Selections from the Diary of Thomas Jenkins (1826–1870)
Edited by D. C. Jenkins, Dragon Books, Bala, North Wales,1986
Republished Historia Wales, 2012
The editor's foreword to the published Diary of Thomas Jenkins of Llandeilo begins with an intriguing overview of his life and his many accomplishments:
Thomas Jenkins was born at Tycroes, in the parish of Llanedy, Carmarthenshire in May 1813. His grandfather had been curate of Llandeilo-fawr and vicar of Meidrim and Brechfa. His father also was a man of learning but his financial disasters perhaps caused his son to take up a practical occupation - cabinet making. In 1826, puzzled, startled and quite frightened by a supernatural event, Thomas started keeping a diary in which he wrote until a few months before his death. Thomas' family moved to Carmarthen and later back to Llandeilo where Thomas' father had been born.
Llandeilo was changing from its medieval shape and a wide road had been driven through its great churchyard, eventually to connect with the new bridge Thomas would help design and build. The Industrial Revolution sparked Thomas' ingenuity and he was determined to miss nothing. He travelled to Bristol to see the Clifton suspension bridge under construction and the steamship Great Britain being built. He walked to Pembroke Dock to see the warships and dockyard. He visited foundries and mines and was fascinated at Queenstown watching the ships carrying the new telegraph cable, which would span the Atlantic. The world was his mind's playground and he revelled in recording tonnages, widths, heights, capacities, temperatures and volumes.
In 1843, excited by the growth of science, he founded the Llandeilo Mechanics' Mutual Instructing Institution that met in his house. In his lifetime he built boats, made violins and taught himself how to play one. He recorded the crafting of over 250 coffins with details of their construction, cost and "contents" - names, dates of demise and often the method by which the dearly departed had departed. Each casket was prepared and polished to perfection; Thomas would make all the necessary arrangements, and accompany the deceased on their final journey attending each interment. He fitted a man with an artificial leg, and his love of astronomy found him calculating and installing sundials for the local gentry.
During his work on the new stone bridge, he built pile-drivers and pumps from his own design and invented a machine for testing the very stones that would be used.
Thomas collected fossils, conducted chemical and electrical experiments and he was a scientific cave explorer. A keen watcher of the skies, he knew the constellations and both Halley's and Rosa's comets are followed in his diary. He made two wax figures which, clothed in Welsh costume, were displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Hyde Park. He erected public lighting, brought gas and water to the town and was prominent in the lead and zinc mines. Thomas inspected breweries as far away as Birmingham before laying out the South Wales Brewery at Llandeilo. All this in addition to cabinet-making, building, census enumerating and bringing up a family of twelve children!
But, it was his love life and the way he travelled which was amazing. He married twice - both of the young ladies had been his servants, and children often arrived during intriguing times - but it was his ardent courtship of Sarah Davies of Aberdauddwr which was the love story of his life. Thomas would undoubtedly have married her, but she died in his arms only 21 years old. He tended her grave even years later - a nineteen-mile uphill pilgrimage.
Thomas Jenkins walked! He records a trip on foot from Llandeilo to Carmarthen as taking only two and a half hours and he'd often walk that each day to and from work! Once he carried his daughter on his back at night all the way from Llanelli! Only later in life did he construct a "homomotive carriage with three wheels" and use this heavy iron tricycle for even carrying passengers. He also had premonitions and notes in his diary a death he had dreamt of and an accident, which could have ended in tragedy. He became a Constable of the Leet Court and often acted as a referee or assessor in disputes or valuations of estates.
His diary was written in two hard-covered exercise books. The first, which takes us to the end of 1854 is written with interest and care and contains most of his sightseeing trips. The second concerned itself more with his mounting family and business commitments. All are absolutely fascinating with names of local people, events and places being recorded for posterity and our enjoyment. The diary ends in December 1870 and the following October Thomas Jenkins died; secure in the knowledge that his family would have the £200 life insurance policy whose payments he had faithfully recorded. Thomas was buried in the upper parish churchyard of the town that he had served so faithfully.
The following selections from over forty years of diary entries were made by genealogist Ellyn Francis for publication in 'Carmarthenshire Life'. These diary entries were extracted from a book now sadly out of print and hard to obtain even through local libraries. The italicised comments in brackets are explanatory notes supplied by the editor of the diaries, D. C. Jenkins. Finally, following the diary extracts is an article on Thomas Jenkins by Carmarthen born journalists Byron Rogers which is as amusing as it is informative.