Saturday 28 November 2009

Rural poor in Cornwall

Whilst this book (Cornish Homes and Customs) refers specifically to the rural poor of Cornwall, I don't doubt that much of the detail was applicable to Ag. Labs. across the country.

"Owing to their poverty, the working classes of former times could rarely afford the clothing proper to protect them from the cold and wet. In the earlier part of the last century the farm labourer's working dress consisted of a coarse shirt, a pair of 'duck' (a heavy cotton) trousers not quite reaching to the ankles, a waistcoat, a smock (also made of 'duck') and low-quartered shoes - without socks or stockings. At a later date, when boots came into general use, their leather was frequently so hard from exposure that it was only with the utmost difficulty they could be drawn on. Every worker in those days,' writes Mr Charke, 'had a lace hook, for our boot leather and the laces were too obdurate for fingers alone. If you could only conceive how the men suffered in their feet in summer time from the hot earth which got into their boots, and the perspiration, you would pity them. I dare say they walked from twenty-five to thirty miles day in the course of their work, with raw and blistered feet, and there were many squeals at night when the stockings came off. The wounds! - wounds with blood! All to live, and feed others.' *1

In winter, when the fields were heavy with water, and deep in mud, straw ropes or 'thumb binds' were wound around the legs from the top of the boots to the knee, like a modern puttee. These thumb binds were made of oaten straw, and received their name from being spun around the thumb, an operation quickly performed by those who had had the necessary practice. The upper part of the body was covered with an apron and a shawl made of old sacks, whilst an ancient 'billycock' hat served as the usual headgear for all weathers. Having only one suit of clothes for everyday wear, when the men came home at night soaked to the skin, they were obliged to dry themselves before the fire; whilst the same clothes had to be put on again in the morning, often still wet and icy cold. Rheumatism in consequence was a wellnigh universal malady amongst the poor. At fifty many a man had become practically an 'ancient', having to walk on two sticks, and so stiff in his joints that when he sat down he could scarcely 'rise up' again. The children and women suffered from exposure hardly less than the men. The former were almost invariably underclothed, being frequently without shoes or stockings, or any change of linen. On Saturday nights they had to go to bed early, and naked, in order that their mothers might wash and dry such underclothes as they possessed, to be ready for use again on the Sunday morning. *2

During a frost, or in snowy weather, it was not uncommon to see boys of nine or ten years of age in the fields crying bitterly on account of the cold, and their hands so blue and numbed that they were scarcely able to grasp the frozen turnips which they would be engaged in pulling. After a long day's toil of this sort men, women, and children would return to their homes at night, worn out with fatigue, but still having the household duties - cooking, baking, sewing, or fetching water - to perform before retiring to rest. During the busy seasons of the year, the men would often contrive to cultivate their gardens by moonlight, whilst within the cottage the womenfolk were 'catching up' their various chores which had to be done in readiness for the next day's toil, which started with the dawn."

*1 'Remembrances of Life on a Farm, Old Cornwall, II, No. 2
*2 Dr R Dunstan, Western Morning News, 2 December 1929

Shutting the stable door . . .

Illustration is of the stable doors fronting the dwellings at Stack Square, Blaenavon.

We have a couple of "stable doors" in this house - one down into mum's rooms, and one to the outside from the "back place" - a sort of utility/junk area off the kitchen. I like the idea of having the top half open in the summer, to let the air flow and because it reminds me of a stable (these horsey genes of mine have a lot to answer for . . .)

In "olden days" though, stable doors - known in Cornwall as being "hepse" doors - took on a whole new meaning, as this extract from Cornish Homes and Customs by A K Hamilton Jenkin shows:

"The doors of the cottages at this date (early 1800s or thereabouts) were mostly of the 'hepse' variety, being divided across the middle into two sections. The upper half was generally kept open so as to admit light and air to the living-room, whilst the lower half was shut in order t keep in the children and to keep out the fowls and pigs. Failure to observe this precaution resulted on occasion in ghastly consequences.

"Last week,"
states a newspaper correspondent, 'the mother of an infant child in Gwinear went to fetch water, leaving the baby alone in the cradle. Whilst she was out, a pig entered the house and so dreadfully ate the head and shoulders of the helpless infant that it expired within a few minutes after the mother's return." (Cornwall Gazette, 30 July 1803). Mrs Pascoe, in her Walks About St Hilary, records a similar incident. In this case, however, the pig merely ate the child's hands. Strange to relate, the father, on hearing of the accident, received the news with joy, exxclaiming: 'The boy is a gentleman for life, the parish must look after him!' 'For the greater part of the year,' adds Mrs Pascoe, 'the child was subsequently exhibited at fairs and markets, and at coach windows, the mother neglecting her other children for this new source of revenue.'

Thursday 26 November 2009

Crafts . . .

