To Lampeter…and beyond...

Much of the  information which follows has been kindly supplied (June 2006 and January 2013) by another Jerman descendant, Donald Adamson of Scotland. I am grateful to him for elucidating what was always an interesting question for me - how did Sarah Jerman, whose mother was from Coedmawr near Llanidloes end up, in the 1880s, in Edinburgh?  


Jerman emigrés to Scotland have so far proved very rare - this is the only one I have so far discovered, excepting one in more recent times.  Others in this particular family also moved quite long distances - this is one of the best-travelled Jerman families I have so far come across.  Whether or not they actually sought such adventure is a matter of conjecture. It all seems to stem from a move - possibly as a result of agricultural failure - from Llandinam to Lampeter, and the early death of the mother of the family.

Sarah Jerman was born on 16 April 1859, to parents Thomas Jacks Jerman and Ann Jerman.  They had married at Llandinam on 14 July 1848.   Ann came from the large family at Coedmawr and her husband was actually her second cousin, coming as he did from the Dolgenwith branch of the Jermans, via Tyddynn Felin Ddu.

In 1851, the young family were resident at Lower House, Llandinam:

1851 Census: Lower House, Llandinam

Thomas Jerman, Head, 26, Farmer 40acres, employing 1 labourer

Ann Jerman, 23, Farmer's Wife

Mary Jerman, daughter, no age given (probably born 1850)

Donald Adamson has given voice to his ancestors.  These vignettes are taken from  his web-site, "An Ordinary Scottish Family".

In the middle of remote mid-Wales, the Severn ceases to a bloated English river, and runs narrow and fast through a wide farming vale. It is vibrant and near to its source. This is Welsh speaking Montgomeryshire and part of the ancient principality of Powys. It is close to the centre and the heart of Wales. Straddling the river is the small town of Llanidloes, and just four miles away lies Llandinam, a village on the east bank of the Severn. Lower House was a small farm of 40 acres, and Thomas Jacks Jerman needed only one man beside himself to work the farm. It was a small outpost in the great swathe of Jerman owned farms, which speckled the countryside between here and Trefeglwys and down to Llanidloes itself.

Thomas Jerman was just returning to the house from the meadow down by the Severn. He could have walked out of a novel by Thomas Hardy, except they barely used the English language in this area. In one hand was a great wooden scythe, and his shirt was stuck to his back with the exertions of cutting hay for winter feed. On his head was a wide brimmed felt hat, and his dark, cotton trousers were caught at the knees by old laces revealing heavy brown boots. He was slim for a farmer, with dark auburn hair, and penetrating brown eyes. He looked up at the door of the house, and saw that an old trap was drawn up by the door.

His father, Edward, had come calling with his new wife Sarah. She was talking at the door to his own wife, Ann. And Ann and Sarah were sisters. This confusing turn of events had come about because Edward’s first wife, and Thomas’s mother, had been dead these seven years. Edward had re-married a younger wife in March 1848, and his son Thomas had married her sister in the July of that year. To confuse and tie the family even more closely together, Ann and Sarah were also Jermans, and distant cousins of Edward and Thomas. To be precise, the women were members of the Coedmawr Jermans and the men came from the Dolgwenith branch of the family. All claimed descent from the Jermans of the Van, or in Welsh, Y Fan. There the Jermans had been yeoman farmers since at least 1500, farming such place as Penclyn and Cae Iago.

“Well, Tom” said his father in Welsh, “how goes the harvesting? We are just on our way back from market at Llanidloes and thought that we might make a detour this way.”

“Well the harvest is good enough but we have just lost two cows, and we could have done without that. With sheep prices where they are, the smaller farmers like us are struggling. The way things are going, I might have to run the place on my own soon.”

“If I could afford to help you get a bigger place I would, but with the two youngsters by Sarah, I am a bit short myself. But I agree, it is all about scale. At forty acres you will always struggle.”

The two men turned together and walked towards their wives. They were remarkably similar, with dark auburn hair pulled back into generous buns. There was six years between them but Sarah, the elder, was vivacious and fun.

“So Thomas” she said, “how does it feel to be the father of three? And who knows maybe more on the way?”

“Just here a second, and already your sister is telling you all our secrets!” he complained. But then laughed and gave his sister a hug.

