Memories of Caerleon 1935 - 1950
by Brian Blythe
Brian left Caerleon many years ago, but still has happy memories of life in Isca. Some of what he writes was told in the book THE LIVING VILLAGE by SG Deane, which he refers to as 'the Book' or 'the book', and the numbers in square brackets indicate pages in that book. He wrote these unedited notes as if being interviewed and says it's a jumble. It's certainly a large collection of memories... and even the oldest 'fly' will discover something new in its contents. We recommend you print this and read in the comfort of your favourite armchair; then pass it on to a friend who does not have access to a computer.
To set the period, I am going to tell you about my first job. But that is not the real reason. I am just longing to tell someone about how I became redundant before I had even started school.
As we came in my Father's lorry from Clarence Place over the bridge towards Topodockstreet - (it was always said that way) - I was standing on tiptoe only just able to see out of the windscreen - (no seat belts then). At the space where seven roads met came into view, I was transported out of the lorry and on to a box in the middle with a big white flat topped hat and huge white gloves. In my imagination I was the policeman. I held up my white gloved right hand towards the approaching traffic and waited until they stopped and then turned my back on them. They would not dare to move while my back was towards them. Then with a bend of my left elbow I could call the vehicles from another direction. Such power! Sometimes I kept several lines moving at the same time; traffic from Caerleon could go round to Cardiff or to Dock Street at the same time as those from Commercial Street went to Malpas and from Malpas they could go towards Caerleon. Sometimes, provided they had made the correct hand signal, I would crook my finger at Commercial Street and when they started to move I would point at my feet to indicate that they could come thus far but no further until I had stopped the traffic from Caerleon; then they would be ready to go round behind me to Cardiff. But one day as we approached I was not there. I couldn't get out of the lorry and my little box was missing. All the traffic had stopped. "Dad, why have we stopped?" "Because of that red light there. We can't go until it changes to green". Then cars came across towards Caerleon. Why can't we go to Cardiff Road at the same time? Traffic lights! They will never catch on; it's a stupid idea. They will have to give me my job back. I could soon sort out this mess. Then the light changed to green and we moved on. Oh dear, I'll have to think of something else to do. I may have to go to school.
We begin in Ashwell at the bottom of Christchurch hill. At the end of Ashwell there was a gate with a kissing gate at the left. Perhaps they are still there. Beyond the last house on the right was Sam Tripp's coal yard. [I thought Sam lived next to his coalyard, but the book, page 95, says he lived nearer the Bell.] Sam had a very large cart and a horse in which he rumbled through the village at Steptoe speed to sell coal. Because of his long hair and big moustache it is difficult to say what he looked like. When my Father started as a coal merchant people said that they would only buy their coal from Sam.
Coming back from Sam's yard, halfway along Ashwell on the right there was a very narrow lane that led up to the road towards Christchurch called Belmont Hill. Halfway up this lane water poured from a pipe in the wall - the 'Ash Well'. It was said that if you drank of this water you would never leave Caerleon - it was true of most people. It does not flow now because the people who bought the house with the garden above claim that the spring, the source, belongs to them.
Go up this path and on to the road and turn right to the smallest house in Monmouthshire. Tom Morgan lived there. My Father took him a bag of coal once a week. When the price of coal went up my Father couldn't bring himself tell Tom. In the end Tom was getting coal at half price.
Further up the hill is the King's Arms and the beginning of the Black Ash Path. I used to walk up there to Christchurch three times on Sunday and again on Friday evening to choir practice. I must explain that although the Village was part of Caerleon it was in the Parish of Christchurch. Alice Cook used to do the same thing before my time [page 104]. I walked up with Jimmy Waggett who later became Chairman of Caerleon Council. Jimmy often sang solo in church. Near the church stood the Greyhound. This was counted as the first when after their exams the students of Caerleon College raced to have a drink in each of Caerleon's 13 pubs. The last was the Sun (or Star) out on the Usk road.
My uncle Fred (my father's brother) used to take me to see Newport County play football. We would go in his old Singer car. Every time, he would get up as much speed as possible along the New Road and charge up the Belmont hill towards Christchurch but just beyond the Kings Arms the car ran out of steam. We came back down and went via Newport arriving there at half-time when we got in for nothing. Later in life uncle Fred suffered from diabetes. Having missed his lunch (something a diabetic should never do) he was descending Christchurch hill in his car when he fell asleep, failed to turn right at the Kings Arms and went through the wall. He was shaken but not hurt but the car died.
I was at Somerton Park when Newport County played Tottenham Hotspur in the football league! Newport were in the second division for five years! In the last season before the war Newport gained promotion to the second division. The football league was suspended for the duration of the war. In one of the first games after the war Newport were home to Tottenham. The ground was packed. I watched the first half on top of the pointed roof of the grandstand. A policeman removed us at half time. This was the high point for Newport football: it has been steeply downhill all the time since.
