Sarah Ann's Early LifeSarah Ann Owen, the eldest child of James Owen and Susannah Morgan, was born in Llansaintffraid (map 1) in the winter of 1829/30. In 1850 she married John Shelby [Newtown 1850, 4th qtr]. The following year she and John were living in Jerman’s House, Lower Green, Llanidloes (map 2) , not far from James, Susannah and the rest of Sarah’s family. Sarah was then a dressmaker, aged 21 and John, from Logelas, Cardiganshire, was a 'lead-mining labourer', aged 23. Evidence about his date of birth is slightly contradictory but it is almost certain he was the John Shelby christened in November 1827 at Yspytty-Ystwyth, the son of Evan (1789-1846), a mason in 1841, and Margaret Lewis (1793-1848). Yspytty-Ystwyth is a village about five miles from Cwmystwyth, Cardiganshire, which is itself about 15 miles SW of Llanidloes across the Cambrian Mountains. John’s great granddaughter, Olwyn Hedley, thought he came from Cwmystwyyth and his son Timothy Morgan Owen Shelby named one of his houses in Wrexham "Cwmystwyyth".
Within a few years Sarah and John had left Llanidloes. Their first child, Louisa was born in 1853 in or near Tregaron, Cardiganshire but they settled in Monmouthshire; daughters, Miriam and Margaret Jane, were born in Rumney. At that time there were two villages in Monmouthshire called Rumney but it is likely that the Shelbys lived in the more northerly mining village of Rumney, now called Rhymney. There were other Shelbys in both these areas. (map 3)
In 1861 the family was living at 50 Big Row, Ushlawrcoed, a hamlet in the parish of Bedwelty, a few miles south-east of Merthyr Tydfil; Sarah was still a dress-maker and John was an 'iron miner'.
'BEDWELLTY, a parish … in the county of Monmouth, 7 miles to the W. of Pont-y-pool. Newport is its post town. It is situated in a hilly district between the river Rumney, on the W., and the Sirhowey on the E., and contains the chapelries of Rhymney and Tredegar, the latter being now a market town, and the hamlets of Ishlawrcoed, Mamhole, and Uwchlawreoed. The district is rich in iron and coal, and is the seat of an extensive iron manufacture, giving employment to above 1,300 hands. Between 3,000 and 4,000 persons are engaged in the great ironworks and collieries in the vicinity.' The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)