Home » My Roots Llangunllo 1939 -1949

My Roots Llangunllo 1939 -1949

Thomas William (Bill) Smith

My parents Stanley and Gladys Smith originated from Llangunllo and Llanbister Road respectively.
Father lived at The Cottage (Cellar House) Llangunllo with his parents William and Agnes Smith,(nee Jones) my grandparents, which is adjacent to the Greyhound public house. Mother, one of ten children lived with her parents Thomas Evans and Annie {nee Herrits) at Railway Cottages, Llanbister Road.

Grandfather William Smith was the village postman and also carried on a family trade of cobbler from the cellar of The Cottage. He also had Smiths Shop which was situated across the road from the Cottage which was managed by Mrs Lloyd who lived next to the shop. He led a busy life in that running business and being a postman entailed him walking to Bleddfa every day to collect the mail and delivering it as returning to the village. Family history shows him originating from the Beguildy, Llanfair Waterdine area with his wife Agnes from the Hereford Shropshire border.

At this time my father Stanley was apprenticed to Hamars Grocers at Knighton. Mother Gladys lived as a maid at Llangunllo Vicarage with Rev Lerrago and his sister. Also living in the village at his time was my uncle Leonard Jones and his sister Ada who lived at and ran The Mill. Another uncle John Smith lived at The Shell Cottage. As far as I recall he was a farmworker.

In the mid 30’s my parents moved to Solihull, Birmingham where they purchased a house. Father continued in the grocery trade with Wrensons one of the major grocers. I was born in Solihull in 1938 and my brother Edward in 1940. At the outbreak of WW2 father was called up to serve in the Army which necessitated the family returning to Llangunllo. I seem to have a memory of being in the back of a car lying in blankets piled on top of luggage making this journey but the years may have made that an unreliable one.

Our home in Llangunllo for my mother my brother and I then became number two The Terrace which has since been turned into one(?) house. ‘Teacher’ Alice Evans lived at No1 (nearest the school), we were in the middle at No 2 and Dave and Bessie Brickley lived at No3. They had two children a boy Glyn and a daughter whose name escapes me.

These were ‘two up and two down’ houses with the front door leading straight into the living room with an adjoining kitchen barely big enough to be called a room. Stairs from the kitchen led up into a single bedroom with a door off into a double. It was in the single bedroom that I shared with brother Edward that I, thanks to the poor living conditions, spent months hallucinating purple colours, gravitating and floating around the room suffering the effects of bronchial pneumonia treated with phenobarbitone. Must have been bad to have had the vicar come and administer the blessing to me.

As I recall a national effort to combat wartime conditions was the free issue to children of orange juice and maple syrup. There was never any problem in administering these as opposed to the problem mother had in practising the tight-fitting of our rubber gas masks. Even today it brings back the memory of the rubber smell when going under the gas for dental treatment!

Heating was provided by a fireplace grate in the living room, a paraffin stove and lighting from an Aladdin lamp and candles. There was no running water which had to fetch from a tap set into the stone wall of the schoolhouse across the road from No1 The Terrace. The last of more modern times that I looked for the tap the wall was thick with ivy. No inside toilet meant bed chambers or a visit across the road to a wooden privy in the second garden of The Cottage which ran from directly from Church road in front of the schoolyard down to Smiths Shop. Everything is relative of course but I have to stop and think when one hears what constitutes poverty today.

Living in the schoolhouse at this time was Sam Webb the Station Master with his two daughters Elsie and (Ivy?) I attended the school learning the alphabet sitting at old form desks with I believe teacher Alice. Mr Kendrick who was the headmaster lived at Green Street Farm. Memories of the school centre on quarter pint bottles of milk and of excused lessons in order to peel potatoes for school lunch! There was a metal canteen alongside the schoolyard where a cook (Ada from up Hen Cefn lane), prepared the meals. High tech potato peelers were heavy cast iron affairs shaped like a large deep bowl the inside surface of which was covered with very coarse spiky metal. Potatoes were put in through a top lid and a hose fed a stream of water into it. The pupil’s job was to turn a handle rapidly which in turn spun the bottom of the peeler causing the potatoes to spin and jostle around rubbing across the coarseness thereby removing the peel which washed out! I think I must have learnt something else at school.

