My old mate Tom Harding

I first became a friend of Joe’s father Tom around 1985 when I stood as an independent candidate in the election for Rhondda Cynon Taf county borough council and Tom agreed to become my election agent.

Tom had served in the Welsh Guards during world war2 and was still involved with the guards until his death.

One time I can recall that Tom phoned to say that the Welsh Guards were being presented with their Welsh leeks on St David’s day and this particular year the parade was to be held at Crickhowell.

I could detect that this was a hint so I told Tom I would take him there if he wanted to go.

The following morning we set out early in order to watch the ceremony proper.

We arrived at the parade ground and watched the guardsmen being presented with their leeks and Tom chuffed to bits and was obviously loving every minute as it brought back old memories.

While we were stood there I caught the eye of the Regimental Sergeant Major and explained that Tom had held that post himself many years before. He came over to speak to Tom and it seemed that his father had served with the same senior officers that Tom had.

He asked Tom if he would like to inspect the Regimental Colors?

Tom was over the moon when he shrieked to the Colors Guard at the end of the parade ground who dually sprang to attention and marched in two ranks down to where we were standing and the RSM asked Tom if he would like to inspect the guard and colors?

Now Tom usually used a walking stick, but he stood bolt upright and his walking stick now became a Swagger Stick under his arm as he inspected his troops. His old mob really did him proud both on the parade ground and in the officer’s mess after.

I dually took a photo of Tom with the colors and it held pride of place in his house for many years.

Tom was a smashing bloke and I was proud to have had him as an election agent and a long time friend.

Tom Harding (Right) fellow Welsh Guardsman Brian Knox (Deceased)

Tom Harding (Right) with fellow Welsh Guardsman Brian Knox (Deceased)

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atlantic convoy

“Atlantic Convoy” by Stuart Gregory

Can you imagine what it was like for a mother to have had a son serving on the North Atlantic Convoys in the Second World War? These convoys were at the mercy of the German U Boats who could strike

 John Edwards 2013
John Edwards 2013

at any time. Hunting in packs of up to 80 submarines attacking  one convoy and took the lives of thousands of sailors and sunk close to two hundred Allied ships.

On top of mountainous seas the crew had a constant battle with spray that would rapidly turn to ice that would build up on ships, the sailors always mindful that if the ice built up it could cause them to become top heavy and  ships to capsize.

One Abercynon mother Mrs Polly Edwards of Park View actually had two sons serving on the same ship for most of the war and miraculously both of them came through it to become well known in our area.

The first one to serve was actually Ffrangcon the younger who lied about his age  in order to serve his country.

Ffrangcon Edwards

Ffrangcon Edwards

Ffrangcon Edwards who sadly passed away 20 years ago was a well-known trade unionist and County Councillor for the Penrhiwceiber Ward for many years. His brother John (Wenglish)  Edwards joined the same ship but even though he was legally the elder, the records in fact showed Ffrangcon to be 20 when in fact he was a mere 18 and so qualified for the rum ration.

So the younger brother could have what his older brother couldn’t, something that still amuses John even today.

Ffrangcon joined HMS Jamaica as soon as it was built in Barrow in Furness and at times was escorting  a convoy every month in such harsh conditions and all this as a 16 year old.

A remarkable feat that took a courage unknown to the youth of today.

When John joined the same ship almost two years later he was greeted by a sailor asking if he were related to Taffy Edwards? John Said “of all the ships the Navy could have posted me to, they chose the one my brother was on”

The brothers were reunited and served together for most of the remainder of the war.

The Jamaica saw lots of action guarding the convoys and the Edwards boys were there to witness and partake in the sinking of the premier German Battleship the Scharnhorst On Boxing day 1943.

John told me that this premier German Battleship had been engaged by HMS Sheffield and other smaller ships the previous day and even though they were no match for “the pride of the German Navy” they had succeeded in disabling its radar so she was steaming blindly into a trap that was to prove her downfall.

John puts it down to the remarkable skill of the Enigma code breakers that intercepted messages that they passed on to the British Navy  and indicated the route it would take.

John can recall that the darkness was broken by a Star-shell and he and Ffrangcon witnessed  its end as it slowly slipped into icy waters.

While he personally didn’t disclose it, Ffrangcon’s shipmates could tell John that Ffrangcon had engaged with other big German ships before John joined him.