I finally got around to having my Swine Flu jab on Wednesday, after much research and deliberation. As a chronic asthmatic, really I didn't have a lot of choice. Flu DOES kill and on the principle that you're a long time dead, I stepped up to the mark. I was OK until lunchtime yesterday, when, having spent the morning baking a double-ginger Ginger cake, big apple crumble, cheese bread and Cornish Fairings (biscuits), I suddenly felt like I'd been pole-axed. I spent the afternoon on the sofa with my x-stitch, the wood burner lit, and jumps racing on tv. A couple of paracetamol took away the headache, neckache etc. The cake was much-appreciated by my husband (who loves ginger) and by whichever cat chose to use it as a bed last night! Just as well I thought to cover it with cling-film first . . .

Above and below - here are some of the hats I have been knitting for family "smalls" this Christmas.

Half an hour was well-spent sorting through my sewing things in the craft basket, though I couldn't for the life of me find the x-stitch project I wanted to work on - found the chart for it, and the threads, but not the started work . . . Instead I blew the dust off a very old half-done project and worked on that instead, but it's all in very muted "sparrow-like" colours so not very exciting to do. I will plod on with it anyway, as it's 3/4 done now.

Above - the project I worked on, and below, the one I can't find the started project for . . .

Lots of cat charts (who forgot the flash then?!!)

Which to do first? I have one of castles too . . .

This is another work in progress, and I want to get it finished for my middle daughter. The colours aren't anything like as pinky as they appear here, far more lilac of course, as it's the lilac fairy . . .

I have 7 or 8 half-finished projects, abandoned about 12 or more years ago when I was doing my degree course and subsequently. I had forgotten quite how much I enjoyed x-stitch, but hadn't realized how my eyes had changed in the intervening period. I am very glad that OH and I found a sewing light at the car boot sale a couple of years ago for £4.50. It's the sort you use with a daylight simulation bulb and it has a magnifier too. If you were to buy it new, it would be £50 cheapest (and it's about £80+ in town). It had a small electrical fault when we bought it, but nothing that OH couldn't fix and I couldn't sew without it now. Sewing on 27 count linen in off-white colours necessitated all the help I could get!

In the evening my brain had gone walkabouts again, so I spent the evening sorting through bags of DMC and Anchor threads and winding the DMC ones onto spools. I have all my original DMC threads threaded through holes in strips of cornflake packets, but have to admit the spools make for easier work finding colours, and keep it much tidier. I gave eldest daughter the original container for the spools to keep her beads in for jewellery-making, but OH had bought me this craft container (probably originally for screws or fishing odds and sods) in Lidls, and it is now in use.

And to settle an argument. Someone on a forum was saying there was no way you could sell your house unless you depersonalized it and painted all the walls beige. I took up issue with this and pointed out that not everyone was trying to sell a bog-standard estate semi (which this rule of thumb might apply to). Old Welsh farmhouses were a different animal. Now which would you prefer - WITHOUT china, or WITH china? I rest my case . . .

This needs slight decluttering, and the dried marjoram is going to replaced with some dried flowers, the spoons and bits putting somewhere else, but it would look NOTHING without all the favurite bits and bobs we've collected over the years.

Wednesday 25 November 2009

In Living Memory

Looking across the Towy Valley with Dryslwyn Castle atop the outcrop in the centre.

The alternative title to this was "Doing Without" as this post is about that as well. "Doing Without" is deeply unfashionable in this day and age, but it's a lesson I learned in my childhood and sadly our eldest daughter is having to learn the hard way now, as she doesn't have a job yet - though she did get an interview last week and I have every finger crossed.

My late mother-in-law was born in 1909. Her father was killed in WW1 when she was only 6, the eldest of 4 children. Her mother struggled to make ends meet even before she was widowed. The final insult was the shilling the Army invoiced her for the blanket they used to bury her husband in. "Pan haggety" was a frequent meal - potatoes fried in a little bacon fat. Eggs came from the elderly neighbour across the way who kept hens in her back yard until they started laying soft-shell eggs and she had no money to get more hens. She baby-sat the young ones too, whilst Alice's mother worked 12 hour shifts at the local laundry. Once the old lady's varicose veins burst, spraying the walls with blood, but the Doctor refused to come out to treat her unless there was half a crown paid up front . . . She went without, and they tied old sheets round her legs to staunch the blood.

When money was really tight, it was "kettle broth" for supper. A few pieces of stale bread would be crumbled in a bowl and then boiling water poured over, with a pinch of salt and pepper for flavour. Fruit was a luxury that was rarely seen, apart from the obligatory tangerine at Christmas. Alice's most wonderful Christmas present was a tuppenny exercise book to write in . . .

