Meredith Jones & Elizabeth Evans, Dyffryn Cellwen


Meredith Jones (1854-1927) and Elizabeth Evans (1852-1933)

The Onllwyn colliery owners, the Evans-Bevan Company, erected the Onllwyn Inn, the Halfway Inn and the Pantyddreinen Hotel at Banwen in the early twentieth century as purpose-built beer palaces, in a questionable sense of social responsibility to their employees.   These inns were large and very impressive establishments built close to the pitheads and naturally attracted hundreds of men daily at the end of shifts.  As a means of parting money from the company’s miners and their families, their efficiency was undoubted as the company had a captive audience here, little or no competition existing in this remote upland location.  So the company had many of the men over a figurative barrel: the Evans Bevan company were also successful brewers in Neath at the Cadoxton Brewery, and much of the money dispensed in wages in the collieries came straight back to the company over their various bars.  A particularly cynical practice - akin to the old “truck” system - continued right up until about 1938, for example, when it was abolished at nearby Seven Sisters as part of the negotiations for the new machine mining:

“An age-old custom of payment by beer cheques for working in water at the pit bottom or for driving holes for air, for breaking output records at the colliery was done away with.  Mr William Jones, Coelbren, employed at the pit bottom, was the first to make a stand against this form of payment…these beer cheques could only be exchanged at the public houses owned by the colliery owners”.

The company had all the time thus turned a double profit: on the men’s labour and the beer it sold back to them.  Indeed, Davies (2014) also mentions that overtime in some collieries was paid in beer tokens and , Evans C (1964) notes that the company “made sure the tokens would be used by allowing the afternoon shift to finish an hour before Stop Tap."

The Pantyddrainen Hotel on Roman Road, Banwen, was demolished in 2003 and its staggering size – the footprint equivalent to six or seven of the small terraced houses it neighboured and served – testifies to both the once thirst for public drinking and available disposal income (photo source: Davies, “Now and Then, Vol. 2; plan from a land sales brochure).   


Pantyddrainen Hotel, 1990s; a bleak prospect.   Photo kindly provided by WT Davies


 From Davies (2004).  The building was eventually demolished in 2003.  The site is currently unoccupied.


However, slightly further afield from these large edifices was the Price’s Arms at Coelbren, strategically next to the railway junction there and probably attracting a slightly more diversified clientele, if only in people changing trains.  The Price’s Arms was not on the grand scale of the Onllwyn establishments and is still more of the country tavern.   Chris Evans (1977) states that “Mrs. Gwen Phillips, who built the Price’s Arms at Coelbren, worked in [the] old [presumably Banwen or Onllwyn] drift when she was only eleven years old.”   In 1871 a Gwenllian Evans (or Phillips) is recorded as resident at the Price’s Arms.  She had been married to Moses Evans (b c1826) but he appears to have died by the time Gwenllian appears at the pub in 1871 – with her children and new husband John Evans.  

1871 census for England and Wales: Price’s Arms, Coelbren

An early photograph of the Prices Arms.  Courtesy of Davies (2014).  The railway station is obviously just in front of it.  Photo from Davies, Now and Then series.

The Price’s Arms shown here in 1871 was, however, originally located on the site of what is now (or was) the Ashgrove Inn at Coelbren, some distance from its current location.  At some point in the late 1860s – maybe after the first passenger train stopped at Coelbren in 1867 and perhaps anticipating the upgrading of the simple halt to a junction - the Price’s Arms was re-located next to the station, at the bottom of the eponymous Station Road, where it still stands and continues to operate as a public house.  Gwenllian Evans is recorded there for the next twenty years – in both 1881 and 1891 censuses, although changes to the name Phillips in these censuses after the death of husband Moses Evans.   Before his death, the couple appears to have had five children: two of these are of interest to us as, again, the Evans family forms the centre of another marriage triangle between our Jones and Morgan families.  Through these and many other marriages we have seen so far, the village and environs was truly becoming a very tangled network of cousins and in-laws.  A diagram exemplifies the situation in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

Firstly, Daniel Evans (1855-1929) married Sarah Morgan of the Coelbren House family, in 1877.  This would link the Morgans and the Evans.

Secondly, and of immediate interest here to our Jones family, is the second marriage of the Evans Price’s Arms family, of daughter Elizabeth Evans, who married Meredith Jones (1854-1927) not long after on the 18th January 1879 at the Neath Register Office.  For the next twenty years, Meredith appears to have worked as a collier; the couple lived in colliery rows around Onllwyn and had their children.  By 1901, the family moved to Blaengarw, another little town at the head of a valley, where the family of eight plus two boarders is recorded at No.1, Blaengarw Road.  This is a little distant from the Coelbren area.  The family is recorded again in Blaengarw in 1911, where Meredith, aged 56, is recorded as a “Billiard Marker”.  This meant he worked in a billiard hall, sometimes acting as a scorer, but otherwise attending to general duties such as serving drinks, replenishing supplies and generally keeping the place in order.   This certainly constituted a move away from the colliery.  Meredith is also said to have built the first billiard hall back in his home area, as part of the new village of Dyffryn Cellwen, in 1911 (Evans, 1977).  Certainly this family shows a different trajectory to those so far seen of Meredith’s brothers and sisters.   Meredith’s name also pops up as a member of the local Banwen recruitment committee at the beginning of the First World War (mentioned in Llais Lafur).

Meredith Jones and family appear to have returned to Onllwyn by the early 1920s as Gwilym Jones (Coelbren House) recalls (2014) that his father, a miner originally from North Wales, came coincidentally to lodge with this family at Onllwyn around 1925.  Having established himself, he sent to Mountain Ash for his wife and young family – including the baby Gwilym – to join him.   Despite their landlady’s entreaties for all of the young family to continue lodging with them, Gwilym’s mother could not accept – Elizabeth Jones was a strict Sabbatarian and would not allow any work, including the washing of babies’ nappies, on a Sunday.  Gwilwm says that he therefore knew this Jones family well before he actually married into it thirty years later!

Children of Meredith Jones and Elizabeth Evans:

Gwenllian Jones (1879-)

Mary Ann Jones (1881-)

William Jones (1884-)

Jennet Jones (1886-1963) married John (“Jack”) Kemeys

David John Jones (1889-)

Richard Jones (1895-)

 

Back to William Jones’ children

© (the written content and authorial photographs) Gareth Jones 2015-19