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Betsey Thompson Comes to Carmarthen

By A. B. Randall, B.SC.(ECON.), M.R.T.P.I.

This article has been reproduced on this website with the kind permission of A. B. Randall

Betsey In the summer of 1834, twenty-five year old Betsey Thompson left her home Doric House, Woodbridge eight miles north-east of Ipswich in Suffolk to visit her friend Mrs. Gibbins in London. She did not realise then that more than twelve months would pass before her return, and that would only be for a brief visit. In the meantime Betsey would accept a teaching appointment at Miss Woozencroft's School and set up home in Carmarthen. The story of her trip to London, her holiday there and the long coach journey to Wales is told in a letter to her friend Lucy, written at Carmarthen in 1835. It was the result of a promise Betsey made her "to relate everything of note", and to Lucy's "partiality for a long letter".

Before presenting the contents of this letter, it is of interest to relate something of Betsey's background. She was the fourth of seven children born to George and Elizabeth Thompson. She seems to have come from a prosperous middle-class background. George Thompson had worked as a builder in partnership with his father; he later styled himself architect and surveyor, and his obituary notice refers to him as county surveyor. With a local chemist, he was a founder member of the Doric Lodge of Freemasons, Woodbridge. The lodge history describes both as tradesmen of good standing, and "dominant men for whom the Woodbridge masons had been waiting". They were "men of ability and character", so much so that within one month George became Senior Warden.

Betsey's brother Francis, became a well known railway architect, successfully cooperating with Robert Stephenson. He joined the North Midland Railway in 1835 and designed twenty-six stations between Derby and Leeds, two of the earliest railway hotels at Derby and Normanton and two locomotive round houses. Francis Thompson's Derby Trijunct Station has been described as the "first really great Victorian Station". In 1846 he became architect to the Chester and Holyhead Railway and was responsible for the masonry on two of the most notable features on the route — the Conway and Britannia tubular bridges designed by Robert Stephenson.

Betsey's home, Doric House, was a substantial property, described in an 1862 sale catalogue as a "genteel" residence in a "pleasant and secluded situation, adjacent to the principal thoroughfare" of Woodbridge. This "capital residence" also contained a masonic lodge room. In addition the family owned adjacent properties including several cottages.

By Sea to London
"I shall now commence, from the period I left Doric House to this time. If you remember I set off at five o'clock in the morning, accompained by the Misses Goodwyn, and Mr E Goodwyn for our coachman, I did not then know I should have seen another country, as I only left home, with the intention of paying my kind friend Mrs Gibbins, a visit. We had a pleasant ride to Ipswich, and on our arrival, after walking about half an hour, we perceived the Boat of the Steam Packet coming close to the Quay, as the depth of the water at low tide prevents the Packet from coming close to the shore, it was some little distance down the river, ourselves, and luggage, were soon safely bestowed on board the Boat assisted by our polite coachman, who bade us adieu, wishing us a pleasant and safe voyage. In about half an hour we distinguished, the misty smoke slowly rising from the chimney of the Steamer, our rowers redoubled their exertions, and in a few minutes saw us safe on Board the "Ipswich", everything was very new to me as you may imagine, having never before been in a steam vessel". So wrote Betsey to Lucy.

The Ipswich in which she travelled, was, according to the Mariners Mirror, Vol. 51, No. 2 (1965), an early steamship built in 1825 and was one of two steamers which were the first to be launched at Ipswich. After surviving a severe gale, in which she had been feared lost, she acquired a reputation as a reliable vessel and plied a twice-weekly packet service between Ipswich and London. She was ultimately sold into the Carribean trade and operated from Jamaica.

"Our party consisted of I should think from 60 to 80 or thereabouts, amongst whom were Mr Alexander and his daughters, also the Rev'd Chissold, his wife and two of the most interesting little boys I ever beheld . . . . We had likewise five or six convicts, who were going on Board the Hulks lying at Woolwich. I was shocked to see the carelessness, and hard heartedness of these wretched men, so it is, crime begets crime and soon hardens the human heart, and deadens it to every good feeling, I hope however the time will arrive, when they may be led to see their wickedness, and ask forgiveness of that Saviour, who has promised that, tho' our 'sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow' . . ."

". . . . We had much fun, in noticing the behaviour of several love sick couples, who were to all appearance, very happy in each others society, such sights, as these to two idle girls you may conjecture was quite a treat".

"I cannot say I felt very well during the day, still I was not sea sick, only a little qualmish".

"The views obtained down the Orwell, were exceedingly pretty, many gentlemen's seats dispersed here and there, which added to the beauty of the scenery. We soon passed Harwich on the Essex coast, Sandguard Fort, Tratton in the Nazes etc. etc. but as some time has elapsed since, my memory, will not permit me to tell you all the places I passed before I reached the Thames . . ."

" . . . . The sea during the day was quite calm but we were longer than usually on the passage, as the wind was contrary, we passed the Nore Lights, which are floating lights for the benefit of vessels passing, warning them I suppose to steer clear of dangerous rocks or shoals near; we had a view of Sheerness, and Lurflect, also . . . . Tilbury Fort . . . . I was sorry, 1 had not a better view, as we entered the Thames, but the shades of evening, were gathering so fast around us, that we had but very imperfect views of the surrounding objects, I could however distinguish the Dock yards of Woolwich, and also the hulks, as they are termed, which are I understand the bodies of Men of War's Ships, now grown old, and unable to carry those brave Tars, who fearlessly fight their countrie's battles.

"At this place, we got rid of our convicts, a boat was sent from one of the hulks to fetch them, every eye was now turned with eager gaze to that side of the vessel, from where the men were let down, and I can assure you the rattling of their chains, as they were lowered into the boat, was anything but pleasing to our ears, but they seemed to show no regret for their past conduct, nor sorrow for their present situation, they entered the boat and bade their fellow voyagers adieu, as if nothing could affect them".

"By the time we reached Gravesend (which I ought to have mentioned before, as it is some miles before Woolwich) we passed several large Steamers, filled with gay company, who like us, were going on pleasure, the Bands of Music, which accompanied them, together with the appearance of so numerous an assembly of peoples, rendered the sights very attractive; soon after we passed Woolwich, we came in sight of Greenwich, where you know an Hospital is founded for wounded and infirm seamen, an institution worthy of its founder . . ."

