John Arvon Roberts biography

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John Arvon Roberts. Personal biography, [September 1889] & [April 1893], as translated from the Welsh by Owen-7499. Translation in the possession of David Roberts-Jones, and reproduced below.

John Arvon Roberts' biography Image 1


John Arvon Roberts Weaver, Menai Factory, Heol y Llyn Caer yn Arfon (Caernarfon) North Wales

Now in New Bedford, Massachuetts United States of America

September 1889

My ancestors from my father's side, my grandfather Thomas Roberts, weaver Henwalia, Caernarfon, who was originally from Rowen near Conwy. Margaret my grandmother from Llwyn Coed, Llanrug near Caernarfon and they had six children - four boys Llewelyn, Thomas, John and Robert the eldest, my father and two girls the eldest Sarah who married John Taggart, clothier/draper, Ellen who married Thomas Rawson, copper works superintendent, Llanberis, Drws y Coed and Simna Dylluan. Llewelyn was brought up to the same occupation as my father that is a weaver. Thomas was a clothier/draper, and John a painter and poet, not unfamous.

My grandfather from my mother's side (her name was Jane) was a native of Llanberis. Miner by occupation, he spent most of his time in the Pen y Gogarth Copper Works, Llandudno. His name was John Hughes. My grandmother was called Ann, they dwelt at Bryn Hyfryd, the place that stood on a gentle and pleasant slope south westerly side of the mountain in sight of the Bay.

I was born (an only child) on the 11th of March 1837, in one of the pavement houses, as they were called in the next house to old Owen Hughes, the sawyer, top of the Chapel hill or South Penrallt. My mother died in early years aged 21, when I was only 10 months old. After her death I was brought up by grandfather and grandmother on my father's side in Henwalia.

My father lived to see sixty three years, he died on 23rd September 1870 and he was conveyed to his people in the old graveyard at Llanbeblig, that is in the north easterly corner near the old stile that led to Ty Gwyn. Those that rest with him there are Thomas and Margaret Roberts, my grandfather and grandmother, Robert Roberts my father and my mother also Catherine Roberts and two of the children. Peace to their ashes.

The name of my children with my first wife were Jane and Jane, those who rest at Llanbeblig graveyard. Jane again that is the third, the one who is now a milliner in Lytham, England. Mary who is married to W R Davies Cor (?) of Ash and Arnold, New Bedford previously of Flixton, near Manchester. Margaret and Ellen Rawson, who are in New Bedford. The names of the children from Elizabeth the second wife were Robert, John, Sarah, Elizabeth and Thomas, a little one by the name of Thomas in the cemetery at Llanbeblig.

My father was very successful through his diligence (even though he had only a little educational advantages - they were extremely rare in his time) to learn his occupation until he excelled over the majority of weavers in the principality as we can prove many times. He was learned in the way of turning out flannel blankets, women's festian cloth and men's clothes. In some years the secretary influenced him to build a factory so as to increase the skill of spinning and that of knitting.

A steam driven one was built in Pen llyn within the year, in time the steam machine was discarded due to the expense of the coal - a request was made to Mr Millington the superintendent for Ashton Smith for a piece of land on the Morfa near Seiont Bridge (Pont Seiont), an objection was raised by the Corporation that the land belonged to the town, according to them and not to A Smith. Following the failure a piece of land was obtained near the Seiont Mill from the Coed Helen superintendent, after the foundation was started and building the stones an objection was raised by the Morfa Foundry family as, according to them - in their estimate it deprived them of water that drove their work, this resulted in Mr Millington offered land somewhere on their inheritance so as to avoid the badness that was noted. Therefore a spot was chosen on Tyddyn Pandy land near Garnon lake (llyn Garnon) - the road that goes to Waunfawr - this one was demolished by me after my father's death - in the opinion that it would be better and more advantageous to have the work near to me in the town - and the men under my supervision (despite burning coal) rather than be far from sight.

Now we will go back and cast a glance at my father's history and his adventures:-

In the Eisteddfod at Aberffraw Mon 1850 my father won first prize for Welsh stuff (?). He sent samples of Welsh material to the world Exhibition in London 1851, and he received a medal and certificates for their excellence, this gave an exceptional impetus to the market, and the Welsh materials became popular at court and amongst the main gentry of Great Britain and Ireland. The call for several years was great. Orders flowing in from every part of the kingdom, amongst the dignified sponsors of the Welsh stuff was the Duchess of Cambridge, Prince of Wales, Princess Louise, Lady Russell, Countess Carnarvon and many more - we can note the following from Wales - from the south there was Gwenynau (?) Gwent which was great, and in the North Lady Erskine of Pwll y Crochan near Conwy - Mrs Richards, Bowling Green, Caernarfon, the wife of Iocyn (?) Ddu, Misses Jones, Henblas, Mon, Miss Wynne Williams, Menai Fron, Mon, a Miss Finchett Maddock, Cae Gwyn or Richmond Hill near Caernarfon. This lady was extremely keen in her interest and care, scarcely a day passed that she didn't call by, that she wasn't making a call to the workshop (insignificant at that time) and writing orders and supervising the way the men were undertaking their work.