In the days before Christmas one year, I fell into conversation with the old lady behind me in the checkout queue at Tesco's. She was telling me that she had grown up in the row of houses which used to be where the bus station was now - Blue Street. Her mother had kept a shop, but they weren't ever allowed any "goodies" from the stock for sale. One Christmas there were a few oranges left over and they had their first oranges as a Christmas treat.

Another day, another queue. This time the old post office down by the school my children attended. Again, it was close to Christmas. "Christmas!" exclaimed the old chap behind me, "Christmas! Why, it's Christmas every day for people now, with their two cars a family, and their central heating and their holidays abroad. When my dad was growing up there were families they never even had the money to rent anywhere. They would walk from farm to farm, begging for work. All they asked for was a bed in the hay barn at night, and some fat bacon to eat in return for a day's work. All they had were the clothes the stood up in, and a bit of old sacking to keep the weather off." It is hard to imagine such poverty.

Some of my Ag. Lab. ancestors were buried "on the parish", with just a small wooden cross to mark their last resting place. The final years of their life were spent sharing a room with a lodger (who paid the rent), and they would have a "outdoor relief" which saved them from a bed in the Workhouse and was a cheaper option anyway. They worked into their 70s and even 80s if their strength and their "rheumatics" allowed. All Ag. Labs. had rheumatism - it went with the outdoor life in all weathers.

We had a few years when we first moved here when every arriving bill was a nightmare, and when we really lived hand-to-mouth, but we managed, and at least we had a roof over our heads - even if it was a rather leaky one - and we still ate three meals a day - though sometimes the main meal got a bit repetitive and all the "treats" were baked at home! We didn't start buying Christmas presents until we had the Christmas money from various relatives and added it to the frugal amount we could spare, but Christmas Day was always a happy one and we managed on better than kettle broth . . .

Tuesday 24 November 2009

The Land by Vita Sackville-West

I was fortunate to find this book last week in the 2nd hand bookshop in Llandeilo. It is a very long poem about the weald and downland of Kent and I don't know how I have lived so long and not really come across it before. Here is just a little scrap to tempt you and although it is in the summer and harvest section, I think it could apply any time and perhaps place, since we have Merlin's Cave about 6 miles from here:

When moonlight reigns, the meanest brick and stone
Take on a beauty not their own,

And past the flaw of builded wood

Shines the intention whole and good,

- And all the little homes of man
Rise to a dimmer, nobler plan

When colour's absence gives escape

To the deeper spirit of the shape,

- Then earth's great architecture swells

Among her mountains and her fells

Under the moon to amplitude

Massive and primitive and rude,

Then do the clouds like silver flags

Stream out above the tattered crags,

And black and silver all the coast

Marshals its hunched and rocky host,

And headlands striding sombrely

Buttress the land against the sea,

The darkening land, the brightening wave, -

When moonlight slants through Merlin's cave.

A glimpse of Talley Abbey through the trees, taken yesterday.

Monday 23 November 2009

Census occupation: Charwoman

As requested, another glimpse into Ann Jones' life . . .

The moon was sinking in the sky as Ann trudged up the garden to the ty bach near the water's edge. Moonlight highlighted the river, the swift-moving wavelets dipping and tossing downstream, wave-crests opalescent in the moonlight, slapping against rocks and trailing through the fingers of low-hanging branches. In the rushes on the far bank the old dog otter watched her before he slid silently into the water. A Tawny Owl hooted in the ash trees. Another day had begun.

In the cottage, her daughters slept on, covered in a warm blanket made at one of the pandies up Llandyssul way. The embers in the hearth had survived another night, and she deftly brought them back to life and, rousing her daughters, quickly mixed flour and water and an egg from her hens which had amazingly still kept laying sporadically despite the lateness of the year. The griddle cakes were soon sizzling in a little lard which was kept in a pig's bladder against the cool wall. As she steadied the planc she burned a finger, and reached for the little pad of hay to hold it with. The girls were dressed and ready, with the honey jar on the table, before the griddle cakes even needed turning, sitting on the little bench their da had made from river-wood and rough-hewn branches. It rocked on the uneven floor. The smell of the heated lard made them wish there was bacon, but they knew better than to hope for even a morsel until the next pig was killed and then it would be feast time, with a bucket of offal to share amongst the three Anns and their families who lived cheek-by-jowl here, sharing every rise and fall of daily living.

In the pre-dawn darkness they crossed the road to Ann-stockings, where she left the girls whilst she worked, paying her friend a few pence a week for the privilege. As the horizon beyond the farm began to lighten, she plodded up the lane to the farmhouse, where only a single room showed a light.