". . . After leaving Greenwich, darkness was streaking over us, with rapid steps, a lanthern was now hoisted to the mast head, and by the aid of that light our Captain soon guided us safely amongst the numerous shipping in the London Docks, and we arrived very closely to the Quay, which I was very glad of, tho' during the last few hours, I had enjoyed myself more than any part of the day; but here an obstacle prevented our landing for a time, as the Comet, a fine Margate or Ramsgate Packet was in the advance of us, and had not finished emptying herself of her life cargo, these few minutes, were the most unpleasant and anxious to me, of any I had spent since I entered the Packet, as the bustle of the passengers, the hiss of removing luggage etc. etc. almost terrified me, together with the noise caused by the evaporation of the steam from the two Packets, we were at last obliged to go from our vessel, to the Comet, before we were able to land, and after all the necessary trouble incurred to travellers, we were once more on Terra Firma, with the task of getting a coach, this was soon accomplished, and after all our adventures, we were comfortably seated in the City of London, over a cup of good tea, and nice bread and butter, which latter article, we had taken with us, from the country, and after half an hours chat, and projected arrangements for the ensuing day, we cheerfully resigned ourselves to the arms of Somnus and slept very soundly as you may suppose, for we had been on our journey from five in the morning till past eleven at night, and now I know you will wish me to rest quiet in my bed. I will therefore lay aside my pen and fancy myself, in that same little white bed, and persue my theme . . . ."

Sights of London
Having arrived at London Betsey and her friends spent some time sightseeing. Her observations on the main attractions are all recorded, with several pages of her diary devoted to the 'Colosseum', which clearly fascinated and surprised her.

". . . We were too anxious to enjoy the novel sights of the Great Metroplis . . . . We first bent our way towards the fashionable part (as you will say of course). I mean the West End, on our way we went into Guildhall, . . . Castle Cheapside, and . . . . St. Paul's Cathedral . . . ."

".... When we reached Oxford Street, we were not a little surprised to see the great number of carriages, omnibusses, Hackney coaches, Cabriolets etc. etc. which were continually passing and repassing us, and here I cannot help remarking the great convenience derived from the Omnibusses, you are enabled to ride a distance of five or six miles for the trifling sum of 6d, this you may suppose is a great accommodation to the weary pedestrian . . . "

".... Continuing our way up Oxford Street .... soon brought us to that new Exhibition, so lately opened to the Public, termed the Pantheon Bazaar, I had many times visited the Soho Bazaar, which had always amused and gratified me, but since beholding the splendid Pantheon, I must regard it, as greatly inferior, I will endeavour to give you a slight sketch of it. It is, I should think situated about the centre of Oxford Street, with a handsome Portico, at the entrance, on ascending a flight of stone steps, you enter a spacious Hall, in the centre of which is an immence Vase, or Basin, filled with water, on the surface of which, are lilies growing, giving the whole a very pretty and rather romantic effect, there is also a large statue of a Lion, and several other pieces of Sculpture .... after passing through the hall, you suddenly find yourself in a large room most tastefully and elegantly fitted up .. . . We proceeded above stairs and here a new sight was presented to our view . . . beheld the walls covered with pictures of every description, from the most humble plants of the field, to the stately and majestic Lion . . . . it was also very pretty to view the gay company walking underneath us as busy as Bees ..."

".... A large apartment filled with pictures, was next presented for our admiration . . . . We next went to another large room, nicely fitted up, with counters, containing everything that could he desired, a well filled purse seemed the only requisite. I could hardly withstand the temptation of purchasing many things . . . . tho' I felt greatly inclined to procure a caricature of Morrison's Vegetable Pills, to send to my mother, it was so laughable, however on further deliberation, I thought I had better not, as my mother would not approve of it . . . . I was greatly astonished at the style of a young Lady's hair, who just stepped from a carriage, the colour of her locks, was a bright dazzling red, it was long behind, and plaited down the back, so as to form two long tails, which were tastefully ornamented by being tied with smart bows of Blue ribbon, this you may know was a perfect contrast to the golden locks, and might by some be thought exceedingly pretty, but I confess my taste somewhat differed, in this respect, since that period the fashion of dressing hair that way, is very generally adopted and I now look on a head so tailed with perfect indifference

"Bidding adieu to the fashion of tails, we entered another room .... in the centre of which, was a confectioner's shop, with every delicacy that could have been desired . . . We did not return the way we had entered, but descended a few steps, which brought us into a beautiful conservatory, filled with plants of every description, the sudden change, from a crowded room, to the calm and quiet of the cool conservatory, produced an indescribable sensation, .... for it came on us, so unexpectedly, there was also a fountain playing in the centre, the spray from which so cooled the air, that we seemed transported, as if by enchantment to another zone, the doors were of Plate Glass, which of course exhibited all the company, at the other end of the room, our passing through doors, we came into a small circular room, round which was a seat of Crimson, and very nicely carpetted for the accommodation of that part of the company who were favoured with riding in their carriages, here they waited till such time, as their carriage was announced, but I and my companions had no other, than that which nature provided, we did not venture to take a seat, as a notice was there, specifying "These seats are exclusively for Ladies waiting for their carriages ..."

". . . . I called at my Brother-in-law elect, but he was from home, my companions after tea went to the theatre, and I sat all the evening expecting Peter to call on me, however I was disappointed and after sitting for hours in my bedroom almost melancholy, I went to bed rather vexed, and a little angry, but as it transpired he did not understand my note, when I had the pleasure of seeing him, I escused the honourable gentleman.

"The succeeding day we had fixed for seeing the Zoological Gardens in Regents Park . . . I was very much surprised to see the great change and improvements which had taken place, since I had last seen the Park, at that period there was scarcely a building further than the Diorama, and now they are innumerable . . . we passed by the Diorama, without condescending to honour it, with our company so eager were we to see the Colosseum, I had seen the Diorama before and must confess. I was as much pleased with it as anything I saw in London, all that time, the novelty of the room revolving, was to me a source of surprise . . ."

