By Keith.A.Brocklebank. BA (Hons;) A.R.P.S.
Archivist for “The Garw Heritage Society”
I was born on 17th of November 1938, one of ten children living in a three bedroom house in Lower Church Street. It was a bit of a squeeze but we managed as we had to then. I remember my first day at school in Pontycymmer Infants in Ivor Street, at 4 years old my sister Ruth took me. She had a handful of old pennies and halfpennies to pay for me to have milk.
There was a big rocking horse in the corner of the class which was a lot taller than us, if you were good you could have a ride on it. Our teachers name was Miss Maddocks, who was Mr.Merlin Maddocks’ Aunty, she was strict with us even at 4 years old. The house opposite the main gates had a front garden with a rose bush in it and I still remember the smell of that rose that hung over the wall.
When I was about 8 years old I went to the boys school, which is no longer there. It used to be below the Secondary Modern, later to become the Garw Grammar School and now Ysgol Cwm Garw. It was strange at first as there were only boys, though the Infants school was mixed. Some of the boys looked huge to me and it was a bit frightening as I was very small. I remember the woodwork teacher well Mr.Stan Evans, he was really good at his job. I was very good at making things thanks to him and it became my favourite subject. It put me in good stead for later on in life at DIY, and it saved me a lot of money over the years.
We loved our play times, one of the games nearly all the younger boys played was marbles. We used to have pockets of them by winning the games. One big boy used to play for me and he was good, we called him “Ginger” Holmes because of his red hair. I never did find out his first name. On games day we would play rugby in the Winter months and cricket in the others. We had one teacher who was in his early 20’s who used to take us in cricket his name was Mr.David “Bonker” Morgans. He loved to bat and would hit the ball all over the school yard, laughing at us running all over the place, until we had one boy who started school at a later age his name was Gerald Jones. He was a really good fast bowler, this annoyed “Bonker” Morgans as he couldn’t bat against him. Gerald was too fast and “Bonker” wouldn’t allow him to bowl. This was where his bad sportsmanship showed. He was a childish teacher, as he always had to win, if he didn’t he would sometimes stop the game and make us go back into class.
Money was very short so we children had few or no toys. We were taught from a very young age to save. I used to have a little book to stick 1d (0.5p) stamps in and when I had 12, I could get a national savings stamp book that held 6d (2.5p) stamps. This was big league saving. With this training that my mother had given me, I was able to save and buy things later in life without having to borrow.
We used to make our own fun building “shanties” (small sheds) up on the mountain, out of clods of earth and old corrugated iron sheets. We would then have a small fireplace in it to boil anything we could lay our hands on, such as potatoes, blackberries, rhubarb and gooseberries. These we used to get from an old allotment that we thought had been neglected. We had many a stomach ache after eating our concoctions.
One day I was in what I thought was nobody’s allotment picking gooseberries, and was chased by an old man shouting that it was his allotment. I jumped through a hole in the hedge and ran home sneaking in and going straight upstairs. I started to play quietly, the Cornet that I played in the Salvation Army Band, as I knew the man would follow me home. He lived not far from our house. About 5 minutes later there was a knock at the door, my mother answered it and there was this Mr Gronnow. He told my Mother the story about the gooseberries and my mother replied that I hadn’t been out as I was practicing on my cornet all afternoon upstairs. That was what she honestly thought and she had convinced Mr.Gronnow. I, was a good boy really.
Another pastime we had was building “gambo’s” which we sat on and rode down the paths of the mountain into the street below. We used to have races with pit stops just like they have in Formula 1 today. We didn’t change wheels though as they were hard to come by, you were really lucky if you could find 4 wheels the same size to fit your gambo. We had the run of the place in those days as there was only 1 car in the whole of the street. We could play anywhere in complete safety, and didn’t have to worry about traffic or being accosted.
Another of our favourite games was “Tin Can Copper”, played with a tin of course. The person who was “On It” would have to find the ones who were hiding. If they caught someone they would have to hit the tin on the ground and shout “Tin Can Copper” and the persons name they had spotted, they were then out of the game, unless one of the other persons hiding could get to the Tin first (which was in the middle of the road) before the “On It” person and throw it as far as possible to release the ones who were caught.
It was a happy childhood even with all the hidings we had for not doing what we were told as our upbringing was strict at home and in school.
