arrowbookcheckclosecommentfacebookfavourite-origfavouritegooglehomeibapdfsearchsharespotlighttwitterwelsh-government

A Journey through the Waun of my Childhood (Gwaun-cae-gurwen)

Items in this story


 A JOURNEY THROUGH THE WAUN OF MY CHILDHOOD



By JOHN PHILLIPS  © (March 2009)




"Over half a century has passed since I actually lived in Gwauncaegurwen, or 'ar Y Waun' to all of us natives.  During that time I have lived in many cities, towns and villages ranging from London, Rhymni. Aberdare, Aberystwyth and Lampeter.  Nevertheless, whenever I am asked the question,'O b'le chi'n dod?', I invariably answer, 'O'r Waun.'  This adherence to ones place of birth is certainly a Welsh characteristic, and it was natural for Gareth Edwards to choose as a title for his recently published autobiography, 'Crwt o'r Waun'.  There has been much speculation about the origin of Gwauncaegurwen, or G.C.G as it was called by those who found difficulty in pronouncing the name.  The standard Welsh dictionary has detetrmined that the original name was Gwaun-cegyrwen, and that cegyrwen is a small white flower which must have grown on the common at one time.  The English name is hemlock. The Waun of today is certainly not the Waun of my childhood, and for those of my generation there is inevitably a sense of 'hiraeth' when one discovers that many of those elements making it for us such a vibrant and warm community have changed.  My old school friend at Pontardawe Grammar School. Tommy Vaughan has chronicled much of the Waun's past in his valuable articles, and these have prompted me to think about the village of my own childhood and to embark once again upon this journey.  Although the Waun was a mining village it did not have the characteristics of other mining areas like the Rhondda Valleys with rows of workers' houses straggling along the sides of the narrow valleys.  It is true that we had Tai Cwmpni and Tairgwaith, but we also had the wide open space of the Comin with the Mynydd Du in the background, its colours changing according to the seasons and even with the passing of the clouds.  The air was fresh, with none of the pollution associated with many industrial villages, and even the black pyramids of the Steer, Maerdy and East Pit tips seemed to fit unobtrusively into the background scenery.  If the wind was in the right direction we could hear the sound of the winding machinery, and the screech of the hooters was a constant reminder to us, not only of the time of day, but also of the industry providing a living for most of our fathers. The Waun of my childhood was almost totally Welsh speaking, for unlike the Rhondda and other industrial areas, most of the people who flocked to work in these mines had their roots the other side of Y Mynydd Du, in Carmarthenshire or Cardiganshire.  Very few migrated from areas outside Wales.  My father's family were early 'immigrants' from the other side of Mynydd Betws and lived in Pwllywrach, (now Water Street); my maternal grandfather moved from Llandovery in 1904 and settled and built two houses in Cefn Road.  



On this journey let us start at the Workingmen's Club in Cwmgors, located near the Cwmgors Drift Mine, where my father worked, and also the site of the Cwmgors Brickworks.  My father went underground at the age of twelve in Yr Hen Bwll, and worked for forty eight years as a miner. When he started work, during the winter months, the colliers only really saw daylight at the weekends.  I can recall being taken on visits to the colliery by my father to see the pit ponies when they were brought for a brief 'holiday' during the summer.  On one of the postcards of the Waun produced around 1925, there is a photo of the 'spake' bringing the miners up from the Cwmgors drift.  At one time in the club, a large photograph of Stalin was displayed in one of the rooms which was known as the Communist Room This was a reminder that the politics of many miners was very left wing, and that many admired what had happened in Russia in 1917. The Independent Labour Party had early roots in the area and many of its members were conscientious objectors during the First World War.  They objected to fighting in what they regarded as a capitalist war. Many were badly treated, and many including my own uncle, were imprisoned for their principles.  He spent nine months in Dartmoor and was then sent to work in the quarries at Penderyn. Next to 'Clwb Cwmgors' was the New Star, with the changing room for Cwmgors R.F.C. (the Cherry and Whites) at the back.  I can recall these as being very primitive compared with the opulent facilities at the present day rugby club and with the all pervading smell of embrocation.  I did my short stint with Cwmgors Youth under the captaincy of Bill 'Sgili' Davies and I can recall the long walk to Howard Park, not the most comfortable of walks in football boots.  This field was eventually sacrificed to Open Cast Mining and Cwmgors R.F.C. was forced to move to the Waun and to play on the common behind the Welfare Hall.



As we make our way along Church Street we pass on our right an ironmonger's shop. Outside the shop were displayed all manner of tools and zinc baths.etc. a reminder that pit head baths had not as yet been provided.  Most miners would return home in their working clothes and wash in these zinc baths in front of the fire.  Although we did have a bathroom, my father would always prefer to wash the coal dust from his body in front of the fire.  The way the colliers managed to wash in these comparatively small baths was a craft in itself.  Clarkes'shop with its one billiard table upstairs was the next shop.  Passing Seion Baptist Chapel on our right we soon reach the Church, and opposite it the supermarket of our day, the Coop Stores or simply 'y Cop' to us.  This was the main provider of our foodstuffs and of many of our other needs.  Food was rationed during the war and continued to be so for some years afterwards.  As a result we had to take our ration books to buy almost all of our necessities, ranging from food to clothes.  Apart from items such as bananas or oranges, most of the things were available, albeit in smaller amounts and in different forms.  Dried egg powder for instance was a substitute for the fresh ones, and spam was a new innovation from America. Children were given a thick form of orange juice in a bottle which was supposed to contain all the necessary vitamins.  Most miners kept gardens so there was always a supply of vegetables in summer.  Some always found a way to beat the rationing by buying forbidden goods in the so called 'Black Market.'  Those who profited by charging exorbitant sums for scarce items were known as 'spivs' and were, on the whole much despised. As a supplement for sugar, saccharine was used, and many claim that we as children were healthier during those war years than children are today, with obesity an ever increasing problem. The 'dividend' given on purchases at the Coop was also very handy and supplemented our finances.  I can still picture the sawdust on the floor and the smell of freshly cut bacon, butter and cheese. Round the corner Morgan Jones (Moc y Bwtshwr) dispensed what meat was available at the Coop butchers' shop.  Corned Beef and Spam were useful alternatives, and good old fashioned Welsh cawl could also make the fresh meat go further.  It was amazing what culinary delights many housewives managed to produce with the scarce materials.  With the church on our right and the British Legion Club on our left we now reach the bridge crossing the river dividing Cwmgors from the Waun.  Near the bridge Elen's Chip shop was located some years after, and the pleasure of going for her excellent chips, and taking a basin for her delightful faggots on Saturdays, is something I well remember.  In those days, the obsession with cholesterol and the demands of healthy eating did not feature in our lives, so chips were fried in real fat and were much tastier than those produced today.



