MY GODWIN FAMILY AND THE CAUSE OF MY BLINDNESS

There is a noticeable lack of baptisms for my Godwin family in the Nailsea area of Somerset through the first decade of the 1800’s. In the 1851 Census, my great great great grandfather, Benjamin Godwin, states he was born in Nailsea about 1811. With him is his brother, William, who says he was also born in Nailsea but about 1801. Ten years earlier when the 1841 Census was taken, both William and Benjamin are in the same household living at Heath, Nailsea, and with them is who appears to be their seventy year old mother Ann.

 

This then led me to the most likely marriage of Benjamin and William’s parents, that of Benjamin Godwin and Ann Doggett, who were married after banns on 17th February 1794 at Holy Trinity church in Nailsea, in the presence of Thomas Hunt and George King. Benjamin was born on 17th April 1767 and baptised at Holy Trinity, Nailsea on 8th May the same year. He was the son of William Godwin and Sarah nee Voules who had been married by licence on 24th January 1754 at St Mary, West Harptree, Somerset. William and Sarah were both said to be residents of Nailsey, William’s occupation being recorded as a Farmer.

 

Benjamin Godwin and Ann nee Doggett did at least baptise two of their children at Nailsea: Ann on 21st September 1794; and Elizabeth on 19th March 1797. Interestingly, on Elizabeth’s baptism, her mother’s name was recorded as Nancy.

 

Benjamin and Ann’s daughter, Ann, and George Skinner were married after banns on 17th April 1820 at Holy Trinity, Nailsea, in the presence of Peter Moxham and Mary Hayman. In the 1841 Census they are found living at West End, Nailsea, Ann’s forename being recorded as Nancy. With them are their children John aged thirteen, George aged ten, Eliza aged seven, and Harriett aged three.

 

Currently, I have no further details about their daughter Elizabeth, but there is a possibility she is the Elizabeth Godwin who was buried at Nailsea on 24th July 1800, although no relationship or age is given.

 

Benjamin Godwin the younger married Mary Vawer on 19th October 1835 at Bedminster, Somerset. They appear to have had just four children: The first was their only daughter Eliza who was born in 1836 (the year before Civil Registration began); the next two children’s births were registered, John in 1838, and William in 1840, Mary’s maiden name being recorded as Vawer on John’s but as Vaw on William’s; and their youngest child was Samuel whose birth doesn’t appear to have been registered. All four children were baptised at the church of the Holy Trinity in Nailsea: Eliza on 14th August 1836; John on 11th February 1838; my great great grandfather William on 5th April 1840; and Samuel on 19th March 1843. In each entry, Benjamin was recorded as a Labourer of Nailsea.

 

Benjamin Godwin the elder died at the age of seventy-three, and was buried on 28th July 1840 at Holy Trinity, Nailsea. His widow Ann nee Doggett survived him by a few years, until her own death at the age of seventy-four. She was buried on 12th January 1843 at Holy Trinity. Very sadly, just three years later, Benjamin and Mary’s nine year old daughter Eliza died at Nailsea, and was buried on 1st February 1846 at Holy Trinity.

 

At the time of the 1851 Census, George and Ann Skinner were living at West End, Nailsea, George’s occupation being given as Basket Maker. With them is their twenty-one year old son George who is an Agricultural Labourer, and their twelve year old daughter Harriett. Also at Nailsea, living at Causeway, Is forty year old Benjamin Godwin, with his wife Mary nee Vawer, and their sons John, William and Samuel, as well as Benjamin’s fifty year old brother, William. Benjamin and William’s occupation is given as Coal Hauler, while young John and William are Assistant Coal Haulers.

 

Bristol Mercury, Saturday 30th April 1853:

Inquests held before Mr Bruges Fry, Coroner. …

At Nailsea, on the body of Benjamin Godwin, a coal-haulier, aged 42, who, whilst in a state of intoxication, fell from the front of his cart and injured his spine, from which injuries he died on the following day. Verdict – “Accidental Death.”

 

Following this fatal accident, Benjamin was buried on 27th April at Holy Trinity, Nailsea.

 

The first of Benjamin and Mary’s children to be married was John, whose bride was Harriette James. They were married after banns at Holy Trinity church, Nailsea on 4th August 1858 in the presence of George James and Ann Gosling. They were aged twenty-one and nineteen respectively, John’s occupation being given as Haulier. Their fathers were recorded as Benjamin Godwin, Haulier, and Thomas James, Labourer. Very sadly, their marriage was extremely short-lived, as Harriet died at the age of twenty in the summer of 1859.

