In 2010 Eilir Daniels of Your Welsh Ancestors was commissioned to research the origins of The Rev.
Thomas Williams and our Williams family. The following Report is from that research.
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Your Welsh Ancestors
11 Queens Road, Cricieth, Gwynedd, LL52 0EG
Your Welsh Ancestors
20th[?] February 2011
Rev. Thomas Williams, Gosport, Hamsphire (1724/25-1770)
Rev. Thomas Williams became a student at the Plasterer’s Hall, Addle Street, London – a training college for Congregational Ministers – in 1745. In 1750 he was appointed the minister of the Independent Chapel at Gosport, Hampshire. Later that year he married Rebecca Isgar and they had three children: Rebecca (b. 1751), Thomas (b. 1753) and Lydia (b. 1757). Thomas died on 19 June 1770 “in the forty-sixth year of his life” . Making allowances for the reform of the calendar in 1752, this would suggest a possible date for his birth between 1 July 1724 and 29 June 1725. He drew up a Will in 1752 which mentions “...and whereas there is certain legacies which shall be due at the death of some of my Relatives in the principality of Wales I do also give devise and bequeath the same whatsoever it may be unto my said wife Rebecca...”.
Nothing is known of Thomas’s life prior to 1745.
During previous research, the client had obtained information with regards a birth on 28 June 1725 of a Thomas Williams at Tredustan chapel, near Talgarth, Breconshire, which fits into the time frame mentioned above. He was the son of a William Williams of Chancefield and my pre-research preliminary investigation showed that Chancefield was one of the earliest nonconformist academies in Wales.
The only clue as to Thomas Williams’s ancestry lies in his Will which mentions his “Relatives in the principality of Wales”. This suggests that he was either born in Wales, or was of Welsh descent – certainly, the Welsh “Relatives” would have been fairly closely related and probably of comfortable means. There is also a strong suggestion that Thomas’s immediate family had a nonconformist background. The ultimate aim would therefore be to find evidence that links Rev. Thomas Williams of Gosport with these Welsh relatives and to trace Thomas’s history back further in time.
It is generally accepted that the early dissenting movement in Wales had began in the south east. During my pre-research preliminary investigation, I was able to establish that notable nonconformist families and individuals by the name of Williams did have associations with the counties of Breconshire and Radnorshire during he late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Bearing all of the above in mind therefore, the following research aims were noted:
The roots of the nonconformist movement in Wales can be traced back to the growth of puritanism in the British Isles during the seventeenth century, which had spread to Wales from London. Those beginnings were almost entirely associated with the border counties. Progress to advance this movement into other parts of Wales was slow at that time, although Cromwell’s government did take steps to address this. Out of the religious chaos that ensued at the time of Cromwell and beyond, grew a gradual emergence of various dissenting sects. According to figures gathered in the 1670s, the dissenting movement in Wales was weakest in Caernarvonshire, Anglesey and Merioneth (although there were a significant number of Quakers in the Dolgellau area), and strongest in the south east: out of around 4000 dissenters listed as living in Wales, over half of those lived in the three south eastern counties – Monmouthshire, Glamorgan and Breconshire. The number of dissenters continued to be small during the first half of the eighteenth century and, during that time, they were mainly from the higher echelons of society – wealthy farming families and landowners.
During this period, academies were set up to train ministers to serve these new nonconformist congregations. They included an academy in Carmarthen as well as ones in Llwynllwyd near Llandovery and Chancefield near Talgarth. The earliest dissenters met either in people’s homes, quickly-built temporary buildings or in the open air. Built in 1687, Tredustan Chapel was the oldest purpose built chapel in Breconshire and certainly one of the oldest in Wales. It is situated one mile from Talgarth and less than half a mile from Trevecca – the academy founded by the Welsh religious pioneer, Howel Harris, later in the eighteenth century, which was to take over the mantle from the smaller academies noted above. Although nonconformism was starting to spread to other areas of Wales, Breconshire and other south-eastern counties were very much the hub of the Welsh dissenting movement at the time of Rev. Thomas Williams’s birth.
