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Medical Glimpse of Early Nineteenth Century Cardiganshire

Emyr Wyn Jones, National Library of Wales journal. 1966, Summer Volume XIV/3

Extracted onto the pages of GENUKI with the kind permission of the National Library of Wales

This is a complete extract of this article (Gareth Hicks March 2003)

RICHARD WILLIAMS, Surgeon, of Great Darkgate Street, Aberystwyth, wrote an Essay bearing the title 'Observations on Parturition amongst the Poor In the Upper District of Cardiganshire', and the manuscript was recently deposited in the National Library of Wales. (N.L.W. 12165D). As relatively few essays of this type exist in Wales it might well be that its publication would be a matter of considerable interest as a sociological as well as a medical document.

In this essay Richard Williams is highly critical of the people of the 'Upper District of Cardiganshire' as patients and apparently as persons. The probable date of the manuscript, judging by the watermark of the paper, is about 1837, and the author refers to various current social customs in the County which had survived from previous generations. Some of the customs, such as bidding, received his approval; whilst others, such as bundling, came under his severe censure. As a medical man fortified with physiological knowledge and psychological insight, Richard Williams could perhaps have shown more understanding of the problems of young people in a scattered community with scarcely any social centres or places of entertainment. His firm strictures were inevitably supported by the clergy. Yet Bingley, writing in 1804, gave a more detailed and sympathetic account of this particular custom. Pratt, who wrote in 1797 --- and will be quoted in detail later --- showed even more understanding of the situation. R. W. Jones (Erfyl Fychan) in his book Bywyd Cymdeithasol Cymru yn y Ddeunawfed Ganrif (1931), p. 76, whilst discussing folk customs, takes a much more tolerant view of bundling, and stresses that the leisure hours of the farm workers and their opportunities for social contact were almost non-existent. These and other matters of social interest will be discussed later, but it should be emphasised at this stage that Richard Williams gave no indication of his awareness that the situation, which he found so distressing in Cardiganshire, was commonplace in the Highlands of Scotland, the Hebrides, Western Europe and the United States of America. It is also evident that the moral laxity that the author found amongst the peasants of Cardiganshire was common enough in their social superiors, and the habits of the aristocracy of that period have been described in such social studies as Roger Fulford's Royal Dukes (1933) and G. M. Trevelyan's English Social History (1944). And it might be argued that sexual promiscuity, judging by the striking increase in the illegitimate birth rate during recent years, is more prevalent in Britain today than it was then.

It is difficult to know if the essay was intended for publication, or whether it was the basis of a communication to a group of medical men. It cannot be said that it was written with the objective detachment of a clinician whose training demands that he does not sit in moral judgment on his patients. In addition, the nature of the historical and geographical introduction is a curious feature in an essay of this kind.

It appears not inappropriate to give a brief outline of the state of general medical knowledge at the time the essay was written, and in particular to note the special features of the situation with regard to the care of women in pregnancy and parturition. The highly unsatisfactory conditions occurring in Cardiganshire as described by Richard Williams were similar to those found in much more populous and sophisticated areas, and matters were even worse in the large cities.

La Forte's description of conditions in the Maternite of Paris in 1864 includes, '... Ventilation was almost impossible. Floors and partitions were washed once a month ... the ceilings showed that they had not been whitewashed for many years. Lying-in women who became ill were transferred to an isolation room regardless of the nature of their illness ... Midwife pupils attended normal lying-in patients and fever cases alike, and performed all the necessary manipulations in every class of case'. La Forte concluded '... that the Maternite of Paris had furnished a mortality without example in any European country ... equal to a maternal mortality 124 in 1000 births'. Howard W. Haggard, from whose book Devils, Drugs and Doctors the observations of La Forte are quoted, adds 'This is not a hospital of mediaeval times mentioned here, but a hospital in a centre of culture', a century ago. Vienna a hundred years ago was probably the greatest cultural and medical centre in Europe. An understanding of the squalor, infection and disease in its maternity hospitals can only be obtained by reading the classical work of Ignaz Phillip Semmelweiss (1818-65), The Cause, Concept and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever, and the first complete translation of this volume was not available in English until 1941. The gravity of the situation in Vienna may be indicated by the statement that 100 women died out of every 1000 in childbirth. Fifty years later the overall maternal mortality in England and Wales was 3.88 per 1,000 births; although in sparsely populated districts the mortality was considerably heavier.

At this time, assuming the essay was written about 1837, the science of bacteriology was unknown; and in fact it only appeared fifty years later. At the end of the eighteenth century, Lazaro Spallanzani (1729-99) was observing microbes and demonstrated that micro-organisms did not grow in fluid which had been heated and the container subsequently sealed. Even so he had to meet firm criticism from opponents, who maintained the view that 'spontaneous generation' occurred. A lone.....

....... voice in this early period was that of Charles White (1728-1813), who in 1773 advocated 'strict cleanliness and adequate ventilation of the lying-in chamber' in his book A Treatise on the Management of Pregnant and Lying-in Women. White, in fact, was advocating a new and revolutionary approach; and he has been described as 'the first after Hippocrates' to make any substantial contribution to the solution of the problem of infection in child-birth. In 1795 Alexander Gordon (1752-1799) published his Treatise on Epidemic and Puerperal Fever in Aberdeen, and gave the advice that 'the nurses and physicians who have attended patients affected with puerperal fever ought carefully to wash themselves and get their apparel properly fumigated'. This was indeed a remarkably astute observation more than two generations ahead of current conventional medical thought.

Almost at the same time as Richard Williams was writing his account of these matters in Cardiganshire, Oliver Wendall Holmes (1809-1894) read in 1843 a classical paper in Boston entitled On the Contagiousness of Puerperal Fever. He emphasised, as Gordon had done fifty years previously, the importance of cleanliness, and advised his colleagues to wash their hands and change their clothes after leaving the dissecting room and before attending a woman in labour. As Douglas Guthrie points out in his volume A History of Medicine, 'the suggestion met with nothing but opposition and abuse'. Holmes, writing at the end of the century, stressed that he had made his plea, or as he put it, 'shrieked my warning ... before the little army of microbes was marched up to support my position'; that is, he had based his advice on sound clinical observation before the science of bacteriology had been formulated.

At the same time Semmelweiss was greatly concerned about the high maternal death rate in his wards in the Maternity Hospital in Vienna, and he noted in particular that the situation was much more alarming in the wards where the medical students attended compared with those where only the midwives worked. His insistence that the students returning from the dissecting rooms should wash their hands in a solution of chloride of lime led at once to a dramatic fall in the mortality rate from 18% to 1%. Even such convincing evidence as this failed to persuade his senior colleagues, and he had to leave Vienna for Budapest, where he published his classical volume in 1861. Even so, according to C. M. Marshall and Douglas Guthrie, his critics remained unconvinced, and within a short time Semmelweiss became insane, and died in early middle age of a septic wound of his finger, which led to septicaemia --- thus succumbing to the type of infection against which he had fought, on clinical and administrative levels, all his professional life.

This was the state of midwifery in the leading medical centres of Europe in the early and mid-nineteenth century, and therefore it is not surprising that conditions were primitive in the uplands of Cardiganshire.

As to ante-natal care of the expectant mother and her unborn child, this did not attract any attention until the early years of the present century following the pioneer work of Ballantyne in Edinburgh. The tremendous problem of wound infection, which decimated the patients in surgical wards, was not solved until the brilliant minds of Louis Pasteur (1822-95) and Joseph Lister 1827-1912 were applied to the task. Richard Williams wrote his essay when Pasteur was fifteen years of age, and Lister was only ten years old, and the surgeons in general were still writing of 'laudable pus'.

Another very serious disadvantage facing the pregnant woman in 1837 was the absence of anaesthesia to relieve the pains of labour; and alcohol, as shown by Richard Williams, provided the only readily available relief of the pains and any subsequent distress after the confinement. It so happens that the early trials of various preparations for the relief of pain were being undertaken in Britain and the United States of America, during the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1799 Sir Humphrey Davy found that nitrous oxide 'seemed capable of destroying pain and might be used with advantage in surgical operations'. Henry Hickman, of Ludlow, in 1824, observed the effect of nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide on animals and suggested that the work should be extended to the field of human surgery. His work was ignored, and according to Guthrie 'he died broken-hearted at the age of twentynine'.

