Archive for the ‘Games and adventures’ Category

Tragic Peakes’ Coach Accident – two men killed

November 20, 2011

TRAGIC PEAKES’ COACH ACCIDENT. TWO MEN KILLED.

I am indebted for this blog post to Monty Dart of Newport. She is writing a book “Who Killed Dripping Lewis?” the story of the unsolved murder of William Alfred Lewis, of Plasmont House, Conway Road, Pontypool on 22nd May 1939.

Monty is planning to publish her book in about September next year. When I receive confirmation of the publication I shall publish full details on this blog.

One of the chapters in the book deals with the Peakes’ coach accident on 29th May 1939 when one of their coaches plunged into the River Monnow. The following is not the whole chapter but just a taster from the book.

“The resources of Pontypool police were already stretched to the limit, when on 29th May a coach, owned by Peakes of Pontypool, swerved across a road at a bridge, tore through a hedge and steel railings and dropped 15ft into the river. The driver and one passenger were killed and twenty one other passengers were injured. Elwyn George Thomas Palmer, the driver was aged 30, a young married man with two children of 6, Wern Terrace, he died on admission to Hereford Hospital . The passenger who died was Henry Whitcome, a widower aged 62, of 7, Twmpath, a mortar man employed on the surface at Tirpentwys Colliery. His body was pulled from the river by rescuers. He had a family of seven children. Palmer was no longer employed by Peakes, but helping out for the day because of a shortage of drivers. The outing had been arranged from the Horseshoe Inn, Pontypool. It was midnight and the passengers, who had enjoyed a day out in Worcester were merry and singing  when the coach plunged into the Monnow. The drivers of passing cars scrambled down to the coach and smashed the windows with the starting handles of their cars. They also tore at the fabric of the roof to remove it and pull passengers to safety. The Free Press reported:

“The injured were taken to three different hospitals – at Abergavenny: Ernest Horsman, 28, Chapel Lane, Pontypool aged 26, shock and a cut forehead. James Whelan, 2 castle Road, Pontypool, aged 43, concussion and abrasions. Alfred Williams, 7, Bunkers, Blaenavon aged 64, cut head and bruised ribs. James Evans, 2, Long Row, Upper Race, Pontypool aged 78, cut head, shock and concussion. James Morgan, 11, Chapel Lane, Pontypool aged 55, cut head and bruised face.

“At Hereford : William Trinder, 9, Nicholas Street, Pontypool, Gwilym Morgan, 4, Forge Road, Pontypool, Edgar Pinney, 8, Chapel Lane, Pontypool, Alfred Groves, Coedcae Place, Pontypool, Charles Pinney, 2, Clifton Place, Pontypool, Ivor Newman, 15, Coedcae Place, James Rosser, 18, Park Crescent, Penygarn. Ivor Newman, Alfred Groves and Gwilym Morgan are the most seriously injured.

“At Pontypool: John Purchase aged 76 of Chapel Yard, High Street, Pontypool, shock, lacerated eyes, ear and face. Thomas Waite, aged 29 of Edward Street, Pontypool, leg injuries and head lacerations. Ivor Morgan, aged 45, Mountain View, Pontnewynydd, concussion and cut lips. Ernest Evans, aged 45 of Crumlin Street, Pontypool cut on forearm and head.

“In addition five men were taken to Pontypool Hospital but were discharged after treatment – Harold Loveday, aged 30 of Edward Street, Pontypool, James Matthews aged 41, New Houses, Coedcae, Pontypool, John Rutter Welsh aged 36 of Forge Row, Pontnewynydd, William Thomas aged 29, Ivy Cottage, Chapel Lane, Pontypool.

“Ambulances were called to the scene but by the time they arrived many men had been taken by passing cars to the various hospitals.

“Henry Whitcombe lived with his son and daughter-in-law, Mr and Mrs William Whitcombe and their four children. His wife had died a year last September. He died from a fractured skull. He was buried at Panteg Cemetery.

“Elwyn Palmer is reported to have bled to death after glass had pieced his armpit. He died twenty minutes after admission to Hereford Hospital. Palmer had played rugby for a number of teams since the age of twelve, when he was a member of the first Panteg Wern team to win the Schoolboys’ Cup. Later he played for St James Rugby Team, for Newport Harlequins, and latterly for Cwmbran. Mr Palmer was the second of three sons of the late Mr James Palmer and Mrs Palmer of 2, Wren’s Nest, Pontyrhydyrun and has three young sisters. He leaves two young children a little girl aged seven and a boy aged two. He had been driving goods vehicles for around thirteen years and had recently been awarded a Road Safety Diploma.

“The inquest held at South Herefordshire heard from the first witness on the scene, Mr Thomas James Watkins, of Hereford who said there were patches of fog around at the time. As he approached the bridge he saw a man in the middle of the road, running towards him waving his hands. Mr Watkins continued: ‘I pulled up, and the man, who was covered in blood, told me that a bus had gone into the river. I got out of the car and saw what had happened. It is impossible to describe the scene, it was ghastly, injured men lying all over the place. The top of the bus and side had been ripped off and the only way to get to the vehicle and help the men, who could not help themselves was by climbing along a tree, which had been knocked down and was lying on top of the bus. At one time there were as many as twelve buses and cars on the scene, playing their lights onto the wrecked vehicle, while the rescue work went on. One of the first to know of the crash was Mr L. Crump, a farm worker of Grosmont Hill. He was reading in bed when he heard a tremendous crash. He could hear men’s voices in the distance, so he dressed and ran to the direction of the bridge. ‘The bridge was a danger spot’ he said ‘and has been the scene of a number of accidents. I could hear men’s voices in the distance. I could hear a lot of noise but I couldn’t understand what it was.

