Caerleon Net
Caerleon Remembered - Family Life At Blaentaf
- back -
- home -


My Grandfather Williams (my mother's father) farmed two farms: Blaentaff Cantref, the last farm in the valley at the foot of the Brecon Beacons; and Cwmcynwyn the first farm after crossing over the Beacons through Bwlch a Fan on to the Brecon side (the North side). A parish road, which climbed almost two thousand feet and passed between two high mountains, connected the two farms.

Grandfather, or Granch as he was affectionately called, was a sheep farmer. I believe he had about two thousand Welsh mountain sheep between the two farms. We also bred pure bred Welsh mountain cobs, prefix Blaentaff in the stud book.

The parish road was much used by the family and shepherds. Although it was maintained by the parish the family would also tend to it, for after heavy storms in the Winter large ruts would appear, so it was to their benefit to fill them in with stones etc to keep the road passable. At one point a viaduct crossed over a small valley called Cwm Llysiog, but after Granch left Blaentaff and moved to Caerleon the road soon became rutted, the viaduct collapsed and it is not passable any more.

I have heard many stories of shepherding on the Beacons and of the severe winters and weather they had to contend with. In the wintertime they built small shelters here and there on the mountainside, with stones scattered about the ground, to enable them to shelter from sudden storms or severe wind, or to attend to the sheep if need be.

I've heard Dad say that on bitter, windy days when passing through the Bwlch or Gap they would dismount and walk on the lee side of the horse and cling to the stirrup leather to prevent them from being blown away. The Gap was fairly narrow, not much wider than the road, a passage way through the mountains, the wind howling and whistling through causing a terrible draught. They would wear small shawls over their heads to protect their faces from sudden hail storms.

They had great respect for the mountains and all its moods. They endured such as fog descending, leaving them enveloped in a still, silent, eerie, strange world, completely lost. Although they knew every inch of the mountainside, they had great respect for it. For apart from the fog there was another hazard, bogs, which were most treacherous, and so they would leave it to the ponies' instincts to get them out of trouble and safely out of the fog.

When my Great Granpa was widowed, he came to live at Blaentaff. He had lived in the Sennybridge area for many years, and was a tailor but of farming stock. He lived to be 99 years old. When he was in his early nineties he was asked by farmers in the area to attend a High Court case, regarding a dispute of boundaries on the hill in that area. Going to London in those days was an adventure, stories of thieving and pickpockets were rife, so there was some anxiety over letting him go. However, the day before they went he got his sewing thread out, waxed it as he always did, placed his money in the inner pocket of his jacket, and sewed it up securely, much to the amusement of the two farmers who teased him. "Ah," he said, "Better be safe than sorry." As it turned out he had the last laugh, as both of them had their pockets picked leaving them without any money, so they had to turn to Great Grandfather to borrow money which was safely sewn in his pocket.

Great Grandfather pioneered Sunday School in the Glyn Valley, at the ancient little church there. Much controversy was caused when it was demolished without permission from the authorities, a few years ago. Sadly only a memorial stone marks the spot today.

Great Grandfather rode his pony there, approximately five miles, every Sunday. He was helped to mount his horse at home, and again to dismount on arrival at the church. He attended every Sunday until the year before he died, aged 99 years. He was presented with a 'Thomas Gee' medal for his good work.

Shearing was a very busy time. The men from Blaentaff would go to help Cwmcynwyn and vice versa. My mother always rode side-saddle a stallion named 'Whitland Dick'. On one occasion she rode over to Cwmcynwyn at shearing time with a basket of extra china on her arm. Whilst riding through the Gap some shale tumbled down the mountainside and frightened the horse causing it to bolt, but my mother was soon able to control him. Later, on inspection of the basket, it was found to be intact not a thing broken, mother had packed it so tightly and well.

Mam and Dad were both good riders, most days they rode over rough terrain, one depended on being able to ride. The nearest town was Dowlais seven miles away. Imagine having to ride seven miles or having to ride a pony trap to fetch a doctor when someone was ill!

My father was quite well educated for those times, a little over a hundred years ago. He was born in the village of Penderyn, near Hirwaun Breconshire, and attended the village school until he was twelve years old. His father, who was the village blacksmith and wheelwright, then sent him to an academy in Aberdare to learn English for one year. Welsh being the only language spoken in the area at that time. Father was always well spoken. He was then sent to a well known public school in Pontypridd as a day boy. His elder sister, Gwen, was married and living in Pontypridd. He stayed with her, and so was able to attend school each day. The school was demolished a few years ago, to make way for a new by-pass road.

Doctor Price

At the time Dad attended school in Pontypridd, there lived a very eccentric man, a Doctor Price. His wife and two children, a son and daughter, lived on the mountainside overlooking Pontypridd. The son's name was Jesus, which horrified the locals.

Doctor Price was a very intelligent man, he was a poet and a bard, but most eccentric. He dressed oddly, he lived in a world of his own beliefs and ideals. They lived like hermits, very rarely seen or going to town.

One day Dad went to have his photograph taken and was about to leave when the door opened and in walked Doctor Price, his wife and two young children. He was dressed most oddly in a sheepskin Davy Crocket style hat, and some sort of sheepskin or goatskin garment. He had a grey beard and was a striking looking figure. Dad was so excited (he was only 14), having heard so many weird tales of the eccentric man but not having seen him before, and here he was in the same room. He couldn't get home quickly enough to tell his sister and family.

