Category Archives: Rhondda

Kiwi cousins

I’ve spent nearly all the long weekend in foreign parts – Canada, USA, Australia and just a touch of the New Zealands. Yes, virtually of course, having splashed out on a Worldwide sub on Ancestry (for a month). All sorts of loose ends tidied up and quite a few new third cousins found, although most seem to have been born rather a long time ago, and are no more.

One of the first on the list for investigation was great aunt Daisy Maud May (originally Scott). She and her minister of religion husband Spencer had headed out for missionary work soon after they married in 1923 (in the Rhondda valley) – see likely wedding photo on the Scott/Osborne page. Their offspring mainly appeared somewhere on their travels in the Indian sub-continent. These had been tracked down a while back, partly using the previously separate Passenger List subscription on FindMyPast.

Mum also knew that they returned to Wales/England after the second world war, only to emigrate to New Zealand a few years later. A December 1953 voyage shows Rev. Spencer and Mrs Daisy May on the ship Rangitata, and that’s where the trail had ended. Supposedly their children also went to NZ, or at least the two girls, but no sign here.

Ancestry recently added some electoral roll registers to its Kiwi archives, and I could see this included a Daisy Maud May in the data. Without a sub, no more info, so this was one of many prompts.

Electoral rolls may not be exciting in terms of genealogy, but they do give addresses. So I now know where great aunt Daisy was over the period 1957 to 1981, when the list runs out – 3 different addresses in Mount Albert, Auckland. Sadly the 1957 shows her as a widow, so Spencer May didn’t get to enjoy his new home for long.

Daughter Megan Blanche however is just down the list at the same addresses. Her occupation is stated as a typist, giving me confidence that a possible April 1954 departure from Blighty is her. As a bonus, there’s also a naturalisation record on Ancestry which gives a definite place of birth – Bangalore, India. (I’ll leave out a little data as she could still be alive.)

It looks like there isn’t a bunch of young Kiwi cousins to visit, so no excuse for a (real) trip then? If there is anyone reading who knows the family, do get in touch.

A community in the Bush

Please see the current Cutlock and Co website for the latest version of this article, the chance to add comments and get in touch.

A community in the Bush … is worth two in Malvern. Or some other bad variation on the saying – any better suggestions?

This is the second article featuring the ‘street’ known as Bush Houses, this time trying to give an idea of how it featured in the the lives of the families who had moved from south Somerset to the south Wales valleys of the Rhondda. See the previous post for the physical history of the place.

UPDATE

Please see the newer Cutlock and Co website for the rest of this article.

Feeling Bushed

Please see the current Cutlock and Co website for the latest version of this article, the chance to add comments and get in touch.

It is a couple of years since I first stumbled across Bush Houses as the place where my coal mining ancestors lived on moving to the Welsh valleys. I can still remember the confusion of trying to work out quite where Bush Houses was (were?).

From the 1891 census for the Osborne family I could track down the ‘hamlet’ of Clydach, recorded here as part of Ystradfodwg parish in the Rhondda. But where was ‘Bush’ -  seemingly having no road name? The only place which came up in a map search was Bush Hotel. Surely the whole family couldn’t have been living in one hotel room? (And of course the Bush Hotel on Clydach Road was undoubtedly more of a pub.)

Later I found what must obviously be the same place in the 1901 census shown as ‘Bush Houses’, and I have since been told that Cwm Clydach Street in the 1881 census again refers to the same place. And now, having tracked down old maps on the People’s Collection Wales, I can see them shown as Cwm Clydach Cottages (Ordnance Survey series 1868 to 1892). My initial confusion can be forgiven, perhaps.

Living close to coal

This image {1} clearly shows Bush Houses’ position adjacent to the working area of Blaenclydach Colliery, and proximity to the railway with coal wagons to the front of picture.

Blaenclydach Colliery and Gorki Drift, 1915

I am indebted to my second cousin (twice removed) John Osborne, living in Clydach, who has provided more background to life here, specific details and a photo.  During our visit he talked about how people living in Bush Houses referred to the rest of Clydach (on the northern side of the brook) as ‘over’ (as in ‘over there’?), and the walk ‘over’ would cut through woods and past the old coke ovens. You can see from the map extract below, as well as the photo above,  that the Bush remained isolated from other housing.

It is difficult to imagine the lives of my ancestors in such small houses with many children, coal dirt all around, back-breaking, dangerous work and how they felt coming from rural south Somerset. At least the immediate Osborne and Scott families appear to have been lucky in not having strings of child deaths, unlike cousins and other relations.

“In memory of the seven miners who died in the Gorki Drift Disaster … 1941″ Plaque outside the council offices.

Church and chapel

The photograph of the rather modest St Albans Church below is courtesy of John Osborne. The 1920 to 1932 Ordnance Survey (available on People’s Collection Wales) shows a St Alban’s Church a little to the north west of Bush Houses, but it doesn’t show in earlier maps.

