John Williams


Shoemaker and Alderman of the Borough of Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire

Contributed by Gail Thomas, May 2008


John Williams was born about 1775 in Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire. [1,2]  Possible baptisms for John were 20 February 1775 (son of Mr William Williams), 28 March 1775 (son of Wm Williams) or 24 June 1775 (son of John Williams). [3]  The Universal British Directory of 1791 lists amongst the principal inhabitants of Kidwelly, a William Williams, shoemaker. [4]   As this was the trade that John was to follow, it is possible that William was John's father.

John married Margaret, possibly either Margaret Gower (Kidwelly 13 December 1803) or Margaret Robert (27 December 1805).  [5]   The couple had at least five children, two of whom died at infancy and 3 who lived to old age, but they may have had more.  Unfortunately at the same time as John and Margaret were living in Lady St, Kidwelly in the early 19th century, there was another couple called John and Margaret Williams of Lady Street who were also baptising children, so it is difficult to differentiate the two.  The second John was a cooper.  It was only in 1813 that the format for baptismal entries changed, whereby both parents were entered and the occupation and abode were recorded.  [6]

The first known child baptised by John and Margaret at St Mary's Church, Kidwelly was Jane.

Her birth calculated by her age in various censuses would have been about 1806/07.  There are two possible baptisms, a daughter of John William on 19 October 1806 or another one on 11 January 1807. [7]  Jane was to marry James Randell, a carpenter and builder of Kidwelly, have at least seven children and live until 75.

In about 1809, Anthony was born to the couple and was baptised on 12 March 1809. [8]   Anthony became a carpenter and joiner, did not marry and appears to have lived with his parents in Lady Street for most of his life.  For at least his last fourteen years Anthony was an inmate of the Union Workhouse in Swansea Road, Llanelly, where he died aged 82.

John's third child was Rebecca, baptised on 24 October 1813. [9]  Unfortunately Rebecca lived for only eleven months and was buried at Kidwelly on 29 September 1814, when the family was living at Lady Street. [10]

A second Rebecca was born about 1815 and baptised on 7 September 1815. [11] Rebecca married David Nicholas of Kidwelly, had at least three children and lived to the age of 74.

The last known child born to John and Margaret was Catherine, who was baptised on 2 July 1820 while the family was living in Lady Street. [12]  Unfortunately Catherine lived for only seven months and was buried in Kidwelly on 15 Feb 1821. [13]

John William worked as a shoemaker for at least forty years.  He was described as a shoemaker at the baptism of the first of his two daughters called Rebecca on 24 October 1813. [14]  Pigot's Directory listed John William as a shoemaker in 1830; [15] he was a shoemaker at the 1841 census; [16]   listed under boot and shoemakers in Pigot's 1844 Directory  [17]  and Hunt's 1849 Directory [18]  and was listed as a shoemaker living in Water St, Kidwelly in 1852-53 [19]  at the ripe old age of 78.  However, by 1861 he was back living in Lady Street and finally retired. [20]

As well as his occupation of shoemaker, John spent many years holding various public offices of the Borough of Kidwelly.  It is possible that he is the John Williams listed as Mayor of Kidwelly in 1838. [21]  He certainly went on to become an alderman of the Borough of Kidwelly which had existed under a charter granted by King James I in 1619.  William Mansel describes the governing council in Kidwelly as being made up of 24 members, of whom 12 were aldermen and 12 principal burgesses. [22]  The aldermen were chosen for life and the mayor was elected annually by the council from among the aldermen. Additional officers were the recorder (learned in the law), town clerk, chamberlain and sergeants at mace.

'The boroughs of England and Wales in the 18th century gave evidence of marked and progressive decay'. [23]   In 1833 a royal commission into municipal corporations was instituted, resulting in reports in 1835 and 1838 (some things never change!).  Kidwelly at this time was in economic decline following the silting up of the river, the growth of Carmarthen and Llanelly, the abandonment of the iron works and limited operation of its tinworks.  In 1833 Kidwelly was described as being 'almost entirely sunk in decay', with most of its houses 'thatched cottages of very inferior appearance'. [24]  The climate was ripe for the abuse of municipal powers, and this was exacerbated by the fact that the mayor and one alderman, together with the recorder, were magistrates who met in quarter sessions and in petty sessions when required, with the power to try all offences below felonies, even though they were frequently illiterate.

