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Bryncrach where Twm y Gof was murdered

Mwrdwr yn y Bont

Murder in Bont

(1821)

Introduction

In the 19th century, the judges at Welsh assizes were presented with a pair of white gloves if the Calendar [1] before them had no criminal cases. It was a custom which led to the saying ‘Hen Wlad y Menyg Gwynion’ (‘The Land of the White Gloves’), and to the notion that Wales was a place free from serious crime. In fact Henry Richards of Tregaron [2] declared that Wales, in terms of criminal behaviour, was superior to other nations. The people of west Wales, in particular, were depicted as law abiding and intensely moral.


Of course, this view was not universally accepted, and the subject is still  being debated by historians. Russell Davies, in 1996, raises the question [3] :


Was west Wales a land of ‘secret sins’ or was it a paradisial land free of crime?


Whatever the reality, one thing is certain, no community is perfect. An incident at Pontrhydfendigaid, just five miles or so from Henry Richard’s birth place, received considerable notoriety in 1821.

This is a story of a murder which took place at Bont on a dark, winter night, on the 8th of December, 1821. The weather at the time was particularly unpleasant [4] :

. . . uninterrupted gales with wind and dreadful torrents of rain . . . these were frequently accompanied, in the early part of the evening, by thunder and vivid lightning.

The scene of the crime was Bryncrach, on the way out of Bont going towards Tregaron [5]. Thomas Evans was the victim. He was the village blacksmith and was known locally as Twm y Gof [6]


A report in Seren Gomer said that the incident shocked the community and galvanised the neighbourhood into action. Forty-eight people were ‘queuing up’ on the morning after the murder to enlist as special constables – they formed a ‘posse’ to track down the perpetrators :

Nos Sadwrn, yr 8fed o Ragfyr, llofruddwyd Thomas Efans, gôf, o Rhydfendigaid . . . yn y modd creulonaf. Am nad oes neb yn cofio am lofruddiaeth yn yr ardal hono o’r blaen, gwnaeth yr hanes argraff neilldiol ar feddyliau y cymdogion; ac aeth 48 o ddynion, o honynt eu hunain, at Ynad yr Heddwch yn fore y dydd canlynol i gael eu tyngu yn hedd-geidweid anarferol, a chyn nos daliasant dri dyn, y rhai a yrwyd i garchar Aberteifi, dan y cyhuddiad o Lofruddiaeth Gwirfoddol.


Three men were eventually caught – they were Thomas Price, John Evans and Evan Evans, all from Bont. This prompt action by the community may have been a reflection of local regard for Thomas Evans, but there must have been more to it than that; Twm y Gof was not the most law-abiding or popular figure in the village. More than likely, the local community was glad to see the back of all concerned ─ Twm y Gof and the three accused.

Thomas Evans (alias Twm y Gof)

A search of the Parish Register [6] revealed that Thomas Evans married Ann Lloyd Evans on the 27th November 1812 ; he had a daughter baptized in September 1813 and a son roughly eighteen months later. The burial records says that he was 43 on the 12th of December 1821 [6]. There is no record of a Thomas Evans born in 1778, but there is a reference to a Thomas Evans, Bwlchyddwyallt, baptized on the 10th of October, 1777. This could be Twm y Gof, but there is no way of proving it one way or the other. However, all the indications are that he was ‘local’ – born and bred in the area.

Twm y Gof had many brushes with the law and his name was coupled with a number of felonious incidents [7]. On the 25th of September 1818, he was accused of assaulting David Jones. The date is significant ; it was ‘dydd Ffair Gŵyl Grog yn Bont’ (the annual fair day at Bont) and, very likely, there was a lot of drinking going on, accompanied by a bit of petty violence. Twm y Gof seemed to have been in the thick of it and it was said that, twice during the course of the day, he [8] :


. . . did beat bruise wound and ill treat (David Jones) so that his life was greatly despaired of . . .


