Anne Casson (nee Rees)
was born in 1915 at Gilfach Cottages in Six Bells, but moved to
Arael Street not long after. My mother Blodwen Rees (nee
Simmonds), whose parents lived opposite us, had worked in the
house of Arthur and Laura (nee Weare) Patey who ran the Coach
and Horses Pub in Six Bells, from the age of 13, caring for
their son Donald when he was born. At 18, she married my father
Albert Henry Rees, a miner at Six Bells Colliery. Nearby lived
Mr Patey’s brother who later went on to marry his brother’s
widow, an eye opener in those days! Mum was very impressed when
in later years I told her that I’d seen “young Donald Patey”
taking part in a religious discussion on TV.
I can visualise parts of Arael infant/junior school quite well.
The classroom I was in had a tiered floor and I remember well
the dread of each step down from the back of the room to the
front if the teacher called you out. Looking back, the actual
position of the school would be considered a nightmare now. It
was positioned similarly to the school in Aberfan in the sense
that an ever-growing slag heap started just a few yards from the
infant’s playground. The area was called Warm Turn. Close to the
school entrance passed the huge bucket type containers full of
slag. One would go up the conveyor full, another would come down
empty. From time to time the boys would jump up and grab onto
one of the buckets for a free ride for a few yards. I remember
one day a boy called Birchall did it, got entangled in the
machinery and had his leg torn off. What a difference between
the dangers children were exposed to then and the “no conkers”
policies they have today.
My mother was absolutely insistent that I missed as little
school as possible. Despite being born a healthy 10lb baby,
following a serious illness as a toddler, I was a small sickly
child (one with an anaemic, weak constitution Mum was told).
Some of my worst memories included the embarrassment of being
carried to school on occasions, wrapped in a shawl because I was
too weak to walk. The embarrassment was compounded because I had
circulation problems and Mum used to swathe my legs in putties,
the army issue khaki strips of material used by soldiers to keep
their legs warm in the First World War. (Probably obtained via
Dad’s brother Edgar who was a soldier) I certainly wasn’t alone
in being sickly. I remember lots of the children seemed to be
permanently 'snotty' or coughing, and endlessly wiping their
green trimmed noses with rags.
Being off frequently, sometimes just too unwell even to be
carried, meant that I fell well behind with the arithmetic
lessons. Less able pupils had desks at the back of the room, so
when I was there that’s where I sat, about as far from the only
heat source, the open fire, as you could possibly get. I can
remember being so numbed with cold during the winter months that
I could barely think, let alone do schoolwork. My saving grace
according to nasty Mr Phillips (we had a nice Mr Phillips as
well) although he couldn’t imagine why, given my apparent maths
inability, was that I wasn't too bad at English for a
“nincompoop”. (his word) This teacher wasn’t above harshly
rapping even the coldest of clenched knuckles with his cane when
he was angered by anything. I remember a boy in our class, a
small puny little lad belonging to the Protheroe family who used
to have to deliver papers for his family’s shop before school.
He would often come in a bit late especially in bad weather, and
would get severely caned for his trouble, on one occasion
fainting. The two girls I was friendly with at school were
Thursa and Dora Phipps. Their family was comfortably off
compared to some, and the local expression for recognizing that
was "so-and-so's family have got a stocking" i.e. a bit of cash
When you got to the last class in junior school, the clever ones
would go to the Grammar School. The academically struggling
children would stay on in junior school until leaving at 14, and
the middling ability ones would go on to Bryngwyn Central school
which was newish I think when I was there in 1928, and would
also leave at 14.
The little house we lived in in
Upper Arael St.
was one in a long row of terraces at the bottom of the
mountainside. We had the Carpenters on one side of us, and the
Brittens on the other. I can remember in summer picking
whimberries (the local word for bilberries) for pies and wild
watercress which we would take home for Mum to add to meals. I
don’t remember us having any bought toys. Everything was made
within the family from wood or scraps of material or anything
else that was available. Most of our clothes were bought at
chapel jumble sales and meticulously revamped and kept
immaculate by Mum.
Family entertainment came as special treats during the months my
Dad was well enough to be in work. We used to be taken to the
matinee at the cinema in Abertillery and as we passed the tin
works en route, I remember through the wide open double doors
you could see women beavering away at machines, wearing huge
thick protective dark leather aprons. It was silent films of
course then, and we'd watch the likes of cowboy hero Tom Mix,
and good old Charlie Chaplin. The live organ music would be
playing from the orchestra pit below. When money was tight, our
favourite entertainment was a hillside walk and a picnic by the
woodsmans cottage at the bottom of Cwmbeeg Dingle.
My slightly built father Albert Henry Rees wasn’t a strong man.
He would come in from the mines, exhausted after long gruelling
shifts. Whatever time of day or night it was, he’d get the old
tin bath off the yard wall and screened by towels on the clothes
maiden, bathed in it in front of the fire. Only then would he
sit and eat his meal. Dad’s health deteriorated after heart
attacks, so Mum had her hands full with three children under 5
and a sick husband to nurse. In those days you didn’t get proper
sick pay, so many weeks when he was too ill to work, there was
no wage coming in. Despite the fact things were really difficult
at that time, Mum was proud, too proud to allow us to take any
help from “the parish”. I can remember being glad, because I
like most of the other girls, dreaded to have to wear the
terrible unisex big clumpy black boots which were a feature of
the handouts when the strikes were on and it meant too I didn’t
have to go to the Chapel to be fed during the strikes, where the
food was reputed to be 'dire'.
Mum skimped and saved, mended and worked all the hours God sent,
to make sure we just about coped overall. When my father’s
health didn’t recover enough to continue with deep mining and
whilst he was off sick, he managed to continue his studies for
pit exams which would enable him to work in management above
ground. I can remember the brown envelopes used to come
regularly from Bennet’s College.
As after several heart attacks, Dads health meant he was off
work more and more, out of financial necessity, my mother
converted the front room into a little shop selling provisions,
sweets and icecream. With no spare money at the time for scales,
she borrowed some from Ike James who ran a newsagents/ general
store in Abertillery. She used to make the ice cream herself. I
remember one day she was panicking that the milk which had to be
scalded, had caught slightly in the pan, very very slightly
burning. She literally couldn’t afford for a whole batch to be
ruined. It had taken on a flavour which could vaguely be likened
to almonds, so she advertised it as almond ice cream and held
her breath. Luckily, lots of people liked it and so she was
asked to make it like that again. She didn’t though because it
was too risky that it would overburn and be inedible. Many of
the provisions for the shop had to be bought in bulk, weighed
and then repackaged into smaller amounts for resale and I have
recollections too of we children peeling small onions ready for
Mum to pickle and sell and of selling home grown bunches of
mint, door to door in the surrounding area.
There were three shops in
A second sweetshop (owned by the Poulsons) about ten doors up
from ours in Upper Arael St - their daughter was a teacher at
the school - and a bigger more purpose built general shop/house
at the bottom of Lower Arael St, owned by “Grandma” Perry, a
friend of my mother’s and run by her son Arthur. One of his
assistants used to collect cylinders of gas from the railway
station by horse and cart. These were to make the flavoured
fizzy drinks my mother sold in the shop. I remember a fairly
large glass globe half full of water called a vantas. Mum had a
little yellow duck floating in it to amuse and attract the
children. This globe was attached to the cylinder which pumped
gas into the water. The flavourings sarsaparilla, strawberry,
orange and lemonade came in sticks. Mum would have to add water
to these to make up batches of the flavour concentrate which was
stored in bottles where a wire contraption held the ceramic and
rubber stopper sealed down. The customer would then get a
measure of their chosen flavour in the glass provided, top it up
with fizzy water from the vantas and drink the contents on the
spot. The glass would then be washed and re-used.
