I was brought up in Newport, Mon., South Wales, during the forties, fifties and sixties, and lived at 16, Lliswerry Road, Newport until just before my eighteenth birthday. The house was named "Plas-Y-Bryn" which means "house on the hill", and this was a source of amusement to my granddad, who came from Llanberis in Caernarvonshire. He spoke Welsh as his first language, only learning English after joining the army in the first World War. The house is nowhere near a hill, unless you count the hill upon which Somerton and Alway stand, and that's at least half a mile away. There was, at the time I lived there, a bus stop right outside the front door, so it was always easy to stay in the dry whilst waiting for a bus. This bus route fed Alway Estate until 1960 when the level crossing was closed, and the old "cutting" was opened up as Aberthaw Road, which then became the server route for Alway, and later the Ringland Estate.
We saw many developments during the late fifties when the Aberthaw Estate, and Ringland Estate were built. Prior to that, the area was known as "The Seven Stiles", an area of farmland that stretched from the railway crossings near Moorland Avenue to the Bishpool and Treberth prefabs near Chepstow Road. We used to watch the trains thundering along the GWR line en route from London to as far away as Fishguard in Pembrokeshire. Trainspotters we definitely were back then, until the first of the diesels started and the magic of the steam age was lost. The Llanwern steelworks was constructed in the late fifties, and we suffered the constant noise emanating from the nose to tail stream of "shalers" (shale lorries) carting their enormous loads of waste from the coalmines in the valleys, to fill the land to the east of Moorland Avenue, which as it's name suggests, was a moor. It took over two years to stabilise that area, with millions of tons of slag and goodness knows what else being dumped in the area. We heard numerous stories of lorries slipping into the bogs with their drivers still at the wheel, never to be seen again.
Then it was, the great day arrived when they finally constructed a new road from the old Spytty Lane area off Nash Road to the entrance of the "Spencer Works". At last, we were spared any more sleepless nights and having to take your life in your hands when crossing the road. The Lysaghts (Orb Works) on Corporation Road, and Stewarts and Lloyds were now linked to the new and, at the time, biggest steelworks in Europe. Llanwern boasted a two mile long rolling mill, open hearth and Bessemer converters and the prosperity of South East Wales was about to begin (so we were told anyway). Every lesson we had to endure at school was geared to our being "steelworks fodder". Maths consisted of such things as "If you fill the Bessemer converter with two cranes and keep pouring out the molten steel at the same time, how quickly will it fill". OK, so that's a bit of an exaggeration, but all the lessons were similar. History, - who invented the Bessemer converter, etc? Geography, - where does iron ore come from? I've forgotten how the R.I. lessons were tailored to fit the steel making industry - but believe me - THEY WERE!
The first school I went to was Lliswerry Junior School in Nash Road, and at the age of 11, moved on to Stow Hill Sec. Mod. and Technical School. My next door neighbour, and lifelong friend Gilbert Clark went along with me to both of these schools.
Whilst at Lliswerry Juniors, I had several girlfriends, Diane Wilkinson was one who caught my eye, and was the first girl I ever kissed, and then there was Eileen Bartlett. But the long lasting love of my early years I met one day in the playground. I saw this beautiful girl sat on the ground against the wall, crying her eyes out. She had four pigtails tied up in ribbons, and in her hands she had a pink handbag of which the handle had broken. I approached her and asked (somewhat stupidly really) what was the matter. She shot me a look that could have contained a million daggers, but at first didn't reply. I repeated the question (I had this suicidal tendency) at which she replied in a rather hostile tone "can't you see?", she replied, "my bag's broken". "Oh, I've got an uncle who can fix anything", I replied rather hastily. From there it grew - we were getting on a bit then - all of six years old. We became inseparable, that is until the local education authority decided to split us up. They opened the new Alway School in Aberthaw Road, opposite the "quarry" (Lliswerry Pond), and as she lived in Vaughan Williams Drive, Alway, she was made to go there. Though we vowed undying love, we parted and didn't see each other again until about six years later.............