The Cottage (Cellar House) consisted of an entrance hall giving direct access to stairs and bedrooms. The stairs were laid with shiny lino held in place by brass stair rods. It was down these stairs that my grandmother fell, breaking her hip in doing so. In those days going into the hospital was thought of as being a one-way trip with not coming out alive so she opted not to receive any treatment for the break but spent some fifty remaining years of her life in discomfort and pain walking with the aid of a pair of wooden crutches.

A door to the left of the entrance led into a living room. This always had a side of salted bacon hanging in the wooden ceiling rack over a large kitchen table. The room had a fire grate which also heated a side hot water tank with an oven built into the other side. A door off the living room led into a lean-to kitchen which in turn gave access out onto the rear garden. There was running water into a kitchen sink but more memorable was the brick washing boiler built on the floor in one corner. This consisted of a bricked-in fireplace with front access. Built-in and on top was a large bowl some two or so feet diameter wide which was covered with a wooden lid when heating up. Wooden tongs and glass washboard were to hand for the washing which was a very, very steamy process. A Welsh style dresser, food cupboard and metal gauze fronted food safe to keep out flies completed the equipment.

On the right-hand side of the hall was the parlour dining room which also had ornamental display cases. A door out of the lean-to gave access via the garden to an outside wooden toilet. Of note here is the construction inside of a three-seater toilet so designed with a row of three “daddy bear, mummy bear and baby bear” sized holes to sit upon and do the business as it were. Sanitary needs were met by applying lime over the contents and cleaning out by shovel into the garden when necessary. Paper was squares torn from newspaper hung from a string on the wall or sometimes Jeyes toilet paper.

On the top side of the Cottage was a garage constructed of corrugated sheet iron in which my father kept his Morris 8 tourer car. Before leaving for the war he raised the car up off the ground onto wooden blocks in order to save tyres and suspension compression etc. I don’t remember it but putting the car back into use on safe return from the war must have been a powerful emotional moment for all concerned.

Next to the garage is Brynteirion in which Bill and Mary Owen lived with their children John and Isobel. My grandfather had long retired by now and Bill was the postman but by now post was delivered to the village by post van. They have long since gone but going further up the lane past Brynteirion was a row of small cottages. I don’t remember any names but do remember a saying of a child from one when giving his age as ‘four and a half and Martha wants a mon.’ I’m not sure but I believe it was this Martha who charmed a wart off my hand using spit on a stone which was then buried out of sight for the magic to do its work.

The top of this lane joined the road and lane which ran in front of the Terrace across to the Old Vicarage. I think that is now not in use. Turning left and up at the old Vicarage gave access to a steep field above the foot lane called ‘Whimble Tump’and it was to this field that in winter snows we took sledges mostly made of flat corrugated steel sheets. Highly dangerous looking back as they were impossible to control once on the move as the high-speed run ended at a barbed wire hedge. I think John Owen had a near miss there once. The Whimble had a large horse chestnut tree which provided more than enough conkers for us children to play with.

Another activity that I recall was causing explosions with an empty Golden Sugar syrup tin! In those days carbide powder was used to create lamp lights for cycles and I think cars. Carbide worked by wetting it which caused it to give off a gas which if lit created light. However, putting a quantity into an empty tin, spitting on it to cause it to gas, quickly putting the lid on and laying it horizontal on the road with your foot to hold it in place, wait a few seconds before putting a lighted match into a small prepared hole in the bottom of the tin caused a serious explosion enough to blow the lid halfway down the road from Church road down to Smiths shop!