"... We soon arrived there (the Colosseum) and were first shown into a large room full of statuary ... I know I felt excessively hot and tired, and gladly availed myself of a seat of Indian rubber, on spring cushions, which are nicely fitted round the room . . . . we were presented with a ticket, and then commenced our journey upstairs, as we had a great number of steps to ascend before we could obtain a view of the Great city, at last a glimpse of the picture came in sight, and we were very soon on a landing place, with a Balcony around it, and now we had a fine view of London, and its hundreds of streets, and houses without number it is really a most surprising and ingenious contrivance . . . . On several parts of the Balcony at equal distances, were small telescopes fixed, to enable us to obtain a nearer view of the Drawing . . . . we were asked whether we choose to pay an extra 6d, and enter the ascending Gallery . . . . we gladly and willingly parted with another sixpence as we had a great desire to learn a new method of going upstairs without the trouble of walking ... we went into a small circular room, sufficiently capacious to contain a party of twenty, we were no sooner comfortably seated, that, by means of machinery, we felt ourselves with the room rapidly rising, the sensation was odd, as you may fancy, ... in a space of less than five minutes, a jar or sudden jerk in our drawing room announced to us our journey was finished .... we had another and much higher view of London, this Balcony was considerably smaller than the other tho' fitted up with Telescopes in the same way ...."

". . . . We left the Colosseum, passing through a grotto . . . . we came to a conservatory and here the scene amply compensated for the last, there was also a fine aviary of birds, whose beautiful plumage was reflected in the water which played from the fountain. The last object for our inspection was the Swiss Cottage ...."

"We now bade adieu to the Colosseum with all its wonders and were greatly delighted with everything we had there seen ...."

"I went to see a drop of water magnified which astonished me as much as anything, I saw the thousands of insects running after and devouring each other, it was very suprising . . . . very pretty panoramic views of Virginia Water . . . ."

"I think now my dear Lucy I will conclude my description of the busy and vast metropolis . . . ."

Betsey's friends, the Misses Goodwyn, left shortly for Woodbridge. She confided to Lucy "be not surprised if I say my heart was with them on their way to dear home". Betsey herself prepared to visit Rathbone Place, where she was to stay for nearly a month before leaving for Carmarthen. Her reason for going was to take up a teaching postion at Miss Woozencroft's School, though we learn nothing from the letter why she took up that appointment when her original objective had only been to visit her friend in London.

Coach Travel
Betsey had very little option but to use the stage coach on her long journey to Carmarthen. Until put out of business by the development of the railway, the stage coach remained the principal form of long distance public transport as it was not until 1852 that the South Wales Railway reached Carmarthen. It may have been possible for Betsey to have travelled by sea, though as far as "conveyance by water" was concerned vessels from Carmarthen to London operated only about once a month.1

Coaching had received its main impetus with the building of the mail roads. This followed a government decision in 1784 to send letters by means of specially designed coaches. Wales quickly benefited in view of the importance of the Irish connection, Both the Milford Mail and Holyhead Mail began running the following year.2 As Dodd notes, the adoption of stage coaches for the Royal Mails "by stimulating road improvements everywhere .... brought about a revolution in social life. Soon all the main road were aswarm with coaches, 'fly-wagons' and post chaises, and even people below the range of 'carriage folk' could depend on regular transport postal deliveries".3

There was a choice of two principal routes from London to South Wales. The "lower road" through Bristol, New Passage (ferry) Cardiff and Swansea was about 14 miles shorter than 'upper road' travelled by Betsey Thompson. This passed through Oxford, Gloucester, Monmouth, Abergavenny and Brecon. A third route in use was that via Gloucester, Hereford, Hay and Brecon. It was the "upper road" however (now the A40) that was to prove most popular, not the least because of its scenic quality, vividly described by Betsey.

It is of interest to note that Betsey travelled by stage coach and not in the more expensive Mail Coach. As she notes in her letter the coach was the Paul Pry. This operated from the Ivy Bush Hotel, Carmarthen. Indeed an advertisement in the Carmarthen Jourual in June 1834. by George Davies and Co. of the Ivy Bush Hotel, boasted "Superior travelling from Carmarthen to Cheltenham in 14 hours! ! !" and that "the public are respectfully informed that the Paul Pry 4 Inside-Post Coach leaves the Ivy Bush Hotel every Morning at 5, (Sundays excepted) and arrives at the Royal Hotel, Cheltenham, at 7 the same Evening when passengers may either proceed to London immediately (where they arrive at 6 the following morning) or remain the night in Cheltenham, and proceed at 8 the next morning". The advertisement also points out that the Paul Pry was the only post coach from Carmarthen to Monmouth, Ross, Gloucester and Cheltenham. The Royal Mail from Milford Haven to London also called every morning at the Ivy Bush Hotel and followed the same route.

In August 1834 readers of the Carmarthen Journral were informed of 'a desirable coaching arrangement' and that the "spirited proprietor of the Red Rover Coach has completed an arrangement so that in the course of a week the said coach will leave Carmarthen at 4 o'clock in the afternoon to proceed direct to London as a night coach arriving the following evening in London at nine o'clock by the Rapid". The route passed through Hereford, Ross, Gloucester and Cheltenham.

In those days the Innkeeper often performed a dual function, not only providing accommodation for travellers but usually owning the stage coaches as well. This was true of the Ivy Bush, one of the grand old Inns of the coaching age. Williams has tried to capture something of the spirit of the Ivy Bush at that time. "Standing on the summit of the medieval town walls, with the fertile Vale of Towy stretching away to the rear, it was the epitome of comfort for man and beast alike. Porters clumped across the cobbled yard with heavy baggage as the travellers stretched and yawned, and the succulent smell of roast beef drifted out to give a new edge to their appetites. The stables held 80 horses, cared for by ostlers who took a pride in their craft, and from the haughty head waiter down to the humble boots, the staff scurried to attend to the needs of well-heeled gentlemen whom they hoped would reward them with a glistening half-sovereign".2

In 1834 the Ivy Bush Hotel operated several other coaches. Amongst the services advertised for the summer season were the Picton to Swansea, the Regulator to Tenby and Haverfordwest, and the Collegian, serving both the Lampeter and Aberystwyth route and the Brecon, Hereford and Worcester route.