I remember other little things too about our shop, like Mr Saye
who came in as a traveller for Berry’s sweets in Newport and Mrs
Picken from Richmond Street, who came in regularly wearing a
gold necklace which fascinated me, a little figure of a man
depicted in gold and ebony. Her daughter was called Annie like
me and her husband was in charge of the mine’s ambulance
station. This was funded by the mines and was exclusively for
mining staff use. Minor injuries were attended to at the
station, more difficult cases taken to the hospital. We used to
talk to Mr Picken sometimes as we passed on the way to school. I
was very impressed, I remember, when Mrs Picken told us that
both her brothers were university lecturers at Bangor!
We used to sell unpasteurised milk too but people round there
didn’t drink it in the quantities they do today. It was used
exclusively for a dash in their tea, so customers would never
buy more than a quarter or half pint at the most, decanted from
our big jugs into their various containers. Each evening the
cream was taken from the left-over milk, the milk scalded and
sold more cheaply the next day as skimmed milk. The cream was
always given to me in an effort to build me up - Ugh! To this
day I can’t abide greasy food. When we children did jobs at
home, the one I remember well was polishing the brass stair
rods, Mum or Dad would give us a penny which of course we would
go and spend in the other sweet shop. It was no fun choosing
from our own.
Dad contributed as best he could by keeping a few rabbits in a
shed next to the outside toilet. He started off with standard
rabbits for the table, but also kept some Blue Beverens for
their fur. He kept them immaculately, just as he did the
chickens, also for the table. I remember one of the things we
had to do was collect any broken bits of pottery we came across.
These were hammered down to make grit which was fed to the
chickens to help toughen the shells of their eggs. Without these
meat and egg sources and a few vegetables he grew in the
allotment, I don’t know how we would have coped. That was one
thing, we never had empty tummies and anything spare, got sold
in the shop. Before we had the rabbits and chickens, our meat
intake consisted of sheep’s heads, sweetbreads and tripe.
I don’t remember Larry the lamb but we have a photo of him with
my older brother Edgar. My mother used to tell us how Dad found
Larry as a tiny sickly stray. No-one claimed him so he took him
home and Larry was fed his bottle at the same time as Edgar got
his. Apparently Larry stayed until he was adult following Mum
around all over the place. I think probably Dad let the lamb
stay thinking it would provide meat at a later date, but in the
end neither of them could bring themselves to sell Larry to the
butcher and he went off to a farm as a wool sheep. The other
animals I remember were my father’s Airedale dogs. These lived
outside in purpose-built kennels and Dad sold the odd litter of
puppies which contributed to the household income. The ones he
kept long term were Pat and her son Bruce. These were trained by
my father to police standards. In fact the police wanted to buy
Bruce but my father wouldn’t sell.
My father’s health improved a bit eventually but not enough to
return below at the mines. All the time he was studying for his
pit exams, he was still applying for other jobs as really he
hated everything to do with the mines and one day he was
fortunate enough to be offered a job as an insurance agent. You
used to have to “buy a book” in those days and Dad had no money
for that, but the previous owner of the book had sadly committed
suicide and the book had been run down and was in a shocking
muddle. Refuge Assurance agreed Dad could have the book for free
providing he sorted it out and built the round up.
When I was somewhere around 13 we moved to Powell Street,
Abertillery. This was easier for my brother Lionel to get to
Grammar School and gave Dad a better chance of increasing his
insurance round. Powell Street was past all the shops in
Abertillery and the Infant/Junior school was at the top of the
road. Two sisters who lived opposite us were teachers there and
because my youngest sister Nora was such an inquisitive bright
little thing, they regularly used to take her with them to join
in the infants’ class one of them taught, long before the normal
age she should have started school. I remember at this house my
Dad had enough money to buy a camera and he turned the pantry
into his dark room when he needed to make negatives, although he
sent them off to be printed.
I left school when I was 14 having been at 'Central' for a year,
and had various little jobs in and around Abertillery, mostly
sweet shops and similar. I worked at one large sweet shop in
Abertillery where we needed 3 girls on a Saturday night to cope
with the demand for chocs and sweets from folk walking by
gaslight to the cinema lower down the valley. One of the girls
was the local councillor’s daughter. The two main stores in
Abertillery were Bon Marche and a posh shop called Pontlottyn.
This latter shop, a clothing store, was a very prestigious place
to work. You would only get in if you were well spoken and well
dressed and had enough money to pay them 5 shillings a week
whilst they trained you properly as a salesperson! Imagine that
now! The attraction was that it enabled you to have an edge when
applying for other jobs in the future, jobs which of course were
hard to find. Job shortages meant you couldn’t really stay at
home if you wanted to get on. So when I was nearly 18, I moved
to live with Aunt Peggy, my father’s sister. She was a nice but
very precise lady who liked everything just so and was as strict
with me as you could possibly imagine. No way was I allowed to
go out with boys! I was around 21 before I had my first proper
date without a chaperone. When I returned to Wales at 21, the
family had moved to Blenheim Road back in Six Bells but this
time higher up the valley where my Dad had aspired to live
On returning I managed to get a job at the Labour exchange in
Blaina and was supervised by Anita Jones. Many of the girls who
came in asking for jobs in service were wholly unsuitably
dressed to be able to secure such a job, so it was part of my
job to take them to Burnstairs drapery store, to get them kitted
out in suitable servant attire -- I think the cost was picked up
by the Government. We also had to visit schools to advise the 14
year-old school leavers of the different jobs available. Those
we couldn’t place in jobs were referred to the Assistance Board
. It was through liaising with the Assistance board that I met
my first boyfriend Arthur Whitney.
Going back to my Dad ---he had always been unhappy living with
his grandparents since his mum died when he was 7, so despite
having done well at school and being head monitor (headboy) in
his final year, he decided at 14 to get digs and take to the
mines instead of going on with his education. Apparently his
friend Jinny the headgirl, was upset at his decision because
they’d always said they would both go on and be teachers. Some
years later, Jinny was a teacher at the junior school my brother
Lionel and sister Phyl attended and according to them, they were
always reminded they had a hardworking Dad to emulate! They
didn’t disappoint as both to the great pride of my parents won
Governors’ scholarships to Grammar school. Although he wasn’t
fond of sports, I can remember Lionel enthusiastically telling
us the football/rugby chant for the Grammar School - “Who killed
Piker, Blood and Webby? What for? Beer! Baccy! Bread! Yah!!”
Jinny Gatfield I believe went on to fight hard to stop the Marie
Stopes family planning clinic continuing. I remember some sort
of fuss at the time, but it was later my mum told me that most
of the folk she knew were against the clinic not because the
chapels were condemning it, but because they thought the
products were unnatural and caused cancer!
When the war started, my sister Nora was still at school. A lot
of children had been evacuated from the cities to the
countryside. Nora came home from school begging my Mum for a
Polish girl to be allowed to stay with them as her original
family couldn’t keep her any longer. Lucia moved in and shared a
room with Nora. Later in the war a Polish pilot Bruno Uram lived
with our family. He adored my mother and father. He had no
family of his own and “adopted” them calling them Mum and Dad.
Towards the end of the war he went missing, presumed dead. Mum
believed from hints in a final letter to them that he had
volunteered as a suicide bomber. He was posthumously awarded the
highest Polish military honour you could get. This medal was
accepted on his behalf by Mum and Dad.
Mum was very involved with the chapel all the time she was in
the valley although I don’t remember her going to services often
- probably because Sunday was the busiest day for the shop,
although she sent us to Sunday school. During the war when the
government were encouraging people to grow their own vegetables,
they had campaign posters of Timothy Turnip and Potato Pete. I
remember she made beautiful 1 foot high dolls based on these
characters which were offered as a prize at a chapel fair.
My paternal grandparents Annie (nee Lewis) and Gomer Simmonds
lived opposite us in Arael St. and Mum’s sister Maggie next door
to them. Apparently Annie Lewis’s family was from
Pennsylvania. They had a fruit farm growing peaches. Apparently
great grandfather Lewis was drinking heavily, so great
grandmother (also called Annie) dumped his belongings where he
used to drink and never saw him again. Left on her own, Annie
Lewis kept a gun to deter intruders and apparently wounded one.
