Family History

With Charles Wilson-Watkins

This month Charles looks at the history to be found in our homes.

If you have a question regarding your family history that you’d like to put to Charles, he can be contacted at – he’d be delighted to hear from you.

Census Records & The History of Houses

Some of us are lucky enough to live in a house with a bit of history, maybe a home that has been lived in by generations of the same family. Over the forthcoming months, I am going to write about census’ records and the history of houses.  The building that we call home, can take different forms, such as a bungalow, detached, semi-detached, terraced, end of terrace, flat, or cottage.  In this first article, we will discovery why bedroom doors always open into the room.

The first census in 1801 was conducted to ascertain the number of men able to fight in the Napoleonic War – there was no hiding from Napoleon!  The next three census’, 1811-1831, were mainly statistical. In 1800, Swansea’s population was 6,000.  It’s staggering to think that the estimated population in 2016 is 243,892.

November 1832 saw the introduction of the Electoral Registers. Prior to this date, the Overseers of the Poor of the parish had to compile information relevant to electoral qualifications to collect taxes from those able to pay.  Their additional yearly task was to compile the Electoral Register, required on 20th June. This ‘current format’ was produced yearly until the First World War.  The registers were kept in the Town Hall.  It should be noted here that the early registers, only listed those who owned the property, and who were living there at the time, of the compilation.  The example I am going to use is Starling Benson, a well-known magistrate, who moved to Gloucester Place, during the early 1840s.  This property was owned by a Mr Essery.

During the first three months (January-March) of 1841, there were 270 births in Swansea.  The 1841 Census was the first modern census and the first one to intentionally record names of all individuals in a household or institution – it was carried out on the night of June 6th. To complete this huge task, 35,000 census enumerators were appointed to undertake the data collection.  Census forms were delivered by hand to each household, a few days prior to the said night. The forms were completed by the head of the house and collected on the 7th. Enumerators would help those who were illiterate.  The census recorded people’s names, age, sex, occupation, and if they were born “in county”.  The returned forms were sorted later, and then copied into the Census Books.  Swansea’s population was supposedly 39,458.

Each census is closed for hundred years, meaning that the information will not be publically disclosed until one hundred years have passed.  Available Census Books can be viewed electronically online. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you are interested in obtaining information about an ancestor but don’t have access to a computer.

Hopefully we have a good chance of finding a relative, however we are in trouble if the person in question was good at hiding their existence as in the case of Starling Benson  who doesn’t seem to be on 1836 Electrical Register nor has he an entry on the 1841 census. I am using one of my own ancestor’s entries to illustrate the census (see above).

Gloucester Place – pic Liz Barry

Following Napoleons defeat at the Battle of Waterloo he was packed off to St. Helena, and Britain enjoyed a long financial boom.  Buildings from this period were known as Regency Architecture (1811 – 1830).  It is during this time, 1826, that out first port of call Gloucester Place, was built. Today one house is divided into three flats and a basement apartment, each commanding a small fortune to either buy or rent.  We are also lucky that the German Luftwaffe didn’t destroy these buildings and the area during their attacks of the Second World War. Clearly Gloucester Place was not in the ‘Book of Attractions’ for Swansea!

Some noticeable features on the façade of Gloucester Place are – a basement with access via a flight of steps down. A dominant front door, now 6-panelled approached by a flight steps.  Also noticeable is the fanlight above the door, with the purpose of allowing light into the hallway.  Research shows that the windows of the building had to be set back four inches, due to fire regulations of the day, which stipulated that other wood decorations were also banned.

To establish what the interior of the building looked like, we refer to an auction advert in the The Cambrian, December 8th 1827, when No. 2 Gloucester Place was being sold at the Mackworth Arms, by Llewelyn and Bowen.  The advert states the rooms as being lofty, and that the property would be a very desirable investment. Even though this area is thought to have been respectable, it harbours a very dark secret – in 1889 Frederick Kent, landlord of the Gloucester Hotel was murdered by Thomas Allen, a Zulu.

If walls could talk, what would they say about a room within a house?  Let’s look at the bedroom.

The bedroom found in fashionable residences such as that of Gloucester Place, during the Georgian period was a private place. During the Victorian period the bedroom was not solely the domain of a married couple as they often had separate rooms. The gentleman of the house would often sleep in his dressing room, and it was here that he would entertain his male friends and smoke. The lady of the house also had her own dressing room, the boudoir.

The star of the show in the bedroom would be the elaborate bed, something that had changed over the years.  Before the Industrial Revolution, the base of the bed comprised of a wooden frame with criss-crossed rope, which was later replaced by coiled metal springs.  The wool and linen sheets were to be changed to cotton bedding.

In answer to the question at the beginning, German commentator, Herman Murthesius, explained in 1904 “The idea behind this [bedroom door] is that the person entering shall not be able to take in the whole room at a glance as he opens the first crack of the door to enter the room, by which time the person seated in the room will have been able to prepare himself suitably for his entry”.

Next month, still in 1841, we venture over to the other side of town, to see what life was like there.

Picture credit

1841 Census – courtesy of The National Archives

December 8th 1827, The Cambrian Auction advert

N.B. Swansea Library, in the Civic Centre has a very good section on the Electoral Registers from 1836.




