The Gwent Local History Council was set up in 1954 to encourage public interest in local history, to bring together societies and persons interested in the study of local history, to arrange lectures and publish the results of historical research. Their twice yearly magazine "Gwent Local History" has made a valuable contribution to the store of historical knowledge. Here Caerleon Net, with the full agreement of the Gwent Local History Council, is making available many of the articles from this magazine relating to Caerleon.
Please note: the authors hold the copyright for all texts.
Enquiries relating copyright should be addressed to the Gwent Local History Council.
Gwent Local History No. 43, 1977
The World We Have Lost
by Primrose Hockey
This was essential as every child liked to boast of the number of birds' nests that he or she had found.
Few motor-cars came along the road, but horse-men and horses and carts were always to be seen. A friendly atmosphere pervaded and all the drivers and horsemen had time to speak, to throw a greeting, or to warn children when they were doing something dangerous. Few people moved far from the village, except on Market Days, or to go on holiday. Everyone knew everyone else, their joys and sorrows, times of hardship and times of pleasure. I was long past twenty-one before people stopped saying when they met me: "Ah! Let me see, it is your birthday today. A very happy birthday to you, I hope you have many more." I wonder how many children are greeted in the street in this way today?
There was a good communal spirit abroad. Children played together and visited one another's homes. Of course we quarrelled, who didn't? But life was too sweet to remain enemies for long when there were few playmates around.
The roads were always marked out for Hop Scotch. Flat pieces of broken tiles or flat pieces of stone were polished and greatly prized by their owners. And, what fun it was when a passer-by joined in the game and hopped on one leg, never touching a line as he or she completed the "Skotch".
We ran our way to school, in spring or autumn behind hoops. Most hoops were made of wood and could easily be broken, but occasionally iron hoops appeared, and these too were highly prized.
The boys played marbles and everyone tried to obtain the biggest and most colourful "alley". These were large coloured glass marbles, now coveted, to fill glass bottles, but then for the joy of the game. Kneeling on the ground, they threw down their pottery marbles to be pushed away by the alleys. The language of the game was a language of its own, but I doubt whether we will hear such words as - "Slipsies, Footsies, Sixes, Chipseys, Lags first, Lags last, Ringseys and Follow my alley every inch of the way," but this is more or less a dead language, as few children appear to play marbles these days.
The girls skipped along to school, each with her own individual skipping rope. It was usually an odd bit of rope but, now and again, a skipping rope was a coveted gift, particularly one with coloured handles. In the playground they would tie their ropes together to make a long one, and then the Skipping Rhymes came into their own.
"House to let, no rent to pay,
"All in together girls,
"Blue bells, Cockle shells,
"Mrs. D., Mrs. J., Mrs. F. F. J.,
Or yet again:
"I'm a little Scotch girl,
In fact, you could tell the time or season of the year by the games the children played. And, of course, there were Conkers. These were dried horse chestnuts, put in the oven, roasted, rubbed with oil and polished until you could see your face in it. Then a hole was bored through it and a length of string inserted. You were now ready for the game of conkers and you sang the rhyme:
"Ibbley, Ibbley onker,
Then the game began until all the conkers were smashed and only the winner remained intact.
Rounders, football and cricket were played on any available piece of ground. In small, confined places windows were broken and tempers frayed, but, when father paid the damages and the child apologised all was quickly forgotten until the next time.
There was endless entertainment in every-day life. The postman rode his bicycle in all winds and weathers. His bell and whistle were well known, and the children playing in fields or roads knew the time. The rat-a-tat of the postman brought everyone running. "Good morning postman." "Good morning Mrs. T. Only a postcard for you this morning. It's from your cousin, who is in Brighton for a few days." Or "Mrs. H. will have visitors today and she would like to borrow some sugar." We did not send letters to neighbours, the postman, the baker, the butcher, the milkman, the ironmonger, the grocer, all carried our messages and brought replies. Life was leisurely if not rich.
Occasionally the knife grinder paid us a visit. We would watch him working his mini-sharpener attached to his old bicycle. He would pedal away whilst he sharpened knives, scissors or any farmhouse implement. We had our own grindstone and we would turn the handle whilst my father whetted and sharpened the instrument he required. It was a long process, but the beautifully sharpened knife or scythe was then ready to perform its duties.
