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Finding it rather dull at Neath living by myself, I persuaded my brother to give up his work in London as a journeyman carpenter and join me, thinking that, with his practical experience and my general knowledge, we might be able to do architectural, building, and engineering work, as well as surveying, and in time get up a profitable business. We returned together early in January, and continued to board and lodge with Mr. Sims in the main street, where I had been very comfortable, till the autumn, when, hearing that my sister would probably be home from America the following summer, and my mother wishing to live with us, we took a small cottage close to Llantwit Church, and less than a mile from the middle of the town. It had a nice little garden and yard, with fowl-house, shed, etc., going down to the Neath Canal, immediately beyond which was the river Neath, with a pretty view across the valley to Cadoxton and the fine Drumau mountain.
Having the canal close at hand and the river beyond, and then another canal to Swansea, made us long for a small boat, and not having much to do, my brother determined to build one, so light that it could be easily drawn or carried from the canal to the river, and so give access to Swansea. It was made as small and light as possible to carry two or, at most, three persons. When finished, we tried it with much anxiety, and found it rather unstable, but with a little ballast at the bottom and care in moving, it did very well, and was very easy to row. One day I persuaded my mother to let me row her to Swansea, where we made a few purchases; and then came back quite safely till within about a mile of home, when, passing under a bridge, my mother put her hand out to keep the boat from touching, and leaning over a little too much, the side went under water, and upset us both. As the water was only about two or three feet deep we escaped with a thorough wetting. The boat was soon bailed dry, and then I rowed on to Neath Bridge, where my mother got out and walked home, and did not trust herself in our boat again, though I and my brother had many pleasant excursions.
Our chief work in 1846 was the survey of the parish of Llantwit-juxta-Neath, in which we lived. The agent of the Gnoll Estate had undertaken the valuation for the tithe commutation, and arranged with me to do the survey and make the map and the necessary copies. When all was finished and the valuation made, I was told that I must collect the payment from the various farmers in the parish, who would afterwards deduct it from their rent. This was a disagreeable business, as many of the farmers were very poor; some could not speak English, and could not be made to understand what it was all about; others positively refused to pay; and the separate amounts were often so small that it was not worth going to law about them, so that several were never paid at all, and others not for a year afterwards. This was another of the things that disgusted me with business, and made me more than ever disposed to give it all up if I could but get anything else to do.
We also had a little building and architectural work. A lady wanted us to design a cottage for her, with six or seven rooms, I think, for £200. Building with the native stone was cheap in the country, but still, what she wanted was impossible, and at last she agreed to go to £250, and with some difficulty we managed to get one built for her for this amount. We also sent in a design for a new Town Hall for Swansea, which was beyond our powers, both of design and draughtsmanship; and as there were several established architects among the competitors, our very plain building and poor drawings had no chance. But shortly afterwards a building was required at Neath for a Mechanics' Institute, for which £600 was available. It was to be in a narrow side street, and to consist of two rooms only, a reading room and library below, and a room above for classes and lectures. We were asked to draw the plans and supervise the execution, which we did, and I think the total cost did not exceed the sum named by more than £ 50. It was, of course, very plain, but the whole was of local stone, with door and windowquoins, cornice, etc., hammer-dressed; and the pediments over the door and windows, arched doorway, and base of squared blocks gave the whole a decidedly architectural appearance. It is now used as a free library, and through the kindness of Miss Florence Neale, of Penarth, I am enabled to give a photographic reproduction of it.
This reminds me that the Mechanics' Institution was, I think, established by Mr. William Jevons, a retired merchant or manufacturer of Liverpool, and the uncle of William Stanley Jevons, the well-known writer on Logic and Political Economy. Mr. Jevons was the author of a work on “ Systematic Morality,” very systematic and very correct, but as dry as its title. He had a good library, and was supposed in Neath to be a man of almost universal knowledge. I think my brother William had become acquainted with him after I left Neath, as he attended the funeral, and I and John spent the evening with him. When I came to live in Neath after my brother's death, I often saw him and occasionally visited him, and I think borrowed books, and the following winter, finding I was interested in science generally, he asked me to give some familiar lectures or lessons to the mechanics of Neath, who then met, I think, in one of the schoolrooms. I was quite afraid of undertaking this, and tried all I could to escape, but Mr. Jevons was very persistent, assured me that they knew actually nothing of science, and that the very simplest things, with a few diagrams and experiments, would be sure to interest them. At last I reluctantly consented, and began with very short and simple talks on the facts and laws of mechanics, the principle of the lever, pulley, screw, etc., falling bodies and projectiles, the pendulum, etc.
I got on fairly well at first, but on the second or third occasion I was trying to explain something which required a rather complex argument which I thought I knew perfectly, when, in the middle of it, I seemed to lose myself and could not think of the next step. After a minute's dead silence, Mr. Jevons, who sat by me, said gently—“Never mind that now. Go on to the next subject.” and after a few minutes, what I had forgotten became clear to me, and I returned to it, and went over it with success. I gave these lessons for two winters, going through the
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