The Gregories of Cwmffrwdoer

I’ve previously mentioned my aunt Phyllis who taught in Town School Infants. She married Percy Gregory and went to live in the house above the shop in Hanbury Road, Cwmffrwdoer. Years before, during the hard times of the depression, Uncle Percy’s father had built up a thriving business in the shoe trade by allowing people to have new shoes and to pay for them in instalments. Repairs were also carried out on the premises.

I always admired my Uncle Percy. He was the sort of person sometimes described as a “gentle giant”. He was full of energy and always willing to help anyone. He was a member of Pontypool Toc H for many years. At the front of the house above the shop was the store room which contained hundreds of boxes of shoes and nearby was a very steep flight of wooden steps which led down to a door into the fitting room. It was almost vertical and, whenever I went down it, I carefully hung onto the rail at the side and was terrified in case I should fall. Consequently I was filled with wonder whenever I saw Uncle Percy descend those steps. He would put one hand on the rail and then jump down four of five steps, then another few and leap down the rest. I was always amazed at this daring feat.

The three Gregory children, Michael, Anthony and Vera, were of course, our cousins and, although they were some years younger than my brothers and me, we always looked forward to visiting them. The whole family were very active in the local Pontnewynydd Methodist Church.

They were a very generous family and we always felt welcome when we visited the house. During the war years they invariably put on a party when either of my brothers were home on leave from the forces. Aunt Phyll, somehow or other, even managed to produce sausage rolls as part of the fare, a great luxury at that time. And then, at Christmas time, there was the round of parties at our various houses on three or four evenings. When my grandparents were alive, the Christmas Day party was always at Osborne Cottage.

It was in the greenhouse at the back of the Gregory’s house that I first came across yellow tomatoes. During the growing season, Aunt Phyll was always generous in providing us with a bagful to take home whenever we visited.

But the place which fascinated me most was the wooden workshop which was also in the back garden. As a young lad I always asked to go there to see Uncle Percy and also his father repairing shoes. I marvelled at their skill and speed. First of all they would use a short but deadly sharp knife to cut out the new sole from a large sheet of leather. Then they would take a small handful of black tacks and put them up to their mouth, almost as if to swallow them, but instead they merely held them between their lips. Then, using a long iron bar, which looked to me rather like a file, they would take a tack out of their mouth, place it in position on the sole of the shoe and with one hefty bang drive it in, then another and another in quick succession. I was always amazed at the skill, speed and precision with which they did this. Then they’d take another handful of tacks and continue right around the sole of the shoe until it was all firmly in place. Then they performed something else I loved to watch. They would take a special hot iron with a wooden handle and apply molten black wax all around the edge of the sole, making it look like new.

Michael Gregory lived at Osborne Cottage for some years and it was while he was there that he started teaching at West Mon School. I have had several emails from former pupils who remember him as a very popular teacher who treated then as grownups rather than boys. He later gave up teaching to become a Methodist minister with very successful ministries in both Abergavenny and Bristol. Sadly it was while he was ministering in Bristol that he died about nine years ago. His wife, Maureen, died shortly after him.

Anthony also became a Methodist minister and has been very successful,  with his wife, Elma in ministering to the people of Tenby.

Vera is still living in Pontnewynydd not very far from the old shoe shop which, I understand, has now been converted into a house.

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9 Responses to “The Gregories of Cwmffrwdoer”

  1. Michael Edwards Says:

    Thank you for your interesting site. My grandmother’s address on her marriage cerificate from 1911 is: Freehold Land, Boot Stores, Pontnewynydd, Abersychan. Her name was May Griffith and her brothers’ names were Archer and Ted. I wonder if it is the same store that you mention. Were there a number of boot stores or just one? My grandfather (John Edwards) was lodging at Rock House, Manor Road, Abersychan and is recorded on the certificate as a boot and shoe maker. They were married in Noddfa Baptist Chapel, Abersychan. Thank you again for your article.

    Mike Edwards, Llantrisant

    • Julia rees Says:

      there was a shoe shop in Cwmffrwdoer which was still open around 1980. I used to buy my kids shoes there. I remember the Gregory family well. Did you know that there was a boot factory in Abersychan? It was situated on High Street, at the bottom of Factory Lane. I remember it as derelict in the early 1960’s. BTW, locals called Freehold Land ‘freeolan’. I was a member of Noddfa Baptist Church for many years. It started life as a Welsh Baptist, in opposition to High Street English Baptist just 100 yards down the road. By the time I was there from the ’60s the only remnants left of the language was the name plate – Y Noddfa – and some Welsh inscriptions on the tomb stones.

  2. amos2008 Says:

    I don’t think the shop you refer to is the same as the Gregory’s shop as that was in Hanbury Road which is about a mile away from Freehold Land. Both shops would have been there at the same time but there were a number of shoe shops in Pontypool and Pontnewynydd.

  3. Clive Barnby Says:

    Just some incidental remarks and reminiscences in response to Mike’s contribution. (Again incidentally, it’s interesting, Mike, you have “ended up” in Llantrisant, me not that far away in Pontypridd !! )

    I didnt get up to Pontnewynydd a lot as a boy – mainly the Pavilion, and rarely much beyond even tho’ my grandfather (mother’s stepfather) Wiliam Mahoney, was from Abersychan – the British, I think. I believe his father had emigrated from Ireland (like many others) to seek work in the mines. His parents died before I was born & he may have had brothers & sisters (& other relatives) but I dont recall his ever having contact with, or even referring to, them.

