Born on August the 8th or 9th 1797 at his parents house Ynus-y-bool as Evan Thomas, Farmer Evan as we shall call him, can safely be described as a “character”. Still fathering children at 57, “adopting” three of his grandsons, possibly dabbled in coal mining; and despite being a school teacher’s son, a Parish clerk and a census enumerator – all nine of his children turned out to be illiterate! After a long and full life which started and ended in a distinctly rural setting, he passed away peacefully at Hendre Rhys Farm six months short of his Golden Wedding anniversary at the age of 82. He died on the 14th of February 1880, just four years before a whole way of life for the people of the Clydach Valley was to change for ever with the opening of The Lady Windsor Colliery. Even now, over a hundred and thirty years after his passing, his name still crops up on a Welsh/Catalan website on the history of the Llanwynno area! However his life was not all plain sailing – he had lost both his parents by the time he was 33; he saw at least eight of his grandchildren die as infants; he witnessed three of his children and their family’s emigrate to the U.S., and he would never see them again; and finally, he and his wife had to pick up the pieces of the complicated or tragic lives of some of their children who remained local, which meant them looking after grandchildren even into their 70’s.
Seven months after his father’s death, Evan (now with the surname Moses) married Catherine “Catws” Miles, who was 13 years his junior and six month’s pregnant(!) on August 22nd 1830 at St. Gwynno’s Church Llanwynno. Catherine, the daughter of Morgan and Jennet Miles (nee Williams) was born on the 12th of November 1810 at Pwllhywel, which was less than a mile away from future home Hendre Rhys on the slopes of Cwm Rhondda. Incidentally Catherine’s nickname “Catws” was an amalgamation of her Christian name and the Welsh word for potato – “tatws”; hopefully a reference to the family’s staple diet rather than her physical appearance! Catherine/Catws was Christened at Cymer near Porth Cwm Rhondda on December 2nd 1810. Evan, who was 33 when he got married, certainly made up for lost time as he and Catherine went on to have a large family of nine children; consisting if five boys and four girls. Extra help was no doubt provided by Evan’s “Independent” live-in spinster sister Ann II, but even so they must have had their hands full when they later took on the running of their own farm. Amazingly for a time blighted by infant mortality, all nine of the Moses children reached adulthood. And remarkably, considering the big age difference between the couple, Catherine only outlived Evan by 19 months, when she died up at Hendre Rhys Farm on September 2nd 1881 from “Senile Decay” aged 71. She was buried with her husband in a second family plot at St. Gwynno’s, where curiously the monumental mason has dropped the H from the farm’s address on the gravestone, spelling it “Endre Rees” – maybe it’s because he was a Londoner! Anyway it was lucky for the bungling mason that none of the illiterate Moses children could spot his error.
Evan and Catherine’s eldest four children (Ann III, Moses, Evan IV, and Charles) were born at “Ty Cornel Ger Ynus-y-bool” or the Corner House near Bowling greens. However in 1840, Evan who was working as an agricultural labourer, took over the tenancy of nearby hilltop farm Hendre Rhys from Evan and Jennett Evans. I am guessing that this Evans family were the kin of his late mother Ann, hence her nickname – “Nani Hendre Rhys“. It is not clear why Evan decided to take on the responsibility of running his own farm at the age of 43; maybe he was reclaiming a farming heritage from his mother’s side, or perhaps with a rapidly growing family, he needed more space not to mention money. Indeed for the next decade he combined farming with being the Parish clerk. The Parish clerk dealt with the business of the local Parish Council on a salaried part-time basis. Despite being a non-conformist, during Evan’s time the Anglican Church was entitled to a tenth of his income in the form of a tithe; perhaps he worked as Parish clerk in lieu of this. The remaining five of Evan and Catherine’s children were all born up at the farm; they were – Morgan, Mary, Catherine II, Jennet and Thomas/Twm.
