Geraint welcomed a packed room to this our early Christmas session with our excellent panel who come with a wealth of knowledge of growing up in the local area.
He made reference to the planned Christmas Carol event on Tuesday 16th December at the Severn Arms. He encouraged members to come with, or as, donkeys or generally dress up for this special event.
Geraint told members that he, Derek, Mary and Richard had met to prepare a draft programme for next year. It might well be a surprise to some people to find themselves included, but he stressed it was work in progress and changes would be inevitable. We will not be meeting in January so the new programme will be finalised and given to members in time for Monday 2nd February 2015. Judith Dennison will be leading this session on the topic of Oral Histories.
1. Introductions and early years
Turning to his panel he said that this session would be unashamedly parochial as the panel had been selected to cover their personal experiences of growing up in this part of Radnorshire.
Geraint asked each of the panel to introduce themselves. At the risk of offending everyone he approached each member of the panel from the oldest to the youngest.
First up was Marjorie, 90 years old. Born in Llanbister, the family bought a farm in Norton, 320 acres. She was the youngest of 6 children and benefited from being looked after by her siblings.
One of her earliest memories is of her first day in Norton school when she sat with her older sister and asked her if she was allowed to cough!
Next up was Gwen, who is well over 80 years old, born at Haber nant Llanerhffraith near Abbeycwmhir, she is conscious that conversations with her brother in hospital often focus on: Who is ill? Who has died?
One of her earliest memories, at about 3 years old, was the rats, rats everywhere. She was 6 years old when she started school, because it was 2.5 miles away. She had to walk there and back each day. These were rural walks crossing styles and fields. She says she was not very good in school. A particular problem was learning to spell her own name – Gwendoline – she just could not get it right. The exasperated teacher gave up and sent her into the yard with her brother George, and after this session she never forgot it again. Her particular forte was colours. Her brother has written 2 books on their early home life – “Haber Nant Llan Nerch Freit: An Upbringing on a Radnorshire Hill Farm” and “Henfryn”.
Next up was John Abereley who is 83 years young. John lived at the Ffaldau. He attended school at Llandegley from 5 years to 14 years where he learnt to count to 10 and to spell CAT. Now at 83, If he manages just 4 more weeks he will have worked at Pritchard’s the Undertakers in Llandrindod Wells for 50 years. He started with Mr. Pritchard when he was offered a trial for 2 weeks. The job has taken him to almost every town in Great Britain. He even knows his way around London. As a boy he was used to working every day on the farm for no wages at all. His teachers at Llandegley School were Mrs Gould for the lower school, and then from the age of 11 years Mrs Pugh. Some children went on to secondary school but John’s interest was in starting work. Getting to school was a considerable challenge in bad weather as many walked large distances often in the pouring rain. They would bring sandwiches and drink cold tea for lunch – these were hard days.
Finally Geriant, who himself would be the next oldest member, called on Nehemiah, known as Miah, to introduce himself. Miah was born on the 1st March 1937 to honour the Patron Saint of Wales – He was lucky, but his parents were living through hard times.
The family farm was Cefn Prysgau which means “Back of the Hill”. He attended Llanbadenfawr School. One of his particular memories was taking cider to school to give the evacuees at break time. He laments the mechanisation of farming which has been so detrimental to the countryside and the occupations associated with farming. Villages have changed as the old characters who had particular roles have gone. E.g. Tom Botwood, who was a well-known poacher, who might have come out of the Forsythe Saga, nice man, with a bit of a drink problem, but he could catch fish with a pin, and catch and skin rabbits better than anyone.
Miah was particularly disappointed by the closure of Penybont market. So much of the heritage of the area was held in the market when the farmers met there every week and in the Severn Arms. He has fond memories of ‘Add-up’ Sid Bufton who had an amazing propensity for counting sheep. His son Glyn also had the ‘gift’. Sid had a walking stick and he could count the sheep that went by the stick with amazing speed. Discussion on counting sheep then followed, some members counted in 2’s while another did it in 4’s. Phil Kendrick felt that the best and most traditional method was to count the feet and divide by 4!?
2. War time memories
Marjorie walked about 1.5 miles to school at Norton. Her particular memory of those days were the woodland banks she walked through and seeing adders, slow worms, and grass snakes curled up sleeping in the sun.
Her ambition was to become a nurse but when the war came she had to return home to work. Her father moved the family to a farm on the Norton Manor Estate. A big gloomy 16th century farmhouse that was cold. Her mother had not seen the house before she and the family moved in but the children immediately enjoyed the potential of a house with 3 staircases.
Men working on the arm lived in so they had a big family to cater for. They killed 2 pigs each year and this gave enough meat for the year. It would take 2 to 3 days to cut and salt the meat. The family grew most of their own produce and they would exchange produce with the neighbours to get more variety.
