Merthyr Tydfil

Anonymous Heroes: the Dinas Mine Rescue Service

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Dinas Mine Rescue Service c.1912.
Photograph courtesy of Merthyr Tydfil Local Studies Department


On a recent trip to Merthyr Tydfil Library, I was searching through several large boxes of uncatalogued photographs, newspaper articles, and photocopies of handwritten notes when I discovered the image of a mine rescue team above. There were no annotations on the back of the photograph to give any clue as to the names of the men, the date of the photograph, or even where it was taken. However, from the hair (and moustache!) style of the subjects, I estimated that the picture was probably taken circa 1910.

This was an exciting discovery. Although mining disasters had sadly long been commonplace, any serious rescue and recovery efforts only became possible after Johann Heinrich Dräger and his son Bernhard invented valves that allowed the successful removal of carbon dioxide and the regulation of oxygen flow in tanks in the closing decades of the nineteenth century. Therefore, the equipment in this photograph must have been among the very earliest available[i].

Some online detective work led me to Andrew Watson at MRS Training and Rescue (formerly Mines Rescue Service), who confirmed that the equipment in the picture was the 1904 Dräger model which had been used by rescuers in the Courrières mining disaster in 1906, saving many lives. Astoundingly, despite the small amount of background shown in the picture, Andrew also managed to tell me where the photograph was taken; the Dinas Mine Rescue Station, some 16 miles south of Merthyr Tydfil. The station was opened by King George V and Queen Mary in June 1912, and I suggest that this picture is most likely from around this date.


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One last mystery remains: who were the men in the photograph? Or perhaps more accurately, who were the men and boys in the photograph? While none of the men are old, the two figures in the top left corner, particularly the one on the left, cannot be any older than their mid-teens. It is unlikely that we will ever discover the identity of any of the men (although if you recognise anyone, please do get in touch), but the harrowing accounts of miners and mine rescue workers from the early 1900s shows that serving in the Mines Rescue Service must have required an extraordinary amount of bravery, and one can only imagine the horrors they faced, even with cutting-edge breathing apparatus.


Dr Jennifer Aston

With thanks to Mary Oates at Merthyr Tydfil Library and Andrew Watson at MRS Training & Rescue.

[i] For more information see:

Capturing social capital


Dowlais employees wearing the uniforms of the Twelfth Glamorganshire Volunteer Rifle Corps. Dowlais House, 1870. Showing front row: Dr. Burns; William Jenkins [seated]; George T Clark, trustee seated]; Dr. Pearson Cresswell [seated]. Back row: M.C. Harrison; Matthew Hirst; Edward Williams; Matthew Truran; William Menelaus, general manager; George Martin; David James. Photograph courtesy of Glamorgan Archives, Wales.


An important part of our project is attempting to chart the interconnected nature of professional men and their families in the nineteenth century, and the photograph above is a wonderful representation of this.

William Jenkins (seated left on the front row) is one of the project’s cohort members, and the subject of another blog entry. He was connected to Edward Williams (standing third from left behind William) through the marriage of his daughter, Alexandra Octavia, to Edward’s son Penry. William and Edward were both members of the South Wales Institute of Engineers and the North of England Mining and Mechanical Engineers alongside Matthew Truran (stood to Edward’s left) and Matthew’s father Samuel (who sadly died in 1860 when a faulty pipe leaked poisonous gas into his office). However their connection ran even deeper, with newspaper reports of Matthew’s funeral revealing that Edward’s son Penry and his brother Aneurin (M.P for Middlesbrough) were Matthew’s nephews, thus making Edward and Matthew brothers-in-law, as well as colleagues.

Alongside volunteering together in the Twelfth Glamorganshire Volunteer Rifle Corps, and working together in the Dowlais Works, many of these men and their families also held important positions in the local community. David James (standing, far right) was the cousin of cohort members Frank James, who served for many years as Registrar to Merthyr Tydfil, and on the committees of the Merthyr Board of Guardians and School Board, and Charles Herbert James who served as M.P. for Merthyr Tydfil and was chairman of the Merthyr Newspaper Company.

It seems that the relationships and connections between the men who posed in their smart uniforms in front of Dowlais House in 1870 are almost too numerous to count. Yet the scope of the Professions project allows us to examine the professional and personal interactions of these men on a scale that has not previously been attempted. This analysis is slowly revealing an incredibly complex and intricate network of social capital, a concept that was central to defining and enforcing the boundaries of the professional classes.