As we proceed towards the Waun we have Twm Blaengarnant's garage on our left.  Twm was the owner of the 'Blue Flash', the antiquated bus that conveyed us to the grammar school in Pontardawe or, in the case of Ystalyfera pupils, to catch the train in Brynaman.  The word antiquated may be a touch too kind, for in truth it was more of an old 'crock'.  It was blue in colour, but with tinges of rust here and there, and the word 'flash' is pure irony as it would have been difficult for it too exceed 30 M.P.H. even on the flat. It was prone to coughing, and on occasions to give up the ghost entirely. Climbing Rhiw Gelligron out of Pontardawe was always a valiant effort, as it rarely managed to exceed a walking pace. Many of the most daring boys would get out and walk alongside until it reached the top.  Health and Safety legislation was a distant dream, for although it was only a thirty seater about fifty of us would be crammed in on the daily journey to Ponty.  Additional benches had been put in and sometimes the smaller children had to sit on the laps of the older ones.  Twm Thomas would not tolerate any nonsense, and although a large man, he could somehow squeeze through the small front window to administer a clout or two to anyone who misbehaved. (Today he would be hauled through the courts and parents would be up in arms.)  Twm had some dispute with the Glamorgan County Council about money, and would not take us all the way to the school, so we had to walk a mile or so every day in all types of weather.  Sometimes when it was particularly wet, or if there was frost or snow, Twm would not even venture down Gelligron.  This meant that we had to walk a much longer distance to school.  Occasionally, we would refuse to leave the bus, for as miners' children, we were familiar with the strike as a weapon.  Nevertheless, I cannot recall one occasion when Twm gave in to our protestations, so we would invariably arrive in school both wet and late.  We were never punished by Mr. Stan Rees, the headmaster, as I believe that he sympathised with our cause.  On one occasion our sense of solidarity was misplaced.  Because one of the boys misbehaved, Twm stopped the bus in Rhydyfro and threw him out.  Many of us went out of the bus in sympathy, assuming that Twm would change his mind. Not so, the last we saw was the back of the bus making for the Waun, with a group of us watching it forlornly as we faced a four mile trek home.  The irony was that the boy who had been thrown out only had to walk a few hundred yards.  If that happened today, the papers would be full of the story, but I can't recall a great deal of fuss even from our parents



 During the very hard winter of 1947, the Blue Flash could not even venture out of its garage, so we had to miss school for over a week.  We enjoyed the usual pleasures of making snow men and sledging, but as the days went on, those of us preparing for the old Senior Examination of the CWB started to get quite worried that we were missing our lessons.  One of the advantages of being a miner was the fact that a supply of coal was provided as part of the wages.  The coal was dumped outside each house and had to be carried into the coal shed.  It was quite a hard job, but it gave us as children some inkling of our father's work, for the coal was hard anthracite and would sometimes cut our hands as we put each 'cnepyn' in a wheelbarrow.  It provided us with plenty of heat in what was an open fire in those days.  Cooking was done over this fire and in the 'ffwrn' attached to it; fresh bread would be baked by our mothers. Only a few would buy shop bread, and sliced bread was still a distant concept.  I can recall making splendid toast and toasted cheese over the fire using a toasting fork  The fire would rarely go out as we would put 'henlo' on it last thing at night. This was made up of the cinders left over in the grate and sieved with a 'shife'.  We also made 'pele', a combination of glo man (small coal), clay (sometimes cement) and water.  It would be mixed by dancing on it with hob nailed boots, (quite a process!) and then made into round lumps with a special tool.  There was a hole in the middle, and when the 'pele' was put on the fire a blue flame would shoot up through this hole to give a splendid heat.  



Proceeding along Gate Street we pass Gate Shop and then Evan Rees' Garage. Evan Rees was the village undertaker and his was the only hearse.  I can still recall how different the funerals were in those days.  There were no crematoria close by, so most burials took place in the cemetery at Hen Garmel.  In the old days coffins were carried on an 'elor' (bier) and the steep trek up to the cemetery must have been difficult.  As the bearers would need to be changed many times on the ascent to Hen Garmel the provision of the hearse must have been a relief. When anyone in the street died all the curtains of the front rooms of the neighbours would be drawn until after the funeral.  On the day of the funeral, a service would be held in the house and the mourners would gather outside. Funerals were particularly well attended especially if someone had been killed in one of the pits. It was not customary for women to go to the cemetery.   A hymn would be sung by those gathered outside the house and then the long cortege would follow the hearse to Hen Garmel.  At the graveside, following another short service, a hymn would be sung. The two hymns I remember being sung at funerals were, 'Daeth yr awr i'm ddianc adref ' and O Fryniau Caersalem.



A Government report in the mid nineteenth century suggested that in the Amman Valley, the custom of hiring a sin eater was still alive.  On the day of a funeral some bread and salt would be placed on the coffin and the sin eater would be paid to come and eat the bread, thus taking upon himself the sins of the departed.  He would then be chased away by the other mourners.  This had long vanished by the 1940s. The practice of 'gwyliad y corff', when the relatives or friends would sit with the deceased throughout the night, had also ceased by this time.



As we continue along Gate Street, named after the toll gate of yore, we come to Clwb y Buffs or the club of the Ancient Order of the Buffalos.  At this time all the public houses were closed on a Sunday as a result of the Sunday Closing Act passed in 1881, but clubs could open.  This gave them an advantage over the pubs and led to a proliferation of clubs throughout south Wales. Later, it was left to each county to vote whether the pubs in their area should open on a Sunday, and eventually every county succumbed.  The Buffs seems to have had a somewhat more sedate and sober clientele than Clwb Cwmgors, but by today both have been closed as well as the British Legion.  Although some men frequented the clubs on a Sunday, an element of Sabbatarianism still prevailed among many families.  Games would not be played on a Sunday and most children would attend Sunday School.  Housewives would never wash clothes and put them on the line on the Sabbath, as that would be frowned upon.  Washing day was usually Monday.



 Shiloh, the Methodist Chapel, was recently demolished was an imposing building it is strange to see a house on the site.    The predominant denomination on the Waun was the Annibynwyr.  Hen Garmel, founded in 1762, was an offshoot of Cwmllynfell Chapel. This was the mother church of the area, and founded as early as the turn of the eighteenth century, so the nonconformist roots go back a long way.  It appears that Howel Harries, the Methodist revivalist complained that he did not receive a very warm welcome when he came here in the middle of the eighteenth century. As the Waun and the other villages expanded, following the exploitation of their coal reserves, people flocked here, particularly from Carmarthenshire, to work in the mines.   They brought with them their own religious affiliations and built their own chapels.  Hence we have Seion (Baptists) and the Church (Anglican) in Cwmgors. and Shiloh (Methodist) in the Waun.  The new Carmel still remained the largest chapel, and together with Hermon, the Annibynwyr remained the largest denomination.