It was not a job she did through choice. She had been a dairy maid from leaving home, at the big house up the hill, but when children came along they'd relied on her husband's money. His death had changed all that. Now she was widowed, she was a charwoman - little better than a skivvy really - doing all the dirty jobs, the heavy jobs that the live-in girls hated to do. Mr Davis was kind to her, kept her rent to a minimum and let her have any beestings to cook up in a curd tart, blood sometimes for a black pudding when they'd killed a pig, and a length of chitterlings for the casings, beside the bucket of offal to share with her neighbours. This kindness in return for her scrubbing out the shed where the beast had been rendered into edible and non-edible, a job rendered even more unsavoury if the guts had been trodden on and spilt their contents everywhere.

In winter, her arms ached from scrubbing the huge pans used for cooking, and her hands were dry and cracked from frequent immersion in water. If it was the copper pans she was cleaning, then her lungs and eyes would be smarting from the boiling vinegar it took to clean them inside, and she regularly walked to the marshy field where the Mares tail plants grew which were used to polish them. Daily, hers was the task to scrub the orange floor tiles of the kitchen with a scrubbing brush and lye. The kitchen table fell to her lot too - scrubbing the greasy spots with fuller's earth and soap and then scouring the planks with chloride of lime water and silver sand until her fingers bled, some days.

First thing she would clean out the ash from last night's fires and blacklead each grate, laying each fire fresh, before filling the coal scuttles from around the back of the barn. She would trim each oil lamp, and carefully wash the smoke marks from the chimneys.

In summer, the sunshine showed up all the dark corners and the china would be taken down and cleaned regularly, the duster used with authority the length and breadth of the house and spiders sent scuttling from their corners as their webs were dragged down. The rugs needed to be regularly beaten, as the dust from the lane outside came in through the open windows and settled everywhere. If she was lucky, she might get a few hours' dairy work on a Fair Day when the other servants were given time off or if the milk yields were unusually good, but never a drop for her children - milk was far too precious a commodity for folk like them.

Each summer, it was time to whitewash the farm and outbuildings and she also helped with that. To make the whitewash, waste fat was needed, even that which had gone rancid was considered meet, and odds and ends of the winter's tallow candles found a final use. Chopped with the narrow spade they used for digging post holes, she then boiled it up in the old cauldron, adding dry unslaked lime. This was always done on washing day so that the soapy wash water could be utilized. It stood overnight and became a white spongey mass which formed the base of the whitewash. Then the younger lads, those not afraid of ladders and heights, would paint the farm and outbuildings, keeping the flies at bay and making the farm look God-faring, for as their preacher told them, cleanliness was next to Godliness . . . . .

Thursday 19 November 2009

The Wrong Side of the Law

With the gales soughing round the house all day and showing no sign of abating even now, I have rewarded hard work on The Chair (I am now at the sewing-with-a-curved-needle stage) with the occasional break on the computer. I found a fascinating page or fifty on the Crime and Punishment section on the National Library of Wales website. Not much happened in our Parish, just a married couple sent to prison for a month because they attacked the local constable. In the adjoining parish, however, hell seems to have broken loose on many an occasion, and they sounded a pretty lawless lot. These crimes took place in the 18th C. I have omitted the names of the perpetrators, just in case someone in their 20th C family tree recognizes them . . .

There must have been some striking evidence here:

"Murder of Thomas David, tailor by stabbing him with a knife. Prisoner described as a 'quiet, honest, well-disposed man'.
Plea: Not guilty.
Verdict: Guilty of manslaughter.
Punishment: To be whipped"

Status: Labourer
Offence: Theft of money and a silver watch.
Location and date
Parish: Coychurch; County: Glamorgan; Date: 5 July 1754
Plea: Not guilty.
Verdict: Guilty.
Punishment: Death, pardoned, transported.

Then, what on earth was going on here?!

"Riot and assault on prosecutor (the vicar) whilst he was solemnising a marriage at Llan..... church."

Sometimes, though, the most dreadful accident would happen:
"Manslaughter of fellow servant, Margaret John, aged 13 years by accidental discharge of gun, according to information of witnesses. The accused, aged 15, fled. No indictment."

"Murder of Henry William George by striking him with a chair." (The accused was found Not Guilty).

Next parish across again, the following:

Status: Yeoman
Offence: Murder of Robert John Robert, Llangadog.
Date: 24 July 1774
Plea: Not guilty.
Verdict: Guilty of manslaughter.
Punishment: Prays benefit of clergy, branded

As to the punishment, perhaps someone might be able to explain it? Well, branded I understand, but the rest?

Wednesday 18 November 2009

Little Llettygariad

The weak light from a tallow candle, guttering in the draught of a cracked window, spread a tiny puddle of amber across the wet lane as Christmas Parry marched past little Llettygariad, intent on his own warm fireside, this cold November afternoon.

