Not taking a hint on Griffith Watkins Highs and lows in a Rhondda life

Taken separately, none of the information in this piece is exceptionally noteworthy, but together perhaps there is enough for passing interest.

This little session kicked off with one of Ancestry’s “new hints” email notifications – usually highlighting irrelevant items or ones I’d checked out a day or two before. This time, it included a 1911 Wales census hint for Griffith Watkins, a great great uncle {1}. While this did indeed prove to be a hint to ignore, it prompted me to see if the missing record could now be found in the Ancestry system. After a little digging, the correct one appeared, with the surname transcribed as Walkins (and place of birth as ‘Norttyr’ rather than Merthyr). I can see why I didn’t find it first time round.

A coincidental marriage?

The 1911 census includes a space for length of current marriage, which can turn out to be something of an approximation but allows the discovery of the registration details.

Ancestry has adopted the helpful practice of listing all the names against a particular reference (up to 1911, or is it 1915?). Most registration references at this period cover 2 weddings, as the standard marriage register had space for two per page. So, in third quarter 1895, Pontypridd district (ref 11a/911), as well as finding Griffith’s spouse Margaret Ann Davies, a further two very familiar names popped out – the other ‘Welsh’ great grandparents Charles Scott and Amelia Osborne.

Just a weird coincidence? Or could the Watkins and Scott families have known each other, some twenty years before Mary Ann Scott and Levi Watkins took the plunge? It would take sight of the original register entry to know if they might have met on the day.

Going under

Back to the 1911 census {2}, there are several indicators of a struggle to survive. The couple have had 6 children since 1895, but only 2 are still here. Checking the Trealaw cemetery record {3}, the other four are all buried in the plot which would become their parents’ resting place many years later.

  • Levi Griffith died age 6 months late 1899.
  • Twins Jacob and Phoebe both died aged 4 months, mid-1901.
  • Mary Ellen died aged 2 years mid-1904.

All listed in plot M207. Sadly not a unique state of affairs, or even the worst, but perhaps the highest ratio of child death in the closer family circles.

That perhaps explains why in the 1901 census, taken 31st March, Griffith is by himself but listed as married (and a lodger). Margaret could be with relatives or in (workhouse) hospital and the children dispersed to relatives. They may take some finding.

1911 Wales Census - Griffith WatkinsAnother indicator of poverty is that they are living at 163 Under House Ynyscynon Road – not a separate part of the road, but an ‘under’ section of the terraced house. Plus they have just 2 rooms (excluding any probably non-existent scullery or bathroom). On Google Street View there is clearly a large drop down from street level on one side of the road which would make an ‘under’ house possible {4}. Some houses are more semi-detached, but all in the standard Valleys terrace style.

It is easy for us to get fixated on the harsh picture painted by such raw data, but surely there were good times too in this strong Welsh community.


1. Griffith was the younger brother to great grandfather John Watkins. John was born 1868 Merthyr, died 1939 Tonypandy. Griffith was born 1875 Merthyr, died 1937 Trealaw. Margaret died 1942.

2. Other 1911 census information

  • Griffith Watkins, age 36, born Merthyr, underground haulier at colliery.
  • Margaret Ann Watkins, age 32, born Treherbert.

Surviving children of Griffith and Margaret Ann Watkins:

  • Elizabeth Ann age 14 born Trealaw.
  • Thomas John age 13 born Trealaw.

All could speak English and Welsh.

Unfortunately the names of the two children are rather too common to be able to find out anything more, without a large stroke of luck, or an even larger amount of work.

3. Glamorgan Family History Society’s Trealaw Cemetery Burial Index, 1881 to 1990.

There are 150 people now recorded in the family tree database as being buried in the cemetery – see A quick look at family gravestones at Trealaw and connected articles. The count largely excludes infants which don’t appear on any census, and are only included in the database via notes attached to their parents – they would take it closer to 200.

4. The first in a new BBC Wales series ‘Laurence’s Extraordinary Ordinary Homes’ (shown March 2015) features a Bute Town terraced house makeover, and its history. This building also has a separate ‘under’ space, which the programme calls a cellar but would have been let out separately – plus the attic space would have housed a lodger. They explain it as housing the maximum number of people in a minimum space and saving on building costs too – clearly a common Valleys approach. See Merthyr, more than a temporary abode for another example (Plymouth Street) – the cuttings photo made a brief screen appearance.