As a “Coder” John’s  job was to deliver messages all over the ship.  Ffrangcon as a Seaman, had to be part of the gunnery group an extremely dangerous job handling high power shells often in huge seas that could throw a man and whatever he was holding across a room with no notice.

The Jamaica’s  job was to sit away from the convoy and to move in to support the convoy should an attack happen. This meant operating in harsh conditions in some of the worse seas imaginable.

Often  sailing into the Arctic waters north of Iceland in the winter, axes and big hammers would have to be used to de-ice the ship as the build-up of frozen spray could cause the ships to become top heavy and run the risk of capsizing.

Its worth pointing out that for most of the winter months in huge seas when this dangerous work had to be carried out, it had to be done in total darkness as the sun didn’t rise at this time of year.

John found it strange that even though they were risking their lives to help Russia, there was no welcome from the Russians and were only allowed to take a short walk on the quay side before being turned back by their “Russian allies”

When the convoys came to an end, Ffrangcon saw out the rest of the war at Plymouth before returning to civilian life.

John however ended up in warm Pacific waters before his return to the UK with his war wound. John had cut his foot on some coral and had to return to the UK for treatment.

He settled down in Bristol and perused a notable career in Education.

Incredibly, Ffrangcon never mentioned or spoke about his time on the convoys, even to his son Allan.

Local historian David Maddox who worked with John for many years was also unaware that he was working with a true “War Hero” until recently.

As yet John and Ffrangcon’s family have only received confirmation of their entitlement to this award and still await the actual medal.

John and his late brother were both pupils of Abertaf Primary School before going on to MACS (or the former Mountain Ash Grammar School) John became a head teacher and later a School Inspector for the former Mid Glamorgan County Council.

He is also famous as a broadcaster for the BBC and had his own “Wenglish” program and has helped raised incredible amounts of money for various organisations with his own unique brand of humour

A staunch trade unionist, Ffrangcon served his community for many years as a County Councillor for Penrhiwceiber under the former Mid Glamorgan County Council.

glamorgan canal

 

In June 1790 an Act of Parliament was passed, allowing the construction of the Glamorgan Canal “from a place called Merthyr Tydvil …… to and through a place called the Bank, near the town of Cardiff”.

It had taken a long time to get this Act through – for years the ironmasters of Merthyr had found great problems in getting their iron down to the sea, and had been trying to find a better way.

The iron had originally been carried on the backs of mules and horses over the mountains from Merthyr to Cardiff. Each animal could only carry about a hundredweight, and a woman or boy walked a string of three or four over the trackways for 25 miles.

In 1767, funds were raised for the construction of a road between Merthyr and Cardiff, and for the next 25 years the iron was carried in wagons drawn by horses, which had to be changed at intervals along the road. The wagons had to pay tolls which varied according to the size of the wagon and the type of load carried.

The route of the canal was a very difficult journey. Merthyr is very much higher than Cardiff, and there are several very steep bits along the way. So that meant that there would have to be a number of locks to lower the level of the water where necessary.

In the one mile between Quakers Yard and Abercynon there were 16 locks, 11 of them in only a quarter of a mile. By the time a boat reached Tongwynlais, it had passed through 41 locks. But with all this to build, the canal was completed in 3 ½ years. It was 25 miles long, had 50 locks and an aqueduct, and was later extended from the town wall in Cardiff down to the shore.

One of these locks near the former junction of the Aberdare Canal is still in place and the stonework has been repaired to its former glory by the owner of Plymouth House in whose grounds it stands.

Many businesses grew up alongside the canal, including the famous Nantgarw Pottery, and very many of the people in the villages along the way were employed either on the canal or because of it.

There were a set of locks at Abercynon which opened directly into one another and were known as staircase locks. In very steep spots this was the only way to manage the canal, and there was another staircase later at Taffs Well.

Soon after, the canal went through another lock, this time at Forest Farm, near Whitchurch, and then it was only a short distance to the famous Melingriffith works at Whitchurch, which were connected closely with the Cyfarthfa iron works. The proprietor of Melingriffith was the treasurer of the canal company and iron from Cyfarthfa and from Pentyrch iron works was carried down the canal to be made into tinplate.

In 1800 the MG tinplate works were reputed to be the largest tinplate works in the world! The canal was important to them for bringing iron down from Merthyr to be processed, and for shipping their goods down to Cardiff for export.

