Caerleon Net
Clifford Dyment

Clifford Dyment, poet and author, was raised in Caerleon.
Below are two extracts from his autobiography. In the first he paints a word picture of the village. In the other he describes his childhood home in Ashwell Terrace.

From The Railway Game An Early Autobiography
by Clifford Dyment
(Readers Union edition 1963)

- Chapter 2 -

'Caerleon was all romance and Rome to me'

The place I was taken to, at one month old, was the place in which I should like to have been born: my private and adopted native town, Caerleon-upon-Usk. It is a fitting origin for a literary man, especially a poet, to see against his name in Who's Who--just as Cardiff is right for a sailor, Stepney for an orphan, Tunbridge Wells for a Bishop, East Ham for a pop singer. It's as rich in romance as a novel by Jeffrey Farnol.

Caerleon, city and village, Isca Silurum. Isca Silurum, a name honouring the Silures, the intolerant mountain men of Monmouthshire and Glamorgan, whose land the Romans seized but had to hold in a grip of iron; Isca Silurum, garrison of the Second Legion of Augustus, six thousand soldiers, where generals composed victory marches on maps stretched over desks of marble, where the proud legionaries looked down on the mere auxiliaries and where glamorous legionary and glamorous auxiliary took the local girls from the local boys with a beam of bronze, silver, and gold; Isca Silurum, eyrie of the Roman eagle, crowded and loud with men, horses, and engines of war, where arrived baskets of quail, pheasant, peacock, thrush, dormice, and snails, trays of figs and cakes sweetened with honey, jars of wine and oil, nets of mullet, bags of shellfish, wagons of corn and pork sent in by the grumbling farmers, unpaid feeders of the army of occupation; Isca Silurum, along whose famous Roman roads walked goldsmiths, tinsmiths, armourers, wheelwrights, masons, glaziers, bakers, confectioners, cooks; walked soldiers to Mithraic caves; walked sporting men to the amphitheatre to watch chariot races, wild boar hunted in real woods and naval engagements fought on real water, gladiator killing gladiator, beast killing beast, gladiators and beasts killing each other. Isca Silurum, Britannia Secundus, outpost of Empire: Caesar, Consul, tribune, centurion, lictor; Julius, Claudius, Nero, Trajan, Hadrian; Suetonius, Frontinus, Agricola; aqueducts, highways, arches, villas; pottery, mosaic, enamel, fresco, bracelets, brooches.

Caerleon-on-Usk, where King Arthur held his court and received tribute from vassal kings, earls, and barons where mass for his household was celebrated in thirteen churches, where the courtiers slept on satin and fur, dined at silver tables inlaid with gold and pearl and ate off dishes of gold, silver, and buffalo horn, where there was roast buck and flagons of mead and minstrelsy and games; Caerleon-upon-Usk, where on festal days the flowers of the field were outmatched in colour by the striped tents and flying pennants and by the ladies' gowns and the lords' surcoats and the knights' glinting armour and jewel-hilted swords; Caerleon-upon-Usk, where you walk on grass over which the knights galloped to crash with each other in the jousts; Caerleon-upon-Usk, here the daily round was polishing of shields, sharpening of swords, shoeing of horses, where the ambitions were tournaments and quests, where the talk was of sieges, brachets, harts, and palfreys, of griffins, dragons, and the Sangreal, where the gossip was of chivalrous knights and false knights and virtuous women.

Caerleon-on Usk, home, chapel, and workshops of Cistercians, who ploughed, planted, and reaped in white habits that were streaked with loam and the grease of sheep's wool and were thin at the knees from canonical hours of kneeling; Caerleon-upon-Usk, where the years passed and the monastery bell marked time across the fields until the monks departed and the iron rusted and the tower toppled and there was no marking of time in Caerleon's fields.

Ashwell Terrace today

From The Railway Game An Early Autobiography
by Clifford Dyment
(Readers Union edition 1963)

- Chapter 3 -
- extract -

1, Ashwell Terrace

The house in which we lived at Caerleon was No. 1, Ashwell Terrace, one of a row of cottages that have since been condemned. My father took it because it was cheap - and because he was married, young, and a carpenter only just starting in business as a cabinet-maker. I remember that when I played on the bit of pavement outside I could look right through the cottage as though it was a telescope, through the front door seeing the back garden so close I was afraid of being stung by bees. The reason was that the cottage was only one room wide - there was one room downstairs for cooking, eating, and living in, and one room upstairs for all of us to sleep in.

There was no gas in the house: cooking was done on an open fire or in an oven at its side heated by hot embers, the embers being scraped with a steel rake from the fire to a space under the oven. For lighting we had an oil lamp which stood in the middle of a beautiful pear-wood table made by my father. That oil lamp was a beauty, too: made simply to be practical it was as graceful in profile as a piece of Samian ware. Its brass curved sides were as full of little squares and circles of reflected daylight as a polished bed-knob, and through its globe of translucent porcelain you could see shadowy images of the furniture on the other side of the room. It was my father's job to light the lamp in the evening. To me this was a ritual and a spectacle that invested him with priestly power and glory. He held a match to the wick and the wild wick snatched the flame from his hand and threw it up in the air and bounced it on the floor and hurled it up to the ceiling and flung it from wall to wall: it was a rough and playful exhibition of the eternal conflict between the forces of light and darkness. Majestically my father turned the lamp's brass wheel and the romping flame was hauled instantly back into the lamp like a tiger into its cage: the ceremony, short, brilliant, and daunting, was over. Now a cone of sunshiny radiance hung placidly from the lamp to the floor, and until it was time for me to be put to bed I scrambled about in a bell-tent made of light.

In the daytime I played in the back garden, where my father grew leaves. There were millions, billions, trillions of them. Leaves were my ceilings, walls, partitions: they pressed me down and shut me in, and when I resisted they tugged at my hair, slapped my face, pushed themselves up the legs of my short trousers, sealed my nostrils, gagged my mouth, tolled at my ears, jazzed before my eyes; and sometimes my forehead smarted and ached from the brutal rebuff of wood as a branch denied my thrusting head. All the same, I liked the leaves, and spent hours in the thousands of acres where they grew, breathing foreign green air and getting tipsy on sappy, fruity smells.

After these exotic holidays in the leaves I made my way back to everyday life by staggering across our living-room to the street. It wasn't a street really - it was more of a lane. In it there was our row of cottages, whitewashed and blue-roofed, the white walls stained, broken, and mildewed, but seen by me now through a haze of years that gives them a dairy sweetness; and alongside them were the few flagstones of pavement, then a dirt roadway, then a hedge with a wicket gate, and then beyond the hedge, as far as I could see, nothing - though a grown-up could have looked over the hedge and viewed fields and beyond them Tyn Barlym mountain hunched low to let the clouds pass over.


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Both Sides Of The River - Memories another ex-resident of Ashwell, Cosette Allsopp (nee Lloyd)