Let's go back down the hill to the beginning of Ashwell. There were two pairs of semi-detached houses here on the left. Tommy Davis lived in one last time I saw him. He was a star member of the Caerleon football team that once won the Welsh Cup. I was away at college then; I would have liked to have been one of that team. Tommy always walked as if he had a football between his feet. Miss Bond, the Art teacher at the Dover Girls' School was billeted in one of those houses.
7000 children came from Kent to the Welsh valleys; 300 from Dover Girls' Grammar School were billeted in Caerleon and shared the schoolrooms and used the Baptist Chapel for weekly Assembly, and the Baptist Hall, the Church Hall and the Teachers' Training College for lessons. A little further down the New Road in the last house (at that time) lived a Mr Green. He had been involved in the development of a data storage device using a thin nickel plated wire; a very compact high density device. It was used in one computer but was overtaken by the cheapness of magnetic tape. Opposite on the corner Mr and Mrs Young lived in a bungalow. They had an evacuee named Pat Blackmore. Across Bullmoor, at the top of the bank, was a hole in the hedge which led to 'The Greg', a steep field covered with bracken. No seemed to mind when we played in there.
Halfway along the Bullmoor Road on the right there were two houses up some steps. Mrs Tooze lived in one and Annie Cross in the other. On the other side we come to Mission Cottage where evacuees Mrs Robson with her daughter Dorothy lived, and during the summer vacation the son who was a Cambridge Don. The Mission Church was next door. My mother used to ring the bell before service at the Mission. My brother Clifford was christened there and I was godfather. There was a house where Charlie Hill the chimney sweep lived. He had carved his name on the lintel above his front door but had not left a space between his initial and the surname and was therefore known as CHILL. Where two houses had been demolished, they built an air-raid shelter. In the next house lived a family who were evacuees from Dover. Mrs Roffe wrote to Caerleon Council asking if, since her husband was away in the RAF, they had anywhere where she could live to join her two daughters, Jean and Betty who had been evacuated to Caerleon. The house had been condemned before the war but they patched it up and rented it to her. In Dover they had had a modern house but this cottage in Caerleon had only one water tap, just inside the front door, and a primitive toilet at the bottom of the garden. Years later Betty and I met again in London and we were married in Dover. Mrs Geer lived next door in a house whose front window looked as if it had been a shop. Then two taller houses where lived the family Stamp and then Mr Boroughs. One of the Stamp boys caught Scarlet Fever and the family had to move out while the whole house was fumigated. Now we come to White's corner shop with a dairy at the back. I was once sent, with a jug, to get some milk but I was too early and milking was not finished. I went out the back to watch and Mr Dowden squirted milk straight from the cow into my eye.
When I last went into the Bell after 30 years away from Caerleon my cousin Jim (Fred's son) was propping up the Bar in the corner. He looked up, said "Hello Brian" and turned back to his beer just as if I had been in every night.
Let us now go further along the Bullmoor Road. On the right there were two bungalows set back from the road where lived Mrs (?Leyton-)Jones. Miss Wilson, one of the Dover School teachers was billeted with her. Mrs Jones roared around the village in a little Morgan two seater with a thick leather strap to hold down the bonnet. She had a son who was born completely deaf but with patient teaching he learnt to talk.
Going carefully round two houses which jutted out into the road we come to the top of a very steep hill, but before going down the hill go up the path to the right to Cock o' North. This was a very interesting place to explore; trees and grassy banks and a fast- flowing stream down the far side and a wonderful view of the river winding up towards Usk and a view of the Lido.
The Lido was wonderful. We never went away for family summer holidays but my Father bought each of us a season ticket for the Lido. At the weekend I would go to the Lido, on my bike, in the morning, come home for lunch, go again in the afternoon and if it was warm enough again after tea. People came on the bus from Newport ( 5d return) and walked from the bridge and some came from Cwmbran and Croesyceiliog and walked from the station. There was a large car park but very few people came in cars. The Argus reported (on many occasions during hot summers) that on some Sundays there were over 3000 people at the Lido. The Lido was built near the river far from the village because it was intended to use the river water but they had to use tap water. The pool was 25 yards square and there was a paddling pool 6 yards by 25 yards. There was a shop in the corner and a large grass area with a few small trees. The water was circulated by a large diesel engine in the far corner which also pumped water over a 12 feet high concrete waterfall. The diesel engine was started an maintained by a German prisoner of war. He came from Newport, on his own, stayed at the pool all day and walked back to the bus in the evening, always on his own. He spoke perfect English and often chatted with us boys. He had been a submarine commander. In our naive way we asked if he was a Nazi to which he replied that in Germany everyone was a Nazi. The last time we drove along the Bullmoor Road I was surprised and saddened to see that the Lido had been completely demolished. I learned to swim there. I became a very good swimmer. Uncle Fred was a good swimmer and played water polo. He showed me how to lie flat on the water; like a floating log he said. And Johnny (Tarzan) Weissmüller's book told me how to relax the muscles in turn. Use the shoulder muscle to lift the arm and with the arm muscles relaxed, bend the elbow and let your hand swing foreward with the fingers only just clear of the water. Use leg muscles (thigh and calf) in turn to provide propulsion with the top of the foot on the down stroke and with the sole of the foot when coming up.