Betsey's journey was clearly an exacting one, both physically and mentally. The horses were changed every seven or eight miles, and there were also changes of coachman and guard, but the passenger faced days of travel confined to a small coach often with uncongenial company. The Red Rover coach for example took twenty-nine hours to get from Carmarthen to London. This 'up' journey however took longer because of the unfavourable gradients. Betsey Thompson's route was a little different but nevertheless took at least 26 hours, as she left London on the evening coach, arriving in Carmarthen at 10.00 o'clock the following night.

Betsey's letter provides an interesting record of her doubts and worries about coming to Carmarthen; of the various people who accompanied her; descriptions of scenery and of towns; her amusement at hearing the Welsh language spoken for the first time and of her moral and philosophical views.

We can now join Betsey at the 'Boat and Castle' in London where she went on the evening of August 8th 1834, accompanied by her friend Mr Gibbins, to await the Paul Pry.

London to Oxford
"I had to wait there more than half an hour, as the coach was not arrived from the city, during that period it rained in torrents. I beguiled the time by looking at the Cabriolets, coaches etc. etc. which were now very busily employed in consequence of the wet weather. When the Paul Pry came it it was very full outside and three ladies within, I made the fourth, and bidding adieu to my kind friend, I quietly seated myself in the vacant seat mid was and was rapidly leaving behind me all I knew, to seek a temporary amongst strangers, who I must say were extremely kind and friendly to me.

"We stopped several times, before we finally quitted London .... I began to put down all the places where we stopped to change horses but soon the shades of night prevented me .... My companions were not very talkative, and I felt more inclined to think than chatter . . . ."

" . . . To the Country we passed Paddington, Fulham, Hanwell and I do not know how many places, my memory fails me to numerate. The largest places I now remember were, Uxbridge, Brentford, Witney where blankets are manufactured, High Wycombe . . . . I very much regretted as we drew near Oxford, that the night seemed much darker than it had done, but it was morning and not night when we reached the celebrated city. I think it was about one o'clock when our Guard sounded our approach.

"By the aid of the Lamps, I could distinguish the Turrets of the Universities, and certainly thought them very pretty .... I will leave the colleges and conduct you to the Inn, where we alighted and with my companions partook of a cup of tea, some cold lamb, which greatly refreshed us. There were two or three gentlemen from the outside, who I must say were very attentive during our repast — a few minutes were only allowed us, and our coachman presented himself to receive his fee; which after paying him and two shillings and sixpence for our supper, we were once more seated quite snugly for the remainder of the night. I had no inclination to slumber, but my fellow travellers were soon fast asleep.

Oxford to Gloucester
"I sat busy enough reflecting and wondering in my mind, what sort of place I should find Carmarthen, and how should I be received there. Still all the time, I felt in very good spirits, and thought well all is for the best. Between four and five in the morning, the sun arose, I think I never before saw so grand a scene, all the heavens seemed to be tinged with gold, and presented a very imposing appearance, we were now fast drawing near Cheltenham".

"The general aspect of the country here was very flat, and the earth was much whiter than any I have ever seen".

"The hedges which divided the fields were walls knit of stones placed one upon another, greatly inferior in my opinion to the pretty green hedges variegated with wild roses and honeysuckle that separate our cornfields of Suffolk".

"We arrived in Cheltenham about seven o'clock, not at all sorry that this far my journey was completed. Here I lost my companions, the Ladies went onto Worcester, and I after seeing my luggage put on another coach jumped inside, and with the exception of a gentleman, I was quite alone, indeed I might as well have been alone for the honerable gentleman did not condescend to open his lips, therefore ten miles were passed in silence and I was not at all sorry when he left me to myself. I could not see much of Cheltenham as the shops were not opened for business, it being too early. I thought it a very clean town, but I had better opportunity of seeing it on my home journey. We reached there about seven in the evening, and I was quite astonished at the size of the place. My being inside (the coach) before prevented my seeing it to advantage. I can only compare it to the most fashionable part of London. I mean as to the style of houses and gay promenades, the streets were very gay at this hour. It being the season for invalids and others to resort there to drink the waters, afforded me the opportunity of seeing Cheltenham at the best time".

"Now to return to my narrative, you left me alone in the coach where I tried to sleep for a few minutes, but sleep had quite deserted me and not till I arrived at my place of destination did 'Natures sweet restorer balmy sleep' visit my eyelids. The next town we came to was Gloucester, from which I could see of it appears to be a very ancient looking town, situated on a hill from whence several good streets branched off, there was also a Cathedral but I cannot give you a perfect view of the town as I merely passed through, and consequently only the principal features presented themselves to describe a place minutely one should be able to pass sometime in it".

".... We stopped at a large Hotel, and took up a Lord and his son, as the day was remarkably fine all were anxious to obtain an outside place, I should have preferred outside myself, but having taken my place, and the coach being full all the day, I had no opportunity of changing my place. An old woman, and the servant of the Lord were put inside, so that there might he room for the Lord and his son outside, so you may imagine my companions were anything but agreeable. I wished myself twenty times somewhere that I might have a better view of the surrounding objects than I could have shut up inside. I now and then asked a few questions, but the valet had never travelled the road before, he was as much unacquainted as I was with the places we passed, he was going with his master to Glamorganshire, they intended going as far as Abergavenny and the carriage was to be there in readiness to convey them to their place of destination, this much I learned, and this was all the conversation I had with the gentleman's man, who quietly resigned himself to one corner of the coach and read a novel which his master had given him to take care of, they being too much occupied with beholding the lovely face of Nature, to think of reading a mere description which must necessarily fall short of the reality".

Ross and Monmouth
"On leaving Gloucester, we passed through a portion of the chief town thro' which we went, it is famous giving birth to John Kyrle, the man of Ross of whom we read. I noticed a large Inn named after him, no doubt he is still remembered with the feelings of gratitude, and respect by the inhabitants of Ross, who are proud of being natives of this spot which was the scene of so many good actions of so worthy a man, would there were more to be found like him! There was a small river quietly gliding along, which I suppose was a branch of the Wye. I did not perceive any shipping, but conjectured the stream was too inconsiderable to afford any navigable trade to he carried on".

