Jane Evans Marriage
So now we venture tentatively into the realm of fact, and we can build up a picture, but the picture is necessarily limited, because the facts are few and basic, and a lot of them belong more properly with her husband’s story. What I now will recount is based on the census records from 1851-1881. I think both Jane and her husband John died before the next census in 1891, although I have yet to decide on which death certificate of the several possibilities, to send for.
Llanblethian, Aberdare, Haverford West, Bridgend 1848-1890?
But back to the beginning. Their first child, John, conceived out of wedlock, was baptised in Llanblethian, where John had been living when they married. So presumably they moved there - Jane would have had to leave her job anyway - she was pregnant and married as well, and married women were not often employed as servants. I guess they were not reliable enough - all those children to tend to. But sadly their little son, died in the first month of his life. One wonders about the effect of this on a couple who may have married simply because she was pregnant. The fact that they remained married to each other all their lives, and had many more children, perhaps points to a deeper relationship than one founded on a night’s tumble in the hay. Let us hope so. It would have been an opportunity anyway, to separate.
As it happens they stayed in Llanblethian until at least 1854, having four more sons in fairly rapid succession. By the 1851 census John has changed his occupation to coachman, which could mean anything from being the private coachman of a wealthy household, to someone driving some sort of commercial vehicle, either for somebody else, or for himself. He probably got into it through working at a large house. There were several in the area. The Jenkins’ address in Llanblethian is in Bute Cottages, which appears to be in The Causeway (the first picture on the right). Whatever he was doing there, Jane was having babies - four boys in a row, she must have wondered whether she would ever have a girl. But Llanblethian sounds like a pretty nice place to be - the postcard are general views of the village, and the 1849 description from The Topographical Dictionary of Wales, makes it sound quite idyllic:
“LLANBLETHIAN (LLAN-BLEIDDIAN), a parish, in the union of Bridgend and Cowbridge, hundred of Cowbridge, county of Glamorgan, South Wales; adjoining the town of Cowbridge, and containing 724 inhabitants. ... The parish comprises 3148 acres, and is intersected on the east by the river Ddaw, which falls into the Bristol Channel at the distance of six miles, where it forms the small port of Aberthaw, celebrated for the superior quality of its lime. The lands are in general fertile, and in a state of excellent cultivation; 369 acres are common or waste. The village is enlivened by several elegant cottages, the residences of highly respectable families; and the dwellings of the poor have an unusual appearance of neatness and comfort: the country immediately around it is of varied and pleasing character, and an ancient bridge over the Ddaw, which river flows through it, adds greatly to the picturesque effect of the scene. To the north-east of the village, on the summit of a hill round the foot of which the river flows, are the remains of the ancient castle of St. Quentin, the chief feature being a gateway, mantled with ivy, and sheltered from the violence of the winds by a few trees.”
Jane married a travelling man. Indeed in one census he gives his occupation as Traveller - sometimes used as a pseudonym for gypsy, but I have no reason to believe he actually meant that he was a gypsy. In the course of their marriage they moved several times around Glamorgan, and even into Pembrokeshire next door, and in the course of this moving around, John Jenkins also changed his job a few times. They weren’t moving every year though - just every few years. All of which begs the question - how did they travel? This was eventually a substantial sized family, and even if they did not have many possessions they must have had a few. So, everything loaded on to a cart - like those pictures of refugees that you see? They were not insubstantial distances that they travelled though. The people in this picture are just moving a short distance to escape having to pay the rent.
The pictures above include a view of Llanblethian today and a view of the Ford on Causeway Hill - maybe the part of the village in which they lived. And I have to agree it does look pretty idyllic.
I doubt it would have been an idyllic life though - more like hard grind for Jane (and John too probably). For not only did she have the children and her husband to care for, in 1851 there is an old lady - Mary Jenkins, a widow living with them - very possibly John’s mother. She was 80 so it is unlikely she was much help, more likely needed looking after too. And their income would not have been huge, so maybe Jane had to supplement it by doing other work such as taking in washing, or sewing. Maybe the children at least had a good time - like the children in this portrait, fittingly called ‘Halcyon Days’. (I have already written about the life of a Victorian housewife in Margaret Louisa Jenkins’ story (Jane’s daughter). it will tell you more about the Victorian daily grind.)
Then in 1858 the next child, a girl at last, is baptised - in Neath, which is almost to Swansea - completely out of the district and almost out of Glamorgan altogether. There is also a gap of four years between Edward, baptised 1854 and Mary Jane, baptised 1858. And yet, another difference, is that, from now on, the children are given two names, not just one. The final, maybe most significant change is a change in career for John - more of that later.
By now they also had seven children with three more to come. The anonymous (and possibly American) family photographed at right gives a good idea of what a not very wealthy family of this size looked like.