“The Coroner said that it was very difficult for the people at the scene to treat so many cases, particularly as they had to work in the dark. All of the passengers had been immersed in the river, their clothes were saturated and it was difficult under the circumstances to ascertain the injuries to each man.

“Mr Garfield Lewis, High Street, Pontypool, a boiler fireman at Pontnewynydd Works, a member of the party escaped with bruises and shock. The coach he said, had been on an outing to Worcester. They left Worcesster around 6 pm and made a stop of a few hours at Hereford. They left there about 11pm. Originally he was sitting in the back of the bus but had moved to a seat in the centre shortly before the accident. ‘The first thing I knew was that I went up in the air and my head hit the top of the bus. Then I was aware of water swirling around my legs’. He managed to crawl out of the coach unaided. Although dazed and shaken, he kept his head, stood by the coach and did what he could to help others. ‘One man,’ he said ‘was partially submerged. He was an elderly man. I got hold of him by his coat and held his head out of the water. The trouble was, we didn’t know where the road was or where we were. The interior lights of the bus were still on.’ Some of the men managed to climb up the bank. A car that passed the scene contained Charles Prosser of Pontypool and Frank Broderick of London. Amazingly, they both knew Garfield Lewis and gave him a lift back home. Another passenger on the bus Mr William Thomas of Ivy Cottage, Chapel Lane, Pontypool a labourer at Glascoed said ‘The coach was travelling at a very moderate speed. Before we realised what had happened we found ourselves up to our waists in water. I don’t know if the coach was on its side or on its wheels when we landed in the river. We all did our best to see everyone was alright. I think every one of us was submerged at one point.’ Mr James Matthews aged 41, a Blaendare miner had X-rays for a rib injury. He said that after the accident they had to climb up a high bank to get out of the water. ‘I had a hard smack on the forehead but I don’t know what I struck,’ he said.

“Mr Charles Vernon Jenkins, who lived in the same house as James Purchase, revealed that he almost went on the outing instead of Purchase. It appears that having bought the ticket Mr Purchase began to have ‘cold feet’ about going on his first ever coach trip and had tried to sell the ticket.

“A verdict of Accidental death with no blame attaching in any way to the driver’ was returned by the jury at the inquest at Pontdrilas.”

From my own point of view this account proves that my post “Accidents, Fatalities and Diseases” had an error in it. One paragraph referred to Elwyn Palmer having a coach accident on the Crumlin Road. Because of the above evidence, this is obviously incorrect. There was an accident with a bus on the Crumlin Road about this time but it was, obviously, not the one in  which Elwyn Palmer was the driver. My apologies for that error. Over a period of 70 years the memory can let you down. It is equally strange that my friend Eric Smith was also convinced that our neighbour, Elwyn, had died on Crumlin Road. We well remember the tragedy of Elwyn’s death but it obviously occurred near Worcester. We must both be wrong.

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Further information on the Robin Hood, the Gregories and playing marbles

September 20, 2011

I have recently received an email from Harold Clarke concerning some of the items posted on this blog. I know that some visitors are researching their family history so I am quoting the salient points of Harold’s email below. My thanks to him for this information.

“I have some information to add. In The Kelly’s Directory for 1901 it shows Jabez Gregory living at Fairfield Handbury Road and William Henry Gregory, Boot Maker, also living in Handbury Road. It would have to be a big coincidence if the two were not related, Jabez being the same that kept the Robin Hood and the coal mine. Jabez I believe to be the son of Benjamin Gregory born in Somerset and his wife Ann. Pentwyn Slope situated near Abersychan first opened 1843 and closed in 1917. It seems to have been owned at the time of closure by Jabez listed as J Gregory and Co Ltd. It had four men working there, two underground and two on the surface. It is listed as mining old coal. The actual location I believe to be to the rear of the present cricket pitch although there is some evidence that it could be near the viaduct  close to the Robin Hood as I have another mine known as Pentwyn Slope owned by Oliver Richards from Snatchwood with two men working below in 1908.

“If Jeff Oates has done any more research I would certainly like to hear from him as we have an overlap in dates. I have John Curtis as landlord in 1901. He married twice having eleven children, maybe twelve. I know, as previously stated, that one of the Curtises married Albert Powell so I have The Curtis Powell family through to the 1930s as landlords. Somewhere in there fits Jeff’s grandfather who had to be named Oates in 1911. I will get the pub records. 

“As I was writing the above, I don’t know why, but the following occurred to me: “KNUCKLEDOWN BARFULLOCK” pronounced as one word, meant knuckles firmly on the ground and the marble had to roll before hitting the target marble.” 

 

I also received an email from Elizabeth Sefton who accidentally came across the blog (as so many people do) whilst looking for information on Pontypool Japan Ware.

 

“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 shoes 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 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.”

 

As a result of Elizabeth’s letter, I phoned my cousin, Anthony Gregory, to let him know that his lessons on tying shoes with the two loop bow method were still bearing fruit. I told him about Harold’s information, above, and he said that Jabez Gregory was a distant cousin. W.H. Gregory was Anthony’s grandfather. I remember him as I met him on a couple of occasions when I was a young lad.