Given that this photo says St Albans, and the rows of houses of Clydach Vale are behind, this must be it. I had thought at first it was instead a chapel, shown as Methodist on the 1920/32 map, close to the eastern end of the south row of Bush Houses. (I fear there may be some over-interpretation in a painting of the place, mixing up the two.)

Changing landscape

From the 1920/32 map:

Built in the 1860s, the Bush Houses were demolished in 1969. The whole area around there has been landscaped, with a new lake and houses on one side and council offices on the other. The offices are partly located on the Bush footprint.

An extract from Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust page on historic landscapes provides more dates:

 By 1875 the ‘fragmented’ first phase colliery settlement of isolated rows had been established at Cwm Clydach (such as Cwm Clydach Cottages or Bush Houses), while three collieries are also in evidence at this time: Cwm Clydach Colliery and coke ovens, opened 1864 and closed in 1895; Blaen Clydach Colliery, opened by Mr Bush and Company in 1875 (earlier Levels had been opened by Frank James in 1863).

That extract does give a clue as why Cwm Clydach Cottages/Street became known as Bush Houses – presumably they were either built by or later acquired by Mr Bush and Company (and rented to his workforce).

Looking over Clydach Vale lake towards councils offices and where Bush Houses used to be. (Photo: Cathleen Parsons)

Community

Many families in Clydach today originate from the Bush, according to cousin John. A later article will relate how many Osborne relatives took up Bush property, and with a bit of luck give some idea of the close knit community.

Cwm Clydach/Clydach Vale/Blaenclydach can be seen as a side valley extension to Tonypandy, which was one of the best-known coal mining towns in Glamorganshire.

Notes

Photo 1: Sourced with permission from the Rhondda section of the Anglesey Info site, but also appearing in lower quality on Rhondda Cynon Taf council’s heritage trail page.

Lake photo: thanks for the image Cathleen, hope you don’t mind the re-use!

Further reading:

  • Clydach Vale on Wikipedia has a little info on the Gorki Drift disaster as well as more about the area.
  • Our Valleys Heritage – the piece ‘A fold in the hills‘ (pdf) mentions Bush Houses as well as giving life to Clydach Vale in general.
    • “As children, my brother, sister and I loved to cross the little bridge over the railway to play.  Sometimes we took bottles to fill with water that came from the pump situated on the top of the street we called the Bush houses.  At the other end of the street was a drift mine called Gorky Colliery and a chapel.
      “Sadly this street was demolished to make room for the land reclamation scheme.”
  • Cwmclydach website. The history page gives a different opening date for Blaenclydach Colliery – 1863 – but that does match the earlier Levels noted above.
  • Tribute to the Rhondda – Clydach Vale.

And on Cutlock & Co: A community in the Bush; A snapshot of Bush Houses in 1911

Updates

I have updated this article (a couple more photos, a bit of tidying up and reference notes) , and may well do further if I find more material or  hopefully get contributions/amendments from other people.

Keen eyes and some groundwork to find the name

Another selection from the recent Trealaw cemetery trawl. This time they are all related in some way to the Osborne (Somerset) side of the family, but as with my first piece on this (A quick look at family gravestones at Trealaw), they are all different in style

The pub connection

This headstone is interesting mainly because of the initial dedication “In loving memory of Mary Jane Minton beloved sister of D. A. Morgan Central Hotel Blaen Clydach Died June 6th 1917 aged 37 years”.

‘The Central’ still survives on Clydach Road as a building at least – you can see it on Google Streetview. David Aubrey Morgan was in Swansea with the rest of the family in 1891, as a tin worker, so how he changed to running a pub is an intriguing question. It is also interesting that the stone used here is different from all other family gravestones – a harder stone so more expensive, David eager to show his status in the area?

And on the other two on the stone: Ann McLean is the mother of both Mary Jane and David, having been a Morgan before marrying Mark McLean. Morgan would seem to be her previous married name, not her maiden name. This trio fits on the Osborne branch as Ann and Mark’s son William married Mabel Osborne, daughter of Levi and Elizabeth.

Groping for a name

By contrast, you’ll find it hard to see the name here. The lower stone has ‘Beament’ etched into it – you might just make out a couple of letters. When there was no other sign of an inscription, groping about at the foot of the grave (if it had this type of surround) was worth a go, as you might just be able to feel some carved letters.

There was also this urn was on the grave. ‘Mam and dad’ should be, if we have the right plot, Henry Beament (1868-1951) and wife Bessie Osborne (1870-1951), plus Len, their son Leonard (1905 – 1990?).

