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The Rhondda Valleys

..............we know the price of coal

 

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My Rhondda Childhood.

Webmaster in March 2016

Webmaster in March 2016.

I was born in Ynyshir in the Rhondda at the beginning of the 1950's. My memories are of a community of equals, where you knew every neighbour, and they were all friends. There existed a camaraderie that I fear has long since been lost, a community of open doors, where someone entering your house with the intention of stealing from you was unheard of. The shame of such an act from the people who knew you would be far worse than any penalty the courts could impose.

Our valley and mountains were regularly the venue for street or indeed village picnics, camping trips, and mass football games. Good times were free, and were enjoyed as a community. Indeed, if we wished to swim, we just crossed to the opposite side of our valley, where a large ‘lido’ was available to all. A quick dip, and then sunbathe on the grass.

When we went up the mountain nothing would please us children more than our fathers making a home-made tent for us, using as supports five or six branches from a tree which were speared into the ground. We would then throw a blanket over the branches to offer some protection from the wind. One of us would light a fire, into which we would throw a pile of potatoes, later to be enjoyed sitting around the fire. During the summer nights we would eeven sleep all night in the tent. Whilst the ’spuds’ cooked, out would come the football, and if we were up the 'myefield' on the flat top of the mountain, a game of forty or so each side football - half the population of our street would be there - would be enjoyed. When you were tired, you could just collapse in the long flowing waves of golden grass, and there were so many players on each side they wouldn’t even miss you.

Meanwhile, the mothers would be eating their sandwiches, and with their babies tucked tightly and warmly inside their shawls, which would be slung over their shoulders and wrapped around their bodies in that unique valleys way, they would be putting the world to rights with their chit-chat.

 

A family of eight children, we were amongst the poorest in a poor village, and yet there was always money to be made if you were prepared to work for it. We lived on the highest street in Ynyshir, and 'running errands' to the shops, which were at the bottom of two steep hills, would pay a couple of pennies each time.

From the age of four, until the age of seven, we attended Ynyshir infants school. To subsidise the poor diets, we were given a spoonful of cod liver oil, washed down with a spoonful of orange juice, as if by way of reward for having taken the horrid tasting oil.

Homes which still boasted a collier had free deliveries of one ton of coal, which in those days would be
un-ceremoniously dumped on the pavement outside your house.

I would get about five shillings for humping the coal - bucket by bucket - and filling up the coal 'cwtch', and as an additional payment, a bucket of coal would sometimes be given for my mother.

The quarries in each valley, left from the times that the rock was blasted from the hills to build our homes, made a fascinating place to play Cowboys and Indians, or to go looking for birds nests.

Your bike, if indeed you had one, was likely to have been homemade, from parts that you had found here, there, and everywhere. Otherwise, it had been used previously by older children in your family, and handed down. We would then save a few pence, and go down to Normans garage in Porth, and buy transfers to stick on the bike. Red Indians was always a favourite transfer.

By saving some of my errand or paper round money, every Saturday I would be off to the pictures at the Ynyshir Hall. I would come out of the matinee performance with my coat done up around my neck to mimic Zorro, or whichever of my heroes' films I had just seen. If I was lucky enough to have a few pennies left, then I would get a small bag of chips -from the Italian fish and chip shop - with lots of salt and vinegar, and a bottle of Tizer to wash them down with.

Any social event that took place outside the village was either organised by the Chapel or by Dad's workingmen's club. Once a year we would be taken to either Barry Island or Porthcawl seaside. We would enjoy the sea and the beach, and indulge ourselves with candy floss and ice cream. Even without those treats, I would have gone just for the trip on the steam train, which was an adventure in its own right.

Once a year, the fair would come and set up over the 'Maindy', once the site of one of Ynyshir's coal mines – the Lady Lewis. More errands would be run, or blackberries picked and sold, and off I would go to ride on the dodgems and swinging boats, and try my hand at roll a penny.

On new years day, every child that walked into a shop in Ynyshir, and wished the owners a happy new year, would get a bag of whatever produces that shop sold. There were a lot of shops in those days, and quite a feast was enjoyed by all of us children.

Thirty years ago I left my valleys. I am now a father and a grandfather. I have watched my children grow up, and now I enjoy watching my grandchildren growing up.

With my hand on my valleys heart I can honestly say that I wouldn’t trade one moment of my childhood, not for all the computers, cd's, or designer clothes in the world. Mine was a healthy, normal, safe and fun filled childhood, and I didn’t even notice that we were poor.



If you have any old Rhondda family photos or pictures of the towns and villages please scan them in at least 1280 pixels width and email them here.

 

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