John Jenkins was born in 1822 (I don’t know exactly when) in a part of the neighbouring villages of St Nicholas and Bonvilston, near Cardiff, called The Breach. He was christened in the Parish church of St. Nicholas which states that his abode was Breach. The 1851 census has his birthplace as Bonvilston but all of the others I have say St. Nicholas. And since there appear to be no John Jenkins baptisms in Bonvilston, let’s go with St. Nicholas. The three are all very close though and were all situated on the main road to Cardiff. Indeed, today they are outer suburbs of Cardiff itself.
He was christened in the village church of St. Nicholas on July 28th by the curate. His father, William was described as a labourer, which, considering where they lived, probably meant an agricultural labourer. In the parish register index I found four siblings, although you would think there would be more - there is no child called William for example and the year range is 1806-1822 - a long time for just five children. The biggest gap is between 1809 and 1815, which could indicate that the family moved somewhere else in that period but so far I have not found another little batch of Jenkins children - well it’s too common a name really. Of the siblings I have found John was the youngest. by another gap of five years - so maybe one of those last baby surprises in families.
Bonvilston/St Nicholas/The Breach seem to have been in a pleasant part of the Vale of Glamorgan. This description of the parish of St. Nicholas, taken from Samuel Lewis’ 1833 Topgraphical Dictionary of Wales, makes it sound very tranquil.
“This parish, which takes its name from the dedication of its church, is situated on the turnpike road from Cardiff to Swansea, and comprises a considerable tract of arable and pasture land, of which the whole, with the exception of only a small portion, is enclosed and cultivated. The soil is in general fertile and productive ; and the surrounding scenery is pleasingly varied, and in some parts picturesque.”
A later reminiscence from a St. Nicholas resident and taken from the village website, talks about the village in the late 19th century. John was no longer living there then but it does give some idea of what village life was like.
“At this time St. Nicholas was a busy place - a village almost self-contained. We had three butchers, two shoemakers, two carpenters shops, one saddler, one blacksmith, one tailor, two sawyers, two grocers, two wheelwrights - two public houses and one policeman. All were kept busy with the work from the surrounding farms and villages. There we had one bard, Tom Rees of the Downs, who used to wake me to wake me at nights en route for home after the closing of the public houses.”
Being from one of the poorer families in the district (I doubt that agricultural labourers earned very much) John would have been sent out to work at an early age. However, Samuel Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary does say, “A school for the gratuitous instruction of poor children upon the National system is supported by Mrs. Grey and the rector of the parish.” John could definitely sign his name, so he may well have been a beneficiary of Mrs. Grey’s teaching, especially considering his later occupation as a book salesman.
Considering his early listed occupations, all associated with horses, it is entirely possible that he began his working life as a stable boy in one of the great houses in the area. And great they were. Top of the list is Dyffryn House, which still stands and is shown below left and which must have had a substantial number of servants. Then there is Cottrell House, (below right) not much smaller, which doesn’t exist anymore - well the house doesn’t - the grounds are now a golf course. And finally there is the Manor House - shown at right. And no doubt there were other large farms and houses. It is impossible to know which one John might have worked in. Cottrell House and the Manor House are the nearest to Breach, but none of them were very far away - and maybe he even lived in the stables as stable boys often did. The child in the picture at the top of the page is really quite small - an indication of the age at which country boys started work.
But this is guesswork and, indeed, John’s life until his marriage in 1848 is guesswork. I am not even sure where he was in 1841, when the first census was taken - because of having such a common name. I have narrowed it down to four possibilities though.
One - a young man working as a servant at Great Frampton Farm, in Llantwit Major, down near the coast and not very far away from Wick, which is the home of his future wife, whom he married in 1848. So currently I am favouring this record I think. The farm is a ruin now, but this modern photograph shows the size of the house - also not inconsiderable.
Two - with parents William and Mary, and two other siblings, working as a harnessman in Llantwit Juxta Neath. This one has to be considered, because of the parents’ names and the occupation - it’s horsey. But the location does not really fit, as Llantwit Juxta Neath is much closer to Swansea than Cardiff and also the father is a collier - possible, but not indicated in earlier records, nor at the time of his marriage.
Three - a servant working for Richard Richards in LLantrisant. This cannot be discounted, but Llantrisant is a bit further north than the Jenkins heartland.
And finally there is a John Jenkins lodging with an older sibling and his family in a carpenter’s house in Tythegston Higher, and working as an agricultural labourer. Tythegston is also not far from Wick.
So none of these can be discounted but it is impossible to know which is the correct one. What they all have in common is a serving occupation, whether generally, agriculturally or with a specific task - harnessman. Take your pick.
Wherever he was in 1841, on November 22 1848 he married Jane Evans in her parish church in Wick, another Vale of Glamorgan village, but further west. At the time he was a gardener, so probably still working in large country houses, as indeed his new young wife was too. His father William is still listed as a labourer, which makes that second 1841 census record even less likely to be our John. For John’s father’s generation I suspect that it was mostly a case of once an agricultural labourer always an agricultural labourer.