"A few miles ride, brought us to the County of Monmouthshire, and to its Capital Monmouth, it was a much larger town than Ross, and from it's appearance I thought it a good place of trade, there was a large meat market held in the centre of the town, which made me fancy I was amongst the Batchelor's Chambers of White Chapel. There was also a good building for the convenience of a corn market but we merely stayed a sufficient time to change horses and we were off again".

Abergavenny and Crickhowell
"We did not make any particular stay until we reached Abergavenny also in Monmouthshire what I remembered of the place, I considered it a pretty neat town, but did not observe anything of importance to fix my attention. On our arrival at the Hotel or Inn, we all alighted and my companion, the valet, with his Master proceeded on their way to Glamorganshire. Here it was usual for the passengers to dine, but as I had no one to join me, I partook of some biscuits, and again took my seat in the Coach, accompanied by a Lady going as far as Crickhowell, a distance of ten or twelve miles from Abergavenny, the ride from here was extremely beautiful, the scenery was now beginning to assume a different aspect, the Wye was slowly meandering by rising hills and beautiful trees in all the glory their summer foliage, perhaps I was more sensible of the scene as I had a companion who made herself very agreeable and kindly pointed out to me everything worthy of remark, which she could easily do as the views were all familiar to her and no doubt she was pleased to be able to show such fine views as they presented themselves to a stranger. I much regretted her absence for she soon parted from me as we arrived at Crickhowell. I thought it the shortest twelve miles I had rode during the day, so gratifying it is to have a pleasant and social companion, but these pleasures are but transcient — Human fife might aptly be compared to a Stage Coach, we take our places here for a short time, all intent on some particular business or great event, we witness many changes, and meet with characters as varied as an April day, and after a few delays and stoppages, we arrive at our journey end, wearied of the time that has passed and repeating that we had not employed it better, happy would it be for us if we thought more of how we should be received at the end of our journey and only busy ourselves by endeavouring to obtain a favourable reception, instead of employing ourselves so carefully about temporary concerns".

Brecon — 'Another Country'
"Soon after I parted with my companion at Crickhowell, I entered Brecknockshire and now the contrast to my own County was extreme, the landscape around here was exceedingly beautiful, high mountains some thickly studded with trees, rose majestically to views, which together with the neat little white washed cottages interspersed here and there at the foot of the mountains or amidst a group of trees, rendered the scene one of particular beauty and interest. One might imagine that all was happiness and content in the humble cottage of the Welsh peasant, so peaceful and calm did their habitations appear".

"It was not until I entered Brecon, that 1 began to fancy myself in another country, and then for a while my thoughts were of a melancholy turn, but I did not long suffer them to remain so, for when the coach stopped to change horses, I had much to see and observe, novelty often disperses melancholy reflections and chases them away at least for a time, as I had nothing to vex at particularly, I soon recovered my accustomed composure, and did not feel inclined to despond again No! not even when I reached Carmarthen I now perceived a great difference in the appearance of the inhabitants of this town, to any other I had seen, it was market day, I therefore had a good opportunity of seeing the bustle of the place. I was greatly astonished to see females riding to market, dressed in a styie widely different from any I had seen, but peculiar to the Welsh with round beaver hats. I am told the women are as au fait at buying and selling as the men, and not infrequently sell and buy corn".

"I was greatly amused to hear the language, it seemed a most singular jargon to my ears — indeed I had not once thought of an another language, tho' I was aware such was the case, but I had forgotten it quite 'till it sounded on my ears".

"Now to say a few words of the town, it is large well populated. I believe there are a number of poor class, who are employed in the mines or Iron works adjacent. To keep them in order, a regiment is stationed, who have a very good barracks for their accommodation. I saw two or three officers, and private men as we stopped at the Inn. There is also a fine large goal - I beleive it is a Borough town, and assizes are held there. I had the honour of the Governer of the jail's escort from London, as he was outside the coach — so you see I was in good keeping".

"The next town we came to was Trecastie, we merely stayed to change horses — I was not particularly struck with the town, which I should conjecture is somewhat in size like Wickham Market, perhaps a little larger. There was a very good Inn called the Camden Arms, but nothing else of importance to strike the traveller".

Llandovery to Carmarthen
"A few miles from Trecastle stands the town of Llandovery, here I observed the ruins of an ancient castle, but I was soon prevented from making further observations, by the darkness of the evening".

Denied by failing light, Betsey was obliged to await another occasion before savouring the charms of the remainder of the journey; that she was enchanted is demonstrated by her assertion "that Towy's Vale was and even must be the theme of admiration and delight to the lover of Nature, and teach him to look through Nature to Nature's God". On that other occasion she saw the journey thus:

"The continuation of my journey I must give you, as I saw it on my return home. I will therefore fancy myself at Carmarthen, and ride as far as Llandovery, it will only be reversing the scene. The day was exceedingly fine when I started, and I quite enjoyed the ride, as you may imagine, after being confined to scholastic duties for nearly twelve months. I had a fine view of the country around, and my companions pointed out Grongar Hill, which Dyer has so well represented in his poem, we passed no town of importance until we reached Llandeilo, but the scenery down the Vale of the Towy is beyond all description, I many times wished I could have taken a view of it, I am sure it is worth the pencil of any artist. I thought I should have had much pleasure in taking young Rowe who went to London with us, and placing him on some emminence that he might suddenly open his eyes to behold the beautiful views".

"As I have stayed at Llandeilo I can describe it a little, you enter the town by a neat bridge built across the Towy, the entrance is rather hilly, and what I am sure will appear very strange is that the road lies through the churchyard at first you would scarcely persceive it, but on looking more around you, you might observe the church on one side with a tolerable piece of ground, and on the opposite side more land appropriated for the repose of the silent dead".

"There is a very good market at Llandeilo, corn and meat etc. a town hall where all public business is transacted and two churches, the one I have before mentioned, and the other called Llandiviceal [Llandyfeisant], situated in the most romantic spot. I even beheld a lowly [?] dell by the side of an extensive Park, the property of Lord Dynevor, who resides in a mansion erected there. This is a very fashionable promenade for the inhabitants of Llandilo, as the owner has given permission for free access there — Llandilo is greatly inferior in size and in many other respects to Carmarthen, but still its Parks render it of some importance".

