Archive for August, 2008

West Mon forms six and seven

August 27, 2008

West Mon Six Arts 1947

 

Once I’d got used to the idea of starting at West Mon in Form Two, class titles from then on progressed numerically upwards until we eventually reached Form Five where we took the Oxford matriculation exam. Forms Four and Five were sub-divided into Five Science and Five Arts in order to allow us to choose which subjects we wished to take for the matric. We normally took eight subjects and in order to gain a matric we had to get at least five credits and three passes. If we failed in just one subject and wished to try again it meant taking all the subjects again and not just the one we’d failed.

If we obtained a matric we then had the option of staying on for another two years to take the Oxford Higher School Certificate examination. Usually this was in three chosen subjects, though, if you were exceptionally bright, you were allowed to take four. Standards in those days were very high indeed and I only knew one boy who took four subjects; we all regarded him as a genius.

Sixth forms were quite small at that time as it was possible to leave school at fifteen and most boys wanted to leave school to start work. The final year for the Higher exam was Form Seven, either arts or science. Both forms were housed in the upper reaches of the New Building. New boys thought this was fitting, as from those hallowed heights, were chosen the prefects who kept us in order. They were regarded as living on a scholastic Mount Olympus. 

It was a great and important day for me when I entered Form Six Arts. There were only eight or nine of us in the form as you can see in the photograph, and we were housed in a small room to the right of the main door as you entered; it was opposite the library. Today it is the reception area. The room accommodated about ten desks and the teacher’s desk and was quite a cosy arrangement.  Our classroom window is just off the photograph, top right.

 

This second photograph is an enlargement of the boys in the class just in case any visitors can recognise a relative or friend – or, of course, themselves! One of the boys in the form took the photograph and perhaps there might be one member missing. Sadly I’ve forgotten some of the names but I know that the boy on the left of the front row is Donald Francis whom I met some years ago in Newport when he was curate of  St Julius and Aaron Church in Heather Road. The one on the right of the front row is T.R.Bryant whom I think was a very good snooker player and lived in the Talywain area. I am on the left of the back row and next to me is Keith Luton who also lived in Wainfelin. Next to him is Peter Jones who was a very good cricketer and, on a few occasions, played cricket with us on The Circle at Wern Terrace. There are a few names I can’t remember. Sorry about that, gentlemen, but, it’s been a long time! My further apologies if any of the details are not quite accurate.

One of the advantages of being in the sixth form was that we were allowed much more freedom and we were allowed to leave the school premises to visit the tuck shop and so on. We were even allowed to use the hallowed, tree-lined school drive. The other boys had to walk down the road outside.

At the end of my sixth form year my parents moved to Cardiff. I joined them for the holidays but decided to remain at West Mon for one more year to complete my Higher course. I had various offers to stay with relatives so, on the face of it, there seemed no problem. I had made a number of friends in Pontypool and places nearby and didn’t want to be parted from them. In September I moved over to the New Building into Seven Arts. Wow! I’d made it! 

But living with kind relatives was not quite the same as living at home with my family. I missed them a lot more than I’d anticipated so, after about six weeks or so, I decided to leave West Mon and attend a school near my new Cardiff home. Sadly I said goodbye to all my friends. In a matter of days I was attending Howard Gardens High School where I was pleasantly surprised that the good name of West Mon had gone before me and I was welcomed with open arms; I hadn’t realised that my old school had enjoyed such status. I had been expecting to move into the equivalent of Seven Arts which at Howard Gardens was Upper Six Arts, but, unfortunately there was just one snag: my Higher subjects had been English Literature, Art and French, but, at Howard Gardens French and Art were alternatives. I had no option but to move into Lower Six Arts and to study economics instead of French. I had to start the Higher course all over again!

Lower Six Arts was, again, a very small class of just nine boys but they were a friendly bunch and we had three wonderful teachers which made my two years a very happy time. I was appointed editor of the school magazine and was chosen to play for the school cricket team. (All that practice at The Circle had finally paid off!) There was one occasion when I was chosen to play for the school rugby team, and guess who our opponents were . . . you’ve guessed it . . . West Mon.

 

For any old Mestmonians who might read this, I have been sent the following information which might be of interest:

 

Subject: West Mon RFC INFO and Diary Dates

1 Fixtures and other useful information can be found on the club’s website www.westmonrfc.co.uk 

2 After waiting 59 years for its first victory over Forge Side, the club followed it up on Saturday with a 21-10 win over the top of the valley side.  In true Forge Side tradition, they didn’t take defeat too well.

3 As part of the 60th anniversary celebrations, the club will be holding a former players’ and associates’ day on Saturday 7th March when it entertains Abersychan.