In the 1970s the A470 dual carriageway from Cardiff to Merthyr was constructed and followed the route of the canal almost totally so destroying just about all the remains of the canal.

 

 

 

Abertaf Remembered

A walk down memory lane with Stuart Gregory.

Come with me on a tour of Abertaf  as I remember it 55years ago.

Don’t forget this is how I remember it as a lad of about ten growing up in Fife Street after the Second World War. You may have seen other things that I didn’t so, remember these are my own personal memories of shops and businesses and life in Abertaf in the 1950s?

Let’s start out by walking under the bridge with the Navigation behind us.

On the left was the Fire Station (recently demolished) that had also seen life as a warehouse for the old GlamorganCanal.

On the corner of Gwendolyn Terrace (outside Tollgate House) was the bus stop and on the other corner was the Imperial Stores that was basically Abercynon’s Off Licence and was run by the Davies family who owned and ran the bakery and pop factory (where the new Imperial Court houses are now)

Opposite Tollgate House was a large advertising hoarding that obscured the builder’s yard that was behind. As kids we were told that they made coffins in there, but I think they just said that in order to keep us kids away.

Behind that was Calfaria Chapel which I understand was one of the last to hold Welsh only services.

In front of that was a gent’s urinal and bus stop and across the way next to the railway wall was a red painted shed made of zinc sheets and that was where Mr Gabriel stored the hay that he sold in his shop in Margaret’s Street.

In later years the chapel area was cleared and replaced by the present flats.

On the other corner was Carpaninis Café and at that time it was quite small with just one or two tables, but that was later extended and Andrew added many modern tables and chairs along with a juke box that made “Caps” the place to go in the nights as it stayed open until 10pm. I’m sure that there must be many people like me in Abercynon who did their courting there. “Caps”, was always a happy place to go to. Mrs Carpanini always greeted you with a huge smile and with Maurice and Pino and their sisters all still living there, it was always vibrant and  loud in an Italian sort of way, full of Italian fun and steamed pies and home made award winning ice cream and Italian coffee, lets not forget the coffee?

Across the road ( now Glancynon Stores) was the Co-op with the grocery on the right and the butchers on the left. Mr Des Allen was the Butcher in there for many years. I can also remember the late Glyn Jones (North Street) working in the grocers.

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It’s worth pointing out that you can see where these shops were because in the main they have different fronts to the traditional stone face that the houses have.

After leaving the Co-Op, there were one or two other shops on that side of the road and one of them was a greengrocers run by the Burrage Family. Half way up on the same side was Mrs Bradley’s wool shop and of course the Post Office.

Across the road on the other end of Carpainis row was Winston Williams’ Butcher Shop. (then it became Mike Lee’s and now where his daughter is building a house)

Further up the street after the gap next to the butchers were about four shops. The one on the corner saw life as anything from an Antique Shop to a chip shop. Also in that row was Margaret’s hairdressers and Graham Williams’ DIY shop.

At the end of that row lived the Lewis family and then next door up was the ElimPentecostalChurch, (Two new houses are now there built by Marc Moses)

Next door to Elim was the news agent that Ron Taverner ran for many years.

Opposite was another shop premises that had many and varied uses over the years, before being turned into flats.

Next up again was Dr Batram’s (NCB Doctor) house which is now the family home of Robin and Jennifer Aldridge.

It was all houses then until you came to the little Chapel on the end or the row that now is the home of the Osprey’s Fishing Club.

Opposite (now the home of Belle Daley) was a grocer’s shop and as far as I can remember it was a bit posh, as I don’t remember going in there much as a child.

John and Pat Mathews live next door but if you look, there is a triangular piece of land adjoining their house and when I was little it was a sweet/novelty shop run by Mrs Thomas who’s son Clive lives a few doors down the street.

Across the road at the bottom of Argyle Street was a quite large parcel of green land that we played on until South Wales Police Service bought it and built the present houses on it. I can remember we had tables and chairs on it for the party to celebrate the queen’s coronation.

Incidentally, to my recollection, there has always been a phone box and seat around their present site

OK lets keep going?

If you carry on up the hill in the direction of Mountain Ash you will come across Abertaf Farm Flats. They got their name from the farm that occupied the site previously. It was a traditional whitewashed Welsh Farmhouse and if someone wanted to demolish it in these times there would be all sorts of protests from conservationists but in those days demolishing it was considered progress.

