Archive for December, 2008

Christmas time in old Pontypool

December 24, 2008

I’m writing this on Christmas Eve and remembering all those Christmases I spent in Pontypool as a child. It really was a family occasion and I always loved it.

I’m not a smoker; I haven’t smoked for years, but I started very young; to be exact it was 75 years ago tomorrow that I started at the age of three. When we lived at Wern Terrace, and for many years after, Christmas Day was always spent at Osborne Cottage where we always had lunch, tea and supper with all the family and generally a few friends as well. I remember how crushed we all were as we sat around the table.

In those days there was no central heating and it was customary to have just one open coal fire in the living room where all our meals were eaten and where all the activities took place, particularly in the colder weather when we didn’t go outside much. This meant that, on Christmas morning, the fire would be laid but not lit as we would not be there for most of the day to enjoy it.

My father, like most men at that time, was a smoker (there was no evidence to show how bad it was for everyone’s health) and at Christmas time he would smoke the odd few cigars. On the particular Christmas Day in question he threw his cigar butt into the fireplace as usual, but, there being no fire, it remained there still lit. I was in the room at the time and, when my father went out, I picked up his cigar butt and had a few puffs. My consequent coughing and spluttering drew the attention of other family members and my very first “secret smoking session” was discovered.

A  few minutes later I felt sick and dizzy and, I was assured by my family, that I turned several different shades of green; I felt dreadful! The long walk to Osborne Cottage in the fresh air helped slightly but, for the rest of the day, I could hardly stand the smell of cigars which some of the family were smoking, and my appetite was but a shadow of its usual self until supper time when I has just about recovered.

But parties at Osborne Cottage were not generally tarnished for me in this way and I just loved the occasion with all the party card games and party tricks such as “Egyptian Writing” and “The Wand is Passing” which my own grandchildren now love to see.

Boxing Day was usually spent at Harley House when all the family descended on the Gregories in the large dining room above the shop. They had a huge table there so it was the ideal place for a party. After tea it was the custom for all the men to go into the small room at the back of the house where we played darts for a couple of hours.

For some days afterwards there were parties at our house, (which meant the luxury of having a fire in the parlour or “front room”), and also at some of the houses of my aunts and uncles. At all these parties, except during the war when food was scarce, there was always a good supply of fruit, nuts and sweets which we all loved.

No one in the family had a car – few people did – and there were no buses on the routes we travelled to our parties, so long walks were the order of the day. We were used to this even as young children so we didn’t mind as long as it didn’t rain. Unfortunately the weather was not always kind and I well remember one Christmas Day when walking home to Wern Terrace from Osborne Cottage, it just poured down. As we walked along Wainfelin Road past St Albans Church the water was pouring down the steps and onto the road like a waterfall. We were all glad to reach home and dry out.

There weren’t all that many toys available in those days so that a common present at that time would have been either a two-and-sixpenny book or a similarly priced selection box containing a variety of bars of chocolate.

I particularly remember one Christmas at Wern Terrace when my parents bought me a clockwork train and also a warm dressing gown. I can see the picture now as I watched the little red train going round and round on the small circular track while my mother and father were doing their best to get me to stand still while they tried the dressing gown on me. 

One event which has saddened me this Christmas is the demise of Woolworths. It played such a large part in the lives of me and my friends. After Christmas we generally had some cash which we’d received by way of presents and we would spend ages in Woolworths looking at the large selection of goodies available and set out on the flat display counters. I shall always remember one particular dark evening just before Christmas when I was allowed to accompany the rest of my family and we saw Woolworths about eight o’clock in the evening all lit up. I’d never seen it that way before. Now it looks as though the lights will soon be going out in Woolworths for the last time.

In closing this post I would like to wish all visitors to my blog a very happy Christmas.

Franketti’s Fish and Chip Shop

December 15, 2008

In my last post I made a passing reference to Franketti’s chip shop. My long-time friend, Eric Smith, for years my next-door neighbour, phoned me today and we discussed old Pontypool. As a result, I am indebted to him for much of what is included in this post.

For many years Franketti’s chip shop was a much-appreciated institution in our part of Pontypool. It was situated on the corner of the Bell Pitch and Bridge Street, and many people in our neck of the woods declared that you couldn’t get such fine fish and chips anywhere else.

Mr Franketti was assisted in the shop, mainly in the capacity of servers, by two sisters who lived in North Road, Louise and Elsie Grimson. They were all kept busy as there was invariably a long queue waiting to be served, often right around the small shop and out onto the steps. Children in the queue didn’t mind the wait as sometimes they would receive a few free chips on a piece of paper while they were waiting. I well remember being one of such a queue on many occasions and was always fascinated by the square chip chopper with the long handle. They made it look so easy!

Mr Franketti had a secret recipe for his fish batter and he had a habit of holding up the battered fish for customers to view before plunging it into the boiling fat. He was a proud Italian who produced good quality food at a reasonable price. Eric, with his parents and sister, were very regular customers at Franketti’s and he told me that  they would often buy fish and chips for all four of them for just one shilling. Sometimes, when they unpacked the parcel they would discover an extra free fish had been included.

When Mr Franketti died the shop passed on to the two sisters who had been his helpers so that the high quality was maintained; but after their day the business passed into other hands and the quality dropped.

The shop is now demolished. I suppose it’s a case of “Goodbye Mr Chips” in another context. Perhaps “Farewell Franketti” would be more appropriate.