Beyond the Lido the road comes to Kemeys - Kemeys Church. There were just two farms here and the church. One of the farmers took the service. The smallest community a quiet narrow country lane a very small church on the edge of the river and quiet. [page 104] But it all disappeared in 1972 when a road, the A449, crossed over the river very near the church, through the churchyard, over a ugly concrete structure low over the narrow road and through the middle of the farms. The gravestones were removed and the church slid into the river - or was it pushed? When we last drove along there we talked to someone who said he had lived near all his life but he had never heard of any church at Kemeys.
Then the Bullmoor Road goes through Gypsy's Tump and Devil's Den to Newbridge. I've been along there many times on my bike. Sometimes I crossed the river at Newbridge and returned along the other side to descend on to the Usk Road from Caerleon and sometimes I cycled on to Usk before crossing the river.
But we are a long way from home. Let's go back to the Bell and go down Isca Road. Granny Hawkins lived in one of the houses on the left before we come, on the other side to the two houses pictured in the Book on page 93. I am sure that this is wrongly labelled because Fern Cottage and Moss Cottage are further down the road, to the right of the picture. They have the names on the glass panel above their doors. My Grandfather must have been a very rich man for he owned thirteen houses in Caerleon Village. They were all let at 6/6d, 7/6d or 8/6d a week depending on size. When he died he left the four we are talking about here to his son, my uncle, Fred. In one of the two in the picture in the book lived Mrs Pember. In Fern Cottage lived the Adams family, Walter and Hilda, with children Mary and Phyllis. Mary became a Comptometer operator, a very skilled job. It appeared to be just a keyboard but very complex calculations could be performed with its aid. Phyllis married a soldier and went to live in Malta. Their Father Walter also sang in Christchurch choir. Next door in Moss Cottage lived the Waggetts: Jimmy who became Chairman of Caerleon Council and sang in Christchurch choir, John and Sidney and daughters Vera and Doreen. Then the Hollies where the Derretts lived. It was a very cold house with uneven large stone slabs for the floor. Mr Derrett also owned a sort of shed on the other side of the road which seemed to house farm implements. Their son John strode noisily down the road every morning at 6am with his hob nail boots and whistling loudly. My mother relied on him to wake her. He had sisters Nora and Inez, and an older sister Sonia. Mrs Friend's shop was near. She sold and delivered newspapers. On the right is Glan yr Avon. My mother's Auntie Green lived there. She had an adopted daughter who was studying music. After agonising for years Auntie Green finally told her daughter that she was adopted only to discover that she had known for years. The Hollisters came to live there with children Marion and Glenys and Ian and Wendy. They went back to New Zealand, to Hamilton. A row of cottages backed on to the river which was eroding more of their gardens every year. In the last one lived Mr James who was station master at Caerleon station. The river had taken almost all of his garden and surely the house has been abandoned by now. There were railings along the riverside in front of The Grange or Isca Grange [page 92] where Charles Jones the Coroner lived. His large garden stretched to the New Road where there was a smart entrance with white painted gates and railings.
Carefully round the corner where the road passes perilously near the front doors of the two houses (the traffic went both ways then) and down a slight slope to the four substantial red brick houses that my Grandfather built. He also owned the small house squeezed in at the left hand end where Mr and Mrs Danks and their son 'Peggy' lived. Peggy worked as gardener for my Grandfather and also for my Father. Grandad (and family) lived in the middle house. When my Father, Edwin, married Dora he moved to next door, the right hand one, and lived there for the rest of his life and when Fred married he move to next door the other side, and lived there the rest of his life. Grandad's wife (I can't remember her name) and later his daughter Nancy ran the shop which was like the front room of the house. To the left of his house was what could have been a garage door except that it was bigger and hinged only at the left side. The shop apparently had no entrance door but if the 'garage' door was opened only three feet and then bolted again, the shop entrance at right angle to the road was revealed. Behind the big door, when fully opened, which was not often, was the 'passage' which was used as a store room and led to the garden. The garden was very large and I'll come back to that in a minute. In the house to the right lived Mrs Rossiter and her two thirty(?) year old sons Ron and Arthur. On the right of that house could be seen a partially built chimney because Grandad had intended to build another house but changed his mind. When these houses were built Grandad employed a gang of thirty men who during one night carefully dug up the road and under the wall and down the river bank and laid pipes for water drainage. Then they carefully relaid the road. Well, it would take such a long time to get permission and where else could the water go?
Next, there were very tall wooden gates behind which was the coal yard and the way to the garden, then two small cottages cement rendered and painted blue. These also were owned by my Grandad and these he left to my Father. Mr Davis lived here. He used to mend our wind-up gramophone when it frequently broke but he won £1600 on the Irish Hospitals Sweep Stake, gave up work and wouldn't bother with our gramophone any more. The sale of Irish Sweep tickets was illegal but it was advertised on Radio Athlone with addresses where they could be bought. Next door to him lived Bill Sergeant and his wife Winnie. We had a goldfish called Benjamin who swam around in a globe. One morning Benjamin was lying still on his side on the surface of the water. Bill came in just to say hello. Our front door was never locked and people came in and out all day long. Bill saw Benjee, folded his cap and said a prayer and Benjee turned over and swam around. Bill Sergeant was a hay cutter, one of many jobs which have now disappeared. He had a wide blade double edged three feet long knife and travelled around the farms cutting hay stacks into cubes when the stacks were ready for cattle to eat.
