Skulduggery at the crossroads

When I wrote about my great grandfather’s notebooks and said they cleared up the mystery of the family ghost story I didn’t mention that it possibly cleared up another family legend as well.

The three things I had been brought up with were:

a) my grandfather was almost born on the banks of the River Vyrnwy;

b) my great, great uncle William returned as a ghost to say farewell to his mother as she lay dying;

c) a Pierce ancestor was a murder victim or possibly a murderer and the incident took place at a crossroads.

From the notebooks of the Rev David Pierce, a Welsh Presbyterian minister, formerly a schoolteacher and at one time listed on a census as a pauper, I know the first was true as his manse at Salem, Meifod was near the banks of the River Vyrnwy, and his wife Margaret was by the river when she realised the baby was coming.

They called him Edward Vyrnwy Pierce and he was my grandfather, an English Presbyterian minister whose circuit in the early 20th century included the Princes Street Presbyterian Church in Rhyl.

English Presbyterian Church, Princess Street, Rhyl, where my grandfather preached.

The notebooks also included the story of David and his family seated around the kitchen fire in their Machynlleth home at the time his grandmother, Elizabeth, was dying upstairs.

He wrote about the sound of a soldier’s boots tramping down the main street in Machynlleth, passing through the kitchen and up the stairs to were the old woman lay dying.

More than this, however, David spoke of his great grandfather (although he mistook the generation and described him as his father Elias’s father) John who was a labourer living in Machynlleth in the 18th century.

He was born in 1727 and by the 1750s he was heavily involved in the Welsh Methodist Revival in Wales.

David revealed that John Pierce used to hold meetings of Methodists in his house because it was a bit further out of Machynlleth than others.

Eventually the Anglican vicar warned him off from holding these meetings and threatened to have him thrown out of town unless he produced documents to prove his right to be there.

At that time you could be moved on from a parish if you had not been born there. You did, however, have a right of residence if you were indentured to work for a parish resident.

We have never found John’s birth record and we do not know if he had indentures.

John must have realised that it was not a good idea to defy the Anglican vicar openly so he stopped holding the meetings in his house.

Instead he and his fellow Methodists went into the nearby Llynlloedd woods and held their meetings in a clearing in secret.

The vicar must have realised John was defying him but apparently could not prove it, or John had proved his right of residence.

Suffice it to say John remained a resident of Machynlleth and continued to hold regular meetings in the woods.

David reveals in his family history that John was returning from the woods one night, alone, and was set upon by a group of men (possibly at a crossroads) and was given a severe beating.

The attackers were never identified but in Machynlleth it was always believed the vicar had ordered the beating.

Instead of winning back the Methodists he hardened their resolve and their belief in a simpler form of worship.

In Wales the Methodists broke away completely from the Church of England and formed their own church. Unlike the Wesleyans, however, they followed the Calvinistic tradition which began in the 16th century in Europe.

John Pierce was a leading light in the Calvinistic Methodist Movement in Machynlleth and helped raise the funds for the group to build their own chapel in the town.

Capel Norton was built in 1784, just six years before John died. It remained in use as a chapel into the 20th century (even though the Calvinists moved to a bigger Chapel in Maengwyn Street in the 1850s and an English Presbyterian group took it over) but in the 20th century it fell into disuse and later became a warehouse. It was demolished in 1998.

The site was in Llynlloedd Lane, Machynlleth.

Published by Robin

I'm a retired journalist who still has stories to tell. This seems to be a good place to tell them.

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