Cymdeithas Hanes Mechell
According to E.A.Williams – the author of ‘The Day Before Yesterday’“The 19th century (on Anglesey) is characterised by industrial and social changes…” During the early hours of the morning of June 20, 1837 Alexandrina Victoria was told of the death of William IV and that she, at eighteen years of age, was queen.
Thus began the most exciting period (1837 – 1901) in the history of Great Britain and a time which influenced most other countries. This was the time when the ‘Red’ of the British Empire spread, almost like wildfire across the Map of the World.
The main events of Victoria’s reign can be listed as follows: overseas -
This was the time of some of the most eminent politicians ever seen in the Palace
of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) – Sir Robert Peel; the Duke of Waterloo; Benjamin
Disraeli; William Gladstone; Lord Melbourne; Lord Palmerston; Lord Salisbury and
others. In their wake were seen scientists and inventors, engineers and explorers,
authors and poets such as Isabella Beeton; Charles Dickens; Charles Darwin; ‘George
Eliot’; W. G. Grace; Thomas Hardy; Joseph Lister; David Livingstone; Florence Nightingale;
Robert Louis Stevenson; Alfred, Lord Tennyson etc. who extended everyone’s horizons
and were responsible for changing everyday life for everyone -
“ “Though the benefits of education were very scarce in those days, the ordinary, common people were far from being illiterate…” according to Daniel Rowlands of Llangefni in 1827. Circumstances were not much better by the 1840’s according to the Rev. Peter Williams, "… My childhood days were days of hardship and scarcity. In the year 1846, the potato crop failed and the following harvest was wet during which the wheat and corn crops also failed… Life, at best, was hard for ordinary people. Their diet consisted mainly of buttermilk and vegetables –porridge and a mixture of bread and milk morning and evening with milked potatoes at midday…Meat was mot seen on the table apart from Sunday lunch or Christmas dinner…”
In the biography of John Williams of Brynsiencyn it is related how every family had to add to their ‘daily bread’ in any way possible. “… belonging to the Old Chapel was an acre of land, and an orchard which formed part of the house grounds…in the days when fruit was scarce on Anglesey, the orchard’s produce contributed much to the family diet. Boys, when young, had to learn to fend for themselves around the Mountain and soon became quite adept at hunting and fishing. John had a good eye for any prey. He got himself a gun and was considered a good shot and unbeatable for finding hares in the morning dew or snow …” When the family moved to Cemaes to live, John’s father took his gun and dog with him. “...Miss. Broadhead was scared of both dog and gun but John Williams knew she was even more scared of travellers and persuaded her that they (travellers) were even more scared of dogs and that the sound of gunfire was enough to make even the bravest run away.”
In the 40’s and 50’s of the nineteenth century Anglesey encountered a time of terrific
changes as the Industrial Revolution petered out more or less. The economy was on
a downward spiral and according to historian John Davies, “…1834 – 1845 were amongst
the most troubled and agitated years in Welsh history.” The main reason for this
was that the working classes objected violently to a measure adapting The Poor Law
passed by Parliament in 1834 – “An Act for the Amendment and better Administration
of the Laws relating to the Poor in England and Wales.” The cost of assisting the
poor amounted to as much as a quarter of all the Government’s public spending! Ordinary
working class families continually faced hardship whilst wealthy landowners could
enjoy themselves whilst watching their profits increasing. Poor houses were established
but were not the answer to the mounting problems. Circumstances, rules and regulations
made it difficult if not impossible for married couples as husbands and wives were
not allowed in the same Workhouse. Many refused the offer of assistance and tried
as best they could to keep families together. Poor Law Unions were established in
Anglesey on June 1, 1837. Sixty three Boards of Guardians, representing the fifty
three parishes had responsibility for ensuring the Poor Law was enacted properly.
Amongst them was the parish of Llanfechell. The population of these parishes in Anglesey
totalled thirty seven thousand, two hundred and thirty one ranging from fifty-
At this time, following the Battle of Waterloo, many soldiers had returned home and were searching for employment. The town and port of Holyhead were rapidly expanding resulting in an influx of English and Irish immigrants; Amlwch town and Amlwch Port were growing almost daily; the cobblers at Llannerchymedd were busily engaged in their trade and supplying an ever growing market – e.g. two hundred and fifty cobblers worked in fifty three workshops in 'Llan' in 1833. There were also another forty shops in the village offering such services as butchers, rope making, linen drying and nail making. About two hundred men were employed at the Red Wharf Bay quarries; coal was being mined in the Holland Arms area of Malltraeth Marsh. On the roads, gangs of workmen built the A5 which shortened the forty eight hour journey, in 1784, from London to Holyhead to only twenty seven hours in 1836.