In the 1830s and 40s, there were problems in Kidwelly regarding the enclosure of common land.  Matters came to a head in 1846 when a local lawyer, Hugh Williams, wrote a 26 page Statement on the condition of the corporation of Kidwelly and submitted it to the Home Secretary on 7 January 1847.  [25]  The Statement was scathing on the day-to-day working of the corporation and the administration of justice and describes the ineptitude of each of the 24 members of the corporation.  Fortuitously, Brian Randell of Newcastle-On-Tyne transcribed the original document in 2005, not realising at the time that this John Williams was his great great great grandfather!    The Statement makes fascinating reading, and John Williams does not come out of it unscathed.  The following passages describe the activities of John, working shoemaker and alderman. [26]

"Mr John Williams the last Mayor and present Justice is a working Shoemaker and Gardner and occasionally keeping an unlicenced beer shop or pot house he is continually occupied on his trade of shoemaking or mending or of going about the County to vend Garden seeds and we believe it was his practice even during his late Mayoralty to go about the streets of Kidwelly with a shoemakers apron before him and with shoes old or new under his arm - He is a thoroughly ignorant person and just able to write his name.

John Williams, late Mayor and present elected Justice of the Borough and alderman (one of the two justices residing therein).  This person is a Working Shoemaker of no substance or responsibility and subsisting solely by manual labour in his vocation and in hawking Garden seeds about the Country for which this locality is noted - His calling affords him no spare time save for occasional libations - Is quite an illiterate character imperfectly acquainted with English - cannot write a sentence of it nor indeed of his vernacular tongue - Indulges occasionally in drinking largely and much given to it during his late Mayorality and that very possibly at the expense of the Corporate funds or such is inferred - has been during his late Mayoralty often seen inebriated in the public streets &c. and once when acting as Mayor on the bench with Mr David Williams his then brother Justice.  Has filled the office of Mayor several times before and has according to the prevailing rule been elected one of the two Justices of this Borough at the expiration of his late office for the present year - occasionally keeps an unlicensed Beer Shop wherein he and his wife personally act as vendors - Keeping neither a Waiter or Servant on any occasion - Imployed his Son a Working Carpenter in doing jobs for the Corporation during his Mayoralty"

So nepotism was alive and well in 19th Kidwelly, and John's carpenter son, Anthony, received corporation work.  However, lest it be thought that John Williams was the worst of a bad bunch, most of his colleagues are described in a similar way.  They were particularly taken to task if they were illiterate in English, which is interesting at a time when many Kidwelly residents would probably have spoken only Welsh.  The author included a table to show that two of the aldermen, John Williams Shoemaker and William Mansell farmer were connected 'through blood and affinity with fourteen members of the Council'.  The fact that three of those to whom John Williams was connected were John, Evan and William Gower, may strengthen the case for John's wife being Margaret Gower (rather than Roberts), but this is just conjecture.

John and Margaret Williams obviously had contact with at least the family of their daughter Jane Randell.  In the 1851 census, John, the 75 year old alderman was living with Margaret (72) at Lady Street with their son Anthony, the 42 year old unmarried joiner and their grandson William Randell, a 17 year old carpenter. [27]  Margaret died in September 1860 and was buried in Kidwelly on 23 September 1860. [28]  In the 1861 census, the 85 year old widower and retired shoemaker as living in Lady Street with Anthony (unmarried, 52, master carpenter) and Richard Randell (15, unmarried, carpenter journeyman). William and Richard were the sons of Jane and James Randell.

John Williams date of death has not yet been determined, but presumably was in the 1860s.  Carmarthenshire Archives has not been able to identify a will belonging to him nor do they hold Kidwelly Town Council records going back to his time as alderman.  So for the moment, this is the story of John Williams, shoemaker, seller of beer and garden seeds, and alderman  - small-businessman of 19th century Kidwelly.



Jane was aged about 24 when she married James Randell at Kidwelly on 25 March 1831. [29]  James was the son of Captain Francis Randell, a mariner of Clovelly, Devon who settled in Kidwelly in the late 18th century. James' mother was Rebecca Thomas of Kidwelly.  Jane and James had seven known children, five of whom lived to adulthood:

  • Francis, bap 15 January 1832, builder
  • William, bap 12 Jan 1834, builder
  • James, bap 24 April 1836, tinhouse superintendent
  • Rebecca, born 1838, died aged 13
  • Elizabeth, born 1840, dressmaker prior to marriage
  • John, born 1843, died aged 3
  • Richard, born 1846, tinhouse superintendent, victualler

The occupations of the children mirrored the expansion of the industrial revolution in Kidwelly and surrounding towns in the second half of the 19th century.

