A lady who lives in Essex recently bought a copy of my book and has kindly offered this well written contribution to our blog – thank you Angela Naish (nee Light) – descendant of the Skuse family.
My grandfather William (Will) Skuse was born in Trinant in 1894. His father and uncles were employed as coal miners in Abercarn and surrounding areas. William had been one of the many long term unemployed in the South Wales coalfields. One of my mother’s cousins (b. 1918) told me that times were very hard back then, but my great grandfather taught his sons how to grow vegetable in the garden of their home at Caerhendy, near Trinant. She said she could not remember my grandfather Will ever working down the pits and in 1929 she remembers times were hard for people in Trinant with no work. Two of William’s older brothers had emigrated to New Zealand, one in 1915 and the second in the 1924 due to the Depression. In 1929 my grandparents had 5 children ranging from 14 to 4 years old and they took the difficult decision to send their eldest daughter Topsy, aged 14, to work in in service in Bath because they could not afford to feed everyone. By the middle of 1930’s their two sons were training as butchers with a local butcher.
By the late 1930’s my grandparents, William & Beatrice Skuse, were offered a smallholding at 35 Leechpool as part of the resettlement of many families from the South Wales coalfields.
Photo: No. 35 Leechpool- The house to the right is No. 35.
This photo was taken in the early 1970’s and was pretty much how the house had always looked. The house was always called “Brynhyfryd”. I never thought to ask if who had named the house that, I just assumed Will and Beat had.
No. 35 Leechpool was a semi-detached house with three bedrooms.
There was a front door to the right front side and I cannot remember anyone ever using that door.
There were tall fir trees planted along the front boundary with the road that had grown to form an arch over the front gate. The fir trees were planted in a three sided square round the house and I was told it shielded the house from the cold winds.
In the 1960’s I remember the house had an outside flushing toilet and I remember it there was a bath and airing cupboard downstairs next to where the sink was. There was a fire with an oven range in the main room and the front parlour was kept for best.
There had been another downstairs room which had its own door to the outside and, as the photos taken in the early 1970’s shows, the outside door had been blocked up.
The internal wall was knocked down to make a larger room that my nana had a kitchen wooden table, her cooker, fridge and food store cupboard in there. She also had a small mesh covered cupboard, that she called the “safe” where she would store food she wanted to protect from insects.
Upstairs in the main bedroom was a walk in cupboard with a sloping roof and a skylight. Nana Skuse called this the “couch” used to store boxes and anything she didn’t need to use that often.
My mother Evelyn Dawn Skuse was born in the house of 35 Leechpool in January 1939 and she had always told me she was one of the first babies born on the smallholdings, but I am not sure if this is so. She was the youngest of Will and Beat’s six children: Ronald, Bronwen (known as Topsy), Howard, Betty, Edith (known as Maisie) and Dawn.
By the time the family moved to Leechpool, the oldest sister Bronwen, known to us all as Topsy, was already married and living away. Ron and Howard, as far as I know, did not live at Leechpool and had worked as butchers in the Crumlin and Newbridge areas. Betty was about 15 and Maisie 13 when the family came to Leechpool. Uncle Howard always said it was like a different world when the family lived in Leechpool. He said for himself, his brother Ron and sister Topsy life growing up in Trinant was hard, where money was sparse and people picked up coal from slag heaps. He always said it was as if Will and Beat had two families with very different life styles, since their three oldest children had grown up surrounded by long term unemployment and a community when the men had become depressed and withdrawn. But living at Leechpool for his sisters Betty, Maisie and Dawn meant a life where the family were wealthier, healthier and happier.
