Memories and Anecdotes
Tales and stories of people and events past from local raconteurs and researched material

   

Robin Whitchurch came to live in the Gardens Cottage on the Maesllwch Estate as a young boy in 1946. His father, Fred, was employed there as Head Gardener until 1959 and his mother, Kate, took a major part in all village activities, especially the W.I.
Robin attended Coed-y-bolen Primary and Llandrindod Wells Grammar Schools. On leaving school he joined the Royal Navy and later the Canadian Navy and has lived in Canada since the early 1960s
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Robin Whitchurch on growing up in Glasbury

My first impressions of Glasbury-on-Wye were of sunshine, rhododendrons, and lots of wide open space. This would have been 15 April 1945 when, as a six-year-old, my mother Kate Whitchurch, with David, John and I in tow, arrived from Hertfordshire, there to join my father Fred. He had been in Glasbury I suppose for some months, and as best I can remember was sent there by the War Agricultural Committee to assist in cloning in the local orchards, as well as the day-to-day running of Maesllwch Castle Gardens.

WW2 was within a few months of concluding – May was Victory in Europe and August Victory in Japan. As it was, there were many children in Coed-y-bolen School (Mr. Gwyn Evans, headmaster, Miss Jones looking after some of the middle classes and Miss Coles taking care of the youngest kids in their own room) who had been evacuated from the London area. They would remain for some months yet, but would ultimately return to their parents homes (if not bombed out). We, on the other hand, were there for the long haul.

And so it was, this enduring memory of lots of new people to meet, a wondrously green environment in which to live, play and go to school in. It was also a time of strict rationing still, all over the country – ration cards for all manner of things people needed on a day-to-day basis. Not that I can honestly recall it, but have no doubt that the mere ability to eat fresh vegetables from the garden, all kinds of fruits and nuts – all of this must have been a nirvana for my parents at the time. Mind you, I still cannot eat beetroots, radishes or onions, all of which someone tried for years to convince me were good for me!!

The castle at that time was occupied by young women who were in the Land Army – it was their billeting station, from which daily they would go to various places in the surrounding area to perform duties that men might normally have done – men who were off at war, serving their country in so many different ways. I’ve often wished that I were sixteen then and not six – all of those nubile young ladies, far away from home, in the prime of their lives!! No wonder I can still remember a fairly steady stream of servicemen, many from Australia or Canada, cycling up to the Castle!! Many a liaison was made no doubt, some even permanently. War will do that to you, yes?

There were a number of land girls working at the Gardens – a few who I recall. If I am not mistaken, they remained there for a couple of years after the war concluded, indeed. Particularly I remember Irene (Pip) Donne, who came from the Elephant and Castle area of London, and who later married Selwyn Gwynne. I saw Pip in about 1996 at her shop in Talgarth. Margaret (Maggie) Jones was a Welsh girl, who also worked at the Garden, later to marry George Cootes. Another name would be Dorothy (Dot)….., who was from the Liverpool area, and subsequently married Sid Lane. Last but not least of my memories of those girls would be Hilda, a tall girl from where I have no idea, but as a six-year-old had a helluva crush on her!! She surely must have been impressed – a tousled-haired six-year-old fancying her, in his own way!

Going to school at Coed-y-bolen was nothing like today, where kids are chauffeured in their parents fancy Chelsea Tractors from the front door to the school door. Not for us hardy little tykes. It was a fair walk from the Gardens, down the driveway and past Charlie and Mildred Lloyds’ Harrow Lodge, past the Ralphs Shop and over the bridge, up Treble Hill and once at the top, seeing the school down in the dip a little, and if you looked to the right, a fantastic view of the river as it came down from Boughrood and Llyswen. Once at school, order was imparted upon us by Mr. Evans. He was originally from Ammanford, and had some fingers missing on one hand. However, this did not prevent him being from being accurate and compelling when he had occasion to wield the cane!!

