The Waun cottage and the Jones family
An article by Steve Jones recalling his times and memories of family and friends activity at the Waun

   

Life at the Waun before the 1950’s


Up to the mid 1950’s, the Waun had had a variety of tenants, including at one time, the Nawed family. Johnny Nawed once recounted a story, which may be untrue. Looking through a hole in the bedroom floor, he spied his mother giving birth to a new sibling. Happy days.
In the cottage there were three downstairs rooms and two bedrooms. No one knows the age of the place, but it was probably built sometime between 1750 and 1850. It was roughly built of stone and like so many workmen’s cottages was erected on the edge of common land. One meaning of the Welsh word, Waun, is a common. Although it was subsequently fenced in, the name is still evidenced today. Both Llwynpenderi and the adjoining farm, the Gaer, refer to their “common field”.
The roof was originally tiled with local sandstone. These tiles were very heavy and partly replaced by Welsh slate in the railway age. The water supply was a well next to the road near the end of the Waun garden, which was intermittent and would dry up at the first sign of a drought. There was a pipe running to the house, but originally the water was carried. One lady was brought up in the Waun in the 1940’s and she could recall carrying the water by hand for the 50 yards or so. Hard work.
It was fortunate that the Waun had not been “condemned” in the early 1950’s. One theory for its survival was the fact that there were people in residence and condemning it would have rendered them homeless.
In 1958, the Waun had been unoccupied for a year or so and Maurice was using the place as a grain store. The mice must have loved it.
So how did a teacher and his family from Birmingham come to rent a small cottage above Ffynnon Gynydd, near Glasbury for over 50 years and how did the life of the area change in that time, when looked at through the eyes of the one of the tenants ?

A Teacher with little money

Born in 1914, Frank Jones became teacher in Birmingham and, for a while, was a secondary school head. He had a colleague who rented a cottage somewhere in Wales which Frank thought was a good idea. There were long holidays, but not too much money to spend on them. Somehow, he heard of a place near Llanidloes, but at £22 (in 1957), the annual rent was beyond his reach. That place is now submerged behind the Clywedog dam.
For part of the Second World War, Frank was stationed in Swansea. Keeping friends with two ladies who lived there, Frank took his wife, Margaret Joyce, and his three children for bucket and spade holidays each year. Before the coming of the motorways, Hay-on-Wye was approximately half way between Birmingham and Swansea. Now Frank liked his beer and in 1958, he stopped off at The Three Tuns in Hay for a pint. The lady behind the bar was Lucy Powell and she remained the landlady for many years afterwards.
There Frank met a local teacher, Mr Summers, who lived at Glasbury House and Frank asked him about places to rent in the area  There were several potential cottages and the Waun was top of the list. Frank found and met the owner, Maurice Price of Llwynpenderi. Maurice was reluctant at first, but eventually agreed that Frank could rent the place for 12 months, starting in July 1958. The rent was set at £7 10 shillings and a similar amount was payable in council tax, then called rates. An important factor for Maurice was that Frank was a schoolteacher, which made him respectable. It has been extraordinary that this informal tenancy arrangement remained in place, and was later carried on by their children when Maurice and Frank passed away.
At that time Maurice owned other unoccupied properties nearby. The cottage at Cwm ddu was empty, but was later sold by Maurice and modernised. The future of Cilkenny Farmhouse was different. It remained unoccupied and was used as a barn for hay and was never developed. This was partly as a result of Cilkenny having no vehicular access. Eventually the roof collapsed, and today, only partial walls and the chimney stack are still standing. If you visit the place, the site feels both lonely and beautiful.

Electricity arrives, but no flush toilet

In 1958, lighting at the Waun was by hurricane lamp or by a Tilley pressurised paraffin lamp. The Joneses cooked on two primus stoves. Heating was by the single open fire. Some coal was purchased, but the Prices were generous in providing wood for them to cut up and burn.
The area was first electrified around 1960 by Frank who was never afraid to take on a new project. He asked an electrician working at his Birmingham school for a wiring plan and with great self-confidence he set about wiring the Waun for the first time. The result was good. Nothing blew up and an independent safety inspection was passed.
Indoor toilet facilities consisted of nothing more than a potty under the bed. There was no bathroom and the only toilet was basically a bucket in a small tin shed next to the garden. In 1958, some other properties in the area had little better, but by the 1980’s almost everyone had a flush toilet. Despite this, the Waun was not brought up to date. Neither Maurice, Frank nor their children were willing to spend the money. There was no point.