Bridges were built across the Menai Straits to connect Anglesey to the mainland. All of these developments attracted “…numerous gangs of wandering navvies from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England.” who were responsible for much law breaking and petty offences; leisure activities for the gentry became popular with a pier in Beaumaris being opened by Lady Bulkeley on November 1, 1843; over fifty shops in the county town to supply and satisfy their needs and a tourist industry beginning to develop. Weavers set themselves up in many a small village and by 1835 there were seven working woollen mills on the island. Windmills were also built for grinding home grown corn.
This was an exiting time for those whose lives were touched by such developments
but for the poor, caught between two stools, as it were, they were developments of
little significance. Few could take advantage of a change in circumstances to improve
their quality of life and for most there was only work and a feeling of resentment
and hate grew for those who could afford all the latest benefits. Many of the poor
working classes looked for an escape through the medium of strong but cheap drink
and alcohol was quoted as being a significant factor in many of the failings of society.
Temperance Societies were founded; the first such society in Wales being in Llanfechell
in November 1834. A need for more police and prisons was obvious. In 1839 the Rural
Constabulary Act (County Police Act-
Was it Anne’s misfortune to be born at such a time? According to Press reports the
crime that sent her to Australia was not her first offence. That was stealing milk
from a cow in a field. Why did she do it? It is difficult to understand as she was
the daughter of a small holding who would, almost certainly, have had a cow of their
own. Her defence was that it was her sister Elen who had persuaded her to do such
a thing. This, and two other offences have to be kept in mind when thinking of those
members of the jury who decided that she was to be transported and also that one
of those previous offences caused her to be put in prison for a short while. She,
apparently, was no angel and like 37% of those on board the ‘Garland Grove’ had ‘form’.
This makes it difficult to think of her as an innocent young girl and these facts,
as much as anything, contribute to the mental picture that many have of her today
She had little hope of justice from a jury who were members of a much different society than herself e.g.
The Honourable William Owen Stanley, M.P.; (1802 – 1884).
Born in Alderley, Cheshire and was twin brother to the Second Baron Stanley of Alderley. He was a noted solicitor and spent much of his time on his estates outside Anglesey. He was a firm believer in social and religious freedom and argued strongly against the unification of the Bangor and St. Asaph diocese.
William Bulkeley Hughes, Esquire, M.P.; (1797 – 1882).
Born in Plas Coch and could trace his family back to Llywarch ap Bran. He was educated at Harrow School and was Member of Parliament for the Caernarfon Boroughs. As a land owner he had four thousand six hundred and ninety seven acres to his name. He was also chairman of the Anglesey Central Railway Company.
Richard T. Griffith, Esq. Bodwyr Isaf.
High Sheriff of Anglesey in 1850. Owned four thousand, eight hundred and seventy three acres of land.
Vice Admiral Robert Lloyd, Plas Tregaean (born 24:03:1765).
A noted sailor who served his country in many battles and as captain of such ships as ‘Hussar’, ‘Plantagenet’, ‘Mars’, ‘Valiant’, ‘Latona’ – a thirty eight gun ship, ‘Hebe’, ‘Robust’, ‘Racoon’ and the ‘Swiftsure’.
He was refused permission by a judge to join the ‘Hussar’ – a brand new ship of 154
feet * 40 feet 6 inches * 13 feet 6 inches – 1070 tons -
After retiring from the ‘Swiftsure’ , he came home to enjoy a rich and varied social life especially as a member of the Beaumaris Book Society which he founded and later renamed as the Royal Anglesey Yacht Club.
John Williams, Esq., Treffos (1784 – 08:07:1876).
Educated at Eton and Oxford. He lived in Chester and was elected mayor of the city three times. Even so, he was also active in Anglesey’s social life and was chairman of the Quarter Sessions for fifty two years.
Henry Webster, Esq., Vitriol (a type of oil produced by pouring water on scrap metal at Parys Mountain).
Given the title of ‘Captain’, which reflected his social status when he lived and worked in Cornwall and was owner of a tin mine. He came to Amlwch in October, 1811 as manager of the Mona Mine Company. He became a very successful businessman and was the owner of an Amlwch Port shipyard. He died in 1851.
Another immigrant who worked as an agent in Parys Mountain.
What did these people know about having to budget their pennies? They could all easily
afford to squander pounds without noticing the loss. “They are like two nations that
have no contact or sympathy. They know little of each other’s habits, thoughts and
feelings…” That is how Benjamin Disraeli described the two very differing stratas
of society -
In 1842, the year when Anne was transported, an Act of Parliament was passed preventing women, young girls and children under the age of thirteen from working down the coal mines. This was considered to be a very enlightened act as it banned the use of children as young as five years of age from working as fan operators in parts of coal mines too narrow for grown men to enter! It also brought to an end the practise of using women and girls to haul full drams of coal to the surface!! How very enlightened of Robert Peel’s government but they dared not go any further for fear of upsetting mine owners and loosing the support of influential industrialists.