Anthony also said that the Gregories hailed from Pilton in Somerset so that ties up with some of Harold’s information. He further told me that Bob Trump, referred to in a much earlier posting on this blog, was the great uncle of Michael, Anthony and Vera. Apparently there was a Keith Gregory who had a shop in Freehold Land. I know nothing about him but if anyone remembers the shop I’d be pleased to hear about it.

Another member of the Gregory family was Owen Gregory who, at quite a young age, had a shoe shop in Osborne Road, Pontypool. Whilst I was doing my book signing at the Pontypool Museum last November, a gentleman approached me to ask for another of my books “Pontypool Memories”. He said he had already bought one but he wanted another to send out to Australia to Owen Gregory who is now living there. Apparently he knew Owen and spent some time with him when visiting Australia.

Old photographs of Pontypool carnival in the park

March 15, 2011

Here are some more of the photographs sent in by Terry Stunden. These are all about the carnival which was held in the park. I’ve also included a photograph of the park gates at Pontymoile. If you have a good look at these gates you will see that there are several bunches of grapes on it. One of them is missing! When I was at West Mon I remember one of my teachers talking about this and he told us that the Italian artist who had made the gates didn’t notice his omission until it was too late to rectify his mistake and, as a result, he committed suicide. I don’t know how true this story is. It sounds rather drastic to me.

For those visitors who like to look at these old photographs, I plan to post more on the next two Tuesdays at 11.00 a.m. So, if you are collecting these photographs you now know the day and time to look for them.


The park gates at Pontymoile

The park lake was another favourite playing place for my friends and I. Apart from the lake itself, there was a stream above which fed into the lake and below the lake another stream, all of which afforded a lot of fun making dams and jumping from one side to the other. There was also a variety of creatures which lived in the streams and the lake. In one of my very early posts I mentioned that I wrote my first poem about this lake.

Pontypool park lake

Below are four photographs of the carnival. Two are of the carnival queen and her court ladies. The quality of these old black and white photographs was not very good in those days. I’ve tried to enhance them slightly on my computer so there might be some ladies in the photographs that someone might recognise. If so, please let me know who they are.

 

Pontypool carnival queens

It looks to me as though these photographs were taken just in front of the grandstand, assuming that it was there at that time. Behind the groups you can make out the bank where we used to sit to see all the carnival activities. In the lower shot you can see the path along the bank. If any eagle-eyed visitor can help to date these photographs that would be great.

Two photographs of the carnival

I’m not sure what is going on in the above two photographs but it looks to me like part of the general procession which used to wend its way through town and end up in the park where the judging took place.

I hope you enjoyed the photographs. See you next Tuesday.

Surprises in disguises

March 14, 2011

Visitors who have been following the posts in this blog for some time might remember one about my secret society. If you need reminding or if you haven’t seen it, just copy the address below and put it in your address bar to view the post:

https://oldpontypool.wordpress.com/2009/03/06/pontypools-secret-society/

In that post you will see two pictures of the books I bought. One of them is called “Detection and Disguise”. It contained all manner of advice about how to disguise yourself as somebody else so that even your close friends won’t recognise you. This was the sort of thing that Sherlock Holmes often did in the stories we were so fond of reading. He was so good at this that even Dr Watson didn’t recognise him. Eric and I spent hours reading through the disguise techniques recommended in the book.

Also, on page 121 of the same book a disguise outfit and instruction book was advertised as in the picture above. The picture below gives the contents of the disguise outfit which are quite comprehensive. Needless to say, it didn’t take me long to get the 4 Quaker figures and save up the 3d to send for the outfit

One of the recommendations in the book was about making yourself look a lot older, so, as we were only about 14 or 15 at the time, this sounded like a good idea. It recommended one of the ways to do this was to pad your shoulders out with newspaper, and also do the same with your chest and stomach. This was intended to make us look slightly taller and a bit more corpulent. Under some pretext or other we both managed to borrow overcoats and trilby hats from our fathers as these would offer comprehensive covering over our assorted newspapers which might stick out from beneath our own jackets.

Having assembled all our kit we decided to try it out for the first time under cover of darkness. In Eric’s front room we busied ourselves padding our anatomies with newspapers by tying on large bundles with string so that they would stay in place. When we’d finished this we were fairly satisfied that we looked a lot more bulky and when we put on the overcoats and trilby hats we were quite thrilled. By sticking on the false moustaches we were absolutely satisfied that our transformation was complete.

By then it was reasonably dark so we crept out of the house and down Wern Terrace eventually making our way down the Bell Pitch and into town. As the shops were shut there were not many people about and those we passed didn’t even give us a second glance. The trouble was that we didn’t see a single person that we knew and that would have been the acid test of our enterprise. Having reached Woolworth’s we decided to stick to our plan and walk further, so we went up Osborne Road. As we approached the vicinity of Merchants Hill we heard running footsteps behind us, then a child’s voice shouting “Daddy! Daddy!” Immediately a little boy of about six ran up to Eric’s side and looked up at him. It was only then that he realised that Eric wasn’t his daddy so ran off again. It was just as well he did because we both almost collapsed with laughter at the event.