Those days were happy days when I look back at them – break time was spent kicking a ball around the green space, at the end of which was a lot of bracken and overgrowth that also allowed for games of a different kind – imagining that we were driving large lorries to and fro, with all of the gear-changing noises one could make. Or hiding in them, some being the baddies (generally, the Germans at that time) or the good guys, hunting them down. The school yard, right by the kitchen where Mrs Whittle concocted our midday meals (and I can still smell the boiling cabbage and peas!!) – this area often became a boxing ring, and I have particular memories of trying to emulate Bruce Woodcock (the heavyweight champion of the day), having a go with the likes of Vince Cootes – a good scrapper without doubt – or Charlie Day – we had some ding-dong do’s in those days, before they would be stopped by the arrival of a teacher, no doubt alerted by the encouraging shouts of our respective supporters. Luckily, we all ended up being good friends, thank heavens. Scrapping in those days was much more genteel or cleaner than what one hears about these days.

Someone thought playing rugby would be a good idea, as well. The only memory I have of that is attempting to bring down Raymond Havard with a tackle from the side and behind, only to have his hobnailed boot catch me in the jaw! I think I was off school for a few days after that, and though the jaw was not broken, it DID sustain some kind of crack, the scars of which I still bear today. Needless to say, my enthusiasm for rugby died that day, and has remained so ever since, other than to occasionally watch it on TV when Wales are playing!!

It was about this time that Dinky Toys became the rage – those wonderfully crafted toys, quite accurately made with sturdy metal, and tyres that actually smelled of tyres, that you could slip off at will if so inclined. My mum would buy them for me very occasionally when she went to Grant’s in Hay on market days – Thursdays. I had quite a collection – all the way from sports cars, lorries that you could put goods in to haul, pick-up trucks – buses even. They were a very well made toy, and most boys had a collection of them, some of which would get swapped for another vehicle or item of desire. Dinky toys didn’t seem to last too many years – possibly ten or twelve perhaps – superseded by Matchbox toys, which always seemed to me to be poor facsimiles. Mind you, by that time I had long gone into the Royal Navy, so it was not an issue.

The village at that time, there were few shops. For sweets and the like, newspapers and so on, there was the store by the Cenotaph which was run by Mr. and Mrs. Ralphs. They also sold Wall’s Ice Cream, which was a luxury to me. On Brook Road, Mrs. Saunders ran what I recall as a notions shop – bolts of cloth, needles and thread, and if I am not mistaken, a place for ladies to purchase their hygienic products from on a regular basis. It was never a place that I much needed to be, obviously.

Next to Ralphs was Dai Bennett’s shoe repair shop – up a couple of steps and into this wonderfully smelling place where leather was shaped, glued and made into decent footwear again. Those steps are etched in my mind, but that story is not for telling today.

On the corner, the Post Office – run by my good friend Sheila Morgan’s mum Jeannie who was a wonderful woman, and I think she also had some goods like cheeses there. Likely she might have sold milk too, because behind the house was a farm and dairy shed ably run by Roche, when he returned from the war. Many is the time he would call you to look into the shed door, only to be splattered by fresh milk right from the cow, as he urged their issue into a bucket. Roche was a good shot with those teats – he rarely missed giving it to you right in the eye!!

Down the road from there was Jim Thomas’s garage. Jim and Mame had a nice house built there, alongside the garage where Jim would do all kinds of mechanical things to vehicles. He had run the Forge for many years prior, and was a well-respected blacksmith. They also ran a taxi service from that location. Just behind the garage there sat an old surplus army vehicle, which I spent some time in, likely trying to emulate the 8th Armies advance against Rommel.

Once across Glasbury bridge, there was Mr. Meale’s shop – where I would be required to drop in my mothers grocery list for delivery on Fridays. The shelves were stacked high with teas and all manner of groceries, the smells of which would conjure up all kinds of lovely memories. He had a cheese slicer there – if you wanted two ounces or six ounces or what, Mr. Meale could wield that wire and handle cutter with great accuracy, wrapping the product up in waxed paper with a twist to it so as to stay fresh. Breads and other baked goods were available, and might have been the cause of an occasional rollicking from my mother upon arrival at the Gardens, because sometimes the crusty bits would somehow have disappeared on the long walk up the drive. Magic, I suppose.