The pioneer work in the U.S.A. of Crawford Long and William Thomas Morton on ether, and Horace Wells on nitrous oxide; the first operation in Britain under ether anaesthesia in December 1846; the first successful use of chloroform by Sir James Y. Simpson in November 1847 ---all these momentous steps were achieved about ten years after the date of the pamphlet. Many more years were to elapse before the poor patients --- or any other patients --- in Cardigan were to reap the benefits of these far-reaching discoveries. Such delay was only in part due to inevitably slow dissemination and acceptance of fundamentally new conceptions, the slow grinding of scientific mills, but also to active opposition from unexpected quarters, and not least to the moral objections of the theologians. One must assume that the latter formed an all-male contingent, as they suggested that anaesthesia would 'rob God of the deep earnest cries of women in labour'. Queen Victoria's acceptance of chloroform anaesthesia on the occasion of her confinements, in 1853 and 1857, did much to overcome these theoretical and theological barriers.

It is often forgotten that the training of nurses in Britain only started just over one hundred years ago, and therefore Richard Williams had no help from the district nurse and midwife that later was to become an essential part of every rural community. It was in 1833 in a small ................

............. German town that Theodore Fieldner trained discharged female prisoners to take care of the sick; and in 1836 a school was founded for nursing deaconesses. This school was attended by Florence Nightingale, but it was not until 1854, when the Crimean War started, that she was able to utilise this knowledge. It will be recalled that Elizabeth Davies, of Bala, was an energetic and mercurial member of that group of nurses who left Britain for the Crimea. In 1860 the first Training School for Nurses was opened at St. Thomas's Hospital, London, and the second School was established two years later at Liverpool Royal Infirmary.


I am deeply indebted to Mr. E. D. Jones and Mr. David Jenkins of the National Library of Wales, for thir help in obtaining some details of the life of Richard Williams. The Librarian's informant, Mrs. Violet E. Sayers, is a descendant of Richard Williams, and according to her statement 'he was born in or near Aberystwyth and died there in February 1856'. However, in Boase's Modern English Biography, Suppl. III, p. 894, it is stated that he died 25 December 1856, aged 58. He studied medicine in London, almost certainly at Guy's Hospital, and qualified L.S.A. in 1819, at the age of 21, and obtained the M.D. of Glasgow in 1836. As a student it was suggested that he was taught by John Hunter and it is said there still exists a daguerrotype of John Hunter presented 'to his pupil Richard Williams'. This is impossible, as John Hunter died in 1793---three years before Richard Williams was born. Attempts to trace this 'photograph' have not been successful.

According to The Aberystwyth Guide, 1816, Richard Williams lived in Great Darkgate Street, Aberystwyth with his brother, William; both are described as Surgeons. In 1826 he married Susannah Edleston. Mrs. Sayers stated that Richard and his brother, William, were instrumental in founding the first Dispensary in Aberystwyth, and a letter from Sir Astley Cooper (1768-1841), one of the most distinguished London surgeons of the day, supported this effort. The letter was written about 1821, and is reproduced in facsimile in Aberystwyth and Its Court Leet (1902); and Geo. Eyre Evans makes the comment 'Found in a sack of old papers'. The letter is undated and reads as follows:

My dear Sir,

I have so high an opinion of your merits and of your desire to do all that can be done in your profession that if my name can be of any service to ye advancement of your institution I beg you will make what use you think proper of it.

Yours very truly

                                      Astley Cooper.

When Richard Williams died a letter was sent to his son, Edleston, from the Shrewsbury specialist in attendance, expressing 'regret that all our efforts failed to preserve so valuable a life'. It may well be that Richard Williams was a direct descendant of Meddygon Myddfai---the Physicians of Myddfai. Dr. Charles Rice Williams, of Aberystwyth, died in 1890, and as he was the son of William, he was a nephew of Richard Williams. When C. R. Williams died it was suggested in an article by David Samuel that he was the last representative of the long and distinguished line of the Physicians of Myddfai.

A full summary of his professional attainments may be seen in The Medical Directory of 1890. There was no obituary notice in The Lancet, British Medical Journal or Medical Press and Circular, after his death on 26 February 1890.

However, to return to Richard Williams, there are a number of obscure features in his story. Any discrepancy about the date of his death appears to be settled by the announcement in The Lancet that he died on 25 December 1855; and as the only obituary notice available in a professional journal is the one published in Medical Times and Gazette, 12 January 1856, it is quoted here in full.

WILLIAMS:---Recently at Aberystwyth, Richard Williams, Esq. The deceased gentleman held a position of great eminence in the country, and his loss will be deeply felt by a very large circle. Much sympathy has been evinced by the surrounding resident nobility and gentry; and more especially the indigent poor will lament his decease, to whose necessities and distresses he was ever ready to respond. Mr. Williams was the originator of the Aberystwyth Infirmary and the Cardiganshire General Hospital, and also the Medical Attendant upon the inmates of the Aberystwyth House of Correction. He had a large practice among the nobility and the leading clergy and gentry of Aberystwyth and the surrounding district: and was a magistrate for the county, and Coroner for the upper district. He died in his 59th year after a short illness, brought on by exposure to all weathers in the discharge of his duties. The Carnarvon Herald expresses the hope, 'that the Infirmary will be carried on as a monument to his memory'.

L.S.A. 1819; Physician to the Aberystwyth Infirmary; Honorary Member to the Physical Society of Guy's Hospital. Author of 'An Analysis of the Medicinal Waters of Llandridnee.' 1817.

This seems to be a straightforward account, and reserves its surprise until the last date on the last line---1817.
The book, An Analysis of the Medicinal Waters of Llandrindod, is a volume of 128 pages, and consists of an historical introduction to the district followed by detailed chemical analysis of waters from various sites in Llandrindod, with an assessment of thir medicinal value. The author shows extensive knowledge of previous works---British and Continental ---on the subject of medicinal waters. The volume was 'printed for the author' in London in 1817, and was sold by E. Cox and Son, Medical Booksellers, St. Thomas's Street, Borough, and at the Pump House, Llandrindod Wells. The book was dedicated to Her Royal Highness The Princess Charlotte of Wales and Saxe-Coburg, who 'graciously condescended' to allow him to do so, and he referred to, 'this, my first essay,' in the dedication. Another feature of special interest is the list of Subscribers Names, immediately following the dedication. It contains the names of some of the most distinguished physicians and surgeons of that period---John Abernethy, William Babington, Matthew Baillie, Astley Cooper; members of the nobility, local gentry and professional colleagues. Sir James Clarke, the Court Physician, had commended Aberystwyth as a health resort with enthusiasm. Sir Astley Cooper 'took up his quarters in the town, and in a short time had sufficiently mastered the Welsh language as to enable him to read it "with some degree of fluency" '; 'he became honorary consulting surgeon to Aberystwyth Infirmary', but this was probably twenty years or so after the publication of the book on Llandrindod waters by Richard Williams.

The state of unrest in Europe after the Napoleonic Wars made travel difficult, and the difficulty provided a very acceptable boosting for the seaside resorts and inland spas in Britain. Aberystwyth and Llandrindod had their full share of increased prosperity at that time, and were patronised by the noble and wealthy families, who hesitated to venture abroad. This state of affairs, which might well be termed spa culture, would .......................

...............explain the distinguished list of subscribers to the book on Llandrindod and its Medicinal Waters. Even so it seems remarkable that Richard Williams was able to secure such support, even up to the level of Royal patronage, whilst under twenty years of age.