There was a certain amount of satisfaction as far as we were concerned. At least we must have looked like grown up men. Now, I don’t know whether it was the result of shaking with laughter or all the movement involved in walking a couple of miles but, as we turned up Merchants Hill some of our newspaper stuffing and bits of string worked loose and fell down onto the ground. This, of course, caused more laughter with the inevitable result that more newspaper stuffing started to work loose and fall down. Eventually we ended up with large bunches of newspapers under our arms making us look like latter-day Argus sellers.

Our moustaches had stuck manfully to the job. The only trouble was removing them before we returned home. Just trying to pull them off proved rather painful but by applying liberal quantities of spit we finally managed it. We found a suitable place to ditch our newspapers and then returned home. We were reasonable satisfied with our exercise in disguise but we were realistic enough to allow that Sherlock Holmes definitely had the edge on us.

A great revelation in Haden Street

January 12, 2010

Some of the posts in this blog appear because of an email or phone call I sometimes receive which reminds me of an event I’d just about forgotten. It only needs that brief trigger and then I find I can recall the whole event in great detail. Such is the case in this present post. One of the main participants in this event phoned me and reminded me of what happened.

The field of Twmpath School was not much more than a hundred yards from the rear entrance to our house in Wern Terrace. The field was easy to get into because, at several places along the length of the tall railings, some enterprising character had somehow managed to bend two of the railings making it possible for us to squeeze through.

We played all sorts of games in the field. In the summer when the grass remained uncut on the banks of the football pitch we played hide-and-seek, but most of our time was spent on the football pitch playing cricket , soccer or rugby. There was only one drawback with playing on the proper football pitch: whereas we could organise a game of cricket or football in the lane at the rear of our house with just half a dozen or so boys, on the football field we needed at least double that number. So we used to  walk around the streets near Wern Terrace, such as Gwent Street, Haden Street and Brynwern to drum up some extra volunteers for the teams.

When we’d recruited enough players we would all squeeze through the railings into the field and two teams would be picked. Because of the need for extra players on such occasions we often allowed younger boys to play with us and, on this particular occasion, we recruited young Ronnie who lived in Haden Street.

Twmpath football pitch was a rather rough affair with a lot of bare earth on it and stones sticking up. The match progressed well and we were all having fun until disaster struck: young Ronnie fell over and hit the side of his face on a large and rather sharp stone. We crowded around to examine his injury as he screamed and cried. It was a rather severe injury and blood was pouring from it. So much so that we decided to send Ronnie home. As he was quite young we thought it best to send a few other boys with him to see him safely back to his house. One boy from Ronnie’s team and two from the other made things equal, so while the young medics escorted the crying Ronnie back home, the rest of us assured him that we’d let him know the result of the match later. Play was then resumed.

Ronnie lived towards the Twmpath end of Haden Street so the journey to his house was not very far. His three companions tried to calm him down as he yelled blue murder right outside his front door. Because of the pain he was suffering Ronnie continued to yell at the top of his voice for his Mum and bang on the front door. There was no immediate answer but all four could hear muffled shouts from Ronnie’s Mum somewhere inside the house.

Suddenly the door was flung wide open and there stood Ronnie’s Mum – stark naked! She had obviously been having a bath and, hearing Ronnie’s frantic screams, knew he was in some great trouble, so, without even bothering to throw a towel around her, she rushed to the door to see what was the matter. Obviously she thought that it was only Ronnie who was banging on the door.

The three young medics momentarily just stared in utter disbelief at the sight which met their young eyes. Then, they quickly explained to Ronnie’s Mum what had happened and, while young Ronnie was being ushered inside by his Mum, they hastily made their way back to the football match where they, once more, joined in the game.

When it was over they reported that they had escorted Ronnie home successfully but had been rather surprised at the nude vision of Ronnie’s Mum. Someone then remembered that we had promised to let Ronnie know the result of the football match, but there were no volunteers to visit the house with the news. Someone suggested that we let him know the following day when he’d be feeling better. Everyone agreed.

Drama in Pontypool

March 31, 2009

 

picture-11

You might have seen the recent TV series where the question is asked: “What have we done to our kids?” I suppose the answers to this question are many and varied, but I think one answer we can give is that we have robbed them of their sense of imagination. Today, with TV and excellent computer graphics, we supply them with the pictures; they don’t need to use their own imaginations to create pictures in their minds.

I cut my reading teeth on magazines such as the Wizard, Hotspur etc. which I’ve written about previously. They usually had stories with one graphic incorporated in the title; the rest was reading material, and I remember being shocked later on to discover that some of those magazines had turned into picture strip comics. Now we wonder why one in five seven-year-olds cannot read!

When I was a young boy, I never needed to be called in to tea twice when I knew Uncle Mac would be reading another instalment of the Coot Club in Children’s Hour. I loved those stories by Arthur Ransome and, in my imagination, I witnessed every adventure of the Coot Club on the Norfolk Broads.

Although I think I must have been last in the queue when the acting talent was given out, I always seemed to be one of the children chosen for any play being performed in Town School. It started even in the Infants’ section when I was dragooned into being a herald. I had to stand at the side of the stage and shout out the names of the various characters as they came on stage. I didn’t get an Oscar for my performance but that didn’t stop me being picked as one of the characters in “The Pearl of Great Price” when I was in the Junior section. My enduring memory of that performance was not any of the acting but the action of one of the backstage hands. She was Joan, a girl in my class who was given the task of playing “In a Turkish Market” on a gramophone at a given spot in the performance in order to create an Eastern atmosphere.