 On the corner of Upper Colbren was the Surgery, for even before the establishment of the NHS, the miners of this area contributed weekly towards the cost of employing two doctors.  They were Doctors Phillips and Thomas.  These two managed to look after all residents of the Waun, and always seemed to be available when called upon, night or day.  This unfortunately is not the situation today, in spite of the lavish resources ploughed into the NHS.   As the coal mined in the Waun had a high silicon content, silicosis was a common disease, and the sight of ex- miners fighting for breath was not an uncommon sight in those days.  I well recall my own father fighting for breath, especially on cold frosty nights. There was also pneumoconiosis, the result of coal dust in the lungs.  Miners had to go periodically before 'the Board' in Swansea for x rays, to see whether or not they had sufficient dust in their lungs to claim compensation.  The tests were pretty stringent, and if  doctors acting for the Amalgamated Anthracite Company could find any other contributory factors, then compensation was not given.  When the mines were nationalised in 1947 and the National Coal Board took over, there were improved conditions. Pithead baths were built at most mines, and underground, efforts were made to reduce the level of dust by making greater use of water at the coal face.  Colliers were also provided with helmets which was not the case before.  I can remember my father coming back from the colliery on vesting day in 1947, when an N.C.B. flag was hoist over all the coalmines, telling us that Cwmgors was now owned by the people and not by the coal owners.  Had he lived to see the miners' strike of 1994 and its aftermath I wonder what he would have said.  How many of his generation could have envisaged a Waun without one pit?



Other illnesses prevalent in those days included life threatening ones like scarlet fever, diphtheria and measles.  Some of these required the removal of children to isolation hospitals, such as the one at Gellinudd, to stop the spread of these infectious diseases. In many areas tuberculosis was the scourge, but I cannot recall many cases on the Waun.  Some older customs relating to health had survived and, for all I know, may still do.  When a child looked delicate and was particularly slow we would say, 'mae'n dishgwl fel 'sa llech arno fe'.  One family in the village had the expertise to follow a practice known as 'torri'r llech'. With a razor blade a slight nick was made in a child's ear sufficient to draw blood, and this was deemed to be a remedy for 'y llech' and for a disease such as rickets. Thomas, Cefnrhiwlas, who lived in Cefn Road held the secret for a certain ointment which had been passed down within the family The contents were a secret jealously guarded, and people from afar came to have wounds dressed and boils treated with this special ointment.



Today, Colbren Square is quite rightly associated with Gareth Edwards who is acknowledged as being one of the greatest rugby players, but in Upper Colbren was the home of another remarkable character associated with rugby.  In 1948, a short, rotund figure with crinkly red hair was appointed to teach Welsh in Pontardawe Grammar.  This was Eic Davies, born on the Gwrhyd, he had taught in Quakers Yard previously and he was now to change a great deal of the character of his new school by infusing it with a sense of Welshness which was previously lacking.   He was a frequent broadcaster and had written quite a number of plays for children, but he also took under his wing at Pontardawe a generation of young people including Jane Phillips, who as Sian Phillips has achieved worldwide fame as an accomplished and talented actress.  Sian by the way was born at Tymawr Farm and always acknowledges the fact that she is a native of the Waun, although she had to move a great deal because her father was a policeman.  I was in Eic's first Sixth Form as were two of my contemporaries David (changed to Dafydd by Eic) Rowlands, and Meirion Evans.  Dafydd won two Crowns and  Literary Medals in the National Eisteddfod and Meirion is also a crowned bard.  Both later became Archdruids of Wales.  When Eic moved to Upper Colbren I can recall people saying that he was so Welsh that when he painted the house he put 'paint gwlyb' rather than  'wet paint' to warn people.  Apart from his influence on so many pupils from Ponty, Eic is now remembered as the one who gave the first commentary on a rugby match in Welsh on the radio.  He and others  translated the rugby terms from English, hence we have terms such as , cefnwr, asgellwr, canolwr, maswr, mewnwr, blaenwr, bachwr etc. used naturally by his son Huw Llewelyn Davies (Huw Eic) every Saturday.  Huw was a contemporary and a friend of Gareth Edwards and in his 'cofiant' Gareth recalls the time they spent kicking a ball in 'Cae Archie' nearby.  Eic Davies' wife is also remembered as the first one who was elected from the Waun to serve as a Plaid Cymru councillor on the old Lliw Valley Council.



Carmel Street and Curwen Street were the Oxford Street of the Waun.  As we leave Shiloh and pass Barclays Bank, on our left we reach the newsagents shop run by the Thomas family. The owner at the time appropriately nicknamed Wil 'Books'  Later it became Siop Liz and was run by the mother of Keith Davies, who became Director of Education for Mid Glamorgan and later Carmarthenshire.  We would rush there on Saturday night for the Sporting Post to get the football results to see how the Swans had done. Most people did the pools in those days, especially the Littlewoods pools, but I can't recall any large winners on the Waun.  Next door was the shop of Sadie Griffiths or 'Sadie Caf£.  I suppose that this would have been the nearest thing to today's 'delicatessen', without the foreign produce.  Her husband Edgar Griffiths kept large commercial glasshouses, producing splendid tomatoes, lettuces and cucumbers.  Opposite was 'Siop Twm Wat' (Thomas Watkins) the village fruiterers and fishmongers.  Twm Wat would also drive his van along the streets proclaiming his 'fresh fish' in a loud voice.  Also on the right was Cresci's, where 'Dai Cresci' introduced the Waun to his delicious Italian ice cream, and where we could indulge ourselves in his caf£ with such delights as a 'north pole.'  His ice cream van would also tour the streets in summer and a wafer or a cornet would have a delightfully cooling effect. 'Dai' (not his real name of course), like most Italians, was interned at the outset of the war.  There was no hostility shown towards the family on the Waun and they managed to keep the business going during the war years.   His son Hugo was extremely popular in the village, and it is good to see that the caf£ is still open and still producing ice cream.  Next door to Cresci was Wilkins the Chemist where the pharmaceutical needs of the village were fully met, and opposite it was the shop of Sidney Herbert the cobbler.  Milk was not provided in cartons in those days, but  local farmers like John Martin of Beiliglas, would bring their churns of fresh milk  ( unpasteurised) from the farm in a horse and cart, and customers would bring out their jugs to get their pints or half pints.  Once a year Mari Winwns would visit the village with his ropes of the finest Breton onions.  His name was Francis and, he was completely fluent in Welsh.   A rag and bone man from Ammanford called Ruben would also visit us.  He sat on a low cart being pulled by a rather sorry looking pony, shouting 'rags and bones', and would give us a few pennies for any old clothes.  The women from Penclawdd carrying heavily laden baskets of cockles and 'bara lawr', would also come in their turn. It was a source of great fascination for us children to immerse the cockles in salt water to watch them opening, before they were mercilessly placed in boiling water to be eaten the following day.



