The Diaries of Henry Fothergill: Family Connections

For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of transcribing Henry’s diaries has been researching the backgrounds of the people he names – his family, friends and business associates. Getting to know the Fothergills’ history animated Henry’s words and sparked my imagination.  I started to see the family as characters in a novel rather than real people experiencing real events (I think I’ve read too much Alexander Cordell!).  So who exactly were the Fothergills and what role did they play in Glamorgan’s industrial development?

Fothergill interests in the South Wales iron trade began with Henry’s grandfather, Richard (1758-1821). He left the family seat at Lowbridge, Westmorland to become a builder in Clapham, South London. After marrying Elizabeth Rowland in 1788, he moved his family to Caerleon, living for a time at Back Hall. Following his ironmaking success at Pont Hir, he became a partner in numerous other works including Tredegar, Sirhowy and Penydarren.

Richard and Elizabeth had 3 sons; Richard II, Thomas and Rowland. In 1846, following an acrimonious court case, his son Rowland became owner-manager of Abernant and Llwydcoed Ironworks (also known as Upper Works) in Aberdare. He modernised both works and increased output until Aberdare Iron Co. became a major supplier of wrought iron rails and chairs for the rapidly expanding railway network.

Meanwhile, Richard II, who married Charlotte Elderton in Lambeth, London in 1822, inherited Lowbridge House, Westmorland. They went on to have 11 children – 4 boys and 7 girls: Richard III (1822-1903), Charlotte Elizabeth (1824-1907), Elizabeth (1825-1859), Mary Anne (1826-1851), Harriet (1828-1873), Martha Isabella (1830-34), Emma (1831-1914), George (1833-1915), Agnes (1834-1850 or 52), Henry, diary author, (1836-1914) and Thomas Rowland (1839-1909).

Richard III, the eldest son, was apprenticed to his Uncle Rowland to learn everything he could about the technical and business aspects of ironmaking. When Rowland retired to Hensol Castle in 1848, he left Richard III as overall manager with his 3 younger brothers working with him – Tom and George at Taff Vale Ironworks and Henry at Llwydcoed and Abernant.

Henry’s diaries begin in 1860 when, at the age of 24, he moves from Venallt, in the Neath Valley (the Fothergills owned Venallt Ironworks in Cwmgwrach) to Canal (Head) House. Henry gives detailed descriptions of the renovations he makes to his new home, including the addition of an aviary where he indulged what was to be a life-long passion for collecting exotic birds. Despite the move, he maintained close ties with his colleagues and friends in the Neath Valley, such as the Miers family of Aberdulais Forge.

By 1860, Henry’s older brother, Richard III, had married twice. His first wife was Elizabeth Lewis, daughter of Edward Lewis, canal agent, and sister to James Lewis of Plas-draw. James Lewis and his brother Evan became good friends with Henry. James, a coal master, bought Aberdare Iron Company following its liquidation in 1875, although he soon closed the ironworks to concentrate on its associated coal mines. He also took over Abernant House when Richard III retired to Sion House, Tenby.

Elizabeth died in 1849, soon after the birth of their daughter, also called Elizabeth, who later became the 3rd wife of Charles Kemys-Tynte (1822-1891) of Cefn Mably.

In 1850, Richard III married Mary Roden (1833-1909), sister of William Sargeant Roden, a Staffordshire ironmaster, and Richard Brown Roden, of Pontypool and Abersychan ironworks. The couple went on to have 6 children: Richard Thomas Fothergill (1852-1877); Mary Roden Fothergill (1853-1889); Helen Constance F. Fothergill (1855-1907); Ada Francis Fothergill (1858-1939); Sydney Roden Fothergill (1864-1943) and Theodore Roden Fothergill (1869-1895). They lived at Abernant House, which Henry often visited. Originally built by James Birch, one of the founders of Abernant Ironworks, but extended and modernised by Richard, Abernant House later became Aberdare General Hospital.

Mary Roden came from an illustrious family of Staffordshire ironmasters. Her mother was Ann Brown – sister to Thomas Brown, managing director of Ebbw Vale Company, and daughter to Richard Brown. The latter made the mechanism for Trevithick’s locomotive in 1803 and also established successful iron bar mills at Nantyglo.

Mary Roden’s brothers were also influential ironmasters. William Sergeant Roden (1829-1882) became a partner in the Shelton Bar Iron Company, Stoke-on Trent in 1857 and moved with his family into Etruria Hall, former home of Josiah Wedgewood.