The Postman, Ken Richards, always came in to put the letters on the table and help himself to a Welshcake. Ken was a very good spare time mechanic. He could fix any problem and he kept the lorry running. I remember two occasions when he renewed the clutch. In a garage they would use a crane to remove the engine but not having a crane Ken disconnected the back wheels from the body, jacked up then propped the rear bodywork, then disconnected the transmission and pushed away the rear wheels. Then from underneath the clutch could be removed. Whatever repair job he was doing he always threw all screws and nuts and bolts and removed parts into a bucket of paraffin. I always marvelled how when he came to reassemble he would look at the tread, mumble to himself something like 'sixteen Whitworth' and go to the bucket and get the right one first time. He went into the RAF and worked as aeroplane engine mechanic. When he returned I expected him to get a job in a garage but he preferred to go back to being a postman. He lived in one of the first houses in Lodge Avenue - number two I think.
At the end of Isca Road lived John White the Milk and his wife Bitha in the White Lion House [page91]. John White kept cows in the barn beside his house but some reason he later gave up the cows and went to buy four large churns from somewhere at the top of Christchurch hill. Later someone else kept cows in his barn and made a big pile of manure on the river bank just opposite the barn. There had been a row of houses opposite the White House but only one was left in my time and that was pulled down when the Dixons left.
I don't remember an air raid shelter there [page 91].
Now we have arrived at the Square. Its was/is Castle Street [page 99] but it was always known as the Square. It was unsurfaced (just earth) and led to the river where the wooden bridge once was. Here on the right are two red brick houses which belonged to my Grandfather and were left to my Father. Tom Thomas lived in the first one. There was some special relationship between Tom Thomas and my Father or Grandfather; I never did know what but my Father told me that Tom had to be 'looked after'. All the other houses left to Dad were sold one by one and the money vanished into the business but Tom Thomas' house was not sold until after Dad died. Opposite lived Mr Church and his adopted son Kenneth. There is another story there but we wont go into that now. Passing quickly up Lulworth Road we come to Lulworth House and now I can go back to tell you about my Grandfather's garden.
The four red brick houses and the two where Mr Davis and Bill Sergeant lived had only short gardens but Grandad's garden, which I enjoyed as a boy, ran behind them from the garden of the Grange to those of the White House and Lulworth House and back to the New Road. There were sheds big and small everywhere. One was a very large hall with a table tennis table and dart board and another mysterious building where I was not allowed contained an engine of some sort and all sorts of rubbish.
had his 'tramcar'. It was the upper deck of a tram and was supported
on brick pillars because the bottom had disintegrated. In it he had
a table, a bed and a desk. He used to go there often for a bit of peace
and quiet and to do his News of the World crossword. When I received
my first school prize and could choose which book I wanted, my mother
said that it had to be a Bible. If I ever won another prize I could
chose but the first one had to be a Bible. When I brought it home she
told me to take it to show Grandad in his tramcar. I still have the
Bible with a small cross at the start of the last chapter of Job to
tell me that Grandad read that. Then he took a shoe box from under the
floor board. It was full of golden sovereigns. He gave me one and put
the box back. Later I was able to read his Will which listed all his
possessions. One item caught my eye. It said 'Cash in the house £30'
There was much much more than that in the shoe box. The garden was divided
into three and some brick walls and fences were put up and I never did
get a chance to look in the tramcar.
At the end of the garden was the 'Tennis Court'. It had been a tennis court when my Father and his brother and sister were young; the posts which had held the net were still there. The surface was crushed ashes. It had not been used for years and two sheds had been erected over one end. My Grandfather's Will which divided up the rest of the garden said that this area was to be shared and not divided. Coal was the only source of energy; no North Sea oil or gas. During the war the government boosted the output of coal and coal was piled up around the pit heads until they became worried that the Germans might bomb and set fire to it. They offered to sell coal at less than cost price to anyone who had space to store large amounts. My Father laid concrete on one third of the tennis court and one thousand tons of coal was stocked there for the duration of the war. A government inspector came from time to time to see that it was not being used. But this 'investment opportunity' back- fired because after the war with very large stocks around the country the price of coal fell for a while. About ten tons was crushed to coal dust by the weight of that above. No one made much money from this scheme.
Grandad left the houses so that no one owned the house he/she lived in. They need not have bothered with paying rent (Oh yes ! His children had to pay him rent. He was a business man; his children didn't have much idea) but after his funeral Nancy said something about following her horoscope and disappeared not to be heard of again for more than 10 years. People called Burrows came from London to live in the house. Then Fred used the 7/6d he collected from Danks to pay to my Father who had to pay it to Nancy but Nancy was not there so he gave it to Mrs Burrows who gave it with her rent to Nancy's solicitor in Newport. The solicitor then sent it back to Fred who owned Nancy's house. As I said they need not have bothered but they did.
