Cefn Mawr – One day in 1950

Alun Salisbury recounts the sights & sounds as he delivers the Cefn Chronicle one day in 1950 – from watching Willy the butcher cleaning the shop counter to hearing the whine from the milkshake machine at Mrs Bowen’s Milk Bar.

From 1950 to 1953, I delivered the Cefn Chronicle throughout Cefn Mawr, and delivery also included payment, which significantly increased the time taken to complete the paper round.

After school on a Friday I would make my way to the Chronicle Office in High Street, where I would collect 13 dozen papers. Often, I would have to wait while these were printed. This task was carried out by Harold Lane before he passed the single, double sided printed sheets to Bryn Jones or my brother, Leonard for folding down to a size slightly larger than A4. It was fascinating to watch these machines and operators at work.

Friday, Early November 1950, 4.30pm

Its late afternoon, very cold with rain imminent, remembers Alun Salisbury. Leaving the Chronicle office with my heavy bag of papers, I turn left along High St making calls before arriving at Mr Jones’ small ‘corner’ shop located near Williams Bakery. Mr Jones sells everything, from sweets, to Zeebo paste for Black Lead Grates, to bundles of kindling sticks secured with rubber bands cut from car tyre inner tubes. On entering, I become aware of the over powering smell of paraffin emanating from the large metal storage tank located in the corner of the store. Paraffin is essential for many, for their homes are lit by oil lamps.

Scanning the shelves, I’m tempted to buy sweets, but they are always served loose from the jar and there are no readymade sweet bags in his shop, for Mr Jones makes his own from neatly stacked, cut squares of newspaper which he has prepared and placed on the counter. I chose bulls eyes, and once weighed he picks up a square of paper, and before the blink of my eye, rolls and makes up a paper cone into which the sweets are placed. A final twist is made at the base, and top folded over secure the contents.

I pay and make my way to Rock Place and schoolteacher’s house; JP Humphreys. JP lives with Jonathan, who has a shop on the Crane. They live in the rear of the house so I have to announce my arrival with a shout of ‘Chronicle’ at the side gate. As usual JP opens the gate, so I’m sure to receive my customary penny tip. Later, I make my way up Mount Pleasant, calling on ‘uncle’ Will (Slater) Hughes and ‘aunt’ Maggie whose house is at the top of Morris’ steps. Tonight ‘uncle’ Will is busy in his pigeon loft so ‘aunt’ Maggie pays for the paper and I receive a warm drink and another penny tip.

Light is fading but before it’s too dark I hope to reach the top of Mount Pleasant and the old Air Raid Shelters’ and remains of the Emergency, Fire, Water Tank – Relics of the Second World War. It’s beginning to rain but through the gloom I can see Greig Evans father’s house which overlooks Mount Pleasant perched high up on the rock at the end of Browns Lane. His Morgan three wheel car is parked outside. This is a marvellous vehicle with a big ‘V’ twin engine mounted on the front of the car, driving the single rear wheel. I’m always spellbound when I see it but I’ve no time to walk up the steep rock path tonight.

Arriving at the last shelter I turn right and walk down the fenced footpath leading to the ABC steps (so called because there are 26 steps) which pass Chatham’s Quarry. The streetlamp at the bottom of the steps illuminates the old, black painted Labour Hut, which is often used for dance evenings and parties, but it’s deserted tonight. Continuing down the path I note the progress made to the bonfire, by our rivals, Ronny Cranshaw and his friends. The bonfire is built on the edge of the bank overlooking Theo’s garage and often used by the populace as a refuse tip. By comparison, our bonfire is much larger, and if the night wasn’t so dark could be seen from here for ours is built on Chatham’s sandstone quarry waste, and elevated ground located besides the dirt road leading from Theo’s garage to Plas Kynaston Hall.