Jane and James were living at Lady Street, Kidwelly at the 1841 and 1851 census, and at Causey St at the 1861 census.  In 1841, Jane's sister Rebecca was living with them.  The family did well, and in 1861, James Randell was a carpenter employing three men and three boys. [30]   James had also served on the Town Council. [31]  James lived until 1869, dying on 6 February in Kidwelly. [32]  By 1881 the elderly widow Jane was now an annuitant living at Gwendraeth Cottage, Kidwelly, with her son Richard Randell (35), his  wife Mary (32), daughters Catherine J (11), Mary E( 8), Rebecca C (6), and sons Thomas R (4), Griffith J (2), and Francis W (7 months).   [33]

Jane Williams Randell outlived her husband by 13 years, dying on 20th April 1882. Her death certificate records Jane living at Causeway St, Kidwelly RSD, aged 75 years, widow of James Randell, a builder.  Cause of death was general paralysis, 5 days, certified by David Jones.  Informant was Richard Randell, son, present at the death. [34]



Anthony was born about 1809 and for most of his life appears to have lived with his parents in Lady Street, Kidwelly (censuses for 1841, 1851, 1861).  He was a carpenter and joiner and never married. Anthony's two surviving sisters, Jane and Rebecca, both married and left home, so it may have been the logical thing for him to stay with his parents.  They were both aged about 65 at the 1841 census when Anthony was 30, and although John Williams was working as a shoemaker for at least another ten years, no doubt Anthony's income would have assisted the family.

By 1871 both his parents had died and Anthony appears to be living alone in Lady Street, aged 62 and still working as a carpenter. [35]  Unfortunately by 1881, Anthony was an inmate of the Union Workhouse in Llanelly.  By then the elderly Jane was living with her son and family, and his sister Rebecca Nicholas was aged 65 and living in Pembrey with her husband and family.  For whatever reason, Anthony's family was either unable or unwilling to care for him in his old age and he lived at the workhouse until he died in 1894.

The workhouse operated for 110 years until 1948 when it became Bryntirion Hospital. [36] The hospital closed about 2004 when most of the site was to be cleared for housing.  Fortunately part of it is to be kept as a historical monument, thus retaining our family's links with the Workhouse.



The second child named Rebecca was baptised in Kidwelly on 7 September 1815.  At the time of the 1841 census, she was living with her married sister Jane and family.  On 20 April 1850, Rebecca married David Nicholas of Kidwelly by banns at St Mary's Church, Kidwelly. [37]  Rebecca was described as a spinster, of full age, resident of Lady St and daughter of John Williams, shoemaker.  David was a schoolmaster in Llanelly, the son of David Nicholas, a fisherman.

David Nicholas was the first master of The Llanelly School, which opened in 1848 and which was later to be known as Market Street School -  "on 21 April there was a public meeting and a tea party when the schools, which cost 800 pounds were opened.  David Nicholas of Brecon Collage was the first master".  "The curriculum included 'Elements of Horticulture' and 'diverting exercises' (preceded the Cadet Corps). [38]

By 1851, Rebecca and her husband were living at 38 Prospect Place, Llanelly.  David was a teacher of the Normal School.  Their son James was born in Llanelly about 1852.  David resigned from the school at the end of 1852 and the family returned to Kidwelly, where their daughter Elizabeth was born about 1853. [39[

In 1861 Rebecca and David were living at Bailey Street, Kidwelly. David was described as a certificated teacher and in addition to James (9) and Elizabeth (8), there was a daughter Margaret Jane, aged 2. [40] During the 1850s, Rebecca's husband David became heavily involved in Welsh Wesleyan Methodism in Kidwelly.  On August 11 1858, the Bethesda Welsh Wesleyan chapel that had been built in 1816, was assigned ten trustees, who included David Nicholas and Francis Randall.  "A Trust Schedule of 1859 signed by David Nicholas, the Treasurer, who held a private school in the chapel, shows that Bethesda had cost a total of 270 pounds, including the rebuilding of 1832, and that the annual income was reckoned to be 10 pounds 16/9.  There was however, a heavy debt and the fabric, according to Nicholas, whose correspondence has survived, was in a 'wretched state'.  There is some evidence that the trustees were searching for another site on which to build a larger chapel but this project was abandoned and a fund was started to wipe off the debt and put the building in complete repair.  This task was now becoming all the more necessary because, as Nicholas stated in a letter of July 1860, the prospects for Wesleyan Methodism in the town were better than they had ever been". [41]

After 1860 there was an influx of English workers to the tinworks at Kidwelly, and they held services in English in the chapel on alternative Sundays.  "A group of members, headed by David Nicholas, was ...becoming dissatisfied with the arrangement of English and Welsh services on alternate Sundays.  They welcomed the spread of English influences .... In May 1866 Nicholas, on behalf of this group, wrote to the Rev John Philp, Superintendent Minister at Carmarthen, informing him that it was the wish of the majority of members to join the English circuit at the next conference'.

