Posts Tagged ‘parties during war’

The Gregories of Cwmffrwdoer

October 7, 2008

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.