Introduction: Welcome to Annie from Penygarn

Remembering stories my Mum and Dad told me when I was a little girl. Also stories of my family and me growing up around the Pontypool area.
Annie Hughes (Parry)

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

It's a long story.........................

It all started years ago with my Grancher John Hughes moving to live at Plasycoed, Cwmffrwdoer from Oswestry looking for work. His wife Annie had died age 37 leaving him with five children who were born between 1898 and 1910.

The three older boys were farmed out in houses around Cwmffrwdoer but the twins ( a boy and a girl ) went to live with Grancher's sister Jinny at Woodbine Cottage, Plasycoed. The older boys Frederick, John and Edward went to work at Tirpentwys Colliery.

My Dad John Hughes ( they called him Jack ) was between 13 and 14 and his first job was taking care of the pit ponies. As he got older, he started digging for coal with a pick and shovel. After his shift ended, the lift  would bring the miners to the surface where they would see daylight.

There were no pit head baths so they went home black from the coal dust.

Tirpentwys Colliery was between the bottom of Pantegasseg Hill and the Plasycoed Hotel. My mother Lydia lived at the Plasycoed Hotel.

Her mother and father were Mary Jane and John Curtis. In 1923 John Curtis was co-owner of the Plasycoed New Colliery, Cwmffrwrdoer and he also owned property in the the surrounding area..

My mum's mother Mary Jane died at the age of 44 ( when my mum was a little girl ) and was interred in the family tomb at Ebenezer Chapel. Cwmffrwrdoer.

Mum was the second youngest of 12 children and was the only girl in the family to go out to work. She was training to be a children's nurse at Pontypool Hospital.

She met my dad, started courting and then got married. A  year later in 1922  they had a son and named him David John ( Jack ). At that time they were living in a fish and chip shop on Cwmffrwydoer hill.

My brother went to Cwmffwrdoer Infants School. Mum said that he would sit on the steps outside the shop waiting for the miners going home from work , black as coal, swinging their miner's lamps and all you could see was the whites of their eyes. They would talk to him but it was mostly swear words which my Mum did not approve of.

After a few years mum and dad moved to Penygarn. Dad still worked at Tirpentwys Colliery and he would walk to and from Penygarn each shift in all sorts of weather. He would come home black as there were no baths at the pit at that time. Mum would boil some water on the black lead range and put the tin bath ready for when he came home. Sometimes, he would have deep cuts on his head and back and after his hot bath Mum would clean the wounds. Dad would say that the levels were low or that there had been a fall of coal and that he had been digging coal on his knees.Sometimes he worked with water up to his waist.  Despite Mum's efforts to clean Dad's wounds ,he had black scars on his back for the rest of his life. He would not stay home from work as he would not have received any pay.

The cottage Mum and Dad had bought in Penygarn had been owned by the Hanbury family. It was one of three cottages in old Penygarn and the address was 1 American Gardens ( sometimes reffered to as Quarry Cottages). The cottages had been built on the edge of an old stone quarry and a large part of the old quarry was our garden which made a very useful area for keeping livestock and was an interesting place to play. The approach to the cottages was from the back as they had been constructed to face towards the fields.

Before they built the houses in Penygarn, the fields went right down to the Hanbury's residence in Pontypool.

Over the years the cottage needed modifying to raise the roof to provide better bedroom accommodation and  it was extended at ground floor level to install a bathroom and other improvements. When a new toilet was installed to replace the old one near our back door an archway was discovered which my father told me was part of a tunnel which went down to the Hanbury's residence. This is difficult to verify as there has been so much building in the area but it is interesting that in James Street just down Penygarn Road there was a very high thick wall and on the opposite side there were three arches. My brother Eric used to play in them until they were bricked up for safety purposes. Maybe that is where the story of the tunnel came from.

Eric was born in 1929. He  went to Penygarn Infants School.  Five years later in 1934 I was born and was named Annie Rosemary. My brother Jack was now coming up to 12 years old.

The depression hit South Wales, Dad was out of work and there was no money coming in.. Mum would cook a dinner, mostly vegetables. Dad would say to her '' where is your dinner Lydia '' and she replied she had eaten it already when she was plating up meals for Dad and the boys. but in reality she was doing without. So, when I was born, I was a very delicate child. Mum was still in hospital so my Auntie Annie looked after me for a month.