Later in life the government wanted her land for the railroad to
be built. They offered her compensation money which she refused
as too little. The case went to court and she acted for herself
and ended up getting a more lucrative offer which she accepted.
Gomer Simmonds had a brother in Abersychen and one in America.
Gomer and Annie used to go across to Scranton to visit him,
Gomer seeking casual work at the mines there. Over the years
they made a number of trips and eventually my mother’s brothers
Joseph and Edwin ended up remaining there I believe but Harry
came home to live in Wales. Born in Scranton, my Mum took her
first steps at 9 months old on board the ship on the final trip
back. Notably something which probably wouldn’t be allowed
today, her birth certificate states that she is 'white'
My great grandfather David Rees had been involved
with the planning of Bethany Chapel in Six Bells and later
became a church elder. I’ve not seen it but I’ve been told that
a stone somewhere on the chapel wall bears his name.
I was married straight after the war to my beloved William
Casson and we had a daughter. Life was put into perspective when
I had three breast cancer operations not long after her birth.
No dainty stitching, neat scars, reconstructive surgery or
counselling sixty years ago, it was all radical and basic stuff,
so I feel fortunate to still be here in 2008.
remember the newsagents in Six Bells very well. I was born in 1952 at
Nant-y-glo Hospital, Blaina and I went to live with my grandparents Elsie
and Cliff Wilsher at 23 Bridge Street.
Muriel Brown had the shop my gran always went there to collect her papers
and opposite the corner, there was a grocers' called Evans' situated at
the Old Post Office. It was only down the street from Gran's.
are a lot of people that I remember lived in Six Bells when I was young
like Lil Cook, Eva Morley, Tilly Cook, Bernard Lewis, Kathleen Hemms. They
are all dead now but Eva Morley lived in 13 Bryn Terrace, Tilly Cook lived
in Graig Road, Lil Cook lived in Bryn Terrace, Bernard Lewis ran the Post
Office and Kathleen Hemms lived in Bridge Street next to the Post Office.
That Post Office and my Gran's house have both been demolished and the
council have now put a bus stop in its place.
memories I have of my childhood were Galey's Drapers and another general
store "Leach's" This grocer's was run by Sylvia Williams and her
husband Islwyn and Sylvia's mum. This was situated at no 6. My mother used
to buy me dresses for the Whitsun Walks in Galey's.
the bottom of the Cemetery Road was Six Bells Juniors which was my second
school. I had teachers called Mrs Leyton, who is still alive, Mrs
Gillingham and Mr Gillingham and the headmaster was Mr George. From there
I went to Bryngwyn Secondary and left in 1968.
My grandfather, William Brown, opened the first
newsagents in the Western valley in 1888. The shop was situated on a corner
in Six Bells where three roads met. The roads were Bridge St, Victoria Rd and
the Cemetery Rd. As Abertillery grew with people coming to the town to work in
the coalmines so grandfather’s newsagents expanded.
Abertillery prospered and other businesses grew
and prospered. Among these were the bus companies Ralph’s, Griffin, Jones and
Collier’s. People started to buy motorcars and a lot of freight was
transported by road. Our corner was on the main road to Newport and traffic
was constant going around the corner. With the corner being so sharp and narrow
it unfortunately brought motoring accidents and it was common to hear people say
"there’s been another accident on Brown’s corner".
When people started to refer to it as Brown’s
corner I am unable to say but as it was the meeting point of three roads the
name of Brown being on the corner identified it to people. I was brought up in
the 1930s knowing the corner only as Brown’s corner. In fact all
magazines and periodicals comics etc delivered to us by road were addressed to
I was a boy I would sit on the shop window sill waiting for accidents to happen.
The accidents invariably involved buses because they needed the whole corner to
swing around, but car smashes and motorbike accidents were also common.
There were other kinds of accidents as well. which I
did not see but was told about by the people involved. One I remember in
particular. I was walking through Six Bells with my wife to be, Shirley, when a
boy of my own age stopped me and said "your corner almost killed me". I
asked what happened and he said that he was on Jones’ bus coming from
Brynithel to Six Bells and because the bus was full he was standing up. While
travelling on the bus he had put a penny coin in his mouth to pay the conductor.
As the bus came down the hill to the corner it braked suddenly to avoid a
collision with a car that had come round the corner. He was thrown forward as
the bus braked and swallowed the penny coin and in doing so almost choked.
Instead of spending the night in the pictures he spent the night in Aberbeeg
We delivered papers to all of Six Bells and most of
Abertillery. The most common paper was the Daily Herald followed by the Daily
Express. The Herald was the most popular paper because on a Saturday it printed
Templegate’s Double and Treble horse tips, which was very popular with the
miners. When I was delivering papers on a Saturday morning if I was stopped once
I was stopped 20 times by miners calling to me "Hello young Brown, let me
see the Herald and Templegate’s Double a minute".
However in the early 1940s this changed with the
coming of the evacuees to Abertillery from London. The evacuees were used to
another newspaper in which they followed the adventures of Garth and Jane and
others. This newspaper was the Daily Mirror. People started to cancel the Herald
and Express and take the Daily Mirror to please the evacuees and it became the
second most popular newspaper.
Our day with the papers started early. We met the
paper train as we called it at 6am in the morning when we would unload the
papers from the train and take them to the shop to be put into rounds to be
taken out. My Aunty Muriel would go with the train to Abertillery where she
would unload the papers for the Abertillery rounds. The papers for the
Abertillery rounds were put up in the station waiting room where they would be
collected to be delivered. Aunty Muriel would then deliver papers along Castle
Street, down Alexandra Road, Bridge Street and then back to the shop.
In the shop the rounds for Arael Street, Lancaster
Street and Warm Turn down to Aberbeeg would be put up to be taken out. I would
put up my own round. I would leave the shop at about 7am and deliver papers to
Richmond Rd, Bryngwyn Rd, Coronation Rd, Marlborough Rd, Kimberly Rd etc then
across to Windsor Road. Then I would race back home for a piece of toast
before catching the bus for school at 8.40.
On a Saturday papers were delivered later
because we would knock on every door for the weeks paper money. I used to get
back to the shop at about 2pm to "cash in". After this I would receive
my pay of 2/6 [half a crown]. Grandfather would give me 2/6 and go to the
cupboard and get out an old biscuit tin out of which he took a National Savings
Book which he would also give to me I then went to the Post Office for a 2//6
savings stamp which I would stick in the savings book and give it back to
grandfather. He would check it, put the savings book back in the biscuit tin and
give me a sixpenny piece for my pocket.
The winter of 1947 was something I will not forget. We would be waiting all day
for the paper train to arrive and some days it came as late as 2pm. Then the
day’s business started for us and we trudged through the snow and in the dark
to deliver the papers.
I effectively left Abertillery in 1952 when I was called up to complete my
National Service in the RAF but still have many happy memories of friends and
places that I knew. I still visit Abertillery but maybe not as often as I
I was first evacuated from
my school in Wimbledon SW19, to Chichester, Sussex at the start of the war, It
was soon evident that was not the place to be as we were bombed
a lot there. My mother had then moved to Greenford,
Middlesex where she worked in a bomb making factory at Park Royal
Middlesex. I was then at Costin Lane Juniors school in Greenford and it was from
there, that I was with most of the school sent to South Wales.
We were given luggage
labels to put in our lapels with our names etc and of course our gas masks, plus
a carrier bag of food and then put on a coach to the station. I think we had to
change our train at Newport, and at last got to Abertillery. We were then taken
to the chapel, not far from the Bush Hotel, and waited for someone to take us to
was taken home with another evacuee to a Mr. and Mrs. Miles' house at 2 Hafodfan
Terrace, Six Bells. They had a daughter Irene who would have been about 17/18
years old. We were about 7/8 years old and our school for a while was the chapel
until we were moved to Bryngwyn school. I can remember only one of the teacher's
names - Mr. Gunter. We also had a very young lady teacher, in her early
twenties, who I think married one of the other young teachers. I think all the
boys in the school had a crush on her. After two years of which were very happy
times, I came home.
the doodle bugs started, my mother wrote to Mrs. Miles to see if she would have
me back. She did of course, but Mr. Miles had an accident in the coal mine, I
think it was the Rose Heyworth Pit and the family were not quite so happy as I
palled up with a lad of my own age, John Bradbury, He lived with his grandmother
above the fish and chip shop. They also had the general stores next door,
John’s aunty Bess - I also called her aunty Bess as well! - and her
husband owned the shops. Their surname was Tossell.
and I had another friend, Terry Mitchell, who lived up the road. We had some
very good times, catching frogs in the old swimming pool, sliding down the
mountain on lumps of cardboard boxes etc plus the big street party on VE day.