Richard Brown Roden (RBR) married Henry’s sister, Emma Fothergill in 1855 in Westmorland. They had one child, Emmeline Roden Fothergill born in 1856. Emma petitioned RBR for judicial separation in April 1869 citing RBR’s adultery with their parlour maid, Mary Pritchard. The case was dismissed in May 1872. Emma’s brothers seemed to be very supportive of her, accompanying her to court in Westminster. RBR later moved to Corsica to oversee work at the Argentine Silver and Lead Mines at Calvi when his works manager died. Finding the mines overemployed, he discharged some of the workers.  This may have been the motive for his murder – he was shot in the back while leaving his residence, allegedly by a disgruntled former mine carpenter, in March 1887.

The Fothergills were also close friends and business associates of the Crawshays of Cyfrarthfa. Henry’s diary [D553/2, pp.93-94] contains a description of the celebrations surrounding the double wedding of Henry’s brothers George and Tom to Isabel and Laura Crawshay respectively (Francis Crawshay’s daughters):


Thurs 10 April  The Wedding Day!!  Crowds of people about & lots of flags flying triumphal arches etc.  We drove over to the Forest after an early breakfast, found Uncle Roland arrived we all started for Llantwit church, a mile and half off amid immense cheering, 6 carriages altogether, 4 horses in some,  6 bridesmaids in one including Helen Crawshay, she looked a perfect little angel so beautiful and fair in her white dress etc. everything passed off well at the church.  I shook hands with Laura & gave Isabel a kiss of congratulations.  Then back to the Forest amid tremendous cheering, splendid breakfast & 2 magnificent wedding cakes. No speeches, only Uncle Roland proposed health of brides & bridegrooms to which George responded in short but telling words.  They all four left amid a shower of old shoes.  I raffled my musical box 10/- per share & got #17.10 for it.  Mr C took 10 shares & won the prize…. 

George and Isabel had 7 children. Tragically, Isabel died of scarlet fever two days after their son John Rowland was born in 1876. Their oldest son George Algernon Fothergill (1869-1945) became a renowned artist whose work is exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery.

Tom, Laura and their family spent much of their time in Europe, eventually settling in Switzerland, where Tom died of a heart attack while out walking in the Roseg Valley, Pontresina, in 1909.

Henry spent a lot of time with Francis Crawshay and his family, frequently corresponding and making regular visits to Treforest, Barry Island (where Francis kept his boat) and Bradbourne Hall, Kent (which Francis bought in 1870 and where he died in 1878). It seems Francis had a soft spot for Henry. Ten days after the double wedding, Henry writes:


D553/2, p. 102, Sat. 26 April 1862, letter from Mr. Crawshay from London stating he had had his likeness taken for me purposely (very kind) and suggesting a wife for me, I don’t however want one for some six years

Henry may already have had his own marriage plans, involving Francis’ then 12 year old daughter, Helen Christine Crawshay. Henry writes:



D553/2, p. 120/121, Wednesday 28th May 1862, With George and Isabel to call at The Forest about 11 o’clock. Mr C come back from Barry, he not very well. Thinks of going down again on Saturday and asks me to accompany him he most kind to me…

Isabel a long lecture upon to me a most thrilling subject. I gave my best attention to it and intend profiting thereby for the next few years, when I look forward with hope and pleasure unutterable to a perfectly and truly heavenly reward and pray God that I may be so blessed


p.133, Friday 20th June 1862, Found a letter here last night on our arrival to me from Laura of a nature that has completely crushed me down.  I feel low, dispirited and perfectly miserable. It was about dear H. and gave me little if any hope of ever being owner of such a precious treasure as she is. Still I will live on hopes.  I wrote a long letter in reply to Laura dwelling strongly upon the whole matter and now anxiously await a half expected and half promised letter from Mrs C (as to her C.d.V)[Carte de visite]. 


p.181, Wednesday 9th July 1862, Gresham Hotel Dublin, Fine & warm, breakfast with strawberries & cream at 8.30.,walked to Post Office found a splendid lot of letters from, dear Mother, Hall, Mrs Crawshay, Stella, De Barry, Adams, half a dozen tradespeople, and a precious one from my own little darling H.C.C. Mrs. C’s from London very long interesting & touching most kindly on “the point” I live for..