4 The club has available a limited number of ties to commemorate the anniversary and can be purchased at a price of £10.  If interested email

Wccoughlan @aol.com, with your order………and hurry because they are going fast

5 This year’s Xmas Golf Day is being held on Friday 28th November 08 at the Alice Springs Golf Course.  More info to follow shortly.

Regards

Gary

www.westmonrfc.co.uk

Murder most foul in Pontypool

August 25, 2008

I always regarded Pontypool as a quiet sort of place and not to be compared in any way with Chicago or London in the criminal league.

The first crime I remember – a relatively minor one – was perpetrated against my own family only a year or two after we’d moved to School Lane. My father was a keen gardener and had planted a small orchard of seven apple trees in the half of the garden near the house. We were all thrilled when quite a number of apples appeared on the trees and we watched their growth with great interest waiting for the day we could pick and eat them.

One Sunday evening, on returning home from Park Terrace Methodist Church, we were dismayed to see that someone had taken advantage of our absence and had picked every apple, except one, off the trees. At that time the field was next to our house and the fence consisted of only three strands of wire which made for easy access.

My father made extensive enquiries of local children, some of whom had seen the dirty deed, and he was told that “It was Paddy Hanford’s gang”. Apparently he was a character who lived somewhere in the Broadway area. As a result of this, my father bought a great dane dog to discourage this sort of thing from happening again. We called him Ras, and when he was a year old, he stood six feet tall on his hind legs. Naturally we had no further trouble with intruders of any sort.

But the crime which shook all Pontypool to the core was the murder of William Alfred Lewis known as “Dripping” Lewis. He was a 59 year old bachelor who lived at Plasmont, Conway Road. He was known as “Dripping” because of his liking for eating dripping sandwiches which were quite popular at that time. In my four journeys to and from Town School every day I passed his house regularly. As there was a high stone wall around it and a large gate in the corner, little could be seen of the house itself so it was easy to pass it without really noticing it.

A clipping from the Free Press at the time of the murder

Mr Lewis had been a draper at Cwm, Ebbw Vale until 1931. His unmarried sister lived with him at Plasmont until she died in 1936. The body of the victim was discovered by Thomas Brimble, a builder and decorator of Abersychan on Wednesday 24th May 1939. He had been working for some time on renovation work at Mr Lewis’s house. The milkman told Mr Brimble that the milk he had left on Monday was still in the two jugs and had not been used. That was when Mr Brimble went into the house to investigate. He found Mr Lewis’s body sprawled across his bed with a pillow over his face. He contacted the police at once.

Scotland Yard was informed and four of their officers came to investigate. They discovered that Mr Lewis had suffered several blows to the back of the head but could find no weapon nor any other clues. They later discovered that about £300 was missing from the house: £200 in rents from the houses and shops in the area owned by Mr Lewis and £100 worth of gold jewellery.

A post mortem later established that Mr Lewis had died on Monday 22nd May from shock brought on by his severe injuries.

The murderer was never caught but there was a tremendous amount of talk about the event for a long time afterwards.

Pontypool’s big freeze of 1941

August 19, 2008

It was during the winter of 1941 that we had the big freeze. January had been very cold and it was followed by heavy snow falls in February. We had no warning as it happened so suddenly. Northerly and north-easterly winds had kept the temperature down very low for a long period One winter night it rained heavily, then, very quickly the ground temperature dropped massively causing every drop of rain that fell to freeze on whatever it landed.

Consequently, when we woke up the following morning we witnessed both beauty and tragedy. The branches, twigs and leaves on every tree were coated in a layer of ice; they looked as though they were in a glass casing. It was a beautiful sight that I shall never forget.

Unfortunately all the telegraph wires were also coated in ice and the weight of it made them hang down in great clusters. Some were so heavy that they snapped and were strewn on the ground in frozen bundles.

On that day I had to go to Pontnewynydd for some reason or other; I can’t remember what it was but it might have been either to take my mother’s grocery list to Wheeler’s shop or to visit Osborne Cottage (https://oldpontypool.wordpress.com/2008/08/04/osborne-cottage-at-pontnewynydd). I wrapped up warm against the freezing cold and set out. Naturally there were all sorts of frozen patches and puddles on the roads but I managed to negotiate them without too much difficulty. Wainfelin Road, being flat, was not too bad either, but as I turned the corner to approach the top of Merchant’s hill things became precarious and I started to slither about on the slope.

My journey down Merchant’s Hill was even more difficult and I had a job to stay on my feet as I walked around the frozen patches. But what a sight met my eyes at the bottom of the hill. From there to the Pavilion cinema is a large wide and flat stretch and evidently the rain falling on the hills at both ends had run down onto that area. Consequently it looked like a skating rink with thick ice all over it. It was quite impossible to walk around this area as it completely covered the road, so I was compelled to walk over the huge area of solid ice slithering all over the place in the process.