Richard Williams was not quite correct when he dedicated his 'first essay', because he had written a short essay on a similar subject the previous year, and this was published in The Aberystwyth Guide, 1816, '... descriptive analysis of the Chalybeate Spring at Aberystwyth', pp. 103-108. In the same Guide, and in the Llandrindod volume he is described as Surgeon, and Honorary Member of the Physical Society of Guy's Hospital, London. Judging by all the evidence available at present the author was born in 1797 or 1798, and it would appear that he had written his essay on the Chalybeate Spring at the age of eighteen, and the book on Llandrindod whilst only nineteen years old. It is difficult to believe that a young man of that age could have gained the necessary knowledge of chemistry and medicine, or have known how to secure such exalted patronage. It was not until 10 June 1819, according to the Official List 1815-1840 of the Society of Apothecaries, that Richard Williams was admitted L.S.A. It does not seem possible that he could have written his book whilst still a student or apprentice, and furthermore, he described himself as Surgeon in 1816. It is known that by 1823, and possibly earlier, Richard Williams was taking an active interest in the affairs of the Dispensary established two years previously, because in the copy of the Register of the Aberystwyth Dispensary, 1821, which is now in the N.L.W., there is a 'Report from the 18th February 1822 to 18th February 1823' signed as follows:---'I certify this to be correct, Richard Williams.' There were more senior medical men in the town---William Bonsall M.D. in North Parade and Ricc [= Rice] Williams, M.D. in Bridge Street. Other Surgeons in Aberystwyth at that time were Isaac Edwards of Queens Street, William Evans of Pier Street, and William--- Richard's brother, who has been mentioned earlier. Richard Williams was later in the position of being able to ask for the influential support of Sir Astley Cooper, F.R.S., Surgeon to Guy's Hospital. It is tempting to suggest that Richard Williams was perhaps ten years or so older than the presumed age. This would have given him extra time to acquire his knowledge of Chemistry, but even then he could scarcely have been a pupil of John Hunter as suggested by the story of the gift 'to his pupil'.

Is there a confusion here between two persons of the same name? Riccardus Williams, being an M.D. would not have described himself as a Surgeon; a man of that name took his M.D. in 1812, but no address was given. It was also considered that 'Ricc' in the Guide might have been Rice, particularly as Dr. Charles Rice Williams appeared in the family later, and eventually Rice Williams M.D. was traced through non-professional channels; (see George Eyre Evans's volume, Aberystwyth and its Court Leet, 1902). There is also an interesting historical review of the Aberystwyth Infirmary in the Programme and Souvenir of a Bazaar which was held for three days in September 1920. This historical review refers to the original 1821 Report of the first year of the activities of the Dispensary, and it is headed, 'Public Dispensary under the Patronage of a Charitable Public: Established March 1st 1821'. After the names of the lay members of the committee appear the names of the physicians, W. Bonsall M.D. and Rice Williams M.D.; and surgeons, Mr. Rathill, Mr. Edwards and Mr. Evans; and 'an extra medical officer, who will give advice to the sick poor in his nighbourhood, John Rogers M.D., Hafod.' Dr. Rice Williams lived in Bridge Street, and in 1810 he established the Marine Baths on the Terrace, and in 1813 became the Coroner. He claimed that he was the last of the Physicians of Myddfai, and he died 16 May 1842 at the age of 85.

There is no evidence that Richard Williams, the author of the Essay, had any direct responsibility for the founding of the first Dispensary in 1821, but by 1824---according to the Guide to Aberystwyth for that year---Dr. Rice Williams, Bridge Street and Mr. Richard Williams, Great Darkgate Street, were among the members of its Medical Staff. At the same time, the Guide indicated there were two Dispensaries in the town---..................

................ both apparently in Great Darkgate Street. It is known that the first Dispensary was in a room in the Britannia, which belonged to Dr. William Bonsall. 'The dispensary in the time of Dr. Richard Williams was housed in one of the rooms of the Hearts of Oak in Great Darkgate-street and his enthusiasm in the work kept it going until the time of his decease when it was taken up by Dr. Gilbertson'. The historical review in the Grand Bazaar programme may, with advantage, be quoted further: 'On November 10th, 1837, a general meeting of the Governors of the Dispensary was held at the house of Dr. Richard Williams, North-parade---popularly known as Doctor Sais---for the purpose of taking into consideration the propriety of converting the institution into an infirmary when approbation of the scheme was signified ... On the 18th January, 1838, a further meeting was held in the same place, with the result that the Aberystwyth Infirmary and Cardiganshire General Hospital was established . . .' It is interesting to note that Richard Williams changed his address and his title at about the same time. Having obtained the M.D. degree in 1836 he discontinued the use of Mr. and Surgeon, and this is shown in the contemporary records. The term 'Doctor Sais' suggests that he was unable or unwilling to speak the Welsh language. Perusal of the Essay and observation of his unorthodox spelling of Welsh placenames had suggested that the term 'Doctor Sais' was not inappropriate.

The main facts about Richard Williams as set out in Boase's Modern English Biography is in substantial agreement with the official entry in the London and Provincial Medical Directory of 1847, and confirmed by reference to the 1850 and 1855 volumes. The Directory was prepared from replies to personal questionnaires sent to doctors. In each volume consulted one finds the reference to the author's book on Llandrindod and the same date of publication, 1817. It was intriguing to note the spelling in the 1847 volume as Llanduis-doel; this had improved to Llandrin-clod in 1850 and the correct form was achieved by 1855. This sad little tale of calligraphic vicissitude on the part of the Editor of the Directory is enhanced by the occasional empty space, indicated by a dotted line, in the Essay reproduced here, where all attempts to decipher the handwriting have failed.

A search of local newspaper sources, especially in view of the quotation from the Carnarvon Herald in the Medical Times and Gazette has been of little value. The National Library series of the Carnarvon Herald for the early part of 1856 is incomplete, and microfilms obtained from Caernarvon have not furnished any information. It appears that there is no information available in any local newspaper files of the National Library for the first week of January 1856. The Guide (1816) also indicated that Vaccine Inoculation was being practised in Aberystwyth 'under the direction of Dr. Richard Williams, and will doubtless be one, among the many improvements, that are communicated to mankind by the aids of science and philosophy'. 'Mr. Williams is appointed for this purpose by the London Society for promoting the universal practice of Vaccine Inoculation, which has been patronised by government, and the expences defrayed by annual gifts and donations, from some of the greatest men and ablest physicians of the present day. Yet so great has been the prejudice against this mode, and so formidable the opposition of a few, to its general practice, that the legislature has been obliged to interfere and make it punishable for any persons to expose in the air, or among their neighbours, children or adults, naturally infected with the small pox, or otherwise inoculated than by vaccination ... The encouragement afforded by parliament to Doctor Jenner, the original promoter; and the liberal patronage of respectable individuals and collective bodies who have subscribed to, and sanctioned by their signatures, the London Vaccine Institution, since its establishment in 1806, will, it is hoped, effectually tend to the utter extinction of variolation, not only in the principality, but throughout the universe'.

In his article on the Chalybeate Spring of Aberystwyth, published in the 1816 Guide, Richard Williams describes himself as 'Honorary Member of the Physical Society,.................

................ London, and of the 'London Vaccine Institution', now resident in Aberystwyth'. Diligent search for further information about the link between Richard Williams and the London Vaccine Institute has not been fruitful. Mr. E. Gaskell, Librarian of the Wellcome Historical Medical Library, very kindly made enquiries on my behalf at the National Register of Archives and various medical libraries, and came to the conclusion that 'unfortunately the records of the Vaccine Institute are either dispersed or lying in a little known library'. A few issues of the Annual Reports of the Vaccine Institute for the period under consideration have been preserved at the Wellcome Library, and these give a list of subscribers and inoculators. Amongst the latter category there appears the name Mr. Williams of Piccadilly, but one must agree with Mr. Gaskell's view that it is unlikely to be Richard Williams, 'and so far no connection has been established between the two'.

There is more information available about Guy's Hospital Physical Society of which Richard Williams was also a member ---apparently in his student days. This Society was formed in 1771, and was therefore amongst 'the first medical societies of any importance to be launched in England'. The late Sir William Hale-White's article on the Society in British Medical Societies makes fascinating reading, and the explanation is given that it was named the Physical Society 'because in times past medicine was called physic, as we see today in the Regius Professorships of Physic in the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge'. The original book of the laws of the Society, with a preamble of its aims and list of fines enforced, is still in existence. Dr. William Saunders, who with four or five other members of the staff founded the Society, became its first President. The Society was allowed to borrow a room in the Hospital for its meetings, 'so that the only expense was that of candles'. Collection of fines was an important source of revenue and enabled the Society to form an excellent library. Some of the fines are amusing: 'eighteen pence for leaving the room during a meeting; one shilling for refusing to serve on a committee; five shillings for reading a paper different to that announced'; and there were many others. It is recorded that 12 was collected in fines at one meeting, but there is no break-down of the sum to individual contributors!