During WW2 Topsy and her baby son came to stay at Leechpool, as her husband felt it was safer. The family talked about rationing and how the smallholders helped each other out by swapping produce. My grandmother had heard there were some evacuees coming to St Pierre, but my grandfather said there was no more room available considering my mother and two sisters slept top to tail in one bed and my aunt and her baby had another. Howard would come home on leave when he could. I got the impression that times were hard, but there was a strong sense of people pulling together. My mother told me of how everyone would help to cut straw and gather it up by hand. Then she explained how she hated having a bath afterwards, as the small straw cuts would sting as she got in the bath water. I know many Leechpool families had come from the same coalfield areas as my grandparents and had already lived through the realisation that the reliance on coal in the economy was coming to an end. Thankfully the smallholdings had given them all the chance to grow produce and support their families once again. They were aware of the suffering of others in the war since many families had sons off fighting and one of my aunts also remembered being able to see the fires at night as Bristol was bombed during the war.
All my aunts and uncles are dead now but they often spoke of the times during the war.
- Topsy’s husband had worked in London for John Lewis and sometimes sent her a pair of stockings. The story goes that on one occasion Topsy passed her sister Betty, running to catch the bus, as she was off for a night out dancing. It was when Topsy got home that she realised that Betty had gone out wearing a pair of Topsy’s precious stockings.
- My mother once told me of a visit home during the war of her brother Howard and how he “helped” her finish her breakfast by eating a piece of bacon, which she said she had been saving on her plate until last to eat, (since my nana had prepared a special breakfast for them with bacon as a treat because Howard was home on leave).
This photo was taken in 1947 and is of my Aunty Dora (wife of Howard Skuse) with Dora’s daughter Ann and Nana (Beatrice) Skuse (on the right of the photo).
They are walking through the apple trees at 35 Leechpool.
My grandfather had glasshouses for vegetables, as well as blackberry and gooseberry bushes, and apple and plum trees. He would take his produce down to Portskewett Station so that it could be taken to market. There were chickens in a small wooden hen house out the back. One of my aunts told me about one pig my grandfather had reared, which the children called Alfie, and how the girls cried when Alfie was butchered. Initially the girls did not want to eat any of Alfie, but eventually did as they could not resist the smell of the meat cooking.
My parents lived at 35 Leechpool with my grandparents when they were first married. My parents were married at St Mary’s Church in Portskewett. When I was born in 1960, my birth certificate lists Brynhyfryd, 35 Leechpool as the residence of my parents and so it became my home too and I suppose I am the third generation of my family that lived at No. 35.
I was christened at St Mary’s Church in Portskewett. My parents eventually got a house in Chepstow, but I was a regular visitor to Leechpool and loved to stay weekends and school holidays.
Photo: Angela Light (1961)
By the 1960’s William and Beatrice’s children were all married. Ron and his wife Peggy lived in Kidderminster. Topsy lived in London. Howard and his wife Dora lived in Chepstow. Betty and her husband Liam lived in New Zealand. Maisie and her husband Pat lived in Canada.
By the middle part of the 1960’s my grandfather worked a few hours a week at the Parkwall petrol garage on A48. My parents lived in Mathern by then and I would be put on the bus at New Inn, Pwllmeyric and the bus driver was told to put me off the bus at Parkwall, where my grandfather would meet me off the bus. Then we would walk home together to No. 35. I cannot imagine a young child being put on a bus on their own today for such a journey. But times seemed kinder back then and I assume the various bus drivers got to know the little ginger haired girl who would be met at Parkwall garage by her granddad.
Photo: Angela Light (1966)
I cannot tell from personal experience what the smallholding was like in the early decades. By the time I can remember it in the 1960’s, my grandfather’s smallholding was about half an acre. He told me his smallholding had been bigger when he first came to Leechpool, but now he was “retired” some of his land had been allocated to his neighbours who used it for cattle grazing etc. The glasshouses had gone but the fruit trees and bushes remained and harvest time was great fun as my Uncle Howard and his wife Dora, who now had a butcher’s shop in Tintern, would come and along with my cousins and my parents and we would all help pick the plums and apples. My nana Skuse was a great cook and no one ever refused some of her pies and tarts. I remember how we would store apples by lying them down in rows on newspaper and my nana Skuse had preserving jars stuffed to the top on the shelves.
The piggery was still standing and became my playhouse since by the 1960’s my grandfather had no pigs. It seemed a huge place and had the original enclosures inside which became my “house”. I would play in there all day and amuse myself with whatever I could find. It was magical and so special. None of my school friends had such a playhouse. In the house there was an under stairs cupboard and I was allowed to use this as my playhouse when it was too cold in the piggery in winter.
