Glanyrafon Villas was a row of semi-detached properties at the top of Horney Road on the opposite side of the valley to the Star.
Separated from the throng by the GWR train lines, the tinplate works, River Amman herself and then the recreation ground and rugby pitches, the nine-house development was set apart from the village. From its elevated position, Glanyrafon Villas looked down on the bustle of the valley road with an aloof, foreigner’s eye. It was at the fringes of the community. So too were its residents.
At Number Two, Thomas Charles Hooper Mountstephens lived with wife Lily, sons Arthur and William, and lodgers Thomas Thomas, the manager of Star Stores, and Arthur Impey, a chess-loving cockney whose childhood read like a Dickens novel.
Impey was born within earshot of Bow bells in West Ham in 1888, the middle of three children. Life was a struggle for the Impeys: David, Arthur’s father, brought home only a labourer’s wage. Life was hard for the Impey children, but it was about to get worse. On November 25, 1892, David Impey died aged 45.
Less than seven months later, he was followed into the ground by his wife, Ellen. She was just 42. On June 18, 1893, the Impey children were made orphans. David was five, sister Ellen 12 and Albert two.
Despite the hardships, Ellen had some money. When she died she left £82 and nine shillings. Where she came by it is unknown. It was not a fortune, but certainly it was a sum of money. Ellen’s Will left everything to a woman named Charlotte Elizabeth Housdon. The nature of Housdon’s relationship to Ellen Impey remains uncertain, as does the question of whether the money came with an obligation to care for the Impey children.
Whatever the logic behind Ellen’s bequest, the children did not spend any length of time with the Housdons and the Impey family dissolved.
By 1901, Arthur, now 13, was an inmate at Muller’s Orphan House, Bristol. How long he had been there is unknown, but he would not stay at Muller’s much beyond his 14th birthday. At some point he made his way west – presumably in search of work. He settled in the Amman valley.
By 1921, the workhouse orphan was working at Gellyceidrim colliery. He was 33 years old and in love: Arthur would marry fiancée Blodwen Jones in Garnant before the year was out. In the meantime however, he remained in lodgings. Renting a room at Number Two, Glanyrafon Villas, meant renting a bed, or rather a share of a bed – a necessity in rural Wales where the number of paying lodgers far outweighed the available sleeping quarters. Arthur shared with Thomas Thomas, the frail, Bible-quoting little shopkeeper. Prior to Thomas’ arrival in Garnant, Impey had shared with Mr Lewis, his current bed-mate’s predecessor at the Star.
Thomas Charles Hooper Mountstephens was born in St Pancras, central London, in the summer of 1886; the son of a piano tuner. By 1910 he, Lily and baby Arthur were already living in Garnant. William arrived in 1911.
Mountstephens was a pumpman below ground, but remained aloof from the majority at the colliery. Perhaps it was at Cwmaman Chess Club, where Mountstephens was chairman, that he and club member Impey first discussed accommodation.
At 11pm on Saturday, February 12, 1921, Thomas Mountstephens and his wife ate supper. Their two sons were already asleep and neither of the lodgers had yet returned. Arthur Impey would soon be trudging his way up the hill out of the mist at the end of his shift. Thomas Thomas had warned of his intention to work late when Mountstephens and Lily called in at the Star earlier in the day.
At 11.45pm Lily Mountstephens kissed her husband good-night and went to bed. Thomas stepped outside to take in the night air. From his doorstep he could look down across the valley basin and a lake of mist to the rear of Commerce House where the lights of Star Stores still burned.
Arthur Impey arrived home before midnight. Seeing the lights on at the Star, Arthur suggested that he and Mountstephens walk back across the valley to ensure all was well. Mountstephens told him of his visit to the store earlier and his conversation with Mr Thomas.
The two men went inside and Mountstephens pointed Impey to the hot supper Lily had left simmering for him. He reminded Impey to be sure to leave enough for the returning Mr Thomas.
At 1am, the shopkeeper had still not returned and Arthur Impey began to fret. The lights at the rear of the Star were still burning, but a man of Mr Thomas’ beliefs was unlikely to be working into the Sabbath. He again asked Mountstephens to accompany him across the valley. Again, Mountstephens brushed off his concerns and reminded him of Mr Thomas’ warning.