In view of Richard Williams' association with the Vaccine Institute and the Physical Society it is worthy of note that Edward Jenner addressed the Society on vaccination in 1802 - 'the first address on vaccination given by Jenner to any medical society'. Such was the interest engendered that the subject was discussed at four successive meetings, all of which were attended by Jenner. Many other famous names are linked with the Physical Society, but it will be sufficient to mention Astley Cooper only, and that because of his association (already mentioned) with Aberystwyth and Richard Williams. 'Astley Cooper contributed papers and joined in debates. It was the custom of diligent students to join the Society when they entered hospital. He did this, and in his First year was often fined for non-attendance, but after that he attended regularly'. This paragraph is interesting in that it reveals that 'diligent students' joined the Society, and evidently Richard Williams was such a student and was able to describc himself as a member of the Society in his article in the 1816 Guide, three years before qualifying as L.S.A.

Richard Williams was obviously too young to have been present at the momentous meeting when Jenner addressed the Physical Society; and he had just left Guy's and was already in practice in Aberystwyth when another address of equal importance was delivered to the Society. It was in 1822 that Thomas Hodgkin, 'freshlyreturned from a period of study under Laennec, described before its members the stethoscope and its uses. This was the first introduction into England of the stethoscope'.

Medical staff and students continued to attend the same Society until 1830, when the Guy's Hospital Pupils' Physical Society was founded by the students themselves, and it has continued to flourish. Sir William Hale-White states that 'the original society gradually lost its usefulness and ceased to exist about eighty years after its birth'. He ......................

.................. attributed this to the formation of other medical societies where the members of the staff could present their papers, and that 'gradually fewer of them lived close to the hospital'.

Mr. William Hill, Wills Librarian at Guy's Hospital, informed me that most of the records of the Physical Society have been preserved, but are still unindexed. I am greatly indebted to Mr. Hill for undertaking a search covering the period in question; unfortunately no reference to Richard Williams has been discovered. Mr. Hill also kindly undertook a search for the name of Richard Williams as a student in the files of the Dean's Office, and he checked all the entries from 1813-1820. No entry for Williams appears as Pupil or Dresser to any of the Physicians and Surgeons. This means that he must have been an ordinary student and the records of these are almost non-existent. The register of the pupils and dressers is very good but the entry of the ordinary students appears to have been very haphazard.

Mr. Hill explained that the matter was by no means straightforward, 'as Guy's and St. Thomas' Hospitals were to a certain extent united at this time, and students tend to be entered at both places'. Following this suggestion a request was made to Miss Doreen Slatter, Archivist to St. Thomas', and I am particularly grateful to her for her effort, which was reported in this form. 'One of the admission registers in the custody of the Librarian of the Medical School of this hospital records that a Richard Williams entered the hospital on 12 October 1812 as a surgical dresser to Mr. Henry Cline. I am afraid it gives no personal details and I am not aware of any other surviving record of the hospital that might mention him'. It seems very probable that the Richard Williams mentioned by Miss Slatter is the person who eventually became Dr. Richard Williams of Aberystwyth. He started his course of study when just over sixteen years of age and obtained his initial qualification - Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries - almost seven years later, in June 1819. This may, at first sight, appear to be a somewhat prolonged period of undergraduate study, but the medical course was not so strictly planned in those days, and the students were allowed considerable latitude. Furthermore, it is known that Richard Williams, possibly not only in the vacations, was undertaking some original research work on the chemistry and remedial properties of the medicinal waters of Aberystwyth and Llandrindod during this period.

After this article was completed it has been possible to establish two new biographical facts about Richard Williams. Firstly, he was not born 'at or near Aberystwyth'; in fact he was born at Ludlow. This information was obtained through the kind assistance of Mr. E. D. Jones, the National Librarian, who consulted the details of the 1851 Census Returns, which gave not only the place of residence but also the name of the town or parish where a person was born. Secondly, by appealing to the Rector of Ludlow the year of his birth was revealed by finding the entry:

Baptism---30th July 1796. Richard son of William Williams and Adah.

This demonstrates that there had been no major discrepancy in the initial assessment of his age; it means that Richard Williams was only a year or two older than one had surmised. The information does not in any way invalidate the observations already made concerning his remarkable achievements attained two or three years before obtaining his medical qualification. The fact that he was born at Ludlow indicates that it was unlikely that he possessed a fluent knowledge of Welsh, hence the appellation 'Doctor Sais'. It has not been possible to glean any information about his parents or of the factors that brought Richard Williams to Aberystwyth in the first instance. It is evident that Aberystwyth, already booming as a fashionable holiday centre, was the nearest seaside resort for Ludlow residents; and Llandrindod, with its remedial waters and growing reputation, was only about 35 miles away from Ludlow.

The following tentative pedigree is based on family tradition handed down to Mrs. Violet E. Sayers.

Rice Williams M.D. d. 1842 Aged 85
= Jane

William Williams, Ludlow = Ada ...



Anna Maria Williams.

           Richard Williams M.D 1796-1856            =Susannah d. of Richard Edleston.

        William Williams M.D=...






     Charles Rice Williams M.D., d. 1890


The manuscript was written in a firm and fairly clear hand, and only in a few instances were difficulties of decipherment and interpretation encountered. It is printed here without any attempt to revise the spelling or change form of dh to the orthodox form of dd, or likewise his Lh to Ll and so on. Parts of the essay are only sketched in very briefly, and it is evident that Richard Williams had intended to expand these headings into paragraphs at a later stage. There is also an indication that he was making use of material 'From the History of Cardiganshire', and this no doubt refers to the classical volume by S. R. Meyriek, The History and Antiquities of the County of Cardiganshire, published in 1808. The essay must be regarded as unfinished, not only because of the various gaps and uncompleted sub-headings, but the manuscript itself terminates at the foot of a page as an obviously incomplete sentence. In the historical introduction the author refers to Syrwen and Gwenionyth, and it is probable that the former is Hirwen, or more accurately Hirwern; whilst the correct rendering of the second is Gwynionydd, according to Professor Melville Richards in his papers published in Ceredigion, Journal of the Cardiganshire Antiquarian Society, in 1963. Reference must also be made to a comprehensive article by W. J. Lewis, entitled The Condition of Labour in Mid-Cardiganshire in the Early Nineteenth Century. This was also published in the same number of Ceredigion, and is of special value as it deals with the same period---and many of the same conditions---as the Richard Williams essay.

Any attempt to offer comments on the essay must emphasise once again that the essay was written about 130 years ago, and that it describes a medical situation that had remained more or less static for several centuries. Richard Williams was writing several years before the discovery of anaesthesia or the establishment of the science of bacteriology; antisepsis, asepsis, and blood transfusion were unknown. It is of interest to note that modern advances in the field of medicine do not necessarily obliterate beliefs that have been handed down, say from mother to daughter, for many generations. Richard Williams refers to the belief that prolonged breast-feeding prevents or delays another pregnancy. This, of course, is an ancient and widespread belief that still flourishes as firmly today in parts of industrial Lancashire as it seems to have done in rural Cardiganshire in..............

........................1830-1840. He also refers in his essay, with approval, to 'bidding' as being a marriage custom still being frequently arranged in those days. Much has been written about this, but there has been considerable reticence about another custom---'bundling' which he sternly condemns.

Bidding was a matter of sustained and active interest to all the early writers on Wales from Thomas Pennant (1778) onwards. Samuel J. Pratt described the custom in his book Gleanings through Wales (1797); and so did W. Bingley in Excursions in North Wales (1804 and 1839). Recent Welsh writers such as Thomas Gwynn Jones in Welsh Folklore and Folk-Custom (1930); and Evan Isaac in Coelion Cymru (1938), have written at length on Welsh marriage customs in general. But the most extensive studies in this particular field are those carried out by Trefor M. Owen, and these are well summarised in his book Welsh Folk Customs (1959), and in subsequent papers (1960 and 1961). In view of the extensive bibliography available, especially in Trefor M. Owen's book, it is not necessary to add any further observations here, especially as Richard Williams has not furnished any new information in his essay, on the subject of bidding.