During the Thirties , there was still no money to spare to buy things and you had to try to make the best of it and do what you could for yourself. Jack and Dad would saw down trees in our garden, make bundles of wood and put it on a bogey they had made so that they could take it around the houses and sell it for  firewood. Mum would help Dad in the garden and in the evening she would sit by the oil lamp cutting strips from old clothes and make rugs for our home. Dad went to Abergavenny market and bought a pig and a few chickens. We also had a dog called Floss. Dad called around the houses and asked them to save their potato and vegetable peelings for the pig and he also called on Mrs Jones, the fish and chip shop,at the top of Penygarn hill and got waste from her.When it was time for the pig to be killed, Dad would go to the butcher to kill it. Mum would tell me to put my hands on my ears so that I could not hear the pig screaming. When the pig was dead it would be cured by salt or burning . Mum would clean it all and then it was hung from a hook in the back kitchen. When it was ready, Dad would  take some pig meat to the people who had given him scraps and there would be no waste as all the pig was edible.

One day, Floss the dog must have beem hungry as he went around to a neighbour's house and took her joint of meat off the kitchen table and came home with it in her mouth. Dad took it off her, washed it under the tap, put it in paper and took it back. Poor Floss was put down that day for doing such a dreadful thing - times were hard. When I came home from school, Mum told me Floss had died and we were both crying.

When I started school I went to Penygarn Infants School but only for a few weeks. I was a very nervous child and our doctor said I would stay like that until I was seven. He suggested a private school so I started at St Alban's Convent School. Mum went to work at the Girls County School in Penygarn for money to pay the fees. The Convent was a girls school except for two boys. One of the boys lived in Penygarn so I went to school with him and his two sisters. I was happy at this school and my health improved.

Across the road from our cottage there was a churchyard and a Tabernacle Baptist Chapel . On Sundays Mum and I attended the morning service, I went to sunday school in the afternoon and Mum and I went to the evening service. Also, sometimes there would be choir practice.

If not, Dad would be waiting outside our gate and with friends we would go for a long walk . Sometimes we would walk through the fields up to the folly which was a stone tower built on the highest point in Pontypool Park.

During the second World War,the folly was taken down as it was considered to be a landmark which german airplanes could use when they were trying to bomb the ordinance factory which had been built underground at Glascoed.

The land at the left side of the properties was part of the old quarry some of which was used for gardens.  My father and our next door neighbour, built a dry stone wall using stone from the quarry to close off part of the quarry. They also widened the access to the cottages from Penygarn Road and cleared off the land in front of the cottages. Previously, deliveries of coal and anything of substance had to left on the side of Penygarn Road which was and still is very narrow. This was a big improvement as lorries could deliver to the individual cottages and the owners of the cottages could have cars.

Penygarn Road ran between the boundary wall of the cottages and the privately owned American Gardens. When I was a little girl, the brownies, girl guides and boy scouts were given permission to camp not far from the lake in the Gardens during the summer time. It was a magical place as the trees, rhodedendon and azalea bushes were so thick you could walk on the tops of them. It was so creepy and exciting.

The next thing Dad did was to build a new pigeon cot. He was a member of Pontypool Pigeon Racing Club and would take the pigeons he wanted to race in a cage to the railway station to be sent to the start of the race. When they got to their destination ,they were released by the guard or porter at a specified time and they flew all over the country. Dad would be waiting with corn in his hand, the pigeon would land and the ring on the pigeon's foot would be put into a pigeon clock. The bird with the fastest time was the winner and Dad successfully bred many birds. Dad's last prize was for Quarry Queen who had flown from Ripon in Yorkshire to Penygarn in the best time. His prize was an oil painting of the bird which hung on our wall for years.

The old pigeon cot was used by my friends and myself for dancing and singing particularly after seeing a matinee of a musical at the cinema such as ' Yankee Doodle Dandy ' in Mum's left off clothes. One of my friends was Jennifer Williams who became a TV and stage actress under the name of Jennifer Daniel.

As a family we all went to Pontypool Park on Bank holidays.Eric would enter the diving and swimming competitions at the lake and there was always a big crowd watching and shouting for Eric to win. They had show-jumping in the ring in the park which attracted the top riders and horses including Fox Hunter who had won a lot of major events and was always a favourite to win. There was motor bike scrambling to and from the grotto and motor bike speedway in the ring. There would be a large carnival with marching bands and lots of floats, Fairs and a circus. All of these went on for a number of days and was enjoyed by large crowds.

At other times there was rugby. My brother Jack played schoolboy international rugby. After Infants School, he went to Central School ( George Street ) and then worked at the Town Forge and Tirpentwys Colliery. He joined the Royal Marines at 17 years and 3 months and was in the marines for 24 years. He travelled all over the world and was one of the personal messengers attached to Winston Churchill when he went Quebec.

