Both Sides of the River
~ by Cosette Allsopp (nee Lloyd) ~
© Cosette Allsopp 2002
December 2001 - The Visit
I awoke early this morning. The air in our bedroom is cold so it is of no surprise to me when I peer out of the window to find that there is a heavy frost on the ground. Is it really a good idea to be making the journey to Caerleon today?
My idea, at least last night, was to spend the day in Caerleon so as to discover if my memory of some 48 years ago had being playing tricks on me!
By the time we have walked Rufus our dog and attended to all the things we need to attend to, it is almost nine o'clock. The early morning sun has broken through the winter fog and had begun to melt the frost on the lawn.
Packing some warm clothes, we set off on our journey to Wales.
Our journey from our home in Dorset is taking us through Wiltshire, and Gloucestershire, and is a sheer delight. The sky is almost cloudless and we anticipate a perfect day. However, as we approach the outskirts of the picturesque city of Bath, we find that the entire area is enveloped in fog!
Passing through the city, the weak sun occasionally peers through the fog, giving us brief hope of nice weather ahead.
We are to be disappointed. Ahead of us is the Severn Bridge, spanning its way across what I have always remembered as being 'the entrance to Wales' the River Severn. We pay our toll, and continue on our way. There is no turning back now.
My mind briefly returns to those winter days in the 1940's and 50's. Snow, Rain, Wind and Fog. Especially in Caerleon, dissected as it was by the river Usk.
The last, and indeed the only time I have visited Caerleon since my family moved from there to Gloucestershire in 1954 was in the autumn of 1960. I was 17years old.
We have arrived at the outskirts of Newport. It is around 11.30 am. It is bitterly cold, and thick fog is shrouding the town. A hot drink and a bite to eat seems to be a good idea!
The three or so mile journey from Newport to Caerleon begins to show signs of familiarity, and although much has changed, due to the construction of new roads over the years, the river is still there for us to follow!
In no time at all we arrive at the Bridge and I am now beginning to experience the feeling that I am coming home. We are, I am sure, only minutes away from the start of my journey as an eleven-year-old, back in 1954. However, not having been to Caerleon in a motor car before, I am unsure as to which way to go!
Following the flow of the traffic, we find ourselves in the heart of Caerleon. Memories come flooding back. I can't wait to find a suitable place to park the car and begin re-tracing my footsteps. Suddenly we find ourselves on Goldcroft Common. This will be a perfect place to begin our journey!
Luckily, I have, or at least I think I have, remembered this area of Caerleon well, as it is a route that I have taken many times before when visiting my mothers sister Marjorie and my cousin Janice who lived at the Old Sawmill, on the Usk Road. If we were to take a right turn now, I know that we shall very soon see my old Infants' School.
However, what I see is very confusing! Yes, the old school railings are still there, but what is behind those railings is the day's first surprise! The old school looks as though it has undergone a complete re-vamp! New wings have been added, and the once rather dull playground, is covered with brightly coloured child-friendly playground toys.
The old junior school next door seems to have been allocated some of the Infants' School playground and is almost completely unrecognisable! I squeeze up close to my old school railings to record on camera what I see - just in case when I return home I should think that my memory had played tricks on me!
We arrive at the Lych-Gate of St. Cadoc's Church to the sound of the Church clock striking 1 pm. It is still freezing cold so we have decided to indulge in a roast Sunday lunch. And guess where we have stopped? That mysterious wall that I had passed every day on my way to and from school, is the wall of Caerleon Priory, now an established and popular Hotel and Restaurant.
The Restaurant is bustling with activity and it seems as though half of Caerleon has taken a day off from cooking Sunday Lunch. Whilst glancing around, I can't help but wondering if any of my fellow diners are indeed school friends of yesteryear! Just in case, I will visit the ladies and powder my nose!
Warm and satisfied we leave the Priory and continue on our way.
