Hannah Williams (1895-1987) – early days 1895-1916

Dad’s mother had been Hannah Phylyp Williams (1895-1987). She told me very little about her early life, but this account, dealing only with the period up to her marriage in 1916, provides a somewhat rare instance when family history records provide significant clues about a person’s feelings.

My grandmother was born into a Welsh-speaking (only) family. Her father William Philip Williams (c. 1858-1898) had married Ellen Price Williams (1866-1952) in 1890. Born in Llanllechid, Caernarvonshire (between Bangor and Bethesda), he was a Calvinistic Methodist minister at Brynderwen, Waenfawr; a house that still stands. Ellen had been born in Eglwysbach, near Tal-y-cafn and Llanrwst, in the Conwy valley, and married William in Caernarvon. They had two sons, Rowland Philip (1894-1974) and Samuel Philip (1897-1934), while Hannah was the middle child, born on 29 March 1895.

After William died on 6 March 1898, Hannah was sent to live with her uncle, Hughes Price Williams, who lived at 66 Buchanan Road, Wallasey. Hughes Price (1864-1918, also born in Llanrwst) lived there with his wife Mary Price Williams (1870-1939). While he had been recorded as living in Llanrwst in 1881, in 1891 he was lodging in Toxteth Park, Liverpool, as an “assistant ship’s steward”. In 1901 he was described as a “commercial clerk”, with a servant, Elin Jones, 20, who had come from Waenfawr. By 1911 he was described as “assistant ship’s steward”. They had no children. It seems that Hannah was sent away immediately after her father’s death, as she was recorded as receiving a prize in Wallasey in 1899.

Rowland and Samuel stayed with their mother Ellen at first; then, for reasons that are unclear, Ellen ended up working in Bryntirion Grange, a house near Knolton Bryn on the Flintshire/Shropshire border, taking Rowland with her. This is puzzling if for one reason only; although placed in Wales, Knolton was in an area that was entirely English-speaking, but Ellen and Rowland spoke only Welsh at the 1901 census. Hannah, incidentally, was recorded as bi-lingual.

Bryntirion seems to have several names, but in the 1901 census it is recorded as Bryntirion House, with a 53-years old widow, Eliza A Fawkes, born in Cork. She was attended by four servants: a housemaid, lady’s maid, groom and gardener, and a cook, all but one born in England, and of course with English as their only language. Presumably Ellen replaced or supplemented one of these servants.

I had thought that Bryntirion House was at some distance from the house to which Ellen would move, but it was, in fact, perhaps 150 yards away. With grounds that fronted the main road from Ellesmere to Overton, this was reached by a drive on a minor road, running alongside the Bryn (a Bryn is a form of common). I recall this house from boyhood in the 1960s, when it was derelict; Dad was amused by my interest. His comment, as I recall it, was that such houses had had their day; the sort of people who had lived in them, with servants, no longer afforded servants or had a reason to live in the area. As it happens, Dad lived into an era in which rural living for wealthy town and city commuters became viable, and the house was rebuilt.

It is surmise, but as the widow of a Methodist minister, it seems obvious that Ellen would attend the local chapel. This was a tin chapel, built about 1890 (as were many). It was about 100 yards away, on the edge of Knolton Bryn, standing at the junction with a lane that led to a local farm and a cottage that stood in a large garden. This was the family home of Edwin (“Ted”) Sadler (1864-1941), who was a joiner.

Ellen may have met Ted Sadler at the church, and she married him in 1905 (recorded as January), in Ellesmere. They soon had two more children – Edwin Price Sadler (1906-1959) and Thomas Price Sadler (1907-1957), born in the Overton area. When Edwin died on 11 April 1959, probate was granted to his half-brother Rowland, “of Knolton Bryn”.

As a boy, I was unaware of the connection between Hannah and the family in Knolton, but I do recall one rather awkward telephone conversation between Rowland’s son Ronald and “Aunty Phyl”, as he called her. On one occasion – 1972, I think – my grandfather Horace took his daughter Pam and myself to meet up with Uncle Rowland and Aunt Amy. He was beaming, delighted to be there, but my grandmother, whose relatives they were, refused to go. There had always been a story that she had felt rejected by her mother.

The reason for this is only now apparent. I have no memory of Uncle Tom and Uncle Edwin, but for Hannah, it must have been galling to be parked with her mother’s older brother, in a strange distant town in which few spoke Welsh. Even more galling, her mother had taken one son with her, placed the other in an orphanage, and then, having remarried, had two more sons who lived with her. There were clearly some visits before Ellen passed away in 1952, as Dad was sent there in boarding school holidays; and, as I relate elsewhere, it seems that it was Hannah who rescued Uncle Sam and brought him to Wallasey.

Hughes Price Williams, her uncle, is merely a name to me; but in the 1970s my grandfather Horace told me the story, with some amusement, of how he and Hannah met.

Horace, who had been born in Wallasey and was in the army at Kinmel, was on Rhyl Station in 1916, presumably going home on leave. He recognised Hannah, and asked “Are you Miss Williams from Wallasey?” She confirmed that this was so, and they went back to Wallasey together. (I have no idea why she was on Rhyl Station in wartime, but they would take holidays in Rhyl later in life, and maybe this was a day out for her).

Not long after this meeting, she was invited to a musical evening in Wallasey, and was unable to get home in the fog. When she did finally get home, her uncle was furious, accusing her of having been with a soldier (which was true enough, but he regarded this as scandalous). Her uncle, Horace said, had thrown her out of the house, and she had gone to my grandfather for help. He managed to find her accommodation, and, expecting to be killed when he was sent to the front, offered to marry her so that she could receive his pension after his death.

Horace was entirely matter-of-fact when he told me about this. I do not (yet) know where they went to live, but they did marry, very quietly, in December 1916. Shaking his head, Grandad confirmed that he had survived the war unexpectedly, and was (then) still married 60 years later.

Updated 13 Nov 2016