Norton Manor was owned by a wealthy American lady, Mrs Meath, who left after war broke out leaving her son in charge. After Dunkirk the Manor was taken over by the military. Marjorie remembers working on the farm with the military around and carrying out manoeuvres. Going out was always a challenge as she would be greeted on her return with; “Who Goes there?” by the Army Sentries.
Marjorie had 2 bothers that were selected for duties, one as a shepherd and the other for horse duties.
Gwen remembered working on the farm from an early age. She would do everything or at least everything that was not limited by her height. Her lack of height meant that she did not have to do the washing up for three years.
Eventually the family acquired a tractor and she can remember having a Binder and a Deliverer. The Deliverer was a non-binding binder. It released the straw and then this needed to be tied by hand.
John’s most vivid memory was getting his first wage packet when he became a Postman at 14 years of age – 18 shillings 9 pence. Previously he had been used to working everyday on the farm, from a very early age, but on the farm there were no wages and no holidays. He did however remember a wonderful home life on the farm albeit the conditions of life were quite difficult. His mother was a great cook. She did a very fine bread and butter pudding. He remembers once staying in a hotel in Stratford and ordered bread and butter pudding – it was rubbish.
The day on the farm started with lighting a fire to boil the kettle. As soon as it was light work would start. Tools were all hand tools. They would then work until it became dark.
There was no running tap water on the farm and the ‘flush’ toilet meant that the toilet was built over the brook and the effluent being taken away downstream.
At the time John did not see life as ‘hard’, it was a ‘good life’, only looking back now he can see it a hard compared with the conditions of today.
Miah’s father had the milk round in Llandrindod Wells. He would cycle to town along the gravel roads having to push the cycle where it was impossible to ride. In the early days each farm would have a few cows but with increasing regulations father took over the milk round. Within the milk round there was a closeness and friendship that extended well beyond just delivering milk. They would check up on people who were not seen and fulfil an important community role.
The farm had 13 cows. The worst day he could remember was the day that TB was diagnosed in the herd. TB was the biggest curse in farming and it is still the same today. It was not too bad in the 1950s but they did start to go out of county to buy cows. It was felt that you could not trust the cows in the locality. Mr. Oakley at Brynawel got a Guernsey cow to improve the milk but this cow infected all of the other stock in the area. Miah recently sold all his stock due to TB.
Miah is not sure about describing conditions on the farm as ‘hard’, they however very different. There was a much greater sense of neighbourliness. People supported and helped each other. They moved to Llwynmelyn in 1984, these were good days, full of ambition. He feels that, though life was challenging, they were happier, he had had a good family life along with his wife and 2 children. The business was good, people always needed to eat and they always had something to sell. They had good neighbours and they helped and supported each other. (Except of course for John Phillips who has completely lost his way! With a nod and a wink to John who was in the group.)
3. Growing-up After the War
After the war, Marjorie remembered having no petrol and no car, but there was a good bus service. They would take a basket of eggs to market on a Thursday. Her family rented a farm at Kinnerton from Thompson Newens at Norton Court, the rent sometimes being paid as meals.
Miah said that most of the farms in Radnorshire were rented from the Estates and that the break-up of these Estates was a sad, if not tragic, loss. It is now almost impossible for young people to get a foothold in farming due to the cost of farms. A farm locally had recently sold for over a million pounds! Even if the finance could be raised there would be no way of getting a return on this sort of investment.
Gwen’s family went into Agricultural Contracting. You name it she did it except for the ploughing and combining. Miah indicated that Farmer Lawrence was one of the best.
4. Home Life
In the home there was an order to the week based on the various duties that women were principally responsible for. Men did not help in the house and did not look after the children (some members indicated that little has changed in the Radnor farming community).
The week would look something like:
• Monday – Washing Day
Mother would be working from 8.30 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. Getting the fire going to heat the copper; carrying water in to fill it; Scrubbing with the washboard; then with the washing out on the line there would be time to clean boots, etc. (Miah said his wife still followed this routine).
• Tuesday – Ironing Day
• Wednesday – Bed changing day
• Thursday – Baking Day
The essential ingredients for bread making were flour, water, salt and yeast. The bread oven would be lit using sticks and got up to a high temperature. First into the hottest oven would be the Tarts as this was too hot for bread. Bread would be next, and then this would be followed by the cakes as the oven became cooler. (Memories of the bacon rind and fat coming out of the oven raised the saliva content within the room considerably.)
• Friday – Feathering Day
Birds for market would be prepared. Some might be taken around town or to the Rock Spa.
The Working Day for the men was also quite full-on. John would take two canteens of milk in his bike to sell before he went on to Pritchard’s the Undertakers to do a full day’s work. In season he would supply the Greengrocer opposite the Metropole, Giles, with potatoes, peas, and other vegetables grown at home.