A warm orange glow from the open hearth pooled across the slate slabs as Ann Jones cut slivers of bacon from a cooked pig's head, just a wee one, for her neighbour Ann's runt of the litter had finally been overlain a few weeks into its short life, the competition for a spare teat having weakened it. Waste not, want not, the odds and ends of a suckling pig was not to be sneezed at and it was making a tasty broth.

Outside, the wind was getting up again and the day's heavy rain was thundering past in the river, carving scallops into the rocky platforms beneath the surface, the dull clunk of a passing stone strangely loud above the tear of the water heading seawards. White horses tossed their heads and reared and bucked as they crossed the massive outcrops of subterranean rock, catching their manes in the trailing fingers of the beech twigs. Whirlpools formed in scoops of the riverbank, circling madly before being sucked into the maelstrom of water, punctuated by the winking of bobbing deadwood, dragged from its resting place by the rising flood. The weight of water plucking at the bank sent reverberations which Ann felt as she worked, but it was no worse than it ever had been in spate and only once in living memory had the flood sent her from her home and across the road to her neighbour's cottage, for fear they would be overcome in their beds.

A tendril of ivy beat time on the darkening glass; a mouldered piece of sacking stuffed in a rotted windowframe flapped like a dying moth; there was a sudden flare of light in the hearth as a stick collapsed beneath the cooking pot. A footstep along the lane drew Ann's attention to the window: I caught her eye for a second, sensed her weariness and then the veil of time drew, shroud-like, between us and Llettygariad became the ruin I know from many a journey past: the tumble of the rubble walls sinking into the tangle of nettle and bramble and the glossy leaves of laurel flapping in the wind, roots in the room where once a hand rocked a cradle and prepared a simple meal. and

Will both take you to posts with other mention of Llettygariad in, on my original Codlins and Cream blog.

Monday 16 November 2009

Winging it . . .

Do you ever have a job to do where you find that although you have started, you have got to the stage where you don't know what the heck you are doing? I had one of those days today with reupholstering my husband's armchair. The book open on the table beside me gave all sorts of illustrations of different chairs, but NO answers to the questions I had in my head. Anyway, in the end I just had to make it up as I went along, using common sense . . . Largely, it worked, though I had to unpick and resew the extra bits of material I'd put on the side to tack onto.

The Mobile Library came today. I got DH a book about house restoration, and jokingly said to the Librarian, "I wish we'd had this book when we first moved here." I took it indoors to my husband, and he said much the same thing, admitting that he knew NOTHING about any of the jobs we had to tackle here, and believe me, there was a LOT of restoration work to be done. That shocked me a bit, as I really thought he pretty well always knew what he was doing! When we had injections of money, we paid for the rewiring to be professionally done, and the central heating extended, and chimneys lined, and some major building restoration on rooms which were completely derelict. Then the was the digging-out of our well so we had our own water supply and didn't have to rely on sharing a supply with Next Door's cows . . .

I have to confess though that at times, my heart has been in my mouth when one of the builders had to do things which weren't strictly in the manual - like capping a chimney singlehandedly - edging along the ridge tiles with the lump of slate slab clutched to a manly chest and then going back for the bucket of cement to keep it in place . . . Every time I look at the next chimney over I notice the upside-down wok which has been doing sterling service as a cowl for probably 15 years now . . .

Then there was a more recent roof adventure where we had to climb out of one of the Velux windows in a spare bedroom, scramble the few steps across the roof to the inglenook chimney stack and then lay across the chimney to knock off loose bits of render which were causing a problem. You can see the window, chimney stack and catslide roof in the photo below, at the back of the house. Hopefully when we move, such shennanigans will no longer be necessary . . .

Sunday 15 November 2009

Unashamed nostalgia

I was a child of the 50s and can even remember when there was only ONE channel on the b&w telly. We didn't have a kitchen - we had a scullery. We had a Geyser for hot water. The bally house was so cold and damp the clothes used to go mouldy and until I was about 7, I had my baths (Saturday night of course) in an oval tin bath in front of the - coal - fire, with the clothes horse surrounding me, swathed in blankets to keep the draughts away! We had lino and a carpet square. The washing was done in a copper which lived in the corner of the scullery, and I used to love helping my mum put the washing through the mangle which screwed onto the end of the enamel-topped table in the scullery, under the food hatch my dad had put in the wall. We only had an outside toilet and it trained you to have a very long-distance bladder on cold winter nights! I had a lovely old Victorian cast iron and brass bedstead, and can remember unscrewing the brass knobs and hiding my treasures in them and also making wonder tents by tieing a piece of string to the bedends and hanging a blanket over it. Having a cold was never much fun though as mum used to rub Vick on my top lip to clear my nose and it made my eyes water no end.