The last cider brew

It was 1961 when farmhouse cider was last produced at Llwynpenderi. A daily allowance of cider used to be part of a farm worker’s wage. Old maps showed an apple orchard adjoining most farmhouses in the area and Llwynpenderi was no exception. There were two orchards, together with a walnut tree and several large pear trees around the place. However cider making was dying out. Maurice and his wife drank very little, if at all, but the resident farm helper, Holder, was partial to a drop.
One evening, in his Land Rover, Maurice visited a man in Painscastle with several fingers missing. He could provide the cider making equipment. I joined the team collecting the apples, which were mostly strewn on the orchard floor.
Come the day, the equipment was set up. One machine was belt driven by a tractor and it chopped the apples into a mush. The other piece of kit was a wooden platform with an outlet and sheets of coconut matting. One sheet was placed on the platform, and the mush was bucketed on top. The sheet was then folded to form an envelope. The process was repeated until there was a pile of envelopes, one on top of the other. A wooden board was then placed on top of the stack. The contraption had a frame and a screw at the top. This was turned by two men using a long horizontal pole.
As the screw bore down, out came the juice. Cupping my hand, I drank more than my fair share. It was delicious and caused my hand to turn a red colour. I paid for my greed later with a bout of diarrhoea. There were over a dozen other helpers and onlookers, who were either curious or looking to take home some of the juice. The cider was stored in wooden barrels in the cellar of the old Llwynpenderi house. It had been unoccupied for the last decade. Sadly the building had to be demolished in the 1980’s because it was unsafe. I recall an old lintel above a door that had the date of 1697 carved into it.
A few months after the cider making, I joined Aubrey and Ivor to draw off some of the liquid. The resultant cider was only just drinkable, being too acidic. However, it made you drunk soon enough. Perhaps we were not careful enough about cleanliness. I don’t remember much attention being given to cleaning the apples or washing in general. Maybe proper old fashioned cider was always like that. It needed a strong stomach.

Last Train to Glasbury

I travelled to Glasbury station in the dying days of Steam. Like my brothers, I loved to spend much of my school holidays at the rented Waun cottage. Aubrey and Ivor were approximately the same age as myself and had become life-long friends. Brought up at Llwynpenderi, they eventually took over their fathers farming business.
In 1962, I wanted to spend the remaining Christmas holiday at the Waun, but was too young to live there on my own. However, it was agreed that I could stay at Llwynpenderi. On 27 December 1962, Frank dropped me off at Snow Hill station in Birmingham. Buying a ticket to Glasbury, Frank was surprised to learn that his son was lucky to be travelling at all. The line from Hereford was to be closed in the next few days.
Everyone remembers that the Beeching Report precluded the closure of hundreds of railway lines in the 1960’s. He got the blame, but the truth was that he was just the messenger. Ordinary families (including Frank’s) could increasingly afford a motor car for the first time. In any event, the line through Glasbury had been earmarked for closure before the Beeching recommendations were published.
During the train journey from Birmingham to Glasbury, the snow started to fall. This was the start of the winter of 1962/3, and there has not been a worse one since.
At Whitney on Wye station, everyone had to get off the train and board a bus to Hay as the metal railway bridge, just upstream from the toll bridge, was in a state of disrepair. Presumably, this was a contributing factor to the closure of the line. At Hay, we all got on the train again and I got off at the next stop at Glasbury.

Towering snowdrifts

It was a long walk from Glasbury station to Llwynpenderi, especially if it is snowing and you are carrying a heavy rucksack. Fortunately, Ivor Price appeared on a tractor as I reached Ffynnon Gynydd and he gave me a lift to Llwynpenderi. I was of little help around the farm and the Prices had enough to do coping with the weather.
As the snow fell over the following days, conditions became much worse and the country lanes became impassable due to the hedge high snow drifts. One east facing bedroom at Llwynpenderi had a vent in the wall. I remember that snow blew through the vent and formed a small pile on the floor. It was so cold that it did not melt straightaway.
It was my time to leave when the Birmingham schools were about to start again. Frank was to pick me up by car, but he could only get his car as far as Llowes. All the minor roads above were still blocked by snow. Not even the tractors could get through now. Consequently, the only way out was to walk the two miles or so down the valley. Some drifts towered above me and most of the lanes were full of snow up to the top of the hedges. For me it was an adventure, but they were very different and difficult times for the farmers.

Walls nearly falling down

Around 1971, the outer skin of the wall above the front door was bulging badly. Steve, (that’s me and Frank’s youngest son) helped by Val, his wife to be, and some friends decided to put it right. The bulge was taken down stone by stone and whilst working, the mummified remains of several dead mice were found. They made a strange sight. During rebuilding, a message was put in a bottle in amongst the replaced stones. It is probably still there.
The only major structural change during our 56 year occupation was done in 2006. The west wall was bulging and this was far more serious proposition than the previous one. The whole wall needed to be rebuilt. The then owners were Maurice’s two sons, Aubrey and Ivor Price. They repaired the wall and took the opportunity to raise the roof by approximately one metre at the same time.

