Jane Evans Early life
Wick and nearby ca.1823-1848
Jane Evans was born in the little village of Wick in the Vale of Glamorgan in South Wales. We know this because she consistently gives Wick as her place of birth on various census records and she was also married here. The significance of this being that women usually married in their home parish. Indeed I believe they sort of had to. You ‘belonged’ to a parish, because the parish was responsible for you if you needed assistance. The parish would not render assistance if you were not registered with the parish. I think, if you married elsewhere, the banns, nevertheless had to be published in your home parish.
But I digress. I can, however, find no record of her baptism there, even though I have a supposedly complete transcription of the Wick parish register from the Glamorgan Family History Society (and there are other baptisms at about the right time). Nevertheless, let us assume that she was baptised in the local twelfth century church of St. James the Great. Her father, William was a mason according to her marriage certificate, though whether he was at the time is a moot point. The only other baptism of a child with a father William Evans, at the same time, is described as a labourer. However, this is possible - he would have been younger, and maybe not yet a qualified mason.
Wick is a small place, partly owned by the Dunraven family, the local landowners and gentry. A topographic dictionary of Wales, by Samuel Lewis, dated 1847 describes it thus:
“WICK, a parish, in the union of Bridgend and Cowbridge, hundred of Ogmore, county of Glamorgan, South Wales, 5½ miles (S.) from Bridgend; containing 337 inhabitants. It is situated on the coast of the Bristol Channel, and intersected by a road from Lantwit Major to St. Bride's Major; the surface is rather flat, with very little timber, and the soil partly a stiff clay or rich loam, capable of producing wheat, barley, and turnips. The living is consolidated with the vicarage of St. Bride's Major: the church, dedicated to St. James, is a plain edifice, supposed to have been erected about the year 1300, and measuring sixty feet in length and twenty-five in breadth. There are places of worship for General Baptists and Calvinistic Methodists; a day and Sunday National school, and two Sunday schools connected with the dissenters. Anthony Patch bequeathed £5, Thomas Williams a small rent-charge, and two unknown benefactors the respective sums of £14 and £10, for the relief of the poor; but all these charities, which, in 1786, produced £1. 16. per annum for distribution, have been since lost, and nothing has been received out of them for the last twenty or thirty years. ...
Almost all the villages around are built about the churches as centres, with a spacious area within the circle for folding the cattle and other stock of the district, which were driven to these places of security at nightfall, and carefully guarded from the depredations of the ever vigilant foe, who hovered about the coast, and in his light craft was ready to make a descent on the unwary or negligent inhabitants, carrying away, not only their goods and chattels, but frequently their persons into captivity. All along this coast are innumerable traces of the fierce contests between the former inhabitants and their harassing spoilers. Every natural eminence was taken advantage of, and rudely converted into some kind of fortification. Every combe or cwm bears evident traces of having been the scene of a deadly struggle; and the size and strength of the building above referred to, evince that it was no easy task to repel the attacks, it being furnished with embrasures and loop-holes, and the porch or great entrance being defended on each side like the outer port of a castle.”
Because I have no record of her birth or baptism we are guessing at a birthdate of 1823/24, based on censuses - more likely 1824 as her parents (if I have the right couple) were married in November 1823, so unless her mother was literally about to give birth when she married, it is more likely that at least a few months elapsed before her birth. This would probably make her the first child of the marriage. So far I have not been able to establish whether she had siblings. I am assuming this particular couple because her marriage certificate says her father’s name was William, and this is the only marriage of a William Evans in that period in that parish.
Doubtless it was even smaller in 1823 when Jane was born. The picture at the top of the page is of a stone barn near Wick, and shows the flattish - the websites say rolling - countryside of the Vale of Glamorgan. Most of Wales is hilly, even mountainous, but not the Vale of Glamorgan, which is agriculturally productive. It lies between the towns of Bridgend and Cardiff and south of the Rhondda Valley, famous for its coal mines. Wick is only some two miles from the coast, which is notable for its beauty and for shipwrecks. Indeed I saw one reference to the inhabitants of Wick as people who enticed boats on to the rocks with lights and then plundered them. I do not know whether this is true, but it’s colourful at the very least. Were all of the villagers involved I wonder, or just some of them? Apparently this part of the coast has a huge tide, and when it comes in and there is a storm the waves can reach the top of those cliffs.