Continuing down Rock Hill, I pass Thomas the Tinsmith’s workshop where he is still hard at work. Here, he makes all manner of equipment, but today he has made a good number of coalminers’ tinplate water bottles and snapping boxes, several of which he has tied together. These I know will be handed to the bus driver taking coalminers, who are on night shift, to Bersham, Hafod or Ifton collieries. The roaring fire, used to heat his soldering irons looks inviting on this cold, wet night, but I’ve no time to spare, and besides, my next customer has a gas fire, and I shall, for a change, deliver the paper indoors and out of the rain.

The customer is ‘aunt’ Harriet who has a sweet shop in Well St. Opening the door to the shop triggers the bell alerting her of my presence. She enters the shop from her sitting room making her way to the chain controlling the slumbering gas light. Pulling the chain brings the light up to full power. As expected, her single burner, globe, gas fire which she has on the counter, is alight and hissing away so I take the opportunity to warm my hands while she finds the two pence for the paper.

A few more calls and I arrive at my uncle John Hughes, and aunt Catherine’s house. They live in a small cottage just off Well St, next to Bowen’s grocery shop. Uncle John is affectionately known throughout the village as DCM, but I don’t know why. 1 (It would be many years before I realise that this is an acronym for, Distinguished Conduct Medal and that this military decoration was awarded following action at the Ducks Bill, Neuve-Chapelle, France, May 1916. Unfortunately, two months later, whilst the 16th Battalion (2) Royal Welsh Fusiliers were attacking Mametz Wood, Somme, France, he sustained a machine gun bullet to his arm which, like many, this wound effectively ended his Military career and limited his future work prospects).

Continuing along Well Street, I pass Morris’ Hardware Store. Even though the hour is late customers are still entering this emporium but taking care to tread carefully on the rickety and well patched floorboards. The flickering gas lights reveal both Bernard, and his brother Cecil tending their needs just as they had a few days previously when my mother bought a new pair of wellingtons for me. I am beginning to regret wearing them for I am already suffering with chilblains brought on by the cold, damp weather.

Crossing the road I find Bernard’s old BSA motorcycle with hand gear change. It’s in its usual place, propped against the Clinic Wall. He uses the bike daily from his home in Trefor even making the journey home for lunch. He presents a distinctive figure when riding, always sporting a cigarette clenched tightly between his lips. His weather protection takes the form of a rearward facing flat cap and gabardine mackintosh, which is always billowing in the wind.

Adjacent to the Clinic, Willy Morton, the butcher and staff are cleaning the shop counter and sweeping up in preparation to close. His shop is located next to Morris’ steps which lead to my home, but there is no point in calling, for I’ve spotted that lights are on in the Midland Bank, opposite, which means that mother, who is the cleaner, is hard at work. There is also evidence on the road that my father’s miners’ coal allowance has been delivered, and as this is the main street through Cefn, and we live opposite the bus stop, he would have had to clear it away without delay. This would have been hard work for both my mother and father for they have to carry the coal in buckets up a flight of 14 steps and then store it in the coal-place under our stairs. Had the load been delivered any other day than Friday, then I would certainly have had to help.

Rumbling to a stop outside the Bank, Williams Shoe Repairers, and George the Barber shops is a crowded Crosville double deck bus with its windows streaming with condensation. People are anxious to get off and make their way home. Although it’s Friday night, for most this is not the end of the working week. Some take the opportunity and collect their repaired shoes whilst others pop into George the Barber next door.

The bus pulls away to reveal Elliotts (Whitehead’s) cycle shop. They are advertising Standard Fireworks for sale. Once I’ve been paid for delivering the papers I plan to call and purchase some fountains and catherine wheels for the ‘big’ night which is only days away. Continuing my journey, I pass Mrs Bowen’s Milk Bar and hear the high-speed whine from the milkshake machine, interrupted occasionally when the blade contacts ice cream. Clearly someone is having a treat. For a moment I wonder what flavour they have chosen.

Melia’s, opposite is closed. Tomorrow, Saturday I plan a visit to enquire whether they have any broken biscuits for sale! Their biscuits are delivered and served from one foot square metal boxes. Depending on the handling this often results in breakages, and customers are reluctant to buy broken biscuits. A bag of broken biscuits, purchased at a reduced price, is always a treat for my friends.