Later on in the year we used to start collecting for “Bonfire Night” November 5th. We, mostly boys, would start collecting at the end of September. Rubbish was collected from the shops in Oxford street and by the time Bonfire night came there would be a huge pile of car tyres, trees, logs, mattress’s and all kinds of other combustible material. What pennies we had earned doing errands were saved to buy fireworks. Most of which would be bangers as they were the cheapest firework. The fires used to be all over the valley and there was a competitive spirit to see who could get the biggest. Needless to say, our rivals would try to set ours alight before Bonfire night. We had to be on our guard most nights leading up to the 5th. This was all part of the fun and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
One old character named Evan “Llandovery”, I never heard his surname spoken, used to parade up and down Oxford and Meadow Streets. He was always dressed in a torn trilby hat and an old dirty gabardine raincoat tied with cord around the waist. His shoes had holes in the bottoms and his socks had holes big enough to put your fist through. He would shuffle back and fore the streets with his arms going like a steam engine action, every now and then he would mark a cross on the road with a piece of chalk. This was to protect the area from being bombed by the Germans he said. It was he who stopped them from bombing the Congregational Church, as it was the church that he lived near. Children would stop him in the street to ask him how many stars would be out tonight Evan, and he would reply 67 or a similar number, as he wasn’t quite a full shilling as the saying goes.
He was only a small built man but was very fit for his age (55 to 60). When a miner had his free ton of coal delivered, a lot of them used to have Evan Llandovery to take it in for them. He charged half-a-crown or 2s 6d (12.5p) to carry it in through their houses to the coal cwtch in the back. This was really hard work as it had to be filled into buckets and carried in most cases up a dozen or more steps. He would do this 6 to 8 times in a day. Most of his money was given to the church he worshipped in (Noddfa) as he was a bachelor with no known relatives.
The coal he put in was delivered by horse and cart. The haulier in charge would have a team of two or three horses depending how steep the hills were. They would be linked together one in front of the other and would almost gallop at the hill to get a good start. All of the hills had a cobbled section from bottom to top, which was about six feet wide. This was so the horses could get a good grip going up the hills. When they got to the delivery point, the haulier would unhitch the horses leaving one to pull the cart back to the colliery. The other one or two horses would then stroll off down the street back to the colliery on their own.
The Pontycymmer Cooperative also had horses. They were a big shop for it’s time, with 22 branch shops. They also had their own bakery in Meadow Street where Merlin Maddock’s Magic Workshop is now. There were two double doors in the building for loading the bread carts with bread and cakes. These doors used to be left ajar sometimes to allow the bread and cakes to cool off. We children used to seize on the opportunity to get a free cake as we could never afford to buy one. The bakers used to shout at us but never chased or reported us as they knew we would only have one cake. In 1947 when we had the heaviest snow on record, in two nights 4 feet of snow fell. There was no traffic on the streets only horses pulling sleds with either milk or bread. Everything was centred on the bakehouse in Meadow Street and everyone had to go there for their supplies.
At Christmas time they used to cook the poultry for the Housewives as they had big ovens that were empty during the day but still had to be kept warm with coke fires. This was both economical and made sense as it took a long time to cook poultry in those days with coal fired ovens in the houses.
All houses had coal fires, which were nice and warm while you sat by them but if you moved away it was cold. They had to be lit every morning with paper and stick, but before that you had to rise the ashes from the day before which was a dirty job. The dust used to go everywhere when you put them into the ash bucket. If you had forgotten to dry the sticks the night before you had one hell of a job to get the fire going. The ashes were then put out in the street every day for the “Ashman” to collect in his cart. He used to be covered in ash. When he had to go down the hill in front of where I lived to High Street, he would hang on the back of the 2 wheeled cart and lean under the cart to wind the brake on so it wouldn’t run away.
When I visited the Garw after being away for a few years the first thing I noticed was most of the chimneys had gone. There was little or no smoke coming from the remaining chimney pots.
Another person with a “nick” name was the local undertaker Griffith Jones, or otherwise known as “Dai Coffin”. He was a very well dressed person and always had a pleasant personality. One of my friends who lived near him in The Avenue used to lie in the coffins to hold them still while they were being sanded down. In those days the undertaker made his own coffins. Anyone who had passed away would have their names and addresses put on the wooden lampposts to say when their funeral was taking place. Very few people were cremated then, it was all burials and not one complained.