D553/3, p. 46, Thurs 11th Sept 1862, …Last train to Woodlands. I found Mr Crawshay was coming over to talk to me a bit about Her. He and William did come over to tea but the subject was not touched upon after all. I was on pins all the time.


p.74, Wed 12th Nov 1862, …by last train to The Forrest found George, Isabel, Tom there, we all sat waiting till about 9 o clock, when the coach of 4 horses arrived with Mr and Mrs Crawshay, Francis, Tudor, Helen, Stella and De Barri and all the servants. We welcomed them at the door steps , I had not seen her for more than five months, she looks more perfection than ever, and has grown an inch and a quarter.


p.139, Thurs 15th Jan 1863, Fine-by first train to Woodlands and up again by return train. Tom and Laura well – baby not quite well – had breakfast and returned with a pill stuck tight in my throat, that Laura gave me, about Her , that Mr C had put his veto upon it, there is however plenty of time and in so good a cause with plenty of perseverance and patience I’m sanguine still.

p.154, Wed 4th Feb 1863, …A long and kind letter from Mrs Crawshay The Forest about Her, wanting promise etc etc I replied by Bag to Mrs Crawshay and promised everything she wished, though very hard to do so, indeed terribly hard, how shall I feel next time I see her?

It seems Francis Crawshay refused Henry’s proposal and sought assurances that Henry would abide his decision. Perhaps he feared having three Fothergill sons-in-law would threaten the Crawshay dynasty.

Did Henry’s disappointment contribute to his decision to leave Aberdare? Or was he just aggrieved, working long hours for little appreciation from his brother, Richard? Did he foresee the collapse in the iron trade, due to the dominance of steel making, which brought about the Company’s downfall in 1875? Who was the mysterious ‘Jones’ and why did he stir up trouble between the four brothers, leaving Richard in sole ownership of the Company in 1864? Could  ‘Jones’ be Henry’s code name  for Richard himself?

It’s clear from reading his diaries that Henry enjoys word games and solving puzzles – it took me a while to decipher the words ‘gnittis sliob’ until I realised it was actually ‘sitting boils’ backwards!. He’s certainly left me with a lot of questions. Finding the answers is becoming addictive!

Corinne Evans, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

The Diaries of Henry Fothergill

A long running volunteer project at Glamorgan Archives has finally come to an end, with the transcription of all 22 of the ‘Fothergill Diaries’. Part diary, part travelogue, the journals describe the life of Henry Fothergill, ironmaster, from 1860 – when the Fothergill family headed The Aberdare Iron Company – until his death in 1914.



By the time the diaries were written, the Fothergills had long had interests in a number of Glamorgan ironworks including Plymouth, Penydarren, Taff Vale, Abernant and Llwydcoed. The third son of Richard Fothergill and nephew of Rowland Fothergill of Hensol Castle, Henry led the privileged life of a wealthy Victorian gentleman, attending lavish dinners with powerful people such as the Crawshays. Indeed, two of Henry’s bothers (George and Thomas) married two of William Crawshay’s daughters (Isabel and Laura respectively) on the same day – a double wedding which Henry recounts.




Henry’s descriptions of his working life overseeing the ironworks are interspersed with tales of sumptuous dinner dances, holidays with friends (including Francis Crawshay and his family), shopping trips, sports and games, family celebrations and heartaches.

Henry, along with his two brothers George and Thomas, sold his interest in the ironworks to his older brother Richard in 1864, later using the money to travel the world in typical Victorian ‘Grand Tour’ style. Beginning in 1867, he recounts his adventures through Europe, Asia, the Middle East, the Americas, Russia, Australia and New Zealand in great detail, often commenting on the characters he meets. On his return, he joined the Essex Militia, rising to the rank of Major.

In 1877, he married Edith Horwood, a vicar’s daughter, and eventually settled in Copt Hall, Hawkhurst near Cranbrook. They had two sons – Gerald Rowland (1880-1970), who entered the priesthood, and Edward Gerald Neville (1882-1962), who is recorded as having poor mental health and is supported by attendants. Henry’s latter years were spent with his family, tending to his garden, exotic birds and livestock (including kangaroos!).

Filled with adventure, romance and intrigue, Henry’s detailed descriptions of people, places and activities make these diaries a rich social and local history resource.  Over the coming weeks, a number of the volunteers who worked on the project will be publishing their favourite extracts from the diaries on the blog. Well worth a look!  And if you would like to examine the diaries for yourself, and/or read the transcripts, please come along to Glamorgan Archives. We’d love to see you!

Corinne Evans, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

The Belief of Suspension: 50 years of the Severn Bridge

The River Severn has long marked a geographic barrier between the South West of England and South Wales. 2016 marks an anniversary for many of man’s constructed crossings of this river. 130 years since the Severn Tunnel opened, 50 years since the Severn Bridge opened and 20 years since the Second Severn Crossing opened.


For millennia the lowest crossing for road traffic was at Gloucester, which meant that the distance from Cardiff to Bristol via road was 91 miles, compared to the physical 25 miles which separate the cities.