Twm was prosecuted ; he pleaded not guilty and the grand jury at Cardigan decided that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a trial proper and returned a verdict of ‘no true bill’ [9]. The following year he was accused of maiming a horse belonging to Richard Rees and, as before, he pleaded not guilty and the verdict, once more, was ‘no true bill’. And this was not all, there were a few other instances of Twm y Gof being charged with criminal wrongdoing. In January 1821, he was :


. . . charged upon oath of John Morgan and David Evans with suspicion of having on the 7th January . . . maimed a Bay Gelding, the property of David Evans, of the parish of Gwnnws in the . . . County of Cardiganshire.


This time, the case did go to a full trial and judging by the number of people who testified, it seems that there were many in Bont who wanted to get rid of Twm y Gof ─ for good. If convicted, he faced transportation. The Quarter Sessions Record for May 1821 [10] has a long list of people who were paid ‘expenses’ for attending the Great Sessions to give evidence against Thomas. One of them was Thomas Price who was given :


. . . the sum of one pound and five shillings . . . for his attendance at Cardigan Great Sessions to give evidence against Thomas Evans Blacksmith for felony, together with the sum of six shillings by him expended in obtaining this Order.


Thomas Price was paid a further sum of money for conveying Thomas Evans to Cardigan jail. John Evans and Evan Evans were also among those who received ‘payment’ for their role in the trial. Clearly, these three individuals seemed to have had a little bit of a grudge against Twm y Gof well before they planned his murder.


However, despite the weight of evidence against him, Twm y Gof was cleared, once more, of any wrongdoing. The irony is ─ had he been found guilty and transported, that would have saved his life.

 Conspiracy to get rid of Twm y Gof

Thomas Price played quite a prominent role in the court case against Twm y Gof. This was not an accident ; it emerged, during the course of the murder trial that there was a ‘conspiracy’ to get rid of Thomas Evans one way or another. After the bid to have him convicted and transported had failed, it looks like the three accused took it upon themselves to dispose of him by other means.


The three accused were members of the same family ─ Evan Evans was Thomas Price’s father-in-law and John Evans’ father. At the trial, Thomas Price and John Evans eventually confessed to their part in the murder and were found guilty on Friday, 5th of April, 1822 and sentenced to death by hanging. Evan Evans pleaded not guilty and was acquitted and released.


During the hearing, the conspiracy theory was given credence by Thomas Price who admitted he and Twm y Gof had been ‘one-time partners in crime’ and had actually murdered two people ─ one a traveller and another a Jew, but he gave no explanation of when, where or how. Price also confessed that it was he, and not Thomas Evans, who maimed David Evans’ Bay Gelding back in January 1821 ; the implication was that Thomas Evans had been deliberately ‘set-up’ [11] :


Fe ddarfu Thomas Price gyffesu ei fod ef a Thomas Evans wedi bod yn cyduno mewn llawer o ddrygau, a’u bod wedi mynd â bywyd un Trafaeliwr, (Rider) a’u bod wedi mynd a bywyd Iuddew, ond ni roddodd eglurder pa fodd; ac mai fe ddarfu dori neu frathu y ceffyl y bu Thomas Evans yn cael ei brofi yn ei gylch yn Aberteifi, ac iddo gael gini am dyngu mai Thomas Evans oedd wedi ei wneud.


Thomas Price also confessed that the main reason behind the murder was fear that Thomas Evans would reveal their past criminal activities and, he claimed, that his father-in-law had urged him to settle the problem once and for all. The Carmarthen Journal reported Thomas Price as saying that the root cause was [12] :


. . . an old quarrel, and an apprehension lest should he (Thomas Evans) expose some of their tricks. Price declared that he had no intention to murder him in the first instance, and attributed it to heat of passion at the moment.


