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Saturday 9 April 2011


I inherited the contents of Captain Charles Castle’s writing desk. Charles was my 3x great uncle and I have hundreds of letters sent to him, with drafts of many of his replies. Such a wealth of personal material paints a pretty rounded portrait of a complicated man, with a finger in many political and economic pies.

He was a Bristol man, from a wealthy old family, and it is not surprising to learn, on the evidence of one letter, that he owned property across the River Severn in Wales. In fact he owned, according to a registry of 1873, around 750 acres in Cardiganshire. This is a portrait of one of his correspondents, from the desperate appeal of widower David Edwards, a tenant farmer whom Captain Castle had given notice to quit.

David Edwards’ letter of 12th April 1859

Merthyr Tydfil
12th April 1859
Capt’n Castle
Dear Landlord,

do you determined not allow me remain in the farm after this year, you well know that I made a great improvement since I taken this, to say in short if you please give 14 years time I will give you £50 rent yearly, as I told you before we the children and myself are very angry to depart and another thing I do not believe you will get so much rent, I can pay more rent than some of whom made an enquiry to you for the farm, and I shall engage to put the bounds between us and within in good repair that nothing committed a trespass from my land to Wstrws and that you will have no accation [sic] to trouble yourself hereafter about the tenants of Wstrws and Clawddmelyn so long as the time above lasted & much humbly beg on you of send me your reply forthwith, if you please not consented to my desire I must look for another place ellswere which I do show you I and the children are very across to do so. I had a business here to day and I shall go from here this afternoon for Carmarthen to night.

I am dear Landlord
yours very truly
and [illegible word]ly
David Edwards

Capt’n Castle

PS if you please send the answer by return it will reach my residence so soon as myself. DE

This simple heartfelt letter is full of clues to its context, if not to the actual identity of its sender: David Edwards is one of the commonest names in Wales. Mr Edwards, I am guessing, was a Welshman and not a native English speaker. I am guessing too that there had been some trouble with livestock escaping from his farm and bothering the neighbouring tenants of Wstrws and Clawddmelyn. Perhaps complaints from them had led to his eviction. Wstrws and Clawddmelyn are farms at either end of the village of Capel Cynon, where Captain Castle held around 300 acres of land. I don’t know the name of Mr Edwards’ tenancy, but it would make sense if it were Capel Farm, which lies halfway between the two. A trip from Merthyr Tydfil back to Capel Cynon was a journey by horse and cart of 75 miles, which would certainly have justified an overnight stop in Carmarthen en route.

Worst of all, I don’t know what the outcome of this plea was. Unfortunately, knowing from his letters what a hard head for business Charles Castle had, I don’t think it will have ended well for David Edwards. If in this small world a local historian from Capel Cynon is reading this – please get in touch!

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