October 2015, I wrote an article covering the topic of military records and the information they hold. The case histories I used for the piece were two men, David James Mitchell and Charles James Godfrey, both of whom are buried at Danygraig Cemetery, their graves weren’t marked with a mili-tary headstone.

At the time of writing the CWGC (Commonwealth War Grave Commission) were looking to find relatives. Moving forward to October 2016, to the article Exploring Swansea’s Grave-yards, when I photographed the two newly erected headstones of these men I received an email from Mr Derek Gibbs, who was interested in any information I had about Charles Godfrey. After a series of emails to and fro I found out that his father-in-law, Joseph Godfrey was the younger brother, 4 at the time of Charles’ death in 1919. Charles died at home at 28 Orchard Street, Swansea, 5 months after the Armistice, 1918. The family were aware of Charles, as his brother spoke of him often, but were unaware of his final resting place. They were flabbergasted to read of Charles in the Bay! I was delighted during November to meet with Peter and Jeanette Godfrey and Derek and Susan Gibbs at the graveside of Charles. When I wrote the piece, in October 2015, I thought Charles was the only one to be buried in the grave, but from information obtained from the Cemetery Department, Civic Centre, I learned that Charles’ parents and a sibling are also buried there.

A footnote to this story – whilst there we tried to locate the grave of Henry Godfrey, Charles’ grandfather, but with no success. Henry belonged to a circus with his Indian wife. There is rumoured to be buried at St. Peter’s Church, Cockett, a lion tamer, who met his end at the jaws of his lion.

William Bromfield

We go back to 1914, to the outbreak of the First World War, for the next poignant story. Mrs J. Bromfield contacted me regarding her husband Brian’s grand-father, William Bromfield. William died on the 14th October 1914, he was a Sergeant from the 6th Battalion, Welsh Regiment. His occupation be-fore the war, was an Engine Fitter, with the Harbour Trust. Taking up the story from, The Cambrian, which reported that “Sergeant Bloomfield

was in the military police, well known and highly respected in the town. On Wednesday, 7th October, Bloomfield left the house in the morning…. but very soon returned saying that he felt faint. Dr Anderson and Dr Isaac, we called and his complaint was diagnosed as being pneumonia. As a result, he was at the beginning of the week removed to the Hospital, where he passed away on Wednesday”, a slight mistake was made by the reporter in regards to his name!

What information is there about William Bromfield?

A death certificate was sourced and this established that William did die from pneumonia at Swansea Hospital, he was registered as Bloomfield. Further information revealed the father-in-law’s name as J. Lloyd, Rutland Place, whom the family didn’t know about. Unfortunately, the hospital records dating from 1914 have all but disappeared. Luckily some hospital records have survived and those interested need to apply to view the information from the West Glamorgan Archive Service.

Another good source of information, are the census’, dating from 1841 – 1911. For William, 1881, he is living with his parents at 10 Keniston Place, his father Thomas, is a Blacksmith. 1891 the family have moved to Rutland Place. 1901 and 1911 William is now the head of the family and is living at 20 Swan Street, and this is where he was taken ill in 1914.

A footnote to this story, 6th Battalion, Welsh Regi-ment, which was formed at Swansea on the 4th August 1914, didn’t have a good start to the conflict, with the death by drowning of one Owen Owen at Swansea Docks, and also a murder during Christmas 1914. Sergeant William Hooper, a Boer War veteran was charged and convicted of the murder of Private Enoch Dudley in Wind Street. The group of men were guarding the South Docks, and were given Christmas drinks, a bottle of whiskey went missing. Hooper accused Dudley, and fatally shot him. Hooper was sentenced to death, although the court of appeal reduced the sentence to four years’ imprisonment. Dudley is buried at Gorseinon. I wonder what happened to Hooper?

Henry Lewis

The final family history story dates back to the early days of the Second World War, Mrs. D. Lewis contacted me, with regard to her grandfather, Henry Lewis. She was interested to find out any information as all she had was his name, Henry Lewis, and that he was killed at Cardiff whilst defusing a bomb.

At the time of his death, he had a wife and four sons, one of whom was Bernard, who was 6 at the time of his father’s death. Bernard is Mrs. D. Lewis’ father. A further death certificate was sourced, revealing that Henry Lewis, 33 years, died on 12th Novem-ber 1940 at Scully Beach, receiving multiple injuries sustained from an explosion whilst laying land mines. An inquest was held and a verdict of misadventure was returned. Henry lived at Robert Owen Gardens, Port Tennant. The certificates didn’t mention what his occupation was before the war, thus causing some difficulties as there are no further records. He wasn’t registered on the 1939 register either. If you remember Henry I would be delighted to hear from you.I was limited as to how much information I could find on Henry. For those interested in obtaining Second World War records, apply to the Ministry, at a cost £30 with proof of identity. Records take up to 3 months to return.

William Bromfield, Charles Godfrey and Henry Lewis all received a full military funeral.


Picture credits William Bromfield – with kind permission Mrs. J. Bromfield

Henry Lewis – with kind permission, Mrs. D. Lewis


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