It is worth noting that in Carmel Street was the home of Nurse Woodward, the village midwife.  The inhabitants of the Waun owed her a great deal, because most of us born at this time were delivered by her.  Babies were delivered at home, as there were no hospital maternity facilities within reach, but in spite of this was Nurse Woodward's skill and dedication that I cannot recall any real tragedies.  In those days the fathers kept their distance when the time came, as it would have been unheard of for them to be present at the birth.  This practice belongs very much to the modern era.  Her husband Sidney Woodward served as our councillor on the old Glamorgan County Council for many years and had to make the long journey to Cardiff to represent us.  He was a Yorkshire man and was I believe a train driver.  On the opposite side of the road stands Clifton, which was the home of William Thomas.  He was the headmaster of Llangyfelach School, and was the 'cyhoeddwr' in Carmel.  When concerts, such as the band concert, or plays and light operas, were held in the Welfare Hall, he was always the compere introducing the performers and filling in the time by telling jokes. Opposite the Post Office was the Ambulance Station with its one ambulance and with Mr. Noakes in charge.  Next door to that was Dorothy Hicks' shop selling comics and all kinds of knick knacks.  Here we would rush every Tuesday to get our copies of the Dandy and Beano in order to follow the escapades of Lord Snooty, Desperate Dan with his cow pies, and characters such as Pansy Potter.  As we grew older and our reading skills developed we graduated to comics such as the Wizard and the Champion. Although Welsh was our first language, reading material in the language was still scarce, although we could read Cymru'r Plant and listen on the radio to series such as Twm Shon Cati and Galw Gari Tryfan on Awr y Plant.  Fortunately, the situation is much improved today.



Carmel Chapel remains an imposing building and in the forties Llewelyn Caradog Hughes was the minister.  He was much respected and always referred to as Mr. Hughes, Carmel.  Mr. Hughes was a dedicated pacifist and his one hymn in Caneuon Ffydd follows this theme.  That meant that he was totally opposed to the war, but I cannot recall any animosity directed against him, nor any accusations of unpatriotic behaviour.  The present building was built in 1877, when the Annibynwyr moved down from Hen Garmel because it had become too small.  Sadly, the old chapel was destroyed by vandals and so was lost one of the most important relics of the Waun's history.  At its peak Carmel had between 700 and 800 members. On Sunday nights the young people would sit on the gallery, with boys on one side and girls on the other.  Sometimes the service would go on for about one and a half hours.  Once a month 'Cwrdd y Plant' would be held in the morning and we as children would be called upon to say an 'adnod' (verse).  It had to be something more substantial than 'Duw Cariad Yw.'  I do not remember it as a pleasureable experience as it meant that the occasional Saturday night had to be spent learning an 'adnod' until it was word perfect.  Like other places of religion Carmel is a mere shadow of its former self and the Band of Hope meetings we attended as children are things of the past.  As a reward for attending Sunday School we were given tickets for the annual chapel trip to Barry Island or Porthcawl.  On the morning of the trip a row of buses would be parked on Gron Road, and a hundred or more parents and excited children would board them for a rare trip to the seaside and to the fairs.



On the corner of Gron Road there were two other shops.  There was the small front room sweet shop of Mrs. Ifans (Eben), the mother of Brin Evans, who later became head teacher of the Waun Primary School.  I can recall taking my ration book to the shop and Mrs. Evans would meticulously cut out the coupons for each bar of chocolates or bag of sweets.  On the other corner was a larger shop with the grandiose title of the Bazaar.  This sold everything and was, I suppose, our equivalent of Woolworth.  When this closed, it became a ladies and gents hairdresser run by Mal Jones and his wife.  Next door to Carmel was a small cottage with the windows always covered and with a large unkempt garden. This later became the site of the police houses.  This was the home of Mari Francis who had become a total recluse.  She was feared by us children, as occasionally she could be heard shouting and throwing stones at the zinc surrounding her garden.  We would sometimes catch a glimpse of an old woman with her head covered wandering in the garden.  She had a niece Francis Mary living with her, but their only visitor appeared to be a nephew who would fetch them food.  Apparently, Mari Francis had been the cleaner at Carmel chapel, and in her youth was perfectly normal.  There was some minor dispute over pay and she resigned as a cleaner, fully expecting the chapel to ask her back.  The chapel, however, appointed someone else, and this led to Mari experiencing some kind of breakdown, and becoming a total recluse.  As children we would be frightened to pass the cottage on the way to school when Mari Francis was ranting in the garden.



Opposite Mari's cottage there was Lloyd's Bank.  During the war the wages of the miners were on the whole quite good and the Waun was well served by the banks.  Next door to the bank was Ifor James' shop selling paint, household decorating materials and plumbing supplies.  It was then run by the two sons Brin and Cliff, who was a plumber.  Next to it was Gwyn Bowen's shop selling cakes and other delicatessen type foods. Further up, and practically opposite the police station, was Siop John Garth, the local ironmonger, who sold almost everything from nails and screws to blowlamps and stepladders.  I heard someone say the other day that if you bought paint at John Garth's shop it would take a week to dry.  I'm certain that this is an exaggeration.  The Police Station was and still is an imposing building housing the representatives of the Glamorgan Constabulary.  It was here that the air raid siren was located and on occasions it was tested emitting a strange and frightening whine.



 I cannot recall any serious crimes on the Waun, and the petty offences the police had to contend with ranged from riding a bicycle without a light or carrying two on a bike, to the offence of indecency such as urinating in a public place.  Sometimes an unlucky miner was caught taking a piece of a pit prop to be used as kindling for the fire.  These so called 'petty criminals' would be hauled before the magistrates in Pontardawe, but the greatest indignity was to have their names appearing the following week in the Llais Llafur our local paper. There was some drunkenness on a Saturday night, and the local bookie, Archie Bateman, would sometimes be caught taking bets, as betting was still an offence.  Serious theft was unknown and juvenile offences such as 'pinching' apples, could easily be dealt with by a kick up the backside.  How things have changed.!!  



