Amazonian Alice Griffith: The Butcher of Talysarn

1834 - 1907, “Conspicuous among a hundred people…”


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I love this story of Alice Griffith (nee Jones), of Talysarn. I’ve pieced it together from newpaper articles, the census and various websites, and I think her life, which covers the peak of the quarrying industry, and the times during which there is ‘little evidence to the contrary that ‘quarrymen’s wives were lazy and extravagent’….


The story starts with this article:

FATAL ACCIDENT AT TALYSARN — SAD DEATH OF A WELL-KNOWN WOMAN.

19th April 1907, Caernarfon and Denbigh Herald and North and South Wales Independent

“On Monday morning, when Mrs Alice Griffiths, Tanydderwen, Talysarn, was driving a pony and trap through the village, the pony bolted, and Mrs Griffiths was thrown out of the trap, sustaining such serious injuries that she died two hours later.

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Mrs Griffiths was an interesting old lady of 73 years. With her hair in ringlets falling upon her shoulders and wearing a quaint dress, she was conspicuous among a hundred people. Self-willed and of strong individuality, she was somewhat of an Amazon. She could drive a horse and trap as well as any man living, and a highly spirited animal would have no terror for her.

She had been once or twice warned last week of the great danger of yoking the pony, which brought about her death, to a vehicle, but took little heed. This animal was not properly 'broken in, and prior to the day on which the accident took place it had run away with her.

Mrs Griffiths followed the trade of a butcher, and went about the country, buying cattle, which she slaughtered herself. It was admitted that she was ‘an expert at despatching a sheep, a pig, or a cow'. She carried on this business unassisted by her husband, who is a quarryman and fellows his occupation daily.

She was not unaccustomed to the law, and being in a quarrel she made her opponents 'beware of her. At the last County Court at Carnarvon she figured as a defendant, the case being adjourned until the next court.

Mrs Griffiths was the mother of three brilliant ministers of the C.M. connexion: Rev H. E. Griffiths, M.A.. Oswestry; Rev Morgan W. Griffiths, B.A.. Barmouth, and the Rev o. H. Griffith, B.A.. Dolwyddelen.

An inquest was held on the body on Tuesday by Mr O. Robyns Owen, coroner. A verdict of "Accidental death" was returned, and a vote of condolence was passed to the family.”


Why? ….

… was she so independent.. and so skilled at butchering animals?

…. was the court case that she was involved with?

… were her sons so distinguished?


In the beginning…

Alice Griffith was born Alice Jones in Llanwnda in 1834. On the death of her mother, she moved with her father, William Jones, to live with her grandmother, Alice Williams, who owned a farm (Bedd Gwenan) in Talysarn. She and her father worked on the farm, where she learned her exceptional animal butchery and equine skills, and blossomed into an independent spirit inspired by her gran. Presumably her ‘amazonian’ physique and looks were forged here too!

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In the middle…

In the 1860s, she married Hugh Griffith of Talysarn, a quarryman at Dorothea. They lived at 22 Bryncelyn, which is the house to the left of this shop (I like to think that is Alice in the shop doorway, with her three sons sitting on the windowsill!)….

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The house was centrally located for the chapels and the school, and the quarry railway, and right on the main road with its stone walls. All four of these things became pivotal in Alice’s life.

And 22 Bryncelyn today looks like this - the yellow coloured house to the left of the old shop. You can still see the chapels in the distance, and what looks like a large yard at the back which may have been where Alice slaughtered her animals.

So Alice carried on with her work as a butcher (although not mentioned in the censuses, so this may have been a black market job!) and she took in lodgers (3 quarrymen) and 2 servants in 1871.

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They also had three sons, Owen, Morgan and Hugh. All started as quarrymen, and went on to get degrees - at the time of her death, they were known as: Rev H. E. Griffith M.A., Oswestry; Rev M. W. Griffith, B.A. Barmouth, and Rev O. J. Griffith B.A. Dolwyddelen. They all became well respected and well known Presbyterian ministers.

The middle son, Morgan W Griffith , got a Welsh degree and was a minister in Barmouth, Dinorwig, London and Pwhelli, died aged 92 in 1996. Although they were a Welsh-speaking household, it’s interesting that Morgan was twice a Rev of an English-speaking Chapel, linguistic skills too.


And at the end…
“Telephone Girl and Her Organ - a curious case in the county court”

Once again, the Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald and North and South Wales Independent has got the scoop: 22 March 1907.

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“On Wednesday at the Carnarvon County Court, before His Honour Judge Moss, Catherine Ellen Williams, a good-looking young lady from Talysarn sued Hugh, and Alice Griffith, 'Bryn Celyn, Talysarn, for £12 12s, the value of an American organ, and £1 damages for wrong conversion. Mr Harding (instructed by Mr Hamlet- Roberts) appealed for the plaintiff, and Mr Nath. Roberts for the defendants.

Mr Harding said that the plaintiff was employed by the Telephone Company at Talysarn, and she claimed the return or the value of an American organ which she bought and paid for by installments whilst she was under age, and for which her father stood surety. The receipt which was handed to the plaintiff after the instalments were paid was made out in her name and there was no dispute as to the organ being hers.

The instrument came into the defendants' possession under rather peculiar circumstances. Last year, the plaintiff's parents, who looked after the telephone exchange at Talysarn, brought an action at the Assizes against the Talysarn Slate Quarry Company in respect of the death of one of their sons, who was killed in the quarry. They recovered damages amounting to £70, but subsequently the Court of Appeal upset the decision of the Assize Court.

In January last. the plaintiff's parents were in fear of an execution being made upon them by the appellants' solicitors, and several of the neighbours, especially the female defendant [that’s our Alice], urged the parents to do something to secure the furniture and remove it from the house to avoid execution.

Finallly the female defendant [our Alice again] prevailed upon the plain-tiff to allow the organ to be taken to her house, out of reach of the bailiffs. At that time the plaintiff's parents owed the female defendant a sum of £10 or £12 [presumably meat bills?], and he believed that the defence was that the organ was placed in the defendants’ position either out-and-out to make up for the debt, or as some security for the debt.

The plaintiff gave evidence to prove that the organ was her property, and was removed to avoid execution. Plaintiff's mother gave corroborative evidence. The case was adjourned.”


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I can’t find what the final verdict was, but between this hearing and the next, our Alice died, smashed against a wall by her wild pony and trap… But I like the way that even at 73, Alice was fighting against the system, in what appears to be a way of saving her neighbour’s posessions from the Court of Appeal [which seems an outrageous miscarriage of justice in itself - much worse than anything Alice was doing!?], but could also be some nifty wheeling and dealing.

Lindsey Colbourne