Some time later, after this rare sight, Doctor Price's son became ill. Doctor Price attended to him himself, but unfortunately he died. But, instead of burying his son, he built a wood pyre and cremated him on the mountainside, much to the horror of the locals who thought it an awful sin. I suppose it was the first cremation in the area and the fore-runner of present day cremations, which seem to be on the increase.

About twenty five years ago I saw a programme on television about the life of Doctor Price. I found it most interesting after hearing Dad's tales about him.

On leaving school Dad wanted to be a metallurgist and was to be apprenticed to the large iron works in Dowlais to learn about making different kinds of metals. Unfortunately there was not a vacancy for that year, but he was to be enrolled the following year. During that year he took a job with a Mr Jenkins, a notable figure in Dowlais who owned much of the property in the area and was also the proprietor of a large ironmongery business selling anything from screws, nuts and bolts, china, silver ware and all kinds of kitchen furniture to machinery for supplying the iron works, also farm machinery.

Dad enjoyed the work there, and when the work year ended he decided to stay with Mr Jenkins and be properly apprenticed, he was 16 or 17 years old. He stayed with Mr Jenkins and family and was treated like a son. Mr Jenkins had a son and daughter. Dad stayed with them for a couple of years then went into digs. His fellow boarder was training to be an artist, and it was he who painted the large picture of the lion and lioness which hung in the dining room at the Tan House. He also painted a study in different shades of grey of cockle fishing, which hung in the hall, and now hangs in my cottage.

Around this time the horse drawn mowing machine came into being. Dad sold the first mowing machine in the Penderyn area and also demonstrated it. What a relief for the farmers it must have been to just let the machine do the work, as opposed to the backbreaking job of scything.

When Mr Jenkins began to ail Dad became manager of the business and agent for all his property.

My Family

My mother was born at Blaentaff Cantref, Breconshire. Her mother died when she was five years old. Granch employed a housekeeper, Ann, who stayed with him for many years and died at Tan House Caerleon. When Mother grew older she would go to Dowlais to do the shopping and so she would purchase things from the ironmonger's, and that is how she met Dad. Eventually they married quite young, I believe about 21 years old. They were a devoted couple, and over the years they had eleven children (seven girls and four boys) of whom I was the tenth child. They were married for 52 years.

My brother Rees and two small sisters died before I was born. Rees was fourteen years old, he had mastoid of the ear. An operation was successful, but he developed pneumonia and died. Bronwen had acute croup, and died aged three years. Cecilia developed measles, the rash came out quite thickly, but after an hour or so turned inwardly, causing inflammation and she too died.

What a sad time for my parents to lose three children, the two little ones fairly close together, Rees a few years later. Gladys died at Tan House a few years later, she had been ailing from rheumatoid arthritis, I was about nine or ten years old and can just remember her.

John, Rachel, Jennet, Rees, Morgan William, Bronwen, Cecilia and Gladys were all born at Blaentaff. When the older children became of school age my parents bought a house in Dowlais, number 13 Wimbourne Street, to enable them to attend school.

Cecil and I were born in Dowlais; Megan at Tan House, also Ken, born at Tan House Caerleon, where the family moved when Granch died.

When my mother's brother married he took over Cwmcynwyn. He had two daughters, Cissy and Pats, and one son Bryn. Bryn lived with us in Dowlais during the week to attend school, otherwise he may not have had any schooling. John hated Dowlais, so as soon as school finished on Friday afternoon he and Bryn would race to the station to catch the train to Torpantau Station, the nearest station to Blaentaff, and walk the rest of the way home. John loved the life at Blaentaff. There was plenty of company with two or three shepherds living in. He loved the life with the sheep and horses and in later life became an excellent horseman, breaking in the wild ponies and carthorses, and was an excellent rider too. He had his own pony 'Snowdrop' and as a boy of thirteen years old rode in lots of Gallaway Races in the area. Snowdrop was unbeaten and ran against very good horses in the Swansea area. But unfortunately she broke her fetlock in a pothole whilst grazing and had to be destroyed.

I'm told that Granch had a special saddle made for John with a wicker backrest, similar to a chair back, when he was just over two years old. John was strapped to the backrest and so was able to accompany, on his own pony, Granch on the low lying ground each day. It is not surprising that he loved the mountains and the area so much from an early age.

My cousin never attended school. She would accompany her father, on her own pony, at a very young age shepherding on the Beacons all day. She knew her sheep well and in later years was as good a shepherd as any of the men. Pats carried her flask of whisky as they all did to ward off the cold, and ever afterwards was fond of a tot of whisky.

My mother and her brother, Uncle Rhys, attended school in Brecon. Fortunately they had an aunt and uncle living in Bilea the next farm down towards Brecon from Cwmcynwyn so they were able to stay with them during the week, walking the four miles to school each day and four miles returning home each evening. The roads were very rough so they wore hobnailed boots, changing into shoes on arrival at school.

Caerleon Net
- back -

Memories of Caerleon Past:

[ Brian Blythe ] [ Mary Isobel Davies ] [ Cosette Allsopp ] [ Lionel Turner ] [ Lyndon Watts ] [ Evacuee Mavis Robinson ]