Eric also went to Central School ( George Street ) until he was 12 . He was getting top grades in his schoolwork and could have gone to West Monmouth School. Mum and Dad decided it was better if he went to Twmpath School until he was 14 and then go out to work possibly because there was a lot of work in the area at that time. So at 14 Eric went to work at a farm, worked at Pontypool Road junction on the steam engines and then at 17 and a half he joined the Royal Marines. As a strong swimmer he was a frogman but unfortunately perforated his ear drums and had to give this up. He retrained as a chef in the Royal Marines which helped him to follow a career in catering when he came out of the marines some time later.

I was at the Convent School for 8-9 years and then left to go to Twmpath School for one year. During that time , Twmpath had an Eisteddfod and I won the girls singing contest. I was asked to sing at the Salvation Army Hall but was told that I must not sing ' Bless this House' which seemed funny at the time.

When I left school, I went back to the Convent to get a reference. Sister Dominic was acting as reverend mother and said she could not remember me. I remembered her as she had hit me on the hand with a ruler many times. I was keen to be a nurse and got a place at a nurses training college in Stratford upon Avon but my parents would not let me leave home. So I went to work at the London Hosiery, Pontypool which had two shops opposite each other on the main street in the Town Centre. I worked in the gowns and suits department and became a window dresser. One of the highlights of working there was Mrs Doe, the manageress allowed us ,a few at a time ,to view the royal wedding of the Queen and Prince Philip on her TV.

I first met my future husband John in June 1951 when I went to New Inn to see my friend Barbara. She suggested going to the Tennis Courts in the school fields in New Inn and John was playing tennis there. John had just returned from Egypt where he had been doing his National Service in the RAF. He was tall, bronzed from his time in the sun and fair haired but I was not impressed as I thought he was a bit of a snob.

Later, we were to meet up at a dance in St Albans, Pontypool.  In those days all the girls would be in a group chatting at one end of the dance floor and the boys were at the other end looking at the girls they fancied. I was dancing with one of my regular dance partners when John came on the floor, tapped my partner on the shoulder and said 'excuse me' and took over the dance. John was not a very good dancer but he had a good line of chat and before we had finished dancing he said ' I am taking you home tonight'. He did not know at the time that we would have a good walk into town and then go up a very long steep hill to my home in Penygarn. On top of this he had to walk three miles home to New Inn. This was the first of many long walks we made as our love developed.

John lived at Woodfield Road, next to the School Fields in New Inn. He lived with his father Herbert who had been a roller in the steel works at Panteg, his mother Hilda who was a prominent member of the Labour Party in Pontypool and his niece Julie who was going to the Girls County School in Pontypool. John's sister Berenice had also gone to the Girls County School and had worked at Fowlers in Pontypool but was living in London.  John had been to West Monmouth School and at 16 he joined the Great Western Railway as a clerk at Blaenavon. It was January 1947 and the snow was so thick in Blaenavon you could walk on top of buses stranded in the main street and look into peoples bedrooms. When he transferred to Usk Station in May 1947, the snow was still in Blaenavon. He left the GWR at Usk to do his National Service in the Royal Air Force where ,after training ,he was posted to the Suez Canal zone in Egypt.. When we met he had decided not to rejoin the railway and was working at Girlings in Cwmbran.

When I was 18, we went to London to stay with John's sister Berenice and it was there that we decided to get engaged to be married. We decided to wait for two years before getting married as neither of us had any money and we needed to save up.

At the age of 19, I decided that I wanted a job where I would be free at weekends. I went for an interview at British Nylon Spinners and got a job in the experimental Laboratory. It was an interesting job -  I would put dyed stockings on shape formers for post- boarding treatment and they would then be tested for strength. I  also carried out wearer trials which involved wearing the stockings to work washing them and then testing them for colour and wear. I would do the same for underwear and materials.

On my 20th birthday, John and I married at St Mary's Church, Panteg and then went to Bournmouth for our honeymoon. We  came home from our honeymoon with the grand sum of £5.  For the first 18 months we lived in John's parents front room. We could not get a council house but after much pressure we managed to get a rented house in Croesyceiliog from the Cwmbran Development Corporation.

I left British Nylon Spinners when I was expecting our son Stephen John. He was born at Panteg Hospital and I was 24 years old. When I was nearly 27 I was expecting again so we bought a new house at Jerusalem Lane, New Inn just before our daughter Christine was born. Christine was born at Cefn Ila Nursing Home,near Usk after a middle of the night dash through the country in our car.  In both cases John was not allowed to go past the front door of the hospitals until the babies were born.