Next door to the flats was Tom Berryman’s Shop. Mr Berryman sold paraffin for heaters and repaired radios. Mr Berryman was one of the first businessmen to branch out into the new world of televisions and he not only sold them, he also repaired them. One of my first recollections of television was when he lined his workshop with benches and invited his neighbours to come along and watch the Queen’s Coronation. As hardly anyone had a TV set, I can recall it being a full house, but good advertising for his business.

I can remember three more shops in Greenfield Terrace, one on the other end of the block from Berryman and one almost opposite run by Mrs Williamson, yet another “front room” shop as was Mrs Dash’s sweetshop further up the street.

There were other small shops in the area but perhaps we can visit them on another day.

As you can tell in my youth Abertaf was full of small traders all making a living from selling things that we now get from Supermarkets in one hit.

Also its worth pointing out that most people had most of their groceries “on tick” and paid their bill (or as much as they could afford) at the end of the week on pay day.

Abertaf may have changed, some may say for the better, some say for the worse, but all in all it’s still a nice place to live.

 

Joe Harding reflects his grandfather

Joe Harding reflects on the grandfather he never knew.

Joe Harding who lives at 64 Mountain Ash road reflects on the life of his grand father (Joe Harding) who Mrs Silcox mentions as the man who lit the gas lamps in Carnetown.

Joe says” I was recently very pleasantly surprised to learn that there are still people in Abercynon who remember my late grand father (also Joe) lighting Abercynon’s Gas street lamps in the 1930s. I never actually knew him because he died in 1942, five years before I was born.

Lamp lighting was one of his last jobs. At the same time he was a road sweeper and despite chest problems (which eventually contributed to his passing) he was also able to do some grave digging.

Joe came originally from Bridgend where (lucky man) he was brought up in a pub called the “Welcome to the town” eun by his father Isaac.

Grandad was something of a sportsman in his youth, particularly as a 100 yard runner and would often win himself extra money from winning races around the South Wales area.

On one particular occasion he entered a sprint meeting held on a track  off Bedwas Road Caerphilly. This would have been in the 1890s on a track that no longer exists. Joe and some friends arrived from Bridgend in his Father’s pony & trap’

Apart from winning the silver trophy, there was a cash prize that he and his friends spent in the pubs of Caerphilly.

The following morning he woke up back in the pub in Bridgend only to find that the money had all gone. The cup was nowhere to be seen and also the horse & trap had disappeared but in its place he found a goat tethered in the pubs back yard. Isaac said “well at least we will have fresh milk every day before he “physically chastised “his wayward son.

Grandad came to Abercynon at the end of the 1980’s to work in Abercynon Pit where he met and married Bessie Rapson whos father Bob had come from Somerset some years previously to also work in the mine. Joe and Bessie had five sons and a daughter with my own father Tom being the fourth son. Somewhere along the way Grandad left the pit and trained to be a gas fitter. Unfortunately working with gasses brought on chest problems that forced him to give up gas fitting around 1932.

Until chest problems got worse, Granddad’s favourite pastime was not sport but playing B-flat Bass in the Abercynon Workmen’s Silver band. Apparently there are not many solos written for b-flat bass but granddad loved the tune of grand old march “old comrades” In his words, the” finest 16 bars written in the history of music”He was heartbroken when his chest problems forced him to give up playing for good in 1932, but would always have a tear in his eye when ever he heard a band play that march that caused the memories to come flowing back. I am not afraid to admit that it does the same for me now that my Father Tom who was a military man has passed away as well.

I will leave you with one story that my late father Tom loved to tell of the two of them in action together.

Both my Grand father and Father would enjoy a drink or two together while relaxing at the end of a week of hard physical work and occasionally they would get a little too telexed, but who could blame them.

On my Dad’s 16th birthday his dad took my dad out for his first official pint. What Grand dad knew but Gran didn’t was that my Dad tom had drunk two pints once a week for the previous 18months while working at Abercynon Pit. It was a tradition that young boys were paid their “Trumps” (wages) across the road in the Navigation pub, but only if you drank your two pints first. Nan had warned Granddad to “look after her boy” but both of them ended up the worse for wear when they arrived home. Doffing his bowler hat to Nan as he always did Grandad said “don’t worry about the boy, he can drink his share”

Grandad –I really wish I had known you. JOE HARDING.