All good stuff. I have been back only twice and brought aunt Bess home for a
holiday and took her to Canterbury Cathedral as she had never seen it. I could
go on, but I am not a writer so this will have to do.
Love the Place - Good luck to all that live there.
I now live in Croydon, Surrey, but would like
to go through some fond memories I have of Aber. I was born in 1947, and lived
in River Row, Aberbeeg. Like others who have made comments on the subject, I
remember the Saturday morning pictures and the great time we had. It was what I
looked forward too all week, as like others we had no TV at that time. Also the
swimming baths which was a great place to go. In my teens it was then the
Saturday afternoon dance at The Market Hall, followed by going to the pictures.
I attended Abertillery Technical School, and on leaving worked for a short while
on the Forestry, much of the times working on the mountains around Aber and Six
Bells. In fact, when I took my children and later grandchildren down for a
visit, I used to tell them that it was I who planted all the fir trees on the
I have now just retired having served 35yrs in the Metropolitan
Police, and every year visited Aber at least twice with my wife Jean whose
maiden name was Lewis. She attended the Grammar School and lived in Brynithel.
I lived in Attlee Avenue with my family, Father
was Jeff Jones, brothers Michael, Gary, Peter, Dai and sisters Gwyneth &
Elizabeth. Sadly Mam died when we were all young. I remember school holidays in
the summer when we would spend long sunny days down at the park or in the old
outdoor swimming pool. It never seemed to rain in those days. Long walks up over
the Cefn, or even up over the Arael and over to Ebbw Vale.
You could walk down to the Pavilion picture house for the Saturday matinee, get
in got for 3d buy a small bag of penny chews and take Henley's bus back up to
the avenue for a penny.
Old Mr Thomas (Jack) was the headmaster at Cock & Chick school and a right
sticker he was.
Highlights were the "All Blacks" playing a combined Abertillery &
Ebbw Vale side and being able to watch the game through binoculars off the
Then they built the "new" Rose Heyworth Club on the hill above
"Newman's" shop and life started to change.
Jones's buses took the families to the Pantomine at Christmas and Barry Island
in the summer. If your dad worked in the pit, as mine did, you went twice. Once
with the pit and once with the club. What days they were.
Then each one of us started to make our way in the world. I left in 67, joined
the Welsh Guards and finally settled near Portsmouth where I still live. Only
Lizzie left in Aber now as the rest of us are scattered far & wide. I often
wonder where all those old friends are these days. Tony Reece and Susan and
Dianne, Martin & Judith Evans to name just a couple. Oh well, life goes on.
But it was nice to look back for a few minutes with some very happy
If anyone reading this does remember the Jones family at
11 Attlee Avenue and would like to get in touch, please feel free.
brother David and I went to work in the Pontlottyn in 1959. What a wonderful
start to my growing up this was. I think half of the Abertillery operatic
society worked there; Melba, Miss Jones, Margaret and lots of others I would
like to meet or hear about. Mr. Morgan was the manager and Mr. Blackler, the
window dresser. I had to clean every window up the side of the store and all
along the main Somerset Street - about 15 in all - every day come rain or storm.
Was I proud to work there! I now live in Poole and when I come home to visit I
usually end up in tears to see the shop now a supermarket with about 5 staff
what a crime!
I remember there was two way traffic and the buses would try to
pass sometimes and we would have to run out and put the sun blinds in. Also, I
can still smell the pasties made in the Premier butchers shop opposite and I
remember the break times we spent each day in the Express Café, now run by my
Auntie Pam by the way. Those were the days when you called everyone in the store
Miss, even if they were married and all the customers were Sir or Madam. I would
carry rolls of lino up Pant-y-Pwdyn to deliver to customers on the hope of a
shilling tip. What wonderful memories.
I was born in 1936 at 11
Graig Road, Six Bells, and have deep family roots in Six Bells on my father's
side and Abertillery on my mother's side.
great-great-great-grandparents were Anthony and Mariah Harler. He came from
Somerset, and she was born in Bedwas. They were married in Merthyr Tydfil in
1825, and came to live at Hafodarthen, near St. Illtyd's Church, in about 1831.
(Their surname is spelt in a number of different ways, e.g. Harlor, Halar, Arlow,
Harlow and even Harlot!) Their children were: Hester (or Esther), Mary Ann,
Jonathan, Elizabeth, Edward, Susanna and Samuel.
Anthony Harler died in 1858,
and it was around that time that the family moved down into Six Bells. Mariah
died in 1874.
I know little of what became of most of
their children. Elizabeth married Nicholas Annear and settled in Blaina. Susanna
married William Bateman and lived in Six Bells. In 1841 Mary Ann was a servant
in the household of the young Webb family when they were first starting up their
brewery business in Aberbeeg.
Esther, their eldest child, was my
great-great-grandmother. She left home for a while, and was married in Tredegar
to William Howell(s), who came from Pontypool. They settled in Six Bells about
They had eight children: David, William,
Jonathan, Edward, Ann, Samuel, Mary Ann and Elizabeth. William Howells died in
1867, and his widow married Joshua Dando, a widower with some children of his
own. He died in 1896, and she died at the Old Farm in 1901. I remember a Josh
Dando living in Bridge Street, Six Bells, who used to say he was "sort
of" related to us: possibly he was a grandson of this Joshua Dando.
I know little about most of the Howells
children except the following:
Jonathan Howells lived his whole life in
Six Bells, and was living in Jubilee Road when he died in 1925. He had three
daughters: Dorothy, who married James Challenger, and moved away to Raglan;
Elizabeth ("Liz"), who never married; and Gwenllian
("Gwen"), who was an elementary school teacher, and married (fairly
late in life) the Rev. William Davies, an Assistant minister of Tabernacle
Congregational Church who looked after Rehoboth, Six Bells.
ary Ann Howells never married, but stayed in
the family home at the Old Farm till she died in 1937. She was a founder member
of Bethany Baptist Church, and I think she was the caretaker of Six Bells
The youngest of the Howells children,
Elizabeth, married Richard Rees. They had no children of their own, but they
fostered my father. They too became faithful members of Bethany Baptist Church.
Richard Rees died in 1931, and Elizabeth died in 1946.
Ann Howells was my great-grandmother. She
married John Gwatkin (or Watkins). They had three children: Robert (who
emigrated to Canada), Mary Ann (my grandmother), and Joshua. The children were
all born at the Old Farm, but at some stage the family moved to Caerphilly.
My grandmother Mary Ann Gwatkin was born in
1894. She married William Vincent, and their son Leonard (my father) was born in
1912. William died only a few weeks later, and my grandmother handed her baby
over to her aunt and uncle, Elizabeth and Richard Rees, in Six Bells, and then
re-married. He grew up as Leonard Rees, but as an adult he reverted to his
proper name of Vincent. He lived his whole life in Six Bells, and died in 1970.
When I was born at 11 Graig Road in 1936, we
were still in my father's family home, and Elizabeth Rees was still alive.
Though she was my great-great-aunt, I grew up calling her "Nanna Rees"
- which was a bit confusing because I wondered why I had three grandmothers, and
not one of them called Vincent! Her sister, my great-grandmother Gwatkin, had
also moved in with us. She died in 1937, when I was a baby. About that time Mary
Ann Howells also died, and for a short time we moved into her home at the Old
Farm. My brother Colin was born there, the 5th. generation of our family to live
in that house. However, practical considerations overcame sentiment, and because
the house was poky, inconvenient and damp, we moved back to 11 Graig Rd.