Keep your eyes peeled

The last of today’s three graves is one I spotted while searching out the hard-to-find grave of the great grandparents Scott (the B1 plot). The particular Letherby names weren’t on my list as for some reason Brinley does not appear on the CD transcription of the burial register (it goes up to 1990 so he should be there).

Brinley Letherby, son of Frederick Letherby and Daisy Osborne, born 1915 died 13th December 1971; married Ivy Stella Crump (1918 to 13th August 1997). The info on their 5 month old daughter Bernice, as shown here,  has been added to my family tree but she is the only offspring I have got recorded – I would be pleased to hear from any relatives.

The Tonypandy that Mum knew

I spent a few days last week visiting the old coal mining area of Rhondda in south Wales with my brother. The Tonypandy environs was where the previous couple of generations to mum lived, worked and many died (many at a good age but others weren’t so fortunate), along with plenty of cousins, aunts, uncles etc. We spent a long morning in Trealaw cemetery tracking down as many related gravestones as we could, followed by an afternoon exploring the town, in particular Blaenclydach, finished off with a warm welcome from second cousin (twice removed) John Osborne and wife, with many old photos, documents, paintings and talk plus fresh tea and sandwiches.

While I am still digesting all this, the following extract from Mum’s ‘Recollections and reflections’ (written 2007) will give a taster of the place. Here she talks about her grandparents from “hard working, working class backgrounds”.

The Watkins side were from very definitely established Welsh speaking families: many generations likely to have been born in Wales. I have gathered from reference books that the Watkins tribe probably originated in Brecknockshire. The Scott side were immigrants from Southern England. Grandpa Scott was born in, or near White Lackington [actually Whitelackington - subtle but important distinction] in Somerset; he came to the Rhondda Valley as a young man, to find a job in the mines, which was more lucrative than working as a labourer on the land. I know nothing about my Grandpa’s early life or his family background.  Grandma Scott, I know, spent most of her childhood in the Rhondda area. I used to love listening to her tales about her childhood and from them I know she went to school there. Her family had moved from Dorset; their family name was Osborne.

Grandsire (Granshir we called him) and Granny Watkins lived only a few hundred yards away from Grandpa (Grampa) and Grandma (Granma) Scott, so when we went to Tonypandy, where they lived, we were able to visit both sets of grandparents. My sister and I always stayed overnight with my maternal grandparents, if it was an extended visit. I don’t know where my parents slept. My paternal grandparents died about two or three years before the Second World War, when I was about seven or eight, so I never grew to know them as well as I did my mother’s parents. I do know that sometime during his life that Granshir Watkins went to America to find other employment. I have an idea that he went with other members of the family: a brother perhaps? Maybe it was to find gold? Anyway he returned and was unemployed for most years of his later working life, as was Grampa Scott.

My most vivid memory of Granshir is seeing him sitting at the end of David Street, where he lived, chatting with his mates. He always waved or had a word with me as I passed. Granny was always at home, usually preparing food or such like, in the middle room, where all the main activities of the house went on. There was a small room called the scullery, which had the kitchen sink, that you went through to reach the garden. I only remember going into the garden on one occasion. The hub of life took place in this middle room or living room, which was lit by a gaslight hanging down centrally over the table. I can hear the pop of the mantle being lit as I write: a very gentle satisfying “pop”!

Grampa and Granma Scott lived at 15 Fern Terrace, which was nearly at the top of a very steep hill that led on to the mountain. When parking a car outside the front door it was necessary to turn the wheels into the kerb and to put a stone, or some other restraining mechanism, behind a wheel, as well as pulling hard on the brake. It was really hard work walking from the bottom of the hill to Granma’s, if you had been out shopping or such like: instead, we usually zigzagged through the back lanes or side roads, to ease the journey home. Just a small recessed porch, to shelter you from the elements, lay between the pavement and the front door. There was a lane at the rear of the house and the back gate was more generally used, if there was someone at home and the back door unlocked.

Fern Terrace, Tonypandy/Blaenclydach, April 2011. Number 15 is a couple of doors up from the children. Photo by Pete Howes

The back door of the house opened onto a small paved area positioned between the two adjoining houses. Ten stone steps led down to the cellar beneath the kitchen, with the W.C. housed in a separate brick building beside it. A small kitchen garden, where my grandfather grew vegetables, but no flowers or grass, was in this lower area. I remember falling down the stone steps, when I was about seven years old, which gave both my grandparents and me a nasty shock, but I didn’t come to much harm and I was careful to use the metal hand rails that ran down beside the steps after this.

The kitchen was where the main activities of the house happened. There was a large range with two ovens: a small one used to keep food warm and keeping the kindling dry etc. and a larger one for the main cooking. There was usually an iron kettle on the hob, which was the source of hot water for washing and cooking. Sometime in the early part of the second world war Granma did have a gas cooker fitted, but the range fire was still the main source of heat, so that oven was still used, when the fire was lit.  Bathing took place in front of the range fire in a tin bath, which was kept hanging from a nail on the back wall outside. Later, about the same time as the gas cooker was installed, a glass conservatory was built, between the kitchen and the neighbours’ wall, to house a bath and the sink. This was a horrendously cold place to have a bath in winter.