The custom of bundling or night courtship referred to by Richard Williams is probably of very long standing, and at one time was widespread throughout Europe and the United States of America. In Wales it was known by the phrase 'caru yn y gwely'. Another term was ' caru ar y gwely'. R. W. Jones (op. it.) gives the phrase ' caru'r nos', and expressed the view that the custom was still persisting (in 1931) in some localities. He also confirmed the view, held by some other writers including Richard Williams, that it was a matter of being on and not in the bed. Williams wrote, '... on the beds ... in the sight and with the approbation of thir mutual friends and relations . . .'.  Evidence is given of the presence of this custom in Scandinavia and Germany by F. Henriques in his book Love in Action, the Sociology of Sex (1959) pp. 174-6; and he refers to the book by Reginald Reynolds, Beds (1952) pp. 187-210, in which there is a full discussion of bundling in New England. It is a custom that has presented, for obvious reasons, considerable difficulties in detailed analysis and detached assessment, particularly so in Britain.

As in other closely related matters there has been less reticence, greater frankness and more published research findings on this subject in the United States of America than in Britain. The custom of bundling was well recognised from the earliest days of the American settlers, and exerted a curious fascination on the visitors from Britain. It appears likely that the social conditions in parts of New England were much the same as those in rural Britain---small and somewhat primitive houses that offered little privacy, and long working hours that only allowed young lovers to meet at night. It is known that many primitive people, including the Red Indians, have practised some form of bundling, but they could scarcely have persuaded the settlers to accept it. It has been suggested that its introduction into the New World was by the Dutch settlers who are known to have practised a similar custom in Holland. E. S. Turner in his book A History of Courting (1958) gives an illuminating and authoritative account of customs relating to courtship and marriage; and he refers to an attempt to suppress this practice among the Dutch settlers in New York in 1636. Turner also mentioned that Welsh settlers might have been responsible for spreading the custom. That may be true, but there was no substantial influx of Welsh people into that area for at least another quarter of a century.

Andrew Burnaby observed the custom in the American Colonies in 1759-60, and took the view that was echoed in the assessment (to he quoted later) by Samuel J. Pratt of what he had seen of the practice in Wales. Burnaby wrote: 'Singular stations and manners will be productive of singular customs, but frequently such as upon slight examination may appear to be the effects of mere grossness of character will, upon deeper research, be found to proceed from simplicity and innocence'. Bundling however came in for severe condemnation in New England, and Turner quotes the description by.....

.....Henry Reed Stiles in 1869:---'that ridiculous and pernicious custom which prevailed among the young to a degree which we can scarcely credit---sapped the fountains of morality and tarnished the escutcheon of thousands of families'; and states that the people of New England strongly resented this censure and Stiles agreed later that he had painted an exaggerated picture of the situation. Turner also describes how, when Boston and New York beceame fashionable, the parents forbade their daughters bundling and the sofa replaced the bed; but the sturdy folk in the country districts were adamant in their belief that bundling constituted a lesser risk to their daughters' virtue.

How extensive was the practice of bundling here 150 years ago ? Or, for that matter, how extensive is it now ? Was it in fact confined to the poor, as suggested by Richard Williams ? The answer in this case, judging by many testimonies, is in the negative. Was it fundamentally and essentially an immoral practice ? Could it not, in fact, have its roots well back in social history when the wholc household slept together clad in most of their day clothes ? This habit was well described by Giraldus Cambrensis, and the possible link with bundling was suggested by Wirt Sikes in his book entitled British Goblins (1880). It seems likely in an upland rural community that there was no other meeting place for courting couples in the small bare cottages that have been described by Richard Williams and other writers. He does, in fact, mention the word 'parlour', but it appears impossible that a room in any of the cottages would qualify for such a description. Love making in the front parlour surely came into vogue in the suburbia of the Victorian and Edwardian eras; only to be replaced later by the motor car, or what a modern sociologist has termed 'the front parlour on wheels', emphasising at the same time that the risk inherent in that form of courtship were greater than those attached to bundling.

The practice was well recognised in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland at one time, and there it was the custom for the mother to enclose her daughter in a sack-like contraption, leaving her arms free, and the bag was firmly tied round her waist at the back. Thus protected the young couple conducted thir courting in bed under the parents' roof, 'without any shyness or reserve'. This might have been the technique adopted in Wales, but a description (to be quoted later), only refers to the young man retaining an essential part of his dress'.

Turner, in his reference to Rhys Davies's novel, The Black Venus, quotes 'a one-time Merioneth custom in which a couple were stitched together in a tight sack for a night'. Other methods were also available to reduce the risk of any undue ardour that might arise from this method of courtship, and Turner mentions: 'One was a low board fitted into slots dividing the bed into two, but in no way hindering contact of hands or lips. A bolster served a similar purpose. Some prudent mothers tied their daughters' ankles together or encased the lower parts of their bodies in a tight garment or made them wear a profusion of petticoats ... In real emergencies a scream would bring immediate aid ... Sometimes the pair were fussed over and tucked in by their parents. The degree of freedom from supervision allowed them may have depended, in some instances, on the eagerness of the parents to see thir daughter married. Traditionally, a candle in the girl's window was the signal that the suitor would be hospitably received'. And Turner's final comment is: 'One thing seems clear; that the standard of behaviour deteriorated as the age became more sophisticated'. Even so, many people can still recall the interest aroused during the thirties concerning the persistence of the custom in the Orkneys, and 'one Orkney clergyman gave an interview saying that, although the Church had been trying to discourage night courtship, the practice was still fairly common in certain areas'. The Orkney Herald emphasised 'there was more immorality in a Glasgow park in one night, than in Orkney in a whole year'.

From the earliest times, especially in farming communities, the presence of children and young people in the family was a matter of paramount importance. They were the labour force, and as such were not regarded as just extra mouths to feed, but an extra..............

.................and valuable pair of hands to work. A childless marriage was a serious economic handicap, and there were other difficulties of sterile marriages which were well recognised in Biblical times. The European peasant farmer of the Middle Ages had to prove that his future wife was not barren, and having done this he would proceed to marry her, with the full blessing of the Church, usually before the end of the first pregnancy. If she failed to conceive during the trial period, the marriage would not take place, and both would embark on another trial period with different partners. Trial marriage for assessment of mutually congenial temperament and physical compatibility has been widely discussed in many countries during recent years. It has been advocated by some eminent sociologists and psychiatrists, and it has been firmly and consistently opposed by all Christian leaders. It was suggested by Bertrand Russell in Marriage and Morals (1929), that 'no marriage should be legally binding until the wife's first pregnancy'. It is not, of course, a new concept. Giraldus Cambrensis described this custom in the Wales of eight hundred years ago. A sentence from Thomas Jones's Gerallt Gymro, p. 217, may be translated thus:---'It was not their custom to undertake the responsibilities of marriage without proving beforehand the temper, the character and above all the fertility of the union, by cohabitation and companionship'. Bundling may have evolved as a modification of this older custom.

Many books on Welsh Folk-lore have mentioned bundling without any attempt at detailed or objective assessment. Other standard books such as Marie Trevelyan's Folk-lore and Folk Stories of Wales (1909), discuss marriage customs and wedding arrangements in detail without making any observations at all on bundling. J. Ceredig Davies discusses this custom in the opening paragraph of his book Folk-lore in West and Mid-Wales (1911), and writes '... but I am happy to state the old disgraceful custom of bundling which was once common in some rural districts has entirely died out, or at least we do not hear anything about it nowadays'. Like other authors he referred to the condemnation of 'ministers of religion, both Clergy of the Church of England and Nonconformist Ministers'. Then he adds an interesting and curious sentence, 'but about two generations ago, there were many respectable farmers who more or less defended the custom, and it was continued to a certain extent until very recently, even without hardly any immoral consequences, owing to the high moral standard and the religious tendencies of the Welsh people'.

