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Memories - Atgofion

Revived - May 2008

Hopefully, on this part of the site you will find pictures and memories that will conjure up your own recollections of the town and the area from a bygone era. If you would like to share your recollections or memories (and/or) pictures of your time or that of your ancestors in Abertillery, I will load them up on this page with pleasure. They can be just snippets or longer pieces, which I may edit if necessary.
E-mail:abertilleryonline@yahoo.co.uk

Alternatively you can place them online yourself on the message board's special section  - click here


Anne Casson (nee Rees)
May 2008

I 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 squirrelled away.

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 Arael St. 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 Church Street, 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 up to Preston 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 originally.

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 Scranton, 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.


Diane Wilsher

I 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.

When 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.

There 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. 

Other 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.

At 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.


Alan Brown

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 Browns corner.

When 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 hospital instead.

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 should.


Tony White

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 their home.

I 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.

When 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 recall. 

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.

John 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.


Kenn Rosser

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 mountains. 

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.


Kevin Jones

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 mountain.

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 thoughts. 

If anyone reading this does remember the Jones family at 11 Attlee Avenue and would like to get in touch, please feel free.


Jimmy Edwards

My 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.


Raymond Vincent

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.

My 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 1851.

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 Primary School. 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 with Abertillery. 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.

I 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.


Tom Pritchard
(Cowplain, Nr. Portsmouth)

The 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.

I 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.

My 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.

Kids 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.

It was 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.

This 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.

It was 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.

This 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.

Chapel 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.

In the 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.

The 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. 

PART TWO
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.

We 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.

There 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.

The 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 electric one.

It 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.

The 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.

Facing 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”.

My 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 day there.


Helen Northill (Australia)

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 meat. 

They 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 Churchyard. 

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 business.

Picture shows James Dalgleish's shop in Gaen Street, Abertillery  - early 1900s


H. C. "Bert" Hemmens

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 note – 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.


Terry Cobner 

Back 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. There were four cinemas open locally, the Palace, Empress, Pavilion and Gaiety cinemas. The Palace cinema was in Carmel Street and is now a nightclub.

The 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.

The Pavilion cinema was a little way along Carlyle Street, situated at the site where the Lymes Social Club now stands.

The 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.

You 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 Saturday. That 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.

As 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.


Ray Dix

"I 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 jungle".

The New Foundry Bridge, Abertillery
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
y)

 

 

 


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 born.

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 fires.

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 office activities.

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 those years.

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?

 

Ken Morley captains the 1954 Abertillery team as reported in the Football Argus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


David Llewellyn
(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 English.

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.


Jim Nicholas
(now living in Stourbridge, England) 

I 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.

 

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