I decided to take Stephen and Christine to Sunday School. The Rector, Curtis Morgan said the children could not sing any hymns because no one could play a piano.So I voluntered to become a Sunday School Teacher and pianist. Once a month I would play the Organ in the Church which was not easy as I had not played an organ before. I was very nervous with my musical performances but I think the congregation enjoyed it.
Stephen and Christine went to New Inn Infants School and then to Green Lawn Junior School. Later Stephen went to the Wern Secondary School at Sebastopol, Griffithstown. Stephen suffered from asthma and the P.E teacher at the Wern thought every boy was a potential Welsh rugby star. He was an ex-Army man who was a brutal bully, he would hit the boys hard in the stomach to try toughen them up; all it did was terrify the boys and spoil their enjoyment of the rugby. So I went to the Headmaster and the P.E teacher and told them that if the P.E teacher hit my boy in the stomach again I would return and do the same to him. Everything settled down after that.
About this time my Dad retired at the age of 65. He had been working at Tirpentwys Colliery since he was a boy and had seen many changes.

Working conditions had improved with mechanisation and with the pit heads baths they now went home clean. He had been promoted to Shot Firer responsible for setting up explosives to blast out the coal in the mine. Unfortunately. after his retirement he had three strokes and died. Not much reward for over 50 years hard work. By this time my Mum and Dad had moved from the cottage in Penygarn to Groveside Villas in Pontnewynyd and then to Golf Road in New Inn. Dad was buried in the family grave at Panteg Cemetery.

A year before this my brother Jack died suddenly at the age of 46. This was a terrible shock to his wife Grace, to Mum , Dad , Eric and I and the rest of the family. Jack had been in the Royal Marines where, as a Royal Marine Commando, he had been in many conflicts during the war and afterwards at places like Suez. At the time he left the marines he was the R.S.M at the Eastney Barracks, Portsmouth. He had decided to settle in Brockworth, Gloucester and bought a house near Eric. Initially he worked as a Foreman at the Gloucester Works of ICI Fibres but then he and his wife Grace decided they would like to become pub landlords. They had been given a pub in Stroud to manage but,unfortunately, after a very short time he had a heart attack and died. No one could understand how this could happen to Jack who had to be strong to be a Commando. It was a terrible shock to his wife and my Mum and Dad never got over it. Jack's ashes were buried in the family plot at Panteg Cemetery and his name is the first on the gravestone.

John had experienced sadness before when his father had died in1963.  Herbert had worked hard as a roller in the steelworks which brought on a work related illness which aged him considerably and he died at 69. Like my Dad he was a victim of very hard work.

Not long after my Dad's death, Eric could see that his job at ICI in Gloucester may not last much longer and decided that he and his family would emigrate to Australia. Eric had left the Marines much earlier when he found that family life and service life did not mix. When he left the Marines he spent some time in the Midlands where he was a miner and then moved to Pontypool with his wife Joan, his son Paul and daughter Kerry. He lived in a house next door to Mum and Dad at Groveside Villas and, armed with his training as a chef in the Marines, he was able to take up an appointment in the catering department at the headquarters of British Nylon Spinners at Pontypool. Later he had transferred to the catering department at the Gloucester Works.

We were sad to see Eric going to Australia but could understand the reasons for doing it. When Eric and Joan were settled in Woolangong in New South Wales Mum went out for a long holiday which she really enjoyed. She had travelled on her own which was a tremendous achievement as she had never been abroad before.

In 1971 there was to be a big change in our lives. John who by then was the computer manager at ICI Fibres (previously British Nylon Spinners) had to move north with his job. ICI closed down the computer centre at Pontypool and we moved to Harrogate where John was employed as the systems manager. For some time after BNS and ICI Fibres Division merged in 1964 there were two headquarters and research sites, one at Pontypool, the other in Harrogate.

Although this was a new experience we were sad to leave our two mums behind on their own in New Inn as we had been very close to both of them.

We did not know at that time what lay ahead. There would be times of sadness when my Mum died in 1973 at 69 years of age and when John's Mum died much later in 1980 when she was 85.

On the other hand, we did not know that our son Stephen would marry Julie and that they would have two lovely daughters Amy and Vicky and that Amy and her husband Dan would present us with our first little great grandson Owen at the end of 2011. In addition, our first great-daughter Rosa Iris Julia was born in 2012. We did not know that our daughter Christine with her husband David would produce two super grandsons Samuel and Jacob.

We are fortunate to have such a loving family. We love them all.

We did not know that we would move from Harrogate in 1980 and that John's career would take us to Sussex where we live now.

We have lived in different places and we have travelled all over the world including Australia to visit my brother Eric and his lovely family.

But we still get a lump in our throats when we travel over the border into Wales and get all emotional when we go to the Millenium Stadium to see the rugby and hear the singing.

But that's part of our wonderful Welsh heritage.