Wirt Sikes in his volume British Goblins (1880), writes rather amusingly and with some detachment about the custom, and in particular quotes the example of selective ecclesiastical criticism where a local Church dignitary in Carmarthenshire considered bundling as a particular form of Nonconformist moral turpitude. The religious leaders of all denominations denounced the custom in general statements, which, according to T. Gwynn Jones, in Welsh Folk-lore and Folk Custom (1930), 'were coloured by the virulence of religious, political and racial divisions, but with little evidence of great value'. Perusal of some of the violent and virulent form of the evidence given in the famous, or infamous, Reports of the Llyfrau Gleision in 1847 only serves to confirm this statement; ( Reports of Commissioners of Enquiry into the State of Education in Wales, London, 1847).

The custom of bundling was a subject that aroused the keen interest of the English writers on Wales and the Welsh at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries. W. Bingley, in the chapter on 'Manners and Customs of the Welsh', in his book Excursions in North Wales (1804), describes the custom. The limitation to three named counties is simply because his tour was confined to North Wales. According to other writers, conditions were similar in West and Mid-Wales. Bingley's description (pp. 282 and 3) is quoted as follows:-

'The peasantry of part of Caernarvonshire, Anglesea and Merionethshire, adopt a mode of courtship, which till within the last few years was scarcely even heard of in England. It is the same that is common in many parts of America, and termed by the .............

............ inhabitants of that continent bundling. The lover steals, under the shadow of the night, to the bed of his fair one, into which (retaining an essential part of his dress) he is admitted without any shyness or reserve. Saturday or Sunday nights are the prinipal times when this courtship takes place, and on these nights the men sometimes walk a distance of ten miles or more to visit their favourite damsels.---This strange custom seems to have originated in the scarcity of fuel and in the consequent unpleasantness of sitting together, in the colder parts of the year, without a fire. Much has been said of the innocence with which these meetings are conducted. This may be the case in some instances, but it is a very common thing for the consequence of the intercourse to make its appearance in the world within two or three months after the marriage ceremony has taken place. The subject excites no particular attention among the neighbours, provided the marriage be made good before the living witness is brought to light.---Since this custom is entirely confined to the labouring classes of the community, it is not so pregnant with danger as on a first supposition it might seem. Both parties are so poor, that they are necessarily constrained to render their issue legitimate in order to secure their reputation, and with it a mode of retaining a livelihood'.

Reference to the same chapter in the third edition of Bingley's volume, published in 1839, again headed 'Manners and Customs of the Welsh', shows that bidding is discussed, but there is no comment on bundling. It is not likely that the custom would have disappeared completely in one generation, and the obliteration was presumably a tactful and deliberate omission---a triumph of delicacy over veracity.

Another description of considerable interest is the one given by Samuel J. Pratt in his book Gleanings Through Wales (Vol. I, 3rd Ed. 1797) pp. 105-107. The facts are inevitably clothed in the somewhat florid prose of that period and a certain amount of moralising, under the circumstances, is inescapable. He claimed that he 'really took some pains to investigate this curious custom', and his testimony was based on personal observation. It appears to be unaffected by religious or racial factors. Pratt's description is as follows:

'And here amongst the usages and customs, I must not omit to inform you, that what you have, perhaps, often heard without believing---respecting the mode of courtship amongst the Welch peasants, is true. The lower order of people do actually carry on their love affairs in bed, and what would extremely astonish more polished lovers, they are carried on honourably, it being, at least, as usual for the Pastoras of the mountains to go from the bed of courtship to the bed of marriage, as unpolluted and maidenly as the Chloes of fashion; and yet, you are not to conclude that this proceeds from their being less susceptible of the belle passion than their betters: or that the cold air, which they breathe, has 'froze the genial current of their souls'. By no means; if they cannot boast the voluptuous languors of an Italian sky, they glow with the bracing spirit of a more invigorating atmosphere. I really took some pains to investigate this curious custom, and after bing assured, by many, of its veracity, had an opportunity of attesting its existence with my own eyes. The servant-maid of the family I visited in Caernarvonshire happened to be the object of a young peasant, who walked eleven long miles every Sunday morning to favour his suit, and regularly returned the same night through all weathers, to be ready for Monday's employment in the fields, being simply a day labourer. He arrived in time for the morning service, which he constantly attended, after which he escorted his Dulcinea home to the house of her master, by whose permission they as constantly passed the succeeding hour in bed, according to the custom of the country. These tender sabbatical preliminaries continued without any interruption near two years, when the treaty of alliance was solemnized: and so far from any breach of articles happening in the intermediate time, it is most likely that it was considered by both parties as a matter of course, without exciting any other idea. On speaking to my friend on the subject, he observed that, though it certainly appeared a dangerous mode of making love, he had seen so few living abuses of it, during six and thirty years residence ............

............ in that county, where it, nevertheless, had always, more or less, prevailed, he must conclude it was as innocent as any other.---One proof of its being thought so by the parties, is the perfect ease and freedom with which it is done; no awkwardness or confusion appearing on either side; the most well-behaved and decent young women going into it without a blush, and they are by no means deficient in modesty. What is pure in idea is always so in conduct, since bad actions are the common consequences of ill thoughts; and though the better sort of people treat this ceremony as a barbarism, it is very much to be doubted whether more faux pas have been committed by the Cambrian boors in these free access to the bed-chambers of their mistresses, than by more fashionable Strephons and their nymphs in groves and shady bowers. The power of habit is, perhaps, stronger than the power of passion, or even of the charms which inspire it; and it is sufficient, almost, to say a thing is the custom of a country to clear it from any reproach that would attach to an innovation. Were it the practice of a few only, and to be gratified by stealth, there would, from the strange construction of human nature, be more cause for suspicion; but being ancient, general, and carried on without difficulty, it is probably as little dangerous as a tete-a-tete in a drawing room, or in any other full-dress place, where young people meet to say soft things to each other. A moon-light walk in Papa's garden, where Miss steals out to meet her lover against the consent of her parents, and, of course, extremely agreeable to the young people, has ten times the peril'.

The Aberystwyth. Guide (1816) has an interesting section on the 'Manners of the Inhabitants', and one or two quotations appear to amplify, and in some examples, contradict what Richard Williams wrote. The Guide, p. 58, states 'Credulity and superstition, the offspring of ignorance, are here daily losing ground. They, together with idolatory in foreign lands and bigotry nearer home, will at last vanish like fleeting shadows, as the people become more enlightened. The effects of education now so generally and laudably administered, aided by the divine truths of christianity, like the sun in meridian splendour, will disperse those clouds of witchcraft and imposition by which the weakness of misguided people have been formerly led'.

'Unbounded credulity, says Mr. Evans, is another prominent feature in the character of the Welsh. This subjects them to perpetual impositions: hence their faith in Ffynnon Fair or Holy Wells: and the confidence they place in those impudent charlatans in medicine, vulgarly denominated Water Doctors: men, who, Browne observes, endeavour to make us believe, that there is Aaron's breast-plate in urines, and to these they have recourse as to the oracle of life; make them the determinators of virginity, conception, fecundity, aud all the inscrutable infirmities of the human frame; and pretend to resolve things at which the Devil of Delphos would demur'.

'No wonder then that in a mountainous and secluded country like this, superstition has taken her seat; and supported by ignorance and adherence to tradition, she still retains it, that popular errors are received as true, imaginary delusions considered as realities, and things believed which to the eye of reason appear preposterous and absurd'.

Whilst referring to Customs, the Guide, p. 67, asserts 'There is no country or people exempt from some national peculiarities. The people of Wales seem to have retained many customs among themselves, which other nations, from policy and possibly, with equal degree of humanity, have thought fit to abolish'.

The Guide makes brief reference to customs associated with Funerals and Weddings or Biddings. There is no direct comment about Bundling. With an air of condescension the Guide continues "These customs however ridiculous to the eyes of fashion, tend to unite the lower orders of society in bonds of amity and love ..., and if not immediately conducive to the amelioration of, the condition of the people, cannot be supposed as tending in the slightest degree to vitiate their morals, or corrupt their hearts'.

The Guide, giving a more reassuring portrait of the Welsh Ladies than Richard Williams, states: 'The Welsh Ladies however, though they may not be quite so tractable as females of other countries; it must be acknowledged, are not deficient in constancy, affection,.................

.................... or fidelity, or at all inferior in their conjugal and maternal duties to others who may be, or may fancy themselves to be, more polished'.