Mrs. McCartney was an old lady (or at least she appeared to be old to us) who lived in one of the houses in The Row. This was a row of houses built for the tin-plate workers, when the Works were at their height of prosperity. She was a widow and, having only Widow's Pension, she supplemented her income by making "pikelets". This was a large crumpet-like muffin. She would walk up the road with a large clothes basket, covered with a white cloth, and scarf on her head and ringing a bell. We all ran out when we heard it so that we too could have "pikelets for tea."
The baker arrived in his horse and cart. He always wore a white apron and his baskets were scrubbed white too. We did not often buy bread because my mother made our own. We had a large bake oven which had to be filled with wood. We went out into the fields to collect twigs to start the fire, which were kept in a shed until required. My mother was up very early on Baking Days. The fire was lit, the bread made and put to rise, and it was usually the smell of the newly baked bread which awakened us. Then there was a mad rush downstairs, even on the coldest morning, for the back kitchen where the oven was very warm, and we loved being there. Then the oven was opened and the bread and cakes taken out. But there were also Batch Cakes which were split open and filled with home-made butter. They were delicious!
Then there was pig-killing. Everyone in school knew when a pig was to be killed. To begin with there would be vacant seats in the classroom. When the squeals commenced the guessing would begin. "Oh! that's Harris - Bailey-Rheddyn." "No it isn't, it's Church Farm, I know by the squeal." And so on. But, if you were home you watched with interest. When I was a small child, and saw the butcher coming to kill a favourite pig, I said, "You are not going to kill my pig," - and, getting my father's riding crop I beat him all around the garden. Later in life I watched and even helped to kill pigs. After the pig had been killed, burned and scrubbed, it was hung before curing, so that the flesh could get cold. But the intestines of the pigs were used in the making of Black Pudding and Faggots. I can never forget the strings of Black Puddings hanging across the kitchen and the delicious smell of home-made faggots. It was at this time that the communal spirit was most evident. Pieces of pig-meat were delivered to different villagers and, in turn, when they killed a pig we too would have a piece of meat. As children, we loved to go out with a basket, calling at different houses and saying: "Oh! Mrs. T., my mother has sent you some faggots." Or, "Mr. J., my mother has sent you some black puddings and hopes you will enjoy them." We were so proud when people said, "Oh thank you, we always enjoy what your mother sends." Few people in the village did not have "sides of bacon" and "hams" hanging on their walls. These were their "edible pictures" of far more value to them than the most expensive of paintings.
Market Days were always busy days, for cattle and sheep had to he walked into Newport. We children went in front, for it was our job to shut garden gates so that suburban lawns and flower beds would not be despoiled by animals on their way to market. Then after sheep had been sold to butchers and taken to the slaughter-houses, the fellmonger's cart would collect the sheep-skins and take them to the fellmonger's yard for curing. We could smell this cart long before it passed the School, and did not want to see its load.
The Beer Dray was another source of entertainment. The wagon, laden with barrels of beer and boxes, containing flagons of beer, was drawn by a magnificent pair of dray horses. These are strong hefty beasts but quiet enough to allow children to fondle them, feed them with apples and admire them. They were usually dressed with brilliantly polished horse brasses and looked very proud of their appearance. These sights and sounds are now seldom seen and heard in the modern world.
But there were other pleasures. We seldom went away for long holidays, money was short and holidays were expensive. But - there was always the brook and the mountain. What a wonderful holiday they gave us. We paddled in the brook and learned to swim in the sheep-dipping pool. This was a pool in the field, enlarged and deepened so that the farmers could wash their sheep at this particular spot. Then on high summer days, we would lie on branches overhanging the brook and try to "tickle trout." Naturally we fell in, but, we would take off our clothes and hang them on a hedge to dry. Then, if we managed to get a trout, we would stick it on a hazel twig and roast it on our fire. Nothing has ever tasted more sweet.
Twym Barlwym, the mountain with a pimple, has always had a fascination for us. "As the crow flies" it is only about five miles distance, but it is a long, long walk. Still it was an outing, and, on Bank Holidays my mother and a few friends would take all the village children to the mountain for a picnic. How we loved those walks, and the food provided was like the nectar of the gods. I have climbed many mountains, many times higher than Twym Barlwym, hut the feeling of awe has never surpassed my first view of Monmouthshire from these, to me, giddy heights.