Life in Brythonfa (Gwenda)

Illustrations from Gwenda Lewis’ collection or from my collection as indicated

Extracts from Gwenda Lewis’ book

‘I Remember … My Life in Bwlchgwyn 1939-1943’

Taken from chapter 3, ‘Life in Brythonfa’. Text (c) Gwenda Lewis 2005

At the time all the babies were delivered at home by Nurse Williams, who, by nature of her profession, was an important member of the community. She lived opposite the Post-Office-cum-village shop on the main road, in ‘Cynlais’, the house where my great grandparents had once lived, and she was hated and feared by all the village children. The nearest doctor was in Coedpoeth so Nurse was the first port of call in cases of illness or injury. She it was who administered injections and scrubbed grit out of grazed knees when we wouldn’t let our mothers near them, so it’s not surprising she was unpopular with us youngsters.

Cynlais as it looks today; originally the door was centred between the two front windows and Nurse Williams occupied the rooms on the left of the corridor (Hilary)

Nurse was able to help with one ongoing problem which troubled me. Although I was getting to enjoy country life and being with my cousin was like having a little sister (without the competition) I did miss my father. He came up to see us from time to time, but only more for the odd weekend, and once he had gone I was disconsolate and inclined to have tummy upsets. Nurse Williams suggested a remedy which would surely settle my stomach. The remedy was somewhat unconventional. It was – fizzy pop.

The best place to get this in quantity was the ‘Joiner’s Arms’ pub around the corner. Now being a God-fearing, chapel-going woman, my mother could not possibly be seen going into the Joiner’s Arms. You were either chapel or pub. You could not be both. So she had an arrangement with Miss Pugh, the landlady. My mother would knock on the back door of the pub and chubby Miss Pugh would appear in her grubby pinafore and discreetly supply her with a crate of fizzy pop in various flavours. So appearances were maintained, conscience cleared and my vital supplies duly obtained. My mother found the crates rather heavy and sometimes press-ganged my brother into doing the ‘pub run’. He was none too keen and thought me a bit of a nuisance. One can hardly blame him…

The Joiners’ Arms, Bwlchgwyn. Although this picture dates back to perhaps 1910, the Joiner’s Arms (which only sold beer) never changed much in appearance until about the 1960s. (Hilary)

…But back to the 1940s and wartime restrictions. The fact we were at war meant certain rules had to be followed. One vital rule was to observe ‘blackout precautions’. Not only were our windows draped with black curtains but the few cars on the road – and they were very few indeed – had their headlights hooded so that the light would shine downwards only. Even torches had to have tissue paper stuck on the lens to minimise the beam.

…But back to the 1940s and wartime restrictions. The fact we were at war meant certain rules had to be followed. One vital rule was to observe ‘blackout precautions’. Not only were our windows draped with black curtains but the few cars on the road – and they were very few indeed – had their headlights hooded so that the light would shine downwards only. Even torches had to have tissue paper stuck on the lens to minimise the beam.

Food rationing was introduced early in the war, in January 1940, and we were registered for our rations with the Post Office/general store on the main road. I remember this shop as cluttered, gloomy and damp, with a strange smell, a mixture of bacon, fresh bread, firewood and paraffin.

When the Post Office was at Prion, on the right is the archway that led up to Miss Nuttall’s, on the left is the Post Office Window (the Post Office used to be at this end of the shop, it was moved later), and off-picture to the left was the shop door and beyond that the other window. (Hilary)

Prion as it looks today (2009); only the stone wall, stone arch and telephone box remain to remind us of how it used to look.  (Hilary)

In warm weather flies and bluebottles buzzed around our heads, most of them coming to a distressing end on the sticky fly paper which hung, like gruesome decorations, from the ceiling. Margaret and I were frequent visitors running down the passageway cut through the grey rock to Ruthin Road. With our pocket money clutched in our hands we were after a few sweets, although they were mostly gritty boiled sweets which scratched our tongues. Chocolate had all but disappeared and was a rare treat.

From time to time my mother would buy salt or icing sugar, if she could get it, which both came in large, rock-hard, rectangular blocks. David and I had the task of breaking them down into chunks with a knife and using a rolling pin to crush them into a usable form. It was quite hard work and we had to watch our fingers. However in July 1940 a complete ban was put on the making or selling of iced cakes so that left only the salt to deal with, which wasn’t often.

Occasionally precious supplies of margarine, sugar and dried egg would be saved up to make a cake or a little toffee as a treat. I remember my mother making our small butter ration go further by beating milk into it – quite hard work, but worth it for the little extra it gave us.

We collected our meat allowance from from Ifor Morris’ little butcher’s shop at the bottom of Wesley Road and very occasionally had a chicken from a relative who had a smallholding just outside the village. We had to keep quiet about that.

Milk deliveries in the country were rather different from what we had known in London, still brought by a horse-drawn vehicle, but it was a farm cart rather than the Express Dairy milk float.  And no bottles. The milk was brought straight from the local farm in large metal churns and dispensed into jugs or little churns which we took out into the lane when we heard the horse and cart arrive.

‘MILK!!’ Meilir or Arthur Hughes used to call and then dole out the right amount with a measure on a long handle. Meilir was strict and gave the exact amount but Arthur often slipped a little extra in the jug if there was room. And sometimes he had sweets in his pocket for us children.

Then, if my aunt was in the right mood she would perform her party piece. She could swing the little pint churn, filled to the brim with foaming milk, round and round her head without spilling a drop. We watched in open-mouthed amazement every time as she swung it, chuckling and whooping all the while. We never discovered the secret of how it was done but were always enchanted when she responded to our cries of ‘Swing the milk, Bombom, swing the milk!’

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