One curious aspect of the stern condemnation by the clerics, and the scathing censure by Richard Williams, was the confident assertion that bundling in particular and immoral practices in general was an affair of the servants, the ignorant and the poor---the lower classes. By implication the upper classes were regarded as virtuous and above reproach. The critics could scarcely have maintained such a view except by being wilfully blind to the habits of blatant promiscuity prevailing at the time in the upper strata of society, and even in the highest aristocratic circles, in Britain. It was, perhaps, a sign of the times that the heinous sins of the servants were peccadillos of their masters. Furthermore, judging by present day clinical and sociological evidence, it is overwhelmingly clear that there are socially accepted variants of the 'curious custom' still flourishing abundantly in the affluent well educated society of twentieth century Britain, at all levels.

It is highly improbable that an accurate objective social assessment of bundling in retrospect will now prove practicable. It seems likely that the custom, which was widespread in Wales and many other countries, was not particularly pernicious. Being a heterosexual activity it was certainly on a sounder biological plane than homosexual practices. It is likely that the assessment of T. Gwynn Jones, made in 1930 (op. cit., p. 188), is probably correct: 'On the whole it may well be that the habit represented standards not essentially less moral than those reflected in our own time in summer holiday resorts in most European countries'. Had Gwynn Jones lived long enough to witness the present situation in some of Britain's seaside resorts, he might well have modified his assessment---and given judgment in favour of bundling.

It is not proposed to make any comments on the other aspects of Richard Williams's Essay. The questions of nutrition and dietary deficiency in Wales during this period have been dealt with by Glyn Penrhyn Jones in his comprehensive book Newyn a Haint yng Nghymru (1962). There is also a recent valuable study of the social habits, diet and clothing of the peasants of Cardiganshire---contemporary with the Essay---by W. J. Lewis (op.cit.).

It is impossible to offer a complete bibliography with regard to such a diffuse subject. The following list of books and papers consulted indicate only a small section of the available sources.

The writer is also much indebted for the personal communications which have been included in the list of references.


Llansannan and Liverpool






About the year 870 Rodericus Magnas King of Wales divided his Territories into Three Kingdoms which continued until of late days.

These Three were Gwynedh or North Wales, Deheubarth South Wales and Mathrafal Powysland or Western Wales.

These Kingdoms were again divided into Cantreds and Comots, all of which must here be passed over for the purpose of arriving at Caredigion in the Kingdom of Deheubarth or as it was afterwards called Dynefawr.

In this Division we find Cantref Syrwen with its two Comots Gwenionyth and Iscoed, known in English as Cardiganshire and in Welsh as Swydh Aberteifi.

This is a champion Country without much wood and hath been divers times overcome with Flemings and Normans which builded many Castles in it and at the last were beaten out of them all. It hath on the East North Wales with the River Dyfi and part of Powys, upon the South Caermardhynshire, upon the West Pembrokeshire with the River Teifi and upon the North the Irish Sea. In this part is the Town of Cardigan upon Teifi not...............

............................ far from the Sea, the Town of Aberystwyth upon the River Ystwyth by the Sea and Lhanbadarnfawr which was a great Sanctuary and a place for Religious and learned Men in times past and in this shire were a great number of Castles as the Castle of Ystratmeyric, of Walter of Lhanrysted, of Dynerth, of the Sons of Wyneaon, of Aber-reidol and many more with the Town of Tregaron and Lhandhewibrefi.

The Children in this Country are generally born healthy and well proportioned whatever differences afterwards arise, originate from the effects of education, Disease and the general habits of occupation to which the poorer classes are more particularly subjected.

In no Country in the World is Chastity so little valued as in Wales and the loss of their Virtue is to be ascribed more to the continuance of rude and barbarous customs than to any innately bad or corrupt feelings in the female Mind.

At a very early age a youth attaches himself to a Young Girl, they keep company together. He is her acknowledged lover and future Husband. He accompanies her to all places of amusement, to the Public Houses and to the Fairs on every Holiday. They play together on the Beds which are to be found in every parlour in the sight and with the approbation of their mutual friends and Relations and are allowed to be alone after the Family have retired to rest.

Most of the cottages and Old Farm Houses in this country consist of but one area divided into apartments by slender frames. The Cottages are for the most part very wretched being built of mud with few thatched roofs. The floor is also of mud and below the threshold, the surface is often very unequal forming lodgements for small pools of water and so slippy that in winter it is difficult to walk upon it. At the farther end is the Hearth with an open space leading to the roof upon which is a small low wicker chimney. The beds are placed in the most convenient positions and frequently in dark holes and corners. The fuel consists of turf which emits a disagreeable smell and the dwelling is almost always full of smoke.

The Windows and Ventilation

Potatoes kept under the bed.

Pigs living in the House.

The other farm houses are long saxon houses divided into compartments effects of living in the Room.

Note    The New Book.

The favourite and ordinary Bread of the Peasantry is that made from Barley Meal, unleavened and baked in thin cakes on cast iron plates over the ordinary fires.

    Bread baked in pans covered with a lid of iron or stone with fire under and above.

    Rye Bread

    The appearance of the Cottages is for the most part very wretched, to which the frequent want of good building materials greatly contributes, their walls are of mud about five or six feet high with a low thatched roof surmounted by a Wattle and dab chimny.

    Oaten bread is sometimes used in the uplands and rye bread is not uncommon in some parts of the country.

From the History of Cardiganshire.

    Costume                                                  no shoes or stockings.

Page Notes ...                                              C.C.I.

                                                                                       Barley Bread

... down floor

Slippy below the Threshold.

Pigs Potatoes etc.

The Cottagers live chiefly on Bread made from Barley to which has been added a small quantity of leaven, it is made into cakes and baked on cast iron plates over their ordinary fires.

It is sometimes formed into loaves which are baked in pans with iron covers placed in the fire. Oaten cakes are very common but Rye is now little used excepting as an addition to better flour.

The furniture is very simple and consists of but a few articles. A table with one or more three legged stools, a common round knife wooden porringers, an iron pot with its wooden ladle and as many jugs as the poor people can possible afford to buy while their beds are composed of straw covered with a common rug.

For clothing the Men wear coarse woollen cloth of a blue colour and flannel shirts.

The Women's dress is made of wool and flax or ... Woolsey which is woven into pretty chequers of blue and [   ]. 'Stripes on a blue ground, through the Principality they invariable wear their Hats with Mob's caps many of them wear dark blue cloaks with hoods and both men and women frequently tie a handkerchief over their head and ears.

Formerly it was unusual to see any of the Peasantry with shoes or stockings but now both are worn by all who are able to purchase them.

[Half page left blank-presumably for later comments.]

Partitions formed by articles of furniture as Chests of Drawers, Kitchen Dressers & Wardrobes.

When the Female becomes pregnant by this immoral practice of Bundling the Man to whom she swears the Child is expected to marry Her but as this formerly sacred obligation is not now in modern days always performed the natural consequence is that more illegitimate Children are born in Wales than in any other part of the Kingdom.

When a Marriage is decided upon that good old usage the Bidding still prevails and is attended with the most happy and beneficial effects.

Notwithstanding the too frequent occurrence of illegitimate Birth Instances of Infanticide are extremely rare so much so that during a very long and extensive acquaintance with this part of Wales I have not known of more than four or five suspected cases at the time written. This fact may be easily accounted for on the Principle that as there is little or no shame attached to Bastardy so there can be no motive to conceal the same by destroying the offspring.

The young women are well formed and not inferior in good looks to their English neighbours. They may be distinguished with two different temperaments, one with Dark Eyes and Hair with fair complexions the other with light reddish Hair blue Eyes and florid complexions. Both are rather inclined to be short in stature and to have high and projecting Malar bones and both wear their Hair after the Medona style.

Their prepossessing appearances are however soon changed in the Country by the Agricultural employments the females have to perform and the women grow up short with thick legs, strong muscular and coarse vulgar features. Those who are more fortunate and procure situations in Genteel families as domestic servants preserve their natural comeliness. I believe the Drudgery the female sex have been called upon to undergo arose from the real want of population and the few hands there were to cultivate the soil, happily these remains of uncouth servitude are fast wearing away.