So Jane probably grew up in a small village house (maybe like the one on the left - actually a village postoffice) with several siblings, and no doubt had to go out to work at a very early age. I suppose if her father was a mason, then they probably weren’t desperately poor, as it is a skilled trade. Did she have any schooling I wonder? She signed her own name on her marriage certificate, so maybe she at least had a rudimentary education. However I doubt if she had much education, other than how to run a household. In my transcribing of censuses, I have often seen girls as young as twelve living away from home and described as servant, or housemaid. If Jane was one of the oldest children (as she seems to be) then she almost certainly would have been sent out to earn money to help the family, having already served her apprenticeship as it were, by helping her mother with the smaller children and running the home. Apparently in the mid nineteenth century one in three women were employed as servants. They were said to be ‘in service’ and servants from the country were considered to be more compliant than those from the towns. So although, I have no actual evidence of this I am assuming that Jane was one of these people. On her marriage certificate she has no occupation stated, nor does she in the census records I have, but then I suspect that many poor women never put down an occupation in the census, even if they took in laundry, cleaned, made clothes, took in children, etc. It was probably not really considered as work. And being a servant was really hard work, many worked fifteen or sixteen hours a day. On the left is an excerpt from a contemporary article, admittedly about servants in London, but no doubt applicable to servants all over England.
“Take the list of what is denied in an ordinary well-conducted house. No followers, no friends in the kitchen, no laughing to be heard above stairs, no romping for young girls to whom romping is an instinct all the same as with lambs and kittens, no cessation of work save at meal-times, no getting out for half an hour into the bright sunshine, save "on the sly," or after the not always pleasant process of asking leave; and above all, education for the fancy or the intellect beyond a dull magazine for Sunday reading, which is held quite sufficient recreation for lonely Betty moping in the dreary kitchen on the afternoon of her Sunday in. All grinding work claustral monotony, with the world seen only through the gratings of the area window as the holiday folks flock to and fro - this is English domestic service." E.L.L (Eliza Lynne Linton) On the Side of the Maids 1874 from the Cornhill Magazine
However, let me propose a possible scenario. In 1841 she worked for the painter in St. Brides Major, but for some reason left their employ. At the time of her marriage in 1848 she was living at St. Andrews Minor - a village so small that in 1811 it had a mere two houses. In the parish was Clementstone House (pictured at left) in the nearby village of Clementstone. Clementstone House is now a B&B, but at that time was owned by the Franklin family. There were many large houses and estates scattered around Glamorgan - every village had at least one, and so it is most likely that she worked at one close to home, (Clementstone House?) so that she could at least visit on her day off. At the time of her marriage, her husband, John Jenkins was a gardener, living in Llanblethian, slightly to the north of Clementstone. So it is entirely possible that he also was part of the staff at Clementstone travelling in, either daily, or on the occasional day. They met and struck up a relationship
So where did Jane work? Well frankly I have no idea, and I don’t even really know whether she worked at all. I cannot find her for sure in the 1841 census. She does not appear to be living at home - I cannot find a likely household, so she could be one of several domestic servants called Jane Evans scattered around Glamorgan. The most likely possibility is as the sole servant in the household of a painter, in St. Bride’s Major - another village near Wick. There is another, option at Cottrell Park (pictured at right) in St. Nicholas which is nearer Cardiff. The reason I consider this one is that it is in the village in which her future husband, a gardener at the time, was born, and it was a large estate, so would have had lots of workers. I can’t pick on any of the 1841 choices with certainty.
So let’s end the pure speculation and move to something I do know for sure - On 22nd November 1848 in the Parish Church of Wick, Jane Evans, spinster residing at St. Andrew’s Minor and John Jenkins, bachelor, gardener, residing at Llanblethian (near Cowbridge - the nearest town) were married. Both of their fathers were named William - Jane’s was a mason and John’s a labourer. The witnesses were Elizabeth Jones (or James) and Jas. C. Richardson. The officiating minister was Edward Evans - a relative? Both of them could sign their names. Why were there no family witnesses? Though I suppose Elizabeth could be a married sister. It was a ‘proper’ marriage, by banns after all. If we are to go with the birthdates we have from census records, John was 26 and Jane was 25, so no longer children. Let us hope that it was a happy, even jolly affair like that shown in the engraving on the right. Or it may have been the rather more sober affair pictured below. Mind you, Jane would have been around six months pregnant at the time, as their firstborn child, John was born in March the following year. Did they marry for love, or because they were forced by social mores, though I suppose John could always have abandoned her - and he never did.
A Vision of Britain Through Time - Wick - not much to view here but what there is is here - it is a small village after all.
Life Takes Lemons - a personal blog about the 18th century, so not quite the right time, but this article applies I am sure to the 19th too - it’s about life as a domestic servant.
English Heritage - A video re-enacting and explaining life in a kitchen in a large country house (Audley End)
Luxury and Style - A brief history of country house domestic staff.