“Time for tea, I fancy......….”


Reproduced with kind permission

10 years later, they had moved, but not yet far.  The family is also appreciably larger:

1861 Census: "Bontnewith Fach" (as copied from the original image)

Thomas Jerman, Head, 35, Farmer of 16 acres of land

Ann Jerman, 32, Farmer's Wife

Mary Jerman, daughter, 11

Ann Jerman, 9

Edward Jerman, 7

Martha Jerman, 4

Sarah Jerman, 2

Bridget Jerman, 1 mth (is known to have died, 1862)

On the enumerator's round, this property is between the big farm at Dolwen (occupied by a Hamer family - this is probably now the large abbatoir site of Hamer International) and Berthddu.  This is consistent with a location on the southern side of the Severn, some half-way between Llanidloes and Llandinam.  The spelling should probably be "Bontnewydd" meaning Newbridge.   

The family then moved to Lampeter in South West Wales, at some point between 1861 and 1865.    Donald Adamson imagines why…

A farm sale -- Bontnewydd Farm,Llanidloes, Montgomeryshire. October 1864.

"There was an edge to the autumn breeze, which told of a hard winter coming. In front of a trestle table, next to the ancient stone barn, a rag-tag collection of farm implements lay on the ground. On the table, were positioned smaller items. Each was neatly labelled and numbered. About thirty farmers and their kindred stood in a semi- circle, and as an item came up for sale they flicked a hand quickly or nodded imperceptibly. These were men used to auctions whether it be sheep, cattle or farm implements. The auctioneer stood behind the table with a clerk to one side. He wore a black frock coat, and a tall stove hat. He spoke rapidly in Welsh; his eyes always seeking, coaxing, another bid.

The upper valley of the Severn was a golden brown colour as the harvested fields merged in the distance with the autumn tints of woods and hedgerows. The small fields proclaimed their ancient nature. There had been no need for Enclosure Acts here. Families had created the farms, and laid down a field system, which was a thousand years old when the English language was first heard in this vale. The families were still here. Now, however, they had to compete with grain from Russia, and it would not be long before beef would be arriving from Argentina and lamb from New Zealand. If there were to be the same families here in a hundred years, then the farms must merge and the smaller holdings disappear. What was viable in the eighteenth century would not survive in the nineteenth. Small farms would disappear; it was inevitable as the sun rising tomorrow. Bontnewydd Farm was only sixteen acres. It had been sold to the Hamers, in the much larger adjacent farm of Dolwen. It lay half way between Llanidloes and Llandinam on the south bank of the Severn.

To one side stood the family. They were remarkably quiet. Thomas Jerman was nearing forty, with the tanned skin of a man who had not spent much time inside. His wife was few years younger, and already beginning to show the signs of another pregnancy. Six children stood in front of them. They were rooted to the spot by the spectacle in front of them, which was coming to an end. Off to one side, an older son, in the uniform of the Cambrian Railway Company was talking to his uncle. The uncle was a young man, and dressed as a Minister. Just then the auction came to an end, and the auctioneer called across to the Minister.

“Mr Jerman, we would be grateful if you would say a few words.”

The Minister advanced a couple of paces and then began speaking in Welsh. He had no bible in his hand, and recited from heart. It was the first verses of the St John’s Gospel. Suddenly there was not a hat on a head in the farmyard. He began, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

After ten minutes he stopped, and turned looking at his brother. He raised his hand and called for a blessing on him and his family. Then, from the rear of the small gathering a voice began with “Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi.......” In no time, a harmony was found and the song gained strength, swelled and then died. One by one, the farmers lined up to say good-bye to Thomas Jacks Jerman, his family, and his brother, now a Minister in Wrexham.

One man said to him, “Thomas, it is a long way over the mountains to Lampeter. Will you come back and see us?”

“Of course I will Owen. What point is there in going to work for a railway company, if you cannot make use of the transport?”

“And will it be the same company as young Tom?”

“Not at all. I am to start on Monday at Lampeter with the Manchester and Milford Railway Company. Money paid weekly and no more worrying about stock prices or the weather.”

“Good luck to you Thomas.”


Reproduced with kind permission

Donald adds, "this was the Britain of Free Trade, when the Corn Laws had been swept aside and protectionism was a thing of the past. All over the country, small farmers were being forced off their farms."

