christian's guide, the Bible.) As I write, very few Christians smoke, but many drink alcohol in moderation. In 1933, my grandfather - always a strict teetotaller after his years of heavy drinking and drunkenness - sent “a Word of Thanks and Appreciation” to young men of the George Street Mission, Basingstoke, class for a gift of tobacco and matches. He says, in his frequent anapæstic style, “Your health, I will toast in a smoke.” The note (all in verse) seems to imply that he was ill at the time and somewhat “short of some surplus cash”.

In 1880 on February 10th my grandmother Alice Maud Gameson was born. In the 1881 census she is living at 51 Hill Street with her parents Thomas and Prudence, six older siblings, a lodger called Mary Jones and four of her children. The census tells us that Prudence was born in Pontypool, which is the next place to Trevethin. Thomas was a locomotive driver. He worked for the LMS railway, of which the LNWR became part in 1923. He took the first locomotive over the high level Talywain line, opened to serve the collieries in 1879. It was built by the GWR from Trevethin Junction to Abersychan and Talywain to join the branch from Brynmawr.

His son John said the Gamesons came from Scotland, and maybe there is some truth in this if Thomas's work on the railways took them there for a while. Certainly I can find no mention of them between 1853 and 1871.

But according to Ed Gifford, born in 1915 - the husband of their granddaughter Eva - the Gamesons lived in Abertillery before they moved to Blaenavon.

In 1881 Thomas Gameson, now aged 74 and blind, was living at Cwmffrwdoer, Abersychan, with his wife Hannah, aged 67. With them are their two unmarried sons William (48) and Henry (29), both coalminers born in Varteg and Sirhowy respectively, and their 27-year-old granddaughter Catherine born in Sirhowy and working as a general domestic servant.

Thomas Gameson senior died in 1882, aged 75; Hannah died in 1883 aged 69. Thomas Gameson junior died on 25th January 1886 aged 44. He was an engine-driver at the ironworks. He had bronchitis for seven days and congestion of the lungs for some hours, and died at home at 51 Hill Street. In severe winters there were deep snowdrifts, very low temperatures and vicious winds, making work on the line very painful and hazardous.

Prudence went to live with Mary Hannah, who had married John Powell. Ed Gifford says he knew her, that by then she was blind, and that she was in the Salvation Army.

In 1974 elderly relatives told me that Thomas and Prudence were Wesleyans and worshipped at Park Street Methodist church.

Their son John and son-in-law Joe Millard (husband of Florence) were among the leaders of Avon Road Methodist Mission. The trustees of Park Street, seeing the number of children living in the Avon Road area who never went to Sunday School, dipped into their own pockets and bought a building which had previously been a photographer's studio in Pontypool. It was opened on 11th November 1893. Later on, Sunday evening worship commenced, then weeknight meetings for fellowship and prayer. The building was replaced by the present chapel in 1936. Aunt Fan also told me that Johnny Gameson (Alice's brother) attended the Wesleyan Chapel at Varteg.

Alice Maud and her brother Edwin belonged to the Salvation Army. Little is known about the early days of the Salvation Army in Blaenavon. It was formed in the 1860s and met in private houses and on street corners. Their first barracks was Horeb Chapel in Old James Street, which was vacated by the Baptists in 1862. The Primitive Methodists used it for a time, before the Army. Later the Army moved to its citadel in Rhydynos Street, remaining there till the 1980s.

Speaking with Edwin's children in 1990, I was told that he did not speak of his parents; neither did my grandmother ever speak of them. It has therefore been impossible to find out more than the above scraps of information.

In October 1896 another Thomas Gameson, also an engine-driver, died at the early age of 28. He had been living at 72 Hill Street, Blaenavon. Indeed, early death was no stranger to these people: in 1859 Sarah Gameson, daughter of Thomas Gameson, died at the age of 20.

In 1881 William Young, now a widower, was lodging at 1, Upper Ellick Street. He was aged 64, and a labourer. Later in 1881, as we saw above, he remarried. On 31st October he was united in matrimony with the widow Mary Ann Hole, ten years his junior, at Blaenavon parish church. He was variously described as a labourer and a retired coalminer. Mary died at the age of 71 in February 1898 and William went to live at the Cambrian Inn, but died less than a year later, aged 82, and was buried on 2nd January 1899.

