A cup of tea and a corpse

Morgan Jeffreys always liked to start his day with a cup of tea.

On any normal Sunday Anne would have attended to such domestic chores and he would already have been seated in his favourite chair in front of the fire, his pipe at his lips and the morning’s papers spread across the kitchen table.

Today however his wife of 31 years and more twists and turns than he dared recall was unwell. She had remained in her bed leaving Morgan to fend for himself.

The 58-year-old had risen around 8.30am and set about lighting the fire and stove in a bid to bring some much-needed warmth to the house on a cold, crisp February morning.

It was only then that he realised there was not a drop of milk in the house.

Fortunately, Morgan’s eldest son – also called Morgan – was also up – despite nursing the after-effects of spending his Saturday night – and most of his weekly wage – drinking in Ammanford, Glanamman and Garnant.

With little consideration for his condition, the 28-year-old was despatched to the nearby farm with an empty jug in his hand.

Morgan junior had been gone barely long enough to hop over the low wall between Commerce House – the Jeffreys’ home – and the neighbouring Star Stars before he returned. Morgan senior was at the cold-water tap filling the kettle when his son reappeared in the doorway.

“There is a light at the Star, and the door is open,” he told his father.

The time was approaching 9am.

Mr Jeffreys paused a moment as the copper kettle in his hands grew heavier. The rear door to the Star opened into a cellar. A staircase ran from the dark, damp storage area up to the back room, which in turn opened out into the shop at street level.

“Oh, Mr. Thomas is sure to be there,” he said eventually. “Call out to him.”

Morgan nodded and climbed the wall once more before approaching the rear of the shop. At the open back door he stopped and called to the shopkeeper.

He reported back that he had received no response, though whether he shouted loud enough for Thomas Thomas, stone deaf in one ear and partially deaf in the other, to have heard remains a mystery.

He suggested that his father rouse Miss Jones, the head assistant at the Star who lodged with the family, before climbing the wall once more and making his way across the field towards the farm. Morgan was far more interested in a cup of tea than the comings and goings of shopkeepers.

Morgan senior, meanwhile, considered the implications of the gas lights being left on so late at the Star the previous evening and the realisation that they remained burning the following – along with the open rear cellar door.

Strangely, he would initially tell the Amman Valley Chronicle reporter that it had been he who first spotted the lights at the Star and the door left open, however in time his version of events would become more in keeping with that of his son.

Whether it was Morgan senior or junior who first spotted that the door was ajar, it is certainly true that the elder man eventually decided to take his son’s advice and it was he who called up to Miss Jones.

In a bid not to startle or frighten the young lady, he decided he would avoid alerting her to the events at her place of work immediately by asking whether she would be attending chapel that morning.

In her room upstairs, Phoebe Jones was annoyed to be disturbed so early on her one day off a week, particularly by such a strange question.

Mr Jeffreys knew all too well that Phoebe was not a regular chapel-goer. The thought of some Hell and damnation preacher sentencing her to the fire and brimstone for her sins in a freezing chapel as she failed abysmally to make herself comfortable on a granite-hard pew held little appeal for Phoebe compared to the warmth of her bed. The Bible-quoting Mr Thomas, her employer, provided enough parables and lessons from the good book for her during the working week.

Ten minutes later, Mr Jeffreys called up to her again. This time to inform her that the rear door of the Star was open.

Phoebe leapt from her bed, dressed as quickly as she was able and within minutes was in the kitchen where the kettle was beginning to boil.

While Phoebe dressed, Morgan Jeffreys senior had gone to the rear of the Star, poked his head in the open cellar door and called out to Mr Thomas, again without response.

Morgan junior was returning with a jug of warm milk when the shop assistant came out of the home they shared. He sat down on the wall between the Star and his home with an air of curious indifference as his father appraised Miss Jones of the situation.

Phoebe pushed open the rear door of the Star and like the two Jeffreys men before her, called out to Mr Thomas. She too was met with silence.

She strode into the cellar and began to climb the fourteen steps which lead into the back room.

immediately she stepped onto the first of the stairs, her head was level with the floor of the rear room where the safe was located and which in turn led through an open doorway into the shop itself. 

The sight which met her eyes set her heart pumping her chest.

The safe door was wide open and the contents were scattered over the floor. The drawers were half pulled out as if someone had hurriedly searched them. Insurance cards were spread over the floor, as were some dusters and swabs which were kept in the safe. The small tin box in which the day’s taking were placed before being locked away for the night was lying near the safe. The tin was open and clearly empty.

By the time she had climbed the third step she was able to see into the interior of the shop proper.

What she saw would remain in her nightmares for the rest of her life.

Thomas Thomas was lying on his back behind the provision counter. His head was smeared with blood and a thick red pool had congealed on the floor around where he lay. His mouth hung open in a fiendish gape.