Jacob Chivers, who owned the tinworks, began a new chapel in 1866, the work being done 'by 'Francis Randall, a member of the Kidwelly Society'.  [42] A split occurred between the Welsh and English Wesleyans.  A new trustee body was appointed to the chapel, four being employed at the tin works, including Richard Randell (washer) . [43] The others included David Nicholas 'who in 1860 had been appointed the first Head Teacher of the new British and Foreign School ... [and] Richard Chappell, a mason". [44]

The Methodist Society held weekly class meetings at which Leaders gave instruction and advice on spiritual matters.  "The first Leaders were David Nicholas and John Morgan, the schoolmasters.... The subject of instruction was generally the Bible but Nicholas had an interest in music and trained a chapel choir which became one of the best in the district.  He and John Morgan were also in charge of the Sunday School".  "At a 'Congregational Soiree' on January 10, 1867, 'the meeting concluded with the presentation to David Nicholas, by members of his Singing and Bible Classes, of eleven large volumes of Biblical Exegesis, Ecclesiastical History and Poetry".

Rebecca and David were living at the British School, Kidwelly, in 1871.  David was a certificated teacher aged 50 and Rebecca was 55.  Their daughter Elizabeth, 18, was a pupil teacher and Margaret Jane, 12, was a student.  [46]  By 1881 they had moved to Afalon Cottage, Pembrey, with David still working as a school master. Margaret Jane was now 22 and a school mistress and Rebecca's granddaughter Mary Rebecca Davies, 5, was with them on census night.  She was the daughter of daughter Elizabeth and her husband William Davies. Also with the family as a servant was Rebecca Randell, aged 17, daughter of Francis Randell and granddaughter of Jane Williams Randell. [47]

Rebecca Williams died towards the end of 1889 [48]  and David had probably died by 1891. [49] The involvement of their extended family with the Wesleyan Church continued.  When a new Trust was formed in 1891, one of its members who worked at the tinworks was John Randell (Jane's grandson).  "A substantial number of new trustees was appointed between 1909 and 1914", including "Richard Randall who with his family had left for Barry during the depression".   The tradition of chapel and education begun by David Nicholas and fostered by him and Rebecca continued.  Their daughter Margaret Jane never married but continued her career as a school teacher.  By 1891 she was mistress of Hillfield Girls School, Kidwelly, built in 1889 for 160 girls & 120 infants. [50]   Margaret Jane held this position in 1906  [51]  and was still there in October1916 when the jubilee celebration of the Chapel was held.  "The ladies in charge of the refreshments in the School Room" included Miss Nicholas, Headmistress of the Hillfield Girls School and daughter of David Nicholas".  [52] As late as 1948, new trustees appointed to the Chapel on 13 August included Margaret Nicholas Morris, granddaughter of Rebecca and David Nicholas. [53]



John and Margaret Williams may have spent some of their lives running an unlicensed beer shop in Kidwelly, without either waiter or servants, but their children and descendents have gone on to make a valuable contribution to society, not only within that small community, but in places in the world not yet discovered when they were born.  Their descendents through daughter Jane Randell live in many countries today, including Wales, England, Australia, New Zealand, France, Abu Dhabi, the USA, and probably a few more.


Gail Thomas, Australia,  April 2008 (great, great, great, great granddaughter of John and Margaret Williams)

(Any researcher wishing to contact Gail please use the Help facility at the bottom of this page)

Acknowledgement ;-

  • Brian Randell and Francis David Randell
  • Carmarthenshire Archive Service
  • Carmarthenshire Family History Society


