Posts Tagged ‘two staircases’

Osborne Cottage at Pontnewynydd

August 4, 2008


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