I would be interested to hear of any members of
the Howells or Harler families who may be related. My father used to say there
were lots of them, but I never found out who they were. Also, the headmaster of
Six Bells School when I was a boy, Edwin Cook, used to say he was a cousin to
Elizabeth Rees. I would be interested to know more about this.
On my mother's side we have old connections
My great-great-grandparents, Ebenezer and
Elizabeth Davies, moved around a lot, but in 1861 they were living in Harris
Row, Abertillery, which seems to have been near the Royal Oak. Their children
were: John, Mary, Elizabeth, Ebenezer, Ann, Rachel, Morgan, and William.
John Davies was a prominent figure in the early
days of Tabernacle Congregational Church. He lived in Carmel Street. He and his
wife Margaret had six children, all born in Abertillery: Rachel, Morgan,
William, David, Elizabeth and Anna. In 1888 they emigrated to America, but I
have no idea where they settled. It seems that the Rev. G. S. Richards, the
minister of Tabernacle, emigrated at about the same time. I would be very
interested to hear from any Americans who may be descended from them. I also
think that through the Davies family I am related to a number of people who had
connections with Tabernacle, including the Emanuel, Lloyd and Cordey families.
My great-grandmother, Rachel Jane Davies,
married Jacob Jones, She herself never lived in Abertillery, but some time after
her death in 1891 Jacob Jones settled there with his children, and died at his
home in Gladstone Street in 1936. His eldest child was Elizabeth Jones, my
grandmother. There were a number of brothers, but the only one I know much about
is Isaac Jones (1874-1961), who lived in Diamond Jubilee Terrace and was a
member of Ebenezer Baptist Church. I would be interested to hear from anyone who
knows anything about the other Jones brothers.
My grandmother Elizabeth Jones married John
Griffiths at Ebenezer in 1902, and then became a member of Tabernacle
Congregational Church. John Griffiths is mentioned several times in the history
of Tabernacle. He was a very well-loved and saintly man. He was born on the
Tranch, Pontypool, but his family moved to Six Bells in the 1880s. My
grandparents' children were:
- Giraldus ("Gral"), 1903-1974, who
lived his whole life in Six Bells and Abertillery. His daughter Jacqueline
Bryant is a well-known local pianist.
- Mary Leah ("May"), 1908-1989: she
married Charles Phillips.
- Blodwen, 1910-1936
- Rachel Jane (my mother), 1912-1978
John Griffiths died in 1946, and my grandmother
later moved to New Inn with her daughter May, and died there in 1956.
My mother, Rachel Jane Griffiths, was born
at 6 Glyn Crug, the little row of cottages behind the Institute, but spent most
of her young life in Gladstone Street. She was brought up in Tabernacle, and
married there in 1935, but she then joined my father's church, Bethany, Six
Bells, which is where my brother and I grew up.
would be interested to hear from anyone who thinks we may be distant cousins, or
can give me more information about my family. I have further information about
some of these families going much further back, but I have confined myself here
to those with a direct connection with Six Bells or Abertillery.
(Cowplain, Nr. Portsmouth)
photo is of me and my older brother John. The picture was taken about 1940 and
my brother tells me it was a school photo but I am not sure.
was born on the 8th of June 1935 and my brother just over two years
earlier. Our father came from Abertillery, born and bred and our mother was a
Croydon-born lady. On the second of September 1939 our mum and dad took us,
along with an older sister and brother to stay with our dad’s sister, Mrs. Amy
Lewis at 18, Chapel Street in Abertillery. We were going to stay with my auntie
and uncle Fred, for a holiday. I was just over four years of age. At that time
we lived near Thornton Heath in Surrey.
The Second World War started on Sunday the third of September. As a
result of the declaration of war it was decided that the three younger children
should stay on in Wales during the hostilities. My brother and I stayed with my
Aunt and uncle whilst my sister lodged with a Mrs. Turvey at number 14, if
my memory serves me correctly. My sister did not like staying away from home for
any length of time so she returned to our rented flat in Park Road, which runs
adjacent to the Crystal Palace football ground.
brother and I eventually became known as “Unofficial Evacuees”. I was led
believe that because we were unofficial lodgers my auntie did not get paid any
money for us staying with her. As I was only four years old at the time my
recollections of such matters are somewhat vague.
are nearly always easy to get on with so we made new friends around the area
quite quickly. In fact the young girl who used to live at number 17, Barbara
Whitehouse, who was about a year younger than I, became my first sweetheart when
I was eight or nine years old.
the school holiday period so we played with our newly made friends every day.
Suddenly one morning all my friends had disappeared. “Where were they?" I
asked my aunt, “Started school”, she replied. “Where is school?”, I
asked. My aunt pointed to the church schoolhouse building, which was situated
next to St Michael’s church on the corner of High Street and Church Street.
Not to be outdone I duly marched off towards this building and walked through
the large front door, went up to the teacher who was seated behind a high desk
and announced that I wanted to “join school”. The teacher directed me to sit
with the class and then sent a member of staff to find my auntie to tell her
where I was and not to worry. I later found out that my brother and sister had
started at the church school that same day.
was to be the start of my education and many of the things I was taught then
stay with me today. We use to have to chant the “Twelve Times” tables first
thing every morning and when the teachers thought you knew them well enough you
were allowed to skip this chore and go straight to your classroom to get on with
solving the daily list of sums that were on the blackboard ready for the lesson
for that day.
at this school that I discovered management and leadership skills. Some of the
children started at very young age and used to have an afternoon nap. I used to
help out by setting up the folding beds and putting the kids down for an hour or
so and at times I would be ask to look after these young ones and get them to do
something like using Plasticine to make shapes and models. I can also remember
getting the musical instruments out and trying to get them to play a tune. It
always ended up as a terrible noise.
experience was useful to me because in the years to come it help me to become
not only a manager and leader but also it taught me compassion. During my
National Service days I was quickly promoted to a Lance Bombardier. Then, when I
returned to work, I was put in charge of a section of a sheet metal workers,
which was my trade, and later on I was promoted and made the manager of a
mechanical engineering department. Those early days at the church school I
believe stood me in good stead.
and Sunday school have also left me with many fond memories. Sunday was a day of rest and for dressing in your “best” clothes. The
day was started with breakfast, which was usually an egg; the only one of the
week (rationing remember), then it was morning chapel, which was in the
Tabernacle that is situated across the other side of the road to where we lived
at number 18 Chapel Street. Roast for our Sunday lunch, which was usually a
joint and my brother and I had to take turns each week as to who was allowed the
bone to chew on. Sunday school was held in the afternoon whilst my aunt and
uncle had their Sunday nap. Public houses did not open on Sundays but the clubs
were allowed to sell alcohol on that day so my uncle would always visit the
Lymes (club) before lunch, where he was a member and have his pints of beer. He would
always like to sleep it off after his meal.
evening, we all went to the evening service as a family and after this service,
in the warmer lighter evenings we would take a stroll to one of the parks.
Playing out was not allowed on Sundays, so they were long and boring days for us
kids. It did teach me discipline and respect. I learned much about Christianity
and humanity by attending the church services and Sunday school. Although I do
not attend any church these days I try hard to follow its teaching. One thing
that always puzzled me as a child was when the vicar was in rendering his
sermon and I could never understand why his interpretation of a particular piece
from the bible was never challenged by anyone from his congregation. He must
have commanded great respect from his audience.
Whit Monday Walks were something I always looked forward to. It was a day of
excitement with a great atmosphere and an air of expectancy. I used to buy a
thin cane walking stick for the cost of one penny and that made me feel very
important. Everyone wore new clothes for the occasion, which made us all look
very smart, but as a young boy I seem to remember that the suit material was
always hairy and rough. Because I was not yet into long trousers and wore shorts
the rough material used to rub the inside of my legs and make them very sore.
Rubbing in wintergreen did the trick. That block was used for every sore spot
especially when you had chapped skin caused by the cold weather.
