The Penycoed Inheritance

Of the many mysteries associated with the family history one of the most intriguing is what I would call the 'Mystery of the Penycoed Inheritance'.

The events to which I refer took place in the parish of St.Clears in Carmarthenshire in the eighteenth century. It is essential to the nature of this story that we establish a clear background to the happenings.

The Bevan family had been living at Penycoed, an estate to the north of St.Clears, since 1575 or thereabouts. They were considerable landowners and some four generations of BEVANS were appointed High Sherrifs of Carmarthenshire and as such were the senior officers of the Crown with responsibility for law and order and the good management of the county. In 1692 the family was granted arms.

Thomas BEVAN was born in 1696 and himself became High Sherrif in 1735. He married Bryanna Lloyd, daughter of one of the well established South Wales families, and they proceeded to have six children, William in 1730, Margaretta Maria in 1732, Amy in 1733 and three other girls. William was, therefore, the son and heir and Margaretta Maria could be said to be the 'senior' daughter.

Some time in the 1750's or 1760's Thomas built the present palladian mansion on the site of the old manor house which had been the family home since the late 1500's.

We now come to a surprising series of events. Amy married a Gregory COLE on a date as yet unknown and gave birth to a little girl, Anne, in October of 1775. She then died and was buried on the 24th November of that year. Gregory Cole was a widower (having buried his first wife in 1771) and a publican, being the landlord of the "Blew (blue) Boar Inn", a small hostelry on the northern edge of the village of St. Clears. It is more than likely that he was a tenant of Thomas BEVAN's.

After her mother's death Anne was taken into the BEVAN household. Gregory severed his relationship with the family and subsequently remarried.

If this was the end of the story one would assume that the simple explanation was that Amy had been indiscreet and had married her lover - a man who would not otherwise have been considered a suitable husband in view of the social inequality involved - and that, following the 'shotgun wedding' and her subsequent death, effectively in childbirth, the family had shrugged its shoulders and taken in the little mite as a moral obligation - leaving the husband to go his way. But this is not the end of the story.

We now come to another sequence of events. Thomas died intestate in 1763. This was a remarkable situation where a man disposing of a considerable estate was concerned.

Margaretta Maria and not her brother William was appointed to administer the estate. (We must assume that her mother, Bryanna, was dead although we do not as yet have the date of her death). William did not inherit and died in 1806 intestate and not worth more than 100.00. His sister, Margaretta Maria, was granted Letters of Administration. The estate appears to have been inherited by Anne - presumably at the wish of her grandfather and by arrangement of his administrator, her aunt, Margaretta Maria!

In 1793 Anne married Walter WILLIAMS. Walter was a landowner in his own right, the grandson of Isaac WILLIAMS, a landowner of Llanginning, who had married the heiress Jane BEYNON and come into the 'capital mansion' of Llwyn Bychan and other estates. (After moving out of the parental home and prior to his marriage to Anne COLE, Walter had lived as a tenant at the manor house known as Panteg in the parish of Llandewi Velfrey).

By the marriage settlement Anne held Penycoed for herself and her eldest son by Walter, William Bevan WILLIAMS. Thus, when Walter made his own Will he could only dispose of his personal estates which, by then, included Llwyn Bychan. Importantly it should be noted that Walter regarded himself as having married a BEVAN! (Not a COLE !) The arms of the Williams were then quartered with those of the Bevans.

The twist of the inheritance casts a different light on the marriage of Amy to Gregory COLE and the standing of their child. It seems inconceivable that Thomas will have wished to by pass his son and his elder (and very capable) daughter in favour of a grandchild who was the product of an undesirable union which had ended in tragic results.

In these circumstances I postulate two possible answers to the riddle.

The first possibility is that the father of Amy's child was not Gregory COLE but someone else, of good social standing, who was unable (due to his being married) or unwilling to marry the girl carrying his child. At that time the disgrace to the family would have been considerable and there will not have been the opportunity in rural Wales to send a pregnant girl abroad to give birth to her child - as happened to a descendant towards the end of the last century! Can it be that Gregory was seen as the answer to the problem. He conveniently married Amy and provided a name for her daughter. Thus young Anne will have been seen by her Grandfather - not as a publican's daughter, but as the child of a suitable social connection. This does not, however, explain the preference shown to her in the matter of the inheritance.

We now come to the second possibility - a possibility which will doubtless be considered very distasteful - but which merits consideration.

If we suppose that he father of Amy 's child was her brother, William, we find that the family was faced with the same problem as that posed in the first suggested set of circumstances. The result, however, would have certainly involved the disgrace of her brother and his disinheritance. Amy's child was truly a BEVAN! The matter would not have been committed to paper and would have involved a verbal agreement between Thomas and his capable daughter Margaretta Maria.

The final act was the inheritance of Anne to the estate of Penycoed, an inheritance which ensured that the estate should pass, by means of a marriage settlement, to her eldest son - William Bevan WILLIAMS

It would be unwise to dismiss this third possibility over hastily.

Elin Williams

First published in The Friend December 2005