The gramophone was one of those old wind-up affairs with a handle on the side. When fully wound it lasted long enough to play a 12 inch record. I was offstage during this part of the performance and was standing in the wings near Joan as she operated the gramophone. Sure enough, right at the appointed time, she wound up the gramophone, put the record on and the Eastern music floated out into Miss Brooks’ classroom. But for some reason I’ve never been able to fathom, Joan decided that, as soon as she’d wound up the gramophone and put the music on, it was also her duty to take the handle out. I saw her starting to struggle with the handle but all to no avail. It stubbornly refused to move. So she decided to turn it the opposite way in order to remove it. Unfortunately this had the effect of unwinding the gramophone, and several seconds later the Eastern music entered a very minor key getting flatter and flatter, and sadder and sadder as she, in desperation tried to remove the handle. The effect of all this was to cause a titter amongst those of us standing in the wings which developed into raucous laughter from the audience, who, fortunately, were mainly sympathetic parents.

At Park Terrace Methodist Sunday School I was invariably required to take part in the annual Nativity Play. For some reason unknown to me, I always seemed to be cast as one of the shepherds. I started off as a shepherd boy but did eventually get promoted to a full-blown adult shepherd when I was older. But I always cast envious eyes on the glamorous wise men in their very colourful costumes. I always wondered why shepherds only wore potato sacks which, as far as I was concerned, definitely lacked both colour and glamour. However, when I was a little older, I did manage to graduate to become a wise man.

My brothers and I had an Aunt Gwen, Uncle John and cousin John Plumley who lived at 13 Club Row up the Tranch. Often on Sunday, after Sunday School, we were invited there to tea. Aunt Gwen always provided generous helpings of food and we loved going there. After tea we went into the front room to play games. Sometimes a young lad named Billy Challoner was also invited to tea and he was very keen on drama. As there was a bay window at the front of the house with curtains to draw across to keep out the draught, Billy would often organise some sort of dramatic performance using the bay window and curtains as the “stage”. He was a real hoot but was so enthusiastic, with a vivid imagination, that we all went along with his dramatic exploits. Often our audience of two were doubled up with uncontrollable laughter. 

Despite my less-than-enthusiastic forays into the world of drama, my friend Eric Smith and I, together with his cousin, Royce Pritchard, decided to let our imaginations run riot and build our own mini-theatre in Eric’s backyard. By using a combination of a clothes horse, a few blankets, a few lengths of wood and some rope we managed to construct two curtains to pull across and a concealed passage across the back of the stage which gave us access to Eric’s kitchen and entry to the far side wings.

We managed to get hold of a small book of dramatic sketches, some of which were humorous, which appealed to us. We persuaded our mothers to let us borrow some clothes to use as costumes. One of the items was a woman’s dress and we bullied Royce into playing this part. Then we needed an audience so we went to call on other boys we knew whom we played with from time to time. We knew they would most certainly not be prepared to part with any cash to see our show so we decided to let them pay in cigarette cards. This display of generosity gave us an audience of five or six.

All went well as we kept the audience interested in our jokes and sketches. Then came the main item, our sketch with Royce playing the part of a woman. It was meant to be funny and when Royce appeared in his dress there were huge guffaws all round. Then came the part when he had to sit on a chair, and the boys in the audience erupted into uncontrollable mirth. Eric and I were rather puzzled by this as it wasn’t meant to be a funny part of the sketch. However, we afterwards discovered that when Royce put on the dress he omitted to wear his underpants.

So I suppose our real claim to dramatic fame was to introduce X certificate drama ten years before the rest of the country.

Pontypool’s Secret Society

March 6, 2009

 

Few people know that, in 1945, there was set up in Pontypool a secret society which operated clandestinely under the name of the “Q.O. Secret Society”. Its meetings were held regularly, well away from the public gaze and its meeting place could only be accessed by using the secret password. The society also published a monthly document which contained details of its operations and also of its finances. The document was passed around and read by members of the society only.

Visitors to this blog will know that, in order to protect national security, cabinet papers and a host of other documents were not released to the public for 30 years after they were written. The Freedom of Information Act subsequently amended this arrangement and anyone can now make an application to all manner of bodies to acquire information under the Act. Therefore, before I get masses of applications from members of the public, Scotland Yard and the Security Services demanding that, after over 50 years of secrecy, I release all I know about the Q.O. Secret Society, I thought I’d better come clean in this post. 

The Q.O. Secret Society was founded in August 1945 by Eric Smith, Elgar Counsell and I and several other boys we knew. Our ages ranged from about 12 to 14 at the time. The original idea of the society was the brainchild of the manufacturers of Quaker Oats – hence the Q.O. bit. Doubtless in an attempt to sell more of their Quaker Oats, the company engaged in a campaign to interest children. You will all have seen the small oval frame on their boxes of oats with the head of the Quaker man inside it. By cutting out these little ovals, all sorts of benefits could accrue such as choosing free toys from their list, or, if not free, then obtainable at a very nominal price. They also published several books: “The Master Book of Secrets”, “Detection and Disguise” and a book on how to run a Q.O. Secret Society.

 picture-1Two of the books published by Quaker Oats Ltd

My brother Garyth, who was four years older than I, really got organised on this matter and went around all the members of our family asking them to save their Quaker Oats ovals for him. They readily obliged and soon he was able to send in an order for no less than eight  model aeroplanes that flew, and they flew well. He kept one himself, gave one to me and shared the rest amongst his friends. The aeroplanes were powered by a wound up elastic band but they stayed up for quite a while and when they ran out of power they glided quite well. One of our favourite places for flying these were up the Tumps – but more of the Tumps and the Tranch in a future post.

