Heenan family of Pembrokeshire: a brush with the law

Newspapers published in Wales in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have revealed a number of Heenan family members who had an encounter with the law. Some where the culprits. Others were the victims.

One family in particular seemed to be regular attendees at the petty sessions in Haverford, Pembrokeshire.

David Heenan was a seaman who married Phoebe Owens at Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire. They continued to live in Haverfordwest, going on to have a further six children, one of whom was born shortly after David’s death in 1901 when he was in his early forties.

Frederick Heenan

By the time Frederick (also known as Freddy) was 13 he was already in trouble with the law, up before Haverfordwest police court charged with theft of apples. He and two other boys were unlucky enough to be spotted by a police constable as they climbed over the hedge from a garden. When ordered to empty their pockets they produced 47 apples. Each of the boys was fined and, according to the report in the  Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser of 15th August 1902,  “were warned as to the serious nature of the offence and of the consequences that would follow a repetition.”

Perhaps he heeded the warning because he seemed to have kept out of trouble until 1916 when he was charged for being absent without leave from the army. He’d volunteered in November 1915 and had even been mentioned in the Haverfordwest and Milford Haven TelegraphBut on a Saturday night in April 1916 he and another man from Haverfordwest absconded from the 23rd Pioneer battalion of the Welsh Regiment. They were found asleep in bed at their family homes in Haverfordwest and taken back to the battalion under military escort. 

A few years later he was again in court, when  his behaviour had apparenly degenerated to the point his mother felt it necessary to take out a summons against him. She told the court in October 1919 that Fred “had been absolutely out of control”, had smashed crockery  said he would murder her. She would give him another chance however because she was his mother. The case was adjourned so whether they were reconciled is unknown but he was back before the court in December for stealing stout from a pub on Christmas Eve when he and a friend were drunk. 

Joseph Stanley Ernest Heenan

Frederick’s younger brother Joseph Heenan was equally no stranger to the court room in Haverfordwest.

theft of potatoesIn November 1906 when he was 14 years old he and a friend were charged with damaging a garden after they were spotted breaking trees and crushing roses. The magistrates warned them they would be birched if they re-offended. 

They never went through with the threat however, even when the boy appeared before them again the following year, this time charged with stealing lead from the roof of an old house Quay Street. In the middle of the hearing, Joseph suffered an epileptic fit, according to the Pembroke County Guardian. His step-father came to his defence declaring that the boys were not responsible for the theft though he couldn’t prove it since he was away working at the time. The magistrates didn’t believe him and adjourned the case. Before they had the boys in front of them again Fred, became giddy while at a pleasure fair and fell out of a swing, wrenching his ankle. By the time he was due back in court in August,  the local Education Authority had been granted an order to remove him to an institution for the blind in Swansea.

Percival (Percy) Heenan

In the summer of 1914, it was the turn of David Heenan’s youngest son Percival (Percy) Heenan to appear before the magistrates. He and two other schoolboys were accused by Pembrokeshire Tennis Club of stealing 24 tennis balls. Initially denying the theft, the boys later admitted they had gone to the courts on two separate occasions , using keys to get into the pavilion. They sold some to a school teacher and hid the rest. They were put on probation for 12 months.

Before the 12 months was up however, Percy was charged with another offence, this time  theft of a looking-glass from a steam barge. Giving evidence, the boy’s probation officer said he had been behaving well and there had been good reports from people for whom Percy had been running errands.

The magistrates ruled however that they were going to try and remove him from his present surroundings and “give him a chance to become an honest man”. Percy was sent to the Kingswood Reformatory in Bristol for three years.

Phoebe Heenan and David Heenan

1888 Heenan David_prison sentenceIt wasn’t just the children of this couple that got into trouble, both David Heenan and his wife Phoebe felt the strong arm of the law.

Before his marriage David Heenan served a one-month prison sentence for assault at Pembroke in 1888.

His wife took out a summons against her bother in law John Heenan in 1894, accusing him of assaulting her in a family squabble in Quay Street, where she was living. He was fined 5 shillings.

