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Biggs, Thomas (1869) - Biography

The Story of Thomas Biggs Sr

The Story of Thomas Biggs Sr.

Thomas Biggs Sr. was born February 7, 1869 at Coty, Blaenavon, Monmouthshire, England (a coal mining and steel town once in Gwent, Wales) to Thomas Biggs and Ellen Pitman Biggs. Some years before his birth both paternal and maternal grandparents came from Somersetshire to Monmoutshire to work in the mines.

To his parents were born fourteen children, all of whom survived, save two, to raise families of their own. They all knew hard work, both in the coal mines and in their gardens, which supplied them with money and food.

His paternal grandparents were John Biggs born 1815 at Lye on Mendop, Somersetshire, England. His maternal grandparents were James Pitman, born May 4, 1820, Somersetshire, England, married Thomas Biggs of Somersetshire, England. Thomas Biggs Sr. was their sixth child.

Through the work of L.D.S. Missionaries, James Pitman, Ann Pitman, Dan Pitman, Thomas Biggs and his wife, Ellen Pitman Biggs, were baptized July, 1866. On Wednesday September 19, 1877 James Pitman, Ann Hamblin Pitman, Daniel Pitman and Meshach Pitman sailed from Liverpool, England on the Steamship Wisconsin in a company of 482 Saints in charge of Hamilton G. Park. They landed in New York, September 30, 1877 and arrived in Salt Lake City, October 6, 1877. Later John Pitman, his wife Amy Parker and two children (not members of the L.D.S. Church followed, via Canada). Thomas still remembers parting with his grandparents and uncles though he was only 8 years old. I’ve heard him tell how sad his Uncle Dan was as he walked with him to the station, via the brook bank.

James Pitman died 7 years after coming here at the age of 64 on November 30, 1884. Ann Hamblin Pitman died 10 years later December 20, 1894 age 70, a faithful latter day saint. Six years later in Scofield Mine Explosion, John Dan, and Meshach Pitman with one son and two sons-in-law were killed.

I know a little of the sorrow that came to Ellen Pitman Biggs, the only one left of their family, when the news and momentos arrived. I was about six years old at the time. Later I always thought I knew why Grandma Biggs, even though she was a good latter day saint, never encouraged members of the church to come to Utah, nor ever expressed any desire to come herself, though she lodged and entertained the missionaries when they came and had them hold meetings in her home then at Five Houses, Varteg.

When Thomas Biggs went to the Five Houses to live he fenced in the ground and made a field and two big gardens, built a stable, pig sty, cow shed and chicken coops with the rocks they got out of the ground clearing for gardens, and some of the rock was used to build walls on two sides of the garden. Work of this kind kept the children busy and taught them how to work. The older boys went to the coal mine to work at the age of twelve years. Thomas was one of them. School for them was very limited and what little school they got had to be paid for weekly but all of them learned to read and write.

About this time, Thomas Biggs, the father, was very seriously injured in the mine by a fall of coal. It split his cranium in two; though he was a very strong man he never was the same after and was unable to work.

Thomas’s boyhood was spent in the Coty neighborhood of Blaenavon, a gentle sloping hillside. Their nearest neighbors were the Curtis family, Fred being his playmate. His Grandma Pitman lived at High Meadow about a quarter of a mile nearer town. The keeper lived in the same area. His duty was to care for the mining company’s property, the rabbit burrows and the Grouse. A small stream or mill race ran through this area and Thomas has told of the boys catching a trout there once in a while.

After the Biggs family moved to the Five Houses, Varteg, to be nearer the Viponds Top Pits where the father and the boys worked mining coal, they made them a good home, making gardens and fields from rough mountain slopes. This place, like Coty, was gently sloping to the southeast and overlooked Garndiffaith, Tallywain, and Abersychan. They had plenty of room. Severn View Place was the proper name, and so called because on a clear day the river Severn could be seen. Here the homes were several hundred yards apart. Holly Tree Cottage was one owned by the Carey family, another pretty place with gardens and fields. Thomas Biggs liked their youngest daughter, Emily, and while courting, it is said that he wore a path from his home to hers, and also that in wet weather he could make the trip without getting his shoes muddy.

On December 24, 1892, he married Emily in Llanfoist Church. For several years they lived at Holly Tree Cottage with her parents, and to them were born Thomas, Ellen and Amy. Then they moved to White Row, Tallywain, but did not stay long, moving again to Post Office row, Varteg. There was no L.D.S. Church in this area and during the couple’s youth he had attended Primitive Methodist Church and she the Wesleyan Methodist. After a short stay at Varteg they moved to Abertillery. They had six children born to them here: Percy, Ethel, Clarice, Willard, Beryl and Florence and also buried four: Amy, Percy, Clarice and Willard. All were buried in Bleaunu Gwent Cemetery.