At the backs of the books mentioned above were several pages with illustrations of the goods on offer. Here are two of them:

gun-etcGun and disguise outfit advertised in the books

I bought both the above items. The gun could be obtained free for 12 Quaker figures or for 2 Quaker figures and 1/6 (one shilling and six pence). The disguise outfit was 6 Quaker figures or 2 Quaker figures and 6d (sixpence) in stamps. The gun was wonderful. It came with a roll of ammunition which was merely a roll of thin paper. This was led over a hole and when the gun was fired, air was forced through the paper making a hole and a realistic bang. I manufactured my own ammunition by cutting up strips of newspaper of the required size.

Our meeting place was my father’s shed at the rear of our house in School Lane. It was reasonably large so that housing six or eight of us was no problem as long as we didn’t mind the strong smell of stored onions and other garden produce. In the colder weather we lit the valor paraffin oil stove to provide warmth, but it added another ambient smell rather more unpleasant than the onions.

The monthly document I refer to above was our own magazine. Fortunately, my oldest brother, John, when he left West Mon went to work in the chemistry laboratories at County Hall, Newport and was anxious to learn to type which would have been a big help to him; so my father bought a second-hand Imperial typewriter from someone in Griffithstown and, one evening, he and John carried it all the way to Wainfelin. Those old typewriters were very heavy, so it was no mean feat.

I was eleven when the typewriter was purchased, so after three years of practice, I could type reasonably well – with two fingers. This was the reason that I was able to edit and produce just one copy of “The Q.O. Secret Society Magazine”. It consisted of ten 8×10 one-sided pages of very off-white and very thin wartime paper and was passed around from member to member. I still have these magazines and I note that the December Christmas issue was a bumper 25 page effort. This experience sparked off my interest in magazine editing and writing which is something I’ve been doing ever since in an honorary capacity.

The contents of the magazine were very varied and members were asked to contribute as they were able. There was some information about the society itself and also things like a crossword puzzle, jokes, poems written by members, a science section, competitions,general knowledge items and even a serial story. It also carried some adverts where members were able to advertise for sale things like model aircraft kits etc.

The Christmas number, unlike the other issues, also contained illustrations. Eric and I were very keen at that time on pen and ink drawing and below are a few of our original works which were used. When Eric sees these I hope he won’t be too embarrassed. I am!

christmas-greetingsEric’s Christmas greetings to all members.
The verse is part of the hymn, “Now the day is over”. 

autumnMy rendering of autumn. I think I can claim to have improved since doing this.

camelEric’s rendering of “The Mysterious East”.

Also in the Christmas number was our balance sheet after five months in operation. Our total income was £1:4:0 (one pound four shillings), our expenditure was 8/- (eight shillings) leaving a balance in hand of 16/- (sixteen shillings). This was most pleasing and meant we’d been running on just one-third of our income. What financial skill! If the Chancellor of the Exchequer needs someone to sort out the current financial crisis, we might possibly be persuaded to help. But, naturally we’d expect a fee of at least £5:7:6. Now – what’s that in this new fangled money?

The games we used to play in Pontypool

February 2, 2009

 

Despite all the doom and gloom preached today about global warming, the warmest decade in living memory was the 1930s. This accords with my memories of my early childhood, the Town School days.

We spent most of our time outdoors when the weather was fine, most of it playing games. Naturally we played cricket , rugby and soccer whenever possible but that meant rounding up a good number of friends and having some basic equipment. Some of this we had to make ourselves, so that a rugby ball was often a tightly rolled up newspaper tied around with string; and goal posts, and quite often stumps, were our coats placed on the ground.

It was quite possible to play cricket and football in the main street at the front of the houses because very little traffic came along the road; just the odd car and from time to time the baker’s van or the horse and cart of the salt and vinegar man. French cricket was somewhat easier to play as all we needed was a bat and a soft ball. The idea was to hit the legs of the batsman not a wicket, and you could get as close as you liked, but must not move once you had retrieved the ball; even just three could play this game.

Quite often I would play games with my friend Eric Smith and perhaps one or two other boys; that meant playing games for small numbers. Here are some of the games which were our favourites:

boys-play-marblesboys playing marbles

Marbles  There were various versions of this game. We played with both colourful glass marbles, sometimes referred to as allies (pronounced arleez), and also the smaller dull brown clay marbles. The back lane behind Wern Terrace was made of a mixture of earth and ashes so it was quite easy to draw a circle on it with a sharp stick. Each of us would place two or three clay marbles in the circle and then shoot at them from a marked line with our glass marbles. The idea was to knock the clay marbles out of the circle; we kept all we knocked out. When the last marble was won the game was over and we started another. Before we started to play we decided whether we would play “keepsies” or not. If we did, then all the marbles won could be kept. If we did not play “keepsies” then after all the games each person had his own marbles returned.