 

At the time of the 1861 Census, George and Ann Skinner, their twenty-three year old daughter Harriett, and Ann’s brother William Godwin were living at Nailsea. Benjamin’s widow Mary Godwin was aged forty-six and working as a Servant for Frances W Thomas at Kings Hill, Nailsea. Two of Mary’s sons had moved to the Kenn area of Bedminster: the recently widowed John was living with his mother-in-law and family, his occupation being given as Coal Haulier; and Samuel was lodging close-by in the Maine household, his occupation being given as Labourer. So far it’s not been possible to find their brother William in this Census.

 

On 18th October 1861, John Godwin married his second wife, Ann Woolford, at St Thomas, Bristol, Gloucestershire. They were both widowed, and their fathers were named as Benjamin Godwin and John Lovell.

 

For some reason, all three of the Godwin boys decided to move from the West Country to the Trevethin area of Pontypool in Monmouthshire. It was here in early 1862 that William married his first cousin, Emily Gray, Emily being the daughter of William’s aunty, Hannah nee Vawer.

 

This marriage is of particular interest to me for two reasons. The first is because it’s the marriage of my great great grandparents. But the second reason is of far more significance to me. The fact that William and Emily were cousins is the most likely cause of the genetic eye condition Retinitis Pigmentosa that my sister and I inherited from our mother. It’s known that neither my great grandmother Louisa nor her son, my grandfather Stanley, had this eye condition, but it could purely mean that they were carriers, not sufferers. I’ve been told that a girl who is a carrier can have a son who has a fifty percent chance of being a sufferer. Of course he can also be a carrier. But if he was then to have a daughter, it would be almost definite that she would be a sufferer rather than a carrier, and any children she had would most likely be sufferers. This certainly seems to coincide with my family’s experience with this condition. My mother had three brothers, none of whom have Retinitis Pigmentosa, and none of their children or grandchildren have the condition either. Apparently, as a sufferer, a son that I may have would also have that fifty percent chance of being a sufferer. Thankfully, my only child, a son, has not inherited the condition.

 

Meanwhile, back in Somerset, George and Ann Skinner were still living at Nailsea at the time of the 1871 Census, and her brother, William Godwin, is once again found with them. So far it’s not been possible to find Mary Godwin nee Vawer in the 1871 Census, but her three sons are all found at Trevethin in Monmouthshire. John and his second wife Ann nee Woolford are found at Gladstone Terrace, and, rather intriguingly, John’s seventy year old uncle, William Godwin, is included with them on the night of the Census as well! I have come across instances of where someone appeared in the same Census twice, but it was usually where they had been included at their workplace as well as at their home address, in quite close proximity. In this case however, William was many many miles away from his Nailsea home; Finally, William and Emily nee Gray along with their children William aged six, Emily aged two, and the newly born Ann are also found at Gladstone Terrace; and Samuel is lodging close by. Shortly after this Census, Samuel Godwin was married at Newport to Phoebe Jones.

 

It was only a year later that George Skinner died at the age of seventy-four, being buried on 8th July 1872 at the Holy Trinity church, Nailsea. Ann Skinner, Benjamin and William’s sister, survived her husband by almost two years, until her death at the age of seventy-eight. She was buried on 12th April 1874 at the Holy Trinity church.

 

William Godwin, the brother of Benjamin the younger, died unmarried at Nailsea at the age of eighty, and was buried on 7th January 1881 at the church of the Holy Trinity. Later the same year, Benjamin’s widow, Mary nee Vawer, died at the age of sixty-seven, and was buried at Holy Trinity on 11th September.

 

Inbetween their deaths, the 1881 Census was taken on the night of 3rd April. Benjamin’s widow Mary nee Vawer was living at Silver Street in Nailsea, and she had a widower lodging with her named Jacob Brook; so far I’ve been unable to find John and his wife Ann; William and Emily nee Gray were living at Gladstone Terrace with their children William aged sixteen, Emily aged twelve, Ann aged ten, Sarah aged seven, Benjamin aged three, and Louisa aged two; and Samuel, along with his wife Phoebe, and sons George and John had moved to the amusing sounding place of “Turkey Town” in Nantyglo.

 

The first mention I have found of my Godwin family being in my home town of Abertillery is in the 1891 Census, when John and his wife Ann nee Woolford had moved there, and were living at Newtown, now known as Blaenau Gwent Rows. John’s occupation in this Census was recorded as a Coal Miner. Also in this Census are William and Emily who were living at Stanley Road, Garndiffaith, near Pontypool, William’s occupation being recorded as a Coal Miner. With them are their children William aged twenty-six, Sarah aged eighteen, Benjamin aged fourteen, Louisa aged thirteen, Mary aged eight, and Eliza aged six. Not too far away at Golynos Green in Talywain is William’s brother Samuel with his wife and sons, Phoebe, George, and John. Samuel, George and John are recorded as Iron Miners.