My father collected quite a good sum of money in this blooming time, there was no dispute about the cost but if the spirit of adventure had caught him at this time, and not later, he could have done much better. Expanding his output to meet with demand rather than leave orders be cancelled one day after another.

He was extremely successful in winning most of the Eisteddfodau prizes in this period ie namely Aberffraw, Porthmadoc, Rhuddlan, Rhyl, Dinbych, Carnarvon 1862 Treffynon, Aberystwyth, Bangor, Caerfyrddin, Caernarfon again.

Around the year of 1853 there was an exceptional need for roofing stones, and as a result a very blooming time on the slate quarries - each insignificant quarry became secured with extreme enthusiasm, everyone believing they would become gentry like Ashton Smith and Lord Penrhyn. Amongst the many who caught the fever were my father and two of his brothers in law T Rawson and J Taggart, they were enticed by one by the name of William Owen to take out a lease on the old Pont Rhyd Goch quarry near Four Crosses Pwllheli. Through various cheating superintendents and the weakness of the seam the adventure turned into a failure. T Rawson and J Taggard lost everything and the disaster was the cause of a broken heart for my two aunts and T Rawson - but my father was more fortunate since he had carried on with his work - whilst they had given up their assets, thinking they would, at a gallop, become gentry - my father was therefore able to win a livelihood for himself and me and to pay hundreds of debt on the old quarry.

As noted I was left at a young age orphaned of a mother, through this I became my grandfather and grandmother's boy, and no doubt that I am the possessor of the weaknesses of a boy given to many luxuries.

My father due to being deprived, when young, of educational advantages decided that I would not suffer the same fate - he therefore ensured that I had the best schools in the town during my time. The British school near Engedi Chapel - I also went to Mrs Edwards in New Street, she who was famous, the most famous in North Wales for teaching Seamanship - and there are many of the most successful Captains who owe her for their education. I was with Foster before the County School for a while, when I was there Mr Thomas, the Vicar, requested my father to let me be raised in the church. But he was too much of a Liberal to listen to the like. I was therefore deprived of the possibility of being the Bishop of Bangor!

I spent most of my time with John Wynne, he kept a sort of Grammar School originally in Stryd Pedwar a Chwech, then after that in one of the houses in South Penrallt opposite the house where I was born - and latterly he moved to Maesincla.

When I was a boy I was extremely fond of books, I was rarely seen without one other than when I was asleep or playing with a ball or bandi. I had few advantages in books, some 18 volumes, and I was so careful of them - there was a list of them on the nearby wall, their name, their number and I thought so much of my small library as if she was owned by the British Museum.

I was to be seen quite often in William Griffith's bookshop in Pool Street looking into the volumes that were there, so much was my desire I used to get the occasional volume from the old Mrs Griffiths and be able to pay her weekly, not that my father wouldn't have helped me out but my interest was incomprehensible to him - and as a result he did not believe that I really needed them. It feels good in glancing back over more than fifty years, although too much of my valuable time had been misused - that I only read two novels in my life. One of these was Midshipman Easy by Captain Marryat. Neither did I have much interest in music, the first book that I studied was I Parry's grammar and after spending considerable time I still did not have much of an understanding of singing from the notes, as I had no awareness of the relationship between the various notes and the key nor quality that was related to it - I was therefore, for years, blind to the beauty of music - until on a visit to Bangor I saw an incidental reference to Tonic Sol Fa. Even though the system looked as strange to me as Hebrew I decided to get a copy of the Curwen Tonic Sol Fa Handbook - in this flash of light I had my eyes opened - then I began straight away to study the new system and I started a class in Caersalem - before understanding but a little of the new system. My attempt was great, in time and effort - so that I could keep ahead of the class since some of the boys were on my heels.

I am unsure as to whether the class established by me was first or the one by R Lewis at Engedi, whatever I am sure they were nearly twins - and great was the revolution in the singing in Caernarfon. Others were extremely active in teaching choirs from the old notes - as I Wms the blacksmith H Wms Watchmaker and his son and Wm Griffith R Griffith the bookseller's son, all of them being exceptionally good musicians - but they did not have the same attempt to lay down the foundation for the time to come - therefore their construction has fallen in the effort of singing in the style that is like teaching a parrot to speak - there isn't an inkling of that being sung nor the skill being transferred as enable the pupil to walk on his own.