John and I found living in Abertillery somewhat different to where we had come
from near Thornton Heath in Surrey. The town seemed so closed in and the roads
and streets were narrow and small. It was so hilly around the area and for us
young boys, who were more accustomed to a flatter and more spacious
surroundings; it took our little legs some time getting used to the slopes.
lived at number 18, which was a rented accommodation and was the end house of
block of two up and two down dwellings. At the very end of this block was shop/
business office. I believe it is now a funeral directors business. The house was
rather “up market” for the time because it had both electric and gas
supplied. It had two small bedrooms upstairs and the downstairs had a front
room, known as “The Best Room”, which was only used on special occasions
such as Christmas, posh people visiting, doctors visiting and laying out the
dead. Most families had in those days, a “Best Room”, which we were very
rarely invited to sit in. You always knew when posh people were coming to visit
because real toilet paper was place in the outside Loo. We usually had to make
do with newspaper. I also have the very frightening memory of my father’s
mother being laid out in the front room when she had died. She was a small woman
dressed in black with pieces of white lace at her throat. She had two pennies
placed on her eyes to keep them closed. My brother and I had to go in there and
kiss her goodbye. I was only about 5 years old at the time and that memory still
haunts me. She was a nice old lady. I also remember sitting in that room one
Christmas time eating the rare treat of an orange and nearly choking on it
because we were not accustomed eating oranges during the Second World War.
was also a tiny living room where we always sat and ate our meals and where the
cooking was done either on the cast iron fire place and oven or on my aunt’s
prize possession, an electric cooker. It was a typical miner’s house with just
enough room for a small table and chairs a small settee, a fireside chair, which
my uncle always sat in and a smaller seat for my auntie. Off from this room was
a walk in pantry, which contained the only water supply of the house and that
was where we washed and did all the things you would normally do in a bathroom.
There was no sink for water to be drained away in only a bucket to tip the used
water into. A stool was placed to one side of the tap with a washing bowl on it.
As the bucket got filled up that water was taken to the outside Loo, which was
out of the back door and down some steps and used to flush away effluent that
remained there until this task was done.
standard tin bath was used for bath nights and that water was heated on the top
of the cast iron stove in large saucepans and kettles. Smaller quantities of
water were heated in my aunt’s other prize possession and that was an electric
kettle. For many years she still used the standard flat iron, which was also
heated up on the cast iron fireplace but eventually she succumbed and bought an
was very cosy place to live especially during the winter when the weather was
bitterly cold. In the living room you always felt snug and warm and to come from
the freezing cold was wonderful. Most days there was the smell of cooking in the
house and to come in from a cold or wet day and to smell cakes being cooked was
a moment of magic to us kids. If I close my eyes now I can still smell the aroma
and see my aunt turning over the Welsh cakes she would be baking on her cast
iron Bakestone, which all the Welsh families seem to have. We still have my
dad’s family’s Bakestone, which had been used by the family for more than
150 years that I know of and my wife still uses it for the making of Welsh cakes
even now. In the oven she would have maybe an Apple Tart cooking and maybe a
Wimberry Tart, (those little dark blue/ purple coloured berries we used to
collect off the mountainside). In the wintertime, we youngsters never stopped
eating. If it was not at home it was at one of the many fish and chip shops,
which were in and around the town.
Tabernacle Chapel dominated Chapel Street and next to it was an imposing church
hall, which has now been pulled down. This hall was used for all sorts of
meetings and chapel studies like Sunday school and uniformed groups. I also
remember being allowed to queue up with the official evacuees for our daily
spoonful of Cod Liver Oil and Malt. Only one spoon was used and it was not
sterilized between mouthfuls. Although we were unofficial evacuees we were
always asked to attend events, which were laid on for the official group such as
Christmas parties etc.
the Tabernacle and looking to your left there is a raised path, which led when I
lived there, to a ladies loo. This loo had two “traps” and was very well
maintained by a Mrs. Winston (I think I have the name correct) who lived on the
premises. She was a nice lady and my aunt and Mrs Winston were good friends and
they would help each other out when required, as indeed most neighbours did in
those days in Abertillery. I remember my aunt getting herself locked in one of
those two loos and she had to be lifted through the gap at the top. It was not
an easy task to perform I seem to recall. I often used to think she was one of
those original two old ladies who “got locked in a lavatory”.
brother and I slept in the rear bedroom of the house. Looking out from our
window it was dominated by Arael Mountain. It seemed to loom large and close and
covered most of the view. I seem to remember that the mountains around
Abertillery and the surrounding area brought more than our fair share of rain.
Monday was always washday as regular as clockwork. It always rained on washday,
or so I recall.
The Arael Mountain held many
mysteries and places for adventures for us as youngsters. We spent many happy
hours exploring it and playing made up games on it. There was one spot towards
Six Bells, which had a round dip on the lower side of the mountain and that was
known to us as “The Hidden Valley” where we could play and not be seen from
the road. We would collect cardboard boxes from the shops and flatten them and
use them to slide down the side of the mountain sometimes at an alarming rate
and quite often ending up with our feet in the coal black mud and water of the
Ebbw River. How that river used to stink and the mud was like a black jelly but
it still drew us to for making dams and building stepping stone across it. We
would take our jam sandwiches and watered down orangeade drinks and spend the
William and Helen Dalgleish and their 8
children came to Bwlch in Wales from Galashiels in Scotland. (Not sure of date
but all children born in Scotland and youngest one born in 1860) William worked
for Squire Gwynalford as a forrester. Five of their children and their families
were in the Aberystruth area at the 1881 Census. Ellen (Helen) Thomas/Market St/
Husband a draper and insurance agent. Thomas Dalgleish/29th Row 365/carpenter
& joiner. One of his descendants went to north America. Elizabeth Jarman/Upper
Lodge, Bedwelty/ Husband clerk at Iron Works. James Dalgleish/Penybont/ Grocer.
Margaret Thomas/Penybont/Husband Storekeeper. James was my grandfather. He
married Martha Paty Lodge in 1881. They expanded the Grocery Store by selling
had a large family and as the children grew, they had a variety of jobs but my
father worked with his father until his fathers death in 1922. Martha
predeceased him in 1918 as a result of the flu epidemic. My father migrated to
Australia in 1923 with a group of friends. They left because work was scare due
to strikes etc. We also think my father was out for the adventure. Australia was
considered the land of opportunity. Dad's brother followed him out later. My
parents were "keeping company" when he came to Australia. We think he
originally intended returning to Wales but he loved it here and decided to stay.
My mother, Bronwen Williams, joined him in 1928 and they were married 3 weeks
later. This was a long happy union and 56 years later Bronwen passed away. George
died in 1991 in his 90th year. My mother was born in Cwmtillery and both she and
my father attended the "Cock ’n’ Chick" School there. My
grandparents Rees and Elizabeth Williams are buried at St Paul’s
It was through my mother that we learnt about
Wales and her beloved mountains and valleys. This was hard for me to visualise
as Gunnedah (where they settled) is situated on Plain Country - flat land with
few trees surrounded by the Nandewars, a low range of hills. My parents,
especially my mother felt the isolation and loss of family. They didn't see
their homeland or family for 50 years. Our home was always filled with
music and they used to tell us about the men singing as they came home from work
and the pubs. I can still hear them singing Land of my Fathers with gusto and pride.
We were brought up to proud of our heritage and
with Grandfather Dalgleish's philosophy "You can only earn a limited
amount working for someone. Use your brains as well as your hands. Go into
James Dalgleish's shop in Gaen Street, Abertillery - early 1900s
When I was about 8 years old
my parents thought me old enough to travel to Six Bells on my own, they'd put a
luggage label in my lapel with my name and address and grandparents address - a
human parcel !! - and at Swansea
station put me in the guards van asking the guard to put me off at
Pontllanfraith where my grandfather and George (my cousin) would be waiting, not
a practice to be recommended today. At Pontllanfraith we would catch a bus to
Six Bells. At that time they used to live in a small terraced house in a place
called Hafod Fan. Just before the bridge, coming from the south, there is a
steep hill on the right hand side going up a short distance to where there were
about 10 small houses below road level where access was via a flight of stone
steps down. Later they moved to an address behind and above the Co-op which was
on the main road just as one entered Six Bells from the South, which had various
businesses including the local Post Office. There was a park further along from
Hafod Fan in which there was an outdoor swimming pool where every Christmas day
my cousin and I would watch the local hardies swim a few lengths sometimes
breaking the ice to do so.