 

William Godwin died at the age of fifty-two, and was buried on 31st October 1892 at Abersychan. The following year, his brother Samuel died at the age of fifty, and was buried on 20th April 1893, also at Abersychan. Amazingly, Samuel Godwin’s widow, Phoebe nee Jones, wasted absolutely no time at all in marriying her second husband, Vincent George Hammond. They were married at Abersychan on 10th June, just fifty-one days after Samuel’s burial!

 

William and Emily’s daughter, Louisa, married William Jones in Abertillery in late 1896, and had a total of eleven children: May in 1897; William in 1898; David Arthur in 1901; my grandfather Stanley in 1902; Beryl in 1904; Gladys Emily in 1907; Gwyn in 1908; Nancy in 1910; Lilian in 1913; Doris Enid in 1917; and William Towey in 1918. When I look back at the family’s address in 1891, Stanley Road, I can’t help but wonder whether my grandfather was named in memory of that house or road.

 

William Godwin’s widow, Emily nee Gray, married her second husband Alexander Thomas, on 21st August 1900 at Abersychan. They can be found in the 1901 Census living at Davies Court, Garndiffaith. Also in this Census is John Godwin and his wife Ann nee Woolford who were living at 56, Newtown, Blaenau Gwent, Abertillery, his occupation being recorded as Coal Hewer. They even have a thirty-three year old Servant named Mary Ann Jayne! Also with them are three boarders, Jethro Luton, Andrew Watson, and Joseph Nicholls, and a visitor, Charles Luton. Just two doors away, at number 58, are William Jones and Louisa nee Godwin, their three children, May aged three, William aged two, and David Arthur who was just eighteen days old, as well as Louisa’s sixteen year old sister Eliza Godwin.

 

The last surviving son of Benjamin Godwin and Mary nee Vawer, John, died in late 1908, he was seventy years old.

 

If she wasn’t already aware of it, Louisa Jones nee Godwin was to find out just how dangerous working in the coalmines of South Wales could be. In the space of a little over twelve years, she lost her first son William and her husband William in two mining accidents at the same Abertillery colliery. As if that wasn’t bad enough, her husband was working alongside their son when the first fatal accident happened:

 

South Wales Gazette and Newport News, Friday 13th November 1914:

KILLED BY A FALL.

INQUEST ON CWMTILLERY COLLIER.

Mr. J. B. Walford (district coroner) conducted an inquest at the Abertillery Police Station on Thursday afternoon on the death of William Jones (16), a collier boy of 58 Bottom Row, Cwmtillery, who was killed by a fall of roof at the Rose Heyworth Pit, Abertillery, on Monday.

Mr. P. T. Jekins, Mines’ Inspector, Mr. Geo. Barker, Miners’ Agent, and Mr. T. Jenkin Williams, the manager of the colliery, were also present.

William Jones, collier, deceased’s father, said his son was a healthy, active lad. He died about 10-30 on Monday evening. He had been working with witness at the Rose Heyworth Colliery, and about 1-15 a fall of roof occurred in the South Old Coal district, where two men and two boys were working together. Witness was five or six yards away from his son, who was fetching “curlings” to fill the coal box. Witness and a man named Berrows were considering replacing of some timber when their attention was attracted by a crash. Witness called to deceased, “Are you alright, Will,” and heard deceased cry out. Witness ran to his assistance, and found him partly under a lump of coal. He was released in a minute, but witness could see he was badly injured. He was taken to the surface as quickly as possible. A good deal of the roof had fallen, and witness noticed that a sprag which had been put up only last Saturday was broken. The coal above the sprag was overhanging a couple of feet. The bottom coal underneath the overhanging part had been taken out last Saturday.

The Coroner remarked that he was afraid that there was a tendency on the part of men who had worked many years underground — the longer the more noticeable — to think that if a place sounded safe and looked safe there was probably no danger. Hidden slips, however, accounted for a large percentage of accidents. Wm. Roberts, (day fireman) said he was at the spot in question that morning and noticed the overhanging part, but thought it was spragged. Witness did not think it was dangerous. He had examined the place since, and came to the conclusion that there had been a slip, but he did not think that accounted for the accident. There was a “bump” present, which he thought caused the coal to fall.

Dr. Chas gordon Bennett deposed to examining the deceased who had a compound fracture of the right leg, and died from internal hemorrhage and shock.

The Coroner, in summing up, directed the jury to consider whether any precautions could have been taken to prevent the fatality.

The jury returned a verdict of accidental death, and expressed sympathy with the deceased’s relatives, in which the Coroner, Mr. Geo. Barker (for the Federation) and Mr. Williams on behalf of the Company, concurred.

 

South Wales Gazette and Newport News, Friday 28th January 1927:

Abertillery Colliery Fireman.

THE FUNERAL.