When Nancy returned and again lived next door to us she was married to Tom Whittaker. Tom took on the job of Chairman of Caerleon Football Club and introduced some new fund raising schemes which helped the club in its heyday. "It has given me a new lease of life" he said. One day Tom was standing on his doorstep looking over the river and to the folding hills beyond. "It's beautiful" he said to me. I had to admit that I had never seen it before.
At the end of Lulworth Road was Mrs Jay's little cottage. She held meetings of the Girls' Friendly Society there. Two evacuees, Mildred and Joyce Hamer lived here with their mother. The two girls were twins but resembled each other only very slightly. On the other side of the road was the Ship Hotel run at this time by Mr Heath, whose son Cam lived in the pub and worked as an electrician (he said) at the brick works. I was fixing a two way switch at home and had run three wires between the switches. My Father said that he had never seen an electric circuit with three wires in any part of it so he asked Cam Heath. He came back with a diagram which Cam had given him. If we had wired it according to that diagram we could have set the house on fire. Russell Green, of whom more in a minute, was in our house that evening and told my father that I was right. Russell knew because he was the Town Clerk and educated.
This list of houses and names is becoming boring so it is time for another sort of story. My Mother and Father came home one night with a smartly dressed man and woman with long light hair in a big posh car. It had big twelve inch diameter headlights; an Alvis I think. We all chatted in our front room. The front was only used when we had visitors. They came many times. He told us stories and during the evening he would get out a little ukelele and sing some cowboy ditties. One was:-
There's an old apple tree in my garden
That lives long in my memory
It reminds me of my Papy
He was handsome tall and happy
When he planted that old apple tree.
There were fourteen verses.
One night he said that he had to go away and he asked my Father if there was anywhere in the garden where he could hide the car for the rest of the war. At the end of the tennis court there was a shed full of straw. They put the car in there and covered it with straw. It was still there three years after the war. My Father was starting to think how he could sell it when one day the woman appeared. She had the key. The car started first time and she left without a word. He may have been killed in the war but for some reason we thought they were spies.
______Towards the Ship______
Now back to the Ship. Around the corner past the Hotel was a row of cottages in the last of which lived Jimmy Hill. He was a retained fire fighter. One very hot summer day he shocked people by walking around the village in shorts. Opposite the Ship was the Toll House where lived Mr Jeffreys who kept a shop in a wooden hut to the right. From the bridge the road used to go straight ahead to the New Road and one waited for the bus beside Mr Jeffrey's shop. The bus to Newport ran every 20 minutes and cost 5d return; coming back from Skinners Street alongside Marks and Spencers. Then they raised the road on one side and put the bus shelter there and created a sort of backwater behind it where the council stored stone chippings, tarmac and salt. Now I had to turn left in front of the Toll House, right towards the New Road and left into Lulworth Road. It was a real challenge to get round there on my bike without touching the brakes.
______Over the Bridge______
At last we leave the Village and come to the bridge.
My Uncle Fred was the last one to jump off the centre of the bridge into the river.
He told that at one time it was a sort of test of manhood for the young men of Caerleon but had been given up until Tommy Stark did it; then Fred thought he had to jump. But Tommy Stark was drunk when he jumped and had to be rescued.
One day, long before the traffic lights, two buses got suck on the middle of the bridge. The two sides were scraping each other and the side of one bus was against the wall. Suddenly there was a loud cheer as my Father was spotted walking towards the buses carrying two bricks. He put one brick in front of the front wheel of one bus and the other brick in front of its rear wheel. Then he told the driver to ignore the scraping of metal and drive up onto the bricks. This opened a one inch gap between the buses an allowed the other to drive away.
On the other side of the bridge was Rueben Bennett's garage. It was later taken on by his son Gordon. The origin of the exclamation "Gordon Bennett!" is attributed to an American journalist but I am certain my sister started it in Caerleon when so annoyed about something it was the only thing she could say. The pump had a handle and wheel which when turned caused a rod to rise. The handle was turned twenty times to raise the rod to its full height. This raised one gallon of petrol from the tank below. When the wheel was turned the other way the petrol was sent into the vehicle. A gallon of petrol cost 1/6d or eighteen pence. Many things cost eighteen pence. A hundredweight of coal cost eighteen pence from one side of the lorry while coal on the other side was labelled 'best' and cost 1/8d. When asked what was the difference my Father answered truthfully 'Nothing except the price' but some people still said 'Oh I'll have the best'.
There are many remains of Roman buildings in Caerleon and from the gate at the bottom of White Hart Lane you can walk across the field and soon find a Roman Wall near the Amphitheatre. The wall from the garage to White Hart Lane is often call the Roman Wall but this was built by Italian prisoners of war.