My return journey was no less hazardous, and climbing back up Merchant’s Hill was even worse than walking down. I was very glad when School Lane came in sight; it had been a very tiring walk.  When I was in sight of my house, Garfield, I walked past the hedge which still skirted the side of the field at that time. I tapped some of the twigs to see if the ice would fall off. But it didn’t, instead the whole twig just snapped off the bush.

When the temperature rose again the ice melted but it left behind an unbelievable amount of damage. It was weeks before some of the overhead cables were repaired, but it was a unique experience and I’ve never seen anything like it since. The temperature continued to remain low until the third week of June when, to everyone’s relief we had four weeks of warm sunny weather.

The good people of Pontypool help the war effort

August 10, 2008

There were all sorts of ways we were urged by the government to help the war effort. As a young boy, after all the things Hitler had done to upset me, I was ever ready to join in.

When I was in the top class in Town School, the government, in an effort to keep all us kids happy and healthy, introduced free milk for all children – well, all those who wanted to drink it. I loved drinking milk so I decided to help the war effort in this direction. We all had a one third of a pint bottle every day, plus a straw. There was an extra spin-off for those of us in top class: Mr Petty had to appoint two “milk crate boys” each day to carry between us, in a metal milk crate, the number of bottles required around to each class. This was a job, if carefully handled, which could be stretched out to half an hour or more which meant missing most of a lesson. Later, we returned to collect the empty bottles. Also, someone was appointed as “straw monitor” to give out the straws for that day. The girls were also allowed to do this job, but, as it was done in a matter of minutes inside the classroom, it wasn’t such a popular job. I noticed that, as the eleven-plus exam drew nearer, Mr Petty was reluctant to appoint those of us “trying for West Mon” to be milk crate boys, which I thought was grossly unfair. In the winter months, when the milk was very cold, we were allowed to place the milk bottles near the stove to warm them. There was a keen sense of rivalry to try to get our bottle as near the fire as possible.

milkHere you can see one of the milk crates we used to carry
around when giving out the milk. One little lad is busy
drinking his milk through a straw.

Mr Petty urged us all to fill every corner of our exercise books and the covers before asking for another. He stressed the fact that our sailors were risking their lives in merchant ships to bring the paper for the books. His pep talks touched our sense of patriotism so we really did fill our books to the limit. Mr Petty was also the teacher in charge of National Savings, so every Monday we took along some of our savings to buy sixpenny saving stamps. When we had saved up fifteen shillings’ worth of stamps on a card, this could be exchanged for a savings certificate. For those of us a bit short of the “ready”, it was possible to buy a red penny stamp to put on a smaller card. When we had six stamps we could exchange them for a sixpenny stamp. Thus we loaned money to the government. We didn’t buy battle-ships exactly but we all did our bit with the little we had. Announcements were made from time to time about how well we were doing with our savings and towns were asked to sponsor a naval vessel. I remember Pontypool sponsored HMS Kittiwake which I think was a small frigate or something like that.

From time to time a salvage drive would be organised by the government. All our unwanted pots and pans, buckets etc were taken to a large shop almost opposite the top entrance to the market in Crane Street. Volunteers sorted it all into piles of aluminium and iron etc. ready to be recycled and made into aircraft and other weapons of war. Some churches, householders and other owners of buildings sacrificed their railings for the salvage drives; many have never been replaced.

We were also urged to “Dig for Victory” by planting every inch of our gardens to produce vegetables and other food which meant importing less. Some people dug up their lawns, and Penygarn School even dug up sections of Pontypool Park which was near them. I remember wandering up to inspect their handiwork at one time when I happened to be playing in the park.

In the darker days when we thought there was a possibility of Hitler invading our shores, we were all warned not to spread rumours or speak out loud any war secrets we might know such as where our brothers were serving in the forces. The posters warned that “Walls have ears”, though, at the time I was unaware of any important secrets I might have known which would have been any use to Hitler. We were further asked to surrender all the maps we owned of the local area just in case Hitler’s soldiers found them and would be helped to find their way about the country. In retrospect, I hardly think the maps of the Welsh valleys would have been much use to him. On several occasions, when driving in the upper reaches of some of our valleys, suitably armed with an up-to-date map, I still get lost; and I live here and speak the language. I think we could have posted those maps to Hitler; he still wouldn’t have found his way around the Welsh valleys.