Initial investigation – pinpointing potential relatives of Thomas Williams
The evidence that has come to light with regards Thomas Williams’s early life shows that he had Welsh connections, comparatively well-off relatives, and implies that he had a strong nonconformist background. That being the case and considering that most wealthy nonconformists of the early eighteenth century would be fairly prominent landowners or farmers, the following families appeared to be the most likely candidates and were considered:
The Williams family became associated with Gwernyfed in 1600 when Sir David Williams of Blaen Nedd, Ystradfellte bought the estate. An heiress, Elizabeth Williams, inherited the estate in the late seventeenth century. She had married (prior to 1712) Sir Edward Williams who was a descendant of the Williams family of nearby Talyllyn, Llangasty; Gwernyfed therefore passed to a new line when both estates were amalgamated.
Their son, Sir Edward had five children:• Sir Henry (b. 1723 or 1726, d.1742)
Phillips, Picton Castle and William Williams, Pantycelyn
The Phillipps family was considered as Sir John Phillips (1666?-1737) was a religious reformer and friend of the nonconformists. However, despite research, no familial connection could be made between this family and any Williams family. Similarly, no evidence could be found that could suggest a Thomas Williams, born around 1724/5, was related to William Williams, Pantycelyn (near Llandovery, Carmarthenshire), the great Welsh hymn writer and nonconformist preacher of the eighteenth century.
I must stress here that, although all secondary and primary sources investigated did not reveal a relevant family member corresponding to Rev Thomas Williams’s in both the above families’ pedigrees, the nature of those sources from this period in time makes it difficult for me to say conclusively that there is no connection.
Williams family, Tredustan (Talgarth, Breconshire) and Williams family of Skreen (Radnor) and Felin Newydd (Brecknock)
The Williams family of Talgarth had a son named Thomas who was baptised in the nonconformist chapel of Tredustan, Talgarth, in 1725. During my initial investigation, it transpired that William Williams, the father, was associated with the nonconformist academy of nearby Chancefield. There was plenty of evidence here to warrant further investigation of this family.
According to nineteenth century sources, this particular Williams family had associations with the Williams family of Skreen, Radnorshire, although the exact familial connection cannot be verified. However, the Skreen/ Felin Newydd family itself had nonconformist connections, with one member – Anne – being the wife of Howel Harries.
As a result of this primary investigation, it appeared that the most likely family was the one associated with the academy at Chancefield, Talgarth and the following is an outline of the research carried out. I also believed that it was worth tracing the pedigree of the Skreen/Felin Newydd and the information gleaned is also included here.
1. The family of Thomas Williams, b. 28 June 1725, baptised Tredustan, nr Talgarth
Previous research had shown that a William Williams of Chancefield was the father of four children baptised at Tredustan (Lydia, Mary, Thomas and Elizabeth). However, during my searches of the indexes and subsequent search of Tredustan’s Chapel records (consulted at the National Library of Wales), it became apparent that all the following children of a William Williams – whose abode was noted as Chancefield – were baptised there between around 1712 and 1728:
The Tredustan register dates from 1700, but the entries for the early years, especially 1700-1711, are very patchy and therefore it is quite possible that the above 'William Williams of Chancefield 'had more children prior to 1712. It is also possible, of course, that these children could have been the children of two different William Williamses of Chancefield (see a) below) and this is a strong possibility considering the very close baptism dates of Timothy, the twins and Philip.
Researches revealed that Chancefield was a minor estate. During the fifteenth century it was know as the Manor of Jonesfield and later, during the early eighteenth century, served as a nonconformist academy (much later it became the site of Talgarth Hospital).
a) The Will of Mary Williams (née Thomas) of Chancefield
Further investigation revealed that Mary Williams, the wife of a William Williams of Chancefield, "Minister of ye Gospel", had drafted a Will in 1733 (the Will was proven the following year). What is clear from that Will is that this particular Mary and William Williams did not have any surviving children. Mary in fact bequeathed legacies to the children of another William Williams of Chancefield who was her "brother in law by Elizabeth his wife, now decease". Those children, living at the time the Will was written, were: Lydia, Rebecca, Mary, William, Timothy, Phillip, Thomas and Richard who were, like Mary herself, "of Chancefield". Those names correspond very closely with the names mentioned in Tredustan's baptism register. No Rebecca or William was noted in Tredustan's baptism register (but this could be down to the patchy nature of the register pre-1712) and Titus and Elizabeth are not mentioned in the Will, however the closely corresponding nature of the two sets of names and the fact that the children were resident in Chancefield does lead us to conclude that this is one and the same family.