By 1823 the Postmaster General, seeking a better route for important communications between London and Milford Haven and on to Ireland, appointed Thomas Telford, famous for his bridges in Cornwall and Menai, to advise on improving the route. Telford describes the site of the Severn Bridge as One of the most forbidding places at which an important ferry was ever established. He recommends a new ferry crossing from Somerset to Sully, bypassing the towns of Monmouthshire and South East Glamorgan altogether. A year later he proposes a suspension bridge to cross from Aust to Beachley, but this proposal is not realised at the time.

For a long time ferries plied their trade on the so called New and Old Passages across the river from around Aust on the English side to Beachley on the ‘Wales’ side, although Beachley is technically still in England. Some of the largest tidal ranges in the world and fast currents made the crossing very dangerous and unreliable. Passengers frequently had to wade ashore through mud and, in 1839, the ferry boat Dispatch was sunk with all hands when it hit a pier. A further ferry sank in 1843.

A report of 1845 said of the ferry, There is no great communication in the country so bad, or therefore where an improvement is so much wanted.

As the 19th century wore on the railways increased in importance for the moving of people and freight, so by 1874 the GWR had begun tunnelling under the river. They completed the route in 1886, 130 years ago, and South Wales was connected to the South West with a direct route for the first time.

At the same time a single track rail bridge was constructed across the Severn between Sharpness and Gatcombe. For years this was known as the Severn Bridge, but it was destroyed in an accident involving river barges in 1960.

The increase in Road traffic in the early part of the 20th Century prompted more calls for a new road bridge across the river. By 1923 the Road Improvement Association was actively canvassing for a bridge and in September 1923 Chepstow UDC called a conference of all interested parties including Monmouthshire, Glamorgan and Gloucester County Councils, Town councils from the counties and the GWR. Chepstow UDC were concerned that the main A48 from Gloucester was becoming heavily congested through the town, especially over the single carriageway Wye Bridge.

The GWR indicated they may build a joint road and rail bridge to replace the tunnel if the correct compensation were available, but they still lobbied parliament not to fund a road bridge to keep their monopoly over the crossing.

The Lord Mayor of Cardiff was quoted as saying, Nothing is of greater importance than better road communications between South Wales and the other side.

The conference selected the favoured crossing as that between Aust and Beachley which was suggested by a motion from the mayors of Newport and Monmouth.

The issue was additionally complicated by a campaign for any crossing to be coordinated with a hydroelectric barrage for the generation of electricity, a part of the plan that has still not been realised today.

In 1935 Gloucester County Council appointed engineers to commence planning a crossing, but the plan was rejected in 1936, and the Second World War intervened, with no further work for the next decade.


Whilst the war was going on the demand for the crossing was still recognised, and it was intended for it to be included in any post war rebuilding. By 1947 the idea for a bridge had been taken over from county councils by the Government under the Trunk Roads act and the plan called for a route including the bridge to run from the A38 at Almondsbury to the A48 at Haysgate. However the global post war slump and austerity meant that construction was postponed and the Forth Bridge was given priority.

During the 1930s the United States had taken the lead in bridge engineering with impressively long suspension bridges like the Golden Gate and the Tacoma Narrows bridges. With any suspension bridge the lighter you can make the deck, the less it costs and the further you can bridge due to the load on the towers. However, the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows five months after its opening demonstrated that a deck that was insufficiently rigid would be susceptible to the wind and harmonic frequencies destroying it. Previous railway bridges in the UK had also collapsed under similar circumstances.

The Forth Bridge was constructed with a lattice truss box girder deck to provide sufficient rigidity to prevent disasters like the Tacoma Narrows. However this resulted in an extremely heavy deck weighing 39,000 tons, and an expensive one in terms of the amount of steel used.

When designing the Severn Bridge it was decided to try to use the science of aerodynamics to reduce the amount of steel and dead weight held by the towers. A model was created for wind testing at the National Physical Laboratory, but an accident meant that it was destroyed. Whilst waiting for a new model to be created, Consulting Engineer on the project, Sir Gilbert Roberts decided to pursue the idea of a streamlined box section deck instead of the lattice truss used in the Forth Bridge. This idea proved to be suitable when combined with the diagonal hanging cables we see on the bridge, and at the time was a completely revolutionary idea, giving an economy in steel of over 20% over the original design. It also made construction easier, because the box sections could be floated into position, and maintenance because the box sections were far easier to paint than girders.


The ‘Severn Bridge’ is a combination of two bridges and a viaduct as the crossing from Beachley to Newhouse, south of Chepstow, required a further bridge crossing the Wye into Wales proper.

