By Gareth Hicks
This is the story of two unexpected events uncovered in my family history research , one a most terrible tragedy involving the family of John Edwards at the White Hart Inn, Llandeilo.
The other, involving the Edwards family's eldest son Thomas, is less tragic but must certainly have been quite a thing at the time.
The scene is set conventionally enough with the 1891 census showing the family at the White Hart Inn, Llandeilo , John Edwards, 34, wife Mary 38, Thomas 12,William 11, Mary 10, Elizabeth 8, Rees 5, Joseph 3, Henry 3m and servant Margaret Evans.
Mary Edwards was a daughter of my great great grandfather, William Davies, she was born about 1853 at a smallholding called Tirbach, up on the ridge between Llandeilo and Trapp.
This is the first part of the story.
On the night of Thursday , 14th September 1894, there was great rejoicing at Dynevor castle,Llandeilo, on the occasion of the coming of age of the Hon. Walter F Rice. But before the festivities were completed there arrived the terrible news that there had been a fire that night at the White Hart Inn and the landlord, John Edwards , and four of his children had been killed.
The White hart Inn was a small inn about half a mile from Llandeilo town on the road to Carmarthen,
John Edwards apart from being the landlord there was also the head gardener to Mr J W Gwynne Hughes at Tregib.
The Edwards family had retired at 11 o clock that Thursday night.
An hour later the house was one blazing mass, the four boys William 15,Rees 9,Joseph 6 and Henry aged 3, having been burnt to death, while the father was burnt to such an awful extent as to make it impossible for him to live but a very short time and he died at noon on the Friday.
When they were awakened around midnight, Mrs Edwards jumped out of their bedroom window in the front of the inn, about 10 feet to the ground, and shouted for the two girls Mary Anne , Elizabeth and the servant Mary Jones to follow, which they did.
In the meantime her husband John was making a brave struggle to save his four sons asleep in the back bedroom, above the kitchen .
As soon as he entered the room the floor gave way and he fell into the burning mass below, together with the poor suffocated children.
The first to give the alarm was Mr Thomas Evans, servant at the Moreb, who ran to Llandeilo crying out "fire".
The church bells were set to ringing by churchwarden, Mr J Hughes, Bank, and large numbers of people well supplied with buckets soon repaired to the scene.
But their help was to no avail as there was a total absence of water, the nearest brook being about 200 yards away.
Before 1 o'clock members of the fire brigade were on the spot only to find the buildings a mass of flames.
The police constable , and the townspeople who had now arrived there, and the ladies from Dynevor Castle, did all they could to minister to the wants and comforts of the homeless mother and children.
A public meeting was held in the Town Hall on that Friday evening and resolutions of sympathy were passed and a subscription list opened at the meeting and collectors appointed to canvass the district.
The Inquest was held on the Saturday night at the Victoria Inn, the poor jurors having to view the bodies beforehand.
One of the witnesses called was the surviving eldest daughter, the 13 year old Mary Anne.
The fire was supposed to have originated by the clothes horse falling into the fire in the kitchen.
The funeral took place at Tabernacle Independent Chapel, Ffairfach on the following Monday, the newspaper account calling it the largest that had ever taken place in the neighbourhood. The coffins of the two smaller children were carried by school children.
I have visited the chapel, the graves are next to that of my great great grandparents, all the headstones have sadly fallen.
There were two other children of the family, a baby who was staying the night with a friend of the family, but who is believed to have died in infancy anyway (*but see below), and the eldest son Thomas, who was not mentioned at all in the remarkably detailed newspaper account of the tragedy and was perhaps on his grandparent's nearby farm helping with the corn harvest.
Mary Edwards went on to run the Bridgend Inn over Tally way somewhere.
The daughter, May Anne married a Rees Jones and emigrated to the USA, she died in Florida in 1977 aged 96. I currently have no information on what happened to her sister Elizabeth.
It is the son, Thomas Edwards, who features in the second part of my story of family misfortunes.
I had no knowledge at all of him until sifting through my mother's boxes "in the attic" after her death I came across a whole sheaf of legal paperwork relating to Tom Edward's bankruptcy and a guarantee to a bank on his behalf from my great grandfather.
By 1909 or thereabouts, Tom Edwards had become a builder by trade, he had a yard Gwaun-cae-gurwen just across the county line in Glamorgan.
One of his contracts was to build the Methodist Chapel, GCG which was left uncompleted after a dispute with the trustees, they sued each other, but the arbitration process was abandoned after Tom ran off to British Columbia.
I have recently noticed that in the book "Annibynwyr Gwaun-cae-gurwen" is mentioned that when the new Congregational chapel in Cwmgors was built between 1910 and 1912 the un-named builder went bankrupt, how many builders were there going bankrupt in two adjoining villages in the same couple of years ?
I fear it was Tom involved there too.
The Receiving Order and final adjudication in Tom Edwards's bankruptcy was made in 1912. His total Assets £3, Liabilities £3265, Deficit £3262.
The Act of Bankruptcy was based on his intent to" defeat and delay his creditors departed and remained out of England".
Tom's uncle [my great grandfather] John Davies was referred to as 'the landlord of his yard and workshop', John Davies claimed £422 in the bankruptcy.
Tom's wife claimed the furniture and household effects as partly given to her on marriage by friends and family, and bought from her own earnings as a school mistress, which duties she resumed when her husband absconded.
John Davies's involvement shows how a family rallied round in times of strife in those days.
He and his sister Mary, Tom's mother, had signed a guarantee in Tom's favour, the latter obviously under pressure from his bank. The bank eventually claimed £400 from John Davies who said that he and his sister had only intended to guarantee £100 each, and then only until specific monies due in from the County Council were received by the bank, which they had been.
John said the guarantee was signed 'in blank', it seems there was genuine confusion about what they had let themselves in for.
As a retired banker I found all this particularly absorbing !
It is not clear exactly how this dispute was resolved but they did pay up the £400.
John apparently borrowed £250 from his brother William to do so, I have the Promissory Note between them.
A letter to John Davies from the Official Receiver in May 1912 stated "the offer referred to is receiving attention". I wonder if this was to buy one or more of the uncompleted houses in GCG valued at £3, and were these the two houses in GCG which I know John did become the eventual owner of ?
So perhaps John Davies didn't completely lose out after all, I like to think so.
I did try and trace Tom Edwards in the online death registers of British Columbia, but it was not possible to pick him out.
I don't know whether he was subject to a third catastrophe in his life, I do hope not.
The baby mentioned in the first part didn't die in infancy, he was called David John, see my Family History site (The children of William and Esther Davies) for further details
Here are two photographs of the White Hart