Charley Williams and the Brockweir Wassailers

In 1963 Russell Wortley recorded the Brockweir Wassail song from Charley Williams who had learnt the song from his father, and in 1977 the collectors Andrew Taylor and Bob Patten subsequently recorded the wassail song and a number of other local carols from Charley, including AVirgin Unspotted, The Holly and The Ivy, Jacob’s Well, Our Saviour’s Love and While Shepherds watched their Flocks by Night. Charley said that about 60 years previously, i.e. about the time of WWI, about ten to twenty wassailers would go out on 5 and 6 January. They took no instruments, but when he went out singing the local carols with brothers Gilbert and Claude Williams they would take an accordion. According to Charley other wassailers were his father, his brother-in-law Bill Bailey and Albert Dibden.
The Williams family had been in the Brockweir area since the early 19th century and Charley’s father and grandfather were both born there. In the 19th century Brockweir was a busy little port with a thriving ship-building industry. It was the highest point up the River Wye which the larger ships could reach and so became the place where the larger vessels loaded and unloaded, smaller river craft transferring goods to and from places as far up-river as Hereford. The wassailing families all had ties to this industry.

Charley’s grandfather, Charles Williams
Charley’s grandfather was the son of Nathaniel Williams, born 1770 in Brockweir, a mariner who lived at Hudnalls Farm, St Briavels, with his wife, Elizabeth. The location of the farm was described as ‘extra parochial, St Briavels’. Another child of Nathaniel, Hannah Williams, born 1806, married Philip Dibden on 16 Jul 1827 (according to the Gwilliam Eergyng family tree on, thus providing a marital link to the Dibden family, who were also wassailers.

By 1841 Charles Williams, a mariner aged 30, had married and he and his wife, Ann, aged 25, were living in Brockweir, near Hewelsfield. By 1851 Charles, aged 42 was a waterman living in Hewelsfield with his wife, Ann, aged 40, born in St Briavels, and their children Charles aged 12, Elizabeth aged 9, William aged 7, Emma aged 5, Thomas aged 2 and Ann aged 8 months. The rest of the family were born in Hewelsfield. Also living with them was Eliza Hathaway, a servant, aged 16 and there were 2 visitors, Thomas Brown and Isaac Balinger who were watermen. Albert Adam, Charlie’s father, was born in 1853 and another sister, Sarah Jane, was baptised privately on 7 November 1855 when Charles was described as a ‘halier’ of Brockweir. By 1861 Charles had taken over the running of the Sloop Inn, Brockweir but by1871, aged 62, he was living in Woolaston, St Briavels, stated to be a farmer born in Woolaston. His wife, Ann, was born in St Briavels. By 1881 Charles was living on the Common at St Briavels, a farmer of 20 acres aged 72. He and Ann were both born in St Briavels. He lost his wife before 1891 when, aged 82, he was living with his daughter, Emma Bowen, then a widow, and her family in Brockweir Village, next to the New Inn., run by Alice Dibden. Charles Williams died in early 1897 in the Chepstow Registration District and was buried in Hewelsfield on 16 March 1897. Charles’ daughter Elizabeth married into the Dibden family providing another link between these two wassailing families.

Charlie’s father, Albert Adam Williams
Albert Adam Williams was born in Brockweir and his birth was registered 3Q 1853 in Chepstow Registration District. He was baptised in Hewelsfield on 17 July 1853, son of Charles Williams, a ‘halier’ of Brockweir and his wife, Ann.

In 1861 Albert aged 17 was living in the Sloop Inn, Brockweir where his father, Charles Williams, aged 52 was an innkeeper born in Woolaston. His mother, Ann, was a manager born in St Briavels. Also living at home were his older brothers: Charles and William who were watermen and Alfred a scholar, as was Albert. His sister, Elizabeth Dibden was also there with her son, William They had two boarders: one was George Page, a ship’s carpenter born in Woolaston and the other Isaac Balenger, a waterman, born in Whitchurch, Herefordshire who was still boarding also. The children were all born in Hewelsfield.

Albert Adam Williams was married (to Charlotte ) 3Q 1900 in the Chepstow Registration District. They had the following children who were all baptised in Hewelsfield:
Annie Elizabeth baptised 29 September 1900
Myra Louise baptised 27 July 1902
Ruth Naomi baptised 13 March 1904
Lucy Clara baptised 19 March 1905
Ellen Susie baptised 17 February 1907
Charlie Albert baptised 25 July 1909
Edward Frank baptised 30 October 1910
Alice Maud baptised 16 August 1916
Albert Adam is described as a labourer on Annie and Myra’s baptism and as a roadman on the other children’s baptisms. He had retired from work by the time of his daughter, Alice’s marriage in 1941.

Charley/Charlie Williams
Charlie Albert Williams born in July 1909 and baptised 25 July 1909 in Hewelsfield, the son of Albert Adam Williams, a roadman, and Charlotte Williams of The Common, Hewelsfield, Charley came to Brockweir at age 29 when he got married.

Marriages of Charley’s sisters:
3Q 1924 Annie E. Williams married William A. Bailey in the Bristol Registration District. Bill Bailey was also one of the Brockweir wassailers.
5 October 1931 Ruth Naomi Williams, of full age, spinster, of Brockweir, father Adam Albert Williams, labourer married Hector Emmanuel George Heaven, bachelor, baker of Woodside Street, Cinderford, father George Heaven, deceased, builder. Witnesses were Edward Williams (Ruth Naomi’s brother) and George Henry Jones.
22 February 1941 Alice Maud Williams, full age, spinster, of Brockweir, father Adam Albert Williams, roadman (retired)married George ?Evart Lewis of full age, bachelor, electrician of Towyn, N. Wales, father Richard Lewis, municipal worker. Witnesses H.G. Heaven (her sister Ruth Naomi’s husband) and D. A. Bailey, possibly a relative of Bill Bailey.
Charley died in 1983 in the Forest of Dean Registration District.

