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The Life of James Davies

James Davies

These pages contain extracts from 'The Life of James Davies: A Village Schoolmaster', written by Sir Thomas Phillips and published by John W. Parker, London, in 1850. The emphasis is on Chapter I, dealing with James Davies childhood, spent in the area of the parish of Llangattock Lingoed, and Chapter V, that deals with his later life when, in his eighties, he returned to raise funds for the building and maintenance of a school.
The whole of this book is now available online from Google Books.


Chapter I: Grosmont

James Davies was born on the 23rd day of August, A.D. 1765, in the parish of Grosmont, in the county of Monmouth; and in the register of baptisms in that parish for the next year, is the following entry, “February the 10th, James, the son of Edward Davies, by Judith, his wife”.

The parishes of Grosmont and Llangattock-Lingoed are separated by a rivulet called the Trothy, which rises in the parish of Grosmont, and, after pursuing a devious course, joins the Wye, near the town of Monmouth. Near the well-head of the stream is a farm-house called Blaen-Trothy, or the head of the Trothy, which was the residence of Edward Davies, who belonged to the class of tenant-farmers in a district, in which large tracts of land were often held by men of limited means.

Blaen Trothy

The wife of Edward Davies was one of two daughters, the children of a farmer of the name of Ephraim Davis [Note 1 ]. Dying in their infancy, his children were brought up by their maternal grandmother, who gave them a good education. One of those daughters, Elizabeth, married a person of the name of Williams, and has left descendants now living in and around the town of Abergavenny; and the other, Judith, became the wife of Edward Davies, to whom she was married on the 22nd of March 1754, at the parish church of Grosmont.

On her marriage she removed to Blaen-Trothy, where she lived until her husband's death, and where all their children were born. James, who was the fourth child, had a weakly body,—but he, nevertheless, attained old age, and survived all his brothers and sisters, save only one, Mary Marshall,—and she soon followed her brother to the grave, at the age of eighty-three.

In the boyhood of James Davies, a school was kept at the parish church of Llangattock-Lingoed, by a decayed farmer, named Thomas Evans, and another in the village of Grosmont, by a retired exciseman. After the death of James Davies, his surviving sister said that her brothers had gone to school at Grosmont, where they were taught to read write and cipher; but it is certain that he attended the school at Llangattock, which was nearer to his father's house than the village of Grosmont. In the last year of the old mans life, whilst himself keeping school at Llangattock, he pointed out spots in the churchyard where he had sat down when a boy at school; and there still lives an aged yeoman who remembers James Davies, in his way to the school at Llangattock, passing by the house in which the old man yet dwells.

Judith Davies is described, by those neighbours by whom she is remembered, as a proud high-stomached woman,—tenacious of what she conceived to be her rights, and disposed to assert them in an imperious manner. By her descendants, however, her memory is regarded with affection, for—the care with which she cultivated the minds of her children, the firmness with which she resisted oppression, and the self-respect she maintained in adversity.

Blaen-Trothy, where the family resided, is distant eight miles from the market town of Abergavenny; and in the boyhood of James Davies, there dwelt in that town a first cousin of his father, who followed with success the profession of an attorney. That gentleman, whose name was Barnard Davies, preserved friendly relations with his cousin, and offered to receive one of the boys into his office. The elder sons were hale and lusty, and for them the farm afforded appropriate occupation; but James was a feeble and sickly boy, unequal to hard labour, and, without regard to his own inclinations, he was converted into a lawyer's clerk, and placed in the office of a country solicitor in large practice.

It is not known, at what age he left his father's house, or how long he continued in the office of his relative; but it is certain that before he was fourteen he had relinquished an occupation, for which he conceived a great distaste.

On his return to his father's house he sickened of scarlet fever; and before he recovered, his father was attacked by that disease, and died in the month of July, 1779. The eldest son, Edward, retained the farm at Blaen-Trothy, and the mother removed to a small farm in the neighbourhood, called Little Campston. Edward Davies kept his father's stock, except four cows and a few articles of furniture and farming implements, which were obtained by the widow as her share of the property of her husband.

She was accompanied by two of her children, of whom James was one, and Sarah, his youngest sister, who is said to have most resembled him in character, was the other [Note 2 ].

James Davies continued a feeble youth, unable to undertake laborious occupation; and he apprenticed himself, soon after his father's death, to a weaver, named John Jacob, who pursued that humble calling in the village of Grosmont.

For fifteen years he continued to work at the loom; first as an apprentice, and afterwards as a journeyman, residing for the whole of that time in or near Grosmont.

In the year 1795, being then thirty years of age, he rented part of a cottage, of which a woman of the name of Elizabeth Roberts, who earned a livelihood by baking and selling gingerbread, was the owner and occupier; and here he set up a loom, and worked at his trade of a weaver.

The Grosmont register records, that, on the 16th day of August 1796, James Davies and Elizabeth Roberts were married by banns, with consent of friends; and amongst the burials for the year 1801, is found the following entry:— ‘Jan. 17. Elizabeth Davies’.

On the wife's death, James Davies sold the cottage in which they had lived. His mother had died in 1798, and no living link remained to connect him with the place of his birth; which ceased from this time to be his home, and which he rarely visited afterwards, until the close of his life.

1. In the register of the parish of Grosmont is the following entry:–“Judith, the daughter of Ephraim Davis, baptized Dec. the 26th, 1729.”
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2. Sarah Davies married Robert Thorley, and went to live at the Wern, in Skenfreth, and here her mother Judith Davies, died in 1798. Sarah Thorley has left daughters, one of whom is named Judith, after her grandmother, and with her James Davies kept up a correspondence in after life.
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Last updated August 2007