As regular readers of the this website will know, the “What’s in a Name” series tries to impart some information on the persons buried here in St David’s Cemetery and to give some meaning to their lives through historical research, and those lucky enough to have a surviving memorial will have a photograph of it included in the story. These stories themselves are never meant to be exhaustive but hopefully provide the reader with some interesting facts on those who lived here all those years ago whether they be young or old.
Most recently whilst walking amongst the memorials in the cemetery my brother Robert found a small and what appeared to be an insignificant fragment of a long lost headstone on the surface, covered in soil with nothing more than a partial name and date. The photograph as you will see shows exactly what little is left of it. But who were they and how many of the family were buried there and what happened to them? Indeed was there any possibility of finding any information at all?
Well, I am pleased to say that after much delving and diving into the unknown and much midnight oil being burned, I am finally able to (almost) complete the picture and solve the riddle of the headstone fragment. Far from being “insignificant”, it brings to life a truly momentous story of a family long since forgotten but one that had a pivotal role in one of the most important periods of Carmarthenshire’s and indeed Wales’ social and industrial history known as the Rebecca Riots. During this period an Englishman named CHARLES WATLING WISBEY who lived in Picton Terrace was the owner and proprietor as well as editor of the very successful and well respected local newspaper “The Welshman” which prided itself on publishing local and regional news as well as news of a world wide interest. It was not without great personal risk to himself and his family that he published a number of articles in support of those attempting to gain justice for what was perceived to be an unfair and immoral tax –known as the TURNPIKE TAX and other social injustices as can be seen from the following extract from his own newspaper and it makes fascinating reading. This meeting on MYNYDD SELEN – at which Charles Wisbey himself attended and reported on was to be the catalyst that eventually brought an end to the Turnpike taxes and changed the course of history, but not before the death and bloodshed of many local inhabitants.
Sadly his two first born children died within five days of each other from Typhoid and were both buried in the first week of January 1845, and this small fragment of headstone is the only thing left to commemorate their short lives. Charles and his wife Charlotte arrived in Carmarthen about 1842 and returned to London a number of years later where he ran a successful publishing business & they had a number of children.
Charles himself died in November 1876 aged 81 and Charlotte, his wife died twenty years later in 1896 also aged 81. A remarkable achievement considering that almost 40 years previous they were both seriously ill with typhoid whilst living in Carmarthen and almost died. What is even more amazing is the fact they lived in what was one of the most valuable, exclusive and palatial properties in London at the time – PALL MALL – at no 5 Suffolk Street (now demolished), which was a very fine four storey Georgian town house designed by no less a person than Sir John Nash. One of Charles Wisbey’s neighbours was the GARRARD family – world renowned jewellers and goldsmiths, and a stones throw from Queen Victoria at St James’s Palace.
The world renowned Oxford and Cambridge University Club now occupies what was number 1 to 4 Suffolk Street. Quite how they could have afforded to live here in such luxurious surroundings is a mystery as the freehold of the property was owned by the Crown and leasing would have been extremely expensive. It is also interesting to note that both Charles and Charlotte were buried in Brompton Road Cemetery London in what was described as “a common grave” rather than a “private” one. One thing is for sure however, that when they left Carmarthen nearly three decades earlier, and left forever their two young babies behind, who would have thought that 176 years later their stories would be told once again, thanks to a fragment of stone with a partial inscription found buried in the mud. May they all rest in peace.
The following newspaper extracts therefore shed some light on this family and provide a fascinating glimpse into their life as it was in Carmarthenshire in the 1840’s.
Carmarthen: Malignant fever, in some cases assuming a typhoid character, has laid up several of the inhabitants of this town. Amongst other families that have suffered under this afflicting visitation is Mr. Charles Wisbey’s every member of which, excepting one, has been extremely ill. His youngest child expired last Sunday morning; another child of his died on Wednesday, and a third appears past recovery while he himself and Mrs Wisbey have also suffered severely from fever. (3rd January 1845 page 3 The Welshman)
FEVER AT CARMARTHEN. – “We believe it will be found that, in the way of febrile induction, the disagreeable defective state of the sewerage and drainage of the town will be found to have always had great and deadly influence. At any rate, it is a well known fact that even the best houses in the best and highest parts of the town, have either insufficient sewerage and drainage, or (in most cases) none at all. With a cloaca only a yard or two from the sitting room—a cloaca so constructed as constantly to emit the moist noisome vapour and foulest stench, rendering the surrounding air fetid and quite unfit for the purposes of health – and no drains to carry off the accumulating mass of impurities and unwholesome liquid of which it is a necessity of man to momentarily create, there is but little doubt in our mind that death arises, in MANY cases, from the defective construction of the houses at Carmarthen. The tainted atmosphere too, the close rooms, with the sulphuric smell of the Welsh coal, and the other pestiferous influences peculiar to most of the houses in Wales – all this that may not be felt by those robust persons, born & bred here, may not only be unfavourable to the lives of English families but may cause disease and death. If most of the best houses be in the condition referred to, what must be the state of the hovels into which the poor are forced? And what a mass of misery must they not exhibit? (The Welshman editorial 3rd January 1845)
The following extract was printed in Charles’ newspaper following on from the many letters of condolence he received in the loss of his two infant children….