She had a narrow escape  in 1904 when she was accused of receiving stolen goods. Her step-son William Arran and two men were charged with breaking into a premises and stealing beer which was later found hidden in the ashpit at Phoebe Heenan’s home. When the case went to court however the presiding magistrate decided the evidence against her was week and the charge was dropped.

She did however end up with a fine the following year for neglecting to send her children to school regularly. 

Sources: The National Library of Wales, Welsh Newspapers on Line

The Pembrokeshire Herald and General Advertiser

Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph

The Pembroke County Guardian and Cardigan Reporter


Who are you Mary Heenan?

Doing a deep delve into the census records for instances of the Heenan surname in Wales has thrown up a mystery.

The first record I can find for anyone with the Heenan surname is in 1861 when a Mary Heenan is recorded as resident in Brecon Road, Abergavenny, Monmouthshire.

She was a child of approximately one year at the time of the census and was the niece of the head of the household Ambrose Neville and his wife Mary. Ambrose is a stone cutter born in Ireland, she was born in 1828 in Lantorman, Monmouthshire (I think this is actually Llantarnam). They have a son Patrick, aged 11 who was born in Scotland about 1850. Mary Heenan is recorded as being born in Pontypool, Monmouthshire in 1860.

The problem is I can’t find any other trace of this child.

There is no birth of a Mary Heenan registered anywhere in Wales let alone in Monmouthshire. In fact there are no births with surname of Heenan registered in Wales until 1864 when James Heenan is recorded as born in the Swansea area.

She doesn’t appear on any of the subsequent census returns for Wales.

Did she die in between the census years? Not according to the registered deaths for Wales or England.

Did her mother die or move around and May then take the name of her uncle/aunt? If she did, there is no record of that. The next time Ambrose and Mary make an appearance is as lodgers in St Woollos, Newport in 1871. There is no female living with them.

Did Mary move away? She may have done but as yet I’ve found no trace of her in any census in England. Or any death of a Mary Heenan born in about 1860.

Working on a theory that Mary Neville is Mary’s aunt, I was hoping to find her maiden name and work backwards from that but to no avail. No record of a marriage has materialised as yet.

Very frustrating. But I haven’t given up. I’m just hoping for inspiration……


Heenan family in Rhymney: the early years

Until 1800 the settlement of Rhymney was largely rural. There were a few sheep farms and a few farm houses scattered along the hillsides.

All that began to change in 1800 when the foundations were laid for a huge ironworks. Over the next fifty years or so, the area was transformed into an industrial community of ironworkers and coal workers. Blast furnaces, steel works, churches, houses all sprung up to house thousands of people drawn to Rhymney by the prospect of work. They travelled from mid Wales,  from the nearby Sirhowy valleys and from across the English border from the Forest of Dean and Gloucester. They arrived too from Ireland having heard that that workers were needed to build railways. Empty coal boats returning from Cork brought hordes of labourers.

Among them came my great great grandparents.

The ironworks was a venture by a group of partners. john Lloyd’s Early History of he Old South Wales Iron Works said that the partners in the venture were Thomas Williams, Richard Cunningham who became the first manager, and Richard Crawshay of Cyfarthfa. in 1803 the three, together with Crawshay’s son Benjamin Hall and a Watkin George, they formed The Union Iron Works Co Ltd with a venture capital of £29,000. When Crawshay died in 1810, the works passed to Benjamin Hall and subsequently to his son Benhamin after whom the Big Ben bell in Parliament is named.