Cycling in, and out of, the family story Changing transport, and work, options

As a cyclist, and sometime cycle campaigner and rides organiser,  I was delighted to be contacted out of the blue (via this site) about family bike shop connections. Second cousin (once removed) Ronnie Myhill used to have such a shop in Carlisle, before switching to grocery – I’d already spotted his dad Sidney was a cycle agent at one point.

Ronnie was definitely involved with bicycles in 1953, and the grocery store existed by 1969, per phone directories on Ancestry.

Our correspondent relayed an extract from a postcard, mentioning fitting a Cyclemaster Power Unit in 1953. A number of web pages on such contraptions – complete powered rear wheels – appear on a quick Google, including a UK based “online museum” Plenty of images too. We had an old bicycle in the garage when I was growing up, fitted with a different type of  small add-on petrol engine, before mopeds came in to use I guess.

It would be interesting to know at what point Ronnie gave up on cogs and brakes for coffee and biscuits.


Connected articles: Making a Case for the Myhills shows that Ronnie is unlikely to have any living descendants. I’d be very happy to be proved wrong.

Bush Houses viewpoints Cwm Clydach Cottages in colour and b&w

Cutlock & Co is extremely grateful to a new contact who has forwarded some photos of Bush Houses. One view was familiar, from the painting which appears at the bottom of Feeling Bushed and also a poor quality version received via another source, but the older black and white image was certainly from a fresh perspective.

Looking down the valley towards Tonypandy, with the main part of Clydach Vale /Blaen Clydach to the left (north), St Albans church can be seen on the bottom left. But what is the building pretty much in the centre of shot, a little beyond the shorter row of houses (you’ll need to click on the image for the larger version)? The railway up the valley is visible too – on two levels. Perhaps someone could tell me when this closed, which would help date the shot. No later than the 1940s I imagine, from the lack of telegraph poles for example.

Bush Houses and Clydach Vale old b&w

Here’s the colour photo, the “familiar view” from the 1960s, looking from the opposite direction. I’d be happy to hear if anyone has copyright claims on this.

Bush Houses in 1960s


Sourced from the ‘Rhondda – Our Valley’ page on Facebook, a grainy photo which would have been taken a little further back from the colour one above. Assuming this is the correct location, Blaenclydach Colliery with Bush Houses rather obscured behind:

Blaenclydach colliery, Bush Houses behind


1. This is the fifth Cutlock & Co article on Bush Houses, Clydach Vale, Rhondda. The others, in chronological order:

Word-Smithing from Smyrna or Lyrical lines from Lydia {2}.

A year ago, ‘Hanging by a thread‘ traced the delicate strands which led to establishing the family of John Harper Smith junior, master mariner {1}. I speculated that the reasons he and his spouse couldn’t be found in 1871 and 1881 England census was that they could be on voyages out of British waters.

Now there is some indication of this, in the shape of a poem of his penned from port:

(Read by clicking on any image and navigating – increase browser size for larger view or use the ‘full image’ link.)

Jennie/Jane is the oldest daughter, age 7 in 1865. Also mentioned are Nellie, otherwise Ellen, age 6, Kate age 3 and Jack/John a tender one year old (and no doubt classed a rogue in verse 15 due to typical baby antics). Presumably wife Hannah was ‘at home’, wherever that was, at this time.

The reference in verse 16 to “dear aunts” .. ” all living there” (implying being looked after by them) while mother was away is intriguing. The girls are with an unknown and unmarried Elizabeth Hannible/Hannibell at census time – in Yarmouth indeed just a few entries away from aunt Matilda B Isaac in 1871 (and 1861 for Jane too). In 1861, while Jane is in Yarmouth the parents are both in Liverpool. Hannah comes from that port, so their stay could be for family or nautical reasons. Still no sign of Ellen in 1861 or Jack in 1871. Another aunt or two hiding somewhere with them?

Thanks to Vivien for supplying the above scans.


1. Also see: Entirely to the Water from Birth – bit of a poetical turn of phrase in John Harper Smith senior’s mariner certificate entry!

2. Smyrna is now known as Izmir, Turkey. It was once part of the Lydian empire. ( I did Classical Civilisation at A level!)

3. Perhaps some new Cutlock & Co categories are needed for this article – file under Records/Poetry, Places/At Sea.

No beating about the Bush Dreadful conditions, a strong community in Cwm Clydach

The Cutlock & Co articles on Bush Houses are some of the most popular on the website. As the latest batch of old news uploaded to the Welsh Newspapers Online archive includes nine year’s worth of the Rhondda Leader from the start of the 20th century, a quick trawl seemed a good idea. Forty items came up for “bush houses”. Here are some key ones about the place {1}, which also shine a light on inhabitants’ lives.