A full transcript of the Will follows and a copy of the original appears in this report's Appendix:
Significantly, this Will tells us that William, Thomas’s elder brother, was bequeathed one third of an estate called Gwernfydden Vach in the parish of Clyro, Radnorshire, from which the siblings, including Thomas, would receive legacies once the property was in William’s possession and that it would be charged to them for life. This potentially corresponds with the fact that the Rev Thomas Williams would receive legacies from relatives in Wales.
b) The Williams family of the parishes of Talgarth, Talachddu and Trawscoed, Breconshire
In order to complete as comprehensive a picture as possible of Mary & William Williams and Elizabeth & William Williams’s families, a search was conducted of all the available and relevant pedigrees, secondary sources and Wills as possible. A full list of sources is included at the end of this report, but the following is a breakdown of the information gathered. All the information with regards the people mentioned has also been placed together to form the attached family tree.
Firstly, according to an article in Brycheiniog (Brecknock Society Transactions Journal), Vol 26: The Williams Family - Nonconformist Squires of Trawscoed and Talachddu by Ruth Bidgood, William Williams of Chancefield (1694-1749), who was married to Elizabeth, was a member of this family (N.B. the antiquarian, Theophilus Jones, says differently, see paragraph below). Other members of this family were Philip Williams (died 1722, aged 45 years); Evan Williams, Esq, of Penylan (1681-1747); and Lewis Williams (1693-?) who married Abigail Powell and lived at Pentwyn, Trawscoed, Breconshire – they had a son called Thomas who married a Miss Williams. This family was well known as being “nonconformist gentry” who regularly attended the Congregational Church at Tredustan. Many are buried at Talachddu Church. This Williams family was connected with the estates of Skreen and Llowes Court, Radnorshire and Crucadarn (Crickadarn), Breconshire.
Further information with regards this particular family was gleaned from The History of the County of Brecknock by Theophilus Jones, Vol. 3 (1810). It confirms much of the article by Ruth Bidgood but also reveals that William Williams (the husband of Mary) who died in 1739, aged 55, was living at the time of his death in ‘Gwernfythenvach’ (Gwernfydden Fach), the property mentioned in the Will of Mary Williams. However, Jones suggests that it was Elizabeth and not her husband William who was a member of the Trawscoed/Talachddu family, the sister therefore of William of Gwenrfydden Fach, Evan, Philip etc, and wife of William Williams of Chancefield (1694-1749). Elizabeth died in 1730, aged 41, which again ties in with Mary Williams’s Will. I believe that Theophilus Jones’s description of the family is probably the most accurate as he uses the family’s memorial from Talgarth Church as his source. Unfortunately, despite numerous searches, the background of William Williams (1694-1749) is not revealed by either Jones or any other source and therefore still remains a mystery. [Theophilus Jones in his History of Brecknock tells us that the Williams family had been squires in the Trawscoed/Talgarth area of Breconshire since the early sixteenth century and that they were originally descended from Sir Thomas Bullen of Wernfawr (Talgarth) who was allotted lands in the area after the Norman Conquest.]
According to the Clyro Court papers in which deeds and documents relating to Gwernfydden are deposited (the Gwernfydden estate became part of the Clyro Court estate in the nineteenth century), a William Williams was associated with Gwernfydden in 1766 and an Elizabeth Williams, who appears to be his wife (or widow), in the 1780s. It is probably quite fair to presume that this William is the nephew mentioned in Mary Williams’ Will. In this instance, the names of William and Elizabeth are mentioned in connection with a Price family mortgage – unfortunately no specific mention is made of the nature of William’s possession of the estate or of any other apparent people with the surname Williams.
The collection of Wills proven in Welsh dioceses was searched in order to ascertain if any members of the above Williams family bequeathed any legacies to Thomas Williams.
I searched for the Will of William Williams ‘Minister at Chancefield’ (husband of Mary) who died in 1739. If he did leave a Will, a copy does not appear to have survived in the collection of Wills proven in Welsh dioceses, kept at the National Library of Wales. Similarly, no Will attributed to his brother Evan is present in this collection. Another brother, Lewis – who lived in Pentwyn and died in 1766, bequeathed property and money to his children (including Benjamin and Lewis) and five grandchildren – Philip, Lewis, Benjamin, Sarah and Abigail – but no mention is made of a Thomas Williams. No Wills could be found for Mary, Philip (d. 1722), Elizabeth (d. 1730) and Rachel (married to Morgan Herbert). I also searched for the Will of William Williams (the nephew who took charge of Gwernfydden Fach according to the terms of Mary’s Williams’s Will): a search was made covering the 1766-1810 period, however no Will of a William Williams connected with the parish of Clyro, other neighbouring parishes or with Gwernfydden itself, could be traced within this timeframe.