There were certain cries which were shouted out. When we decided to play, one of us might shout “largall” which meant they would shoot last. There were other cries also: if another player was quite near to your marble, you could shout “Knuckle down” which meant the shooter had to point his knuckles at the ground making a hit much more difficult. The most tongue-twisting cry I can remember was “knuckledowninbarfullock”. I’m sure it meant something but I can’t remember what.

Another version of marbles was “following taws” and was quite often played along a gutter. This was usually played between two boys. The first player would shoot his marble and the second would then try to hit it with his marble. If he scored a hit he kept the marble. If not it would be the turn of the other boy to shoot. Sometimes it would take quite a while before a marble was hit; as you can imagine there were all sorts of obstacles in the gutter to hinder a shot such as stones, patches of earth, cigarette ends and spent matches.

Jackstones  This was one of my favourite games and could be played indoors or out and on almost any surface. It was played with five smooth stones or pebbles about three-quarters of an inch in length and one hand. First, all five stones were thrown in the air and we had to catch as many as possible on the back of our throwing hand. If we only caught one we had to start in “onesies” which meant throwing all five stones in a rough circle, and then throwing one stone in the air, picking up one stone and catching the other before it dropped to the ground. “Twosies” meant we had to pick up two stones at a time before catching the other. Then we progressed to three and four stones. If we made a mistake in any of this then we had to start again from the beginning. If you caught two stones on the back of your hand you started at “twosies”, and so on.

If all this was done successfully we progressed to “dappers” when we had to take all five stones in our hand, throw one stone in the air, dap the others on the ground and catch the thrown stone before it reached the ground. The stone was then set aside so that we next did it with three stones, then two and so on. Again, any mistake meant we had to start dappers all over again.

If we went through all this without a single mistake we claimed one game and could immediately start another. The one with the most games was the winner.

Cigarette cards  In those days every boy had a collection of cigarette cards. There were all sorts of cigarettes sold, from the humble Woodbine to the more upper class Players. Most of the packets contained a cigarette card, and fathers, uncles and other relatives were always willing to hand them over to us. Often, when playing in the main street, we would ask any passing men whether they had any cigarette cards to give to us. They would sometimes take out their packet and remove the card for us, but sometimes, if we struck lucky, we might ask someone who had six or eight cards in his pocket; that would be a great occasion.

Each make of cigarette had cards with a theme such as cricketers, footballers, flowers, animals of all sorts and, during the war we had a set on ARP precautions. Some of these cards now, in good condition, are very valuable, particularly if you have the complete set. You sometimes see them framed for hanging on the wall.

The game with cigarette cards was almost always played indoors. We knelt down on the floor some six or eight feet away from a wall and took it in turns flicking a cigarette card towards the wall. The card was held between the index and middle fingers and, with a sharp flick of the wrist, the card travelled several feet. The idea was to flick a card on top of another one or possibly more than one. All the cards that were covered, even partially covered, in this way were then kept by the person doing the flicking. When only one person was left with any cards, the game was over. Of course, before we started, we would decide whether to play “keepsies” or not. We would never risk our rarer cards in a game which we might lose.

On occasions we might use a pack of playing cards for the game but that was definitely not for “keepsies”.

Conkers  This was a seasonal game in the main as it depended on a good supply of conkers – generally gleaned from the park. I understand that, today, children playing in school are required to wear protective goggles. We didn’t have any such mamby-pamby nonsense when we played, and from time to time we did get the odd few bruises. If the two conker strings became intertwined, the first to shout “strings” had the next swing. We sometimes hardened our conkers by heating them in an oven so that they wouldn’t break so easily but this was a practice frowned upon by some.

Pellet shooting  This was one of the minor games. A rectangular piece of paper was folded over and over until it was about an inch or so long and a quarter of an inch wide. This was then folded in two. A wide elastic band was then held between the index finger and thumb and the pellet fitted across the elastic band. The two ends were pulled back to stretch the band and then suddenly released projecting the pellet forward at a target. The target might be anything from a toy soldier to an old tin can.

Cowboys and Indians  This was a game invariably played out of doors. Some sort of cowboy costume was almost mandatory and we always wore at least a hat, gun belt and revolver over our normal clothes. There were some very convincing cap guns on sale and the little red explosive caps were very cheap; a box of 100 usually cost no more than a penny or two. Thus armed, we set out to slaughter masses of Indians. It was always difficult to persuade anyone to be an Indian as they invariably lost the fight and were killed off in large numbers. A latecomer wanting to play with us was often dragooned into being an Indian, otherwise we all took our turn at being shot.

Three other games which we dallied with in a minor way were rounders, hopscotch and skipping but we tended to regard these as girls’ games. Consequently, as far as we were concerned it was almost infra dig to indulge in this sort of thing; but for some reason there were always a few girls who wanted to join in our games but were pretty hopeless at cricket and football. They didn’t possess any cigarette cards or marbles but occasionally we did press them into service as Indians. As a result we found we had to play some of their games, mainly skipping and hopscotch. Girls seemed to play these for hours on end so were very skilled at them. We boys were more or less learners so after a few turns with the skipping rope, while the girls did the chanting of the rhymes, and a few games of hopscotch, we usually returned to our more favoured pastimes.

Patricia M. Spacks, in her book “Boredom: the literary history of a state of mind” points out that the word “boredom” did not exist in the English language until 1750. So many young children today complain that they are bored despite the fact of having a huge number of games, electronic and others; but I can honestly say that I cannot remember a single instance of me, or any of my friends, saying that we were bored. Perhaps the reason is that we never had much in the way of ready-made games; we had to make our own. It could be that the manufacture led to greater enjoyment.

