I. Cover letter conveying Alan Hayward’s conjecture to Monica Bugbee – 1984
2, Alder Avenue,
Ystradgynlais, Nr. Swansea,
26th. November 1984.
Dear Mrs. Bugbee,
1n the late summer, I sent a proof copy of a manuscript of our local history to your Historical Society at Allentown. It contains many references to your town and has the title The Iron Cradle. On receiving an acknowledgement I was told that sadly, you are no longer with the library. I hope that all goes well with your family and yourself - for now and in the future.
As promised, I have finally obtained the available local information relating to Hopkin Thomas. Mr. Hayward stresses that it is based upon the records of several families living within the parishes of Bryn Coch and Cadoxton-juxta-Neath, in the County of Glamorgan, at about that time. His conclusions are interesting and persuasive and I hope they will be equally so with your family.
I have enclosed a Christmas card that shows 'Ty Coch' some years before it was demolished. It is one of several that have been copied from old local photographs with historical connections.
A great deal of interest has been shown in the historical connections that Allentown has with Ystradgynlais and the idea of a possible 'Twinning' is being considered by our local public body. I am not involved, other than providing some details on the life of David Thomas, both here and in Lehigh County.
I have asked your successor to pass this letter on and I hope that you will receive the card in time. Thank you for your help in the past, it proved most valuable. If anything of interest develops I will let you know. Goodbye for now and the season's greeting to you all.
William L. Ley.
II. Alan Hayward’s conjecture on Hopkin Thomas’ Birthplace
ARGUMENT FOR SUGGESTING THE BIRTHPLACE OF HOPKIN THOMAS, AND THE HOMESTEAD WAS LOCATED IN THE PARISH OF DYFFRYN CLYDACH
Conjectures based on Research performed by Alan Hayward, Neath Antiquarian Society, circa 1990
(Mr. Hayward stresses that that these findings are based upon the records of several families living within the parishes of Bryn Coch and Cadoxton-juxta-Neath, in the County of Glamorgan, at about that time.)
The proximity of his home being near to Neath Abbey Ironworks and within reasonable horseback riding distance of it was essential, otherwise he would probably have sought employment elsewhere.
Consider the alternatives in a six-mile radius of Neath Abbey.
(1) If he had been living at a Skewen farm, (1 or 2 miles distant) he would probably have been engaged in one of the adjacent copper works,
(2) If he had been living at a Neath farm, more than likely he would have entered one of the Mackworth enterprises at Melincryddan.
(3) If living at an Upper Neath Valley farms (say 3‑4 miles away) he could have found work in the rolling mill and tinplate works of the Llewellyns at Ynisgerwn, 1 mile N.E. of Aberdulais, or at the Aberdulais Forge of the Miers family. A further possibility in the Neath area was the building of the Tennant Canal, completed 1824.
(4) If he had been raised in the Birchgrove‑Glais area, (4‑6 miles distant) he would probably have been engaged at the Ynyspenllwch Works at Clydach, or alternatively at Richard Parson’s Forge Fach and Forge Fawr Works on the Lower Clydach river. Again there were numerous collieries in all these areas.
(5) If the initial home had been located at Pontardawes then more than likely he would have worked at Richard Parsons Ynecedwyn, Ironworks.
(6) If he had lived at Briton Ferry about 6 miles from Neath Abbey the, attraction would have been the Cwmavon enterprises.
For all these negative reasons, the positive probability points to the immediate district north of the Abbey Ironworks, in the Dyffryn Trough, (or Valley) lying between Neath Abbey and Pontardawe. At that time the Lords of the Abbey, Baron Dynevor, and the Stanley family together with the Williams of Duffryn Estate owned most of this tract of land.
Further supportive evidence is gained from examination of Dynevor property leases as can be viewed in the West Glamorgan County Hall Archeological Dept. However it is quite extraordinary the numbers of people that bore and still do bear the name of “Thomas” within this small valley. One other problem of course, was the time period in question, it being pre-census time, that is before 1841.