Constructed in the 1860s, the buildings are shown as Cwm Clydach Cottages in the first edition OS map (Tonypandy page) with no other housing evident in Clydach Vale at that time. Even by the early 1900s they were regarded as very poor properties. At 1911, there were 71 households in the 50 small terraced houses.

Rhondda Leader BushHousesinsanitary_17Jan1903This from the Rhondda Leader, a report from the Health Committee of Rhondda Council, dated 17th January 1903: the Clerk to the Glamorgan County Council (referred to) the County Medical Officer’s report on the sanitary condition of this Council’s district and (drew) attention of the Council to the insanitary condition of Bush Houses.

Lack of drains and proper road

The Health Committee had previously in June 1901 “recommended that the Surveyor be instructed to prepare plans of a scheme for the drainage of Bush houses, Clydach Vale, and that Councillor R.S. Griffiths and the Clerk interview the manager of Cambrian Colliery Company with a view to get an understanding that they will connect the houses with the sewer when made.”

rhonddaleader_bushhousessewer_22Jun1901 rhonddaleader_bushhousesdrains_20Jul1901

It is perhaps surprising to find a month later that this “interview” revealed that Cambrian Colliery Company was contemplating constructing more houses, rather than closing the existing ones. No report found so far on whether the sewers were built and connected at that time, presumably because this would not be newsworthy enough.

Rhondda Leader Bush Houses access_28Nov1908General access to the houses was poor, too.  The first of these cuttings is a letter from November 1908, signed “Cwm Clydach” while below is another council report from June 1907.Rhondda Leader Bush Houses coal_15Jun1907

Keeping children from school to carry coal seems a poor excuse from a 21st century viewpoint. As not sending them to school regularly was liable to attract a fine {2}, the need for domestic coal was obviously great, even in the summer.

Bush Houses was eventually demolished in 1969.

Community benefits

Rhondda Leader Matthew Picton benefit concert_31Mar1906The physical aspects of Cwm Clydach Cottages may have been basic, to say the least, but all indications are of a vibrant community.

Matthew Picton, whose daughter Sophia later married Albert Gregory (first cousin, twice removed), was to be the recipient of the proceeds of a well-attended benefit concert at Libanus Chapel in March 1906.  “He has been ill for the last four or five years, and has a wife and four children to maintain.”

Perhaps Matthew recovered well, as he had 2 more children, in 1907 and 1909, although only 57 when he died in 1930.

Anyone know where Libanus Chapel was?

And Finally

Rhondda Leader Bush Houses protection_21Sep1907 What should be made of this request to the Health Committee from the Trades and Labour Council (September 1907) “to protect the schools where the children from this locality attend”?

A view that the insanitary conditions of Bush Houses led to it being a source of childhood diseases? Or .. ?



1. For an idea of who was living in Bush Houses, the extended Osborne family features in A community in the Bush, while Cwmclydach families at the 1911 census are listed in Snapshot of Bush Houses 1911 (see the spreadsheet). Feeling Bushed is more about the physical aspects of the place.

2. Various news items from Rhondda Leader make reference to specific people living in Bush Houses, including members of the extended Osborne family. A further Cutlock & Co item featuring some will probably follow shortly.

3. The period covered on Welsh Newspapers Online includes the Cambrian Colliery explosion of 10th March 1905. One man from Bush Houses, Thomas Hopkins, was so badly burned that his wife identified him by a distinctive recent repair to his boot. A Thomas Edward Hocking, ostler, from Bush Houses and married, was in the list of men reported killed outright. Reporting errors may mean that Hopkins and Hocking are in fact the same person – at 1901 census I can only find a Thos E Hopkins, colliery repairer in Ferndale with his uncle, born Swansea about 1875 (possibly married Mary Hannah Evans in Swansea 1904). I can’t find a death registration for either. UPDATE: Having checked the mining disasters reports available on Coalmining History Resource Centre, it appears that ostler Thomas may in fact go by the surname of Hawkins!

Morgan Harding of 43 Bush Houses “died subsequent to the explosion from injuries”. A newspaper report of March 1906 sees a boy also called Morgan Harding from Clydach Vale, quite possibly his son, in the dock with a friend for stealing. He is given “six strokes for each offence and .. ordered to be detained for a week so his mother could put in an appearance”. They had twice stolen goods or money in February from David William’s lock-up shop at 40 Bush Houses.