From the Evening Express 115 years ago today…..
by Ken Brewer
I was born in 1937, so my memories begin during the War when I was about 3 years old, and I started school. I clearly remember carrying a cardboard box that contained my gas-mask, and during school lessons the bell would go, and we were all ushered into the yard and instructed to lie lay on our stomachs in case there was an air raid. The classes in those days numbered about 40 pupils due to the influx of evacuees, so the teachers were very busy.
Abercanaid itself was very self-supporting, meeting the needs of the people who lived there. There were two bakers, a butcher and three grocery shops, plus a number of small corner shops. There was also an official ‘layer-out’ for the village, and when we saw the elderly lady in question hurrying along with her little bag, you knew someone had passed away.
What went on in the village, mostly centred around the church and the chapels. St Peter’s was the church, and the chapels were: Sion Independent Chapel, Deml Baptist Chapel and ‘my chapel’ Graig Methodist Chapel. The members of these chapels and church would regularly stage concerts and amateur dramatic performances to entertain the villagers. For the children there was ‘Band of Hope’ and ‘Rechabites’ so we rarely left the village. As children, we didn’t have chance of misbehaving – everyone knew everyone so any misdemeanours would soon reach our parents.
As in most places, the pubs outnumbered the chapels. In Abercanaid we had The Colliers Arms, The Richards Arms, The Glamorgan Arms, The Llwyn-yr-Eos Inn, the Duffryn Arms (also known as the Teapot), and in Upper Abercanaid – The White Hart.
We also had our own Police Station, Library, football ground – The Ramblers, and a Social Centre on the Canal Bank which was built by the villagers themselves. Abercanaid was also served by two Railway Stations – Pentrebach Station on the Merthyr to Cardiff line, and Abercanaid Station on the old Rhymney Line.
If anyone wanted to know where someone lived, you could tell that person, not just the street, but the exact house. Neighbours were so important, and everyone was ready to help in an emergency. During the war everything was in short supply, floor coverings consisted of home-made rag mats or coconut matting. My family were considered posh because we had some carpet mats! The items were actually hand-me-downs; my mother had worked for Price Brothers, the bakers and wholesale merchants in Merthyr, for over 25 years, so when their carpets were beginning to wear, they replaced them, and the old ones were given to my mother. Many times I came home from school to find the carpets missing from the front room – when I asked about them I was always told that “Mrs So-and-so has visitors so she has borrowed the carpets”.
Another incident I recall occurred one Sunday lunchtime. The meat was cooked, and the vegetables were ready, and my grandmother (who lived with us) was making the gravy. There was a knock at the door, and a close neighbour stood there in tears, distraught because her brother and three children had turned up from Cardiff and she didn’t have enough meat to give them for lunch. The result was that she had our meat and we managed on vegetables and gravy! I wonder if such a thing would happen today?
Things were undoubtedly hard at that time in Abercanaid, as elsewhere, but I’m sure the wonderful community in our village helped us to cope a lot better with the deprivations and stresses of the time.