Gordon Bennett lived in one of the houses on the right going up White Hart Lane. Except for a Banner somewhere there I never knew anyone in White Hart Lane so we go swiftly through to where it emerges on the High Street at an area know as the square where between the White Hart Hotel and Skuse's butchers shop with sawdust on the floor. John Skuse slaughtered his animals behind the shop. Across the road was Reg Bateman's barber shop where a standard haircut cost 4d. Why did I say 'standard' ? - for there was only one kind.
Down the High Street, back towards the bridge, there was the swap shop run by the WRVS. Mothers could bring the clothes that their children had grown out of and swap them for something bigger. An excellent idea when clothes were rationed. There was a very useful shop between the butcher's and the Post Office where you could buy almost anything. It had counters along three sides with a big space in the middle. Food was sold on the one side and haberdashery on the other where prices were often "One and eleven-three". (One shilling and eleven pence and three farthings.) There was a Bank between this shop and the Post Office. Why did they move the war memorial from opposite the Post Office?
______The one-way traffic system______
Let's go just as far as the Priory and then come back to go down Backhall Street.
The Priory looked huge with a church-like porch and small windows on to the road. The main entrance through decorated iron gates and a large beautiful garden was off Broadway. Miss Radcliffe lived here on her own. One of the Dover School teachers, Miss Rusbridge, was knocked from her bicycle and killed just here by one of the huge U.S Army lorries that ran frequently through the town. The one-way traffic system was introduced very soon after this.
When we go down Backhall Street we find Mr Harding's grocer's shop on the left also with sawdust on the floor. He and sometimes his assistants stood behind the counter, you read out the next item from your shopping list and he fetched it from the shelves behind him or weighed out the amount of butter marg or cheese you were allowed. When you said 'That's all' he immediately told you how much to pay for he had added it up as he went along. He gave you the slip of paper with the amounts, cut out or cancelled the coupons in the ration book and opened the shop door for you. You completed the shopping quicker than you can today in the supermarket but this was partly because there was limited choice; if you asked for your three ounces ration of cheese it was Cheddar.
Opposite was a little sweet shop with a stable door; the top and bottom halves opened independently. The Basque Spanish family, chased out of Spain by Franco, lived next door. The silent film shows they occasionally held there were very popular; you could shout at the screen villains. Gerardo and Felix went to school with me in Pontypool. Back across the road was the Co-op and a greengrocer and then the Fuel Office. I don't why anyone had to go to a Fuel Office. Every woman had to have an evacuee or get a job. When Betty became fourteen Mrs Roffe received a letter telling her to get a job so she worked in the Food Office for £2.15s a week.
Around the corner we saw the ivy covered railings of the Hall. The ivy prevented a proper view of the Hall and it seemed very mysterious. At the next corner where lived Royston and his lovely long haired sister Pat, I have a decision to make; to go right to the square past the London and Red Lion pubs and then to the back of the churchyard or left back to the High Street, the school, the church lychgate and Broadway. I go left because I can the write about the doctor.
Doctor Reynolds lived at the beginning of Broadway opposite the school and schoolmaster's house. When the tinplate works was the biggest employer in Caerleon, Doctor Reynolds ran the Panel. I think there was a Panel system in being in other places but for me it began with Dr Reynolds. Every employee of the tin works paid some amount each week to give him and every member of his family free treatment with Dr Reynolds. It was a condition of employment. They also got free treatment at the Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport. Later this Panel system was extended to all people in Caerleon. One bought stamps from the Post Office for four pence a week to stick on a card. (I may be wrong. The hospital may have been a separate system.) This was long before the NHS. I fell awkwardly on my left hand while playing football on the playing field and when I got up it seemed to me that my left hand did not come with me. I picked it up with my right hand an carried it to Dr Reynolds' house and kicked on his door until someone answered. The doctor soon saw that I had dislocated my elbow. He held my elbow and twisted my wrist until it went back in place, put it in a sling, gave me note for the hospital for next day and sent me home. He could not tell my parents for we had no telephone. There was a complication because a nerve had been damaged and I was going to the hospital for the next ten weeks. At the end I was sent to see the Almoner who had to arrange payment but I only had to sign the form when she discovered that I was on Dr Reynolds Panel. Perhaps the NHS today should be organised on a similar local basis.
______The Recreation Ground______
Now down The Broadway, past the entrance to the garden of the Priory, to the Amphitheatre. We used to play "throwing Christians to the Lions" and running up and down the embankments but it has been taken over by English Heritage who have put a fence around it and now charge you to go in. We were taken there with a school visit and shown where a Roman Emperor had scratched his initial; now everyone, including Kilroy, has been there. From the Amphitheatre there was a path leading to the playing field.
I remember the last Meeting on the Racecourse. The horses went so far from the Grandstand, right down to the river, that a loudspeaker gave a commentary which could be heard in Newport [page 34]. Caerleon people got work as 'gate guards' but there were so many other ways that not many people paid.
The land between the playing field and Lodge Road was all allotments. A grass path led around the playing field past some tennis courts on the right and on towards the railway line. There was a field there with goal post.