The fact that Hopkin Thomas married Catherine Richards at Merthyr Tydfil is not surprising. As a master mechanic he probably would have traveled widely on business for the Neath Abbey ironworks. The Company had dealings with most of the Dowlais Ironmasters, so that it would be quite easy for him to have met Catherine on one of these visits, in fact he might have lived at Merthyr Tydfil before marriage.
Dowlais works bought eight locomotives from Neath Abbey between 1831 and 1840, and he may, amongst other things have been connected with their placing in running order of some of them before emigrating in 1834. This association with the building of early locomotives may have led to his employment with the emerging railroad and locomotive manufacturers in Pennsylvania, America.
William R. Thomas, the first born of the marriage (May 30th 1829), suggests that the marriage took place around 1827/8 - when Hopkin Thomas was 35 years old. This seems late when one considers many men married early in life, (contrast David Thomas Sr. marrying at age 17). The fact that William R. Thomas was born in Merthyr Tydfil supports the theory that Hopkin Thomas has been living there for some time.
III. Bryncoch Thomas’s – conveyed to Miriam Schmeig, a David Thomas genealogist – date unknown.
The following is written by Meriam Schmieg based on correspondence with Alan Hayward. The Hopkin referred to is Hopkin Hopkins, except for the explicit reference to the Hopkin Thomas family.
We can only surmise the closeness and intermingling of the farm families in the Cadoxton/Neath area. The names Thomas, Hopkins, Harris, Bowen, Taylor and Williams keep surfacing. Tyllwyd farm belonged to the Thomas'; Cilhendre Fawr to the Hopkins'; Dyffryn Grist Mill and Smith to the Hopkin Thomas family; Rhydding farm (Bracken Hill), Bryncoch, to the Harris'; Pantawel Cottage (Hollow of the Breeze) to a Mrs. Taylor and her niece; the Cadoxton Masonry Yard to the Bowen family and the Williams men were stone masons in Ystradgynlais.
A William Jones of Cilhendre Fawr farm, relationship to the Hopkins family unknown, leased ground for the building of the Alltwen Day School. Next to it the Independents of the Alltwen Chapel first built their church.
The day school, a small structure 15' x 21', taught only the rudiment s of education, catering to the needs of the children of the scattered surrounding communities. The resident minister doubled as schoolmaster. At this time it was the Rev. John Davies, inducted in 1770 an d serving Alltwen, Cwllynfell and Cwmamman for 51 years.
Perhaps the children of the aforementioned farm families shared pony cart rides to and from school. This closeness led to the courtships and marriages of David and Elizabeth, Ann and Hopkin. Hopkin chose to follow in his father's footsteps and became a farmer. He and Ann became the parents of Jane, Hopkin, Elizabeth (my 2-greats grandmother who married Lewis Williams), Ann, Mary, David, Richard and Samuel.
The 1841 census finds the family residing in the parish of Ystradvellte. In 1851 they are on Henrhyd Street in Ystradgynlais, which would lead one to believe Hopkin was no longer farming, but 10 years later the census lists him as farming 138 acres. In 1851 his mother, Margaret, 73, lived next door, receiving "Parish relief," a kind of old age pension. Further down lived son Hopkin, 26, and his wife, Jane.
According to the 1871 Brecon census, Hopkin, now 71, is down to 100 acres. Son Richard is helping him on the farm and his 5 year old namesake grandson (born in Ystradfellte) is also a member of the household. Helping Ann in the house is a servant named Mary.
It is believed that Hopkin Hopkins died in 1886 at the advanced age of 87. Ann died 13 Feb 1881. A descendant of David Thomas, Ruth Thomas May, has a tombstone rubbing from Ann's grave in Ystradfellte.
Much of the above information was supplied by my dear friend, Alan Hayward, gentleman historian from Bryncoch, South Wales. I am forever grateful.