A couple of years ago, I joined up to Ancestry.co.uk, hoping to build some records of my family and see how far back I could trace my lineage. I was fortunate to have come across two lovely people, who are my second cousins, and avid users of Ancestry, so they helped me. We still haven’t met in person, but have communicated, off and on, through various formats.
The Family Tree is looking fairly good: lots of documents and photos of the living and the dead, on all sides of my family. But what I hadn’t expected was all the traumatic stuff, which seemed to appear as one tragedy one after the other, and really took some time for me to come to terms with. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, I might be able to make a film of this sorry story, maybe some short videos of the places and events, many of which rocked my world when I ‘discovered’ them via a genealogy of my past family.
Where to start with it all? Do you want to hear of domestic violence, mental anguish, lies and deceit, infanticide, death by suicide, murder, ‘madness’ and a hanging! Yes, it’s all happened and I have the documentary evidence to prove it. So, where shall I begin? How do I tell this family story, so sad, so bleak, yet out of it all, we are fortunate to have today such a wonderful family today.
My old man
My father left home when I was 10 years old; this story is elsewhere on these pages. We always thought of him as a lair, as well as a philanderer, but it seems like he hid and manipulated tragic stories, too; but maybe, just maybe, he did that because he was struggling with it all, too? We will never know. Did he tell my Mother any of this? Did she know and just wanted to protect us children from it, too? Somehow I don’t think so, as she told us lots of other things, so why would she hide all of this? One of the stories she told us was about our seemingly lovely, benign, old Grandpa Evans (my paternal grandfather). He was the first of three of us called David Thomas Evans. He died just a few months before his 90th birthday, in 1983. I have found out so much more about him in these past few years, but I will share just one story here for the moment.
Grandpa Evans (spit! spit!)
The spit! spit! is the least I would do, if he had a grave to visit! His ashes were scattered directly after his cremation, in 1983. He is so lucky to have escaped to the corners of the earth – that’s not far enough away at all – for the evils and horrors I have since learned of him. He was a lovely old man – so we thought – and my Mother used to take us to visit him, in his flat at Fernhill Estate, Mountain Ash, as we were en route, by bus, from Cardiff to Aberdare, visiting our other grandparents, Lil’s mother and father: Lizzie and Joe Sutton in Cwmdare, Aberdare.
But Grandpa Evans hadn’t always been such a lovely old man! In fact, it was only in his later life that he and Lil had started talking again. She used to tell us a story, which I, in my naïveté, assumed was a one-off event. Tragically it wasn’t one-off, by far! She told us that he chased his young wife up the mountain-side (Abercwmboi, Mountain Ash), her barefooted, as he thrashed her with his leather belt. I knew that my grandmother, his wife – the mother of my own father – died of tuberculosis in 1931, when she was 33. Her name was Amy (olim Edwards), and she came from quite a large family. I’ll tell her wider family’s story another time. But the woman he used to thrash wasn’t Amy. After Amy’s death, my grandfather married Amy’s niece, who was living with them for a number of years. Her name was Florence Mary Thomas. She was 14 years younger than my grandfather (b. 1907). Florence had two children by my grandfather: Janetta M Evans (1937) and Freda M Evans (1939).
Florence’s life must have been really traumatic living with my grandfather. In 1940, she and her two children left home and went back to her own father, in Barry. My father told the story (lie!) that he and Grandpa Evans came home from the colliery one day, and Florence and the two children – whom my father always said (lied) were “twins” – were dead, their heads in the poisonous gas oven! Florence went to her father’s house, and after just a couple of days, she blocked the bedroom chimney with pillows, turned on the gas of an unlit fire, and all three of them died alone, their bodies to be discovered be her own father when he returned home later that day. The verdict was death by suicide for her, a criminal offence prior to 1961, and unlawful killing of her two children (aged 3 and 1). May the rest in peace.
May they rest in peace
That prayer goes up for many others in the family, from across that generation, too! I hope to write about those sad stories some other time, but for now, I want to tell you of two special ones, as it is the eve of what would have been the 90th anniversary since the death of my great uncle Trevor, set in the tragic events of 16 VI 1928 and 11 XII 1928.
My paternal grandmother, Amy (b. 1898), had a large and tragic family. Her one and only brother, Trevor John Edwards, was the youngest child of 7. Trevor was born 4th September 1907, and died aged only 21.
Like something from a Romeo and Juliette tale, of star-crossed lovers, ‘the end’ was just so tragic, all round. Trevor had a “Sweet Heart”, Annie Protheroe, someone he fell dearly in love with. But that young woman moved away to live in Swindon, England, and Trevor was left behind in the Welsh Valleys, bereft and distraught. It is important to point out that there were also some very serious mental health problems going on across Trevor’s family at the time, which certainly, now, 90 years later, would have been taken into account.
No sooner had Annie left for England, than Trevor started “stepping out” with another young woman: Elsie Cook, also born about 1907. Elsie became pregnant by Trevor, of course something greatly frowned upon in the 1920s. When Elsie was five months pregnant, Trevor asked her father for Elsie’s hand in marriage. The father consented, and that evening the young man and his new fiance went out for an evening stroll at the near-by district of Llanwonno. After a drink at the local pub (now a bespoke wedding reception venue), Trevor took a heavy glass ‘flagon’ bottle with him. They went through the local church yard, when Trevor struck Elsie across the head, and then, with a cut-throat razor, he slashed her throat 4 times, almost decapitating her, and then he tried to take his own life.
When Trevor was discovered, by a man out on his bike, he was close to death. Trevor was taken to hospital, arrested, and made a full and graphic confession to the police without hesitation. Trevor was convicted both of murder and attempted suicide. At his trial, Trevor was said to have shown no emotion whatsoever, but produced a heart-felt letter to Annie, who attended the hearings. Trevor spent his last 6 months in His Late Majesty’s Prison, Swansea, where he was hanged by the famous Robert Baxter at 8am on 11th December 1928, 90 years to the date of me publishing this sad story.
There is so much more I can tell you about this whole tragic story, and even of Trevor’s botched hanging event, but that’s for another time. As the prison bell tolled for Trevor, working men passing outside the gaol doffed their caps, and by 8.14 am the notice of execution (above) was placed outside the prison railings. Elsie and Trevor’s mothers became friends, through this all, and supported each other in their grief.
RIP Elsie Cook and Trevor John Edwards
11 XII 2018