Hendre Rhys, which can also be spelled Hendra Rees, translates as either “Rees home family farm” or “Rees winter dwelling lowland farm” – which suggests it was an offshoot of the nearby and larger Llwynperdid Farm which was obviously owned by the Rees family. Evan and Catherine probably rented Hendre Rhys from the Kemeys-Tynte family of Somerset, who owned this mountain top land “For generations“. The main building itself was an old Welsh longhouse on two floors with an adjoining barn, which also had living space above it. This extra accommodation no doubt came in handy as, together with the large Moses family, the farm was also home to non-family members possibly tied in with seasonal labour or religious worship, giving Hendre Rhys at times an almost communal feel about it. There was also quite an interchange of teenage girls between the local farms around this time; presumably a question of simple mathematics, of mouths to feed, and work to be done. One wonders whether a side-benefit of this was reducing the risk of incest in this sparsely populated rural area. As well as sheep, the 140 acre farm, was also home to dairy cattle, and the family sold their milk down in nearby Pontypridd. Parts of Hendre Rhys and it’s outbuildings could possibly date from the 12th Century and were originally part of monastic land until the Dissolution between 1538-1541. They are actually recorded as unscheduled ancient monuments, or should that be ex-unscheduled ancient monuments as, sadly Hendre Rhys was literally blown up by the Forestry Commission in 1951. The Forestry had purchased the land from David Llewellyn Phillips, a chartered accountant in Pontypridd, who had bought the farm in July 1919 from Henry Arthur Whately and The Right Hon. Henry Campbell a.k.a Lord Aberdare (read on). It is unclear how an unscheduled ancient monument could have been demolished at all; they were obviously desperate for more forestry back in 1951! This unceremonious demolition caused considerable upset amongst the descendants of the “Farm Generation” living in nearby Ynysybwl and would explain why it took me so long to locate the ruins when I searched for them some years back. It is hard to believe now, looking at this pile of overgrown stones in dense forestry, that it was once a home teeming with life – eleven people lived here according to the census of 1851. The scene of so many family events, including eight births and five deaths, it now makes for an eerie scene as it sits quietly in a sunny glade in the midst of the St. Gwynno Forest, undisturbed for over half a century.
Around Evan’s time, locals took pride in the fact that the previously mentioned former Home Secretary Lord Aberdare and his family often visited the Llanwynno area in the summer months. During one such visit in 1875 our Evan proudly acted as their “chaperon“; the story is told in the book “The Glog Squires” by T. F. Holley, where Evan is described as “a Welsh farmer bearing the Jewish name of Moses“! During this visit Lord and Lady Aberdare and their daughters visited “a neighbouring mountain top” where the ancient Welsh peoples gathered each summer “after the crops had been gathered” to hold the “taplas haf” or summer revelry. At the fairy circles on the summit Evan “ventured with native gallantry, to express a wish to hear” the Aberdare’s daughters sing. “Many songs were sung and many reels were danced here” he said “in ages past“. “Well“, said Lord Aberdare “if you will sing first, the young ladies shall follow“. And like a scene from The “Sound of Music”, 78 year old Evan flings his hat into the heather and bursts into song – in English! “Stop, stop“, shouted his Lordship “we must have Welsh here. Give us one of the charming melodies of wild Wales“. “Yes, yes, Welsh by all means” added the daughters. We are then informed that “The versatile Welshman” Evan “instantly obeyed, and being a son of the mountains, his clear voice rang in melodious cadence over the hills and valley“. The girls “then sang with charming sweetness“. Stand by for Hendre Rhys the musical!
Farmer Evan also makes a bizarre appearance in “Hanes Plwyf Llanwynno” (page 193) , where he enters a debate from beyond the grave on global warming, during which he pours scorn on locals who complained of wells and springs in the Parish drying up. The book’s author Glanffrwd claims one evening to have overheard “a conversation among the spirits of the old people” including amongst others Guto Nyth Bran, Williams the Glog and Walter(s) Nantyrysfa as well as our Evan, who’s contribution was – “Yes, yes, and what about the one at Hendre Rhys? It has been running since the days of Adam, and has quenched the thirst of all the Hafod animals for ages without getting less, and anyone who doubts this will be making a big mistake.” – You tell them Evan bach!