World War II shipbuilders of Pontypool

January 9, 2009

It’s not widely known that, during World War II, two fleets of ships were built in Pontypool: aircraft carriers, battleships, cruisers, destroyers and submarines. It is also not widely known that one fleet was built by my friend, Eric Smith, and the other was built by me. We were about twelve years of age at the time.

We were both keen fretworkers and avid readers of “Hobbies Weekly” a magazine which encouraged that and other crafts and which we bought most weeks. Unfortunately, because of the shortage of paper during the war, the magazine shrank in size until it was an extremely thin publication indeed. But, from time to time, they issued their blueprints for various aspects of fretwork and Eric and I were both thrilled when one copy advertised plans for a fleet of model ships. We had both bought fretsaws and small fretwork tables which were designed to be clamped to the edge of a suitable table.

We’d seen some earlier pre-war copies of “Hobbies Weekly” and at that time small strips of neatly planed wood in various lengths and thicknesses could be bought, but, during the war, such luxuries disappeared and we were reduced to haunting the fruit shops of Pontypool looking for suitable apple or orange boxes which we could generally buy for sixpence each. That was rather expensive, but a whole box would supply enough wood for several ships; the only trouble with it was that it was not planed wood but was quite rough so a lot of hard work with sandpaper was required before we could use it. Still, it was all part of the fun.

We both spent many hours on dark evenings cutting out the many small pieces and gluing them together with Croid glue which was a very strong and effective glue for wood. Then we would paint the ships grey, eventually ending up with a splendid fleet each which we used to stage imaginary battles. They also served as targets for bombing raids by our Dinkey Toy aircraft.

 

When we were about fifteen we became more ambitious and decided to build a real boat that we planned to sail on the fishponds just off the Crumlin Road. We decided to construct a six foot, twin-hulled catamaran. As we had a reasonably large shed at the rear of Garfield, we decided that the shipyard would be there as it was possible to keep the partly built vessel inside the shed until its completion.

Of course, whereas one apple or orange box would supply enough wood for several model ships, we realized that, for the catamaran, we’d need a number of boxes together with a large number of nails and a good supply of putty. We finally decided on our design: both hulls would be made from fruit boxes and the deck would be an opened out tea-chest.

For weeks, whenever the weather gave us the opportunity to work outside, we worked on our project and eventually we’d completed one of the hulls. We discovered that, because of the small knot holes etc. the amount of putty needed was considerable. At the end of the project we’d used about five pounds of it. Having made one hull, we’d honed our skills and the second one was completed much quicker. Then came the grand moment when we opened out our tea-chest and fixed it to the hulls to form the deck of the catamaran. Our craft was assembled and we stood back admiring our handiwork with considerable pride.

Admittedly our humble craft lacked the finesse and skill of true shipbuilders; Cammell Laird and Swan Hunter might not have given us the time of day, and it has to be admitted that our boat had numerous cracks filled with putty and a general outline that could hardly be described as sleek but we were reasonably satisfied with our efforts. We thought that a final sandpapering would make it ready for painting. We also decided that the best way to paint it would be to stand it on one end so that we could get at all parts except the ends of the two hulls. We gave it an initial coat of undercoat and, when that was dry, we turned the craft upside down to paint the unpainted ends. The quality of the paint during the war was not exceptional but it seemed to do the trick. When it was dry we hauled the boat into the shed to allow the paint to harden before applying the final coat of gloss. Being by that time all in one piece, the catamaran was quite a heavy object but we finally managed to get it inside the shed.

Then came the grand day when we took it out again for its final coat of paint prior to its launch on the fishponds. The day was fine and sunny so, once again we stood our boat on end on the concrete path outside the shed. Eric and I each had a pot of paint and a brush and we decided to paint the underside of the boat first. When this was completed we both came around to the top of the deck and continued to paint starting at the top of both hulls. That was a great mistake! As we both pressed our brushes onto the hulls to put on the paint we pressed a little too hard and the whole thing toppled away from us and right over onto the concrete. There was a terrible crash as the full weight of the boat hit the concrete; both hulls cracked into pieces from stem to stern and bits of dry putty shot out all over the place. Our beloved catamaran was a complete wreck! Having pots of paint and brushes in our hands were were completely helpless to stop the accident happening.

My mother, who had been working in the kitchen only a few yards away, heard the crash and came running to the door to see what had happened. We must have looked a disconsolate pair surveying the wreck of our catamaran like New Yorkers gazing at the collapsed Twin Towers. As a craft to sail on it was now absolutely useless. 

My mother sympathized with us but seemed to recover rather quickly offering, almost instantly, to buy the boat from us for firewood. We realized that any attempt at repair was quite out of the question so we accepted her kind offer. I remember her telling me some time later, after we’d got over the sad affair, that she was never more relieved than when she saw the catamaran in pieces. She was terrified that, if we’d tried to sail on it we’d have been drowned. In retrospect I think she was probably right. Launching from the bank of the fishpond would have been a great thrill but when we got to the middle of the pond we might well have found that both hulls were taking on water, and returning to the bank might have been difficult. We later learned that Eric’s mother had similar thoughts to my mother’s.

We’d never considered a name for our catamaran, but, as things turned out, I suppose Hesperus wouldn’t have been a bad one.

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.