On the corner of Nash Road and Lliswerry Road, opposite the Victoria Inn, there used to be an open space we called "the Orchard". It was owned by Ted Page the then milkman, who also owned most of the land down to Spytty Lane, and where he kept three beautiful horses, which he used for his milk round, which was quite extensive.
We used to go to the "Orchard" after school and build "dens", and try our first fags (Woodbines - they can send me the cheque for this plug later). In the mid-fifties, this area was re-developed and houses were built on it, becoming known as Nash Grove, and then the remainder of Ted's fields were turned into a housing estate, from Mulcaster Avenue, through Pont Faen to the Greenmeadow estate, and then the Moorland Park estate which didn't follow until the seventies.
There were the "prefabs" - Cheshire Avenue, (now called Hampshire Avenue) opposite Carters' shop (it is the shop which stands on the corner of Mulcaster Avenue) and we used to take a short-cut through those prefabs to reach Spytty Lane. There used to be an old wooden footbridge across Spytty stream, and there the lane to your left went to Nash Road, to the right it went along towards Corporation Road, emerging next to Santons Works. Along this lane was a sawmill, where my grandfather used to take me with his wheelbarrow to collect timber, logs for the fire and sawdust to be used in his chicken run. He kept several chickens, which provided us with a regular supply of eggs, as well as chicken dinners from time to time. I remember seeing him kill a chicken once when I was quite small, but I'll spare you the graphic details. Suffice only to say that it put me off eating chicken for a long time thereafter. This was cured one day however, when as I entered the run to scatter corn, the cockerel came flying across at me and tried to peck my eyes out. I'll never forget how much that hurt, especially with his spurs ripping at me too. Grandad said "I'll have you, you bugger", and we did. I actually enjoyed this somewhat perverse sort of "revenge" - didn't taste too bad either as I recall. We used to pluck them over an old tin bath placed in Grandad's shed. The feathers got up your nose and in your mouth, causing you to splutter. Granny kept a lot of them to wash and use in pillows she made.
We had a leaking tap in the kitchen on one occasion, and Grandad decided to change both of the washers. He got his spanners and screwdrivers from the shed and set to work. All of a sudden there was a loud roar as the cold water tap was unscrewed, and a fountain engulfed the kitchen and hit the ceiling. Within minutes the kitchen was flooded. I went out there to try and help by holding a cloth over tap, but the water was very cold and I couldn't do so for long. I was only a young lad at the time. I had mixed feelings about it, one being the thrill of an adventure, and the other of fear that this cascade would never stop. Eventually Grandad went out and turned the stop-cock off outside the house after asking around the neighbourhood if anyone had the correct tool to turn the special key. He completed the task and normality returned to the household, for a while at least.
Opposite the Nash Road entrance to Spytty Lane, there was a bakery and the smell of freshly baked bread was wonderful, but if the wind blew from the other direction the distinct farmyard odour of the pig farm opposite wafted across to assault your nostrils. It was a something of a paradox when the wind swirled round and the aroma alternated from fresh bread to foul-smelling pig perfume.
Further down Nash Road, which led to Uskmouth and it's power stations, was Traston Lane which led through to Corporation Road. Traston Lane was full of potholes, and when my Granddad was working (he didn't retire until he was caught out on his age of about 70) he travelled along this lane on his trusty old bicycle, to and from the British Aluminium works at the extreme end of Corporation Road. I always enjoyed the Christmas Parties, and the summer fetes they held there. He was for ever covered in Bauxite dust (funny how it's red, but aluminium is usually silvery/grey) and I would often cycle along there to meet him on his way home, usually meeting up near the Monsanto chemical factory.
When the wind was in the wrong direction, we were treated to the pungent emissions from "The Kem", the chemical works in Corporation Road, which was about a mile or two from our house, but believe me we received the message. The "Kem" was a valuable source of maggots for fishing. It was a glue factory where apparently horses (it was rumoured) went after death to be rendered into glue, the by-product being these maggots. Another factory that provided an interest to us kids was the "nailers" nail factory near Somerton Park. The waste product there was "jack-stars", and all the locals had an abundance of these metal toys. We would play "jack-stars" and "Arlies" (the local name for marbles), as well as, when the season came round, "conkers". There was an abundance of horse chestnut trees in Lliswerry Road, and we used to ask Jimmy Preece who lived opposite, if we could gather some from their private drive.
