The (possible) Story of "Wandering Ann" of Bethesda
While researching old Welsh newspapers, searching for stories featuring women,
I came across an article in the North Wales Chronicle from May 1889.
Alleged Bigamy at Bethesda: Husband number 1 and Husband number 2 in court
Ann Williams, a young woman living at Tanyffordd Bethesda, was charged with feloniously marrying a bricklayer named Robert Charles,
her first husband Joseph Williams, being still alive. Both marriage certificates were produced.
Ann Evans of Llanllechid testified that she knew the defendant and had been present at her first marriage to Joseph Williams in March 1882.
CHAIRMAN Has Joseph Williams been away from her? INSPECTOR No Sir, but she has been away.
CHAIRMAN Had she any reason to marry a second time? INSPECTOR No Sir
CHAIRMAN Where does Joseph Williams work?
INSPECTOR At the quarry, and he and Charles live not 50 yards from each other.
I believe the woman has been lodging in the same house with Charles prior to the second marriage.
CHAIRMAN What was the woman’s maiden name? INSPECTOR Ann Lloyd
CHAIRMAN I see she signed the register Ann Jones. INSPECTOR Yes Sir, she gave a false name
MAGISTRATES CLERK She can be proceeded against for that. CHAIRMAN Have you anything to ask? DEFENDANT I have nothing to ask.
Robert Roberts, Deputy Registrar produced both marriage certificates, Hannah Duggan of Mill Street Bethesda testified that she had been at Ann’s wedding to Robert Charles, and that she knew the defendant had been married to Williams, but as he was in the habit of living with other women, was sure she was at liberty to marry again. William Davies, Car proprietor, Bethesda testified that he had been at Ann’s second wedding but had no idea she had married before. He knew her as “Wandering Ann” She had been in South Wales for a long time.
Ann admitted that she had married twice, but stated that she would live with Robert Charles even if they did give her 12 years. She did not regret leaving Joseph Williams as he was unkind to her, that even now she was obliged to go to work and he would meet her on the way home and take her money from her. Ann interjected “And give me a couple of black eyes in the process” ( LAUGHTER )
Piecing together Wandering Ann’s Life
I had seen a few bigamy cases in the newspapers, but none where the bigamist was the woman, and none with such extensive and detailed coverage. I was impressed by Ann’s defiance and passion, and I wondered what her life had been like, and what had happened next. Through searching the Wales Census’ and old maps etc, I think I may have come up with her story, or a story at least.
She was born in Denbighshire in 1862 to parents Ann and David Lloyd. By 1871, they had moved to Bethesda and were living at Tan Y Ffordd, right next to the Pantdreiniog Quarry tips. A small row of terraced houses, they lived at number 22. There were 5 children in the house with Ann the second eldest. Her father David was 42 and a quarry labourer and her mother Ann, had no profession.
In the 1881 census, Ann is now 19 years old. She is working as a domestic servant. Her mother is now the head of the household but I cannot find a death record for David Lloyd so perhaps he has moved to work elsewhere. There are now 6 children in the house, with Ann the eldest and the only one earning.
A year after this census, on 29th March 1882, Ann married Joseph Williams at Bangor Registry office. He was also 19 years old and had lived on the same row with his parents Ellis and Mary, his 2 sisters and 2 nephews. Ann moved into that house after they were married, but it is referred to as “my mother’s house” so perhaps his father had also gone or passed away. A year later she had gone, moved to South Wales, where she stayed for maybe as long as 5 years.
On the 16th March 1889, Ann married Robert Charles in Bangor registry office, signing the register as Ann Jones, and this is how she came to be in court. Robert had grown up a few streets away, in Pantdreiniog. Unlike Ann and Joseph, he was the only child in his household, living with his grandmother and 2 elderly lodgers. He was 5 years younger than Ann, (and I like to think he was “different to the other boys” and she had fallen in love.)
The next newspaper article I found was a report of her sentencing at the Caernarfonshire assizes (19th July 1889, Caernarfon and Denbigh Herald).
Caernarfonshire Summer Assizes. Ann appeared in court for sentencing…
“Ann Williams, aged 26, was charged with having, on the 16th of March feloniously marrying on Robert Charles, her former husband, Joseph Williams, to whom she was previously married on 29th March 1882, still being alive. The prisoner pleaded guilty. Mr Malcolm Douglas, who prosecuted, said he had been asked to say on behalf of the prisoner that the first husband had ill-treated her. They lived at Bethesda but had been separated for about five or six years.
His Lordship said there was no doubt about the commission of the offence, the only question was that of punishment. He feared that the prisoner knew she was doing wrong. She knew that her first husband was alive, and that she was marrying on the second occasion under a false name. This was an offence which varied a great deal, and he did not think hers was one that called for severe punishment. Mr Douglas here observed that the woman had already been in prison for two months. His Lordship said that under the circumstances, she had received sufficient for the offence and the sentence upon her would be one day’s imprisonment."
She was hard to find on the census for 1891. Do I look for Ann Charles, Ann Williams or Ann Lloyd? Did “Wandering Ann” wander again? I like to think I have found her listed in 1891 in Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil. She is listed as Ann Charles, Wife of Robert Charles, night waller at the local colliery, and they are sharing two rooms
I hoped that this was a happy ending, but then I stumbled across a case from the Petty Sessions in Bangor in 1901.
Caernarfon and Denbigh Herald, 14th June 1901
A LOCAL DIVORCE CASE: Williams v Williams
“In the divorce court on Friday afternoon, the case of Williams v Williams came on for hearing before the president ( Sir F Jeune). This was the petition of Joseph Williams, quarryman, Bethesda North Wales, for dissolution of his marriage on the ground of the bigamous marriage of his wife, Ann Williams, late of Dowlais. Mr Lawrence appeared for the petitioner. There was no defence. Council said the parties were married on the 29th March 1882, at the registry office Bangor, and petitioner afterwards resided with his wife near Bethesda. At first they resided with the petitioner’s mother, but afterwards petitioner took his own house and desired his wife to go live with him there. Instead of doing so, she disappeared from the district, and he lost sight of her til 1889 when he heard she had gone through a form of marriage on the 16th March 1889 with Robert Charles, otherwise Robert Charles Jones, at Bangor. Subsequently respondent was brought up at the Bangor Petty sessions and was committed for trial at the Caernarfonshire assizes, where she was convicted. His mother begged him not to take divorce proceedings and in deference to her wishes he abstained from doing so. His mother died in 1897, and a difficulty the petitioner found himself in was, in the meantime, Robert Charles Jones, who had gone into the army, had died in India. Another reason for delay was lack of means.
After hearing the evidence, his Lordship granted a decree nisi.”
So poor Ann had lost Robert Charles within a decade and was once again in South Wales on her own. I can find no mention of her on any more census’ I’ve searched a few different versions of her name but there are so many choices it’s hard to tell, who knows where Wandering Ann may have ended up? I found one Ann Charles listed, who lived until 1923, running a hotel in Aberdare with another woman named Elizabeth. There’s not enough connections to say that this is the right Ann, but I really hope she carried on doing her own thing. .