"The next small town is Llangaddock, I merely remember it as a collection of houses. After leaving Llangaddock we passed no town till we arrived at Llandovery, where I left off before I reversed the scene, and now as I have endeavoured to describe a little of all the places I saw it is getting high time to draw my narrative to a conclusion which I will haste to do, but I must first convey you to Brecon, where you may remember I was beginning to feel a little melancholy after we had changed horses. Two outside passengers got inside the coach, and after a few minutes conversation, to my surprise they proved to be Suffolk men, from the vicinity of Hadleigh and were well acquainted with Ipswich and Hadleigh. Had there been a cat or dog from Suffolk, I think I should have been delighted, how much more then when I met 'two creatures able to converse, and tell me a little of the Welsh customs and manners. I really began to feel my heart much lighter, and did not fear my arrival at Carmarthen".

"The elder brother soon composed him to sleep, while the other endeavoured to make himself very agreeable, but you well know he failed to do so, as I have before transcribed all the particulars of those two hours, it would be tedious for me to repeat it here. I will therefore bid Mr E----- K adieu, and wish him a good wife".

"I reached Carmarthen about ten o'clock and was conducted by the porter of the Inn to Miss Wozencroft's who resided Spilman Street, I was received very kindly by her, and after partaking of tea and ham, I retired to rest, not without having a glass of brandy and water, which I certainly needed not to make me sleep, for I had not slept since I left London. I was therefore no sooner in bed, than without feeling the least unhappy or uncontfortable at my situation, I fell asleep and soon forgot all the novelties I had seen during my journey”. A ul Carmarthen from the south-west, from a drawing by Betsey Thompson circa 1839.

On Carmarthen itself Betsey has little to say, though she describes the Gaol, St. Peter's Church and the Market. Nevertheless a picture of the town in Betsey's time can be built up from her observations and other contemporary descriptions.

Carmarthen Image When looking back nearly one hundred and fifty years it is all too easy to forget how important Carmarthen was and to dismiss it as a small provincial town. Quite the reverse is true, indeed, throughout its history it had always been one of the most important towns in Wales. This was still the case in 1834; the great changes and rapid population growth associated with the industrial revolution were still to come. In 1831 Carmarthen was the fourth largest town in Wales with a population of 9,955, behind Merthyr (22,982), Swansea (13,694) and Newport (10,815). In terms of its facilities and services Carter4 ranked it as very much more important than Merthyr. It was a major regional trade and administrative centre serving a rich agricultural hinterland; a social centre and main port; and the ultimate capital of an area roughly corresponding to the present county of Dyfed.

The general setting of the town had a marked impact on Betsey as it did on most travellers. One recorded that the town, "with its castle and bridge, the vessels in the river, and the bold and diversified character of the hills by which it is terminated, is strikingly beautiful".5 Its elevated position, "a circumstance which imparts to it a striking appearrance when viewed from a distance", gave Carmarthen a "commanding prospect of some of the finest parts of the scenery of this delightful vale".6 The Corporation had capitalised on such views by building "at the upper end of the town . . . . a beautiful walk called the Parade".1

The period before Betsey Thompson's arrival — 1801 to 1831 — saw an 80% growth in Carmarthen's population to close on 10,000. It was to fluctuate around this figure for the next hundred years or so. The built up area of the town in 1834 remained the walled area of the former Norman town, though the Lammas Street and Water Street areas also had heavy concentrations of population. The town however stretched for about a mile in length with houses strung along the Pembroke road almost reaching Picton's monument and from there up to the top of Priory Street. It was half a mile wide from the toll gate near the junction of Glannant Road and Water Street, to the river.

The town was described as containing ten principal streets, the two main roads meeting near the centre at what is now Nott Square. They were well paved and lit with gas which had "superseded the old and ineffectual illumination from oil"7 [TODO Check source -- ChrisJones] and were noted for being kept clean. There was some conflict of opinion over the quality of the townscape. "Some tourists have remarked, that the interior of the place does not realise the expectations excited by the distant view. But this must greatly depend on the imagination of the party . . . the sober traveller will find much to please him in the general aspect of the buildings".6

The main streets contained a "large proportion of good houses and though they are not perfectly regular their general aspect is that of comfort and respectability".1 There were many excellent shops, and in the minor streets there were several buildings of "respectable character". Indeed considerable improvements had occured in the town with the "modernisation of old buildings and erecting new ones in a style of comfort and taste suited to the improvement of modern times; among the latter are Picton Terrace .... Waterloo Place"5

The narrowness of some of the streets brought critism; they were "inconveniently narrow", especially in the "middle of of town, where a part of the principal thoroughfare, besides being very steep, is narrow; and from the situation of the town hall at the hollow of the hill, no beneficial alteration is to be expected".6 The position of narrow streets was compounded by the difficulty the passenger has to encounter "when wending his way along the pathways of this town". They had to run a gauntlet of "earthenware, hampers, cobble stones, drapersgoods and open trap doors"7

"To return then to the town, as I have before remarked it is a corporation, and returns one member of Parliament, the office of Mayor at present is held by D. Davies, Esq. now residing at Green Hill, a pleasant mansion delightfully situated at a convenient distance from the town, the Mayor with his retinue attend church on particular days in their robes of office, and also go to meet the judge, sheriffs during the time of the assizes, and escort them to the Town Hall, a fine old building commodiously situated in the centre of the town, called the Square". Thus reported Betsey.

It was this Corporation that faced accusations of misappropriation of funds received from sales of corporation land. Indeed Professor Glyn Robertss believes that the record of Carmarthen Borough during this period presented "an example of turbulence and vicious corruption which can hardly be paralleled in the history of any borough in the whole country".

Yet this same Corporation was proud of its achievements. It could boast to the Commissioners of Enquiry into the affairs of the corporation of an impressive list of borough improvements.9 These included the opening of Dark Gate and of the entrance to the meat market; town gaol, Poor House, Parade public walk, wet and dry dock; "quay extended to twice its former size", "water pipes laid down", water works and conduits, Fish Market and Butter Market.