A farm the size of Hendre Rhys could obviously only support so many adults, so one by one Evan’s boys left to become coalminers in nearby Cwm Rhondda or emigrated to the U.S; the girls also leave as they get married and start on their own family’s. Indeed by the time Evan and Catherine pass away, the only children still living at home are Mary, back after her brief ill-fated marriage, and youngest boy Thomas or Twm who never married. Indeed both were described as “Present at Death” on one of their parents death certificates. Mary and Twm had remained at the farm to look after their ageing parents who had stood by their children through thick and thin. They continued up at Hendre Rhys until about 1888, when the farm’s acreage and remoteness forced them to reluctantly leave for a terraced house (70 New Rd.) in the new pit village of Ynysybwl. Twm belatedly became a miner and his sister Mary was described in the 1891 census as his housekeeper.
Back a decade and a generation, and Evan’s sister Ann had died on the 22nd of January 1881, but curiously not at the farm. When she died aged 80 from “Senile Decay” at the Tynewydd Inn in the Rhondda Fach, she was described on her death certificate as a “Domestic Servant“. Surely she was not still working at her age?; perhaps a consequence of not getting married. One can only speculate on why she had left Hendre Rhys in her autumn years – the informant on the certificate was a “Thomos Thomas“. Being a spinster, she was buried with her parents over at St. Gwynno’s Llanwynno.
And what of Hendre Rhys post Moses? It was probably taken over by a family called Edwards; we know this as farmer Evan Edwards died there in 1896, aged only 38, after a stroke which had left him paralysed down one side. By the 1901 census the farm was unoccupied, but by 1912 the family of Tom Jones, 1st whip to the Glog hounds, were living there; although interestingly they “did not farm the ground” but lived there because it was convenient for Tom’s work at the nearby kennels.
Around the time of Evan’s death, the Clydach Valley was on the verge of massive change; a way of life which had remained virtually unchanged for centuries, was about to disappear for ever. Just three years prior to Evan’s passing, someone had described Ynysybwl as “One of the few remaining villages of South Wales retaining their ancient Welsh primitiveness“!, and the River Clydach as “Unpolluted as yet by dross from pit, level or furnace.” Now a population which had increased by just 70 in the last 50 years, was about to explode when The Lady Windsor Colliery opened on June 16th 1884 at Clydach Dale; indeed some of the labourers responsible for sinking the pit actually lodged with Mary and Twm up at Hendre Rhys. Although coal mining was well established over in adjacent Cwm Rhondda, and coal levels already existed at Mynachdy (Old Ynysybwl) and Darren Ddu (off New Rd.), the last census of 1881 before Ynysybwl became a new coal town tells us that not one of the 270 inhabitants is listed as a collier! One wonders what the older folk on their hilltop “Welsh islands” made of all the sudden changes down in the valley; rows of terraced houses being built for the incoming cosmopolitan population seeking work at the new pit. Most of these newcomers would have been English speakers, including the family of my grandfathers future second wife, who came from Leeds in West Yorkshire. I suppose the older generation viewed the changes with a heavy heart, whilst the younger people probably looked at it excitedly in terms of more opportunities.
We shall now follow the story’s of all nine of Evan III and Catherine’s children (plus adopted son Edwin) in their own individual chapters. We shall refer to these offspring as the “Farm Generation”, or perhaps if we had wanted to be cruel – “The illiterate Welsh speaking generation”! The nine birth children now essentially split into three camps – Moses, Charles and Jennet eventually settling close together in Cwm Rhondda; Ann, Evan, Morgan and Catherine emigrate to the U.S; whilst Mary and Twm continue to fly the flag for Hendre Rhys Farm/Ynysybwl.
Now go to the individual children’s branches for continued stories and family trees. See also The Miles Family.