I often cycled with friends and sometimes grandad, to Goldcliff to try my hand at fishing, and used to stop at a few different streams along the way. There were wild trout, and eels we used to catch in one where there was a mini waterfall created by a sluice gate that had long fallen into disuse, and many long hours were spent there in complete silence save only for the trill of birdsong, and the very rare appearance of a motor vehicle. We would regularly return with our catch - usually eels, to which granny would shout "you get rid of that bloody thing - I'm not cooking that". So, down to the bottom of the garden, climb on the chicken coop and drop the wrigglers into the "ditch" which ran along the back of the houses.
This "ditch" was the Lliswerry stream which was in fact a "tributary" of the River Usk, and was tidal. It never rose by more than a few feet, but this only on spring tides, or when there had been heavy rainfall. It was one of the many "drains" from the moorland where Llanwern now stands, as were most of the streams in the area. We used to catch sticklebacks and "cocky elbows" (elvers) in this stream where the banks were eroded most - next to the bridge where it disappeared under Nash Road. This is where we regularly got stung by nettles, and found out about the magical cure of dock leaves. On this bridge the local telephone box stood. Somerton Road led straight into Lliswerry Road, and Nash Road was a turning off it. It was re-structured sometime in the late sixties (I think) making Nash Road the priority road. On the opposite side of this corner was a small cabin style shop, which changed hands several times, until it eventually closed altogether. Behind this was a lane to a house, and when we delivered the papers there, used to "scrump" the odd apple, or pear to eat on the round.
In September 1951 my aunt Sylvia got married to Derek Elliott who lived in Maple Avenue, Somerton. On the day, they dressed me up in a tacky and I still think stupid and irrelevant pageboy outfit. It was not the warmest of days, and this get-up was not exactly thermally enhancing - I was bloody cold. It was in satin with nothing underneath, save only my underpants. It was in a silvery sort of colour, and I had white socks and black patent shoes with large silver buckles. I was ordered to walk from Lliswerry Road, up Somerton Road, - past Somerton Park football ground (you can imagine the comments that I was subjected to as I passed) over Somerton Bridge and on up the seemingly endless hill to Maple Avenue which was - yes, right at the top. To make matters worse, I had to walk all the way back again to St Andrews Church, where aunt Sylvia married.
The reception was at The Grove Hotel in Kensington Place, and that was more enjoyable, as there was lots of music, great food and it was WARM! After her marriage, aunt Sylvia lived in a flat in Morden Road. This road was just above Somerset Road where another, more distant relative (Godfrey "Goff" Jordan) lived. It was he who planted the early seeds of my (much) later sporting interest. He also made beautiful marquetry pictures, which fascinated me as all the detail was delicately picked out in minute slivers of wood. He was later, on no less than two occasions, to become Wales champion archer, and he used to show me all the latest equipment he'd bought, and did his best to encourage me to get into the sport. On one occasion he 'nocked' an arrow onto the string of his bow and drew up. The arrow was pointed towards a door with a leaded glass panel in the upper half. As he did so, his mother (Auntie Flo) walked through the door. The arrow was then pointing directly at her. She shouted, "Goff, be careful with that thing", bringing to mind what King Harold's wife probably said on that fateful morning in 1066 "Harold, if you and your friends aren't careful with them there bow and arrow things, someone will have his eye out"! Goff sheepishly apologised to his mum and removed the arrow and the potential danger. In fact, Goff was such an expert archer, there was little danger. Under the modern code of good practice the Grand National Archery Society (GNAS) would not agree, and I have to fully endorse that.