Almost every day my grandfather would take George and
me for a walk to the Foundry Bridge in Abertillery where he would meet someone and put
three pence on a horse, not legal then I think, I can't remember him ever
winning. Just before entering
Abertillery from Six Bells the road splits in two with one going down a slight
incline which if followed was an alternative way to the bridge. Along this road
on the right was a bakery where my grandfather was the baker before he retired.
George and I often used to visit him just before his shift ended and walk home
to Six Bells with him. My grandfather died in the mid fifties. From about the age
of ten I used to catch the train to Crumlin high level, walk down the long steep
hill and catch a train at the low level station which took me to Six Bells halt.
My grandparents were the caretakers of the chapel near the road bridge and
George and I spent many a happy hour "helping" to clean. There was a
large cupboard where the local dramatic society kept their props and many is the
time when two pirates could be seen darting about the pews with flashing swords!
Because I could play the piano my grandmother took me a few times to the
"Sisterhood" meetings where I would be persuaded to play hymns on a
little organ kept there for that purpose. These meetings were held underneath the
chapel in large rooms used for various functions. In case someone may remember George. I will
add that he was a member of the local ROAB darts team and a very good player at
that. It was really heartbreaking when he died as my grandmother was pleading to
be allowed to see him, as the last time was when she saw him off to work that
morning, but according to one of the rescuers who I spoke to (what brave men
they were) he was in no condition to be seen by anyone. However, we did arrange
for his set of darts to be buried with him. I have always considered my
grandmother to be a victim of the colliery disaster as she never got over it and
died a few months later. (Editor's
– George Goldspink died tragically as one of the 45 victims of the Six Bells
Colliery Disaster in 1960)
I can remember my
grandparents living at Hafod Fan. The toilet facilities were very basic with the
lavatories being at the bottom of the garden in a similar terraced form each one
in line with its allotted house. The inside was a rough wooden bench with a
bucket underneath; who or how the bucket was emptied I don't know. The garden
was about 40 yards long and very steep and one could walk from there to the
underneath rooms of the chapel also under the road bridge and via some steps up
to the main road. From the house one had an excellent view of the road bridge
and George and I would spend many hours, each with pencil and exercise book and
log the traffic crossing and comparing results afterwards. I can remember only two or three visits to that address as most of the
time I remember them behind the local Co-op on the main road. Each time my
grandfather took us to Abertillery we used to walk up the main road from Six
Bells and on the left side were several businesses butcher, grocer etc but one
we always called in was a sweet shop where my grandfather would buy each of us a
1d - !! - ice cream cornet full of nice yellow ice cream. I can remember the
name of the shop too, Fox's. The streets of the town were very narrow in parts
as I can remember and one had to be careful particularly if a bus came by.
in the fifties we didn’t have videos or even TV, and if you had one, it was Black and White. The major entertainment was the cinema.
were four cinemas open locally, the Palace, Empress, Pavilion and Gaiety
cinemas. The Palace cinema was in Carmel Street and is now a nightclub.
Empress cinema was at the beginning of Carlyle Street directly opposite the
Railway Inn, and was used before it was demolished, as a garage and is where
"Empress Car Sales" originated.
Pavilion cinema was a little way along Carlyle Street, situated at the site
where the Lymes Social Club now stands.
Gaiety cinema was at far the end of Bridge Street where Old Blaina road actually
begins. It was built over the river and, as an added entertainment, rats would
scamper over your feet as you watched the film.
could see a different film every day of the week as two of the cinemas would
show a film each from Monday to Saturday while the other two would show a film
each from Monday to Wednesday and then a different film from Thursday to
makes six different films. To round off the week one of the cinemas would show a
different film on Sunday. Seven films in one week and locally.
an added bonus, at the Palace cinema, "Saturday morning pictures" was
a treat for the youngsters, showing cartoons and westerns starring Roy Rogers,
Gene Autrey or Hopalong Cassidy.
remember quite clearly having to use the temporary footbridge to get to
school, I don't remember exactly what the footbridge looked like, but as a
kid, it always reminded me of one of those rope bridges you see in the
New Foundry Bridge, Abertilleryy)
The new Foundry Bridge, the first
pre-stressed concrete bridge in the UK was opened on 18th July 1951 by Alfred
Barnes MP, Minister of Transport. (Picture from Old Abertillery in
photographs by Keith Thomas - Stewart Williams Publishers, Barr
|Ken and Hilda Morley
(now living in Las Vegas, USA)
Our earliest ancestor to enter the Six Bells Valley was
Charles Cook, my Great Grandfather on my Mothers side, he visited Six Bells with his
Mother to visit his sister in 1846 from Camerton, Somerset. Returned to Camerton and
worked in the coal mines there as a boy and then returned to Six Bells in his early teens
to spend the rest of his life there. My Grandfather Albert Coleman came from
Radstock, Somerset, married Charles Cook's
daughter Mary Oct. 1894. They had four children with my Mother, Eva Coleman being the
youngest. Mam had three brothers, one was a Coal Miner and Volunteer Fireman, another was
a Baker and the oldest was a Black Smith and Wheelwright as was his Father before he went
into the Mines. Grandfather Coleman died in 1928 from a coal mine accident the year I was
Mother married my Father, Ivor Morley in July 1926 and I am the only child, although my
Uncle Gwilym lived with us after his Mother died in 1934 and as he was only six years
older than I and was considered my older Brother, which was fine by me as he set a fine
example for me to follow. Dad was one of eight known children, four boys and four girls
and he was the oldest but one. His brothers became career soldiers and left the Valleys
early in their lives. Gwilym the youngest was killed in action 10 days after D -Day in
Caen, France. Dad remained and worked in the Abertillery Forge, Tin Works, from a very
early age, we believe before he was 10 years old.
During the war Dad went to work in a wire works in Birmingham. He had tried to join the
Armed services but was rejected because of his work was considered as work of National
Importance. Birmingham was bombed many times so Dad did see action on the Home front.
After the War Dad returned to work in the Forge in Abertillery. In 1950, the Forge closed due to the technological advancements in Ebbw Vale of providing
Tin Plate by a continuous process instead of the manual hand dipping method used in the
Forge. Dad finished his working life at Ebbw Vale and died in 1971. His Father was Edwin
Morley who came to Six Bells from the Rhondda to work in the Six Bells Colliery about the
turn of the 19th Century and lived in 10 Lancaster Street, Six Bells all the remainder of
his life. His brothers and sisters remained in the Rhonda and died there. He also died the
year I was born in 1928.
Hilda's family named Lucas came to Six Bells from Gloucester via the Varteg at about the
turn of the 19th century. Her Father was Frederick George Lucas and he died at
the age of 83 in 1967. Her Mother was Jeanetta Ann Board and she was born in Cefn Cribwr
in the Rhondda and she died at the age of 50 in 1938 in 12 Eastville Road, Six Bells when
Hilda her youngest daughter of three daughters was 12 years of age. Jeannetta Ann was the
Daughter of Moses Board and Mary Jane Board nee Jones who married Thomas Pitt after the
death of her first Husband. Mr. Thomas William Pitt died at the age of 91 in 1954 and lived in 6 Blythe Street,
Abertillery. He was born in Malmesbury, Wiltshire and had lived in the Blaina and
Abertillery area for about 50 years. He helped build the Severn Tunnel Junction and the
Alexandra Dock, Cardiff.