More Tonypandy memories

There has been a ‘living memory’ project in the Rhondda which finished in 2010. One of the published stories on Our Valleys Heritage is from Phyllis Bowen, who recalls her childhood days in Clydach Vale in ‘A fold in the hills’ – direct link to the pdf document (65KB). There’s also one on funfairs in Tonypandy.

The show must go on … the railway

A major collision on the railway near Pontypridd a hundred years ago had a small part to play in the ongoing Tonypandy coal miners strike 1910/11, with a senior union official killed in the incident. (I don’t have the details of the person to hand as my copy of the ‘Tonypandy riots’ book  is currently on loan.*)

National Archives have marked the anniversary (23rd January) by making the records of the subsequent Board of Trade inquiry (document RAIL 1057/2707) available for free for a month – see their news item for download link (if you haven’t done it before, note that this is a multi-stage process).

In the inquiry record, the Taff Vale Railway’s notice of special arrangements for the week (which includes resulting engineering works) has a fascinating little section on “Theatrical Companies and Musical Hall Artistes etc by Ordinary trains”. Presumably this was a regular occurrence before everything theatrical went by road vehicles. Sunday November 26th 1911 sees both Musical Hall Artistes (2 compartments reserved) and “Girl without a Name ” Co (3 compartments) travelling from Tonypandy.

Apart from this, there’s probably not much in the records of immediate relevance to family history in the Rhonnda but it should be worth a read later.

* UPDATE: Book is back with me, and it merely states fourteen people were killed including three members of the Executive of the SWMF (South Wales Miners’ Federation). For some reason they have the crash as being March 1911, but this is clearly the same event.

A birthday memorial

I’ve been aiming  to get some material together to post here early each week, a chance to write something a bit more rounded than a family tree data record or the abbreviated voluntary sector news I produce. Today is 1st February, the 81st anniversary of Mum’s birth and the first one since she died. So I can hardly do better than include a little from her ‘Recollections and reflections’, written a few years ago.

I was born somewhere in the district of Neath Abbey near the town of Neath in Glamorganshire, South Wales in the early hours of February First 1930. ……  The first home I remember was Cae Hir, Church Village near Pontypridd. This was a bungalow on the main road with fields on the other three sides. Our nearest neighbour was about thirty yards away on one side and, about double that, on the other was a Garage that sold petrol and did car maintenance; behind us stretched fields and some woodland through which ran a stream.

The bungalow was quite small: two bedrooms, two reception rooms and bathroom plus scullery ……. The living room had a kitchen range with an open fire and back boiler on which meals were cooked and water heated. If there was a separate kitchen in this house, I certainly can’t remember it: meals were prepared on the white wooden topped table in this room. But we did have a separate bathroom with a modern white enamelled bath!  There was a scullery, where the weekly wash and washing up after meals were done, near the back door. Outside this was a sort of conservatory or lean-to, where I remember the pram and probably the mangle were kept.

……

There were the usual few shops in the village: butcher, baker newsagent etc., but once a week Mum used to shop in Pontypridd and as I was under school age I accompanied her. The bus passed our front gate, so it was easy to hail it to stop: I enjoyed these adventures into town; I wonder whether my mother did?

It is difficult to decide what are appropriate extracts given that this was written basically for family interest (and Mum’s own satisfaction). But the bare bones above do show a little of the basic living conditions of her childhood and highlight some of the changes she saw over her 80 years.

Looking ahead to look behind

To follow up the traditional year-end top moments, the traditional look forward for 2011.

Some of the possibilities:

  • A visit to the Tonypandy area, and Trealaw cemetery in particular (the list of tree members buried there just keeps expanding), really ought to be on the to do list.
  • Scanning to digital form old family photos. For this, it would be great if the Flip-Pal portable scanner got released in the UK soon, preferably not at straight dollar to pound pricing – see this ‘not-a-review’ post.
  • Am looking forward to Welsh parish registers appearing on Findmypast in 2011/12, although that means having to shell out for another subscription at some point. See Grown Your Own Family Tree post. Conversely the 1911 census arriving on Ancestry sometime this year means not needing to take an extra sub for that.
  • As I wrote on the ‘About’ page a couple of weeks ago, I’m “currently particularly interested in finding any living Cullum relatives, the Canadian branch of Neal, and Watkins cousins too.” Good start – a Watkins third cousin emerged today!
  • Keeping on finding material which might just be worth a blog post here.

As with all predictions, what actually happens over the course of the year is distinctly subject to events, dear boy, events.