Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Francis, George Grant

FRANCIS, GEORGE GRANT (1814–1882), Welsh antiquary, eldest son of John Francis of Swansea, Glamorganshire, by his wife, Mary Grant, was born in that town in January 1814, and educated at the high school there. Until within a few years of his death Francis took a very prominent part in every question affecting the interest of his native town. ‘It mattered little,’ writes one who knew him well, ‘whether the subject was one of antiquarian research, … or a question of modern improvement and progress, such as railways, docks, or tramways. Whatever his hand found to do he did it with a might which certainly deserved success, though it by no means uniformly commanded it. … As with many other men of a similar temperament, his enthusiasm ran away with him.’ His numerous schemes for local improvements were, in fact, somewhat in advance of his time, and being always financially weak, met with an imperfect appreciation. In 1835 he helped to found the Royal Institution of South Wales, and presented it with his large collections of local fossils, antiquities, coins, and seals, together with one of the best libraries of works relating to Wales extant, of which he compiled and printed a catalogue, afterwards adding a supplementary volume. He also shared in the formation of the Cambrian Archæological Association in 1846, and frequently contributed to its journal, the ‘ Archæologia Cambrensis.’ To the volume for 1848 he sent for insertion the original contract of affiance between Edward of Carnarvon, prince of Wales, and Isabella, daughter of Philip the Fair, king of France, dated at Paris 20 May 1303, which he had discovered in Swansea Castle. It was printed separately the same year. He was active in restoring to public use the ancient grammar school of Bishop Gore, of which he was many years chairman and one of the trustees. His connection with it enabled him to collect materials for his book, ‘The Free Grammar School, Swansea; with brief Memoirs of its Founders and Masters, and copies of original deeds,’ 8vo, Swansea, 1849. By the town council he was entrusted with the restoration and arrangement of their neglected and scattered muniments, which task he performed so admirably as to call forth a warm eulogium from Lord Campbell in the court of queen's bench. He afterwards privately printed one hundred copies of ‘Charters granted to Swansea. … Translated, illustrated, and edited by G. G. Francis,’ Latin and English, fol., London, 1867. The preservation and restoration of Oystermouth Castle, near Swansea—one of the many ancient ruins pertaining to the house of Beaufort, lords of Gower and Kilvey—were also owing to his exertions, for which he was presented with a piece of plate. In 1851 Francis was selected to represent the Swansea district as local commissioner at the Great Exhibition. During the same year the British Association appointed him secretary to its department of ethnology when holding its meeting at Swansea. He was mayor of the borough in 1853–4, and was also colonel of the 1st Glamorgan artillery volunteers, a corps raised by his exertions in 1859. In 1867 Francis communicated to the Swansea newspaper, ‘The Cambrian,’ ‘as the earliest organ of the copper trade,’ some curious papers which he had discovered in the Record Office on the metallurgy of the district. These papers excited considerable attention, and the author consented to gather them together and print fifty copies for presents as ‘The Smelting of Copper in the Swansea District, from the Time of Elizabeth to the Present Day,’ 8vo, Swansea, 1867. So numerous, however, were the inquiries for this book that he published it in 1881 as a quarto volume, illustrated with autotype portraits of men connected with the copper trade, and sketches of places historically interesting from their connection with copper smelting. From a large mass of original documents extant among the Gnoll papers at Neath, Francis was able to add to this second edition many new and important facts; while he personally examined each of the copper-smelting works described in the book.

Francis died at his town house, 9 Upper Phillimore Place, Kensington, 21 April 1882, and was buried on the 26th in Swansea cemetery. By his marriage in 1840 to Sarah, eldest daughter of John Richardson of Swansea, and of Whitby Lodge, Northumberland, he left issue three sons. He was elected F.S.A. 16 Jan. 1845, was its honorary secretary for South Wales, and was also a corresponding member of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and of the Welsh Manuscripts Society. In addition to those already named Francis wrote many other monographs on Welsh history and topography, of which we may mention:

  1. ‘Original Charters and Materials for a History of Neath and its Abbey, with illustrations, now first collected,’ 8vo, Swansea, 1845 (fifty copies privately printed).
  2. ‘The Value of Holdings in Glamorgan and Swansea in 1545 and 1717, shown by rentals of the Herbert Family. Edited from the originals,’ fol., Swansea, 1869 (twenty-five copies printed).
  3. ‘Notes on a Gold Chain of Office presented to the Corporation of Swansea in … 1875, … together with a list of [mayors] from 1835 to 1875,’ 4to, Swansea, London (printed), 1876.

He also assisted L. W. Dillwyn in the latter's ‘Contributions towards a History of Swansea,’ 8vo, Swansea, 1840, joined the Rev. Thomas Bliss in writing ‘Some Account of Sir Hugh Johnys, Deputy Knight Marshal of England, temp. Henry VI and Edward IV, and of his Monumental Brass in St. Mary's Church, Swansea,’ 8vo, Swansea, 1845, and readily gave Dr. Thomas Nicholas the benefit of his varied knowledge in the compilation of the ‘Annals of Counties and County Families of Wales,’ 1872, 1875.

[Swansea and Glamorgan Herald, 26 April and 3 May 1882; Nicholas's Annals, ii. 628; Thomas's Handbook to the Public Records, Introd. p. xviii; Lists of Soc. Antiq.; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Athenæum, 22 April 1882, pp. 510–11.]

G. G.