As we near the school many memories are recalled.  I started in the old school and my first recollection is of a large room with a blazing coal fire, but we were soon moved to the new building.  The head teacher was Miss Mary Evans, or as she was known in the village, 'Mari Machine'.  Her father used to drive the engine raising and lowering trucks on the 'incline', hence the appendage to her name.  The staff consisted of Miss Thomas, Blaengarnant, Miss Morris, Miss Bowen, Miss Davies and Mr. Fred Morgan.  In those days as soon as a woman teacher married she had to leave her post.  The 11 plus or the 'Scholarship' was in vogue, where unfairly, the future prospects of children were decided at the age of eleven.  Those of us who 'passed' could choose a grammar school education at Pontardawe or Ystalyfera, and those who 'failed' went to 'yr Ysgol Newydd' or the Secondary Modern on the common.  Fortunately, that invidious system has been dispensed with today.  In charge of the 'scholarship class' was Fred Morgan, known to us as 'Twmpyn Clust' because of a growth on his ear.  Mr. Morgan was an excellent teacher who gave us a firm grounding in the 3Rs.  Due to teachers like him we as the children of miners were given an opportunity of getting on the educational ladder and fulfilling every miner's dream that his son would not follow him underground.  In the past the educational system was geared to provide a totally English ethos and to relegate the Welsh language to an inferior status.  That cannot be said of Ysgol Fach y Waun in my day, because full regard was paid to the fact that the first language of most of us was Welsh.  Like most schools the cane was used to instil discipline, although not excessively so.  I suffered on occasions, and I can still recollect the stinging sensation and pain in my hand when it was my lot to fall foul of some rule or other.  Many felt that measures like putting a hair on your hand, or licking it before the cane fell, would somehow lessen the pain. I was never able to confirm that this was the case.. Going to the Grammar School in Pontardawe was a sea change for us having spent our formative years inYsgol Fach y Waun.  First there was the matter of uniform, with a blazer and a cap bearing the school badge with the proud motto, 'Bid ben bid bont'. Wearing the cap was obligatory at all times and to be caught without it was a serious offence.  We were practically all first language Welsh speakers but in the grammar school the language of the lessons and all other activities was English although we later learned that most of the teachers could speak Welsh.  There was no 'Welsh Not' when in earlier years those caught speaking Welsh, even on the yard, suffered the indignity of having to wear a wooden board bearing the initials W.N. around their necks. I have referred previously to the influence of  Eic Davies upon those of us who attended the school in the late forties.



In those days we all walked to school so there was none of the congestion seen outside school gates these days, caused by the cars of parents.  Looking back, although we did not have televisions, computers and computer games, i pods etc, we had the freedom to wander without the fear regarding the safety of children, which, sadly, is so apparent in today's society.  We could play in the woods of Cwm Ty Mawr, toboggan down the slope of the Maerdy tip on sheets of zinc, and play in the river Garnant.  Although it was heavy with coal dust we could still catch the occasional minnow or pilcyn.  Trout were few and far between, but if we went down to the Falls we could find eels clinging to the rocks, and marvel at the fact that they had come from the Sargasso Sea.  We lived with nature, and I remember that up in Twynyrefail there was a small pool called Pwll Sam where in season we could find tadpoles and watch them developing. During the summer we could play in Pwllywrach Farm, and help with the hay making.  I can still recall the rather uncomfortable rides in the 'gambo'.  We also picked 'mwyar du', (blackberries) along the hedgerows and 'llusu duon bach' (whinberries) on Mynydd Betws.  It was quite a task to pick a jug full of these, but the tarts subsequently prepared by our mothers made it all worthwhile.  'Cneua' or picking nuts in Cwm Ty Mawr was always a pleasant experience especially if you managed to get a 'clwm pump' or 'clwm saith'.  We could also wander across the common to Carreg Ffilfan, the large stone which was possibly a 'roche moutonne' deposited by a glacier.  The name is probably a corruption of 'ceffylfaen' because its shape resembles a horseblock.  In those days we felt safe within a community that was warm and a society that was caring.  We would walk past Ty Isha, take a look at the pig, and then go up to a clump of trees we would call for some reason 'The Woods' where we could dig for a type of groundnut.  We even ventured further afield along the incline that led to the old Cawdor colliery.  As the drift was intact and used as an airway for Cwmgors colliery, we might even go down a hundred yards or so to gain some indication of what our fathers experienced daily.  



We could play cricket on the road with a tennis ball and also touch rugby, sometimes with a pig's bladder (very slimy) or with a 'cwdyn can' (flour bag) filled with rags.  Sometimes we would on winter nights play 'diawl bach y drysau', attaching cotton to the door knockers and pulling them while we hid in the darkness.  There was also 'diawl bach y pibau' when paper was shoved up a drain pipe and lit, resulting in a weird noise.  Other games came according to the seasons. Conkers was played, and the horse chestnuts hardened by placing them in the oven or in lime or vinegar.  This game often resulted in bruised knuckles, as the hand rather than the conker would be hit by some players.  Marbles were also played by drawing a circle on the ground and then 'nickling' a marble to knock the others out.  'Cylch a bachyn' required a definite skill, where an iron hoop prepared by a blacksmith would be rolled along using an iron hook.  Sometimes, old tyres would be similarly rolled using a piece of wood.  For girls hopscotch would be played sometimes on the pavements and skipping would also be popular.  'Cati' or cat and dog was another game, when a piece of would was shaved down to have two points at either end and then struck with a stick and struck again when it was in the air. These were the extent of our childhood excesses, but I cannot recall the deliberate vandalism and aggression that plagues so many communities today.  During the war we carried our gas masks to school, and when the siren sounded, as we had no air raid shelter at the school, we would be sent to various houses in the locality to await the all clear.  There were no school meals although we would get our bottles of milk in the morning. (Tommy Vaughan has given a graphic account of childhood during the war years.)  I recall the Swansea blitz when my mother had put a bed for my sister and myself in the 'cwtch dan star'  I do remember the searchlights in the sky and the strange chugging noise of the German planes.  There was also the night when the sky was spectacularly red after the Skewen oil refinery was hit.  The oil works at Skewen had sometimes been a kind of weather glass for us.  When we could smell the oil, we knew that rain was on the way because the wind had changed and now blew from a south westerly direction.



I suppose that it would be inconceivable for today's children to live in our world without the accoutrements of modern living, but we managed happily without them.  Our main source of news and entertainment at home was the radio.  During the war there were certain must listen programmes such as ITMA where the comedian Tommy Handley starred.  There was another famous character called Mona Lot who moaned about everything and then exclaimed 'Its being so happy that keeps me going.'  The Hippodrome was also a popular programme as was Round the Horn.  In Welsh the 'Noson Lawen' was listened to extensively, although it was sometimes difficult for us south Walians to understand 'y Co Bach' from Caernarfon.  Triawd y Coleg also featured in this programme singing such songs as Hen Feic Penny Farthing fy Nain, and Triawd y Buarth. International rugby matches were broadcast on the radio, and commentators such as Peter West and G.V.Wynne Jones managed to convey all the excitement of Wales playing England and the other countries.  For us as children, games such as dominoes, ludo, snakes and ladders, monopoly whiled away many a winter evening at home.  We made our own fun and most of this occurred within the family.  At this time, meals were family meals when we all sat around the table to eat, there were no T.V. meals when everyone sits in silence watching television and eating a take away.