Marjorie remembers people coming to the back door to buy milk and even the Blacksmith selling milk. Her mother, who had difficulty walking, would take butter around the village. When the troops were around the Sergeant’s mess would need milk by 7.00 a.m.
5. Leisure Time and Entertainment
Memories of pictures at Presteigne. Particular memories included the films breaking down quite often to be followed by choruses of “Why are we waiting?” and the stamping of feet. There were regular fights when the young men of the area let off steam. There was a memory of a fight between a member of the Home Guard and someone’s brother who ended up with his nose broken.
On Sundays Marjorie would go to Sunday School, return home to do chores, and then change again for Chapel. She would listen out for the 8 bells ringing from the church at Presteigne. If she met someone and started chatting and the bells stopped she then knew she would be late.
Gwen can remember going on holidays to her Aunt who was a schoolteacher in Aberystwyth. Gystre Chapel went on a Sunday School outings to Rhyl and Barry Island. The May Fairs at Penybont were very exciting as were those at Knighton. She had a particular memory of being given a £1 note by her father and nearly falling down the stairs in shock.
Miah’s recreational memories were focused mainly around football, starting around the Crossgates Youth Team. Ray Price and Miah started at the same time. League football gave him the opportunity to meet people outside the area. He would travel to games in Philip Davies motor bike and sidecar. When his mother got in once and she felt that her bottom was trailing along the ground. She hand never been so scared, never again!
Miah went on to play for Wales 3 times and scored a goal against Ireland. Miah feels it was a great honour for himself and he has been overjoyed to put his ‘cap’ on his grandson’s head.
6. Young Farmers
Marjorie pre-dated Young Farmers. Gwen was a founder member. She remembers it primarily for the opportunity to learn new skills and interests – dressing chickens, making butter, grasses growing locally, and going on County walks.
Miah told members that John A will be remembers for Baby Clown outfit he wore at a Young Farmer’s Rally at Walton. He had everyone in stitches. John was the County Treasurer of Young Farmers for many years.
Gwen talked about joining the WI in 1949 with Mabel who had a bike. They had a system for getting to the meetings earlier. Mabel would ride ahead for a bit, then shove the bike in a ditch. Gwen would then get to the bike on foot and then catch up with Mabel on the bike. Mabel would go on ahead again and repeat the process!
Another bike story related to brothers who travelled on bike and handlebar to the Abbeycwmhyr Male Voice Choir leading to some very sore shoulders.
When electricity started to arrive in the late forties and early fifties, put in by Trotter, the great joy was to watch Brian Rix farces on TV.
Back on the farm there were ever present dangers. Cattle in particular could be difficult. A cow with a young calf is particularly dangerous.
Breeds of cattle have changed over the years to meet market demands for leaner meat and for the cattle to mature more rapidly. Herefords are currently making something of a comeback as there is more demand for fat with the meat. Farms and farmers are all different and different breeds can suit different situations.
During the war work on the farms was done by the girls from the Land Army. They were popular for the work that they did on the farms but they were also popular as there was a shortage of women in the countryside. The woman mostly came from Liverpool.
7. Christmas Day
On Christmas Day letters were still delivered. John remembered his first Christmas with a bit of a headache. He was offered a wee drop at the first farm. Being a non-drinker he tried to refuse but “A wee drop won’t hurt.” Well this story was repeated at each farm until he and his bike ended up in the ditch. When asked if he was alright all he could say was: “I’m drunk!”
Gwen has recently written an article on her childhood memories of Christmas for a magazine locally. Preparations really began in earnest on Christmas Eve:
• Washing and dusting before putting up the decorations
• Putting up the red bell
• She would have made decorations at school and these would be hung
• Mince pies would be made in the bread oven
• She remembers that her mother was not the best icer!
• There would be work to do on the farm on Christmas Day.
• Marjorie as one of three children would have presents
• There would be feathering to do
There would be the same routine on the farm on Christmas Day but there would be goose for dinner.
Memories of sugar pigs, dolls, and believing in Father Christmas were shared.
Miah would deliver milk on Christmas Day – what else would you do with it?
He remembers the families with toys and those where there was nothing but sad faces. One of the stories of the time was about an event involving David Davies MP (Liberal):
At Llanyre Mr Davies stopped to pick a lady up with chickens and eggs, pudding and milk. She told him on the journey about her very hard life finishing with the plea: “I would give anything to get out!” Arriving at their destination all Mr Davies could say was: “Listen missus you will have to get out.”
Geraint thanked the Panel and everyone for their wonderful contributions.
Judith will be leading the next session which will be at the Thomas Shop at 10.30 a.m. on Monday 2nd February 2015.