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Memories of Thomas Street, Pontardawe

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Mrs. M. Jenkins' memories of Thomas Street, Pontardawe

'the street where I was born.'

By Mrs. Margaret (Bowen) Jenkins (1897 -1996)
who wrote this account c 1987
- the period she describes would appear to be the first decade or so of the 20th century.

Contributed by Ada Jones (April 2005) who also lived in Thomas Street many years ago but  now lives in Gorseinon - with the permission of Mrs Jenkins's daughter, Delyth Rees.

At the top of the street, on one side, there was a shop, Reynolds' shop, the entrance was in High Street, but it was on the corner of Thomas Street.  This shop was a very busy shop.  Mrs Reynolds was my grandmother's sister and I called her Auntie Ruth, and Auntie Ruth would have nothing in her shop but the best - the best butter, the best cheese, the best of everything and she made lovely bread and cakes to sell. Reynolds' cake was famous in all the tea parties and this shop was a meeting place for everybody.  It was open till ten o'clock at night,as most of the shops were, people used to congregate there and discuss everything - weddings, funerals, scandals, politics, everything - the policemen used to come from across the road, ministers called there, clergy called there, workmen called there - it was just like parliament.

Next door to Reynolds', in Thomas Street, there was another shop, owned by Mr John Morgan, who was my grandmothers' brother and he had a grocers shop and his wife sold bread. Although they were next door to each other you'd think there would be some ani£mosity but no, they lived quite happily together like that.  His shop was not so fruit£ful because Reynolds' shop was facing High Street and John Morgan was down Thomas Street.

On the same side further along, opposite Tabernacl Chapel, was a tailor's shop owned by Thomas Jenkins , the tailor. He had a nice big window with men's clothing in it. Thomas Jenkins was a short little man, a big churchman and always went to church in a frock coat.  He had a son, Henry Jenkins, who was organist in St. Peter's first of all and then went to All Saints.  Mr Jenkins had a long room at the back, it was his work room, and he used to take boys from the "Homes". I always used to think he was a good man to do that. Through the influence of the vicar, he used to have these boys there and he gave them a Christian home and taught them the tailoring trade.

Next door to that shop there were three houses and they were three business houses. First of all, one owned by Mrs Ann Williams, she was called Ann Dynevor because she was brought up in the Dynevor Arms. She had a little shop selling everything - gro£ceries, vegetables, fruit, everything you can think of. She too used to make faggots on Fridays and it was a great treat for Thomas Street to have faggots from Mrs. Williams' on Fridays.

Next door to her there was another little shop, owned by Mr and Mrs Stephen Jones. They also had a grocers' shop, but it was not so flourishing as Mrs Williams' because they did not sell faggots and peas, and she was a widow, but they got on alright. In the bottom house of the three, was the home of Dafydd Gellilwca and he was a character.  He was the son of Gellilwca Farm, Rhydyfro and there was a little lane leading from Thomas Street to the infants' school and over there he had a big stable and he kept about eight horses. He also had traps and 'gambos' and things like that.  The best traps were kept at the bottom of the garden behind the stables, but the carts and gambos were allowed out on this little lane leading to the infants' school, and that was where we children used to play. It was a grand place, we used to say 'dewch lan i'r carts i ware' and we used to have rides on the horses backs.

They had one big horse, a famous one, a Clydesdale called Jolly and it was a great day when they would take him to a show.  We'd see them dressing him up, brushing his mane and plaiting it with coloured braids and a big brass plate in front of him and off they'd go to the show.

In the evening we would watch them coming back and invariably Jolly would arrive at the top of the street with a big white card in front of him with the first prize. Of course we would all be delighted.

Dafydd Gelliwca's stables were quite famous and farmers and other business people would come down into Pontardawe and would stable their horses there and it was a very hospitable house. When they would come back for their horses they would usually have a meal there on the fair day or show day. They would bring back about half a dozen wild little mountain ponies from the fair and these ponies had to be broken in and that would take place in the early morning before any£one was up.  We would hear them, perhaps at four, five or six o'clock in the morning taking them one by one up the street racing them up and racing them back and that would go on for a few weeks, until all these ponies were broken in.

