Article by Judith of Nonni Barn

The earliest record of a pauper in Llanlwni was in 1653, when a lady named Gwenllan Griffith’s whole estate was listed as eight shillings.

The church vestry provision for the poor was seen as inadequate by many, so wealthier parishioners started leaving provision in their wills. Hugh David of Llanllwni, who was a yeoman or freeholder, left £32-17s-0d in 1727 a considerable sum at the time.

The number of poor rose due to the war in France, (1793 -1815), followed by recession which placed a burden on ratepayers, (nothing new there), so Jenkin Davies of Maesycrugiau, Justice of the Peace in the 1820’s, from then on had to authorise any relief given, and only to the neediest cases.

Surprisingly in 1820, a rate of 7s 11d in the pound was levied in order to support the poor. By 1837 it was 10 shillings in the pound, but it was reduced to 8d in the £1 by 1864, (I am not surprised the wealthier parishioners objected to 50% taxation)!

In the middle ages, monasteries supported the poor and unemployed. There is the record of a monastic house on the lands of Maes Nonni Farm, at the end of our lane, and a grave stone of a nun (named Heutren) was found there, and is now in the Carmarthen museum. After Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, beggars were just left to roam the countryside, and were seen as rogues and vagabonds.

Initially the government punished the beggars, and whipped or branded them, until it was recognised that there were different types of paupers:

  • Old, infirmed or disabled.
  • Able bodied who could not find work, so work or apprenticeships were found for them.
  • Those who would not work, were regarded as criminals and punished!

The local overseer was responsible for ensuring the poor were feed, clothed, found shelter and employment. One sad case in 1790 was that of William Abel, a baby from Lampeter, whose father Stephen, abandoned him and his mother Sarah (who died in the same year), and went off to London.

The baby was taken in by David Davies of Cwmhenryd, he was paid 18d per week to care for the child. On two occasions, people were dispatched to London to find his father, but he was never found, so eventually William was apprenticed to Evan Evans of Abergranell for seven years, and the vestry bought the boy a suit and two shirts to set him on his way.

A clever decision was made about John Williams, who found his family of eight, too expensive to support. Llanfihangel-ar-arth vestry, decided it was cheaper to send him and his family to America, rather than support them long term “on the parish”.

In 1830 David Jones of Maesnonni Farm, was overseer of the poor. It was decided that John Christmas a mason who had fallen on hard times, was not to be given relief. Instead he was to be given a brief, a letter of commendation, as through no fault of his own he had found himself destitute. He built the stables at the farm and there is still above the barn door, the stone plaque dated 1801 with his name inscribed. John Christmas was also a founding member of Capel Nonni in 1810, showing prior to his bad luck, he was an upstanding member of Llanllwni parish.

There was no real support system if you fell on hard times before the 1800’s, once the monasteries had gone, you and your family either worked or starved. It was the parish supporting its own, that got people through hard times.

Perhaps we could all learn some lessons from the past, (excluding the whipping and branding)!