Monday, 5 December 2011

My Village, My Home, My Life - part eleven

Chapel House, Tainant
Last week was a great week for family and local history. I left the village of Penycae over 43 years ago, and it's taken me all this time to get an interest in my roots. I think that I'm making up for that, as there's hardly a day goes by without me researching my family, or researching my local area. I'm loving every minute of it, though with over 1000 names now in the family tree, I still haven't come across anyone that has made a big impact on the global scene.

The family over the last 150 years or so have been good, honest, down to earth coal miners, and my admiration grows daily for both husbands and wives as they battled with dangerous jobs, poor money and bringing up large families in two roomed cottages.

My Grandmother's side (Mum's Mother), is the Valentine family, and for at least three generations they came from the tiny hamlet (is that tautology, as is there any other type of hamlet?) of Tainant, which is about one mile outside of the Penycae village. Let me bore you a bit more with some stats about Tainant. According to the website, and the Land Registry, there are currently 23 properties in the hamlet, with the oldest being just under 200 years old. The main family home is no longer there, but one or two other properties lived in are still occupied. The most expensive house purchase is Chapel House, which is the converted old Methodist Chapel, and in 2005 sold for £333,000. The least expensive sold for £17,500 in 2000. I tried to take a picture of Tainant when I was up there last week, but because of its topography - winding valley with heavy tree growth on either side - it wasn't possible to see more than one house at a time, no matter where I stood. It has been fascinating piecing together the very large Valentine family that has its roots in Tainant.

Another thing that I did last week was to join the Clwyd Family History Society. Their office and Resource Centre are only a few miles from Penycae, and they focus on the history of North East Wales.  Clwyd no longer exists except as a 'Preserved County', which is largely ceremonial. The area it covered ceased in 1996 and became Conwy, Denbighshire, Flintshire and Wrexham. Regional reorganisation has often amused me, as in 1974 Clwyd was established from a merger of Flintshire, most of Denbighshire and part of Merionethshire. The wheel has largely turned full circle in less than twenty years. The Society is run by volunteers, and produces excellent material for those interested in the family history of that area. One booklet that I came across was the burial register of Salem Baptist Chapel in Penycae, which has been extremely helpful in filling in some gaps in my family tree.

1st Salem Chapel 1806
During my visit to the village last week, I met up with the person who looks after the burial register, who helped me to find my way around the graveyard. During that time, and having coffee with him and his wife at their home afterwards, I learnt much that I was unaware of.

Previously, I'd been researching where Penycae Particular Baptist Chapel was situated, and low and behold this is what Salem had been called in the past. The present Salem Chapel was built in 1878, and while I was vaguely aware that there had been another one before that, I did not know that there had actually been three Salem Chapels.

The picture opposite is of the first Chapel, which was opened in 1906. "T Capel Cyntaf" means the first Chapel. Two cottages at the top of Bridge Street were converted into the Chapel. This is opposite the small graveyard which was used by that Chapel. Unfortunately, all burial records from that time were lost a long time ago. The plaque which you can just see between the upper floor windows is in the present Chapel. This Chapel lasted for about twenty years, before there was the need to provide a bigger, purpose built building.

2nd Salem Chapel 1825
In 1825 the newly built second Chapel was opened. It stood on the corner of Bridge Street, Chapel Street and Church Street, just a few yards from the first building.

It stands directly opposite the present Salem Chapel, and those who know the graveyard can see from the way that they are facing, which direction the Chapel was in.

Though there is a burial register, it is not easy to find graves in what they call this middle graveyard, particularly those that are unmarked, and there are plenty of those. After a while, it became difficult to work out where one line of graves ended, and another started. Mind you, it was damned cold and windy when I was there, so the thought processes were probably weakening.

3rd Salem Chapel 1878
And so, just over fifty years later, the current Chapel was opened in 1878. I think it's a lovely stone building with a graveyard on either side of it. So far, I've found 14 relatives graves at Salem, but as there are another 17 graves with Valentine's in them, there may be more relatives to come.

It was decorated inside about five or six years ago and looks beautiful. It has a balcony at one end (that's the top windows in this photograph), and behind the pulpit at the other end is a magnificent early 20th Century pipe organ. Though Church music, along with all other forms has moved on a bit over the years, I still think it's hard to beat a quality pipe organ, played by a quality musician.

I learnt two things from my new friend at the Chapel. The first was that my Father drove a lorry for a man who ran a local haulage firm in the late 1940's. This filled in a gap that had been annoying me. There was a two or three year gap between when my parents moved to the village, and when he started working for the local electricity company. What had he been doing in that time? While I'm still trying to get official confirmation of this, it looks like he was driving a lorry.

The second thing I learnt was concerning a brother who died before I was born. I think that the first thing I knew about him was when my Father had been buried, and I was eleven. For over 50 years I've been trying to find out information about him; where were they living at the time? And what did it mean when the grave says that he "died in infancy"? My Mum would never speak of it; perhaps it was all too painful. However, last week I found out that the address given was the Wern, which would have been my parent's first married home - this also helped to give me a more accurate time line of when they moved to Penycae. The burial register also said that my Brother died at 11 hours old. In researching the family tree, I've noticed how many children died very young, but 11 hours must have been particularly distressing.

All communities have their stories to tell, but isn't there something special in stories about your village, your home or your life? As soon as I think that I've come to the end, somehow something else crops up, so who knows what the future will bring.


  1. Thanks for a lovely blog - I lived in Tyddyn Eitha (the house at the junction of Bridge St and the road down to Tainant) for seven years until 1997. There was a cemetery to the front of us and, when the chapel cleared the small area to the back of us, we found another burial site. That was from the earlier period and documented many children's deaths. Our first born was 11 months old and names Huw Jones - we found one gravestone with that name on it and decided it was time to move!

  2. Hi, thanks for your comments. I know the house you speak of very well. Of course I'd long left the village when you lived there. I hope that you are 'cemetery free' now.
    Regards, John