Past Fred Pugh's garage on the corner, where I would often drop off the Accumulator Battery for charging on the way to school and picked up on my return (so as to enable us to listen to Aunty BBC radio reporting on the Test Matches in some foreign place, or a title fight from Harringay Arena or the Royal Albert Hall), we would next find Mrs. Jeff’s shop. She also had a wonderful array of sweets there. However, Mrs. Jeff’s was not only a little bit portly, but had to come all the way up the stairs to get to the shop, alerted by the loud ringing of the bell on the door when you entered. Unfortunately, I think it likely gave ample time for some of the kids to relieve Mrs. Jeff’s of a little profit for her efforts. She was a kind soul, and I imagine might know who the occasional perpetrator was.

Between Pugh’s garage and the Harp Inn, right besides the cottages where Mrs. Jeff’s held sway in the middle, was a shed – a black-painted shed if memory serves me correctly. And this shed holds different memories, for it was a carpenter’s work area, where coffins were made when someone passed away. You knew a person had gone on to another life by the sounds of wood being planed, nails being banged and so on. I cannot remember the man’s name but can clearly see his face even today – he lived with his sister at the Telephone Exchange just down the road from Mrs. Jeff’s. One could always tell there had been a funeral that he had been involved in, exuding the decorum demanded of such an occasion, but later that night would enjoy some of the fruits of his labour with a good drink at The Harp.

One of the enduring memories I have from those couple of years after arriving in Glasbury was that there were Prisoners of War working in various places, some in the Gardens. These men were from Germany, Italy and I believe Czechoslovakia (though I could be wrong in that one), and were trucked in from their place of internment on a daily basis, to assist with the requisite labours of the area – some on farms, some in the Gardens and so on. They were a decent bunch, and no doubt pleased to be imprisoned in such an environment in comparison to their homelands. Two who stand out in my memory were Louis and Angelo, both from Italy. Louis was a big, strong chap, and he used to make me laugh by balancing on the tailgate of the lorries taking them around. Angelo was very nice to me too, and helped me get rides on the back of the big carthorse down the drive – Bowler he was named. They stayed in touch with my father for quite a number of years after returning to their homelands.
One of the other benefits of having POW’s in the village was, some of them were very good football players, and so they added a different, international dimension to some of the local games. Some of them married local girls and came to live back in the area.

In conclusion, let me just make the following observations and opinions.

Those days, for me, were of the halcyon kind. Whilst I was born near London, as were my parents and my two older brothers, it was Glasbury that was the foundation of my upbringing. It provided me with endless hours of rain, sun, wind and warmth. It gave me whatever education I had. On that particular point, I look back and think how much better I could have done, had I applied myself more to the lessons of the books than the lessons of sport – particularly in my case, athletics and boxing. But it also provided me with friendships, some of which have endured to this day, some sixty-five or more years later. My love for the listening of a good Welsh Male Voice Choir is beyond comparison. The lumps in the throat at hearing “Calon Lan” or “Myfanwy”, the quietly-hidden tears of anything to do with my homeland – these are indelibly etched into my soul, my fantastic memories, my whole being.

By the age of nineteen, I had travelled fully halfway around the world – yet still Glasbury for me meant and means home, solitude, love, much hiraeth. It is where, when this old chattel of a body wants to rest, the ashes of it will be scattered amongst the bracken and fern beside Ffynnongynydd Common, there to forever listen to the birds singing in the trees, the lambs and sheep bleating in the fields, the stream down by the road toward Cwmbach running gently over the rocks – and there, my fervent wish would be to lay forever, and if lucky – very lucky – hearing “Cwm Rhondda” or “Hen Wlad fy Nhadau” off in the distance.