"There is at present but one church", wrote Betsey, oblivious of several chapels, "it is dedicated to St. Peter and is an ancient looking building, tho' far inferior to ours, I cannot say much in praise of the cleanliness of the interior, it being kept very dirty. There is only one Gallery, part of which is appropriated to the soldiers of the Carmarthenshire Militia, and the other occupied by the organ, which is played by Mr Richards [Henry Richards, father of Brinley Richards, the composer] and occasionally his daughter, a young lady whose musical talents are very great, and she will probably be one day classed amongst the Professors of that delightful and difficult science.

"The minister who officiates is the Reverend Archdeacon Bevan, a man who ranks high in the opinion of his parishioners. Welsh service is also performed twice during Sunday by the Reverend M. Morgan, curate of St. Peters for many of the inhabitants do not understand the English Language — Prayers are read in the church on Fridays, and there is likewise an evening lecture on Wednesday, which I cannot forbear observing is very thinly attended, people I suppose being too much occupied with the perishing things of this world . . ."

"I will therefore now turn your attention to the jail, which is an imposing object that must not be overlooked, when traversing the town of Carmarthen. It is situated in Spilman Street, and built partly from the ruins of an ancient castle, some of whose walls are now standing luxurantly covered with ivy, whose thick foliage convinces the spectator, that it has stood through many ages and defied the iron hands of time."

"The present Governor is Mr Burnhill, a man I dare say well qualified to fulfil the responsible task required of him. Prayers are read to the prisoners every morning, as is customary in jails. I think the clergyman who performs the duty is Rev Jones, now resident in Carmarthen. There is also another jail for the Borough, the one I have been first describing is appropriated for the County.

"There is also a treadmill, that ingenious piece of machinery invented by Mr Cubitt, a well known Engineer. I believe the first set up was at Brixton, to the great discomfirture of the thieves and vagabonds who were lodged in that large jail, but they are now become very general.

"I observed lately in a newspaper, that in some prison in London or its environs, a new method was introduced, called the Silent System, by which means perfect silence was strictly enforced, while the prisoners were on the wheel, so rigid are they in their observance of the plan, that even the malifactors themselves, are obliged to be a check on each other, if the rules are in any way broken, they are further punished by solitary confinement, aml a short allowance of their accustomed food granted them. The paper further observes, so great a dread have they of solitary confinement, that strange to say, even the females are taught to keep that unruly member, the tongue under subjection — what do you think of this remark upon our sex, but so it is, we females ever have the character of great talkers, and I suppose nothing now would convince the world to the contrary, so we must be contented to bear the odium bestwed off us".

From the 'Baronial pomp' of the castle and gaol down to the bridge, "an elegant stone structure of seven arches surmounted by an iron balustrade",5 the road was "inconveniently narrow and precipitous". The river still played an important part in the economic life of the town. The port could accommodate ships of up to 350 tons and there was a large and convenient quay extending "several hundred yards along the north-western bank of the river". Fifty one vessels were registered in 1831 as belonging to the port. In the year ending 1831 thirteen foreign vessels and 420 coasting vessels entered Carmarthen; there were strong trading links particularly with Bristol. Principal exports included timber, marble, slate, bricks, lead ore, manufactured goods, grain, butter and eggs with exports of foreign timber, pitch, rosin, tallow coal, culm and manufactured goods.

The Towy was celebrated for its salmon and sewin, with fishing providing an important income for the poorer classes. In his evidence to the Poor Law Commissioners in 1835 Davies, the ex-mayor, reported that fishermen earned a guinea a week in the summer, but were on the parish during the winter and that "their earnings all go to the beer-shops".10 Although the fishing rights belonged to the Corporation, George Clive, the Assistant Poor Law Commissioner, stated that "they are afraid to exercise their right, and a fearful catalogue of evils, such as cattle houghed, ricks burnt, etc., was given to me as the certain consequence of interfering with them".

Though the town was predominantly a service and administrative centre, about half of the families were according to the 1831 Census "chiefly employed in Trade, Manufactures, and Handicraft". The town had an extensive tinworks, but this had closed about 1831 and would not reopen until April 1836, after refurbishment. There were two iron foundries and in addition Pigot records "Flannel is manufactured here to some extent; the trade in corn and malt is respectable, and the tanning and currying of leather, and rope-making, form the occupation of several individuals".

Carmarthen was a principal market centre with three weekly markets. The Wednesday market sold meat, poultry, butter and vegetables; Friday's was almost disused except for fish, and Saturdays was abundantly supplied with corn and "every article of consumption". The Corn Market was held beneath the Guildhall. On market days Guildhall Square was occupied by temporary booths selling hats, shoes, hardware and other articles. The market for cheese and meat and poultry had been built in Red Street in 1801. This was "an excellent market-place ... built by the corporation, which with great propriety, they placed out of town, in a situation where it was likely not to interfere with the public convenience".6 It was a quadrangular shape, with covered shambles around the side and a range down the centre.

The fish and butter markets, "over which is the town fire bell" were located where the present Nott monument stands, whilst the market for cattle and pigs was in Lammas Street.

Betsey described the markets as follows: "In Carmarthen, the markets are held on Saturdays and Wednesdays and are well supplied with meat, poultry, fruit, vegetables, in a word with every necessary for the convenience and comfort of the inhabitants. Fish I think is supplied almost daily, there is a very nice fish called sewin peculiar to the river, it is somewhat in appearance to a salmon, tho' much smaller. Cockles are very generally eaten here, and may be obtained at a very cheap rate any evening from the women who stand near the Cross, an old erection at the bottom of King Street. Meat is much more reasonable in price than in England. The mutton is far preferable to that in our English markets, but the beef and veal bear no comparison to that exhibited in our Country. Poultry is very low, you may purchase a good pair of fowls at 2s or ls.8d and a goose for 2s or 2s.6d. Turkeys proportionally cheap, but I do not think the poultry so fine and plump as our Counties Suffolk and Essex produce".