Each evening on the playing field a strange game of rounders was played with most of the 'Dover Girls' . There was no such thing as sides; everyone fielded and waited for a turn with the bat.
Going back down the Broadway, Russel Green lived in the house on the left before getting to the school. He worked in the Town Hall and was the billeting officer charged with finding places for the Dover Girls but most of the leg work was done by Oscar. Oscar was only sixteen and was a great favourite with the girls. He organised the youth club and many other entertainments. He died while still young. There should have been some sort of citation for Oscar.
Lodge Road goes towards and over the railway bridge with allotments on the left and large posh houses on the right. The last house on the right would be well remembered by many Dover Girls. A path led from the bridge alongside the station yard to the station entrance.
On up between the high red brick wall of the hospital and the grounds of the Training College to the entrance to the Lodge Road council estate. Beyond this point was only a wide path which I believe is now a wide road. I cycled along the path many times and down to Malpas, across the road and through a gate to push my bike up over Twm Barlwm and down to Risca to play football for Cross Keys and Risca. We changed in the Abbey Hotel.
If we go back to the railway bridge in Lodge Road we can turn right before the bridge, go past the entrance to the Training College and out on to the Ponthir Road. On the corner there was a wooden post with a single arm which said 'London 199 miles'. So that's where London is, just up there beyond Ponthir.
Further down there we find the 'Tin Works'. Mr Austen Jones was either the owner or the chief engineer. We used to go to see him quite often but I don't know why. He once gave me a Crown, (worth five shillings). My Father once worked there as a 'catcher'. Catchers had large gloves and tongs and caught the hot iron sheets as they shot out of the rollers and put them back into another set of rollers. The sheets went back and forth through the rollers until they were the required thickness. Catchers were paid six shillings a week. An overhead crane was suspended from a beam which was the width of the factory and ran on supports along the sides of the building. The crane could reach any part of the works. My Father made friends with the driver of the crane and after his shift as a catcher he used to ride in the crane box with him and watch him operate it. When the driver left suddenly he said he could operate it, applied for and got the job with a pay rise from six shillings to six pounds a week.
Further along the road was the brick works. There was always loads of bricks all over the site but never any sign of any activity.
Then on to Ponthir. I can remember only about six houses in Ponthir and I often wondered why it had a railway station.
The number 7 bus from Newport went further to Llanfrechfa. There was a pub on the way with a gate for the pub sign. Written along the bars of the gate it said "This gate hangs high and hinders none. Refresh and pay and carry on." Has it survived? There must have been a story behind that. Up here at the top of the hill there was always a wonderful smell from the biscuit factory at Llantarnam below.
A long way from Caerleon again.
Back at the station. The train to Pontypool and Abersychan schools left at five to eight. There was no fraternisation on the train; the girls and boys were not allowed to mix [page 71]. The last coach of the train was for girls only. The journey to Pontypool was just nine miles but there were ten stations. You could get help with Physics at Cwmbran but you had to wait until Panteg for help with English or History, which didn't leave much time to copy it.
In Station Road was Mr Lusty's radio, sorry wireless, shop. Our first wireless came from here. Mr Lusty installed it himself. It was a Superhetrodyne about two feet long and eighteen inches high with three stage amplification and three wave bands. On the short wave you could explore the world. From Athlone in Ireland came all the day's racing results and also the winning numbers in the Irish Hospitals Sweep Stake.
Now, there is the cross roads in front of the Angel; go left along the Usk Road. Down here somewhere was a pub called either The Sun or the Star which was the last of the thirteen to be visited by the students on their race to have a drink in every pub in Caerleon. Also here was Johnny Gibbon's Saw Mill. The whole site was ankle deep in saw dust and all around there were trees which had been sawn into longitudinal slices with small wedges between each slice. They were left there to season. Johnny was a genius, with his pulleys and chains and without any other help he could move huge trees around his Mill. I once watched, from a safe distance, as he, unaided, got an enormous tree onto a lorry.
From the Angel we could go down Mill Street but before the one way system was put in place not many people went that way. A little way down there was a path along side a canal where the old tramway was and which led back to the Usk Road but we wont go that way. Let us go along the common past Garfield Jones sweet shop and another butcher. I was surprised to learn that they had built on part of the common. The May Fair on the common was a great occasion with roundabouts a dodgems, lots of side stalls, bright lights and noise. Now towards the school with the Town Hall on the left with a large hall in which a youth club was held and the council offices. On the right was Kilvington's fish and chip shop. Mr Kilvington had only one arm but he used his little shovel to put the chips on the newspaper then add the salt and vinegar and wrap it all up in the paper and count the money. Yanto Campbell who lived up the Lodge was a fearsome rugby centre; very difficult to stop when at full steam. He was on the other side of the road admiring the shapely legs of someone leaning against the counter in the chip shop. "Who is that " he asked. "That is Brenda Banner" "What" he said " Ben's little sister" "The same" They were married soon after. Yanto became a teacher and moved north somewhere.