A sad fatality occurred at the Rose Heyworth Colliery on Saturday morning, the victim being William Jones (55), a fireman, of 58 the Rows, Blaenau Gwent. The deceased was killed instantaneously by the fall of a stone from the roof. He was a married man, and leaves a widow and ten children, three of whom are attending the County School. He was a member of the old Blaenau Gwent Male Voice Party, and sang regularly among them, while he has also been a member of other singing parties, and was highly respected in the Blaenau Gwent district. He was a faithful member of the choir of Blaenau Gwent Baptist Church and a member of Mr. Howell J. Davies’s Sunday-school class.

The funeral took place on Thursday, and was largely attended. The Rev. Ivor Evans conducted services at the house, the church, and the graveside.

The chief mourners were: Mrs. Louisa Jones, the widow; the misses May, Beryl, Gladys, Nancy, Lilian, and Doris Jones, daughters; Messrs. David, Stanley, and Gwyn Jones, sons; Mr. and Mrs. Johnathan Jones, brother and sister-in-law; Mr. and Mrs. G. Godwin, Mr. and Mrs. W. godwin (Garndiffaith), Mr. and Mrs. Henry Coombs (Gloucester), Mr. and Mrs. E. Crease (Garndiffaith), Mr. and Mrs. J. Thorne (Penarth), and Mrs. E. Luton, sisters and brothers-in-law; Messrs. David and Joseph Boots, W. Jones (late manager of the Vivian Colliery), F. Hayes, J. Ellaway, M. Sheean, T. Ford, C. Baldwin, T. Davies, H. Thomas, T. and W. Berrow; and Messrs. T. Deer, T. Davies, J. Baker, W. Waters, and B. Silcox (colliery officials).

The arrangements were carried out by Messrs. A. Horler and Sons.

 

At the time the 1939 Register was taken, Louisa Jones nee Godwin was living at 53 Roseheyworth Road, Abertillery, her date of birth being given as 10th December 1878. Also with her are three of her children: Nancy born 25th October 1910 who is recorded as a School Teacher; William T (known as Towey) who was born on 28th May 1918, and recorded as Incapacitated; and one closed record which I know to be her daughter Doris (known as Doll), who is still alive at the time this document was last updated.

 

The following memorial inscription can be found at the Blaenau Gwent Baptist Church, Abertillery:

 

In Loving memory of WILLIAM, beloved husband of LOUISA JONES, accidentally killed at Rose Heyworth Pit, January 22nd

1927 aged 55. Gone but not forgotten. Also WILLIAM, their son, who was accidentally killed at Rose Heyworth Pit on November 9th

1914 aged 16. Asleep in Jesus. And in Proud and Honoured Memory of the Beloved Mother of the Above, LOUISA JONES, who died

November 19th 1965 aged 86.

 

Census References

 

1841:

George Skinner and Ann (Nancy) nee Godwin: HO107 Piece 956 Book 6 Folio 73 Page 7

Benjamin Godwin and Mary nee Vawer, William Godwin, and Ann Godwin: HO107 Piece 956 Book 6 Folio 41 Page 15

 

1851:

George Skinner and Ann nee Godwin: HO107 Piece 1946 Folio 322 Page 53

Benjamin Godwin and Mary nee Vawer, and William Godwin: HO107 Piece 1946 Folio 286 Page 10

 

1861:

George Skinner and Ann nee Godwin, and William Godwin: RG09 Piece 1710 Folio 29 Page 27

Mary Godwin nee Vawer: RG09 Piece 1710 Folio 19 Page 8

John Godwin: RG09 Piece 1709 Folio 81 Page 2

Samuel Godwin: RG09 Piece 1709 Folio 82 Page 3

 

1871:

George Skinner and Ann nee Godwin, and William Godwin: RG10 Piece 2516 Folio 20 Page 32

John Godwin and Ann nee Woolford, and William Godwin: RG10 Piece 5335 Folio 39 Page 22

William Godwin and Emily nee Gray: RG10 Piece 5335 Folio 39 Page 22

Samuel Godwin: RG10 Piece 5335 Folio 10 Page 16

 

1881:

Mary Godwin nee Vawer: RG11 Piece 2462 Folio 30 Page 9

William Godwin and Emily nee Gray: RG11 Piece 5253 Folio 64 Page 34

Samuel Godwin and Phoebe nee Jones: RG11 Piece 5240 Folio 27 Page 48

 

1891:

John Godwin and Ann nee Woolford: RG12 Piece 4353 Folio 94 Page 51

William Godwin and Emily nee Gray: RG12 Piece 4363 Folio 62 Page 33

Samuel Godwin and Phoebe nee Jones: RG12 Piece 4363 Folio 7 Page 7

 

1901:

John Godwin and Ann nee Woolford: RG13 Piece 4935 Folio 96 Page 27

Alexander Thomas and Emily late Godwin formerly Gray: RG13 Piece 4946 Folio 95 Page 35

William Jones and Louisa nee Godwin, and Eliza Godwin: RG13 Piece 4935 Folio 96 Page 27

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