On 2nd February 1900 another William Young, aged 56, died at 20 Albert Road, Talywain. He too had been a coalminer.

At the Forester's Arms, Hill Street, lived Samuels' brother, George James Young, and his wife Jane, with their children Elizabeth, Emma, George James and William. He was both the publican there and a labourer. In the 1885 Kelly's Directory he is listed as a beer retailer and butcher: a photograph of him outside his butcher's shop appears on the cover of a photographic history of Blaenavon.

After some years in Quebec, Samuel and Martha moved back to Blaenavon. We do not know why or when. In 1891 they were living at 4 Museworthy Road with their son George, a coalminer, daughter Mary A., son Philip aged 15 and already a coalminer, and their 12-year-old niece Amy Miles, who was born in Hamsteels presumably in 1879. The entire household spoke only English. Aunt Fan told me that Martha was a midwife.

At 7 Upper Phillips Street, Blaenavon, in 1891 lived the widow Sarah Ann Gameson together with the 28-year-old Mary Hannah Gameson, a certified nurse. Born in Sirhowy, these spoke both English and Welsh.

At 51 Hill Street Blaenavon, in 1891, lived the widow Prudence Gameson, who also spoke English and Welsh. The rest of her household spoke only English, and included her:

son Thomas, aged 23, locomotive engine driver

son William, aged 21, locomotive engine driver

son James, aged 14, coalminer.

Her other children (Charlotte, Alice Maud, John Edgar, Edwin, Florence) were still at school. She also employed a 20-year-old domestic servant, Edith Jenkins.

The 1901 census shows, for 7 Barnfield Terrace, Blaenavon, all with the surname Young:

Samuel head age 58 boiler/smith

Martha wife age 57

George son widower age 29 coal miner and hewer

Philip head age 25 coalminer and hewer

Alice wife age 21

All spoke only English, no Welsh.

By 1911 little Alice Maud was 1 year old, and son William was 3. Son Samuel was 6, Dinsdale was 7, Philip was 9. Samuel, now a widower, was living with them. They were still at 7, Barnfield Terrace.

In that census Philip senior's work is now given as “commercial traveller music”. I do not know how long he worked as a commercial traveller, but he must have returned to coalmining. When my father was 14, which age he achieved in September 1917, he too became a miner. On his first day at the mine, as they stood in the cage to descend, he felt some natural trepidation, and Philip quietly stretched out his hand over my father's, giving comfort and reassurance as they went down together. Also September 1926, Philip began one of his versifications with the words “I've worked at the coal-face / For thirty odd years,” which seems to me to imply only briefly interrupted employment as a miner which, as we saw earlier, he had already begun at the time of the 1891 census when he was 15.

Blaenavon: other People and Events

Prudence Gameson died in February 1903. This would make it impossible that Ed Gifford, born in 1915, knew her, as stated above! However, as there have been more than one Prudence Gameson (at least one was still alive when I began this research), I record both "facts" till further research brings some clarification.

A James Young took over a class of 24 members in March 1905 at the Wesleyan Church in Cwmavon.

Concerning Samuel Young, my father recalled in 1990 that "he was a little bit religious, but he had a strong character - I'll tell you that! He wasn't a local preacher, but he loved his church. So did my grandmother. I think he got that from his Durham experiences."

Willie Aston writes of him: "I can only just vaguely remember Samuel Young... he was not a local preacher, I understand that he took services occasionally." Park Street centenary booklet tells us that he was a class leader, and the circuit plans for 1898-1912 record his weekly class meetings as taking place at 7.30 on Monday evenings. The first mention of him as a class leader (in the quarterly schedule book) is for the last quarter of 1894, when he was leading a class of 26 members. It increased to 28, by June 1904 decreased to 12, and rose again to 18 by September 1905.

After his wife Martha's death in 1910, my father used to have to sleep with him: "I was switched to his bed. If I'd been playing football and got a bit excited in my dreams, I used to kick him! His favourite expression - I've never forgotten it - if I started kicking him while I was in bed: 'Oh, boss the kid, boss the kid!' He used to elbow me. I've had a few punches from him ."

This sharing of a room led to a further vivid memory from my father's childhood. On one occasion Samuel's bag of sweets was missing (flat toffees known as golden pats) and he accused my father of taking them. "I knew where he kept them but I never touched them, because I knew if I did I'd be for it!" My father strenuously denied taking them, but was given "a heck of a hiding" for it by his father, and sent to bed. Later, Samuel found the sweets in one of his pockets! He was very apologetic.