I spent a lot of time and money in contact with, and teaching others to sing, as well as myself. At that time the New System was considered to be the biggest nonsense - many times the respectable Cynddelw was seen laughing from the bottom of his heart as he listened to us in the chapel house singing the Sol Fa System.

There are excellent singers today in the Caersalem chapel and good congregational singing, as an effect of those insignificant attempts .

I believe that if I had spent as much time and effort to mechanics I could today have been in a position of significance - when twenty years old I had no notion how to sing when hearing an air sung by another - since I did not have an ear, as they say, for music or in other words talent, the little success that followed my untiring attempts - is proof of what continuous effort can achieve, independent of talent, regardless of what it cost, and as little as my achievements were I would not take much for the ability - it has been the source of much comfort in the family and in worship - and now since the children are such excellent vocalists it has been a help to keep the family - who would have thought that what I started so insignificantly in Wales had blossomed on the great continent of America.-

Up to now was written in New Bedford Mass in 1889.

Lpool April 1893

A little more of my earlier stories - When a child my ambition was always to be a sailor, and this was totally against my father's thoughts. I spent the final period of my schooling with John Wynne, learning navigation expecting it would be of use to me in times to come (this was without my father's knowledge). I went as far with the intention of becoming a sailor as to influence my uncle J Taggart to speak to the Captain of the Royal William for a place on her decks as an apprentice, but my father put a stop to the discussions. It is not easy to know whether this was wise or not. I remember many of my contemporaries had risen from insignificance, and without any educational advantages to be masters of the largest ships that sailed from Caernarfon and Menai Bridge and indeed from Liverpool - and by now have given up the sea and live in abundance, I think that I could have been as fortunate as them, being thrown from wave to wave until barely living, but it is possible after all that it is best like this 'There is providence that shapes our destinies, rough few (?) them how we will'.

The result of confusing my attempt for the sea, was for me to refuse every offer my father made for me to learn some occupation. He offered for my attention the post of doctor, solicitor, engineer (he was at this time with some means) finally and grudgingly like a sulky boy I took hold of the same occupation as him. I studied the craft quite thoroughly so that I was not scarcely anyone in Wales at that time. My father was the first to introduce the Jack Guard (Jacquard) machine to Wales, even though one from Tregarth tried to blind the ignorant ordinary folk, amongst them was the important editor of the Welsh Punch, that it was he. I carried on the business from my father's death on 23 September 1870 until 21 September 1880 when I sold my rights and started off with my family to Liverpool. I would say my failure was that I went under too much pressure and times of general hardship in business. One of the mistakes was this: A friend's urging, one that was very earnest to become a partner with me in the venture of large scale factory. I obtained a steam engine that was far too big for the work that I had, in the hope that one of that size would be needed, but things did not turn out like that, he put the thoughts of becoming a partner to one side and quite soon there was a panic in the coal trade, the steam coal rose to a pound a ton. This with the fact that the machine was four times to big (the one I bought in) was burning so much more than was necessary. I was forced to put my thinking cap on, to consider what to do as I could see that everything was going through the chimney, so I decided once again to take an important course, as the only way I had from the confusion. I sent a request to Ashton Smith for a piece of land nearby the Seiont river at Cae dol eidyn near Pont rug to build a factory once again on the banks of the river. After going to the cost of building a factory and a house there and carrying on the work for three years there was a panic in the slate works, of the sort that the quarrymen were barely able to earn enough to keep body and soul let alone getting anything new - and it was mostly on them that I depended for selling my wares, things went so bad for a time before I decided the difficult subject of saying goodbye to my old home as I was not receiving in the shop during a week more than 15/- to keep the family pay ground rents, the rates, club interests and trading debts. It finally became so clear that I only had one path to take and that was to leave. The Cwm y Glo building club community took possession of the factory and the house - as well as over £300 worth of machinery to which they had no right, but 'Taw dir gwen ar y gwir' 'Trecha trusiad'

Many of my old friends blame me since I took the step that I did since they saw my successor doing so well whilst he understood nothing of the business (since he was a carpenter). I regretted greatly that a little help had not come from some direction to enable me to hold n until the storm had passed - but no pity from anywhere that would helped me with a bowl of soup - I forgot to mention that attempt I made to turn the concern into a company, I didn't get anyone willing to take a share except the friend I Thomas, Relieving Officer - respect to his name - he felt loyally as every Welshman should, that all of the country's wool should not be sold to the English and the loss of the work for the children and the boys of the old country.

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