Jenkin Davies, it will be no surprise to learn, was a Welshman. He was born in 1824 to a farming family in Ystradyfodwg, Glamorgan. He arrived at Wickcroft Farm in May 1857 with, ostensibly, his wife Martha and young son Ebenezer.
In fact, he had married Martha’s sister Anne Wiltshire, a servant girl in his village but originally from Studley in Wiltshire, and in 1855 Anne gave birth to twin boys, Ebenezer and his brother Ezra. Anne died a fortnight later and Ezra followed her six weeks after. Martha had gone from home in Wiltshire to be with her sister at the end and stayed to help with the remaining child, a not uncommon thing at the time. Also not uncommon was for the widower and his sister-in-law then to become close, as did Jenkin and Martha, and wish to marry. However, this was unacceptable to the Church, based on a flexible interpretation of the ruling in Leviticus prohibiting a man from uncovering the nakedness of his brother’s wife - although Henry VIII had done exactly that with the permission of Pope Julius II in 1509 when he married Catherine of Aragon, widow of his brother Arthur, at the instigation of her parents, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. When Henry later tried to use Leviticus a grounds for an annulment of the marriage Pope Leo X would have none of it, presumably not willing to admit his predecessor’s fallibility. Although marriage to a dead wife’s sister was not against the civil law, it was always considered to be “voidable”. Nevertheless, inventor Matthew Boulton married his sister-in-law in 1760 and Charles Austen, brother of Jane, did so in 1820 but the practice was explicitly forbidden by a law passed in 1835 that was not repealed until 1907, despite which it remained contrary to Canon Law until 1946.
Jenkin and Martha remained at Wickcroft, where they were regarded as man and wife and had 14 children together, until his death. Although the census returns say they were married it is clear from the grant of probate to “Martha Wiltshire (commonly known as Martha Wiltshire Davies)” referred to as a spinster, that they were not. All of their 14 children (though not Ebenezer) had the middle name Wiltshire.
Within days of arriving at Wickcroft, on 7 May 1857, Davies was involved with the law after he mislaid his knife in the rick-yard. One of his workers, Charles Horne, found the knife and kept it. A few days later he sold it to a man named Liddiard for a short smock and sixpence. Accused of stealing by finding, Charles Horne was found guilty by the magistrates and sentenced to 10 days imprisonment with hard labour. In 1885 Joseph Fay, a boy employed at Wickcroft, was before the Summer Assizes accused of maliciously setting fire to a hay rick belonging to Davies but Davies spoke for him and gave him a good character so that the jury returned a verdict of “not guilty”.
Jenkin Davies was an innovative farmer and an early adopter of machinery. He was practically the first in Glamorgan to adopt the four-course system of farming and bought the first seed drill in the county. In 1865 he designed and patented a sack holder, which sold well. His enthusiasm for modern practices would have struck a chord with Richard Benyon for he was also a keen proponent of all the latest equipment and methods, which he tried out at the home farm, Chalkpit. Both men held office with the South Berks Agricultural Society and won many prizes at their shows. Davies was a member of the Royal Agricultural Society and the Berks and Oxon Chamber of Agriculture, and a committee member of the Reading Fat Stock Association.
As well as being a farmer Davies was as an auctioneer and the firm of Jenkin Davies and Sons had a stand at the Reading Cattle Market where he conducted stock sales twice a week as well as general sales of property around the area. In 1896 after his death it was Jenkin Davies and Sons who conducted the sale of their own farm stock at Wickcroft, the sons having decided to pursue other avenues. One of the sons, William Wiltshire Davies, continued as an auctioneer and valuer and in 1900 opened an office in Friar Street, Reading under his own name, the title Jenkin Davies and Sons being discontinued. Davies was also a Guardian of the Bradfield Union of Workhouses and Overseer of the Poor and Overseer of Highways for the parish of Englefield. With Mr Benyon he was elected a County Councillor when the County Councils were introduced in 1888.
Jenkin Davies had an attack of rheumatic fever in early 1893 from which he was not expected to recover. Although he did get better he suffered afterwards from angina pectoris and died on 14 September 1893 from such an attack. Martha died on 5 February 1898 at Wallingford but was buried at Englefield on 10 February with Jenkin and three of their children who had died in infancy.