Some Family Stories

(Written down by Gareth Morgan (1928-1996). Date unknown, but probably before
1968 since Eveline Jones (1895-1968) is referred to in the present tense.)

My great-grandmother [Esther Thomas] was lifted into the air by some unknown force and whirled across the moor and the sandhills to where the tide was eddying through the sands of the Neath estuary. There she was compelled by an invisible power to take a bag of money and drop it into the seething water. Some moments later she was back at the stile by which she had been standing. She had to stay many days in bed to recover from her mysterious experience.

All this happened where the Baglan mountain overlooks the narrow coastal plain between the rivers Neath and Afan. Her father [Evan Thomas] farmed on the hillside above. Indeed, he was known as Ifan y Mynydd -- 'Evan of the Mountain' -- and was one of the hereditary burgesses of the ancient borough of Aberavon, who would walk on Sunday evenings on a special lawn outside the boundaries of the old town. They had owned the market, and fields further up the valley, and the mineral rights in one or two of the earliest coal pits, but by this time their old privileges had been taken from them -- by trickery people said. One of my mother's [Eveline Jones's] earliest memories is of great-aunts and cousins in every degree, sitting around the old stone kitchen, assembled formally to persuade the family to join in the expense of a lawsuit to recover the royalties from their colliery.

When he was young, Ifan had been a groom in the household of a squire far away in Ross-on-Wye, and had won the heart of the daughter of the house. The mixture of classes was not approved, and the marriage was half elopement; but from her home the bride brought some linen sheets of a quality so fine that they were in constant demand for laying out the bodies of her neighbours. When a death occurred, they would be taken from the heavy chest where they lay and conveyed solemnly to the afflicted household. To this day the lid of the chest is said to rise some inches, and then to sink again, whenever someone close to the family dies. (If the death was that of a baby, there was a crib, too, that rocked gently in anticipation of its duty.)

My great-grandfather [David David] was a copper-roller. He had been walking one night on a road across the Baglan moors -- they are all covered now by a shapeless housing estate, of an ugliness that defies description -- when he had been pressed into the hedgerow by a ghost-funeral. There was nothing to see, but the sound of the trotting horses had come from the distance, and got nearer and nearer, and then the wheels of the hearse and carriages rolling over the rough road -- all this the standard description of the Ghost-Funeral of South Wales. Only one small point stands out. As he had been forced back into the bushes, my great-grandfather had heard the flip-flap of the black ribbons on the mourners' hats as they strained out in the wind of their passing.

This was the sombre side of the family. Another great-grandfather [Joseph Jones] was of gayer stock, standing tall in the front rank of the Volunteers, and a player of 'bando', the Welsh ancestor of hockey. Village played against village on the wide sands, four hundred yards from low tide to the yellow sand-hills. One goal was the river Kenfig; the other, the Morfa stream, three miles away.

While still a young man, he was one of the hundred and fifty [actually 87] who were lost in an explosion in a colliery down by the sea [the Morfa Colliery]. His body was brought up four years later, recognized only by the silver watch he wore.

content last revised 15 Jun 1998