Dafydd Gellilwca had a very sad end, he always rode on a little pony and one evening he was coming home on his little pony, and opposite St. Peter's church there used to be a very, very big stone. Well, just as he was passing there he slipped off the pony and knocked his head on this stone.  He was unconscious and carried home on a stretcher. I can see him now. The stretcher was placed in front of the parlour window, with the window up to give him fresh air I expect, and there we children would be looking in at Dafydd Gellilwca, the dear old man that we all loved.  He never regained consciousness and we were all very sad that Dafydd Gellilwca had passed away.  He had four sons and the eldest one, William, carried on the business for many years, helped by his other brothers, but eventually the cars came and nobody wanted horses any more and there was no more Gellilwca stables.

Opposite there a family called Lewis Evans lived.  Lewis Evans had been involved in collieries, he had a large family of twelve. I think the sons with him worked in collieries and two of then became high officials in the coal industry.  One son, Dai Evans, was a roamer. He went first of all, I think to Australia, he came back home for a while, and off he went again out to South Africa. He was there for years and years but eventually he returned home, got married and settled down in Thomas Street in the old home.

We go back now to the other side of the road, to Dafydd Cwmbryn, son of Cwmbryn farm, up on the mountain. He had three sons, William, Thomas-John and Trevor.  William and Trevor went to America and Thomas John to Africa.  He had three daughters, Mary, Hannah and Emily. Dafydd Cwmbryn was a woodcutter, 'coedwr' and he worked in Glyn Neath in the forest up there. He went on a Monday morning and came back on the Saturday after£noon and he used to bring branches of trees back sometimes and form them into hat stands.

Then there was Mrs Skinners' shop. Mrs Skinner was a lady from Hereford and she had quite a big shop with two windows. On one side she kept sweets and small things like pastries at the weekend, and other side she sold wool.  She had a knitting machine and she knitted for people and she had quite a good trade. As you went in through the front door, right opposite there were shelves with things for cleaning.  There was a brick to clean knives and forks, treestones which were used to whiten the hearthstone and blacking - there was no Cherry Blossom then. Blacking was put on a saucer with a bit of water on it and we used that to clean our shoes and boots, big lumps, sticky old stuff, not at all like Cherry Blossom.  Then there was Needhams Polish, no Brasso, but Needhams polish.

My father belonged to the Pontardawe Band and when there was a turnout on a Saturday the instruments had to be cleaned and this how it was done - first of all the instrument was pulled to pieces and each part put in a boiler with water and that was boiled on the fire for some time. Then the pieces were pulled out and wiped clean and then polished with Needhams polish. I'll always remember that.  

When it was cleaned it was put up, that is, hung up on the ceiling ready for the turnout on the Saturday.

My grandfather Lewis Bowen was called Lewis the Plas. His parents had twelve children and adopted another three.  They all grew up healthy and became good citizens. Well my grandfather worked in the tinworks but he was quite a bit of a farmer as well and always liked keeping pigs and we were always glad to have Welsh bacon.

There is a story about him and Evans Gellionnen. Now Evans Gellionnen was doctor William Owen's father. He was the minister of Gellionen Chapel and of Graig Chapel, Trebanos. He lived in a house up the Craig, Trebanos. It was a bit of a farm and he also kept a private school. Now one day my grandfather Lewis and Mr. Evans arranged to go to Carmarthen to buy a lot of pigs, not only for themselves but for a lot of friends as well. So they went to Carmarthen and arranged for people to meet them at Landore with some gambos to carry the pigs home. However, between Carmarthen and Landore something went wrong on the railway and they were held up for a long time.  Eventually they started off again and reached Landore and found that there was nobody there to meet them. It appeared that people had come as arranged, but were told that something was wrong and that the train would not arrive, perhaps until the morning and so they went home. So, they were left with the problem of taking these pigs back to Trebanos by driving them along the road all the way.

 My grandfather often used to laugh about that and Dr. Evans, son of Evans Gellionnen, who was my grandfathers doctor, used to call and say "tell me the story of the pigs Lewis Bowen" and they'd have a jolly good laugh.  My grandfather worked in Gilbertson's and in the end he worked up in Glantawe. He used to wear clogs and the people up at Grove Road used to hear him going in the morning, very early and they knew when Lewis Bowen passed it was time for them to get up. They didn't need an alarm clock.