ii. Wills relating to the family of Mary Williams (née Thomas), wife of William Williams (Minister at Chancefield)
As Mary was able to bequeath shares of a property to her nephews and nieces, it suggests that she herself inherited Gwernfydden from a parent or other relative. A search was made for any relevant Wills associated with the parish of Clyro, Radnorshire, where Gwernydden is situated. Two Wills were traced – a Lydia Thomas (dated 1705), and a Timothy Thomas (dated 1710). Gwernfydden Fach and Cwmbythog are mentioned in both Wills: Gwernfydden Fach – complete with garden, orchard and common – is bequeathed by Lydia to her daughters Elizabeth and Hannah for them to live in, although Timothy, her son, appears to have legal charge of it (this suggests that the two sisters were under 21 years old at that time) while Cwmbythog (spelt Comb Bythogg in the Will and which Mary Williams mentions in her Will of 1733) is, significantly, left to her daughter Mary.
Timothy, in turn, drafted his Will in 1710. He was the son of the above Lydia Thomas. In the Will he refers to his mother’s Will of 1705 and clarifies that the whole of Gwernfydden Fach had been divided between him and his two sisters, Elizabeth and Hannah (he also mentions that his sisters were living in that property in 1710). On his death, his wish was that the whole of the property should be bequeathed to the two sisters along with other ‘messuages’. Both sisters still appeared to be aged under 21 in 1710. Timothy also bequeathed the remainder of the messuage of Cwmbythog to his sister Mary and “her heirs and assigns forever”. Towards the end of the Will he mentions the Will of his father Roger(?) Thomas, dated 11 May 1694 [I have searched for this Will (1694 +/- 5 years), but no surviving copy appears in the National Library of Wales's probate collection], the terms of which stated that Timothy was to give Mary thirty pounds of “current money”.
Both Wills are therefore significant as they reveal the identity of the family that owned the two properties referred to in Mary Williams’s Will – Gwernfydden Fach and Cwmbythog, Clyro. It also confirms that a Mary inherited part of Cwmbythog in 1705 and the remainder in 1710. As such, we can fairly confidently presume that Mary Williams of Chancefield was one and the same Mary referred to in both Lydia and Timothy Thomas’s Wills. I have been unable to trace a Will relating to either Hannah or Elizabeth, but Mary’s own Will suggests that she was bequeathed a portion of Gwernfydden Fach at least – possibly after the death of one of her sisters.
iii. Trevecca Papers
I searched this collection, which has been deposited at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth for any reference to Chancefield or to any members of the above Williams family. No reference is made either to the academy or to any of the Williams family members noted on the attached family tree.
2. The Williams family of Skreen and Felin Newydd
Accounts from nineteenth century antiquarians (including Thomas Nicholas) suggest that the Williams family of Chancefield (Rhos/Penwtyn, etc), was related to the Williams family of Llowes Court, Radnorshire and therefore to the Skreen and Felin Newydd Williams family. However, I have been unable to verify this, although such a connection would very much be in line with the tradition of amalgamating estates by marriage during the period in question.
Members of this Williams family however did have nonconformist associations in their own right. The family was descended from Sir Richard de Bois who, according to Nicholas, had “assisted ... in the conquest of Brecknock” during Norman times. I have included their pedigree here in the Appendix as outlined by Thomas Nicholas. I searched specifically for the Wills of Jenkin Williams (died without issue, 1754), his wife’s (Elizabeth), John & Gwenllian Williams of Skreen, as well as the Wills of the subsequent generation – Thomas Williams of Felin Newydd (var. Velin Newydd, Llandefalle, Breconshire). Jenkin’s Will has survived as has that of his spinster sister (Elizabeth) and his nephew, Thomas Williams of Felin Newydd. Unfortunately, I could see no mention or reference to a Thomas Williams, other than the Thomas Williams (1718-1779) who inherited Felin Newydd, in those documents.
Williams of Skreen and Felin Newydd
Searches of the pedigrees and related Wills of the Williams family of Skreen and Felin Newydd did not prove fruitful as no Thomas Williams fitting the correct profile was discovered. However, I need to stress that Wills of certain individuals within this family have not survived in the main probate collection at the National Library of Wales and I therefore cannot totally rule this family out. However, everything does suggest – including related pedigrees – that the Rev Thomas Williams was probably not a member of this family.