He worked on the first railway line into Bournemouth connecting the seaside resort to
Christchurch and he drove the first engine over the completed tracks. He was also employed
for a time at the old Blaenavon Iron Works and was a member of the Salvation Army Band for
a number of years. In 1913 he commenced to work for the Abertillery council and retired in
1937 at the age of 74. All came to the Valleys to work in the coal mines and the last of our immediate family
left the Valley in 1997 and that was my Mother who died there at the age of 93. This was a
family related association with the district of Six Bells of about 150 years. That is the
same time frame that it took for the Valleys Industrial growth and fall to occur.
We were born in the late 1920s and grew up in Six Bells. We left Sept. 1961 and emigrated
to the United States of America. That meant we were in the valleys for a period of just
over 33 years. As of now we have lived in the States for 39 years.
My earliest memories of the Valleys was when Mam
and Dad finally had a home of their own and moved into 13 Bryn Terrace, Six Bells in 1932.
It was the typical coal miners row house cottage home consisting of two rooms downstairs
and two bedrooms upstairs. Lighted by gas light, heated by open coal fires in cast iron
grates on which all our cooking was accomplished. Only cold running water was available
from a tap mounted to the inside wall of the house, with no sink and toilets in out houses
at the bottom of the garden also with no water that had to be carried from the house.
Bathing was accomplished in portable galvanised tubs with water heated on the open coal
Clothes were washed the same way and
hung out on the garden line to dry and hopefully the coal dust from the colliery would not
blow our way and coat the clean wash. The house walls were of stone and about 16 inches
thick and the roof covering was of slate. The heights of the rooms were under seven feet
with exposed beams, designed for short people! The view from the house was south down the
Valley and overlooking the Six Bells Colliery and the Aberbeeg Hospital about a mile and a
half away. The Six Bells Hotel and Browns Corner were right below us on Alexandra Road
that was the main road through from Aberbeeg to Abertillery and north to Brynmawr.
Our Valley then was marked heavily with the coal from the mines and the rivers were black
and contaminated with waste. Today it our understanding that the rivers are clear and fish
are evident and the air is breathable as all the mines are closed and no longer in
existence. This also has a price, as unemployment is now high because of all the mine
closures. We travelled those days by foot, bus or rail to where ever our destination was,
as cars and aeroplanes were not available to us. As time went on we had a radio unit
operated by a wet cell battery that required charging weekly. Electricity came much later
as did indoor plumbing and bathrooms.
We attended the Six Bells school system and grew up in an environment of working together
to enjoy life, as we knew it. It was a time of opportunity as the war years allowed a
demand for output and improvement in our lives that was available to all that wished to
grasp the moment. In 1935, the miners during a depression time built the Lido in Six Bells
that allowed us to learn how to swim. In 1939 the War started and every one was employed
or serving in the armed forces. It was the time of food rationing, evacuees from London,
no street lights at night for fear of air raids, although our Valley was a safe haven that
escaped those disasters due to the depth and winding nature of the Valleys between the
high mountains. Every summer during our time out of school we went to harvest camps on the
farms in Bettws Newydd that is located between and East of Pontypool and Abergavenny. to
help out with the war effort by helping the farmers bring in their crops. This was usually
a six week spell and we did it for three years in a row between 1941 and 1944.
This was a fortunate time for me as I was too young for the forces and as a product of
Abertillery Tech and Crumlin College was able to obtain an education that has stood me
well over the years and allowed me to compete professionally in my field of expertise of
engineering and construction for the Steel and Uranium industries. Also later branching
out to include building High rise office buildings, Hotels, Airports and Maximum Security
Prisons. Eventually consulting for the Legal Community to help resolve engineering and
construction disputes. This took us all over the States, Brazil and Canada.
Going back to 1946 when I was drafted into the
British Army and did two years of conscriptive service with the South Wales Borderers. We
were trained in Northern Ireland and returned to Brecon Barracks, Wales. Fortunately this
was now a peace-time Army and our duties consisted of mainly guard and police activity.
That was also the time when my service was ending that the Army barracks closed and the
Unit disbanded. We have a photograph of the last unit to serve in the Barracks. It is my
understanding that the Barracks is now as a museum in commemoration of the South Wales
Borderers. During that time played soccer and finally had a go at rugby.
I came out of the Army in 1948 joined the Coal Board as a colliery draughtsman at the
Cwmtillery colliery offices that provided engineering and construction services to all the
collieries from Beynon's in Blaina, Rose Heyworth, Cwmtillery, Vivian and the Six Bells
colliery. This was an exciting time for me with the electrification of the mines from
steam and the introduction of underground coal cutting equipment. Finally relocated to the
central coal board offices in Abercarn. Looking back on this time and comparing the technology differences we have made great
strides in the 70 odd years that we have been allowed on this Earth of ours. At that time
we had no televisions, computers, copying or fax machines, Our calculators were slide
rules and mechanical hand cranked adding units. Telephones were available for strictly
The preparation for making plan drawings for our engineering activities consisted of
drafting the plans, tracing them with ink so that they would last and reproducing prints
to take into the field for their use there. Prints were a one off at a time arrangement on
a curved glass unit that allowed a carbon ark light to be lowered past the tracing to be
printed that had a sensitized paper to receive its imprint on. The next step was the paper
print development that consisted of placing the paper into a chamber that allowed ammonium
vapour from a liquid solution of ammonia to penetrate the paper and produce the required
print of the plans.
Joined the steel industry in 1956 at the Ebbw Vale Richard Thomas and Baldwin's to work in
their engineering drawing offices and was made section leader draughtsman in charge of 16
designers and draughtsmen. This put me in touch with the steel industry in the States and
consequently was recruited by Jones and Laughlin Steel Company out of Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania to work as an engineer in their Pittsburgh plant. In 1960 during our last years in the Valley the deadly price of coal again was made
evident by the Six Bells Colliery Disaster where 45 miners were killed. At that time we
had moved out to Llanyrafon near Cwmbran.
When I came out of the Army in 1948, I started to play rugby for Six Bells and
apparently my enthusiasm caught the eyes of Abertillery Rugby Club and I started playing
for them in 1949 and continued until 1958. With me as a player and Hilda on the
Ladies committee our time with Aber was very enjoyable and we have many happy memories of
Playing against the All Blacks in 1952 was a great accomplishment for me as it allowed me
the opportunity of playing against the best and with the best of the Abertillery/Ebbw Vale
combined team. I wonder how many of that team are still with us today?
captains the 1954 Abertillery team as reported in the Football Argus
(now living in Cardiff)
My Great Grand father Benjamin
Patten moved to south Wales from West Chinnock, Somerset in the 1870s and married his wife
Jane in Merthyr Tydfil in 1875. He moved to Roberts Row, Cwmtillery in about 1887 to work
in Cwmtillery Colliery. In the 1890s, he built about 10 houses in Cwmtillery at the top of
Crook Hill including his own, which later became the Blaentillery Club, earning the
sobriquet, 'Ben Candlelight' as he would build them at night after a day shift down the
pit. His wife Jane remained steadfastly Welsh-speaking until her death in 1924, listing it
as her only language in the 1891 and 1901 censuses. Benjamin learnt the language himself,
but of course, the migration into the area of many from Somerset and England as a whole
changed the language of the Abertillery area and south Wales from predominantly Welsh to
The newspaper clipping (opposite) from the South
Wales Echo in 1937 shows him on his retirement at the age of 81(!) from Cwmtillery
Colliery. His first job in Somerset was as a scare-crow and he later worked on
making sails before moving to south Wales for the coal mining industry. Unlike most of the
immigrants from Somerset however, he did not come from the coalfield areas around Radstock
and Midsomer Norton, but the more rural area in the south of the county.
(now living in
was born in 1924 and lived in Duke Street and Portland Street for a few
years before moving to the top of Cwm Cottage Road in 1928. I remember the
crowds coming over the mountain behind the house when Abertillery played
Pontypool in the 1930s and walking down Glandwr Street hand in hand with my
father with the crowd shoulder to shoulder en route to the Park. The other
big events were the Shopping Week, the Police Sports, and the Hospital Fete.
They were hard times for most of the inhabitants of Abertillery, but there
was a wonderful community spirit in the town.