At the time of the eleven plus examinations, I was in what was the Ffaldau Girls School, which had become Ffaldau Mixed, now the Ffaldau Junior School. All schools were mixed from 1948. When I was 11years old I passed the exam for the Garw Grammar School. This was a big thing then as it was a chance of a better education. To me it was the worst time of my life. From day one I was treated by the headmaster of the time as one of the poorer children who were looked down on. Time after time he blamed me for things that I hadn’t done, and was caned regularly. I can remember on more than one occasion having 15 canes in one go, 5 on each hand. You then had to open the big oak door of the headmasters study, which had a big shiny brass knob, your hands throbbing with pain, to fetch a chair from the hall to have another 5 on the buttocks. Then return the chair to the main hall, going through the pain of opening the door again, so everyone knew what had happened, but I would never cry. This made me rebel and I no longer wanted to be in that school.
I had a job when I was 13 years old as a goods delivery boy for the Star grocers in Oxford Street. I had to carry all the goods I delivered as the Manager of the Star was too tight to have the shop bike repaired, it required a new tyre but was too expensive he said. One of my deliveries was to Fforchwen Farm, which I had to deliver to on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. This was up past the cemetery and over the top of the hill for about a quarter of a mile. There were a number of times when I was chased by young bullocks across the fields and had to throw the box of goods over the fence and jump after them. Mrs.Hopkin would ask me how the bag of sugar had burst and when I told her about the bullocks she would just laugh and say “They won’t hurt you bachan they are only playing”. I used to tell her I didn’t like playing with things weighing half a ton as I was only 6 stone. This took my mind off the time I was having at school.
As soon as I was 15years old I stopped going to school and played snooker in the Pontycymmer Institute until I could officially leave school in December 1953. I became very good at playing billiards and used to play against the miners in their Christmas tournaments. I had a friend David Trigg from Waun Bant who was also as good as myself and we would share our winnings. These could be either money or boxes of chocolates. We became so good that we would have to give our opponents a start of 40 in a game up to 100. But we would still beat them, this helped me with my Xmas presents for my family.
Summer times were happy times as the weather was better. We would have periods of 5 to 6 weeks of hot sunshine. That was when the Garw used to have big Carnivals. There would be lots of floats with people on and lots more on foot. Jazz Bands were all the go then. They used to come from miles around to compete against the local Jazz Bands. The competitions would go on all day, long after the carnival had finished.
We had street parties, and someone would take charge of collecting the monies. Everyone could be trusted then and we never locked our doors at night or when we went out. One party we had was for “The Festival Of Britain” in 1951. It was more or less to celebrate Britain arising again after the war. My brother Tony and I took photos of the party and processed them ourselves (black and white only, no colour then). We sold them at 4d (1.5p) each and made nearly £2.00 which was a nice sum. That was when I became interested in photography, I was 13 years old. I graduated in Photography and computer imaging some 54 years later at Glamorgan University.
I started work as a miner on the 27th of December 1953 and first went down a pit on 1st of January 1954. It was the Wyndham colliery in the Ogmore Valley where I had to do 3 months training at the training centre called “Newmarket” near to the colliery. For a young boy of 15 it was very exciting, I felt as though I was now a grownup. My wages for the week was £2 2s 6d (£2.12.5p) when at the training center and £1 19s 6d (£1.97.5p) when in the NCB school. I used to walk over the mountain from Pontycymmer to Ogmore training center to save the 10 shillings (50p) I had to pay bus fare per week. I did that for 10 weeks in the rain and snow.
The NCB school became a big part of my life as I was now able to study what I chose. I continued with my schooling until I was 30, as I had a number of breaks from it. I gradually worked my way up on the courses to a level where I was to go to University to sit my Managers certificate.
I started in the Ffaldau in March 1954 as a boy on the training coalface with a man called Cyril Eynon, he was a really good worker and taught me a lot. We had to do 3 months coalface training and then went on to the production face with a “Butty” (Your Workmate). I was put to work with Robert Swift, his sister was the local nurse in the surgery who was a good person to know. We had to cut and load 6 yards of coal per shift by hand, which was approximately 20 tons as the 6 yards was a block of coal 6x2x2 yards.
