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Short Story 10: John Felix

Posted: Sunday 26th January 2020 by Emyr MWT

Tomorrow morning we start to transport some of the pitch pine timber work from Capel Salem, just a few miles up stream in Corris, to the Dyfi Wildlife Centre.

We will repurpose the magnificent looking pews and other paneling to our own needs - cafe booths, servery counter etc

Capel Salem was built in 1851 but, as was typical of many Welsh chapels at the time when more money became available, was given a major overhaul in 1895. The renowned carpenter Dimetris Owen from Llanbrynmair was given the contract to renovate the chapel, including installing a brand new gallery area and pulpit.

An example of Dimetris Owen’s work - the 1898 Machynlleth Eisteddfod Chair    ©Tim Bowen Antiques


Demetris Owen recruited local tradesmen to help him with the chapel’s renovation and two of these men, during the course of their work, left an indelible signature, a unique snapshot in time of who and where they were.

So, who were these two?

1. John Felix

John Felix was born in 1848 in Taliesin, in the parish of Llancynfelyn (a few miles south of DOP) to Richard (occupation: Carrier - a driver of a horse-drawn carriage, transporting goods from one village to the next) and Mary Lloyd Felix (nee Lewis).

John had six siblings, three sisters and three brothers. These siblings would play an important role throughout John’s life.

John’s parents: Richard Felix and Mary Lloyd Felix (nee Lewis) are buried in Eglwys Llancynfelin

Both sides of John's family - the Felix’s and Lewis’, were prominent carpenters and joiners in the area so it’s no real surprise that John trained to be a joiner at a young age.

By his early 20s, like so many of his Welsh counterparts with a trade under their belt, John had moved to a northern English city in search of work. He was renting a room in Ellison Street, Salford, Manchester by the early 1870s, owned by Rowland Bateman, an upholsterer.

A few years later he was living in Everton, Liverpool with his sister Mary and her husband, John Williams - a cotton porter. Maybe John was a joiner down at the docks, or a ship's carpenter?

Waterloo Dock, Liverpool 1890

John Felix was still in the Everton area by the time he was in his early 40s, only this time living just a few yards away with brother Edward and his wife Catherine, originally from Caernarfon (Cofi Cath!).

Liverpool at the time John Felix was living there


As he was approaching 50 years old, however, John returned to Wales to live where he would remain throughout the rest of his life.

On September 6th 1895 we know exactly where John Felix was. Aged 47 he was working for Dimetris Owen, still as a joiner, renovating Capel Salem in Corris. We know because he left his mark - quite literally.

John Felix signs a piece of Canadian pitch pine before hiding it from view behind timber panelling…... for the next 125 years

By the time of Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 John was staying with an older brother - Richard Felix - at 15 Lower Portland Street, Aberystwyth, with three of Richard’s children.

15 Lower Portland Street where John lived in 1901

However, when Richard died in 1907 John moved house again, this would be his last major move. He moved in with his younger sister, Ann Jane Felix in Taliesin.

1911 Census: John is 62 years old living with his sister Ann (60)

It’s interesting that John still reports his occupation as a joiner (asiedydd = joiner, a long-lost Welsh word that is barely used today) aged 63. In those days retirement didn’t really exist for a tradesman unless they were physically incapable of continuing on. Ann’s occupation is reported as Cadw Tŷ - housekeeper.

Coming home - John Felix is now back in Taliesin

We think John stayed with his sister Ann in Taliesin until his death in 1925. He died on 12th August that year aged 77.

He was buried in a Felix family plot in Nazareth Methodist Chapel, Talybont; the hearse hire was £1 and 6 shillings, the equivalent of around £55 today.

Capel Nazareth, Talybont

 

Full Circle

On one hand John Felix led a fairly typical life for the time. He moved around a lot in search of work, lived with various family members throughout his life and returned home to Taliesin for the last 20 years or so of his life.

But the Felix family were pretty unusual too. John, as far as we can tell, never married nor had any children - and neither did three other siblings out of the seven in total. However, one brother, Richard, had nine children and another sister, Mary, had eight; this was much more typical for the time.

John's first language was Welsh, he would have learned how to speak English as he grew up, refining his second-language skills once he'd moved to Manchester and Liverpool as a young man. John would have had a gentle, mid-Walian accent, not too dissimilar to the local accent here today.

Local map of key villages

As a non-conformist methodist, John - as all the Felix family were - would have been very religious; practically all the people in Wales were at that time.

John Felix would have seen many changes throughout his 77-year life: the death of Prince Albert, the coming of the railways to Wales, the invention of electricity, cars and powered flight. John would have lived through the Great War and hoped the world would never again see the likes of such a cataclysm. Sadly, history has a habit of repeating itself.

There are some things we’ll never know about John Felix. What did he look like? What wealth of other carpentry projects did he work on throughout his long career as a joiner?

John is buried with his younger sister, Ann, who he lived with for the last few years of his life. Next to them in the plot are three other of his siblings, Edward Felix (91), David (83, a Chemist) and Margaret Felix (78, a Headmistress).

Reunited: John and Ann Felix, brother and sister buried together

Translated

From an old piece of wood, we’ve learned so much this week about who that joiner was that took the time to pick up his pencil at the end of his work at Capel Salem and give us a tiny clue about his life.

Next week we’ll tell you who the other joiner was that worked with John Felix in Corris. When we open the new Dyfi Wildlife Centre later this spring, we'll tell their stories and how their workmanship continues to live on in the 21st century.

John Felix: A proud man, a tradesman, a religious man, a family man, a Welshman.

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