Cuffin’s shop and Phillips the Chemist next door both have customers but I am passing the jewellers shop opposite and the wrist watches in the window grab my attention. I’m drawn from the jeweller’s window by the smell of fresh bread and cakes wafting along the street from Williams Bakery shop next door. Although, at this hour there is very little left on the shelves. With the smell of cakes fresh in my mind I continue on my way, but fail to see one of Jesson’s single decker buses approaching. Seeking refuge I dive onto the narrow pavement and bus stop outside Fletchers the butchers and Vault’s pub. The bus comes to a grinding halt, for this is the bus stop for anyone heading in the direction of Wrexham. Of their two buses this is my favourite, it’s the more modern of the two and has rounded front and rear panels as opposed to the older, square shaped one. Momentarily, I’m reminded of the many journeys I have made with my mother on Jesson’s buses, for we often visited Wrexham Market during and after the war. Principally, the trip was to purchase tripe, but more importantly, tripe fat, which was available without food coupons. Like many, mother used the fat for frying fish and chips. Unfortunately, when heated the fat gave off an overpowering pungent odour, but strangely, had no effect on the quality and taste of the fish or chips.

Mindful of my lucky escape, I approach the corner and junction of Well Street, Hill Street and Crane Street. There are lights on in Will Jones’ Chippy 3 for he is preparing for the evening trade. (Will Jones owned the fish and chip shop prior to it being known as Den’s Chippy.) On passing Harry Hughes’ shop, which is below the chippy, I’m reminded of the delicious ice cream that Mr Hughes makes. But it’s too cold tonight to enjoy one, and besides, my hands aren’t clean and with only wafers available, I’ll end up making the wafer grubby in the centre, as is usual. It’s safer to cross the road at this point for there is no pavement on the Ebenezer Chapel side and head towards Freddy Butts’ vegetable and fish shop.

Continuing, I pass Lloyd Davies’ tobacco shop and I am reminded of the many times I’ve run an errand for my father to collect his Twist, a must for any coalminer going underground. Once more I’m greeted by the delicious smell of bread and cakes but this time it’s from Ethelstons bakery nearby, whilst next door is E Emlyn Evans Electrical shop. Apart from his regular electrical business he is the focal point for villagers who, like ourselves, rely on his accumulator-battery recharging service. Essential for those with no electricity who are dependent on him for their radio lead acid batteries to be recharged. We had two batteries, one connected to the radio whilst the other was in his workshop being recharged.

Mindful of the hour, I cross the street to gaze momentarily in Frank Ellis’ radio/TV shop window for he has these new televisions in store and, if I’m lucky, he may just have one turned on. He has and it’s an Alba consul model, but the price tag indicates that it’s £99. Gosh that’s a lot of money (4).

Passing Gracies Drapery Store the rain turns to snow. It’s a bad night for delivering newspapers but I continue and make a call just beyond the lane leading back up to High Street and the Chronicle Office. Turning, I retrace my steps to the Maypole and Chemist shops and turn for the Doctor’s steps. The handrail is helpful particularly as the steps are now slippery with snow.

On passing the surgery, I glance in and can see that all seats are occupied by patients waiting to see Dr. McDonald. I just hope they’ve made a note of whose turn it is next, for there is no queuing system in place.

A few calls later I arrive at Mrs Bowen’s home. She lives opposite the entrance to Cefn School and owns the Milk Bar in Well Street. As usual, her dog, Laddie, an Irish Setter makes a huge fuss, because he looks forward each week to my visit. As a rule he is allowed to accompany me for the remainder of my round, but not tonight for the snow is falling much heavier. Further calls are made in Queen Street, followed by Cae Gwilym Lane, Heol Cefnydd and finally, almost three hours after I commenced my round, Heol Berwyn, and with Dick’s Shop in sight, almost the end of my round.