Mum never shopped in town, because she was very deaf, so dreadfully handicapped and frightened of "going into town", even though the bus stopped right outside the door. But no matter as there was a Co-op, 4 corner shops selling groceries and a hardware store within a half mile stretch (and we were in the middle of that). mum - and the neighbours - shopped daily, as this was in the pre-fridge days too, so meat had to be used up quickly and leftovers kept in the meat-safe in the larder which was a cupboard under the stairs. Sunday's roast was always put through the clamp-to-the-table mincer for Shepherd's Pie on a Monday. (For some unaccountable reason I seem to have a collection of mincers now . . .) Milk was stopped going sour by standing the glass bottle in a bowl of cold water (Brown and Harrisons' Dairy delivered daily too, and still had horses and carts in my childhood) . Cheese was only one sort, Cheddar, and wrapped in greaseproof paper, but that didn't stop it getting a hard slightly greasy rind on it.

Fruit and vegetables were eaten in season and there were always strawberry-picking jobs going begging in the summer. I always wanted a strawberry-picking job until I found out that it gave you terrible backache! I grew up in Southampton and the hinterland to the East of the city, between it and Fareham, was mile upon mile of market gardens, which supplied the towns and if you were out for a drive, there were always many roadside stalls to buy locally-grown produce from at sensible prices. Organic no, but it never went very far to be eaten.

You could count the car owners in our road on the fingers of one hand until the early 1960s when we finally got a car too - an old Triumph Mayflower with real leather seats that smelt wonderful on a hot summer's day, when I would, impatient as ever, sit in the car from after breakfast onwards, waiting until lunch was over and we could go "out for a run", which would usually be our favourite bits in the New Forest, or up to "Little Switzerland" at Corhampton near the Meon Valley. I always implored my dad to "go the long way home" to make the outing last longer.

We, like many of our neighbours, had a big back garden, and mum used to keep chickens. We had fruit trees too and I can remember hot summer nights when the windows were open, and I would listen to the Nightingales singing in the Damson trees.

Anything "recyclable" was collected by the Rag and Bone Man, who came along our road with his chestnut mare Susie (which had never seen a brush in her life).

My friends and I had such freedom to roam, and would go out all day long in the summer with just a packet of jam sandwiches wrapped in tinfoil. I reckon we knew every inch for about 5 miles around our road, and as we were all horsey, we knew the name and whereabouts of every pony too! Most mums were stay-at-home (as I have been), and they could all repair clothes, unravel a jumble sale woollie and reknit it as something else, make jam tarts and bake cakes, and chicken was something you had ONLY at Easter or Christmas and was generally called a Capon, which was a neutered male . . .

No-one expected their mother to work full-time and have a career; nor to go and work out at the gym or learn to drive (no need really, as such good transport system) or get her pre-baby figure back within a month of the birth; housework was for women; hard gardening work for men (digging and mowing) - women got the fun jobs like planting. Family relationships were held together well as not many families moved away to live/work. You knew the neighbours by name for 100 yards either side of your house, and the length of the road by sight if not name. You walked to school. A few people had extra-curricular activities such as learning to play a musical instrument, but that was usually through school. There were Brownies and Guides but mostly we made our own fun, some of it quite dangerous fun too . . .

I lived near what had been a working brickworks until about 1960ish. Where they had dug out the clay to make the bricks, left behind were "cliff edges" of the exavations, and at the bottom were pools of water, where Great Crested Newts and Common Newts, Frogs, Toads, tadpoles, and dragonfly larva used to live, and a wonderful marshy area we called Flamingo Marsh. Here the Sundew plants lives and we would tease them with grass stalks and make them think a fly had landed on them. We used to slide down the cliff faces on teatrays, and we and the local boys (we girls were terrible tomboys, need I say?) used to make rafts to push out onto the ponds. I can remember one raft turning turtle once, and we had to throw a rope to the boys who were floundering out in the deepest bit of pond.

We had brick fights, learned to run extremely fast to dodge the billy goat who was tethered down in the brickworks, and one of our favourite pursuits was to tie plastic bags over our feet and splodge out into the middle of Flamingo Marsh and jump up and down. A corresponding area about 10 feet away would shudder in unison! There was a smaller pond with what we called "the wall of death" surrounding it. As long as you ran really fast you could get to the other side without falling in - centrifugal force I suppose. Anyway, we made Alison Hams run round there, but we didn't tell her she had to run fast and of course she fell in!

Probably the most dangerous pursuit (apart frm lobbing bricks at each thers' heads) was to go on the "treadmill", which was a machine they mixed the clay in for bricks. It had just been abandoned, and we used to tread on the "lugs" that dug into the clay, and make the central barrel of the machine move round. Had we slipped . . . instant broken and crushed leg . . .

Rose-tinted spectacles? Not really, as compared with today there are probably what are seen as many negatives for women. I liked it all well enough to try to recreate a similar childhood for my children, even though it meant moving to Wales to do it . . .

