Glamorgan Calendar Rolls and Gaol Files: Introduction

Pages 142-151

Cardiff Records: Volume 2. Originally published by Cardiff Records Committee, Cardiff, 1900.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


In this section


Glamorgan Calendar Rolls and Gaol files.

DOCUMENTS of this class supply historical data of the greatest interest. It is much to be wished that the series of Gaol Files for this County were more complete than it is, for there are many lacunae; but the student of local history may be congratulated on the fact that the series begins at the period when the laws of Wales were assimilated to those of England, and that, on the whole, it preserves a continuity which is remarkable if we consider the vicissitudes which our local muniments have undergone.

The earliest document of the series is a Gaol Calendar of the year 1542. A translation of the heading is given, to serve as an example, the later ones being prefaced by almost the same words. Needless to say, these records were written in Latin, down to about 1740. From this heading it will be seen that, in the reign of Henry VIII., criminals were imprisoned in the King's Castle of Cardiff. The old Welsh Court of Great Sessions for Glamorganshire was held alternately at Cardiff, Swansea and Cowbridge. The bundle for each session consists, when complete, of the following documents:—

1. Writ to the Sheriff, commanding the holding of the Session.

2. Writ to the Sheriff, Bailiffs, Constables &c., for the arresting and detaining of the various offenders.

3. Examinations of the offenders and witnesses, by the Justices of the Peace.

4. Recognizances for the appearance of witnesses, and of offenders released on bail.

5. Presentments of the Grand Jury.

6. Coroners' Inquests.

7. Indictments, endorsed by the Grand Jury either "Billa vera," or "Ignoramus." (True Bill, or No True Bill).

8. Calendar of Gaol Delivery, with particulars of each prisoner, the charge against him, the committing magistrate, the names of witnesses, &c.

9. Bills and receipts for expenses in connection with the Gaol, executions, prisoners' keep, travelling, &c.

10. Calendar of persons holding the Commission of the Peace within the County, also of the Stewards of Lordships, the Coroners, and the Bailiffs and Constables of Hundreds and Towns.

The last is written on a skin of parchment of ample dimensions, which, coming after the others, forms a cover in which the rest are rolled up, the roll being then tied with thin strips of parchment which at the same time connect them all together at the top. All the abovementioned documents are written in Latin on parchment— except the bills of expenses, which are of course always, and the Justices Examinations and Recognizances, which are sometimes, in English on paper. In very many cases the papers are wholly or partly torn away, and the parchments are often decayed through damp or eaten by rats.

Under date 1555 will be found a Coroner's Inquest on the body of Thomas Avan, gentleman, whom the Jury found to have been feloniously stabbed and murdered by two men in a brawl in "Weaststrete," Cardiff. Such sanguinary affrays were common at this period; other instances occur later in these records. At the head of this document we have set out the full style and title of the King and Queen, Philip and Mary, it being by far the most imposing and picturesque ever borne by a sovereign of England. The "Weaststrete" above named was Waste Lane, now the northern half of Working Street. In cases of this kind, the record always states the money value of the instrument which was the immediate cause of the victim's death (whether by wilful homicide or misadventure); because under the Common Law such instrument, or its value, was forfeited to the Crown, under the name of a "deodand." The history and significance of this ancient legal provision would furnish material for an interesting volume of antiquarian lore. Nothing can be more tantalising to the reader than the absence from the dry technicalities of these criminal proceedings, of any particulars explaining the motives and origin of such crimes as the one above referred to. It would be interesting to know how Mr. Avan had drawn upon himself the deadly enmity of the men who assassinated him in the streets of Cardiff in broad daylight.

In 1563 the Coroner's Inquest returns a verdict of wilful murder against Edward Vaughan of Llandough-by-Penarth, gentleman, William Vaughan of Roath, gentleman (accessory), and others, for the death of Philip Robin of Lavernock, yeoman. From our transcript of one of the Exchequer Commissions, in Vol. I., p. 396, it will be seen what was the landed property of Edward Vaughan, which was forfeited for his felony after he had escaped from the district.

In 1564 we have the record of the burning of two women for murder and treason.

In the same year Rice Jones of Cardiff, gentleman, was indicted for trespass and affray. In 1576 we find that he was killed by Rice Herbert of St. Andrew's, gentleman, who received a general pardon.