Dr Jennifer Aston

The Jenkins Family – An Engineering Dynasty

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William Jenkins, c.1890


Cohort member William Jenkins first came to the attention of the Victorian Professions team because he is recorded as an accountant in the 1851 census. However, it quickly became apparent that we had stumbled across a family with at least seven generations of men and women whose lives were deeply intertwined with the development of one of the most important industries in the making of modern Britain: iron.

The 1851 census reveals that William Jenkins (b.1825) lived at 1 Chapel Street, Merthyr Tydfil with his father Thomas Jenkins (b.1801), mother Jane (b.1799), and younger sisters Mary (b.1828), Elizabeth (b.1836), and Catherine (b.1841). Thomas is recorded as being a ‘Shore Clerk’, but his obituary shows that Thomas was the Head Teacher of Dowlais School, and this was where William was educated. The school was founded by Sir John Guest, owner of the Dowlais Ironworks, and the buildings were designed by Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament.


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A few months after the census was taken, William married Rosina Kirkhouse (b.1827), the youngest daughter of George Kirkhouse (b.1779 d.1842) and his wife Mary née Williams (b.1794), at Dowlais Parish Church. The Dowlais Ironworks was central to the very existence of Merthyr Tydfil, and it played a similarly important role in the lives of the Jenkins family. Not only was William employed as an accountant by the works and Thomas ran the school founded by its owner, but William’s late father-in-law George Kirkhouse had held the important positions of Chief Mineral Agent and General Manager. George was descended from the Kirkhouse-Bedlington family, a name synonymous with mining in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It was George’s grandfather and great-grandfather, originally from the north-east of England, who were responsible for introducing deep-shaft mining and furnace ventilation to the coalfields of South-West Wales, innovations that made the scale of mining in Merthyr Tydfil possible.

The next census reveals that by 1861 William and Rosina had welcomed their first three children, daughters Edith Rosina (b.1852), Constance Gwenhyfar (b.1856) and Bertha Mary (b.1860), and that they remained living in Merthyr Tydfil. During this time William had progressed from being an accountant to acting as the ‘Principal Clerk and Book-Keeper at the Dowlais Iron Works’, and he worked closely with the Lady Charlotte Guest and the trustees of Sir John Josiah Guest’s estate in an attempt to make the Ironworks more profitable. William’s hard work was rewarded and in 1869 he was invited by the Consett Iron Company LTD to become the General Manager of Consett Iron Works in County Durham, only a few miles from where Rosina’s Kirkhouse and Bedlington ancestors had established their engineering and mining dynasty.

William, Rosina, Edith, Constance and Bertha moved to Consett Hall, along with their fourth daughter Alexandra Octavia (b.1864), and son William (b.1868), and William quickly became a well-known and popular local figure, serving on a wide range of committees, boards and commissions. That William was a talented engineer and manager is of little doubt; he led the Consett Iron Company to great financial success. However, the fluidity of his professional identity whereby he was able to move from accountant, to chief clerk, to general manager, is likely to also owe a debt to the network afforded to him through his marriage. These relationships were extended even further upon the marriage of William and Rosina’s daughter Alexandra to Penry Williams on 8th January 1890.

Penry Williams (b.1866) was the son of Edward Williams (b.1826) and his wife Mary née Trick (b.1826), and although he was born in Middlesbrough, his family only moved to the north-east in 1865 when his father became general manager of Bolckow, Vaughan and Co, managing some 9,000 workers. Prior to this, the Williams family had also lived in Merthyr Tydfil, where Edward’s father Taliesin Edwards had founded a school in 1816. Taliesin was the son of Edward Williams (b.1747) better known as Iolo Morganwg, the controversial Welsh poet and literary forger, which means that Penry could therefore (allegedly!) trace his lineage through 15 generations to Gwaithfoed Fawr, Prince of Dyfed and Ceredigion. The Jenkins family lived some fifty miles north of Penry and Alexandra’s home at Pinchinthorpe Hall in Guisborough and Edward and Mary’s home Cleveland Lodge in Middlesbrough, but we know that the professional activities of Edward Williams and William Jenkins had long overlapped, for example the two men were among the six founding members of the Institute of South Wales Engineers in 1857 and served as President and Vice-President respectively. In later decades both men attended the funeral of a fellow engineer and former general manager of Dowlais, William Menelaus at Tenby, Wales in 1882.