As the scream burst from Phoebe’s lips, she looked into the eyes of Thomas Thomas and the dead man stared back.

Phoebe screamed his name, but she knew that Thomas Thomas was dead.

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Morgan Jeffreys

Morgan Jeffreys

Morgan Jeffreys was the landlord of Star Stores and owner of Commerce Place. It was Jeffreys who alerted Phoebe Jones that there was a problem at the Star and Jeffreys who followed her inside to discover the body of Thomas Thomas.

A man of vision

Morgan Walter Jeffreys had every reason to feel satisfied with his lot in life. Throughout his 58 years, the butcher, grocer, businessman, property developer and landlord, had experienced the sufferings and hardships that either broke a man or steeled him.

He had been born into the relative prosperity that came with land ownership, but had watched helpless through the eyes of a child as it all but disappeared before he could reach an age to put it to good use.

His father, also named Morgan, had inherited 250 acres, and employed six farmhands, a housemaid, a servant, a nurse and a groom by the time his second son arrived in 1862. Morgan senior had been handed control of Ystradwalter, the family farm near Llandovery, at the age of fifty following the death of his parents who passed away within months of each other in the spring of 1855.

Only then, with land and assets finally to his name, had Morgan taken a wife, marrying Mary Williams, a woman thirteen years his junior, in the summer of 1856. His first-born, David, arrived in 1859. Three years later, Morgan junior was delivered safe and well, but his father was already sixty-two years of age and would not live long enough to mark his second son’s sixth birthday.

With two young sons to care for and widowed on the cusp of her fiftieth birthday, Mary sold Ystradwalter to the highest bidder and moved her family lock, stock and barrel into nearby Llandovery, a bustling market town.

In doing so, she turned her back on the farm which had prospered under the Jeffreys family name for generations and had provided the bedrock on which they had built their reputation. The money from the sale ensured Mary would never need worry or toil again, but without the income generated from the land, and the crops and livestock it hosted, her sons would be forced to find their own way through life.

By his early teens Morgan had already left the safety of the family home and turned his back on farming once and for all. He travelled the 36 miles across the Brecon Beacons to take up a post a grocer’s assistant in the mining town of Aberdare where, under the wing of another Llandovery exile – a man named Rees Davies, he learned the skills required of a shopkeeper.

His ambition ensured he would not be content to remain an assistant to anybody for long, and by his mid-twenties, Morgan Jeffreys was a married man with an assistant of his own and a thriving business Roath, a bustling working-class district of Cardiff. The town was still decades from earning city status or adopting the crown of Welsh capital, but nevertheless it was growing faster than anywhere else in the principality.

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Morgan Walter Jeffreys arrived in Garnant with plans of building an empire.

Within a decade and before the century had turned, Jeffreys had sold his burgeoning business, returning west with his young family in tow. He bought the property Glanynant just off the valley road in Garnant and once again set up his own grocer’s shop, this time expanding his market by proclaiming himself a butcher. Morgan had timed his arrival to perfection – Garnant and neighbouring Glanaman were booming as the coal mines and tinworks swelled the villages with incomers.

Morgan Jeffreys was a man who understood that where there were workers with money in their pockets there was profit to be had.

Communities such as Garnant needed men like Morgan Jeffreys – men of vision, ambition and drive.

In 1895, he – or rather his wife Anne – leased a piece of land alongside the valley road from Lord Dynevor with high hopes of building an empire.

The plot would become the cause of a 20-year legal row between the Jeffreys and the Dynevor Estate.

In 1903, the title deeds for the land were transferred from Anne to Morgan and in 1911 were transferred again – this time into the name of Morgan Walter Williams-Jeffreys, though why Morgan choose to incorporate his mother’s maiden name with his father’s surname to become a double-barrelled landowner remains something of a mystery as there appears no other time he used the title.

The legal battle between the Jeffreys and Lord Dynevor centred on improving the road outside the properties – and the responsibility for meeting the inevitable costs.

Between 1895 and 1915, the Jeffreys refused to pay a penny in ground-rent, claiming the Estate had agreed to take responsibility for the road. Lord Dynevor saw things differently, culminating in a High Court appearance and an order that the Morgan and Anne pay £74 13 shillings and seven-and-a-half pence in back rent.

The fight all but bankrupted the couple.

“Both Mr and Mrs Jeffreys are impecunious people,” Lord Dynevor’s solicitor warned. They were penniless, at least as far as the lawyers could tell

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Morgan Jeffreys – landlord of Star Stores and owner of Commerce Place – taken in the days following the murder.

Somehow however they funded the building of Commerce Place during the war years – initially six shops with storage or living accommodation above. The couple had plans to construct another six in what would become Coronation Arcade.

They renamed Glanynant – their home – as Commerce House in keeping with the elevated position and sat back to count their rental income.