In the spring of 1966 the last two deck sections were slid into place and the dream of more than 100 years was complete. The bridge was officially opened by the Queen in September 1966 and stretched, initially, from Britain’s first four level cloverleaf interchange with the M5 at Almondsbury to the Newhouse interchange south of Chepstow. It was the lightest bridge for its length and loading ever built and gave British civil engineering the world lead in bridge design once more. It took 5 years to build at a cost of £8 million (1966). Its main span stretches 3240 ft and its towers are 400 ft high.


By the 1970s the traffic predictions upon which the first bridge had been constructed were shown to be inadequate, in part due to the removal of freight from the railways following reorganisation in the 1960s. The bridge had speed and width limits installed and was the cause of significant congestion for traffic entering and leaving Wales. The tolls, which used to be levied in both directions, were cancelled for eastbound traffic to remove the risk of the weight of traffic on one side of the bridge queueing for the tolls.

30 years after the first Severn Bridge opened, and 20 years ago this year, the Second Severn Crossing opened, a full motorway standard cable stayed bridge, which has taken over the job of carrying the M4 from London to Pont Hafren. The Severn Bridge, now a part of the M48, is now a listed building and an example of British engineering’s ingenuity.

Glamorgan Archives holds a number of collections documenting the construction and effect of infrastructure in South Wales. The archives of the National Industrial Development Council (DIDC) record their efforts to pursue the construction of a road crossing for the Severn. Correspondence between Glamorgan County Council, its Urban District Councils and the UK government reflect their interests in the bridge’s construction (UDR/C/65/501). There is an historic issue of the Western Mail for the opening day, which records much opinion and celebration regarding the opening of the bridge and the importance of the connection (DX935/8/31). Glamorgan Archives is also the repository for the Welsh component of the Motorway Archive (DMAW), which contains records of the construction of the M4 including the Severn Bridge, the A55 expressway, and other major trunk roads in Wales.


New Digital Education Resources at Glamorgan Archives

Glamorgan Archives provides a variety of services to the schools, colleges and universities – and their students and teachers – within the local authority areas we serve.

We welcome visits from school groups of all ages.  School visits are free of charge and last up to two hours. We can accommodate a maximum of 30 children in one visit.

Visits can be self-guided, with teachers leading their students through research using primary resources from the Glamorgan Archives collection, with advice from professional archivists.  Structured workshops are also offered at the Archives.  Delivered by our staff they can be tailored to the locality of the school visiting.

To date, workshops have only been delivered onsite at Glamorgan Archives.  But, thanks to grant funding from the Welsh Government distributed through the Archives and Records Council Wales, our workshops are now available to download from our website for use in the classroom.

Each workshop includes a series of images of digitised documents from the Glamorgan Archives collection, with accompanying teacher notes.  The resources are aimed at Key Stage 2 but can be adapted for use at any level.

The topics featured are:

World War II


Find out about the impact the Second World War had on Cardiff and south Wales.  Discover how schools were affected; learn about air raids and air raid precautions; find out more about evacuees; explore how the war was fought on the Home Front through Dig for Victory and Make Do and Mend; see how rationing had an impact on everyday people in south Wales.

Sources used include school log books, maps, photographs, letters and much more.

Rich and Poor in Victorian Times


Find out how rich people in south Wales lived in Victorian times; and discover how the poor Victorian people of south Wales led their lives.  Learn what was it like to go to school in Victorian times; explore the working lives of people in south Wales; discover more about the houses Victorian people lived in and the furniture and appliances they owned.

Sources used include census returns, maps, photographs, school log books, diaries and much more.

From the Collieries to Cardiff Docks: Industry and Shipping in South Wales


Discover more about coal: where did it come from? How was it used? Where did it go? Learn how Welsh coal powered the world and explore how it was exported via Cardiff Docks.

Sources used include: maps, photographs, census returns, trade directories, shipping records and much more.

The First World War


Discover more about the impact of the First World War on the people and communities of south Wales.  Learn about life at the front, about the people from south Wales who served in the war, and the care provided for injured soldiers; discover how the War affected life at home and in school; and explore the changing role of women during the war.

Sources used include school log books, photographs, letters, diaries and much more.

Shopping in the Past


Learn about how the way we shop has changed over time.  Explore the changing face of the local high street and Cardiff city centre; discover more about the development of home delivery; find out about food rationing during difficult times; and learn about the treats on offer at cafes in the past.

Sources used include photographs, trade directories, building plans, census returns and much more.

The resources are available to download from the Glamorgan Archives website