  1.    Age in 1841 census given as 65.  Given as 75 in 1851, 85 in 1861.  Place of birth given as Kidwelly.
  2.   The name tends to be William earlier in the 19th century  but Williams from about the mid 19th century.
  3.   Carmathenshire Archives, email 3 April 2008.
  4.   Kidwelly Carmarthenshire Principal Inhabitants Universal British Directory 1791. http://www.parishmouse.com/book/export/html/9403
  5.   Carmarthenshire Family History Society, Carmarthenshire Marriages 1754-1837
  6.   Carmarthenshire Archives, email 3 April 2008.
  7.   Carmarthenshire Archives, email 3 April 2008.
  8.   Carmarthenshire Archives, email 3 April 2008
  9.   Carmarthenshire Archives, email 3 April 2008
  10.   Carmarthenshire Family History Society, Carmarthenshire Burials
  11.   Carmarthenshire Archives, email 3 April 2008
  12.   Carmarthenshire Archives, email 3 April 2008
  13.   Carmarthenshire Family History Society, Carmarthenshire Burials
  14.   Carmarthenshire Archives, email 3 April 2008.
  15.   Pigot & Co. South Wales Directory for 1830
  16.   Census 1841, ED 13, HO107/1385
  17.   Pigot & Co's Directory, 1844 - Kidwelly and neighbourhood
  18.   Hunt & Co's Directory, 1849 - Kidwelly
  19.   Slaters Directory, 1852-53, Kidwelly and Neighbourhood.
  20.   Census 1861 RG9-4116
  21.   Carmarthenshire Family History Society, Kidwelly Parish Mayors 1618-1843.
  22.   Mansel, William Jeffrey, "The Borough of Kidwelly in the Nineteenth Century", in Kidwelly History, http://www.kidwellyhistory.co.uk/Council/Borough19thC.htm.
  23.   Mansel, William Jeffrey, "The Borough of Kidwelly in the Nineteenth Century", in Kidwelly History, http://www.kidwellyhistory.co.uk/Council/Borough19thC.htm.
  24.   Lewis, S in   Mansel, William Jeffrey, "The Borough of Kidwelly in the Nineteenth Century", in Kidwelly History, http://www.kidwellyhistory.co.uk/Council/Borough19thC.htm.
  25.   Public Record Office: Home Office papers, 45/1811; Complaints against the corrupt Corporation of Kidwelly.
  26.   [Williams, H.] The Corporation and Borough Justices of Kidwelly Carmarthenshire: a Statement Relating to the former and present condition of the Borough and to the personal character and   Mal-administration of the Judicial and Corporate authorities.   National Archives, HO45/1811. Transcribed by Brian Randell, 3 June 2005.   /big/wal/CMN/Kidwelly/KidwellyBorough.html.
  27.   Census 1851, p2, 2b Kidwelly, Pembrey 3, HO107/2469
  28.   Carmarthenshire Archives, email 3 April 2008
  29.   Carmarthenshire Family History Society, Carmarthenshire Marriages 1754-1837
  30.   Census 1861, RG9/4110.
  31.   Randell, B. - The Randells of Clovelly, Kidwelly and Pembrey, http://homepages.cs.ncl.ac.uk/brian.randell/Genealogy/SailingRandells.html
  32.   Randell, B. Descendant report.
  33.   Census 1881, RG11 5377/68.
  34.   Death certificate - Jane Randell.
  35.   Census 1871.
  36.   Llanelly History. http://www.llanelli-history.i12.com/index.htm
  37.   Marriage certificate - David Nicholas and Rebecca  Williams.
  38.   Llanelly History. http://www.llanelli-history.i12.com/index.htm
  39.   Llanelly History. http://www.llanelli-history.i12.com/index.htm
  40.   Census 1861, RG09/4116 folio 34 p17 Kidwelly
  41.   Morris, W.H. Wesleyan Methodism in Kidwelly; Trinity Methodist Church Centenary Brochure 1866-1966. www.kidwellyhistory.co.uk/Articles/TrinityChurch/Wesleyanism.htm.
  42.   Probably Francis Randell (1832-1921), son of James and Jane Randell, who was a builder.
  43.   Probably Francis's brother Richard Randell (1846-1915).
  44.   Richard Chappell (c1847-?) was Francis Randell's brother-in-law.
  45.   -
  46.   Census 1871
  47.   Census 1881, RG11/5377 folio 35 Pembrey.
  48.   FreeBMD, Dec Qtr 1889, Llanelly District.
  49.  'A new Trust was formed in 1891 but David Nicholas was by now dead.'   Morris, W.H. Wesleyan Methodism in Kidwelly; Trinity Methodist Church Centenary Brochure 1866-1966.  www.kidwellyhistory.co.uk/Articles/TrinityChurch/Wesleyanism.htm.
  50.   Kelly's Directory, 1891 - Kidwelly and Ferryside.
  51.   Kelly's Directory, 1906 - Kidwelly
  52.   Morris, W.H. Wesleyan Methodism in Kidwelly; Trinity Methodist Church Centenary Brochure 1866-1966. www.kidwellyhistory.co.uk/Articles/TrinityChurch/Wesleyanism.htm.
  53.   Morris, W.H. Wesleyan Methodism in Kidwelly; Trinity Methodist Church Centenary Brochure 1866-1966. www.kidwellyhistory.co.uk/Articles/TrinityChurch/Wesleyanism.htm.


(Gareth Hicks: -   26 May 2008)