In 1865 by which time they had moved back to Glamorgan, they have another son. This time they are in Aberdare, which is north of the Bridgend/Cardiff road, and a little south of Merthyr Tydfil and the Rhondda Valley. Aberdare is the town shown in the picture lower right and this is where my husband’s grandmother Margaret Louisa is born in 1866. Her oldest brother, William is then 16 and by 1871 the time of the next census, he has left home, but the youngest child, Sidney is only two. By now Jane is 47 and very probably over being a parent. Indeed Sidney was born in 1868 when she would have been around 45, theoretically old enough to have more children, but somehow or other she avoided it - or maybe she just couldn’t.
The children are always described as scholars in the censuses, so they must have gone to school - compulsory education did not come in until the 1880s, so John and Jane must have been mindful of the importance of education - John did sell books after all - he could have sold anything else. No doubt the education they received was pretty elementary but it would have given them the basics at least. Another interesting fact that most probably reflects their rural origins is that Margaret Louisa Jenkins was bilingual - she spoke Welsh. This was not recorded until the 1891 census, by which time John and Jane were dead, but I am guessing she could speak Welsh, because this is what her parents had spoken at home.
So what happened? Alas we have no way of telling I guess. Miscarriages, stillbirths, itchy feet, an opportunity not to be missed, a temporary breakup of the marriage, dismissal and the need to find work elsewhere - who knows. You could make a story around any of these possibilities. Whatever the reason - in Neath, John is pursuing a different career completely, as a bookseller. And he continues in this trade or variations thereof, until at least 1871, thirteen years or so. He variously describes himself as Bookseller, Traveller, Book agent. All of this belongs to John’s story, but the significance for Jane is twofold. Firstly, I am assuming he was some sort of travelling salesman - that he didn’t own or work in a bookshop. Whether he worked for himself or for somebody else (did he peddle Encyclopedia Britannica door to door?) in the 1861 census Jane is described as a bookseller’s wife, which may indeed be purely a statement of fact, or may also imply that she helped out in some way (did she do his accounts, pack orders, chase bad debts ...?). The second thing of significance for Jane is the change of environment. I do not know how long they were based in Neath, but Mary Jane is the only child baptised there. In 1861 they are in Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire and their next child Elizabeth Ann is baptised there. Also in the household is one Catherine Jones, niece, born Wick, which could be read as a confirmation of the witness at their wedding, Elizabeth Jones, as Jane’s sister - but Jones is a very common name too. Whether Catherine, who was 13 at the time, was living with them or merely visiting it is impossible to tell. She does not appear with them again, but then by the time of the next census she would have been married or out at work herself. Neath and Haverfordwest are much larger towns than John and Jane had grown up in, both being ports with industries associated with coal, and iron, so life would have been drastically different from the rural one. One cannot imagine that it would have been a better life, even considering the hardships of the rural poor.
Gradually the children grew up and left home, they married or simply left. In 1881 John and Jane were living in Coity Lower, in Bridgend. Sometime in the late 70s John returned to his old trade of coachman - this is what he is doing in the 1881 census, and the wheel turns full circle, because in 1888 when his daughter Margaret marries he is a gardener - back where he began. In 1881 they still have children living at home - Sidney is still only 13 years old, so parenthood is still Jane’s major occupation. She is also back to caring for the old, because William Evans, retired coachman (her father?) and aged 80 is also living with them. John and Jane are now almost 60 themselves. So no doubt she is still slaving over the washing, slaving over the preparation of food, slaving over keeping their little house clean as well as putting up with the difficulties of husbands, teenagers (though they weren’t called teenagers then) and old men.
I now wonder whether one or more of the three older sons still at home died in an industrial accident whilst they were in Aberdare, maybe bringing on their last move to Bridgend. The sons were all iron puddlers - an extremely dangerous occupation. Certainly an event such as that would have been a huge shock and would most likely have brought on a whole lot of soul searching. Maybe this is what brought an end to the childbearing too.
A Topographical Dictionary of Wales by Samuel Lewis (1849) - the British History Online site has a complete transcription of this - descriptions of just about everywhere in Wales in 1849.
This is part of the Powys Day in the Life site and describes the whole washing process, illustrated with original ads and drawings
When Margaret Louisa married, she seems to have moved to be near her parents, for in the 1891 census she and her husband are living just around the corner from where Jane and John were living in 1881. But Jane and John cannot be found, so I am assuming that they are dead. I have yet to send for Jane’s death certificate but it looks as if she died in the middle of 1890. Similarly I do not have her husband’s death certificate but I think he may have died a year later - just before the census. Neither of them seem to have reached the age of 70, but then it had been a hard life - eleven births (maybe more) is almost inconceivable to us today, and then having to raise them on a a very little money with no modern appliances, or servants, to help. She has my utmost respect.