John Morgan

John Walter Morgan (1861-1899) and (1st) Mary Ann Powell (1866-1892), (2nd) Anne Hopkins (1875-)

This particular family unit seems to have been touched much more than others by tragedy. John Walter Morgan was Richard and Gwenllian Morgan’s first son to survive infancy (a previous John Morgan had died aged only 10 days in 1857) and, as such, much may have been expected of him.  When, for example, Richard Morgan had leased the land for the building of Coelbren House, he had enough left over to have a further house constructed next door – Bryncelen House – and this was later given over to John Walter and his first wife Mary Ann Powell, who married in 1886 at Pontardawe.  An anonymous history of Coelbren states that Bryncelen was built in 1893.  They started their married life at Henrhyd Cottages in Coelbren, at that time a series of rudimentary “one up one down” workers’ accommodations and are shown squashed in to one of the units there in the 1891 census. Now, they have all been converted and extended, in the modern way, into a single family dwelling.

Henrhyd Cottages, 2014.  Photo from, 2014

In 1892, and possibly in or as a result of childbirth, Mary Ann died, leaving John Morgan with a young family.  We can imagine that in this period he relied very much on the help that would have been available from his parents and siblings in and around Coelbren House.      John then re-married in 1895, to Anne Hopkins, from Abercrave.  Tragically, though, this second marriage appears to have lasted only a few years, as John Morgan himself died, aged 38, in 1899.

This shock would have devastated both the immediate and extended family, and indeed the wider community.   As his obituary relates, John Morgan very much upheld family commitment to both the Baptist chapel at Nantyffin and the wider community.  The same anonymous local historian mentions John Morgan, Bryncelen, as one of several men who formed a committee to try and establish a primary school in the village, from 1893.  The sense of tragedy experienced by parents Richard and Gwenllian Morgan is now all the greater, as John was the third and last of their sons to die young (John Ifor in infancy, and, as we will see later, the last born, Richard, died aged only 30, and this only a year prior to John’s death).  John Morgan’s six children are now left without a father; four of them also without their own mother.   While today’s Social Services would no doubt be very interested in such a situation, the only thing for it in 1901 is for Anne Morgan (Hopkins) to look after most of them – her own and her step-children - and this family unit is shown in 1901 next door to Coelbren House (although we have also seen that the eldest child – Margaret – has been sent to Penygraig to work in the Jeffreys household).  Anne is shown as a Shopkeeper and it was the way of the times for many “shops” to be effectively front-rooms in people’s houses.  Anne is shown as a Widow, aged only 26, with Gwenllian, William, Richard and Thomas, while youngest daughter Anne can be found at Cefn Coed Uchaf (Abercrave), with her grandparents, Richard and Anne Hopkins.

Obituary for John Walter Morgan (1861-1899)

Seren Cymru, 6/10/1899 

 "Remembrance Corner

John Morgan, Bryncelyn, Colbren Junction

With grief we remember John’s passing from us which took place about 9 a.m. on Monday morning, Sept. 7, after a long debilitating physical illness.  Everyone did their best to help John get better because everyone who knew him were his friends.  But death does not listen to our pleadings, when he puts his hands on his subjects; therefore, John was taken in his 38th year, leaving a widow and six young children to grieve for their loss, and the loss is felt every day.

He was the son of dear Richard and Gwenllian Morgan, Colbren, who are the oldest members of Nantyffin, and this needs much effort and faithfulness to be the head of such an old chapel.  The departed was also a faithful and diligent member.  He was baptised alongside others by the secretary about 26 years ago, when he was very young, and he kept the faith.  He was very useful as the choir master of the “big choir” in the chapel and the small choir in the school house at Colbren.  It is a great loss to these children as he also taught the catechism.  He was presented for his services to the chapel and choir with a testimonial on his retirement due to his illness.  As a member, he contributed generously according to his circumstances to every cause, and he can be a lesson to many, if they need an example of generosity.  He was a peaceful member.  He was a peaceful son, and he hated quarrels among the members.  He considered religion to have higher attainment than men gathering to quarrel.  He had a respectable funeral on the following Saturday afternoon.  The Rev. W. Jones Ystalyfera conducted the services in the house and chapel, and Mr Jones, the secretary, took part at the graveside with great feeling.  May the Lord in his infinite mercy sustain the widow and little children, his grieving mother and father, and all the relatives.”

With thanks to Elaine Parry for the translation.

1901 census for England and Wales: the young widow Anne Morgan, shopkeeper, can be seen with four of her children; next door, however, to the Coelbren House family.

Even further, the early deaths in the First World War of two of John Morgan’s sons shown below, Richard and Thomas, and the emigration to the USA of a third (William), effectively stopped the continuation of the Morgan name through a direct male line in this particular family. 

Children of John Walter Morgan and Mary Ann Powell:

Margaret Morgan (1886-1941) married John Jones

Gwenllian Morgan (1888-)  

William Morgan (1890-) emigrated to USA

Richard Morgan (1892-1916)

Children of John Walter Morgan and Anne Hopkins

Thomas John Morgan (1897-1918)

Anne Morgan (1896-1982) married John Evans

© (the written content and authorial photographs) Gareth Jones 2015-20