But what of Llanfechell? In her book “The History of the island of Mona“, Anhgarad Llwyd describes it as a village in the hundred of Talybolion, six miles from Amlwch and twenty six miles from Beaumaris. In the Middle Ages it composed of two townships – Caerdegog and Llawr y Llan. Apart from Stone Age remains, the oldest building in the village was the parish church built in 630 and consecrated to Mechell verch (daughter of) Brychan (ruler of Brycheiniog), wife Gynyr Varvdrwch or to Mechyllas Echwys Gwyn Gohoyw ap (son of) Gloyw Gwlad Llydan (Llansteffan Manuscript 125).
In 1821 the population stood at one thousand and thirty five but fell to nine hundred
and seventy six by 1831. The Poor Tax stood at £97. 3s. 0d. in 1803 but had risen
drastically to £433. 13s. 0d. by 1831. Social events featured highly in parish life
and the local saint’s day fair held on November 15 and other fair days being February
25, August 5, September 21, November 5 and 26. By 1849, only two annual fairs were
held one on November 25 and the other on Saint Stephen’s Day -
Again, according to Angharad Llwyd, a wealth of minerals such as Mona Green Marble (Verd Antique) were to be found locally and mined at Mona Mawr and Asbestos which was also found in the parish. Samuel Lewis, in his “Topographical Dictionary of Wales” notes that Sulphur was to be found in Bachannan, two miles east of Cefn Bach Du and Steatite (French Chalk) were also found locally
The first school in the area was established by Richard Wynne in 1723, but there were only four boys on the register by 1831. Things could only get better and with the influence of Methodism in local chapels. The first Methodist Schoolroom was opened in Hafod Las in 1815 by Mr. John Elias, son of the Reverend John Elias. The congregation grew strong enough to support a class or school in the village every Thursday night from 1823 onwards in William Parry’s Carpenter’s Workshop and a morning Sunday School which opened at 6 a.m. at Hen Siop. Further developments saw the building of a schoolroom in 1832 on land belonging to John Hughes, Lleugwy. This continued to be used as a meeting place until 1850 when it was demolished to make room for the new Libanus Chapel. It was extended in 1883 with the addition of the Elwyn Hall Room through the generosity of the Bodelwyn family
At the same time, the Mynydd Mechell Sunday School began meeting in the house of Thomas Evans, Hafod Las and a small chapel built in 1817. Jerusalem Chapel, as it was called, was extended in 1827 and even further in 1852 and by 1886 had five deacons and one hundred and six communicants together with a further two hundred listeners and a Sunday School of one hundred and seventy four members.
On looking back, it can be seen that “…Llanfechell in the mid 19th century was an agricultural parish. It is considered to be one of the largest parishes on Anglesey. It covers an area of three thousand acres and has a population of about 900. The houses in the parish number 221. The parish includes two villages, namely Tregela (Tregele) and Llanfechell. Mynydd Mechell (Mechell Mountain) is not a village.
By now, there are large numbers of freeholders living in the parish who take advantage of their situation to improve their houses and small holdings considerably since they have no reason to fear any notices to quit.
It is interesting to note that those who are in receipt of parish assistance number as few as 32, out of a population of about 900. This must mean the inhabitants are frugal and thrifty.
Since time ‘in memorial’, the village holds regular fairs and markets which attract many from outlying areas. They are indeed a vital part of the area’s economy. For many years, these fairs have been renowned for the fighting contests held on the day; but, thanks be to God; these foolish habits have been discontinued.
Doubtless, the influence of the Scriptures, the Sunday School and Temperance Societies have, praise be to God, have been a means of improving the morals of the locality but there is need for still more improvement.
Local necessary, agricultural crafts feature largely in the parish and have always been prominent. There are also carpenters, stone masons who are all excellent craftsmen, plasterers; blacksmiths – three or four also renowned craftsmen; the proof being that their crafts feature largely and win prizes in ploughing matches held locally. There are also cobblers, and first class tailors to be found here.
There is only one ale house in the village and nowhere else on Anglesey can be seen such conveyances as the Crown Hotel has. There is an exceptional daily demand, especially so during the Summer and Autumn season. Each vehicle has its own animal which are constantly on call for wedding or funerals for a reasonable price. It is astounding that there is such a call for a business in a rural area.