At Lampeter

Wife and mother other Ann Jerman is known to have died there on 12 December 1865 - sometime, sadly, after the death also of an infant son, Richard Jerman (April 1865 to November 1865).  Perhaps unluckily for Thomas, the railway station at Lampeter opened in 1866.   The remaining family is shown six years later:

1871 Census: Spring Gardens, Lampeter

Thomas Jerman, Widower, 45, Railway Porter

Mary Jerman, daughter, 21

Martha Jerman, daughter, 12

Daniel Jerman, son,  7

This establishment was a large boarding-house with another dozen or so lodgers recorded resident.  Daughter Sarah appears to be resident aged 11, and recorded as a General Servant (domestic) at High Street, Lampeter, in the service of David Davies, Shoemaker, and his wife Fanny.  Times must have been tight.  Back in mid-Wales, it was unusual to find Jerman children from these families in the employ of others: normally, most of the Jerman farming families had one or two farm-workers of their own. 

At some point after this recording in 1871, Sarah is known to have entered the service of a Lampeter schoolmaster and his wife.  It was they who subsequently moved to Edinburgh, by 1881, and took young Sarah Jerman with them.  This was with the full knowledge and consent of her father, but would  nevertheless have been a considerable undertaking for a young girl from rural mid-Wales...


The 1881 British Census records Sarah Jerman aged 20, as a "Housemaid Domestic Servant" at Moredun House, Fettes College, Edinburgh (image left, c.1880, kindly supplied by Donald Adamson, 2013). Fettes is one of the best known so-called public schools in Scotland (it is, in fact, a private fee-paying institution).  It sometimes referred to as the "Scottish Eton".  Donald Adamson writes:  "My great grandmother came to Scotland when the schoolmaster and his wife moved from St David's College, Lampeter (or an earlier educational establishment) to be the first housemaster of Fettes College.  They more or less looked after Sarah when she entered their service aged 12 (when she first spoke English regularly), as her mother had already died.  When the schoolmaster accepted a new job at Fettes, he asked Sarah's father if they might take her with them to Scotland, and this was agreed.  My understanding is that they were very decent people who looked after her well."

It is believed that Sarah Jerman progressed from being maid to matron at Fettes. In 1885, in Edinburgh, she married David Thomson, a leather embosser at the time of his marriage, later becoming a Ship's Steward.  The couple lived for the early part of their lives around Edinburgh and Leith, then moved, in about 1910, slightly further north to Kirkcaldy, in Fife.  The couple had five children.  

One, James Thomson, emigrated to Oregon, in the USA.  He was sponsored by his uncle Daniel Jerman, who is shown aged 7 in the 1871 census above, and 17 in 1881, below in Lampeter (Daniel had himself followed his brother Edward Jerman in emigrating to the USA, and ultimately the Far West). The other children remained in Scotland and proceeded to have families of their own in the Fife area.

Meanwhile in Lampeter...

In 1881, at Bridge Street, Lampeter Pont Stephen, father Thomas Jerman is recorded, interestingly as "Daniel Thomas Jarman".  He is still a railway porter.  Still also resident are daughter Martha (19) and son Daniel (17).  By this time, daughter Anne Jerman had left to marry Benjamin Jenkins, a saddler, in 1873 and by 1881 they and their five children were also living in Lampeter.  Donald Adamson adds, "Jenkins the Saddler was a well-known Lampeter shop for generations. Mary died in 1911, and Ben in 1926. They had nine children in all."

From the other children born back in Llandinam, son Thomas seems to have been brought up by his grandparents at Coedmawr and eventually moved to Oxfordshire - another relatively long-distance move.  Edward Jacks Jerman had been born in 1838, and trained as a Presbyterian Minister, taking his first Charge in Wrexham in 1861. He remained there for thirty years. Donald Adamson recalls that "My grandfather recalled attending services in Lampeter around 1910, which sometimes lasted a couple of hours. They were in Welsh. The Jermans were staunch non-conformists."