Striding out briskly, partly to maintain our recently achieved body heat and partly to outwit the rapidly approaching end to daylight, we soon reach the Post Office. To my utter surprise the entire building is exactly how I had remembered it to be. I peer through the window, covered as it is with general village gossip faded by what must have been last summers sun. Even the outside paintwork is a faded bottle green, a favourite colour during those post war years of the 1940's and 50's.
Is this really a working Post Office I ask myself? Five days later, I was to find out. I posted a birthday card to my daughter in the equally faded post box outside and lo and behold, I was reliably informed that it had dropped on her doormat, postmarked: "9th December 2001, Caerleon Gwent"!
I just can't believe my eyes when two doors away from the post office and in the very same state of decay, complete with its broken railing, I see the village shop where I had turned my daily somersaults. Should I, for old times sake, turn just one more somersault? I think not... I can't wait to round the corner into Whitehart Lane to discover if 'my stone' is still there. It is! This time, I jump on, and fall off! Was it really this small?
When fog comes to Caerleon it comes with vengeance! We continue along Whitehart Lane completely ignorant to the fact that we have already passed my next intended port of call, Glenholm, the house that had belonged to our old friends Doris and Sandra Johnstone. Realising that we have walked too far we hurriedly turn back as I intend taking a photograph of the house for my elderly mother who now lives in Dorset.
way back in the early 1960's Sandra a new bride of just twenty, together
with her husband Michael, were tragically killed in a motor car accident.
Her mother, and her second husband Jack, (Reg, Sandra's father died
when she was quite a small child) lived in Glenholm until Jack's death
some years later. Still grieving for her daughter, Doris, although
still officially the tenant of Glenholm, she decided to go and live
with her friend Rose. Doris, sadly died back in the mid 1990's, and
after her death, the landlord sold the house.
We continue on our way to the end of the lane. Time permitting I would like to take a slight detour as it is at this point that you can join the footpath across the small field behind the Johnstones' old house and visit Caerleon's main attraction, its Amphitheatre. The field is known to me as the 'Round Table' field. Had I time to visit, perhaps Merlin would have cast his magic spell and who knows, this fog might well have just disappeared!
Time is short, so instead we cross the bridge on our way to the Old Village. The Ship Inn looks busy today!
Miss Jay's old cottage certainly looks spruced up and Diana Lawrence's house seems to have been turned into a Hotel!
We are now walking down the New Road. Suprisingly, not one of the fields that bound the road has been built on. Time certainly seems to have stood still here!
We pass a wooden gate where I remember my younger brother Nigel, aged about three being 'caught short' after returning home from a shopping trip in Newport. We later found out that earlier that morning, he had taken a liking to 'Syrup of Figs'.
The Greens' House, 'Downderry' (of green pop fame) appears out of the fog. I notice that the beautiful vegetable garden that Hugh's Uncle Sid had carefully tended all those years ago, has been turned into a garage and looks suspiciously as if it has been sold to the occupants of the house next door.
The four 'Villas' all looks surprisingly smart and I notice that it isn't just the Lavenders' house that has a name. My old house, number 2a, is not only guarded by a stone Lion, but has a name also. 'Wood View' - My mother will be pleased, but I guess she will say something like: "I could have thought of a better name than that."
The cottages leading down to Ashwell look like a row of brightly coloured soldiers. They have worn well! It was outside this row of cottages that as a two and a half-year-old I remember there being a D Day party. The children of the village were in fancy dress. I myself was dressed in one of my grandpa Jenkins' old white shirts and wore what was supposed to represent a nightcap on my head. I can remember my Nana Jenkins allowing me to carry one of her candlesticks with a real lighted candle in it. I was, just in case you haven't realised already, 'Wee Willie Winkie'!
We reach the old Kissing-Gate at the end of Ashwell- still the same old gate! - But I am not prepared for what I see. The Well has disappeared! So I guess I will never be able to say that I have drank from the waters of 'Ashwell'.
Taking a short cut through the overgrown lane opposite the cottages, I see Mrs. Pattimore's cottage to the left. Sometime ago, my mother told me a story about there being a passage leading from it to Nana Jenkins' house. I never did quite understand what she meant, so after I've had a quick look at Auntie Winnies cottage further up the hill; I'll try and see what she did mean.