Under date 1576 is the first example of the long persecution of Catholics, which continued with great severity until Elizabeth's death, and lasted, with but few intervals, down to the early part of the 18th century. In the same year we have the earliest instance of that cruel treatment of the very poor, which is such a blot upon the pages of history following upon the Reformation. Jane Powell, of Cardiff, and several other paupers, were sentenced to be flogged and branded for no other reason than that they appeared to have no means of earning a living—such a condition being "against the form of the Statute in the like case published." The Criminal Law of England, as revised by King Henry VIII., was the most ferociously cruel of any penal code in Christendom. It was felony to steal anything of greater value than 5s., and the punishment of felony was death by hanging, for men, and by drowning for women. The pettiest misdemeanours were visited with the whipping-post, the pillory and the stocks. For petty treason (e.g., for poisoning her husband) a woman was liable to be either burned or boiled. The penalty for high treason was to be hanged, drawn and quartered—which in plain terms means disembowelled alive—and, as the exercising of the functions of a Catholic priest was by Statute declared to be high treason, this was the punishment allotted to clergymen of the Ancient Church in this country. Altogether, the England of the Tudors was an uncomfortable abode for persons placed, either by conscience or criminality, in a position of antagonism to the laws.

About this time many persons were presented for the following statutory offences:—

For unlawful games in their houses.

For evil conversation in their houses.

For selling beer without licence.

For being pedlars against the form of the Statute.

For incontinence.

For playing games during the time of divine service.

For affrays in churchyards.

The last, a common offence at this period, was sometimes the result of wakes or church-ales, and sometimes was caused by the forcible burial of deceased Catholics with Protestant rites.

In 1584 eleven strangers were tried at Cardiff for piracy, and a Gelligaer man was presented "for playing at tennis in the time of the Service." The old custom of Sunday ball-playing in the churchyard was still maintained, though it was destined in the end to be suppressed by the growth of Puritanism.

In 1587 three Cardiff labourers were tried for felony; two of them were hanged, but the third escaped through benefit of clergy. This means that, it being his first offence, the man, before he could be sentenced, asked for a book, proved that he could read, and so was let off with branding on the hand.

In 1588 the Bailiffs of Cardiff were presented "for permitting sorcerers." At this time, and during the reign of James I. and the Commonwealth, many persons were prosecuted for witchcraft, and great numbers (women especially) were put to death as convicted witches. It was the contemporary form of the never-dying paganism, which in the sixties of the present century shewed itself in tableturning and spirit-rapping, and in the nineties has taken the shape of "materialisations" and Mahatmas.

Under date 1592 the high road across Glamorgan, through Cardiff and Cowbridge, is called by its ancient name of the Portway —a late occurrence of the term—and Cardiff bridge, which we now know as Canton bridge, is named Sterton bridge, i.e., as we should now write it, Plasturton bridge. One of the Cardiff streets this year presented as being in want of repair is "the high way between the high cross and the middle pinion"; this means High Street and Saint Mary Street, from between the High Street and Castle Arcades to a point near the Theatre Royal. The Middle Pinion was the old vicarage of Saint Mary's, and was the house at the south end of the middle row which stood in Saint Mary Street.

Under 1593 we have a curious entry relative to the carrying of arms to the fairs and markets, from which it would appear that this practice was illegal, but tolerated as a general custom. For the same year there is an interesting and, so far as Cardiff is concerned, an unique record of the archery butts which had to be officially provided for the encouragement of shooting with bow and arrows.

Next year, 1594, a man is presented for the obnoxious and then doubtless common offence of eavesdropping, i.e., listening at his neighbours' doors and casements for the purpose of prying into their private affairs.

About this time the Bailiffs of Cardiff are frequently presented for "suffering dunghills" in the streets of the town, and for not "cawsynge" (i.e., causewaying) the highways. In 1594 the Serjeants at Mace are presented for selling drink, and for not using lawful measures.