Stephen Jones (ballad writer and singer[) [11], also, quoted Thomas Price as saying that his father-in-law had said to him ─ Tom you must go with my son John to-night  and instead of saying you will do it, you will do it, and then doing nothing :


.  .  . mai ei dad ynghyfraith a ddarfu ei hudo i fwrddo Thomas Evans, - dywedodd ei dad ynghyfraith “Tom, y mae yn rhaid i ti fyned gyda John fy mab heno yn erbyn Boni, a myn’d (yn lle gweud, gweud yr ai di) a’i settlo fe ar unwaith”.


However, there was no real evidence to suggest that Evan Evans was the prime inciter other than the word of Thomas Price, who was never really averse to lying.

 Thomas Price and his eventful sixteen days

The sixteen days extending from the tail end of November to early December 1821, were, to say the least, eventful for Thomas Price. He was married to Mary Evans at Strata Florida Church (by John Jones, the then Curate) on the 23rd day of November. Three days later on the 26th, the same Curate, was back at Church, this time baptizing the daughter of Thomas and Mary Price. They were now living at Penybont, Pontrhydfendigaid, probably, with Mary’s father (Evan Evans) and her bother (John Evans).

 

Within about two weeks of moving in with his in-laws, Thomas Price said he was ‘persuaded’ to kill Twm y Gof. This he did on the 8th of December ; twenty four hours later, however, he was securely locked up – with his father-in law and brother-in law – in Cardigan jail. He never saw Pontrhydfendigaid again.

Could this be Thomas Price's last address

 or  was there another place called Penybont in 1821?

For details of what was written in the papers, and what the ballad writers had to say, click here

Am wybodaeth ynghylch yr hyn â ysgrifennwyd yn y papurau ac a ganwyd gan y baledwyr, cliciwch yma

 Notes

1

Just before the opening of a court session, a list of the criminal prisoners awaiting trial was presented to the Judge.

2.

Henry Richards, Letters and Essays on Wales, London, 1866

3.

Russell Davies, Secret Sins, Cardiff, 1996

4.

The Cambrian, January 1822.

5.

NLW Great Sessions Records, Wales 4/914/5

6.

NLW Ystrad Fflur Parish Register – refers to Thomas Evans, alias Twm y Gof, being murdered and buried on the 12th December 1821. His age was given as 43, which is at odds with that given in the records of the Great Sessions (see reference [8])

7.

NLW Crime and Punishment database

8.

NLW Great Sessions Records Wales 4/914/3

9.

A true bill means that a grand jury has heard sufficient evidence from the prosecution to believe that the accused person has probably committed a crime and should be indicted.

10.

Quarter Sessions Records for May 1821, Ceredigion Archives.

11.

Stephen Jones, Rhagymadrodd i’w Gân Alarus, Aberystwyth, 1822 (copies held at the Founders’ Library University of Wales, Lampeter and the University of Wales, Bangor)

12.

Carmarthen Journal, 12th April, 1822

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Thomas Price, John Evans and Evan Evans from Pontrhydfendigaid (Bont), were charged with murdering Thomas Evans (alias Twm y Gof) on the 8th December, 1821 at a place called Bryncrach. They were taken to Cardigan jail on the 9th December and kept there until the trial on the 5th of April, 1822.

Thomas Price, who was 30 years of age, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by hanging. John Evans, who was only 18 years old, was found guilty of aiding and abetting Thomas Price and was also sentenced to death by hanging. Evan Evans, father of John Evans, was found not guilty and released.

The Murder Act of 1752, dictated that "for better preventing the horrid crime of murder, those found guilty and hanged should then be delivered to the surgeons to be dissected and anatomized". All this was carried out in public – it was argued that by increasing the terror and the shame of the death penalty, this would increase the deterrent power of capital punishment. The Anatomy Act, ending the dissection of murders, did not come into force until 1832. Thomas Price and John Evans were hanged and literally dissected outside Cardigan jail on Easter Monday, 1822.

The trial and executions attracted a great deal of interest nationally. There were reports in all the Welsh newspapers and ballad writers also gave their own graphic portrayal of the whole spectacle.

Summary