    While at West Mon there was a Lynn Targett, a clever rugby player, who later played fly-half for Pontypool one season – 66/67 I think, possibly after Phil Morgan, another Westmonian, left Pontypool to “go north”. Lynn lived in Freeholdland, and a Roger (Onk) Richards lived a few doors from him. “Onk” was originally from Abertillery or Ebbw Vale but his parents must have moved, & he then came to West Mon. While there he tended to play hooker for the school teams. His favoured position was scrum-half but there were a couple of good players like Ronny Davies & Peter Evans who “forced” him to play elsewhere.

    I was in 6Arts with both Lynn & Roger. Lynn stayed on throughout the 7th form but Roger left after his year in the 6th. I dont think we saw him a lot in class as he played rugby for the school & Pontypool Youth. The next time I saw Roger was Easter 67 when he turned out for a few games at scrum-half for Pontypool partnering Lynn at fly-half. . . but the following season they then seemed to “disappear” from the scene.

    Years later I “caught up” with Lynn. Apparently, he & Roger decided to pack in their jobs, the rugby, to tour Europe, paying their way by getting casual jobs. They got to France but, unfortunately, the 68 strikes, the student “troubles”, intervened & they had to return home. They both decided to go into teaching, & expected to go to Caerleon & get jobs locally. As it turned out, Lynn went to a college in Cumbria, & taught that way for a few years before moving to Hampshire. He retired some years ago to live in Dorset.

    Roger went to a college in the Midlands & after a teaching career, like Lynn, he retired in his early 50s & went to live in France !!

  4. Clive Barnby Says:

    Yes, John is my uncle – my mother’s step-brother. Because he was a lot younger than my mother, he was really like an older brother & we both lived with my grandparents in North Road. John went to Town School, won a scholarship to go to Monmouth School but decided he didnt want to go there, & went to West Mon. Was he there with you, David, or perhaps a year or two behind?

    John was never that keen on school work at West Mon, & left at the age of 15 or it might even have been 14, to work in the offices at Panteg. After national service in the RAF, he got a job at “The Dump” (Glascoed). My grandparents werent that pleased because the steelworks had said they’d take him back & the job there was a “white-collar” one.

    Nevertheless, he did quite well at Glascoed, became their labour officer at a relatively young age & a year or two later moved on to a post as industrial relations manager at another of the Royal Ordnance’s establishments in Renfrewshire, Scotland, where he still lives. Unfortunately, Shirley, his wife died a couple of years ago. He has a son, Paul, who returned to south Wales.

    I hope you are “OK” with this kind of thing on your blog. Of course, my days in Pontypool were a little after yours but to some extent it’s about the “unsung” personalities & history of the town. And, you never know, some of these names, places, events, might mean something to someone browsing it.

  5. Elizabeth Says:

    I enjoyed reading about the Gregories. I have very fond memories of the shop and the owners. My parents always insisted on my three sisters and myself having good leather shoes on our feet. And the Gregories were invaluable to my parents to make sure we got the best. We lived in Edward Street Pontypool. I used to get so excited when I had new shoes (still do actually). I loved everything about getting them. The walk to the shop, the smell of new shoe as you walked through the door, the fuss I got from Mr and Mrs Gregory, looking at the little shoes in the glass cabinet in the front of the shop, the seats, stools with mirrors, and stacks of boxes of shoes in the fitting room, having my feet measured, choosing my shoes and last but not least watching Mr Gregory adeptly packing our shoes in brown paper tied with string …… Sometimes I would be allowed to wear my new shoes home, so Mr Gregory would put my old shoes in a the box and pack them in the same way. Years later when I had children of my own the tradition of going to Gregories for good leather shoes continued but for both my sons the memories are of the young Mr Gregory (Anthony) who taught my two sons to tie their shoes with the two loop bow method, which my youngest son (now 33) has continued to use. I am glad this site popped up whilst I was looking for information about Pontypool Japan Ware. Lovely memories!! Thank you

  6. Barry Says:

    I remember the Gregory family from my schoolboy days. I lived in Walsall in the West Midlands as it is now known and for several years was fortunate to be able to spend most of my long summer holidays in Cwmffrwdoer with my favourite Aunty & Uncle who lived in Hanbury Road, just down from Gregory’s shop. Aunty Phyll worked in the shop for many years and I remember the kindnesses that were hallmarks of the Gregory family.

  7. Phil Jones Says:

    Wow how interesting! I just googled Florence Mabel Gregory and up popped this. Florence was my great grandmother who’s father was Joseph. He was down on Florence’s marriage cert as a collier but I was told he too was a publican later on. I believe the pub was in Bristol. Does anyone know if the Gregory’s were from gypsie origins . I am told by 2nd cousins that they were.

  8. Denise Newlands Says:

    I now live in what was the Gregory shoe shop in pontnewynydd. I am interested in getting more pictures of the house from years ago, I got some prints from Pontypool museum but there wasn’t many. The building has such character.

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