In 1594 also occurs our first record of the many deaths in Cardiff gaol, the deceased being John Philpot, a recusant. The prisons were noisome dens of filth and disease, and at this time they were crowded to excess with victims of the penal laws against the Catholics. In 1597 ten prisoners died at one time, and twentyone later in that year. In 1598 fourteen died, one of whom was James Turberville of Newton Nottage, gentleman (of the ancient family of the Turbervilles of Sker), who had been imprisoned for refusing to conform to Protestantism. Later in 1598 four more prisoners died, one belonging to another branch of the same distinguished family—Mr. Lewis Turberville of Llysfronydd. In 1602 the Bishop of Llandaff presented nineteen Catholics for nonattendance at church, most of whom lived in the neighbourhood of Margam. In 1615 Nicholas Spencer of Cardiff, gentleman, a Catholic prisoner, died in the gaol there. In 1616 there were twenty-three Crown prosecutions for recusancy, including one of the Turbervilles of Sker; and in 1622 there were twenty-seven, headed by Mr. Matthew Turberville of Newton Nottage. In this case the Catholics prosecuted were people from the Margam district and from the Taff Vale. Even after the accession of King Charles I., viz. in 1628, forty-eight persons were presented for recusancy, in the neighbourhood of Margam, Neath, Cowbridge and Cardiff. Among this batch were members of the Turberville and Began families. Again in 1636, forty-six recusants were summoned, from almost every part of East Glamorgan, including six Turbervilles. In 1661 eighteen Catholics, from around Neath and Cowbridge, were presented for absenting themselves from Protestant worship; the list includes persons of both sexes and all grades. The next and last general harrying of the Papists was in 1679, in connection with Titus Oates' fictitious "Popish Plot," concerning which sufficient is said in the notes which accompany our copy of the documents.

In 1595 Rise Wastell, a Cardiff baker, murdered Llewelyn David. The Wastells were tradesmen of some standing in the town, as may be seen on referring to our Index Nominum; but that there were unruly spirits among them appears from this entry, and also from one under date 1602, when William Wastell was presented for assaulting Ann David at Cardiff.

In 1602 a man pleaded guilty to murdering Lewis Edmond, "at the green between the two bridges." This was presumably Cardiff Green, between Canton Bridge and the "Little Stone Bridge" crossing the small stream which flowed from the mill-dam into the Taff.

Somewhat comical is the technical formula in which the Coroner frames the verdict concerning the death of Moses Morgan, who, in 1605, was accidentally shot by Morgan Dirick.

In 1614 we have the first two of numerous records of persons accidentally drowned in the Taff. The same year the Wastells were again in trouble, William Wastell's wife being charged with stealing corn.

The following year Henry Edwards of Roath, gentleman, was charged with assaulting Mr. Rice Roberts, one of the Bailiffs of Cardiff.

In 1617 occurs the Coroner's Inquest on the bodies of David Kemeys of Cefn Mabli, esquire, and John Watkin, who were drowned in the Rhymny when riding home together from Cardiff. The same year Elizabeth Gunter was flogged for stealing something of the value of 10d.

In 1619 there was a faction fight at St. Nicholas, between some men and women of that place and some Caerau men. Most of the latter were members of the Mathews family. The Caerau folks were indicted for riot and assault.

According to a case recorded in the succeeding paragraph, salmon and codfish were at this time valued at 3d. each.

In 1625 (last year of the reign of James I.) will be found the first of a large number of criminal prosecutions for libel, slander and lèse-majesté. In the present instance, the accused is charged with uttering very scandalous words against the private character of the King—all the more dangerous because well founded in fact, for it is a matter of history that James the First was the most vicious of the Stuarts. We have explained, in immediate connection with the text, what is the importance of this class of prosecutions as regards the Welsh language.

Under date 1642 occurs one of the customary fictitious suits for recovery of a debt, in the Town Court of Cardiff, which the record terms the Royal Court of the Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery, Lord of the Town.

In 1680 we first meet with an Inquest on the body of a poor miner killed by an accident in a coalpit at Merthyr Tydfil.

The first document we cite for 1688 is the earliest prosecution of a Jacobite, or adherent of the ancient Royal House of Stuart. This faithful supporter of the losing cause was Edward Llewelin of Newton Nottage, gentleman, who was charged with speaking in Welsh against the new government of William of Orange. In stating his opinion that, by raising the Dutch stadtholder to the throne of Great Britain, the Parliament was exceeding its powers, Mr. Llewelin was taking sides in a question of Constitutional Law which, to the end of time, can only be decided in accordance with the political first principles of each individual. How far abstract theories justify the popular action, is a question about which people will disagree to all eternity. Poor Mr. Llewelin's answer thereto involved him in dire pains and penalties, such as wait upon persons who differ from the powers that be.

In 1689 William Bew of Roath, gentleman, got into trouble for abusing one of the Bailiffs of Cardiff in open Court.

In 1690 Mark Jenkins, of Llantrisant, yeoman, was prosecuted for speaking too boldly in favour of the exiled Stuart; as also was Edward Carne of Cowbridge, gentleman, in 1695.