It was when I was an adult, and asking my uncle Howard questions about Leechpool, that he explained a mystery of a memory I had of a heated discussion at No. 35 in the mid 1960’s. I was only a child then, with no knowledge or understanding of politics, and remember my grandfather being angry over Harold Wilson and the government. Howard said that Harold Wilson and the Labour Party won the general election in 1964. Howard said the government had removed all the subsidies from Farmers and Market Gardeners, which obviously had an effect on the smallholders at Leechpool. Many of the smallholders relied on the subsidies to make their living. Howard said it was due to the government plans for Britain to join the Common Market. Many smallholders were angry and felt the government’s plan would be the ruin of British agriculture.
Photo: William Skuse (1972) on a visit to his niece at Kidderminster not long after his wife Beatrice had died.
My grandparents had various next door neighbours over the years. I do not know who lived next door when the smallholdings started, but Mr Robert (Bob) Davies and his wife Ida lived there when my mum was growing up, as she was friends with Doris Davies, who was about the same age. Other Davies children were Peter, Graham, Shirley and Liz. In the 1960’s a Mr and Mrs Saunders lived next door and in the 1970’s it was Howard and Glenys Stone.
I remember other neighbours in the 1960’s and 1970’s as:
- Mr & Mrs Pritchard and their son Douglas lived across the road. Their house was detached and had a duck pond in front. Their daughter had married an American and lived in Texas. One of my Aunts told me she remembered when she was younger how Mrs Pritchard’s daughter had pierced her ears by pushing a sewing needle through a cotton reel. She had sterilised the needle by holding it over a candle flame. It made me shudder just to think about it. Mrs Pritchard would take me out to feed the ducks and in spring she had lambs and many a time there would be a poorly lamb in a box next to the range. The Pritchard’s house had the telephone box outside on the roadside with the old phone with buttons A and B and it would cost 4d to make a call.
- Just up the middle road, going towards Spark’s cottage, on the same side as the Pritchard’s house was another detached house, which was home to an Irish family called Brereton. My mother told me one of the Brereton babies was born on the same day as me in 1960. One of us at around 06:00 and the other at about 18:00.
- Opposite the Brereton’s on middle road was another detached house where the Duke family lived. I remember old Mr Duke and two of his sons were John and Junior.
- Mr Bennett had the smallholding, in the opposite direction from No. 35, going towards Portskewett. He had been one of the smallholders who had been given some of the land from my grandfather’s smallholding after my grandfather had become a cottage tenant rather than an agriculture leaseholder. Mr Bennett had cows, pigs and many farm outbuildings. I particularly remember he also had pigs as when I was about 4 years old my older cousin Douglas, who was visiting, locked me in one pig pen with a sleeping sow and her piglets. I remember Mr Bennet heard me crying and took me home to No. 35 and told my grandfather and my Aunt that my cousin had done a very stupid thing and should have known better.
- Other neighbours that I remember being friends with my grandparents were the Smallcombes, the Jarrets, the Caldwalls, the Naylors and the Corbins (apologies as I am not sure if all the spellings are correct). There were many others but I am sorry I cannot recall their names.
I remember Doctor Webb being the local doctor and he used to talk with my grandfather when he made house calls about his trips to Cardiff Arms Park to watch the International rugby matches in the 1970’s days of JPR Williams and Barry John.
(Ed. We will forgive Angela for missing out the great Sir Gareth Edwards and Gerald Davies to name but two).
When my grandmother died in 1972 the vicar Rev. W. Arthur Evans at St Mary’s Church in Portskewett conducted her funeral.
In April 1972 I was confirmed at St. Mary’s in Portskewett and family and friends came back to No. 35 for the tea party.
When my grandfather died in 1975 the tenancy at No. 35 was given up and sadly my, and our family’s, connection to Leechpool ended.
Angela Naish (2017)
Angela has also sent in a copy of the Parish News that records her Confirmation in 1972.