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RESIDENCE AT NEATH
At Easter I bade farewell to Leicester and went to Neath with my brother John, in order to wind up our brother William's affairs. We found from his books that a considerable amount was owing to him for work done during the past year or two, and we duly made out accounts of all these and sent them in to the respective parties. Some were paid at once, others we had to write again for and had some trouble to get paid. Others, again, were disputed as being an extravagant charge for the work done, and we had to put them in a lawyer's hands to get settled. One gentleman, whose account was a few pounds, declared he had paid it, and asked us to call on him. We did so, and, instead of producing the receipt as we expected, he was jocose about it, asked us what kind of business men we were to want him to pay twice ; and when we explained that it was not shown so in my brother's books, and asked to look at the receipt, he coolly replied, “Oh, I never keep receipts ; never kept a receipt in my life, and never was asked to pay a bill twice till now !” In vain we urged that we were bound as trustees for the rest of the family to collect all debts shown by my brother's books to be due to him, and that if he did not pay it, we should have to lose the amount ourselves. He still maintained that he had paid it, that he remembered it distinctly, and that he was not going to pay it twice. At last we were obliged to tell him that if he did not pay it we must put it in the hands of a lawyer to take what steps he thought VOL. I.
necessary: then he gave way, and said, “Oh, if you are going to law about such a trifle, I suppose I must pay it again !” and, counting out the money, added, " There it is; but I paid it before, so give me a receipt this time,” apparently considering himself a very injured man. This little experience annoyed me much, and, with others of the same nature later on, so disgusted me with business as to form one of the reasons which induced me to go abroad.
When we had wound up William's affairs as well as we could, my brother John returned to London, and I was left to see if any work was to be had, and in the mean time devoted myself to collecting butterflies and beetles. While at Leicester I had been altogether out of the business world, and do not remember even looking at a newspaper, or I might have heard something of the great railway mania which that year reached its culmination. I now first heard rumours of it, and some one told me of a civil engineer in Swansea who wanted all the surveyors he could get, and that they all had two guineas a day, and often more. This I could hardly credit, but I wrote to the gentleman, who soon after called on me, and asked me if I could do levelling. I told him I could, and had a very good level and levelling staves. After some little conversation he told me he wanted a line of levels up the Vale of Neath to Merthyr Tydfil for a proposed railway, with cross levels at frequent intervals, and that he would give me two guineas a day, and all expenses of chain and staff men, hotels, etc. He gave me all necessary instructions, and said he would send a surveyor to map the route at the same time. This was, I think, about midsummer, and I was hard at work till the autumn, and enjoyed myself immensely. It took me up the south-east side of the valley, of which I knew very little, along pleasant lanes and paths through woods and by streams, and up one of the wildest and most picturesque little glens I have ever explored. Here we had to climb over huge rocks as big as houses, ascend cascades, and take cross-levels up steep banks and precipices all densely wooded. It was surveying under difficulties, and excessively interesting. After the first rough
levels were taken and the survey made, the engineers were able to mark out the line provisionally, and I then went over the actual line to enable the sections to be drawn as required by the Parliamentary Standing Orders.
In the autumn I had to go to London to help finish the plans and reference books for Parliament. There were about a dozen surveyors, draughtsmen, and clerks in a big hotel in the Haymarket, where we had a large room upstairs for work, and each of us ordered what we pleased for our meals in the coffee-room. Towards the end of November we had to work very late, often till past midnight, and for the last few days of the month we literally worked all night to get everything completed.
In this year of wild speculation it is said that plans and sections for 1263 new railways were duly deposited, having a proposed capital of £563,000,000, and the sum required to be deposited at the Board of Trade was so much larger than the total amount of gold in the Bank of England and notes in circulation at the time, that the public got frightened, a panic ensued, shares in the new lines which had been at a high premium fell almost to nothing, and even the established lines were greatly depreciated. Many of the lines were proposed merely for speculation, or to be bought off by opposing lines which had a better chance of success. The line we were at work on was a branch of the Great Western and South Wales Railway then making, and was for the purpose of bringing the coal and iron of Merthyr Tydfil and the surrounding district to Swansea, then the chief port of South Wales. But we had a competitor along the whole of our route in a great line from Swansea to Yarmouth, by way of Merthyr, Hereford, Worcester, and across the midland agricultural counties, called, I think, the East and West Junction Railway, which sounded grand, but which had no chance of passing. It competed, however, with several other lines, and I heard that many of these agreed to make up a sum to buy off its opposition. Not one-tenth of the lines proposed that year were ever made, and the money wasted upon surveyors, engineers, and law expenses must have amounted to millions.
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