Social Life
There were sharp contrasts between the social classes in Carmarthen. Stacey criticised the fishermen and shoemakers in particular as constantly applying for poor relief, the problem was such that there was a standing order not to apprentice any child to a shoemaker. He regarded the lower classes as "immoral and idle to the last degree. Any Saturday evening, between six and seven o'clock, I can find a dozen paupers drunk in the Street".10

The poor law system was continually abused, the poorhouse badly managed, the rules not enforced. Not only was the poorhouse being used as a lodging house but "twelve months ago it was used as a brothel by the prostitutes of the town".10

At the other end of the scale all the great families had town residences. It was the social centre of the district and its trade and administrative functions "created in the town a characteristic middle class". Carter has described this urban life as one that "aped in a limited, provincial bourgeois way the Bath of Beau Nash .... and Regency London".4

Amongst the trappings was a theatre, albeit an old mean looking building like "in appearance a stable".11 This was open November and December, when dramatic pieces were performed every evening. Concerts and balls were occasionally held at the principal inns.

The races too, were popular. They took place annually in September and continued for two days, the first for the Carmarthen stakes, the second for the Dynevor Stakes. The race course "which is well adapted to the purpose, is about four miles distant from the town, higher up the vale".7

Private Adventure Schools
Miss Woozencroft's school where Betsey taught, was a ladies' boarding school, no doubt typical of those that developed in the town during that century to teach the growing middle class of tradesman and professional. It was one of "the many ephemeral 'private adventure' schools, ranging from the expensive 'academy for sons of gentlemen' to the humbler 'dame school' charging only a few pence; some were conducted by dedicated spirits who made a real impact, some by the 'throw-outs' of society. None had any permanent buildings, staff or endowment; all depended on individuals who came and went".3

The school was already established in 1830, when Margaret Woozencroft asked for the support of her friends and the public for her sister Ann, who was taking over the school, and for Miss Thomas "Whom she can confidently recommend as being fully competent to complete the education of young ladies in every useful and ornamental branch. Miss Thomas will instruct in Music, Drawing, French, Italian etc." Miss Thomas's talents undoubtedly give an idea of the attributes expected of Betsey, who may well have taken her place.

There was competition too from similar establishments. Miss Margaret Price's Ladies Boarding School recorded in Priory Street in 1830 had moved to Spilman Street by 1835. Mrs Charlotte Smith's English and French Establishment for Young Ladies had been operating from Carmarthen House in Spilman Street in 1828. In July 1835 it was located at Furnace Lodge, offering English, French, Drawing, Music and Dancing "with every other essential, necessary to form a genteel and useful education".

Mrs Smith took up to ten young ladies "to educate with her own daughters". Fees were two guineas per quarter. An indication of the competence of Mrs Smith's daughter as a dancing teacher is contained in a report of a Juvenile Ball held in December 1834. The young ladies of the school impressed their friends and relatives with the "ease gracefulness and complexity of their movements in the various mazy dances, which were given. They danced several quadrilles, gavots, minuets etc in a manner which reflects infinite credit on their preceptress Miss Smith . . ." The school closed in 1836 when John Smith "who was leaving Carmarthen" announced a sale of furniture and pianoforte at Furnace Lodge on 22nd/23rd March 1836.

Private Adventure Schools also catered for the males, though these schools were a very mixed collection, teaching a broad range of subjects in a variety of styles. A few examples serve to illustrate. Mr James Brown operated a Mathematical and Commercial school in King Street, providing an education adapted to business. He was listed as a school teacher in Pigot's Directory for 1822. In 1828 he was "about to decline the Tallow—Chandlery Business, having for many years employed himself in the duties of a schoolmaster. . . . . begs most respectfully to inform his friends and the public that he intends to recommence his School on Monday 23 June 1828". The advertisement continued: "any person wishing to engage in the Tallow Chandlery Business may be supplied with a large Iron Boiler, Mould and other articles . . . ."!12 The syllabus included Merchants Accounts, Navigation, Land Surveying and Mapping Estates. The School was still in operation in 1844.

On 28 July 1834 Mr William Young Torckler opened his "select and genteel academy" at a house formerly occupied by the Rev. James Griffiths in Church Street. His aim was to provide the rudiments of a sound classical and commercial education "by an agreeable, mild and conciliatory mode of treatment, exempt as much as possible from all coersion or corporal discipline and founded upon the Hamiltonian System of Instruction". Young gentlemen boarders paid between 20 and 25 guineas per annum. Lessons in French were offered to young ladies by Mrs Torckler.

J. P. Brodribb, who came to Carmarthen from Bristol in 1828, first kept school in Union Street, but moved to a variety of addresses in Queen Street, Quay Street, Bridge Street and finally to the top of Lammas Street. His daughter Olivia Rosa Brodribb recalled13 that "many of the sons of prominent men of the town received their education at my father's school. I can well remember general Nott's grandson as one of my father's pupils, and also how my father used to give private lessons in Navigation to Captain Edwards of Rhydygors. The pupils were instructed, amongst other things, in English Grammar, in Latin and in Greek . . . ." Mr Brodribb's approach induced "habits of attention, perseverance and self inquiry" and was intened to "establish a lasting impression on the minds of the pupils".

Whilst teaching at Mrs Woozencroft's school Betsey met her future husband and was married on 26 November 1840 by the Rev. Henry Harding M.A. at Woodbridge. Her husband, a 30 year o!d Carmarthen man, George White White, was the son of John White, a schoolmaster, and Hannah White. George was one of seven sons, and with his brother Isaac worked in the family printing business run by his mother.

Betsey and George White White returned from Woodbridge to set up home at 35 King Street, Carmarthen. They had five children. Betsey died in 1872. George, a churchman and staunch conservative, died in March 1888. He is commemorated by a stained glass window, erected by two of his children, Georgiana and Henry, in St. Peter's church, where he had served faithfully.

Their only surviving son, Henry Brunel White, became Mayor and later Town Clerk of Carmarthen. This position was later occupied by Betsey's grandson Howard B. White, M.C., until his retirement in 1948. Both men were distinguished servants of the town, and honoured by being made Freemen of Carmarthen.

The extracts from Betsey Thompson's manuscript have been taken from a transcript by Mrs Sylvia White and are reproduced by permission (permission given for the original Carmarthenshire Historian -- ChrisJones) of Mr David White, Carmarthen, son of the late Howard B. White, who also provided valuable background information about the Thompson and White families.
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