Stories in Ink & Stone is the title of my ongoing research and writing project, with local historian Allen Blethyn, exploring the lives of people buried in Port Talbot’s churchyards and cemeteries, mostly from the 19th and early 20th centuries. I began at Holy Cross in Taibach, a deconsecrated chapel of ease for Margam Abbey, now a private chapel of rest.. Then I added the churchyard and adjacent People’s Graveyard at St Mary’s, Aberafan. And more recently, I added Pantdu, a 19th century overspill cemetery, not far from the centre of Port Talbot, for the parish of Cwmafan.
For the most part I’ve written about people whose names, lives and actions have slipped into obscurity, were even omitted entirely from the recorded history of the town.
So far, amongst others, I’ve written about miners and soldiers, hospital staff, shipwreck victims, immigrants, mothers and widows, a body builder and an itinerant clarinet player. It is not just the wealthy and famous - the industrialists and landowners, the conscious instigators of historical change - who contributed to the history of Port Talbot. Ordinary people doing ordinary, and sometimes extraordinary, things were also quiet contributors and witnesses.
Their stories begin with INK (their burial entries in parish registers) and STONE (the words inscribed on their grave markers, if they have them). And they grow with the facts I can find in birth, marriage and death records, on census returns, and, sometimes, from reports in newspapers.
These sources help me recover, flesh out, make educated suppositions, and share their stories, currently through three social media pages. At the same time, I try and shine a light on some aspect of the period of history they lived through. Hopefully, deepening connections between their lives and times and ours, through knowledge gained and empathy. Because, after all, the human emotional experience does not change even when the backdrop of history does.
There are currently three Facebook pages dedicated to the stories already written:
Please bookmark this page for project updates, including talks and publications, and the addition of pages for other Port Talbot graveyards.