Another occasion that was published in the Argus, was when a new Robin Hood film came to Newport, and it was screened in the 'Olympia' cinema in Skinner Street. Goff and a group of others including the current Chairman (2002) of GNAS Dennis Whiteman, staged a shoot onto a target sited on the stage. They were in the balcony, and there were people in the stalls area below. It was a spectacular event, with photographs published too. GNAS would totally ban activity like this today owing to the possibility of injury or worse to those below. And quite right too!
Aunt Sylvia relied on coal for heating, and I'd be ordered to take some to her in an old pram. I'd leave Lliswerry Road, go along Somerton Road, over Somerton Bridge, turn into Conway Road, through Glebe Street and cross over by Maindee Police station walking through another street and up Christchurch Road to Morden Road. I once made this journey when heavy rain was falling, which then developed into a thunderstorm, not to mention that this was in the evening and it was dark. It was never easy pushing that pram all that way - then up a hill, but that night was particularly exhausting. When I arrived, drenched and tired out, aunt Sylvia simply moaned that the coal was wet, and promptly sent me home. This happened for a couple of years, and I was only six or seven. She moved to Bishpool Estate later, then on to Goossens Close in Ringland Estate, where she was to remain for over forty years. (I later learned she has passed away in 2002). I would visit her at Bishpool, and sometimes she would offer me a cooked lunch. Her cooked lunches were not the most appetising however, she always put too much salt in the food making it taste terrible.
To get there before Ringland Estate was built, I would cycle down Lliswerry Road to the crossings then up to the top of (then) Lliswerry Road (later to be renamed Ladyhill Road) and travel down Dent's Hill to Bishpool. Dent's hill was wooded on both sides and very steep. At night we would creep up there very quietly looking in all directions in case a ghost would try and grab you. It was quite an eerie place after dark. Occasionally you would hear an owl hoot and you were lucky to get home without changing the colour of your pants. I always tried to make sure I carried a torch with me if I ever had to go there at night. Dent's Hill was also the first of my uphill cycling conquests, I went on to conquer Barrack Hill and even Hill Street. There was not a hill in Newport that I didn't beat. With the benefit of hindsight, I was very lucky that the chain didn't snap, or I wouldn't be a grandfather now.
Ted Page, the local milkman, had his own hens at the bottom of the garden, and his pigs in the field behind the house, which was reached by his own wooden footbridge across the "ditch". As I said earlier, he kept three fine horses for use on his milk round. Ted was the last milkman in Newport, and possible the country, to deliver milk on his horse-drawn float to houses all over the town. We watched as they were fed with a nose-bag outside his house while they waited as Ted had his lunch. They left some valuable deposits which grandad was ever ready to exploit. "Can't beat it" he's say, scooping it into his bucket to be deposited on his rhubarb and strawberries first, then the rest of his superb flower garden. His flower garden was the envy of the neighbourhood. He grew tomatoes and cucumbers in his greenhouse too. I've never tasted any as good as those since. He kept two allotments at one stage, one in Thompsons Avenue, and the other next to the old 'prefabs' mentioned earlier - off Nash Road, Cheshire Avenue - where Hampshire Avenue now stands. I may return to grandad's horticultural skills later.
There were also 'prefabs' opposite the front of our house - Eschol Villas. These were demolished around 1958 and the present-day Eschol Close built many years later. In fact, Ted Page's sister now lives in one of these bungalows. Sadly, Ted passed on many years ago. Sadly, Betty Smith passed away in February 2009.
I was a member of the Odeon (in Clarence Place) Saturday morning club (they used to call it Saturday "matinee", though I cannot understand why when the term "matinee" more usually refers to afternoon) when I was a child, and the show normally ended around 12.30pm. The bus stop was opposite the other cinema which stood in Clarence Place, the Coliseum, and Ted would hove into view coming around the cenotaph (it was a roundabout at that time), and seeing me would shout "whoa" to his horse, whereupon I would climb on board the 'float'. He taught me how to "drive", together with all the commands (OK- there were only a few) and I didn't need to do much with the reins - the horse knew the route better than I did.
© Len Jones 2004