“We are requested by MR. CHARLES WISBEY to convey to his numerous friends in the neighbourhood an expression of the great regret he felt at having been compelled to forego the pleasure of acknowledging to them individually their kind courtesy and good neighbourhood. He begs his friends to believe that he never ceases to bear them in remembrance” (THE WELSHMAN JANUARY 17TH 1845)
GREAT MEETING ON MYNYDD SELEN
Some further discussion of a not very relevant kind ensuing, Mr. Charles Wisbey begged to disclaim any design to dictate to the meeting, or indeed to take any part whatever in its proceedings. He abstained from expressing any opinion on them-but would venture to suggest that the only question before the meeting was the adoption or the rejection of the petition proposed by Mr. Hugh Williams. If the petition before them embodied the sense of the meeting, they should adopt it, but on the other hand, if they dissented from the objects sought to be attained by it, they ought unhesitatingly to reject it. Was the meeting to be a nullity, or a reality? That was the question for them to decide. Eventually the petition was unanimously adopted amidst general cheering (The Welshman- 1st September 1843)
The Editor of The Welshman (Charles Wisbey) would not trespass upon the meeting by making any lengthened observations but would beg them to believe that he was by no means insensible to the honour which had been so flattering conferred upon him by the greatest meeting he had ever yet seen in South Wales. He heartily thanked them, he was most grateful for the vote of thanks adopted by them; and he assured them that it would supply an additional stimulus for exertion, and another inducement to the fearless and efficient discharge charge of his duty as a member of the public press. Thanks must also be extended to The Welshman newspaper, which had most ably portrayed the state and feelings of the country. Had it not been for the very able reports which had appeared in The Times and The Welshman the Rebeccaites would have been supposed to be a set of persons wantonly committing outrages without there being the slightest reason for them. Mr. Rees, of Kilymaenllwyd (County Magistrate), seconded the motion, and willingly bore testimony to the great accuracy of those reports. The motion was carried unanimously with three cheers. (The Welshman 1st September 1843)
The following is an extract from the report of the Welshman of this historic meeting that was attended by Charles Wisbey.
“Mr. Williams then read the petition, which embraced the subjects set out in our last number, and of which the following is a summary. It begins by saying That the local and public transit of the county of Carmarthen has been long impeded by the erection of a multiplicity of turnpike gates through the county, whereby heavy tolls have been long imposed and exacted in a most oppressive and illegal manner; that, according to the powers invested in the several turnpike acts now in force, a certain number of individuals, including in several instances the magistrates of the county, are vested with an irresponsible power, as trustees, of imposing at PRIVATE meetings any number of turnpike gates they think fit without reference to, or consulting, the public interest and that, although the amount of toll or tax is defined, such trustees have an unrestrained power of multiplying gates as they may be interested or influenced; that the public and their interest under the present system are not consulted. Your petitioners have endured oppression until they can no longer bear it without appealing and making their complaints known to your Most Gracious Majesty”
The meeting was attended by upwards of 4000 men and women and started at one o’clock in the morning, despite the fact that nightly meetings were judged to be illegal. This mountainous region is near Pontyates, about 12 miles from Carmarthen and at the time largely consisted of coal pits and the mining industry. It was one of the most tumultuous periods of Welsh social unrest which was to have an everlasting effect on society. Mr Charles Wisbey was a crucial key player as owner and indeed editor of the “Welshman” newspaper at the time in publicising the hardships felt by the local inhabitants, evidenced by the support he received at the above meeting. He played his part well and through his newspapers fight for the injustices of the Turnpike Tolls and Taxes contributed to the eventual success of the campaign to have them removed. The photograph below is of a printed poster of 1843 printed by the then High Sheriff of Cardigan – Edward Crompton Lloyd Hall, which is in stark contrast to the support shown by Charles Wisbey’s newspaper, the WELSHMAN.