It does not appear that any particular difference exists as to the Duration or Difficulty of the Labors with regard to the Welch Woman. Some labors are long and lingering, others are laborious, others are quick and short and very painful for the time, few very few require the aid of Instruments or even of manual assistance of any kind.

I have noticed the presentation of the left arm in three successive labors in the same woman who had before borne many children with the Head presentation and has done so since.

The Nates presented in three successive labors in the same woman and as the children were large and full grown they did not survive the Delivery tho every precaution was taken.

I have noticed the feet and breech to present very frequently in premature labors and the child has then been often born alive and lived.

Twin cases have been much more frequent in some years than in others but I have only heard of one case of Triplets in Aberystwyth since the year 1819. and one in the Country and one in Towyn Merioneth. [Presumably the author started practice in Aberystwyth in 1819---the year of his qualification.]

As this Country is thinly populated there are fewer resident Medical Men than in England and therefore the attendance during the Labor generally devolves on some old woman who acts as Midwife and is to be found in almost every Village. In her absence the woman who has had most children officiates and when the case proves unusually tedious assistance is called from the nearest source.

During the progress of Labor the Patients are kept too hot and are allowed to have large Potations of Gin and Water and I can here bear testimony to the impunity with which Spirituous liquors may be administered during labor, accelerating and increasing both the strength and frequency of the pains while a very small quantity afterwards would be attended with the most dangerous consequences. It is in the latter stages of labour that spirits are more particularly useful. I do not mean to advocate the indiscriminate use of spirits but merely to say that I have repeatedly known very large quantities of Gin and Rum to be given to women in labor without being followed by any bad effects.

After the Labor the Midwife or Nurse administers a Bason of Caudle composed of Gruel Spices and too often of Gin on the second day a Purgative of salts, senna or Castor oil is given and the Child put to the Breast tho' this is too often delayed till the Milk fever comes on---indeed generally speaking the Child is not put to the Breast till the Milk comes. immediately after birth the Infant is made to swallow some butter & sugar or Butter and Gruel.

    Complications in Labor                          ) Only left hand page [clearly headings for further notes]
         after Labor                                         )
     Mrs. Jones' case                                     )

    [Whole page has above note only.]

Some years ago I attended a poor woman in labor about four miles from my residence. After waiting from Thursday until Monday I had recourse to the forceps. The child lived.

Within two years I was again summoned and after a nearly similar time was obliged to deliver with the forceps. The child was unusually large and dead.

This poor woman in the course of two or three years was pregnant a third time and from then and its determined that she could come to Aberystwyth for the Purpose of ... risk of being absent so long from home. I did decline attending until she came to Aberystwyth. The request was complied with but owing to circumstances which those only accustomed to the abodes of poverty can know it was not put into effect until the labor pains actually commenced when she was put on Horesback the pains increased and immediately upon her being received into a bed room the child appeared. The poor woman attributed her early labor to the ride and has since had several children without artificial aid. For the purpose of allaying a most troublesome and harassing cough, the Infant was then.............

..............removed as it became emaciated and apparently jaundiced. It was placed with a healthy wet nurse and is now a fine child.

The position in which the woman is confined is variable some prefer standing or leaning over the back of a chair, others on their knees while the best informed follow the directions of their Medical Attendant and are delivered on the bed---Position has an important effect on the labor pains and it is not always a matter of choice. Many females cannot rest in the same position but are constantly changing. Some lie without the lightest muscular action on the bed, and others cannot be moved from the position they seem to be placed in as it were by chance.

There can be no doubt the first is the worst and the 3rd the best.

When retention of the placenta occurs the most careful Midwifes make no forcible attempts to extract it but tie it round the patient's knee or thigh and then send for Surgical Aid or leave the case to Nature.

I have known the Placenta retained for more than a fortnight and then expelled in a putrid state. In this case to which I was sent for at the expiration of ten days the recovery was evidently procured by the use of tonics and stimulants.

Vomiting much assists the expulsion of the Placenta and the Ergot of Rye has often succeeded by producing it.

Retention of the Placenta is frequently attended with a marble paleness and peculiar expression of the countenance. The pulse very viable depending on the Degree of fever, irritability or weakness of the patient. Convulsions. [added in pencil.]

On the 3rd 4th or 5th day the Patient rises from her bed and on the 7th she begins to attend to her household concerns and to move about a little but most of the poor women confine themselves to the Home for a fortnight.

Much difference however prevails in this respect depending on the strength and constitution and habits of the woman, some of them wash their own clothes a few days after delivery and others have been known to walk several miles before the tenth day.

I believe the ninth day to be critical on this day the lochia generally cease and no woman ought ever to leave her chamber sooner.

The Infant is washed and dressed with bandages robes &c much the same as in England, the navel string wrapped up in a piece of burnt rag.

It is at first caried in a Mantle on the Mothers Breast but when yet only a few months old it is slung in the same mantle upon the Woman's Back, the Head resting on the left shoulder and the legs placed one on each side and in this way the Infant is carried about wherever the attendance of the Mother may be required with its Head generally as I have observed resting on the left shoulder sometimes hanging quite backwards and often dangling in every direction.

The Welch women are not over anxious for a numerous Progeny for they suckle their Children until they are two, three and four years or even till they themselves again become pregnant under an impression that by so doing they are not so liable to become pregnant, thus it is by no means an uncommon thing to see a child with all its temporary teeth perfect dragging at an empty and emaciated breast. The effect is certainly injurious to the Mother and the Child for while the health of the former is evidently impaired, the latter becomes thin and pale, the Bowels irregular, sometimes relaxed at others constipated, the stomach becomes irritable and rejects its food, the abdomen and the little sufferer is frequently covered with a nasty cutaneous disease resembling the Crusta Lactea of which it is an aggravated form.

There can be no doubt but that the Milk is much affected by the Nature of the Diet of the Mother, after the first fortnight she makes little or no alteration in thir accustomed food living upon Milk, Gruel, sweet flummery and salt herrings and potatoes.

The ordinary purgatives when taken by the Mother act upon the Child.

The Vegetable acids produce griping and Watery stools in the Infant.

The Passions of the Mind, anger &c. produce griping and convulsions in the Child.

Opium administered to the Mother exerts its full power on the Child and I (have) known an Infant remain in a constant torpor for nearly a fortnight while the Parent who continued to suckle was taking a preparation of that Medicine. The common purgatives when given before or during labor often occasion a remarkable increase of the pains. Most of the labors that I have attended amongst the poor have happened on a Sunday.

Labors are some times so sudden that I have known the Child drop from the Mother to the ground without any previous notice and while she rose feeling pain from the table to go into her own bedroom. By the weight of the child the navel string was broken and gave way nearly at the place where it is usually tied and divided, little or no blood was lost, the child lived.

If the navel string be cut thru' with a sharp instrument the child will bleed to death but if it be torn then the elasticity of the arteries will be destroyed and no haemorrhage will follow.

The navel string should always be tied with home made thread or some inelastic cord as I have known secondary bleeding after unwaxed silk or worsted have been used. The Elasticity of the worsted giving way to the force of the arterial action.

Old & young

With regard to the appearance of the Breasts as conclusive in evidence of a woman's having had a child or being with child, I should say that if the Aureola is very dark coloured with tuberclous eminences upon it and the nipple elongated the probability is that the Woman has or had a Child. Milk has been found in the Breast of Virgins---during pregnancy---and 12 months after the Mother has ceased to suckle, some women never have any Milk, either after a Miscarriage or the full time period of Pregnancy nor are either of the symptoms present in all women who have had children and moreover they wear off.

In regard to the question as to what is the cause of the milk fever does it depend on the milk or on the previous action of the uterus.

The question difficult.

A Lady Whom I know never had any Milk after her delivery yet she had a fever within the week. Again another Lady always suffered from what was called a milk fever on the 6 or 7 day. It appears there are two reactions or fever occurring about the third day and it is certain that fever is always most violent when the milk is not excreted thus in Puerperal fever or in Puerperal delirium the milk is rarely in proper quantity and when suppressed blood is frequently drawn from the nipple which may too often be regarded as a fatal symptom. The custom of drawing the breast is beneficial only so far as when there is milk to be extracted. the fever of an inflamed or suppurating breast is truly inflammatory and very different to the two former.

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(Gareth Hicks 23 March 2003)

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