My family historyMysteries

A Welsh family mystery

One of my maternal great grandparents is Charles Henry Hughes Spivey, who was named for his own maternal grandfather, Charles Henry Hughes.  I’ve been researching the Hughes family of Carmarthen for a number of years, and have learned a great deal about them.  One of the mysteries about the family is that although they seem to have been pillars of society and very respectable, none of the three Hughes men in Charles Henry Hughes’s generation appear to have married their partners. It seems extraordinary for people who were respectable, at this period, early to mid-1800s, in Carmarthen.

Charles Henry Hughes was born in 1807, one of seven children born to John Hughes and Sarah Spence of Carmarthen: John, Jane, Charles (stillborn), Sophia, Charles, Mary Anne and David Walter.  John Hughes was a dry-salter (but not a member of the livery company), a ship owner, a merchant, three times mayor of Carmarthen and generally very well thought of in the town.  He definitely married his wife Sarah Spence on 6 April, 1795 at St Peter’s.  So why did none of his male children marry their partners?

It took me a long time to work out what had happened with Charles Henry Hughes.  He was a solicitor, and Borough Treasurer, and while he was at home with his widowed mother, his children and the woman I presume to be his partner, Ann Jones, were living together with her mother for the night of the 1841 census.  The children were identified as Henry and Maria Hughes, but I later discovered that while Henry was baptized Hughes, Maria was registered as Jones, with no father shown on the birth certificate.  By the time of the 1851 census, three more children have appeared, all of them with the Hughes surname, but they are still with their mother and grandmother, Mary Jones, and once again Charles is with his mother.  Then for the 1861 census all five children are living with Charles Henry Hughes, and mother and grandmother are nowhere to be seen.  In his will, Charles Henry Hughes made provision for his natural children and no mention was made of their mother, and I presume she may have died some time before he did, in 1879. Finding Ann Jones and Mary Jones, once separated from the place I knew them to be located, is very difficult, and I have so far failed to find them.

That was strange enough, but looking at the will of David Walter Hughes, Charles’s brother, he leaves money to his reputed son, and reputed children by a woman who is described as a singlewoman, and is also left a stipend.  In neither case does it seem that the brothers were trying to avoid responsibility for their children; quite the reverse. Their elder brother John also had an illegitimate child before he died in 1827, two years before his father.

Charles’s sister Sophia was married to Lewis Morris, a solicitor and friend of the family, and they had a son, also Lewis Morris, who was a barrister and a famous poet (shown above).  It is alleged (most recently here) that he was forced to marry his partner, Florence Pollard, with whom he had two children, for fear of embarrassing Queen Victoria.  He then became Sir Lewis Morris.  It was said by some that if he had only married her sooner, he would have been considered as poet laureate, but others said it was his acquaintanceship with Oscar Wilde which made him an inappropriate candidate.  However this article asserts that he married Florence in 1868 and then announced his marriage in 1902.  Without a lot more research, it is difficult to know whether this is a cover story to explain the children born out of wedlock, or truly the case.  Lewis Morris is a common name in Wales and elsewhere, and as he is a distant cousin, I haven’t so far investigated this in detail.  The delay in announcing the marriage could also have been Victorian snobbery: Florence Pollard had been his housekeeper… or maybe that was their cover story! There is no mention of this situation in the obituaries and copious writings about his passing in the articles linked above, and it may indeed be a red herring.

I wondered for a while if the Hughes family had been converted to a particular sect which rejected civil marriage in favour of their own ceremony, but that really doesn’t answer the case.  Firstly, because I have discovered no sect of this sort in Wales at this time, and secondly because the partners lived separately and described themselves as single in the census returns.  And the references to reputed or natural children in their Wills seems odd if they had been through a form of marriage and regarded themselves as married.

There are a lot of illegitimate children born in Carmarthen around this time, so illegitimacy is not unusual.  What does seem unusual is the regard in which the members of the family were held, despite their domestic arrangements.

The picture is of Sir Lewis Morris from Wikipedia, and is in the public domain. I have read everything I can get hold of to do with Carmarthen in the relevant time (1830s and 1840s), I have talked to historians, I have asked in the archives, but I have been unable to find anything which explains this attitude to marriage, or explains why the men in the family in this particular generation didn’t marry while the women did.  If anyone has an explanation, I’d be glad to hear about it.

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