A new set of furnaces were built in 1825 on the opposite side of the river, on land belonging to the Marquis of Bute. The design was so unusual they attracted widespread notice. Drawings of them hung in the Royal Academy . The works suffered during the 1830s as a result of over-production around the country. In 1835 a new company was created known as the Rymney Iron Company which led to a rapid rise in population Most of the streets were to be built over the next 20 hers. In 1839 the Lawn Cpmpany Ship, the brewery and the Parish church were constructed

A key mover in all the developments was Andew Buchan, a Scot who had trained as a carpenter. he hd been engaged as a contracter to divert the course and deepen hthe bed of the river to make room for the Bute furnaces and as flood prevention. for this enterprise he employed Irish labourers –  their prescence led to rioting and soliers were quartered in huts to keep the peace. to provide for the navvies, Buchan gve them notes for the Carno shop for small amounts of groceries.

By 1838, according to the Rymney Iron Company annual meeting, noted that they had located on ‘what were before almost barren mountains, a population of 8,000 souls and increasing daily, they were bound to provide and endow a church’

Catholics did not get a school until 1863 when the Roman Catholic community erected one for 150 children.

In search of Patrick Heenan’s marriage

Discovering where and when my great great grandfather Patrick Heenan married is proving a mystery.

His first son Patrick was born in March, 1868 according to the baptism records of St John’s Roman Catholic Church in Rhymney, Monmouthshire. So I know he was living in Rhymney at the time though for how long is unclear (all I can establish with any confidence is that he wasn’t there are the time of the 1861 census since there are no families with the surname Heenan in Rhymney on that date).

Using his son’s baptism as a reference point, it’s possible therefore that he married either earlier in 1868 or before.  In the 1911 census – the first to record number of years a couple had been married – indicates he and Ellen had been married 45 years. That would put their marriage in approx 1866 (though if the information they provided to numerators for other census years is any test, I wouldn’t want to bet any money this was an accurate piece of information). But was this in Ireland or in mainland UK?

Limerick Regional Archives did a search of both the county and the city of Limerick for a marriage in the 1860s between Patrick and Ellen O’Brien on the basis that both partners stated their area of birth was Limerick. But failed to find anything. They also searched for me a marriage of a Patrick Heenan to any bride with the first name of Helen or Ellen irrespective of the maiden name. But again drew a blank. Their conclusion was that any marriage was more likely to have taken place in England or Wales.

But my search of the marriage records for England and Wales doesn’t show any relevant marriages  between a Patrick Heenan and a bride with the name of Ellen/Helen O’Brian/O’Brien or any variation of that. There are numerous Heenans in the Liverpool area but none with a match to a bride of that name. Maybe they never got married? It’s a distinct possibility……….

Arrival of the Heenans

The first ancestor with the name of Heenan that I’ve been able to trace is my paternal great great grandfather Patrick Heenan who settled in the town of Rhymney. According to information provided on census returns, he came from Limerick county in Eire Exactly when he the first arrived in Rhymney or even in Wales is unclear however.

The first record I’ve been able to trace of him is in March 1868 when his son Patrick was baptised at St John’s Roman Catholic Church in Rhymney. The entry reads

Die 16 Martin 1868 baptizavi

Patricus Heennan filius Patricus et Helena Heenan (born) et die 16 Martin

Helena Heenan (olim OBrien)

conjugam a me Alfred Wilson (the priest)

Patrinus fuit: (godfather) Thomas  Brown

Matrina fuit: (godmother) Margaret  (Coghlam) surname could be Eaghlam

Patrick was about 23 years old at the time (though even this is questionable since he gave his age differently in each census return). His wife Ellen (or Helen) was a few years older  and came from the same part of Ireland.


Had they only recently arrived in Wales or had they been living somewhere else first?  There is no record of them in the 1861 census either in Rhymney or elsewhere in Wales or even England. It’s been impossible to discover their path because the Irish were not classed as immigrants and so were not recorded on any passenger logs. Popular routes were from Cork to Swansea or into Liverpool but that’s as far as I’ve been able to go. And the baptism records don’t give any indication of where they were living at the time – it may well have been with another Irish family of which there were a number in Rhymney.

It isn’t until the 1871 census that we get any real information. By then, they are living at Upper High Street, they have a second child – called Murial who is two years old. Patrick is an ironworker which is expected given that Rhymney was the location of the huge Bute ironworks which had opened in 1801.