200 feet and still no water

In 1992, Aubrey and Ivor Price decided to have a bore hole dug just behind the Waun. As well as giving the Waun reliable water, it would also supply the animal troughs in their fields.
The Jones family were not present when the drilling started. This was fortunate as there was probably a lot of dust and noise. The deal with the contractor was that he would only get paid if water was found.
The project did not go well for the contractor. Deeper and deeper went the drilling, but no water was found. The drillers were on the point of giving up. The depth they had reached was nearly the same level as Glasbury village. Suddenly, when water was struck, it rose in a tall column up the hole. The supply has been reliable ever since and the quality is so good, you could sell the stuff. Pity the users of the mains water supply in the valley, who have to put up with treated river water.

56 years of landscape changes

The hill farms around the Waun made (and still make) their main living from sheep and cattle rearing. The differences between 1958 and 2014 have been the advance in mechanisation and the decline in subsidiary husbandry. In 1958, pigs, hens, ducks, geese and horses were all kept at Llwynpenderi. These animals were important, but did not provide the main source of income. By 2000, they had gone. However since then, one horse has been kept for recreation and laying hens have returned.
Working horses began to disappear in the 1940’s as tractors became affordable. Furthermore, many labour intensive practices disappeared. These included hedge laying and the moving by hand of feed and fodder. It is hard to imagine today, carrying a large sack of grain on your back, up a flight of stairs. However that was how the stuff was moved in 1958.
Most of the field pattern has not changed. The greatest changes to the local landscape have been :-
- The growth in the size of farm buildings, which was encouraged by subsidies. Larger buildings meant greater efficiency as animal feed and muck could be shifted mechanically, instead of using a hand fork.
- The lowering of the average hedge height, which in the 1950’s could be 3 metres or more.
- The grubbing out of cider orchards, as there are fewer labourers.
- The increase in woodland on some common land. For instance, Bryn Rhydd common is no longer grazed and the tree cover is becoming more extensive.
- The views of the valley farms in May now contain a spread of deep yellow patches. These are oil seed rape and were unheard of as a crop some years ago.
- The death of so many elm trees in the 1970’s, following disease.
Winter animal feed has changed. Gone are the mangels and turnips which were harvested by hand and involved much hard work. Grain for cattle feed is now bought in, rather than grown on the farms because subsidy payments favour this. The main way of preserving grass has also changed. Hay is still produced, but most grass is kept as winter feed in the form of silage.

2014 – Time for change


Maurice Price and Frank Jones died in the 1990’s and after this the informal Waun tenancy had been continued by Aubrey and Ivor. By 2014, the Price brothers were nearing a possible retirement age and the Waun needed to be sold.
It had been a wonderful holiday home for the Jones family and I shall always be grateful to the Prices for letting us have use of the place.
For the purposes of the auction held in July 2014, the brothers increased the foot print of the Waun and its overgrown garden (my neglect) to 0.4 acres. It was sold for £254,000, which put it out of reach of many locals who were interested. The new owner is a vet from Cheltenham who will again use it as a holiday home. I wish him well.


Steve Jones
October 2014 Birmingham



Outside the Waun in the 1990's - Malcolm Randell,
David Duffy, Trevor Carter,Martin Smith, Steve Jones
Courtesy of Malcolm Randell


 


Cilkenny Farmhouse in the early 1980's
It was last occuppied in1955, then used as a barn
Courtesy of Malcolm Randell


 


Cilkenny Farmhouse around 2005, now a ruin
Courtesy of Malcolm Randell


 


The Waun Toilet
Courtesy of Malcolm Randell


 


Afternoon tea at the Waun
Dave Clinton, Steve Jones, Phil Tranter, ChrisYork,
Tony Grant, Martin Smith in the foreground
Courtesy of Malcolm Randell


 


Cycling the Brecon canal 1990's - Adrian Stanway,
Steve Jones, Martin Smith, Malcolm Randell, Dave
Wingrove,Trevor Carter, Les Griffiths, David Yates.
Courtesy of Malcolm Randell


 


Inside entertainment - David Duffy, Paul Fahy on guitar,
David Yates, Malcolm Randell.
Courtesy of Malcolm Randell


 


The start of the wall and roof work in June 2006
Courtesy of Malcolm Randell


 


The work continues on the west wall - June 2006
Courtesy of Malcolm Randell


 


The Waun prior to it's sale in 2014
B Bowker - 29/08/2011

 


The Lads last w/e meet at the Waun in November 2014
Back row    -       Al Jones,  Trevor Carter, David Yates,
Les Griffith, Martin Smith, Chris York
Front row - Dave Duffy, Malcolm Randell, Steve Jones
Dave Clinton, Mark Fisher.
Courtesy of Malcolm Randell