One day my grandfather was called to the office in front of the manager.  At that time (1906) the Public Hall was being built and five foundation stones were to be laid, one by Mr. Lloyd the Plas, one by Mr. Arthur Gilbertson, one by Mr. Frank Gilbertson and one by Lord Glantawe, who was a native of Pontardawe. The fifth stone was to be laid by a workman to represent the workmen of Pontardawe.  Well the day my grandfather went in to see the manager, they told him that he had been chosen to lay the foundation stone for the new hall and institute because he was the oldest workman working at the time. They told him he should have a frock coat and top hat, and he was prepared to do it.  He came home very honoured to think that he had been chosen but when he said that he was going to wear a 'chot a chwt' and top hat my father said "Nawr clywch, chi'n mynd 'na i gynyrchioli'r gweithwyr a fydd e mas o le i chi fynd 'na a chot a chwt a het pob cam, gwell i chi gael siwt arall. ("now listen, you are going there to represent the workers and you would be out of place in a frock coat and top hat, you had better have a suit"). He saw the point, it would not be right for him to go dressed as a gentleman, so he bought Welsh tweed and had it made into a suit by Morgan the tailor in George Street.

The big day came and I can see my grandfather now, on the platform with the others, as cool as a brick, and everybody had to make a speech.  When it came to my grandfather's turn, he started in English, but he couldn't do much in English, and he turned to Mr. Frank Gilbertson and asked if he could say it in Welsh, and of course they said 'yes' and he gave an account of the old time at the works.

Lord Glantawe knew my grandfather, they were brought up together, worked in the works together and Lord Glantawe had got on in the tin industry and become a lord.  He lived in a house called the Grange in West Cross, Swansea and he invited my grandfather down to visit him. Every year my grandfather used to go to Swansea for a week's holiday to stay with a niece of his who kept a restaurant there and whilst there he would find out if Lord Glantawe was at home. If so would spend the day with him talking over the old times in the works and of Pontardawe and the little cottage where he was born.

The hall was built and the photographs of all these men who laid the foundation stones were made in oil and put up in the institute and my grandfather's should be in the hall now.

Another character in the street was Jones the Gas. Mr. Isaac Jones was a Northwalian from Dolgellau. I think he had two sons, Ellis and Isaac, and one girl, Mary.  Now Ellis Jones lived in Thomas Street and only died a few years ago aged 90.  When they came to Pontardawe they lived in the bottom house of the row of four houses across the bridge there, quite near to go down to the gasworks.  There was also a nephew living with them and all the men worked in the gas works. At night they had to go round, each with his own district, with a stick, lighting the lamps at dusk, and all the lights had to be out by twelve and again they'd return and put out the lights. The Jones family left Pontardawe but returned again in a few years time.

The police station was at the top of Thomas Street, in High Street, and Tabernacl chapel half way down the street. Tabernacl chapel gave a sort of dignity to the street. The minister there was Mr. Seiriol Williams, a Northwalian.  I was very friendly with his eldest daughter Eirolwen and consequently spent a lot of time at the manse. They were a nice friendly family and I remember the great times, the 'Cyrddau Mawr', an annual event in October, when two famous preachers preached.  It started on Saturday night and three times on Sunday and then on Monday and there were big congregations at every meeting. Those were the days of great preachers and large congregations.  Now before 'Cwrddau Mawr' I remember auntie Margaret coming to the manse for a week or so before. She was Mrs. Williams' sister and entertaining two ministers meant a lot of work, and so she came to give a helping hand.  The choir at Tabernacl did a lot of oratorios and cantatas and the first choirmaster I can remember was James Davies, otherwise called Llew Cynlais. Mr. Griffith Jenkins was the organist, then after Llew Cynlais died Mr. Griffith Jenkins took over as choirmaster and Mr. Tommy Davies the organist.

During the 'revival' there were meetings in Tabernacl, crowds and crowds were there singing and praying and marching down the street, singing in the early hours of the morning.

The police station was in High Street, and prisoners who had been remanded in Swansea Jail were brought up to Pontardawe to be tried.  The police court was held every fort£night and I remember some of the magistrates walking up Thomas Street ... old Mr. Lloyd, 'The Plas' and his son were two of them.  The prisoners were brought up by train and walked up through the village handcuffed to the policemen, up through Thomas Street to the police station where they were tried and sentenced and then taken back down to meet the twenty past five train on a Friday night.  Usually we used to hide and watch them going. Some of them were quite brazen and others with their eyes downcast and I shed many a tear feeling sorry for these people.

I hope that I've given you some of the history of the place and that you've been interested and enjoyed yourselves.

Mrs. Margaret (Bowen) Jenkins (1897-1996)

Gareth Hicks © Copyright notice

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