Saturday 14 November 2009


I am uploading some photos taken whilst we were out and about today. Unsurprisingly, the river had been across the lane again, but subsided before we needed to go out. It's higher than it was last week though, and that is just one night's rain - the ground is so waterlogged now it can't take any more.

Looking back up the Towy Valley from Whitemill.

The Towy had burst its banks already, and the nearer we got to Carmarthen, the worse it was looking. At Whitemill I got some stunning pictures which were almost monochrome, and as the sun tried to break through, I aimed the camera straight at it and WOW! that's one to be blown up and framed I think . . .

A floating oak tree . . .

I stopped and walked through the grounds of the Museum, to the Bishop's Pond, which was now stretching from one side of the valley to the other! I met a chap walking a dog and he said he had never known it come up so quickly.

Above and below, as you can see the water is pouring through the sheep wire . . .

Our beautiful river valley in flood again.

That has helped take my mind off having a phone call from our middle daughter saying her handbag was nicked last night - in the Students' Union Bar. It is going to cost ME about £150 to put right, with replacement driving licence, flat key, mobile phone etc (insured, but she has to pay £25 for a replacement). And the Police, oh yes, the POLICE say that if she didn't SEE it being stolen, then it is merely LOST! Believe me, if she had SEEN someone nicking it, she would have floored them, as she is trained in Martial Arts . . . So given that decision by the Police, if I were to leave my car in a car park, and come back and find it gone, it wouldn't be STOLEN, I would merely have MISLAID it . . . I feel a letter to the Daily Mail coming on . . .



The grass lies easy on the hillsides, spreading
Over swells and hollows like a length of emerald satin.
Trees cluster in folds of the landscape
Like gossiping guests at a cocktail party.
Dark hedges throw casual arms around hillsides,
Lift up a bracken-topped mound candled
With infant holly and be-witched birch.
Hawthorn berries sodden with rain are
Marooned in their cradle of twigs.
A huddle of blackthorn stretches a winter filigree
Against a pigeon-grey sky. Lane-side hedges
Sport a tawny crew-cut for winter.
Beneath the old oak's convoluted branches,
Clad in their velvet jackets of green,
Ribbons of water serpentine downhill,
Cascade off banks, chase sodden leaves into ditches,
As the gale bowls more, like wet confetti,
Down the lane. A caul of rain drifts up the valley,
Like a lace curtain at a cottage window.
Only the sulphur-yellow of the larches
Brighten in our headlights.

J.C. 2009

© J.C. If you wish to use this poem or any of my blog postings or photographs, please ask first.

Friday 13 November 2009


Many thanks to John Atherton who took this photograph, and then kindly shared it for re-use through Creative Commons.

In the pigeon-grey gloom of a wet November afternoon, the tall spires of the chimneys of Edwinsford House jabbed into the sky like charcoaled fingers, the gable-ends of the roof dropping their shoulders into the trees which threaten to smother the ruins. A huge gateway,the restored gate house, a sweep of gravel, then it was all just a shimmer in the wing mirror as we sped up the valley.

The estate is beautiful. Once a gentry home of the highest calibre, it is now popular for holidays and the fishing rights along 5 miles of the beautiful Cothi river are promoted, with good reason. Its downfall and ruination began before it housed POWs in WWII, who enterprisingly or otherwise, chose to grow mushrooms beneath the floorboards and hastened its demise. (I cannot reference that, it is just something I have heard oft-repeated in the years of living here).

The earliest part of the present (ruinous) house was constructed in 1635, built in a large square with a central chimneystack. It was known at Edwinsford Uchaf. About 30 years later an extension was added, known as Edwinsford Isaf, had two main rooms on each floor and a garret above it, which was modernised with the addition of dormer windows c. 1710. A small chapel was also built close by, for the convenience of family worship. By 1776, lithographs show a beautiful bridge over the Cothi which took guests to the front of the house. Further additions were added during Victorian times, including ballroom which replaced the chapel.

Francis-Jones* stated that 19 generations of the Williams family lived here. They claimed descent from Hywel Dda and Rhodri Mawr and intermarried into other important Welsh families including the Vaughans of Golden Grove and the Morgans of Tredegar. An advantageous local marriage brought them the Llether Cadfan estate near Broad Oak in Carmarthenshire. Nearby, the battle of Coed Lathan took place in 1257, when the Welsh forces routed those under the command of Stephen Bauzan. At some point, panelling was removed from Llether Cadfan and used at Edwinsford in the dining room.