He died on 2nd May 1918 in Blaenavon, where he lies buried in St Peter's churchyard. There are five acres of churchyard, no sexton and no plan of the graves, some of which have been laid down or ruined. I have been unable to locate the grave.

In his will he bequeathed his effects and £349.9.7 to Isaac Davies, colliery overman (retired), and Philip Young, collier.

My father did not remember much about his grandmother Martha . He retained a visual impression of her in his mind, including the bun at the back of her head - a fashionable style at the time. He didn't know her very well because she died when he was only 6. He said she was a very strong-minded person. She died on 15th March 1910, and her mortal remains also lie in St Peter's churchyard, awaiting the call of the last trumpet.

There is a long obituary and a photograph of George James Young on page 12 of the Free Press of Monmouthshire newspaper for 15th March 1912; among the chief mourners was his brother Samuel, my greatgrandfather.

1He is sometimes spelled Sydney.

This page was added by David Young on 17/04/2013.
Comments about this page

Dear Mr Young I am writing these notes after reading your article on the Youngs of Blaenavon. I have to acknowledge that I found the ‘My Wesleyan Ancestors’ web site by chance whilst researching my family tree.

My name is Bruce Thomas and my paternal Grandfather was William Thomas (born 1885 in Close Row, Quebec, Co.Durham / died 1959 in Birchington Kent). William’s parents were Joshua Thomas (born 1860, Blaenavon) and Sarah Ann Young (born 27 Nov 1865 Blaenavon / died 1957 Bedwelty, Mons). Joshua and Sarah were married in 1883 at the registry office in Lanchester, Co. Durham. William Thomas married my Grandmother Fanny Matthews at the Abersychan Methodist Chapel on 2nd August 1909.

This was not the end of the Methodist connection. You will be interested to know that William (my Grandfather) was a lay preacher and his brother Samuel Thomas (1886-1972) was a Methodist Minister for 53 years. His short obituary is no.75 in the Minutes of the 1973 Conference.

My Grandmother, Fanny Thomas (ne Mathews) was brought up by her aunt and uncle, Thomas & Eliza Felvus, after her parents died in her early teens. They moved to Pontnewynydd around 1903/4 where they lived for at least the next 40 years. The Felvus’s were also staunch members of the Central Methodist Church. Thomas Felvus was foreman shearers at Pontnewynydd Sheet & Galvanising works.

You can imagine my delight as I started to read your article and found mention of Samuel, William and John Young and the Miles family, as I had only recently discovered my connection to Pitcome. In fact I visited the village during August.

Samuel Young was my (maternal) great-great-great-great Grandfather! I even met an elderly lady who showed me a much renovated house which she assured me had once been the village smithy. The Wedding Certificate (3 March 1883) for Sarah Ann Young and Joshua Thomas gives both their parents occupation as Coal Miner. The 1871 Census shows Samuel and Martha living in Back Rifle Street, Blaenavon with 2 children and Samuel is again shown a Coal Miner. The last reference that I have of Samuel as a Blacksmith is on Sarah Ann’s birth Certificate, 1865.

I understand that the Youngs and Thomas’ were amongst many Blaenavon families that moved to Co.Durham during the 1870’s – many of them had returned by the late 90’s. I suspect that both Samuel Young and William Thomas were coal hewers.

I visited Quebec last year (it was a typical late Victorian pit village) and, sad to say, found that the house where my Grandfather grew up was demolished before the 50’s. Quebec is now a lonely and soulless place – it has suffered, as so many other North Eastern communities, as a result of the pit closures. I have only the vaguest childhood memories of visiting relations near Pontypool – so I would be pleased to hear if you know anything more about their backgrounds. My Grandparents eventually left Wales and settled in Wembley in the 30’s – where my father Raymond Thomas grew up with his brothers Haydon and Gordon. Best Wishes – Bruce Thomas brucerthomas@btinternet.com 6/12/2013

By Bruce Thomas
On 10/12/2013

I would be grateful for contact with people who know about the story of Wesleyan Methodism in Blaenavon. I can be contacted via my website www.primitivemethodism.com or email davidmartinyoung@yahoo.co.uk.

By David Young
On 07/11/2017

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