Caerleon Remembered - The Tan House
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The Tan House, Mill Street, was in the Seventeenth Century a tan yard of fell mongers, curing sheep skins and hides.
The grounds around abound with springs - fresh water, in plentiful supply was needed for curing the skins. In the corner of the duckpond a strong spring bubbled up encased in a small grating, it never dried up, even in the driest summer.

In a very dry summer with little rain, the walls of the pits could be traced where the grass had turned yellow, from being scorched by the sun.

About fifty yards across from the pond a brook ran down through the orchard. The water was ice cold, it ran from a very strong spring. During the War the Council appealed to people to report any springs or wells on their property. My father reported ours. They needed to know for in the event of the water mains being bombed they would have alternative means on which to draw. Mr Swash the surveyor came with his men to investigate. They dug where the water bubbled up to discover a large grating one yard square through which the water came. After clearing the silt away around the grating, sand was found. When the water was analysed it was found to be absolutely pure and free from any pollution whatsoever. Upon further investigation, beyond the head of the brook, a large tunnel was discovered through which a strong stream flowed. The stone work was in remarkably good condition.

We grew a large bed of watercress in the brook. Watercress needs plenty of clean running water in which to grow, so the conditions were ideal. It was lovely to be able to go to the brook and cut a bunch of watercress when needed. It couldn't be fresher, straight from the brook to the table.

I loved the Tan House. It had been my home for 49 years. It was a large rambling house, with two reception rooms, hall, and stairs in the front, five bedrooms and two large attic rooms. A long stone flagged passage led from the hall to a large kitchen with a dairy and china pantry (leading off the passage) through the kitchen to the back kitchen and back door.

I was broken hearted, and suffered severe homesickness when I left after my father died. There were so many things that I missed: most of all my parents; going into the garden for fresh vegetables; collecting fresh eggs; having fresh milk straight from the cow; an occasional gallop across the fields on Peggy riding to the Garn to see John and Family; and a great miss, the lovely fires we always had in the living kitchen - there was a big black leaded grate, with two hobs and a trippet on which sat a large iron kettle, holding about a gallon of water, singing away, a lovely homely sound.

In the early days, before electric and modern ways of cooking, the cooking was done on the open fire or fireside oven. My mother was a good plain cook and made lovely things on the bakestone. She made a favourite type of tart. The mixture, similar to bakestone mixture, was rolled out in a circle the size of a bakestone, cooked through slowly, then covered with pan-cooked fruit, gooseberries, rhubarb or apple and a generous helping of sugar sprinked over it. When done it would be lifted onto a large dish and another round of mixture cooked and placed on top. After it had cooled it was cut into squares - delicious! Then there was 'Bara America' a type of batch loaf mixed with butter milk, 'Tesion Lap' and of course 'bake stones' (Welsh cakes).

Originally, probably in the 17th Century (and before the black leaded grate was installed) there was an open fire built on the floor, which burnt huge, huge logs. The cooking was done by using the spit for roasting meat. Stews, and things that needed to be boiled or simmered would be put in an iron pot, with a handle over the top, and hung onto the 'crane' over the fire. The spit was a long 'iron arm' which protruded from the wall behind the fire. It had large clockwork cogs at one end over the fire, and at the other end a spindle on which a belt would be placed, with a small iron box on the end with lubrication for 'oiling'. Apparently the lubrication was the same black powder one used (mixed with a drop of water or vinegar) for polishing the black grate. It was rather fine and slippery. At the other end of the room high up near the ceiling would be a large wooden wheel with treads, to house a special breed of small dog. The belt from the spit was attached to the wheel. The dog would tread the wheel, and so turn the spit to cook the meat which hung from it. The spit was never removed, although a black front had been installed, and when I lived there it could plainly be seen protruding out of the wall, but the 'dog wheel' was missing. I am told the Hanbury Arms had a dog wheel but not a spit. Tan House had a spit but not a dog wheel. I suppose that as the wheel was made of wood it did not survive the years.

In the winter in spite of the draughts our living kitchen was made warm and cosy for the evening. At four o'clock a huge fire was made. A huge log or 'bonk' would be put on the back of the fire, large lumps of coal placed on the front, and a three gallon bucketful of small binding coal put behind the 'bonk'. The cinders were picked up and placed on the front of the fire, which later would turn to a bright red glow, the hearth then swept and dusted. With the brass fender shining and bright, it really was a picture, and a most welcome sight on a bitterly cold night. That fire would last almost to midnight.

Jennet, my sister, drove down from Scarborough to visit bringing with her a friend, a retired lady. Miss Ogram loved visiting, but had only previously come in the summer time, on this occasion it was mid January. Megan at that time lived in Ebbw Vale and on the Sunday they decided to visit her as it was a nice bright day. So after an early dinner off they went, Dad, Jennet, Mrs Ogram and Llew, for a flying visit. At four o'clock I made up the fire as I've described, then laid the tea and went to milk the cows. It had turned bitterly cold. After milking and clearing up I went back to the house, but they had not returned. The fire had burned up brightly, with a warm red glow lighting up the room. It was a picture. So I sat in the firelight to await their return. It was so warm and relaxing that I must have fallen asleep, to be awakened by a loud shout of "Oh-ooo" and there stood Mrs Ogram in the doorway amazed at the sight of such a fire, a most welcome sight after an hour's drive in the bitter cold. During the night we had quite a heavy fall of snow.

On the following Wednesday Jennet had promised to visit Megan again. The snow and ice had not all cleared so we decided to go by train, Jennet, Mrs Ogram and me. We had to change trains at Aberbeeg. The high wall of the station was rock, and where the water oozed out of the rock it had frozen into long, thick icicles, quite a sight, Mrs O was amazed, she said, "I will always remember this visit for two things - the huge fires at Tan House, and the very thick icicles on Aberbeeg station." Jennet said she told everyone on her return home.

The Tan House had been empty for two years before Grandfather rented it from the Macworth estate. It was said to be haunted, apparently the person that lived there previously was a relieving officer, paying out money to the poor, I believe it was called 'Poor Relief'. Anyway he was found to have embezzled money, and so hung himself from an apple tree near the house. It was said that his ghost was to be seen at night… but my family lived there for many years and were about all hours of the night, and we never saw a sign of a ghost.

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Memories of Caerleon Past:

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