Through family ties we visited Varteg and Garndiffaith often and many times Thomas would read to his dad from the Millenial Star and other books. From this he learned some of Mormonism and that missionaries were going to hold meetings in Abertillery. Thomas Biggs died at the age of 65, April 21, 1903 at Varteg.

Thomas Biggs Sr. attended a cottage meeting at Thomas Hearns home, 46 Glandow Street. The missionaries came to his home. Their names were Smith and Day. Soon they were released and Elders Benjamin F. Cluff and Heber C. Smith came there to labor, organized a branch and on June 17, 1905 Thomas Biggs Sr. was baptized by Elder Cluff. Very fine cottage meetings were held for some time and as numbers increased the Odd Fellows Hall was rented to hold meetings and Sunday School. Soon Elder Cluff was released to return home and after giving a good sermon that was enjoyed by everyone he made this statement quoting from scripture “After my departure shall grevious wolves enter in among you, not scattering the flock but drawing away followers after them.” Everyone wondered what it meant. He said goodbye and in about a week the largest family Hearns joined the Reorganized Church and tried to get the rest to do likewise and Thomas was the only Latter Day Saint left, and Elder Heber C. Smith had to serve excommunication papers on that family.

Those meetings giving out gospel light were not to be forgotten by Thomas and he wanted to have them again, but how, with no members. He visited a few scattered members, Brother Jones in Goytre, Brother Griffiths in Pontypool, his mother and brothers, Albert and George at Varteg, asking if they would attend meetings if they would get an Elder to come and speak. Most of them came though they had to travel at least five miles on foot to his him. Elder Edmonds, the speaker, came by train from Cardiff. It was an excellent meeting and all enjoyed the good spirit and felt well repaid for coming for in that meeting the promise was made that if they would be faithful, a branch of the church would be organized and it would be called the Pontypool Branch.

They continued to hold meetings whenever they could get a speaker and sometimes the brethren talked themselves. Sometime after Charles G. Jarman, President of the Bristol Conference, came to hold a meeting and he organized the Pontypool Branch, August 27, 1908 in Abertillery, with Thomas Biggs Sr. President, Charles Jones and Williams Griffiths as counselors, and Albert Biggs, Secretary.

Under this presidency, regular meetings and Sunday School were held until Thomas Biggs Sr. left Abertillery to come to Winterquarters, Utah, April 28, 1910 aboard the S.S. Laurentic, accompanied by his son, Thomas Biggs Jr. arrived in Salt Lake City, May 14, 1910, stayed with Heber C. Smith a few days, met his wife, daughter and his father, President Joseph Fielding Smith, visited the Tabernacle, Temple and other noted places and liked it very much.

The State Mine Inspector recommended us to go to Winterquarters to work in the coal mine as work was steady and because there was a good Ward there. This was a lot different than mining towns in Wales and so were the mining methods. At first we stayed with his cousins, then batched until October 28 when mother and children arrived. To be reunited as a family again was wonderful and all were very happy. Things went fine; two more children, Iris and Wilford George were born, then in December 1913, mother became very ill and in spite of all that was done, she died January 14, 1915. Ellen the oldest daughter married June 10, 1915, so we had to get help with the children. We asked Ruth Forward if she, with her parent’s permission, would come and help. She did, and did a fine job for seven years.

July 2, 1916, three months before Ruth arrived in this country, his home burned to the ground taking the life of Wilford, his youngest son. Very sad, but undaunted, he started to build another home for us. By September, 1917, it was done—better than the first. Then his oldest son was called to serve in World War I. Things went on much let same until all the children married except Florence, who was away working. Then he went to work in the Salt Lake Temple during summers doing work for the living and dead. He was also called to fill a mission to Wales 1929-30. On his return he went back to work in the Temple.

While there he married Irene Farnsworth, another temple worker. They spent approzimately 15 years in this work. Irene died August 19, 1954. Since then he has lived with his children. To date, he had 11 children, 5 now living, 31 grandchildren and 45 great grandchildren.

Since he left the Pontypool Branch, it has continued until at the present time, under good leadership, approximately 100 people have come here. Some he and his family assisted and they feel that all of them are active in the church and it would be hard to count the hours that have been given to church service by these people in the offices they hold, such as Bishopric, Priesthood Quorum work, Ward Clerk, Relief Society, Sunday School, and Primary.

To give an idea of the work done, his own family have 5 missions completed, one being a home (stake) mission, and 7 have served in the service of the United States. A fair record, I think.

He is 89, so far the oldest of any of his family and may he live as long as life is pleasant as the Patriarch said he would.

Written by Thomas Biggs Jr.

 

Immigrants:

Biggs, Thomas

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