The cellar of the Cottage was accessed from a large door off the Greyhound yard. Looking at current photos it could be that it’s still the same door. It was very dark inside with the only light coming from a small window over the cobbler’s bench, lasts, knives and other tools. In addition, the cellar served as the ‘coal hole.’ Coal was delivered by the Radco in open hessian sacks to just inside the door. The coal was in large lumps and at times I was tasked with hammering it into useable sizes. Importantly the cellar was also where I kept my bike. This was a girls bike which I adapted into a boys bike by tying a broomstick across the frame from seat post to handlebars!

The village as a whole was pretty well self-sufficient. Smiths shop together with Fred West at his shop assisted by Birdie Nicholls supplied groceries, Mrs Tong ran the post office, her husband worked the Black Smiths which was alongside the post office. One of my memories is watching large shire horses being shod in the smithy and being reluctantly made to walk underneath one of these giants by some fun-loving farm hand!

We had Bill Paine (children Graham and Mavis) as the local policeman in the police station. Little did I know that in the 1980’s I would be a police officer serving alongside Bill at Newtown or that I would be conducting police surgeries on the village square and using the opportunity to pay a visit to the Cottage for a chat with Mrs Coombs.

Other food sources were sourced from Mother Nature. At the appropriate time of the year, family groups made their way through Harley Vaughan’s Great House farmyard up onto the Wimberry hill to pick wimberries (blueberries). This was an exhausting climb and a long day out in often hot days for young children. Berries were picked more or less one by one into baskets whilst sitting on the ground. Although considered bad form some people created combs by cutting teeth around the opening of a large tin enabling the user to comb into and over the bush and allowing the berries to drop into the tin thus avoiding picking one by one. As I recall it was considered bad practice as it allegedly spoilt the bushes future productivity. Another foraging activity was gathering and collecting rose hips which were used to make rose hip syrup. These grew in the hedge of the cemetery which is some short distance beyond the Shell Cottage. The railway line was always the source of profound quantities of blackberries.

The Faulkner’s operated the sawmill as well providing provision for slaughtering pigs whose fading death screams and squeals echoed far and wide in the village as they slowly bled to death on a pig bench held down by a couple of men, the pig having had its throat cut. On a lighter note Richard (Dick) Faulkner (son) was famous for his ability to yodel as well as any cowboy ever did and he could be heard the village overperforming either from the sawmill or out and about the village. Alan Walker son of the Walker family living at the bungalow on the sawmill side of the bridge was one of the teenagers at this time as I recall as was Raymond Lloyd son of Mrs Lloyd who managed the Smiths Shop.

The Church together with the village hall was very much a centre of activity with Sunday evensong and morning service together with communion being regular occurrences with good attendances. Once old enough I was one of the persons whose role it was to pump up the organ bellows. Somewhere I believe I still have a prayer book that contains the order of the church services given to me in order to follow the service from the room at the back of the organ. The task was to listen to the vicar delivering the service and to pump up and down the large bellows at the appropriate time in order to pump air into the organ pipes as music was played. In order to judge the moment to start pumping the prayer book is pencilled with the word ‘pump’ at the point at which to start. This system worked pretty well but there were occasions when the vicar had to hiss the word “pump” when I was late starting! I presume they are still there but in relatively recent times my name and age and that of Glyn Reynolds as ‘pumpers’ are written in pencil on the wooden frame of the bellows.

Glyn together with his brother Austin and sister Ruth lived in the Corner House on the village square immediately opposite Fred West’s shop. Some few hundred yards past the Shell Cottage was a ‘tack’ barn in which was stored farming implements and some hay. This was a play and adventure place for the younger set of the village but it was somewhere that they would never let me join them. I later found out that it was a place for amorous activities!

The county provided roadmen who worked their allocated various lengths of the road keeping the open roadside drainage ditch clear of debris and we were occasionally entertained with the appearance of a heavy steam roller puffing through the village.

There is not much more to tell; the village has moved on from my day and with much new development is scarcely recognisable. Not sure whether I prefer the old or the new.