When we were afternoon shift, we worked extra hard to clear our coal (called a stint) so that we could go out of the pit early. The only way you could go up the pit when they were winding coal, was if you were ill or had an accident so my Butty used to say he was ill. That was where his sister the nurse was a good person to know. I would have to go to the surgery the morning after we came home early and ask her for a doctors paper to say her brother was ill the day before. This would save him being cropped wages for coming out early. At the end of the week on Fridays we would be paid and if you had good a “Butty” he would give you “Trumps”. That was for helping him to clear his “Stint” of coal every day and it could mean you getting £1.10s.0d (£1.50p) to £2.0s.0d (£2.00p) extra if you were a good worker.
I did this until I was 17 years old and then went on to nights as I didn’t like the thick black dust on dayshifts and I could get some piecework on nights, which to explain was, you got paid by the amount of work you did. I could earn up to £16 0s 0d (£16.00p) on nights, this was an outstanding wage for a 17year old. I soon saved up enough money to buy my uncle’s motorbike, this was the thrill of my life. When I passed my test I was able to carry a pillion passenger, “girls look out”. I met a number of fellow bikers in the next few years and we used to race off to Barry Island at weekends to go roller skating as there were plenty of girls there. We also used to go over to Maesteg in the next Valley quite a lot, where there was a little cafe called “The Mercury Cafe” that had a juke box and it was there that I met my wife Nesta, and we have been married for 50 years on the 1st of July 2011, with 3 children, 7 grandchildren and 1 great grand daughter.
My biking career came to sudden stop one day on Shwt bridge when I hit a car head on, and it was not my fault. Luckily I only broke my nose and a few scratches, but I decided that was enough and 3 weeks later I bought my first car. It was a Morris Minor, 1949 model and at the time you could drive without a competent driver by your side as The Suez crisis was on going, in 1956 Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser had blocked the Suez Canal by sinking ships in it. Petrol was rationed but it was still easy to get without coupons at Billy Braunds’ garage in Lluest. Petrol was only 1s 6d (7.5p) a gallon until the crisis in the Suez Canal, this caused the tanker ships to have to go around the Cape of South Africa, they were only around 80,000 tons . This made the price go up to 2s 6d (12.5p) per gallon. I still have an unused book of coupons today. The tankers now are around 300,000 tons.
My first outing in my car was with my girl friend (now my wife) to Porthcawl. The car used 5 pints of oil to get there and back, the smoke screen behind us was really thick. It cost me £13 10s 5d (£13.52) to have the engine completely overhauled, from valves to big ends with Billy Braund. After that she was one of the best cars I have ever had, we went everywhere in it. There no modern comforts in it, in winter time the passengers had a blanket over them. I had to get out to clean the windscreen every so often. The indicators were little flag type things that used to flick up from the side of the doors.
By the time I was 22 plans were made to get married. We had very little money £50.00 to be exact, but that didn’t deter us. We were going to live in apartments with my parents, but 3 months before our wedding day my mother passed away. It was her last wish that we went ahead with our arrangements. On 1st of July 1961 we were married in Llangynwyd Church, the wedding reception cost me (as I was paying, my mother-in-law was a widow) £26. 12s 6d (£26.62p) in the Victoria Hotel Maesteg.
We lived in Pontycymmer in Lower Church Street for the next 4 years and had 2 children while we were there.
I was still following my schooling having 1 day a week release from work to attend, with full pay. By the time I was 23 I had my Fireman’s Certificate which allowed me to do the work of one when I was 24. I was then in charge of a coalface and the men working on it. I had to book them in and make sure of their safety during the shift. They got their name (Firemen) from the early years when they used to set fire to the accumulations of methane gas in the coalface, they used to cover themselves in wet sacks and crawl to where the gas pockets were and ignite them with a naked flame on a long stick. This was highly dangerous and caused a number of fatalities. Later on came the “Davy Lamp” which could detect the methane without causing an explosion, the fireman could then put up tarred sheets (called brattice sheets) to direct the airflow to clear the gas safely. They are no longer called firemen but Deputies to the Manager.
I did about a year shotfiring which was a responsible job as you were using high explosives. You had to charge the holes that the miners bored in the rock and coal with the explosives and fire the “Shots” to release the coal and rock for filling, this again was a satisfying job as you didn’t have to clear the mess you made. All these jobs had one big drawback, dust which all miners suffered from.