Seeing Dick’s shop is always a welcoming sight, but particularly tonight for its cold and the snow is inches deep on the roads and pavements. I’m also wet through and my wet trousers are rubbing my legs which are chapped and stinging and making it painful to walk. In addition, I fear that the skin covering the chilblains on my feet is broken. To ease the pain of both, I take advantage of the conditions and find that I am able to make slow, but much better progress by sliding my wellingtons over the slippery surface.

Making my way home I take the new, but incomplete road with partially built houses on either side that I understand is to be called, Coronation Street. Turning left at the first road junction (5) I climb the bank and head across the fields to Plas Kynaston Hall before stopping briefly to see what films are showing at the Palace, (6) and George Edwards Hall cinemas. But I can’t wait to get home and change into some dry clothes in front of the roaring fire in our black lead grate. It’ll also be an opportunity to sooth my chilblains, using Snowfire solid emollient ointment for they are itching really badly. I must remember, however, that the heat from the fire makes the itch much worse.

Having changed my clothes and tended my feet it’s now time to count the newspaper money. Turning the gas light to full power I spread out the coins. Depending on their denomination, these are stacked into 1/- groups. Having sold 13 dozen papers, I should have £3/1/0 which is to be returned to the Chronicle Office early on Saturday morning. I awake early and following breakfast make my way to the Chronicle Office. The traffic in Well Street is at a standstill. I understand from friends that two Crosville buses and other vehicles are trying to pass each other in Crane Street, which is difficult at the best of times, but today the problem is made worse by commercial vans and lorries making deliveries, one of which is a green coloured, coal fired steam driven lorry.

Reaching the Chronicle office, I make my way upstairs to meet Carey Jones, editor. Mr Jones checks the number of papers allocated to me and counts the money. I’m relieved when he announces £3/1/0 and a smile appears on my face as he pays me my wages. This amounts to just over 10/- per week which is good, particularly for a young boy.

With money in my pocket it’s time to visit Elliott’s (Whiteheads) Cycle Shop for those Fountain and Catherine wheel fireworks, but first I shall visit Jonty’s shop on the Crane for he also sells fireworks and is more likely to have Bangers – Little Demon’s in particular but occasionally Cannon’s and these are far more fun. Last year, I lit one and placed it in our dustbin. The resultant explosion caused the lid to fly several feet into the air. Wow! That was exciting, but did I have a telling off from my father.

Summary

The Chronicle (it cost 2 pence but was lovingly called the penny liar, a reflection of its original price) was the main source of village news and eagerly sought after by the local populace, particularly on Friday – publication day.

At the time there was limited television and only national radio. So the paper contained the village news and football report. But it was the front page that was the focus of attention, for it displayed the all-important programme of Films that would be shown during the following week at George Edwards Hall and Palace cinemas.

1 It was many years before I realise that this is an acronym for, Distinguished Conduct Medal and that this military decoration was awarded to uncle John following Action at the Ducks Bill, Neuve-Chapelle, France, May 1916. Unfortunately, two months later, whilst attacking Mametz Wood, Somme, France, he sustained a Machine Gun bullet to his arm which, like many, effectively ended his Service career and limited his future work prospects.

2 Welsh – is the correct spelling for the period. It was changed to Welch in the 1920’s

3 Will Jones owned the fish and chip shop prior to it being known as Den’s Chippy.

4 Black and White picture only. It will be almost another 20 years before colour sets make their début.

5 Emmanuel Grove.

6 One Friday night, finishing my round much later than usual, I decided to go to the Palace Cinema ‘second house’ (second showing 8-10 p.m.). Showing was a film called – The Fall of the House of Usher. Unaware of the film’s content, I bought my ticket and presented it to the usher. Entering the darkened hall, I grouped my way down the steep aisle, found a seat and settled back to watch the film. This turned out to be the scariest film I‘d ever seen. But I’d paid my money and was determined to stay right through to the end of the film and playing of the National Anthem. Was I glad to reach home that night. Unfortunately, I had to go to bed in the dark because the gaslight mantle was broken. I was scared to death.

7 Photos by Leonard Salisbury

Produced with kind permission. 2014

All content and pictures (c) Alun Salisbury

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