Penry was an engineer in his own right, with the 1891 census revealing that he was an ‘iron master and joint owner and manager of blast furnaces’ – all by the age of 24. He and wife Alexandra had two children, Edward (b.1891) and Bertha Mary Dorothy (b.1894), and the 1911 census shows that Penry continued to own and manage iron works. However, alongside his role as Managing Director of Linthorpe, Dinsdale Smelting Company Limited, Penry was also incredibly involved in the local community. Among many other activities, he served as a Justice of the Peace for the North Riding of Yorkshire, held the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel of the 1st North Riding Yorkshire Volunteer Artillery, and was the Vice-President of the South Bank Minor Football League in Middlesbrough. Penry also had a successful political career, representing Middlesbrough East as a Liberal Member of Parliament from 1918-1924. More on this to follow in a later blog (along with tales of his siblings, Aneurin and Mary Elizabeth, who aligned themselves with opposing sides of the Suffrage movement…). It is safe to say that Penry and Alexandra built upon the successes of their Welsh father and father-in-law, and managed to secure exactly the kind of socio-economic status that we might expect of a subsequent generation of a successful professional family. This success is reflected in their marital home, Pinchinthorpe Hall, an impressive building dating back to the 12th century currently on the market for £2.5m.


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Picture of Pinchinthorpe Hall courtesy of Liz Morgan at Strutt and Parker


Edward Williams died in June 1886 leaving an estate valued at £89,111, and William Jenkins passed away nine years later in May 1895, just a few days after his wife Rosina, leaving an estate valued at £92,522. Estimates of what these estates would be worth today are £8,670,000 and £9,545,000 respectively and the same calculator estimates that the £84,910 left by Penry Williams in 1945 would be worth £3,005,000 – clearly they were all men of considerable means, but it is interesting to note the decrease in the estate values in real terms between generations.

The Bedlington – Kirkhouse – Jenkins – Williams engineering and mining dynasty was further expanded upon the marriage of Edward Williams (son of Penry and Alexandra), to Muriel Hodgson Le Neve Foster (b.1892) the youngest child of Herbert Le Neve Foster (b.1854), and Annie Margaret Le Neve Foster (b.1858) in 1915. Before his untimely death in 1904, the 1901 census return shows that Herbert was employed as a ‘Metallurgist Chemist and Owner of Limestone Quarries’. Metallurgists examine the physical reactions of metal elements, and therefore they offered a crucial service to heavy industry and their relentless search for new, more efficient, production methods. Herbert was the son of eminent photographer Peter Le Neve Foster, and one of eight brothers, six of whom were either engineers or in some way connected with engineering. Interestingly, one of the few surviving records of William Jenkins’ son William, reveal that he was also employed as a metallurgist chemist in Durham, suggesting that he might possibly have shared a professional network with his nephew-in-law.

After the success of our cohort member William Jenkins, his daughter Alexandra and her husband Penry Williams, we might expect his grandchildren to go onto even greater achievements, however this does not seem to have been the case. We have not yet managed to discover the occupations of Edward Williams, or Bertha Mary Dorothy’s two husbands Geoffrey Arnold Putnam and John Leslie McKinley, and although John’s father John Joseph Harrison McKinley (b.1871) is recorded in the 1911 census as ‘Blast Furnace Manager and Engineer’, none of this final generation in our project have left the same archival footprints as their forebears.

Many aspects of William’s story show a very definite ‘Professional Project’ – through marriage and birth William and his family played an important role in the mining industry of Wales and the North-East for two centuries – but what happened that meant this social and economic advancement slowed? Come back to the Victorian Professions blog in the coming months and discover more about William Jenkins and his family network that spanned the breadth of Britain.

Dr Jennifer Aston



Photograph of William Jenkins taken from

Photograph of Dowlais School taken from

Photograph of Pinchinthorpe Hall reproduced by the kind permission of Strutt and Parker (Harrogate) and the Hall’s present owners.

Will value calculated using

BDM, Census and probate information can be requested via the family tree constructed on –