Nicholas Greene, of Cardiff, butcher, in 1696 made himself a nuisance to his neighbour by constructing a bank across a watercourse at Canton, thereby causing the water of the Taff to flood the highway and a house and garden. He was presented by the Grand Jury of the County.

In 1698 we have an interesting indictment of William Morgan of Neath, gentleman, for advancing atheistical opinions, which, if the charge was accurate, he expressed in highly offensive terms.

In 1703 are two presentments of various persons for profaning the "Sabbath," viz., by performing on the harp and playing at tennis, in Llanilltern churchyard on a Sunday. The old churchyard sports were suppressed with a strong hand when Puritanism began to be a power in Wales.

It was hard on poor Morgan Samuel, of Llandaff, horse-stealer, the same year, to be charged with escaping from prison "before sentence of death could be executed upon him." Surely the maxim, that self-preservation is the first law of nature, might have exempted him from such a prosecution—which, moreover, would seem somewhat superfluous in the case of a man who was to pay the capital penalty!

In 1705 no less a personage than Mr. John Mathews of Llandaff was presented for catching salmon and trout in the Taff, at Whitchurch and Radyr, by means of "pitches and butts."

The following year, Ann Mathews of Llandaff was drowned by falling into the river Taff from a wooden bridge leading to Llandaff from Cardiff. This was the old Canton bridge.

In 1712 the Grand Jury petitioned the Judges of Great Sessions to forbid the officers of the Court to receive fees for exempting gentlemen from serving on Juries. They also presented the Compounder, for exacting exorbitant rates on Fines and Recoveries in this Court.

In 1714 John Thomas, of St. George's, yeoman, was presented for drinking a health to "the Prince of Wales"—meaning Prince James Edward Stuart. The Grand Jury found No True Bill, presumably on the ground of there being no evidence that the Stuart Prince was the one thus complimented.

An interesting Jacobite case occurred in 1716, when several men of Cardiff and Cowbridge were presented for wearing oakleaves on the birthday of "the Young Pretender." We give the Presentment almost in full. The same year the Petty Constable of St. Andrew's was presented for suffering people to play tennis on Sunday; and Thomas Williams, of Cardiff, for uttering Jacobite sentiments in very coarse language. The same set of Presentments includes one against two Cardiff men for drinking the health of the exiled Stuart in the then popular couplet:—

"God send our King well home from Lorraine,

let the man have his mare again."

Edward Purcell, of Cardiff, shoemaker, was presented for "drinking several disaffected healths."

In the next year, 1717, we come upon an important political prosecution, that of Richard Whitmore alias Kavanagh, of Swansea, who is indicted for uttering treasonable words against the Government by saying that James the Third would be placed on the Throne of England, and Derwentwater's blood should be severely revenged; which seditious words he aggravated by then and there traitorously toasting the health of the Pretender. From a document of 1719, which will be found among our extracts from the Records of the Customs Port of Cardiff, a few further particulars may be gathered relative to this case.

In 1720 several Whitchurch labourers were presented for playing at bowls on Sunday.

In 1721 Evan Voss, yeoman, was presented and indicted for drinking King James' health in an inn at Llantwit Major.

In 1735 Michael Richards, who was Town Clerk of Cardiff and a County Justice, was presented for assaulting George Lewis, Esquire, and was bound over to appear at the Quarter Sessions of the Peace.

In 1737 we have indications of a bit of local folklore. It would seem that the Grey Friars in Crockherbtown was haunted by spirits, and in particular by a dread ghost known as "the Bully Dean."

From a Presentment of the Grand Jury in 1738 we learn that the criminals in Cardiff Gaol were confined all together in one room, which was insufficient for the purpose of their detention. The Jury merely recommend the substitution of another room, which seems to have been theretofore used as a brewhouse.

In 1741 note the three Welsh books which were the only personal effects of John Evan, a poor debtor imprisoned in Cardiff Gaol.

In 1745 David Jones, labourer, of Llanfihangel-y-Fedw, pleaded guilty to a charge of publicly uttering words in favour of the Pretender.

It is abundantly evident, from the records above referred to and hereafter more fully set out, that Wales was strongly attached to the House of Stuart, so long as any possible sovereign of the ancient line remained. This traditional loyalty, indeed, is only what was to be expected from the Welsh, as a Celtic people of profoundly conservative sentiment. Nothing but the final predominance of Nonconformity could wean the Principality from its old ways of thinking on this and kindred topics—and by that time the Royal Stuarts had died out.