A brief history of the Aberdare ironworks where the Jenkins boys probably worked
Alas for John and Jane, their family did not begin well. John died in his first month of age. Who knows why.
William’s birth must have been a joyful event after the tragedy of their first baby - and another son to boot. William is the name of both John and Jane’s fathers, so a natural choice of name. He was born and baptised in LLanblethian and lived at home until his late teens, receiving at least a rudimentary education, as he is still described as a scholar at the age of eleven. In 1871, aged twenty one he has left home and is working in the railways - a major employer at the time. This is the age of steam, when new railway lines were being built at a staggering rate around the country. William was not a mere navvy though - he is already a railway guard and eventually became an engine driver. In 1872 he married, in Cardiff, Dinah Lewis, but they seem never to have had children - most probably not a choice. I do not know whether he ever lived in Aberdare with his parents, but in 1881 he is back there, living just down the road from his parents’ old home. Then they move to Cardiff, 50 Woodville Road to be exact. Now both his sister Margaret and her husband James were living here when they married, so most likely it was William’s house, and Margaret and James were ‘visiting’. Dinah remains in Cardiff at virtually the same address in 1901, but William is boarding in Ystradyfodwg near Aberdare. No doubt as an engine driver, you got sent around the country according to where you were needed. Impossible to tell anymore until I can access the 1911 census. He would have been reasonably well off - a good job, no children. He also spoke both Welsh and English.
Another of the LLanblethian crop, Charles, at the age of 19 in 1871 in Aberdare, was a puddler. Now what was a puddler? Well here is a description I found on a Rootsweb list:
“They received a good wage of 35 shillings per week, the top wage being that of the rollers, £2 per week, whilst colliers in comparison received 25 shillings a week. The puddling process or the “Welsh Method” as it was known as known in honour of its Cyfarthfa inventor, was a process whereby wrought iron, as opposed to cast iron, could be produced. - “The puddling furnace made of iron plates and lined with firebricks, had two chambers. At one end was a firebox in which barrow-loads of coal were fiercely burning, the flames being carried by a draught into the second chamber [at 1500°C to 1800°C] which contained the charge of metal to be converted into wrought iron. After melting, the bath of molten metal began to 'boil', the carbon and impurities (phos[phorous, silica and carbon) being oxidised by the flame. After some time the pure iron began to form flakes [wrought iron has a higher melting point than pig iron] and the work of the puddler was to keep the bath in motion with his 'rabble' [iron pole], and gradually collect the 'sticky' flakes into three large balls, much as you make a snowball (weighing up to 300 lbs each) . When this was done the furnace door was opened, and the iron withdrawn in the form of white hot soft lumps dripping with molten cinder. These were carried to the shingling hammer and quickly reduced to short oblong blocks called 'blooms'. Needless to say this made the sparks fly [hot slag being force out of the iron by the hammering], and the shinglers were protected by armour-like leggings, a strong leather apron, and a gauze visor over their eyes, though strangely enough they always had bare arms! Nor would the puddlers protect their eyes from the glare with blue glass [blue for coal, oil or gas flames & green for electric arcs] as do furnace men today . The puddlers worked in trousers and a thick woollen vest open at the neck, but it was a hot, fatiguing job, and you could tell a furnace-man by his more than 'sunburnt' complexion. Yet they were a fine healthy lot of men….” This was extremely dangerous work and many puddlers were maimed by the molten metal being spat out onto their legs and feet. Many puddlers were dead by the age of 50 because of the nature of the job – working close to the high heat and risking their lives and health daily. The job required great physical strength and also the mental knowledge to know when the iron was ready. Because of their skills they were quite highly paid.”
All of which sounds horrendous. I cannot find any further reference to Charles - not quite such a common name but common enough, so let us hope that he was not one of the casualties of this trade, though there is a death in 1875 which could be him though the age is slightly wrong.
Like his brother Charles, John began his working life as a puddler. After that I become a bit less certain. I think the most likely John Jenkins I have found, marries Ellen from Monmouthshire and moves far away to Stockton-on-Tees as an iron furnace man - the same job, in which he continues until at least 1891. Alternatively he married Martha, had lots of children and became a carpenter. I think the first is most likely, though Stockton-on-Tees is an awful long way away - but then maybe the money was good in the north.
The last of the LLanblethian brood and also the last iron puddler. I can find no further references to Edward either. If both he and Charles were killed in an accident it might explain why their brother John moved far far away, and might also explain why his parents moved too. But, really I have nothing to base this on. It would take some time browsing the local newspapers I think. Indeed there is a death of an Edward Jenkins in 1875 aged twenty - could this be he?
I have to assume that Mary Jane married, but it is just too hard to discover to who or when this happened. If I was to take a punt I would say she married Jenkin Llewellyn, they lived in Coyty, near her parents, and then she died sometime between 1881 and 1891.
Without spending quite a bit of time on investigating, I also cannot say for certain what happened to Annie Maria. I think she probably worked as a servant like her mum, and then married - also like her mum, possibly in 1893.
I think she too must have married, but there are far too many Elizabeth Ann Jenkins to settle on one. So this is another mystery for somebody else to solve I fear.
A slightly more unusual name, and he’s a male, so doesn’t change his name when he marries - and marry he did in 1890, a young lady called Jennet Davies. She came from Bettws which is just north of Bridgend, so they probably married there - they are certainly living there in 1891, with three children - all of them born before they married, which is interesting I guess. At the time he was a checker for the Great Western Railway - which basically means a ticket inspector I think, though might mean someone who checks the tracks, or indeed the trains, are OK. However, by 1901 they had moved to Monmouthshire and he was now a coal turner - timberman it says in a different hand on the census record, so I am not quite sure what that means. By then they had another four children. However, this is where I lose George - cannot find a death. So - a working man - but then his options would have been few. Maybe his children had better prospects.
The direct ancestor in the family, so her story is told elsewhere.
The baby of the family. Interestingly Margaret Louisa named two of her children Sidney Alban (one of them must have died), so she must have been fond of this particular brother. However, I do not know what happened to him after 1881 when he was still living at home in Coyty with his parents. I don’t think he died. Maybe he emigrated?
As you can tell I have not done a lot of investigation into these children, but would love to hear from you if you can enlighten me. Do get in touch by email
ANNIE MARIA 1860-
MARY JANE 1858-
ELIZABETH ANN 1862-
GEORGE DUNCAN 1865-
SIDNEY ALBAN 1868-