Bill Bailey
William A. Bailey was the husband of Charley Williams’ sister, Annie Elizabeth, whom he married in 1924 in the Bristol Registration District. Bill Bailey was also one of the Brockweir wassailers.

Albert Dibden
See references to Hannah Williams above and Albert Adam’s sister Elizabeth for relationship between the Williams and Dibden families.

Albert Dibden was born 1902 and his birth was registered in the Chepstow Registration district. In 1911, aged 5, he was living in Brockweir with his mother, Alice Ann, who was described as single, his brother and sister Bella, aged 3 and Alfred aged 4 and his grandmother Elizabeth, a widow. Alice was a domestic working at home. All were born in Hewelsfield. Alice’s father was John Dibden, born about 1824, who lived in Hudnalls, Hewelsfield, a mariner who was the master of a vessel in 1861 and master of a sloop in 1891. In 1881 aged 56 he was the master of the ‘Caerleon’ moored in the Castle Precincts in Bristol. Sailing with him were his son, Alexander aged 16, Charles Dibden aged 33 and Alexander Williams aged 47, possibly a first cousin of Albert Adam Williams.

By 1901, John and Elizabeth had at least seven children: Charles born about 1846 who was a waterman in 1861, Alice Ann Dibden (Albert’s mother) born about 1853, Charlot born about 1856, Ely/Eli Henry born about 1859 who became a carpenter, married Belinda and had a son Albert James in 1889 when living on Brockweir Common, Hannah born about 1862, Alexander born about 1865 and Sarah Jane born about 1879. Alexander married another Alice from Bishops Cleeve. John and Elizabeth also had a granddaughter, Isabella, born about 1879 who had a son, Albert, when she was single in 1902. John went to sea until he retired to Brockweir. By 1911 Elizabeth was widowed and living in Brockweir Village with her daughter Alice Ann Dibden and Alice’s three children, Albert, Alfred and Bella.
Albert Dibden died 3Q 1967 in the Chepstow Registration District.

Gilbert Williams
Gilbert James Williams was born 10 February 1910 and baptised in the Moravian Church in Brockweir on 27 March 1910. His family had lived in the St Briavels/Brockweir area for some time. His grandfather John Williams, born about 1852 and his grandmother, Emma, had at least thirteen children between 1870 and 1888, six boys: John, Walter Albert, Wilson, Alfred Alg.., Wilfred and (Herbert) William, who was a cowman in 1911, and seven girls: Geneve, Mabel Emma, Ada Louise, Edith, Elizabeth Kate, Amy and Ada Jane. In 1881 John was a waterman living on St Briavels Common and in 1891 aged 48, he was living ‘Under the Hill’ outside the parish of St Briavels still working as a waterman. By 1898 and he was an agricultural labourer and continued in this work at least until 1901. At age 68 in 1911 he was a farmer living in Brook Cottage, Brockweir.

Gilbert’s father John Gilbert Williams, also known as John Williams Junior, was born in early 1873.On 10 February 1898 when working as a labourer he married Agnes Eliza Hathaway, born 1877 daughter of James and Sarah Hathaway, in the Moravian Church in Brockweir. Agnes’ father was a labourer/waterman from Brockweir Common and both families had lived close to each other ‘Under the Hill’. The Moravian Church was the only church in Brockweir at the time and had been built in1833 at a time when a contemporary writer described Brockweir as being ‘noted as a city of refuge for persons of desperate and lawless character. The Lord’s Day was kept as a day of unhallowed revelling and desecrated by cock-fighting, gambling and quarrelling’. The peaceful river- bank setting where the Church is now situated was once the site of much of this revelry. In 1831 a Tintern doctor, worried about the spiritual state of the villagers as well as their physical health, wrote about the situation to the Moravian Minister in Bristol. The Minister came and spoke to the villagers, and received an encouraging response and so the church was built. The family had close connections with this church as John’s aunt, Amy Williams, worked as a servant to the Moravian Minister and went with him as cook when he moved on to Northamptonshire as a Church of England Minister. John and Agnes had at least 5 children, all born in St Briavels and baptised in the Moravian Church, Brockweir: Gladys A. born about 1899, Arthur John born 7 August 1900, Florence Edith Annie born 20 August 1902, Doris Kate born 28 February 1907 and Gilbert James born 9 February 1910. By 1901 John was an agricultural labourer living ‘Under the Hill’ in’ extra parochial Brockweir’, St Briavels next door to his father. In 1911 Gilbert aged 1 was living with his parents, John and Agnes, near John’s father in Acacia Cottage, Brockweir where John was a ‘gardener domestic’. Gilbert’s father, John Gilbert Williams possibly died in 1953.

Claude Williams
Charley Williams referred to Gilbert and Claude Williams as brothers. However, the only Claude Williams of the same generation in the area was Claude Frederick Alexander Williams born on 25 February 1908 and baptised in the Moravian Church, Brockweir, the son of Francis Henry and May Grace Williams. Claude’s father, Francis Henry Williams, was baptised at Hewelsfield on 20 April 1877, son of Alexander and May Williams of Brockweir, a mariner. Claude’s grandfather, Alexander, possibly died in Brockweir in 1887. Francis also had a brother, Alfred Edward Williams, who was born in 1863 and baptised in Hewelsfield on 2 August 1863.Claude’s mother, May, possibly died in 1961 Claude Williams possibly married Elsie M Gibson in 1930 in the Bristol Registration District.
.Notes by Carol Davies with thanks to the Forest Family History Society and the Gwilliam Eergyng family tree on