However, he also states:

"Edwinsford, in the parish of Llansawel, has been from medieval times the seat of a family descended from the Irish chieftain Ideo Wyllt, who, having entered Wales with a force to aid Rhys ap Tewdwr of Deheubarth (killed 1093), married a daughter of that prince, and settled at Edwinsford. Lewis Glyn Cothi composed poems of praise to the family of Rhydodyn who extended generous patronage to the bards. David ap Rhys William of Rhydodyn, died in 1613, was the first to adopt the surname Williams thereafter borne by his descendants. "

If you follow the * link you will see how the house looked in its heyday . . .

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Work this one out . . .

One of the books we got the other day was "One Thousand Curiosities of Britain" by Egon Jameson. I suspect it was his one and only book as he wasn't a natural writer . . . This little conundrum ideally needs breaking into two sections so you have to wait for the explanation, but I shan't be mean . . .

In the churchyard at Martham in Norfolk is an epitaph to set the mind whirling in confusion:

"And there Lyes
ALICE who by his Life
Was my Sister, my mistres,
My mother and my wife.
Dyed Fe. ye 12, 1729.
Aged 76 years.

"In the year 1670 a farmer at Martham, named Christ Burraway, seduced his 27 year old daughter, Alice.

She bore him a son, whom she sent away secretly to a foundling-home far from the place where she lived. Here the son of Christ grew up and, when he reached the age of 20, was apprenticed to a farmer.

When he had completed his training in this, his father''s calling, he wandered through the countryside in search of work until, by chance, he came to Martham and, as it happened, went to Alice Burrway to apply for a job, quite unaware that he was speaking to his mother.

By this time his - and, of course, her - father was dead and Alice Burraway decided to take on the young man, she too being completely unaware that he was her son.

She grew fond of him and became his mistress and, later on, they were married and lived for 20 years as man and wife.

It was not until she was 76 years ld that Alice Burraway chanced to discover that her husband had two moles on his shoulder, just like her father and herself. And then it crossed her mind that she had noticed this self-same birth-mark on her son. So she pressed him to tell her abut his childhood, for he had hitherto maintained strict silence as to his past history, as he hardly cared t have it known that he was an illegitimate foundling.

Full of misgivings and anxious only to set her mind at rest, the old lady set out for the orphanage where she made enquiries and, on learning the date on which the man who was now her husband had been admitted thre, realised that she had married her own son.

Horror-stricken, she fainted, and shortly died.

When she failed to return, the man went to fetch her home, but found her dead. Then he too learnt the whole of the ghastly tragedy in which the evil spirits of chance and fate had involved him.

He too fell ill and within four months followed his mother, sister, mistress and wife the the grave."

Well I never did, as my mum would have said . . .

A Day of Remembrance

As we observed the two minute silence at 11 a.m. this morning, in honour of those who gave their lives for their country, we thought of my husband's grandfather and great uncle who died in the Somme, and who are remembered and cherished still in photographs and a couple of pencilled notes scribbled home. Great uncle George has his name on the Menin Gate, as his body was never found, and on the memorial on Oliver's Mount at Scarborough, his home town. His grandfather is remembered by a headstone in one of the many WW1 Cemetaries with row upon row of headstones as far as the eye can see. his eldest draughter (my husband's mother) was only 6 when he died, and her brother and sisters younger still . . .

Monday 9 November 2009

A day in Hay . . .

This is the conical hilltop I can never get a photo of as it is impossible to stop, so I had to quickly take a pic out of the window as we sped past.

On the road there, between Llandovery and Trecastle.

A corner of the antiques market . . .

K browsing.

I like enamelled kitchen equipment. This lot wasn't cheap though. Most of the items were priced at about £28 each which is twice what I would want to pay! The big brown coffee-pot shaped container was for oil? according to the label. There were some small enamel colanders, like one I bought there recently for £4, only priced at £8. Guess they'll be there some time . . .

View from the top of the car park - the mist didn't clear all day.

Our first port of call, to get some string for tieing down the springs on K's armchair.

As we walked through the cut-way, my eye was caught by this lovely wonky line of embellishment. The chequered pattern dipped down to meet the top of the window you can see and one to its left. Rather eccentric!

I am pretty sure that the little pub was there long before the big houses either side snuggled up to it.

The road to Clyro. Little has changed over the years since Kilvert walked this road to Clyro and back. I have a book somewhere with that little cottage in the middle and the grey stone steps, with lads lounging on them and I think a horse and cart walking down towards the bridge.
A lovely stone house, probably late-Georgian, looking down the road towards Clyro.

Neighbours of the house above, looking back up towards the centre of the town.

We cut up through one of the back lanes, looking for somewhere to have lunch.

This shop always appears to be half-abandoned, but has some unusual things in the window as a rule.

Geraniums still blooming happily on the windowsill of the pub.

Isn't this a grand house? It sits in between the bookshop (house left) which specializes in garden books and the old Cinema bookshop.

Last view across a sombre landscape on the way home.

I bought two books, and K one. I'll add the titles when I've been downstairs again.