Knowing that time is at a premium we plan to give Winnie's cottage a quick glance and continue on up the hill to my old friend Christine's' bungalow. However our plans change abruptly when we reach the cottage. There is obviously much building going on, and outside, trying to park his car, is what I believe to be its new owner. He seems delighted to talk about his recent buy and is most interested to hear of my connections with the Old Village especially when I tell him of my connections with his cottage. He tells us that Winnie had died aged 84 years some 3 years ago and whilst in the process of knocking down some inside walls, the builders had discovered a bankbook belonging to a Mrs. Philips. I am able to tell him that Winnie's name before her marriage to Tom Halloway had been Philips and that my mother had told me stories about how Winnie's mother had always been a miser! I can't wait to get home to tell the news to my mother!
the corner from the cottage should be what we children knew to be
the Black Ash-Path, and my friend Christine's bungalow - but where
is it? That, like the well, has disappeared; and in its place stands
two modern houses, probably built in the 1970's.
Heading downhill now and back into the Old Village, we stop for a while to take a photograph of 'The Vines', my Nanas old house. In keeping with the other houses in Ashwell it is also painted in a soft pastel shade; and yes, my mother had been correct in saying that it was connected by a short passage to Mrs. Pattimore's Cottage! The garden looks really well tended, although in common with other houses in the village, flowers and shrubs have taken the place of vegetables; a sign of the time I suppose!
No time to spare, we up our pace and head off towards the Bulmore Road.
Leslie Porter, who during the 40's and 50's lived in one of the cottages along Bulmore Road, tells me that his old cottage has been pulled down and a row of modern houses built in its place. Oh dear! I'm beginning to feel a stranger here in the Old Village. The cottage belonging to the Tooze family seems to have disappeared also! - Although I can just see what seems to be the traces of the steep steps that led up to it. I wonder what became of the two-seated loo!
The little Mission Church, that holds so many happy memories for me, like much in the Old Village, seems to have stood still with time - could it be that I was not unique in offering the button off my best coat for collection!
The Bell Inn, well, that's another story; It's a hive of activity this foggy Sunday afternoon and looks as if it has undergone a complete renovation. The car park at the back, non-existent during my years in the village is crammed to capacity.
I take a quick photograph and then turn left into Isca Road. Did Aunt Lizzie really live in a smart cottage like this or has that memory failed me again! The cottage, now in immaculate condition, proudly displays a plaque saying 'Hawkins Cottage' on its front door. Another photograph for the album.
Daylight is rapidly fading now, however, the lifting fog is rewarding us.
Retracing my footsteps down Isca Road and passing the smart cottages that used to belong to my friends, to my amazement, I notice that the River Usk has recently claimed a large section of the road. I guess it would have happened during the severe floods of last year.
We reach the Bridge. I turn and take a last look at the Old Village and as if from nowhere, the watery, late afternoon winter's sun, briefly appears from behind the hill, highlighting for a moment, a distant church; and then, as if by magic, it disappears. Perhaps it is telling me something - has the time come for us to return home?
Taking the alternative route into the centre of Caerleon, we pass the Catholic Church, and next door to it the Tresillians old home.
So many memories.
To the left, Mr.Belling's Chemist Shop. Or should I say what was Mr. Belling's shop! - It's now an Aladdin's Cave of memorabilia!
The brief afternoon sun gone, a sudden chill comes over me and we quicken our pace and head for Goldcroft Common and our waiting car, passing on the way St. Cadoc's Church. Taking a short cut through the churchyard, my thoughts go briefly back to the early 1950's and my friend Margaret Brown. So much has happened since those carefree days of childhood. I wonder what Margaret would make of our way of life today?
I will remember my childhood days in the Old Village with much affection. In life, things come and things go: but there is one thing about Caerleon that will never change: The muddy, fast flowing River Usk will continue to ebb and flow with the tide, under the bridge that dissects the two parts of My Village.