Powys Digital History Project 

An eminent Rhayader Victorian
Stephen William Williams (1837-1899)

Although Stephen William Williams was to be a prominent figure in Rhayader and Radnorshire life he was in fact born at Lower Mellington, Churchstoke in the neighbouring county of Montgomeryshire in 1837. His father was a tenant farmer of the Mellington estate.
The young Stephen was educated at Bishop's Castle just over the border into Shropshire, before being apprenticed with Samuel Bates of Staffordshire, a land surveyor and civil engineer. After this he worked for a firm preparing plans for the new and rapidly growing railway network.
Settling in Radnorshire
He was posted to Rhayader 1862 to work on the proposed railway to Aberystwyth. Although this line was never built he must have seen opportunities for a man with his skills, for shortly after arriving he left his employer and set up in the town in private practice.
He travelled all over mid Wales surveying for the new railway network and within a few months had married Maria James of Penralley House in Rhayader. Although there was some family opposition to the marriage they appear to have been very happy together and settled at Penralley with Maria's widowed mother.

Extract from
the diary of
S W. Williams
from July 1862

By kind permission
of the
National Library
of Wales

diary extract
The entries above seem to record a happy break from work:-
"July 8th. Photographing J. Davies & Maria & myself up the Elan."
"July 9th. J. Davies left this morning. Putting office all right. Preparing for work again."



By 1864 he had become County Surveyor of Radnorshire, but he continued his freelance work for the large local estates and local authorities. His salary of £100 per annum meant that he had to devote much of his time to other private work to keep his practice going.
As county surveyor he built Erwood Bridge and rebuilt many others. He built or rebuilt many other municipal buildings - including Rhayader Police Station (right). Although his work did not always enjoy universal approval it brought him into contact with the local gentry and led to more private work. His career was very much in the ascendancy by the 1870's.
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