Welsh Journals

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'OUR UBIQUITOUS FRIEND' S. W. Williams, F.S.A., F.R.I.B.A., F.S.I.. 1837-1899 R. W. D. FENN and J. B. SINCLAIR Stephen William Williams was a true Victorian, for he was born on June 7th 1837, the year Queen Victoria came to the throne, and died in 1899. two years before the Victorian era itself came to its close. The eldest of the three sons of Jane and Stephen Williams, he was born in the parish of Churchstoke in Montgomeryshire in the seventeenth century farm house of Lower Mellington Farm and came as the Hereford Journal put it, 'of a thoroughly good old yeoman family'. His grandfather, another Stephen Williams, 1767-1842, took over the tenancy of the farm, which was part of the Mellington estate, in 1815 and when he died a memorial was erected to him in the parish church of Churchstoke 'by public sub- scription as a testimony of respect and esteem.' The seeds of his subsequent interest in archaeology and history must have been sown in his childhood days at Lower Mellington farm which was encompassed on all sides by sites of archaeological and historical interest. Pre-eminent amongst these, of course, was Offa's Dyke which ran through the Mellington estate which was overlooked from the south by the encampment of Caerdin from its lofty vantage point. Stephen Williams was educated at Bishop's Castle before going in November 1852, aged fifteen, to be articled with Mr Samuel Bate of Stoke upon Trent, a prosperous land agent and surveyor with an extensive practice in Staffordshire. He specialised in estate surveys, the production of tithe maps, and in surveying turnpike routes, all skills which William himself was later to put to good professional use. Whilst he was serving the five year term of his articles he also enrolled as a student at the Stoke upon Trent School of Art and at the Government School of Mines. He came to Rhaeadr in 1861 as a temporary lodger to survey the route of the Mid Wales Railway and never left. Within weeks if not days of his arrival he met 'his little girl' Maria, daughter of Capt Horatio James, R.N., J.P., of Penralley, the handsome 18th century house in South Street which was to become his home. The Jameses, as is evidenced by their numerous tombstones in Rhaeadr churchyard, were a well estab- lished local naval family. They were married quietly by licence on September llth 1862 at Liverpool, neither Maria's mother nor Williams' parents attending. There appears, however, to have been no parental disapproval. Five days before the wedding William noted in his diary he went to Welshpool and 'got my wedding clothes', and the day before the wedding he recorded 'I went to Chester to get my marriage licence.' After the wedding, they went by train, as was appropriate for one so engaged in railway building, to London, for a fortnight's honeymoon, staying in lodgings near the Strand. They then returned to Rhaeadr, holding a couple of 'At homes' to receive their first visitors at Penralley as husband and wife. By the end of the month, however, he was back at work, surveying the Kington and Eardisley Railway.