Horses of all sizes, number about twenty and even though the vehicles themselves
vary from large to small and are almost numberless -
Education has had a special place since early times in the parish. A daily school met long before National/British (State) Schools were founded and was well established long before any school building was built. For a time, the school was held in the loft of a local shop under the care of a female teacher; then in the Leather Works loft when the teacher was Mr. Andrew Brereton, Plas Llanfechell. In 1834, the school transferred to the schoolroom of the Methodist Chapel; teacher in charge – John Owen, a young man from Menai Bridge.
The Scriptures have always been prominent in the lives of the parishioners and many of the Welsh reformist preachers have been preaching here. There are five Independent chapels in the parish…”
Even though she was resident in this little ‘heaven on earth‘, Anne fell on the wayside and found herself on the slippery slope to a court appearance and transportation to Australia. She was one of only a few who did not benefit from the influence of the Reverend John Elias.
But is it possible to accept such a glorified description of the village knowing how difficult circumstances were for families of the period? Was Robert Edwards, author of the above description, intent on painting a picture as seen through coloured glass and making his home village the same as many others romanticized by so many other writers of bad prose and which proliferated at the time?“…warm coloured stone cottages, with their thatched roofs and climbing roses, with their village green and the inn and the duck pond and the old steepled parish church “ with “…ploughmen in their smocks, a blacksmith in his trusty apron and wives in cheery cotton dresses.” Could Llanfechell be so ideal when Amlwch, only six miles down the road was “…rows of cottages or hovels of the lowest description; … cottages are very small and crowded together without proper ventilation or drainage. The people are cramped together in the cottages in a manner injurious to health and decency.”
(The Blue Books Report on the State of Education in Wales -
Inspector John James was highly critical of Llanfechell School. After praising the curriculum offered at the school, which included – reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar, geography, seamanship, Religious Instruction and the Catechism, he went on to criticize the achievements of the pupils who were in school on November 12, “…nine could read fairly…out of nine who were learning arithmetic, three could work sums in Proportion. Only one knew anything of Geography, and that was very little. There was no one who could repeat any of the Church Catechism owing to the objection of the parents. Three were able to answer Scripture questions well; others showed great ignorance of the subject. One said John the Baptist was the Son of God, and another that it was Adam and his family who went into the Ark. Thirty five scholars were above ten years of age. A few of the other children could understand a little English; but the majority were reading words which, to them had no meaning. The master speaks English fairly. He does not control the children; there was no discipline in his school…”
The failings of this report are, of course, well known and can not be taken as a true indication of what happened at any of the schools visited by the inspectors because of their inability to speak and understand Welsh. So a middle ground must be found, somewhere between Robert Edwards‘ and John James‘ views.
On studying the charge against Anne it can be seen that she stole because of her need for the necessities of life rather than for a ’buzz’ feeling. Though the records do not show it, there is room to think that she could have been an adopted child or even born out of wedlock. All documents, in Anglesey and Australia, give her the surname of ‘Williams alias Edwards’ but never to her brother or sister, when they are mentioned. Did her mother have a hidden secret? Was she forced by her father to use ‘Edwards’ as part of her surname as a constant remainder of her mother’s ‘lapse’? Did she get her deserved respect at home? Or was it just the old fashioned method of using the father’s christian name as a child’s surname? It could well be that these reasons were a contributory factor to her life of crime. Stealing a pint of milk from a cow belonging to Ebenezer Williams was no joke. It must have been a gesture to satisfy a need but which was also the start of a long journey from one island to another; from Anglesey to Van Diemen‘s Land.
Life on Anglesey in the 19th Century
1. The Day Before Yesterday. E.A.Williams. (Translated by G.Wynne Griffith) 1988.
2. Llen a Llafar Môn. Gol.:J.E.Caerwyn Williams. Cyngor Gwlad Môn 1963.
3. Llen a Llafar Môn. Gol.:J.E.Caerwyn Williams. Cyngor Gwlad Môn 1963.
4. John Williams, Brynsiencyn. R.R.Hughes. Llyfrfa’r Cyfundeb Caernarfon 1929.
5. John Williams, Brynsiencyn. R.R.Hughes. Llyfrfa’r Cyfundeb Caernarfon 1929.
6. Hanes Cymru. John Davies. Penguin Books 1992.
7. Benjamin Disraeli. Araith 1846.
8. Adgofion am Llanfechell a’r Cylch. Robert Edwards 1909.
9. English Passenegrs. Matthew Kneale. Penguin 2002.
10. Adroddiad ar Gyflwr Addysg Yng Nghymru 1847.
11. Adroddiad ar Gyflwr Addysg Yng Nghymru 1847.