Osborne Cottage at Pontnewynydd

August 4, 2008

OSBORNE COTTAGE AT PONTNEWYNYDD

Osborne Cottage by Fred Hando 1960

Most people in Pontypool will know of Osborne Road; some of the older ones might remember Osborne Forge, but fewer will know of Osborne Cottage. If you walk down Mill Street in Pontnewynydd and turn left over the bridge, you will see Osborne Cottage to your right at the bottom of Church Lane, which is the old Roman Road which continues over the hill to Mamhilad passing near the Folly Tower. The river Avon Llwyd runs alongside.

I understand the name “Osborne” to be a curruption of  “Osmond” which was the name given to an iron which was produced in Northern Europe many centuries earlier. A proclamation by Charles I in 1630 declared that, as English wire was made of the finest Osmond iron, the importing of foreign wire was prohibited. When the iron industry started in Gwent, Osborne iron was produced at Tintern Wire Works in 1763. This was drawn out of a furnace in thin square bars.

Osborne Cottage, which is now well over 400 years old, has a special place in my memories of Pontypool because for many years it was the home of my paternal grandparents and, later, of my aunt Eve who survived them. Originally the building had been two separate cottages but, when I knew it, it was joined together as one. The fact that there was a staircase at each end of the building was evidence of this.

My brothers and I often visited the cottage. You can imagine the fun three young boys would have chasing one another around a house with a staircase at each end. It was a glorious place to play hide-and-seek. Also, it had a very large garden where pigs, chickens and ducks were kept. Water ran into the garden from the hills behind  providing a small duck pond and a permanent “flush” for the outside toilet which led directly into the river.  There was also a spring which we called “the well” which supplied all the water for those living in the cottage. Of course it had to be carried up the path to the cottage in enamel pails. It was really pure water and very, very cold; after drinking it my throat would often feel frozen. But one good thing about it was that, even in severe drought conditions it had never been known to dry up or even reduce much in volume. The overflow maintained a constant supply of water for the watercress bed on the lower part of the garden. These wet conditions produced a large supply of blackcurrants, raspberries, gooseberries and loganberries. We were told by our grandparents to help ourselves to this fruit – so we did.

The other water supply was a very large butt of rainwater which you can see at the right hand side of the building in Hando’s drawing above. It was kept constatntly full from the guttering above. It was not pure enough for drinking but was used for washing garden tools and utensils and watering plants etc. My aunt always washed her hair in it and she had a wonderfully soft head of hair right into her nineties.

A few steps down from the cottage and to the left was the wash-house with a small coal-house at the rear. The coal was shovelled in through a small window facing the lane outside. My memory tells me that the wash-house was somewhat larger than the building depicted in the Hando drawing. (This is borne out by my 1948 photograph below.) As its name suggests, its main use was for doing the laundry and on wash-day it was a hive of industry. The water would be boiled on the fireplace in a huge iron cauldron and poured into a wooden washing machine which was divided vertically into three sections and lined with zinc. The clothes and boiling water were placed in the first section and soap added. This had a lid which, when closed, enabled a wooden paddle to be agitated to clean the clothes. They were then transferred into clean water in the second section and the soap washed out. Finally they were led through a large mangle with huge wooden rollers into the dry third section. Sometimes I was allowed to turn the handle to do this job. The clothes were finally pegged onto a wooden rack which was hauled up to the ceiling to enable them to dry. This was a very early precursor of our present day washing machines.

Osborne Cottage 1948

Another use of the wash-house – every single day – was to boil the swill for the pigs. All the family kept our vegetable peelings and odd food to be taken to the cottage for the pigs. It was boiled in the cauldron, then a bran mash was added; I can recall that wonderful smell even now. The pigs, in their stye at the bottom of the garden, would soon get a whiff of their food and would set up a continuous squealing until it was delivered into their trough. It was a source of amusement for us to see them put their feet in the trough as they ate the food.

From time to time one of the pigs would be slaughtered by a friend of the family who was trained in the job, and I remember seeing the huge sides of salted bacon hanging in the living room from the stout beams. We were often given pieces of this meat to take home for our own pantry at Wern Terrace.

One of my favourite sights was the collection of tiny chicks which were kept in a small wire-netting run with their mother hen on the little lawn in front of the cottage. I shall always remember one visit when my grandmother was cradling in her lap a cracked egg. Soon a little yellow chick’s head popped out to be followed by the rest of him. I was thrilled.

To the right of the small porch on the front of the cottage was a narrow border. One of the items growing there was a large fuchsia bush. When I bought the house I now live in, I was looking for bushes for my front garden and was given some pieces of the root of this fuchsia. They are both still growing just outside my front door, and, each year, when they flower, I have a constant reminder of Osborne Cottage.

A photograph of Osborne Cottage taken round about 1957.
The two figures are my father and Aunt Eve.

My rendering of Osborne Cottage as it is today in 2008