Iolo Morganwg to Magistrates at Cowbridge, 13 March 1818
Iolo's philanthropy is the main theme of this letter. Here we see how he empathized with young women who were in trouble. Poverty increased during the war years and people were forced to rely more on poor relief as a result. Some parochial officers in Wales behaved dishonestly to avoid the additional financial burden. This letter by Iolo draws attention to the cruelty that administrators of poor relief in Flemingstone, John Hooper and John Spencer, showed towards Alice John.
Address: The Worshipful Bench of Justices of the Peace at their Petty Sessions Cowbridge Postmark: to be checked at Cardiff
Source: Cardiff MS 2.279
Status and condition: to be checked at Cardiff
Flimston, March 13th 1818
To their Worships the Bench of Magistrates at their Petty Sessions in the town of Cowbridge Gentlemen,
Alice John, the bearer hereof, has been for nearly 8 months afflicted with a disorder in her eyes which renders her unable to support herself. She has been for the greatest part of the time under the attendance of Dr William Nicholls of Cowbridge, who, by the accounts which this unfortunate young woman gives me, has acted towards her with his well known and far-famed benevolence. But it became necessary for her to apply for parochial relief. She some years ago was at service with Ann Evan of Goodwell in this parish of Flemingston, or Flemston, and the nature of her agreement was, as she says, as follows: she came to Ann Evan about the beginnning of November 1811 or 1812, she cannot well remember which, but she remembers that she considered herself as turned of sixteen years of age and is now in her 22d year. Her first agreement with Ann Evan was for a month on trial and, having given sufficient satisfaction, she engaged to serve until old May day following for three pounds. When that time expired, she agreed to serve another year, and did serve it until within a fortnight of old May in the following year when, some misunderstanding taking place, she quitted her service and left Ann Evan a fortnight, as already observed. Before the time was up of the second year, that it appears that she served as a convenant servant in the parish from November 1812 (as I take it) until old May day 1813 and from thence until about the first day of May (new till) 1814, when, as already said, she went away the whole time without any interruption, about 18 calendar months. She is a native of Lantrissant where her parents are parochially settled. She returned to her father's house and afterwards worked with Mr Vaughan of Lanelay, chiefly on the farm for weekly wages. Was paid every Saturday night. With Mr Vaughan she thus continued to work for the greater part of the time, excepting such times as weather would not permit her to work on the farm and for the last 8 months of disablement occasioned by the complaint in her eyes.
She in May 1816 agreed by the year with Morgan Morgan of Vron Wenith, parish of Lansannor, but served only something less than 3 months of her time, for her master's landlord distraine on and sold all the live and dead stock for his rent so that she was obliged to return to her fathers house in Lantrissant and afterwards worked as often as weather permitted with Mr Vaughan as before, on his farm at Lanelay, until her eyes become so bad as to disable her. Being obliged to apply for relief she went to Mr Richards of Lantrissant who examined her and, from the account which she gave of herself and of her time and of the nature of her employments, he concluded that she was settled in this parish of Flimston by service as above represented with Ann Evan at Goodwell. She was, of course, brought here by an order of Mr Richards by a person employed by the parish to conduct her who brought her to the house of John Hooper, who is overseer of the poor, where she was refused to be taken in or any other reliefs but was treated with abusive language and sent to John Spencer who, it seems, does the parish business respecting paupers. He gave her victuals for that evening and a part of the next day (last Wednesday). He did not lodge her in his house but found a lodging for her in the villiage and yesterday gave her two shillings wherewith to support herself until next Tuesday. But for her supper yesterday, her breakfast today and her bed last night she has been charged one shilling, so that she has only one shilling to support herself until Tuesday next, which will not more than pay for her lodging. She intends waiting upon your worships at the Petty Sessions where, if I well understan[d], matters either John Ll[avfrer] (or his inferna[l] cats paw for oppressing the poor John Spencer) intends to be also.
I have endeavoured to give as correct a statement of the poor young woman's case as I possibly could from the words of her own mouth. I cannot help adding as an opinion of my own that I never said or heard of such cruelties practised towards the poor as I have known for the last year and a half or two years in this infernalized parish of Flemston. I have obtained advice such as I am informed is necessary and intend to move the next court of Quarter Sessions for such an enquiry into the conduct of this parish as may be thought proper. The parishes are almost every where by their opression driving the poor into madness and I will venture to say that this is the greatest if not the only cause of a too general prejudice against the government which by the ignorant poor is supposed to countenance those oppressi[ons], than which nothing can be more untrue. How many orders for relieving poor persons have been within the last year given by the magistrates in this parish and not obeyed but treated by the officers with open and glaring contempt? What I now assert I am able to prove should I be called upon to do so. Be pleased gentlemen to pardon me for detaining your attention to what I thus assert.
your worships' most humble servant,