In December 1965 I moved to Yorkshire to work, to get experience as a Deputy and for my studies to be a Manager, with power loading of coal as they were more mechanised than in Wales. I lived in Knottingley and worked at Kellingley Colliery known locally as “Big K”. Their weekly output was 45,000 tons, it was a very dusty pit and the Deputies had very little experience of gas in the coalface, which until I drew their attention to it, had never seen a deputies lamp blow out with the gas inside it (about 4%). They had all kinds of machinery and the amount of coal that one coalface could produced in a week (11,500 tons) was more than one colliery in the Garw produced in two weeks. I stayed for nearly 3 years and then moved back to Wales and our 3rd child was born in Maesteg Hospital.
I worked as an overman at the Ffaldau colliery for 12 weeks under a Mr.Burton who was the manager, but had to move to Coegnant Colliery in Maesteg as we had bought a house there (my wife was from Maesteg) – no contest. I was still studying with the Coal Board and hoped to go to University for my Managers Certificate but my hopes were dashed when I quarreled with the manager. When it came time for me to go to University I had to appear in front of a panel to get my release from work for University and that is where the Manager Mr.Elvid Morgans stepped in and stopped me, he was one of the panel. I promptly told him where to stick his job and went straight down to The Bridgend Paper Mills and got a job there.
They say once a miner always a miner and that is correct in the majority of cases as we all love to talk about our mining years. I loved working underground and the men who worked alongside of me. The camaraderie could never be found anywhere else. It was the same for the Garw Valley, the people were so friendly and helpful.
One night we had a really bad storm with heavy rain, there was a knock at our door and a neighbour said come quick Bert Davies’s garden had slid down into his back yard and lean to kitchen. Within 10 minutes there were 8 of us with picks and shovels clearing the landslip. It was completely cleared in 2 hours, Bert was speechless as he hadn’t expected help so soon. That was the kind of neighbourliness that was all over the Valley back in the 1960’s. My heart will always be in the Garw Valley.
Working in the Paper Mill was a whole new world to me.I had never worked above ground before and found it strange for a while but soon got used to it. The work I was doing was a piece of cake compared to underground. I ate my food at break time with clean hands for the first time in 17 years and could go home clean without having to shower at the end of the shift, but I still showered as I still can’t break the habit to this present day. When I first started in the Mill I worked in production making paper. I didn’t like it at all and took a job in the diesel generating plant which was more to my liking. The work was interesting but the people I had to work with were nothing like the men underground. There was no camaraderie at all, you had to be on your guard all the time or they would shop you to your boss for the slightest thing.
I worked there for 13 and half years until the plant closed and then went up into the paper converting part of the mill. This again was to my liking as it involved machinery. I worked with the fitters changing over the machines as the production required, either toilet rolls or kitchen rolls. I found it very therapeutic and learned a lot about the paper industry.
In1993 I had to finish through ill health as I could no longer do the bending and lifting required, through and old accident to my back. I also had dust (pneumoconiosis) from my 17 years underground which makes me short of breath.
I felt a little lost at first in retirement until I went back to night school and took up photography again. I passed 5 City And Guilds Certificates all with distinctions, and then went on to do my HNC and HND certificates. I then went to Glamorgan University to do my BA (Hons;) degree in Photography and computers (Photoshop) and graduated in June 2005 at 67 years old. Since then I have done some teaching and a lot of voluntary work which involves quite a bit of photography and going into schools to teach.
Since coming back to the Garw (I still live in Maesteg) doing voluntary work with my wife, and I became interested in the Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline. Through them we have been host parents to a young boy from Chernobyl and hope to keep on doing so until we are no longer able to do it. The feeling of satisfaction when you see their faces after they are given the smallest of presents is tremendous. They are the most grateful children I have ever seen. I am hoping to go over to Chernobyl to their orphanage this year, 2011, to photograph the horrendous conditions they have to endure through everything being radioactive. Then I hope to convince more people to help these forgotten children.
I have also become the Archivist for The Garw Valley Heritage Society which involves photography and manipulating photographs for the archiving. This I thoughroughly enjoy as no one can tell me what to do, I am my own boss at last. We are busy collecting all the old photographs we can lay our hands on (to be returned if requested), and it is my job to copy and save them to our archive for the youth of today to be able to see and use. We are finding that the really young children are very enthusiastic about our archive as they have never seen a working colliery. Some don’t even know what coal is like. We are currently on a program of going into the valley schools to give talks on mining and the local heritage, using our large archive of photographs.
Keith.A.Brocklebank. BA (Hons;) A.R.P.S.
Archivist for “The Garw Heritage Society”