Christmas and New Year were important occasions.  Young children looked forward to the coming of Santa and placed a stocking at the bottom of the bed.  The number of toys would be limited, coupled with a few nuts and an orange.  The old custom of 'plygain' had long gone when families would go to a service at about 5a.m. on Christmas morning, walking up to yr Hen Garmel carrying lanterns or candles to light the way.  Y Flwyddyn Newydd (New Year) was celebrated with a fanfare from all the colliery hooters at midnight signalling that the celebrations could commence.  Adults could go around singing at night, but children would not start going around the houses singing and asking for 'calennig' until the morning.  Most families had made certain that there was a plentiful supply of pennies to hand out to the singers. Outside the door of each house we would sing the following song to wish the families a happy New Year.




Blwyddyn Newydd Dda i chi



Ac i bawb sydd yn y ty,



Dyna yw nymuniad i



Blwyddyn Newydd Dda i chi.



Blwyddyn Newydd Dda i chi,



Gwylie llawen,



Dyma'r flwyddyn wedi dod,



Y flwyddyn ore fu erioed,



O dyma hyfryd flwyddyn,



O dyma hyfryd flwyddyn



O dyma hyfryd flwyddyn,



A Blwyddyn Newydd Dda.




The pennies collected would be carefully stored and would provide us with the nine pence or so to go to the pictures during the months ahead.



Opposite the school there was a row of shops.  There was the shop of Dai Barbwr, David Thomas, who had been in the navy during the First World War.  Dai must have been the slowest barber in Wales, and I knew that if I had to get my hair cut, even if there were only a few in front of me, I would have to wait for a few hours.  Dai would talk incessantly as he waltzed around the barber's chair.  I can still recall the smell of burnt hair, as Dai singed his customer's hair with a waxed taper, mixed with scent of Brylcreem.  Next to Dai's shop was an electrical goods shop run by Thomas the Cae, and then Williams Cash Stores, a grocer's shop.  Williams must have been doing quite well because he built a very nice house in Water Street.  We could always get a decent pair of shoes at Marks' shoe shop next door, but most of the boys in those days wore 'sgidie hoelion (hob nailed boots) with 'pedolau'.  We could stamp on the pavement with them creating sparks.  In those days the younger boys would wear short trousers and it was quite an event when we were old enough to wear a 'trwsus hir' (long trousers) at the age of eleven or so. Opposite, and next door to the school,  Emrys Barrett opened a chip shop.  Healthy eating was not in vogue at the time and I can recall the meat pies being thrown into the fat to heat them up.  Even so, obesity was not really a problem as we burned so many calories walking everywhere and playing so many games outside.



The Caegurwen Arms or 'Y Cae' was quite an imposing building, but it always had to compete with the clubs.  While the bar could be comfortably full on Saturday nights the other rooms were invariably empty. There was a snug where one could bring a lady for a port and lemon, gin and tonic or some other genteel drink.  For a woman to drink a pint or even half a pint of beer in the bar would not be regarded as very lady like.  Opposite the 'Cae' or the Caegurwen Arms was Siop Wat owned by Walter Williams.  This was an important establishment as far as the young people were concerned.  It was a sweet shop and also the village billiard hall.  In the back were three billiard tables and here we congregated on winter nights to develop our expertise in snooker and billiards.  To show his allegiance to snooker Wat named his son Lindrum after the famous snooker player Walter Lindrum. Although many were quite skilful players, we did not produce any world champions.  Next door to the Cae was Siop Michael another sweet shop, and next door to it was Tom Elwyn Samuel's chip shop which was extremely busy on Saturday nights after 'stop tap.'  On the opposite side of the road was Shop y Prince owned by the Jenkins family, who sold a variety of goods, but it also took and sold photographs of the Waun, and these still provide us with a picture of the village in days of yore..  On the corner of Heol y Cwar was the village slaughter house which was a source of curiosity and fear for us as children.  The bellowing of the cows and the bleating of the lambs as they went to their doom could be an uncomfortable experience.



Many families kept a pig in a twlc at the bottom of the garden, and I can still recall the days when our pig's time had come.  Can there be anything more unnerving for a child than the sight of a poor pig being held down on a bench while its throat was cut? Afterwards, there was the process of scraping the body with metal candlesticks to remove the bristles as bucketfuls of hot water was poured over it.  The poor pig was then dismembered and the meat salted to preserve it for the winter months.  In many houses there were hooks from the ceiling where the bacon was hung and then taken down to take a slice of the fatty salt bacon for breakfast.  What could be nicer than slices of 'cig moch Cymru' and 'bara lawr' (laverbread) for breakfast.  My grandfather when building the house had ensured that such hooks were in place.  We always looked forward to the faggots and the sbarib.  The rather slimy bladder was blown up and served for a while as a rugby ball.  Many families also kept chickens to provide eggs and the occasional Sunday dinner.  Chickens were not as common a part of our diet as our factory farmed species are today, they  were eaten more or less on special occasions such as Christmas Day.  Beef, pork and, lamb in season, were the most popular meats. Real cawl with stars on its surface was a common dish, and  could keep the wolf from the door.  Most houses had gardens attached and all kinds of vegetables were grown.  Coal miners were invariably good gardeners and to keep a 'tidy' garden in the back was a matter of pride.



Up in Twynyrefail was the smithy of Roberts y Gof.  There were no tractors on the farms so all the heavy work was done with horses and these would be brought in to have their shoes replaced.   William Roberts  was a true craftsman and we would watch with interest as he used his bellows and as the sparks flew when he hammered the iron on his anvil. He was also a very talented musician and every Sunday he would play the organ at Carmel Chapel.



The Cross was more or less the centre of the village and was our meeting place.  This is where the village turned out to celebrate V.E. Day on the 6th May, 1945, when the war in Europe ended, and in August when Japan capitulated.  I recall that bonfires were lit to celebrate these important occasions.  Here we could watch the trains loaded with the best anthracite from the East, Steer and Maerdy pits trundling on their way to Ammanford and then to Llanelli.  As children we would stand on the footbridge as the locomotives passed underneath, enveloping us in steam and smoke.  At that time the wooden platform was still in place, a reminder of the plan to bring passenger trains to the Waun.  In spite of the fact that a station was actually built, this never materialised.  We would play on the struts underneath the platform and place halfpennies on the rail in an attempt to turn them into pennies, as the train passed over them   The Viaducts were always an attraction as we were able to throw stones down to the river below; I can recall that some daring, or foolhardy, boys actually walked on the parapet.  It was on the Cross that we met after chapel on Sunday night to take part in the'monkey parade'.  This was a  ritual whereby the boys and girls would walk back and fore along Hewl Cwm, and if you were lucky and 'clicked' you might go down the Falls  together, which was a most daring thing to do.  Llewellyn's Caf£ on the Cross was renowned for its faggots and peas and opposite in a tin shed was William Jones' chip shop.  William Jones had lost a leg in an accident and now earned his living selling fish and chips.  The number of chip shops on the Waun testifies to the popularity of this essential part of our diet.



