Richard Griffiths – bit of a scoundrel?

My 3x great grandfather on my paternal side was a Richard Griffiths. Born in Llanfechain in rural mid Wales in 1829 he was the illegitimate son of a Jane Griffiths and a Thomas Davies – a Miller from Llandrinio. I am quite lucky in that it seems that parish quite helpfully made a habit of putting the reputed father’s names down on baptisms of so called ‘base born’ children.

It is unclear what became of his mother Jane, what with Griffiths being such a common name in the area I’ve been unable to pin down a definite marriage or a burial for her, but Richard is with his maternal grandparents in 1841 at Quarry Cottage, Llanfechain, along with his unmarried aunt Eleanor and her ten year old illegitimate son Richard Griffiths alias Edwards (son of a Robert Edwards – a Malster with whom she had another son Robert with some years previously.) By 1851 he was a General Servant at nearby Finnant in Llanfechain before his marriage to local girl Elizabeth Roberts in May 1855. At the time of their marriage they were both described as residing at Waterloo – this was a farm in Llanfechain where I imagine they both worked, Richard was a Waggoner. Interestingly Richard’s father’s details on the marriage certificate matched those on his baptism – stating Thomas Davies – a Miller. So it was heartening to see that he knew who his father was. I’ve not yet been able to locate Thomas to know what became of him. Again, with such a popular name I think more digging is required!

Just over two months after their marriage their eldest child, my 2x great grandmother Elizabeth was born at Waterloo. So her mother must have been very heavily pregnant at the time of her marriage. It wasn’t all that uncommon in rural Wales for couples to marry when the woman was pregnant (or indeed having already beared at least one child out of wedlock) as often it was seen as being a way of knowing your future wife could bear children.

But in 1857 Richard was in trouble. He had been found guilty of stealing a donkey – the property of Hugh Lever. The incident was reported in the North Wales Chronicle on 11th April 1857. It stated that he had cut the tail of the donkey and had otherwise disfigured it. It also stated he had been previously convicted of a felony. He was sentenced to 4 years penal servitude.

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Richard would have most likely been sent to Montgomery Gaol, it is not clear what his previous felony conviction was for or how long of his sentence he served. His wife Elizabeth would have been around 4 months pregnant with their son John at this time, but she also had a son Job in April 1860, so either Richard was let out early or Job was not his son! The criminal register entry gives his name as Robert Davies – although there is a Richard Jones below him, it is likely the clerk got the names mixed up.

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Calendar of Prisoners for Richard Griffiths alias Davies (down as Robert Davies) – Image from Ancestry.co.uk

Here are some of the rules and regulations of the Montgomery County Gaol:-

Each sleeping cell to contain the following articles –
1 chamber pot, 1 bedstead, 1 canvas matress filled with straw, 2 blankets and 1 rug.
Sheets to be changed once a month, shirts and socks once a week.
All prisoners must attend divine service.
All prisoners must get up at 6 a.m. in summer and at sunrise in winter.

Most importantly, the prisoners were put to hard labour. This could be breaking rocks for hours on end, or picking oakum.
Like most prisons, Montgomery had a treadmill where prisoners had to turn a great wheel with their feet for hours on end.
In most prisons this machine did nothing. It was simply designed to give the prisoners something very hard and boring to do.

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The interior of Montgomery Gaol (image and details about the prison rules etc from http://history.powys.org.uk)

In 1861 Richard was definitely out of prison and back living at Finnant with his family as a Labourer. In 1871 they were living at Church Street, Llanfyllin and he was still a Labourer. His daughter Elizabeth was working away from home, and with them were their sons John, Morgan and Richard and daughter Jane Ellen. What I’ve been puzzled by is what became of their son Job. He appears on the 1861 census, I have his baptism entry in Llanfechain, but he just disappears after that. And this is something that seems to become a theme with this family. For instance, his brother Morgan – apparently born in Shropshire according to the 1871 census but I’ve never found a birth entry for him and he too disappears off the face of the earth after the 1871 census, as does his elder brother John. The other brother Richard then disappears after the 1881 census! Richard and Elizabeth went on to have one more child, Henry in 1873 in Llanfyllin.

Just two years after Henry’s birth, Elizabeth died in 1875 at Lower Street, Llanfyllin, the cause of her death was General Debility and Exhaustion, she was only 48. This was such a generic term and it is unclear what was the real underlying cause of this weakness.

He married again in 1877 to a 35 year old widow – Ann Williams – formerly Davies in nearby Llanrhaiadr ym Mochnant (now spelled Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant). Richard this time on his marriage certificate gave his father as Thomas Griffiths – Miller. It may well be that he was simply asked his father’s name and he said Thomas, without really specifying that they had different surnames. Especially as he married in a parish that wasn’t his home parish where people would know him and know of his father. They went on to have a son Thomas in 1880. Richard remained a Farm Labourer, he was living at Henfelin – otherwise known as the Old Mill in Llanrhaiadr ym Mochnant in 1881 and it was there that he died in May 1888 of Acute Bronchitis and Exhaustion aged 59, and his stepson John Williams was the informant of his death. Quite apt that a miller’s son would end his days at a mill.

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The Mill at Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant – I would imagine Richard lived in one of the buildings that made up the mill. (Image from Google StreetView.)

So was Richard a bit of a bad seed? Well he definitely had at least two felony convictions by 1857. I would love to know what he had been convicted of before. Sometimes you can understand your ancestors crimes, back in an age where a child could be sentenced to death or transportation for stealing some food. If times were tough, you can’t really blame them for wanting to put food on the table by whatever means they had, but in Richard’s case – stealing a donkey and cutting it’s tail? No I cannot really understand or defend that.

It is unclear if he ever had a relationship with either of his parents, and who knows what sort of relationship he had with Elizabeth? Could it have been rocky with his stints in prison? Was Job really his? And what happened to his sons? Where did they go? I only know of what became of Elizabeth, Jane Ellen, Henry and Thomas. Job, John, Morgan and Richard junior are a mystery (at least for the time being!)

Interestingly, in 2005 my parents moved from Scotland down to a little place just outside of Llanfyllin and down the road from Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant – my Dad had no idea that he had so many ancestors who lived in the little villages just minutes from their house – and now he knows – he loves it!

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2 thoughts on “Richard Griffiths – bit of a scoundrel?

  1. What a fabulously interesting story! If he was ‘a bad seed’ as you considered, could it be that his children disappeared intentionally? Maybe moved, changed their name to disassociate themselves from their dad? Fascinating.

    • It is certainly a possibilty. I do wonder if they decided to use his alias of Davies rather than Griffiths, but again, soooo common but it’s something I revisit from time to time! But it’s odd mainly for the younger children such as Job and Morgan as by the time of the next censuses they would still have only been young – i.e. Job would have been about 11 in 1871 so probably still a bit too young to be thinking about changing his name and running away but you never know!

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