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The shop in the early 1900s. The name "Matthews" appears on the glass panel above the doorway,
though by this time the premises may have been under new ownership; it does not appear to be a grocery stores.
Notice the wooden shutters propped against the walls. Next door is the White Hart.

A delve into Caerleon directories (see our online directories) has revealed that the Matthews family were running the grocery stores for at least 65 years:

1844 (Pigot) Matthews, Elizbth - 'Grocer & Tea Dealer'
1850 (Pigot) Matthews, Eliz - 'Grocers & Dealer in Sundries'
1860 (Morris) Matthews, Elizabeth - 'Grocer, Market Place'
1875 (Mercer & Crocker) Mathews, Samuel & Catherine - 'Grocers, Bridge St.'
1884 (Kelly) Matthews, Samuel & Catherine (Miss) - 'Grocers & Provision Dealers, High St.'
1891 (Kelly) - ditto -
1901 (Kelly) - ditto -
1908 (Johns) Matthews S & C - 'Grocers &c., High Street'
1911 (Johns) .... No mention

It seems likely, then, that Samuel's mother was Elizabeth Matthews. She was still recorded as the shop proprietor at the time the letter was written (1859), even though in poor health. By 1875 we find Samuel and Catherine (Kitty) are running the shop.

One is left wondering just who Mary is referring to when she says, "I cannot help remembering that there is one in your house, ever ready to calumniate and speak falsely respecting me." Elizabeth Matthews?

So, did Mary move to Caerleon, as she said she would, and did she in the end marry Samuel?

Sue Waller emailed us after reading the letter on Caerleon Net, she was so intrigued she decided to investigate. These are her findings:

Firstly, Samuel had not married by 1881, when he was 61 years old, as the 1881 census shows:

Dwelling: High St
Census Place: Caerleon, Monmouthshire, Wales
Name / Marriage Status / Age / Sex / Birthplace
Samuel MATTHEWS U 61 M Bristol
Rel: Head
Occ: Grocer
Cathrine MATTHEWS U 56 F Bristol
Rel: Sister
Occ: Grocer
Susan PHILLIPS U 20 F Carmarthen, Wales
Rel: Serv
Occ: Gen Serv

So Samuel and his sister were born in Bristol, so was Mary Ann (see below). As he was 61 years old in 1881 he was born in 1820 (or 1819). In 1859, therefore, he was 39. Both Samuel and Cathrine were unmarried (U).

The 1851 Census of St.Michaels', Bristol:

WILLEY Joseph 50 Cabinet Maker Bristol
Elizabeth 40 Bristol
Josiah 17 Apprentice Chemist & Druggist Bristol
Mary Ann 15 Scholar Bristol
Elizabeth 13 Scholar Bristol
Sarah 11 Scholar Bristol
Henry 9 Scholar Bristol
Samuel 7 Scholar Bristol
Lucy 2 Bristol

Mary Ann, then, was born in 1835 or 1936. She would have been only 23 in 1859 - 16 years younger than Samuel Matthews.

A trawl though marriage records revealed that Mary Ann Willey married Samuel Jones (not 'our Samuel') on 2nd September 1862 at St.Michael's, Bristol. Samuel Jones was the son of John and Mary Jones and was born in Christchurch on 31st May 1835. He does give Christchurch as his birthplace in one census but says Caerleon in the others. In 1861 (the year before the marriage) Samuel Jones was a lodger in the home of Josiah & Eliza Smith in Everton, Liverpool. He gives his occupation as 'Trader for Fruit Merchant'. (Josiah Smith was a Fruit Merchant.) Samuel Jones was then 26 years of age and gives his birthplace as Caerleon, Mon.

So, Mary married a different Samuel - a commercial traveller in foreign or dried fruit. Strangely, he was born in (or near Caerleon). And how long did the marriage last? Well, the census records (for 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901) show that they remained together until at least 1901, nearly 40 years. They lived in Lancashire and the records do not record any children.

Samuel Matthews did not marry. He continued to run the business he had taken over from his mother with his unmarried sister. Samuel died aged 84 in 1903, and Cathrine in 1907 aged 82. And the letter... that stayed hidden from 1859 until 2002.

Many thanks to Sue Waller for her detailed research!

UPDATE August 2012

We have been contacted by Matthew Wood, the GGGrandson of one of Mary Ann's sisters. He has been researching his family history and was delighted to come across our article on "the letter". His research confirms Sue Waller's findings. He also sent us the following observation:

"I initially thought the envelope was photographed in black and white as the wax seal was black. On closer inspection I noticed that the image was indeed colour, so therefore the seal was indeed black not the usual red. Further investigation revealed that the Victorians had an intricate system of letter writing etiquette which included a wide range of coloured wax seals which forewarned the recipient of the nature of the letter contained within. Black donated bereavement or bad news. One wonders at how Samuel's heart must have sunk when he turned over the letter to see the black seal upon it."

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