In April 2010 I received an email from Rob Shipley of Jersey who lived in Pontypool to the age of nine and is the grandson of Elsie Grimson. I quote below part of his email which visitors might find of interest:

My aunt, Louise Day (known to everyone as Louie) probably did help out in the chip shop. She was my grandmother’s half-sister and her maiden name was Stevens. Her husband was Jack Day, who was in the Royal Navy before the War and later worked as what I believe was an armaments factory known as ‘The Dump’.

It is likely that my grandmother did inherit the chip shop when Mr Franketti died in the mid-1950s, but if she did, she did not run it for very long afterwards. After we moved to Jersey in 1960, she spent long periods with us in the Island, having retired. When in Pontypool she lived with the Days at 77 Bryn Wern.

I can remember my mother telling me that working in the shop was no easy life. My grandmother used to begin the day down in the cellar preparing fish which, at the crack of dawn, used to be delivered from Milford Haven.

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In a previous post about the “Dig for Victory” campaign during the war, I referred to the fact that part of Pontypool Park was dug up to produce much needed food and stated that it was done by Penygarn School. It now seems that this was not entirely accurate as Eric informed me that he remembers his teacher, Mr Jarvis, at Park Terrace Junior School, asking the class to bring along to school some gardening tools so that they could cultivate a plot in the the park.

Eric remembers helping to harvest some of the crops. He was given a marrow to take home and it was the first time he’d ever tasted one. So, it seems that some credit for this digging for victory must also go to Park Terrace School.

Climbing the mountain with the help of Watkins the tinsmith

December 7, 2008


One day, as I was playing inside my house at 7 Wern Terrace, I heard a rather peculiar clanking sound in the distance. At first I took very little notice but, gradually, it grew louder and louder until, eventually, it sounded like a dreadful racket right outside our front door. I decided to have a look outside to see what was causing all the noise.

As I opened the door I saw one of the most bizzare sights I’d seen up to then. I recognised the person of Mr Watkins the tinsmith walking down the street and, all around his person, were tied an assortment of his tinsmith wares: buckets, all sorts of cans, jugs and other items all made of shiny tin sheet, probably from the tin sheets produced at Pontnewynydd Town Forge. You can imagine the din he made with every step he took.

Mr Watkins the tinsmith had his house and workshop on the Bell Pitch roughly opposite Franketti’s chip shop. Every day when we walked up and down the Bell Pitch on the way to and from school we passed his house and, invariably, there would be an assortment of his products hanging outside around his front door.

When we were a little older, Eric Smith, Elgar Counsell, Royce Pritchard and I used to go on long walks down Twmpath Road, along the Crumlin Road and up the Glyn Mountain. It was quite a steep climb but held a lot of interest for us young lads as there were all sorts of abandoned rusty corrugated sheds to explore and the old railway line to walk along.

crumlin-rd-fishponds-from-glyn-mt-copyMy photograph of the Crumlin Road and fishponds from our favourite ledge on the Glyn mountain

At the foot of the mountain was a large black pipe protruding from the bank. Fresh, clear water always poured out of it and we frequently stopped for a drink. Common knowledge in the area ranked the water as pure enough to drink; I imagine this would be quite true as it must have drained through many layers of the mountain on the way down to the outlet pipe. It would be our last drink before we returned down the mountain on the way home.

We usually took the same routes up and down and, gradually we became well acquainted with every footpath, rock, ledge and pond. We also used to stay longer on our excursions, sometimes almost all day; it was generally hunger that drove us back home. At the very top of the Glyn was a wood of dead grey trees. Many of their branches had fallen off and were lying on the stony ground, so we often gathered these together with some dry grass and lit a fire. Then we came up with the bright idea of making soup on the fire so we could have something to eat and stay even longer. But there was just one problem: there was no water at the top of the mountain.

pontypool-from-ledge-on-glyn-mt-copyPhotograph of Pontypool from the same ledge

It therefore dawned on us that we would need to carry a supply of water up to the top of the mountain together with something to boil the soup in, plates, spoons, a knife and the various ingredients for the soup. We managed to borrow a large boiler with a handle and we borrowed the other utensils from home. It was the water which proved awkward. Therefore a few of us paid a visit to Mr Watkins’ house one day to ask whether he could supply us with a churn to carry the water. He said he could and that the price would be three shillings. We placed our order and then had to save up our pocket money for several weeks to raise such a large sum to pay for it, but we did it and then came the great day when we completed our transaction and emerged from Watkins the tinsmith’s house proudly bearing our shiny new three gallon churn.

There were about eight of us who joined in the excursion and we each cadged a few vegetables from home to make the soup; we decided that an oxo would suffice instead of meat. When we arrived at the water pipe we filled the churn with water only to find that it was far too heavy to carry it full right to the top of the mountain so we about half filled it. We took it in turns to carry the heavy churn and the other necessary items right to the top where we emerged triumphant but tired and out of breath.

Then we collected the firewood, built a circle of stones on which to rest the boiler, and lit our fire. We eventually managed to peel the vegetables, cut them up with rather grubby hands and threw them, some salt and the oxo into the boiler. There was no top on the boiler so a few bits of fern and wood ash were added to the brew in the stiff breeze which always seemed to blow at the top of the mountain. We felt the pangs of starvation while we patiently waited for the soup to boil, but it eventually responded positively to our frequent sampling and we shared out the soup equally amongst us. As we were all ravenously hungry by that time, it tasted like nectar to us all.

After running around, climbing the trees and exploring the very deep crevices in the mountain down which we dropped many stones to see how deep they were, we finally faced the rather unpleasant job of washing up, poured the remaining water on the fire to make certain it was out and then started on our journey down the mountain and home. We considered the expedition a great success and planned to repeat it whenever we could in the future. News of it spread amongst our friends so our merry band of explorers grew as the weeks went by.