The initiative shown by coal miners was remarkable.  Practically in every village they built a hall and in the Aman Valley we were particularly fortunate.  In Garnant we had 'Hall y Cwm' or the Workman's Hall, in Brynaman we had Hall Brynaman or the Public Hall and then Hall y Waun. or the Welfare Hall.  Hall y Waun could seat approaching one thousand and it had stage of a very high standard.  Here the band held its concerts, as did the Waun light opera group, but to us as children it was our local cinema.  For nine pence we could sit in the front rows and absorb all that Hollywood could offer us.  Four films a week would be shown as well as the Movietone News.  Although Winston Churchill was a hero during the war years, I can recall that we as children used to boo when he came on the news, as he was still associated in south Wales with the suppression of the miners in Tonypandy.  Our favourite films were the cowboy ones, and our heroes were Hop along Cassidy, Gene Autrey, and Roy Rogers, together with comedians such as Laurel and Hardy and Abbot and Costello and Bob Hope.  Films were not classified so we could watch horror films such as the Mummy's Hand and the Cat and the Canary.  The cinema was filled with our screams as we hid under the seats when a particularly frightening scene was on the screen. On the right hand side on the way up to the hall there was a row of large posters with the names of the films currently being shown on the Waun, Garnant and Brynaman.  The hall also had a library where all kinds of books were kept including ones on religion, philosophy, politics and economics.  I was saddened to find some years ago in a second hand shop in Laugharne, that the whole collection had been sold.  Daily newspapers were also kept, including the Daily Worker, the Communist paper at the time.  We played a great deal in the park on the swings, the slide, the 'twba' and the ocean wave.  Although there were two tennis courts, I cannot recall my contemporaries playing much tennis.  It was possibly too bourgeoisie a game for our proletarian tastes, and although the park had a splendid rink, bowls was very much an old man's game.  We much preferred kicking a ball, but cricket was also popular during the summer months.  We sometimes played this on the common below the War Memorial, and although it was known as 'comyn twmpe' we did manage to find a flat area in the middle to place our wickets.  The demolition of the 'hall' was a source of sadness for all who can still remember the pleasure we had under its roof. This prompted me to compose the following englyn to remember these moments.




Hall y Waun



Ynddi eurwyd breuddwydion---a heuwyd



Ein hieuanc obeithion;



Wedi'r hwyl traddodir hon



I ofal ein hatgofion.




 On our journey through the Waun, we have one further port of call, the Mount, or the Mountain Inn.  Here the beer was drawn from the casks and served with a jug.  It was also here that the band met to practice.  The Waun was known throughout the world for its coal, and it was known throughout the musical world for its band.  The Gwauncaegurwen Silver Prize Band was in Class A and on a par with bands such as Black Dyke, Fairey Aviation, Fodens, Parc and Dare and Cory.  Competitions were sometimes held in the Waun hall and some of these famous bands would compete.  During the war the Waun Band would be invited regularly to play on such radio programmes as Workers' Play time and Music While You Work, which were broadcast throughout the U.K.  They also competed in the Belle Vue, Manchester and the Crystal Palace in London.  My father played the cornet for twenty seven years with the band, but regrettably he did not find any music potential in me.  At this time the band was conducted by Dan Lloyd who was much respected.  An illustrious member of the band was Rowland Jones, a fine euphonium player who was 'poached' by Black Dyke.  He ultimately became a fine tenor and appeared on stages throughout the country.  He eventually lived in north Wales but chose to be buried in Hen Garmel and on his grave is a fine englyn by Gwilym R. Jones.



As we grew older, dancing was a popular pastime particularly on Saturday nights.  This was before the rock and roll era, so the dances were sedate ones like the waltz, the quickstep the foxtrot, the tango, but the hokey cokey would liven things up sometimes.  We had a choice of dance halls; there was the Drill Hall and Palais in Garnant, the Rink in Pontardawe and the Regal in Ammanford.  These were the main dating agencies of the time. It was customary for the boys to go for a drink before going to a dance and although we might be 'merry' I cannot recall any incidents of aggression or wanton vandalism.  It was not the done thing for girls to enter pubs in those days, and any that did so were considered a little 'cheap'.  The Regal was particularly popular as buses were provided to take us back to the surrounding villages at midnight.



As we have seen, the Waun sixty or so years ago was a self contained and self sufficient community.  Most of our needs could be catered for, but on certain occasions it might be necessary to go to town (mynd i'r dre).  For us 'y dre' was invariably Swansea, although we might go to Ammanford for some things.  A new suit might require a visit to Burtons, or a school uniform to Sidney Heath in Swansea.  It was customary for the ladies to buy a new hat for the various Cymanfaoedd Canu in the chapels, usually held on Easter Monday, or a set of clothes for a wedding or some other special occasion.  For men buying a new suit was not a frequent occurrence, but the best suit would be brought out, often smelling of mothballs, when an occasion demanded.   This often merited a trip to Swansea.  For our travel we would be reliant on the various buses that served the village for very few of the Waun's inhabitants owned a car. The South Wales Transport double deckers went to Swansea via Pontardawe every hour or so.  The Western Welsh buses went to Neath station, which provided our link to the trains that could take us further afield.  The double deckers of the James Bros. from Ammanford also went to Neath.  The Eclipse buses, later the United Welsh, travelled to Swansea via Cwmllynfell, Ystalyfera and then down the valley to Swansea.  Rhys and Williams, known as 'bysus Tycroes' and Bevan and Davies went down the Aman Valley to Ammanford.  In the summer a visit to Swansea would allow us to visit the beach and to wander further afield to Langland or Caswell Bays.  At this time, rugby internationals were also held at St. Helens and many of us would make our way to Swansea for these. The facilities were terrible, and we might find ourselves on the tanner bank, only catching a glimpse of the play when the ball was in the air.  Glamorgan also played their cricket matches at St Helens and I can recall seeing the Australians, South Africans and West Indians playing there.  This was the era of such stars as Wilfred Wooller, J.C.Clay, Emrys Davies, Allan Watkins and W.E. Jones.  We would take our sandwiches with us and sit from eleven o clock in the morning to seven o clock in the evening on hard benches, before catching the South Wales bus home.  I doubt if today's youngsters would have the patience to do that.