This small family unit remained in Lampeter until the 1891 census, when the three above are again recorded.  However, just over two weeks after this recording, this family was once again thrown into turmoil.  Again, Donald Adamson interprets the events  

On being deaf – Lampeter railway station, Cardiganshire

18 April 1891.

"Three times a day, in each direction, a train ran through Lampeter station. That is, except on Sundays, when the god-fearing folk of the small town were in chapel, or reading their Bibles. There was talk of a branch line to the coast at Aberaeron, but this was just talk in the new council chambers, though it was said that the local squire, Mr Harford of Falcondale Hall, was supportive. The trains went down the line to Carmarthen, and then on to Milford Haven, Pembroke and Fishguard. From Lampeter northwards the line ran to Aberystwyth, and then into north Wales or eastwards to Shrewsbury. Thomas Jacks Jerman met every train, and had done so since the station opened in 1866. He had worked for the Manchester and Milford Railway Company even before the grand opening of the station, and had been installed as the porter at that time. Station Masters may have come and gone, but the porter was constant. If he did not come from the town, then he had come to know everyone within it; and if his Welsh was not quite accented with the clear tones of Ceredigion, but the flatter accent of Montgomeryshire, then they forgave him on account of his cheery wave and ready greeting.

The passengers of the 2 o’clock train from Milford Haven were just clearing the platform and Thomas had already helped two passengers to their waiting conveyances, complete with baggage and new purchases. There remained on the platform, a couple in their early middle age. The woman carried a baby, well wrapped, in her arms and the man was just thanking Jerman for his assistance in taking a consignment of leather to a nearby cart. He was a saddler, Ben Jenkins, and leather was his stock in trade. He was also the son in law of the old porter who was now well into this sixties.

“So Ben,” the old man said, “what do you think of the quality of this order? Is it up to the mark?” His voice had the slightly too loud intonation of the nearly deaf.

“Well, better than anything that I can get in Wales. The Irish seem to have a knack for good quality leather and I’m lucky to be able to get it straight off the ship. Business is going well, and I’ve a lot of orders to get done in the next month or two. Dan is doing well too, and we might expand further. He is talking about a shop in Carmarthen next, but I’m not too sure about that.”

Thomas Jerman concentrated hard on Ben’s face, for now he lip-read as much as heard what was said to him

“It never rains but it pours, Mary,” the old porter said, “I got two letters this morning, one from Sarah in Edinburgh and one from Edward in Chicago. Both in English too. Sarah has had another daughter, and called her Laura. I think she was born a couple of weeks back. Edward says all is well in America and he is doing well.”

“I’m pleased to hear that. Could I read them later possibly? We’ve got to get back to the shop. How has Martha been coping?”

“She was saying that all was quiet whilst you were away. The older girls have been keeping the rest pretty much in line. Martha’s even managed to do some washing for you. You’ve just missed her. She brought some food up for me not long ago. Anyway, I’ve got to go and get a couple of cattle wagons attached to the train. See you this evening then.”

With that, Thomas turned and walked towards the end of the platform where a small incline led down to a siding. There were two cattle trucks there, waiting to be attached and taken up to Aberystwyth. The train ran forward about a hundred yards out of the station and then reversed back into the siding where Thomas coupled the front wagon onto the rear of the train, as he had done hundreds of times before. There was a belch of steam, and a sharp whistle but instead of moving forwards and on its way to the coast, the train continued to reverse, and Thomas was walking back down the track towards the platform.

Mary shouted to her father, and waved her arm to get him off the track. He waved back. Ben Jenkins began to run, but it was too late. The cattle wagon kept on coming and the old man could not hear it. It smashed into his back. He went down, not to get up again."


Reproduced with kind permission

Perhaps feeling no more ties to Lampeter than those their father's employment had provided, and no longer having even his inevitably limited financial support, Thomas' children Martha and Daniel left. Daniel decided to emigrate to Oregon and Martha made the journey to Scotland to join her sister Sarah.  Martha is recorded as single at the time of her death in 1920.  Sarah herself died in December 1944 in Dunfermline, aged 85.

Perhaps regrettably, given that Sarah Jerman became a Thomson, the Jerman name itself does not live on in Fife. However, at least a few Thomsons, Walkers, Adamsons and others who are descended from her line will value their connection to remote mid-Wales.

Sarah Jerman, pictured in Fife, Scotland, about 1940   (image kindly supplied by Donald Adamson, 2013)

 © 2013-18