Williams of Chancefield
The research into this family proved the most fruitful. Here we have confirmation from baptism records that a Thomas Williams, with both a Welsh and a nonconformist background, was born in 1725. In addition to this, Thomas clearly, thanks to his aunt Mary’s Will, was bequeathed a legacy from the Gwernfydden Fach estate (Clyro, Radnorshire). According to the terms of the Will, Thomas’s elder brother – William Williams – was to take charge of Gwernfydden Fach (after the death of Mary’s husband) and was required to make payments from the estate to his siblings. However, no records could be traced that could shed more light on the fate of this particular legacy once William had legally taken charge of the property. Similarly, no information could be traced with regards the death of William, his Will nor to the fate of the Gwernfydden legacy once William had died. William appeared to be still alive in 1766 when his name appears in the Clyro Court papers associated with Gwernfydden Fach.
It has not been possible to trace any reference to the Chancefield Thomas once he had become an adult – any such reference would possibly have helped to provide the crucial evidence that could have proven that the Rev Thomas Williams of Gosport was a member of this family (or not). However, despite the fact that no Will or other legal document could be traced that named Rev Thomas Williams specifically, all the information that could be gathered suggests that this particular Williams family fits the correct profile: a nonconformist, prominent, comparatively wealthy family who owned minor estates and property, whose members included a Thomas Williams, the son of William and Elizabeth Williams of Chancefield, who was born in 1725.
Most sources, including Wills and pedigrees, relating to this family have now been exhausted. I have taken steps to contact Ruth Bidgood (the author of the article of the Talgarth Williams family that appeared in the Brycheiniog Journal) to enquire whether she has more information, especially with regards the Chancefield branch of this family and I am currently awaiting her response. Other documents (mainly indentures) relating to Gwernfydden do exist in the Clyro Court collection deposited in the Powys County Archives, but consulting these would require extra time as they include several boxes of material that have not been individually catalogued. As these papers are not separately indexed, it would be difficult to ascertain whether any further information of relevance or use could be gleaned from them, although the papers do appear to cover the relevant period (mid 1700s -1800). I was able to consult some Gwernfydden related papers but they did not include much detail – certainly, unless the property was legally transferred to Thomas or to his heirs or Wills or other documents other than indentures are included in the collection, on the evidence of the papers I did consult, I would not expect to see any reference to (for example) payments to Thomas or his heirs from the Gwernfydden estate within these documents, although of course this cannot totally be ruled out.
Sources consulted during the course of this research
All deposited at the National Library of Wales, unless otherwise stated – parish/chapel registers on microfilm, other documents as original parchment or paper)
Talgarth Parish Register
Clyro Parish Register
Talachddu Parish Register
Llangors Parish Register
Llangasty Talyllyn Parish Register
Trevecca Papers (assorted documents)
Wills proven in Welsh dioceses, including Mary Williams (1734), Chancefield; Lydia Thomas, Clyro (1705);
Timothy Thomas, Clyro (1710); Jenkin Williams, Felin Newydd (1754); Elizabeth Williams, Skreen (1749);
Lewis Williams, Pentwyn (1766); Lewis Williams, Pentwyn (1800); Rebecca Williams (1727)
J G Williams & P M Beales, Solicitors, Hay on Wye Collection (Powys County Archives)
Clyro Court Papers (Powys County Archives)
The Baronetage of England, (Vols 1-3) William Betham (Ipswich, 1801-1803)
Brycheiniog Journal (Brecknock Society Transactions, Vol. 26)
A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain, Sir Bernard Burke, Fourth Edition (London: Harrison, 1863)
Hanes Annibynwyr Cymru [The History of Wales’ Congregationalists], R Tudur Jones (Undeb Annibynwyr Cymru, Swansea, 1966)
Hanes Eglwysi Annibynol Cymru [The History of Wales’ Independent/Congregationalist Churches, Vol IV], T Rees & J Thomas (Liverpool, 1875)
The History of the County of Brecknockshire (Vols 1-4), Theophilus Jones (1810-1812)
A History of Modern Wales, David Williams (John Murray, second edition, 1977)
The Illustrated History and Biography of Brecknockshire , Edwin Poole (Brecon, 1886)
The Radnorshire Society Transactions
Skreen and Velin Newydd estate records (1361-1874) catalogue (National Library of Wales) for any Wills relating to the Williams family not included in the probate lists