From the cross we walk up to Waun Leyshon, opposite the Hall.  There were no new houses so this was still an open common.  A large number of geese were kept on it and it was known as 'comin c---- gwydde' because of the proliferation of the droppings covering it.  In spite of this, I remember that when a circus came to the Waun its tent was located here.  The war memorial still stands to reminds us of the sacrifices made by the young men of the locality in two World Wars.  What stands out immediately is the large number of men lost in the Great War 1914-1918 as compared with those who fell in the Second World War.  This is due mainly to the wanton sacrifice of lives as a result of the tactics employed by the Generals in the Somme, Ypres and other battles.  It may also be due to the fact that fewer young men from the Waun were called upon to serve in the 1939-1945 war because of the need for coal to sustain the war effort.  Later on, men had to be conscripted to work in the mines instead of going to the forces.  These became known as Bevin Boys.  Those of a certain age were, however, required to serve in the Home Guard and they had to undertake guard duties, particularly at night.  They were eventually issued with uniforms and taught how to shoot and do bayonet drill; fortunately they were never tested in battle.  Apparently, the warning for any German invasion was the ringing of church bells,  luckily the bells of the church in Cwmgors were never rung  The T.V. programme Dad's Army gives us a whimsical insight into the activities of these part time soldiers, and although there were many tales relating to the Waun detachment, I do not believe that they could be compared to Captain Mainwaring's men.  On the common itself there was an Observer Corps prefabricated building.  The men chosen to serve in this Corps were required to keep an eye on all aeroplane movements and acted as spotters to report any German planes in the vicinity.  Tommy Vaughan has mentioned the 'bombing' of Brynaman and the only other event I can recall was the excitement caused when an escaped barrage balloon was caught on the common.



Opposite Hewl Doctor or Neuadd Road is Hermon Chapel surrounded by its cemetery.  One grave stands out because it is larger than the others.  This is the grave of a former minister whose bardic name was Alfa. Although he was what would be termed today as a minor poet, he did achieve a great deal of success in eisteddfodau throughout Wales.  Apparently he kept his hair long, because when it was time for me to visit Dai Barbwr, my father would remark that I was starting to look like Alfa.  Hermon has another claim to fame, because the present Archbishop of Wales, the Right Reverend Barry Morgan was born and brought up close by and did attend the chapel  before he joined the Church in Wales.  To have produced an Archbishop is certainly a feather in the cap for the Waun, and it is remarkable how many of its sons and daughters achieved much in so many fields of activity



Hewl Doctor leads us to the Neuadd Farm.  This was the site of the Noyadd Wen, the manorial hall of the Manor of Kaegurwen.  It was used as a hunting lodge for the Lord of the Manor at one time.  The river Aman which flows nearby was the boundary of the Lordship of Gower as it was later the boundary between Glamorganshire and Carmarthenshire.   For some reason Kaegurwen is included in Gower Anglicana (Englishry) and not in Gower Wallica (Welshry). Another name in the locality linked with the manor is the name Maerdy, which indicates that within the manor was a 'maerdref', where under the feudal system a community of 'taeogion' (serfs) worked for the Lord of the Manor in return for a few strips of land where they could grow their own crops.  The 'maerdref' or Vardre was under the control of a 'Maer' (bailiff) and the Maer-dy was the place where he lived.  Surveys of the manor were undertaken in the reign of Elizabeth I  in 1583 and in that of King James in 1610. By this time the inhabitants were referred to as customary tenants to  but they were still tied to the Lords of the Manor,who were by now the Herbert family. In feudal times the Lord could claim a fee when a serf's daughter married, or he could confiscate the goods of a criminal or someone who committed suicide.  He could also claim the best beast when a 'taeog' died.  The tenants were also required to take their corn to the manorial mill which was located near the Neuadd.   By 1610 coal was being mined in some form and the tenants were allowed to keep any found on their land for their own use.



As we near the Banwen we terminate this nostalgic journey through the Waun of my childhood.  The word Banwen is apparently a corruption of pan + waun.  The word pan derives from pannu or pan-dy (fulling mill) the process used to clean wool, or to make it white.  So this may again be a reference to the cegyr wen or the white flower which gave the Waun its name.  As we enter Lower Brynaman, I should mention an annual event which we always looked forward to attending.  This was Ffair y Gwter so named after the old name for Brynaman, Y Gwter Fawr.  The fair was held on Cae Ffair still called that today, and it was for us children an exciting event.  Although the field was comparatively small it was amazing how many stalls and rides they managed to squeeze in.  By the end of the night we had spent all our pocket money, particularly on the bumpers and the rides. We could try to recoup some of it by playing 'roll a penny', but inevitably the fair would win in the end.  There was also a Ffair Frethyn where blankets and flannel shirts etc. would be sold.  Many of the older generation would wear a 'crys gwlanen' (flannel shirt) and 'drafers' (long johns). These were very rough on the skin although they were extremely durable, but the younger men would be more fashion conscious and would prefer linen or cotton. There was also a Ffair Lestri where all kinds of crockery would be displayed.



Although much of this journey is recalled from memory, but after more than half a century, memories tend to dim possibly resulting in some inaccuracies.  If such has been the case one has to crave the reader's indulgence.  Nevertheless, I hope that I have been able to show that the Waun was a vibrant community sixty years ago.  The collieries were prospering during the war as they were required to meet the ever growing demand for coal so most of us cannot claim that we were brought up in poverty.  Unemployment was more or less unknown, and we were brought up in an egalitarian society where neighbourliness and compassion counted  a great deal more than wealth.  We lived our lives through the Welsh language, and when the evacuees from Chatham and Gillingham descended upon the village it did not take long for many of them to acquire some knowledge of the language. Many of us were privileged to go to college or university and had to seek work elsewhere, but we are greatly indebted to those who stayed 'ar y Waun' and contributed a great deal to enriching village life. The closure of all the mines has left a vacuum in most mining villages like the Waun, and many now have to commute  outside the village for work.  There has also been a movement of population from other parts of Wales and the U.K., leading to a change in the linguistic composition of the village...For those of us who left the Waun all those years ago, but continue to visit from time to time, it can be a sad experience to see all the changes, but it can be an unrealistic expectation on the part of an exile to hope that things stay as they were.  Even so, the privilege that we had of being able to grow up 'ar y Waun' is something we have cherished throughout our lives.  That is why most of us will continue to answer the question, O b'le chi'n dod? With the proud words 'O'r Waun. "




Gareth Hicks © Copyright notice


Comments (0)

You must be logged in to leave a comment