On the other side of the road was the park with toilets in one corner. The park was a great amusement to the Dover girls because their own covered several acres with trees, flowers and swings whereas the largest thing in Caerleon's pocket handkerchief was the notice board with a list of things you could not do including "No person shall shake a Drugget in this area".
If we go out of the back entrance of the park into Church Street then straight in front is the scout hut. Talog Davies, the teacher of the top class in the boys school, was the scout master but he was called up during the war. The scouts tried to carry on and learnt semaphore with flags. We became quite proficient. We could send messages from one end of the hut to the other or even along the street. One day we decided to try it for real and half the troop went up the hill one one side of the river while the rest climbed the other side. We waited and when we saw them our appointed first signaler stood up and started to send a meesage but we could make no sense of the reply. Then someone said " Look there they are over there". The first group was just some walkers waving to us. When we started to send, they were also sending at the same time. When we decided to wait for them to start they also stopped. When we eventually recognised some letters from we found that we must have missed the beginning. At tea time we gave up and went home. We agreed that we needed some special signals. We looked in the book and found some positions of the flags which were not used and agreed that this position meant "I wish to send" and other signs meant , Ready to receive, About to start, Please repeat, Message understood, and so on. We invented new signals when we found them necessary. Many years later I told this story to a Technical College evening class to whom I was teaching computer technology. A computer talks to its printer through a multiple wire cable. The computer connects a six volt supply to one wire which the printer recognises as meaning that the computer wants to send a character. The printer replies by putting a voltage on another wire to mean I am ready to receive. When the computer sees this and not before it sends on another wire that it is about to start and then sends the character. The printer causes a votage to be put on the 'busy line' until it has finished printing the character. This exchange of signals between a computer and any of its peripherals is known as a handshake. There are many different cables and connecting methods each with its own handshake.
The hut was set on the edge of an allotment patch and beyond was a large building which had something to do with the electricity supply. A little further along at the next cross road as the New Hall made mostly of corrugated iron. Mr Cooper ran a weekly dance here. These dances were famous and people came from all around even by train from Cwmbran and Pontnewydd. Mr Cooper sat a table in the entrance hall to take the money. Across the road was a waste patch but something had been built here because the whole area was littered with bricks and stones. Opposite was the back entrance to the churchyard and near the churchyard gate lived Ikey Miles who was a good footballer in a clumsy sort of way. The team of Miles (Ikey's Father) and Kembry were well known as local odd job builders. Many people in Caerleon were self employed, living by their wits, doing jobs which could only be done in summer. Anyone who was clever and quick witted like this was said to be fly. People from other parts wishing to annoy someone from Caerleon would ask "Where do the flies go in Winter?" [page 89]
Church Street joins Back Hall Street in a square between The Red Lion and The London with the remains of some church on the other side. The celebration of the end of the war was held here with crowds of people pushing to get into the square and someone stuck up the lamp-post in the middle.
At last we come to the school. The infants school with separate entrances with 'Boys' carved above that on the left and "Girls' above the other. The classes were mixed but separate entrances. From a very early age we were repeatedly told the story of Charles Williams and his duel in a field in the Usk Road. Next, a large building set in a large ground was for cookery for girls at the back and woodwork for boys at the front. A long path between high wire fence led to the upper girls school and further along was the upper boys school. It was here that I met the best teacher I ever had anywhere - Connie Stretham. Pupils were promoted to the next class every half year so that in Connie's class half the boys were old and all knew their multiplication tables while the other did not. Every morning the class recited the tables from 'two twos are four' to 'twelve twelves are a hundred and forty four' the newcomers had no idea what it was all about and Connie made no attempt to explain. After a while they joined in with the chant and had learnt their tables before they understood why. She also knew that one test in the scholarship exam (later called the 'eleven plus') which could be taken the next year was on mental arithmetic when the examiner read out the question and the pupil wrote the answer without writing anything else. To prepare for this we learnt facts which are now completely useless. If eggs cost three pence each, they are three shillings a dozen. If something costs one shilling each then a score costs one pound. Twelve dozen make a gross. There are 240 pennies in a pound. A hundred pence is eight (shillings) and four pence. There are eight half crowns in one pound. Six shillings and eight pence is a third of a pound. (What is a third of a pound today ?). We also learnt that a pint of water weighs a pound and a quarter so a gallon weighs ten pounds, an acre is ten square cricket pitches. A billion is a million million. Talog Davies who taught the top class believed in a wider more general education and his history lessons were more legends. Connie taught the three R's and no messing.
This was my Caerleon. I shall never go to there again. The houses between Lodge Avenue and Malpas, making Caerleon a suburb of Newport, the station closed and no local trains, buildings on the Common, the New Hall vanished, the Museum rebuilt, a school on the Racecourse, having to pay to enter the Amphitheatre, the war memorial moved, traffic lights on the bridge, the river washing away the wall and road in the Village, Grandad's tramcar gone and no hope of finding those sovereigns, the Lido demolished, Kemeys Church gone, no water from the spout in Ashwell, Newport County at the bottom of the lowliest league, all these would destroy my happy memories of Caerleon.