Church Room restoration project
More Memories from Jack Pritchard
Newton, St Margarets
More memories from Jack Pritchard
A return to my native locality always inspires a review of memories and recollections. Clearly recalled are details of where I was born in 1923, at the Middle Rock, St. Margarets. Prior to the renovations in the 30’s the Virginia Creeper covered old double dwelling. It had a winding stone stairs and flagstone floor, with home-made furnishings including a settle that served as a seat and draught excluder. One room down boasted one window in a wall three feet thick. There was a lean-to shed cum cellar with a salting stone inside. A sizeable garden contained fruit trees of several kinds all essential to winemaking, and there was a pigsty for the annual pig. Water was carried from a well, both in and out again, there was no soak away.
My Father and Mother, Jack and Mary contended with, and persevered in the hard times of the 20’s and 30’s as the rundown gradually deteriorated, a situation which would be halted and reversed by another War. Father had returned from World War l minus a finger. He had served with the South Wales Borderers but had little to say about it, even when pestered. However it was always maintained by a reliable friend, that if and when they wanted him to go to war they would have to fetch him from wherever he was, and from whatever he was doing. This they did, collecting him from where he was pulling swedes at the Maescoed Farm, Newton.
Others had returned from the Somme, the Dardenelles, Ypres or elsewhere to become ‘Gentlemen of the Road‘ (Tramps) while one, Jim Cross, resided in a contrived ‘quarry cave’ to become an accepted part of society. Not unlike another who built a log cabin in St. Margarets wood to convalesce for some time, but not entirely a recluse. Years after he had vacated the site it became overgrown with Blackberry bushes and their luscious fruit. Mother and I would go and pick the berries and on one occasion I climbed precariously with nearly a full basket to top it up, the bough broke, the basket emptied and well recalled is the reprimanding I had. Blackberries were collected weekly by Capel Beavan for making dye and other uses.
Between the wars, thrift and hard work for little money was the only option for the majority, including the farmers themselves, all were in the same boat, poor and getting poorer. Those eligible for charity bread would receive 2 and half loaves twice a year. A little boost to one’s economy, or maybe, more to the point, an excellent excuse to call in at the Sun Inn, St. Margarets, enroute to and from Tan House Farm, St Margarets, the collecting point. At this time the barter and ‘goods for services’, system flourished. Father was fortunate to have a steady, if meagre income under the heading of Quarryman for the Council, much of his time was spent as a roadman, stone breaking, repair work and resurfacing. A full day’s work might be followed by casual work in the evening, such as seasonal work on farms, hoeing, haymaking, hedge trimming etc. Reward for this casual ‘help’ would often be ‘in kind’, goods in lieu of money, which suited both employer and employee, although piecework rates might be discussed. It could be more beneficial to have a load of manure for the garden, a load of firewood or a few rows of potatoes in the field or a swede when required. Maybe most important was to have the use of a horse and cart at cider making time. Father would buy the fruit of an orchard at the Gilva each year. Mother and I would help to pick the horrible little apples out of the long grass and into bags, a hateful job, all in readiness for transportation, by horse and cart to the Yatt Farm, Newton for the Cider making, along with 3 or 4, 20 gallon casks in readiness to fill and pursue the annual ritual. Later the full casks would be collected and trammed in the shed cum cellar to ferment. Cider was a most essential commodity, it provided the stamina to work hard and long, it would lure labour to some seasonal peaks and a liberal supply of Cider would ensure volunteers for any hard work. Some survived on hospitality, Cider and good food, but had no choice how to obtain it, but by work! The day had not arrived when you had something for nothing.
Mother’s contributions to life were many and mixed. Pressures in the depression years were borne without a moan, she attended the churches and chapels and had an interest in all that was going on. She enjoyed company and was maybe at her best when in it. If in a gang of potato pickers or as one of the number feathering all night at some farm locally at Christmas time, or in any company anywhere.
My sister Kathleen arrived on the scene. By arrangement with the folks at New House, Newton, we spent a comparatively short time at Old House waiting for renovation of the Middle Rock to commence. Father later bought Cae Garw, Newton, from where my schooldays came to an end.
A new era had begun in more senses than one, there were strong rumours of War - although not in our time it was said.
A job had already been arranged for me, my employer would be Mr. George Cole, of the Bank Farm, Michaelchurch Eskley. In the short length of time between schooldays and working days, preparations were made to present myself on the Sunday evening, to ‘live-in’ as one of the family. Wages would be 4 shillings per week, paid six monthly.
I am indebted always to my father for his shrewd choice and to my first employer for setting me on the right track. I had an excellent tutor and what I learnt has held me in good stead all my life. A certificate and 1st prize for ploughing with horses in the late 30’s when with George is one of my most cherished possessions. War came, and eventually I joined the Herefordshire War Agricultural Committee and become well acquainted with wartime’s reclamation work and the rewarding experience of working with, and for, the world class talent that this district can claim. Everything took on a new look that would take volumes to describe, but surely it was the foundation of the transformation as we know it today.
Father built a pigsty at Cae Garw and still kept a pig. On one occasion I went with him on a reccy to a neighbouring farm to buy a small pig, which he did after much banter and bargaining. We carried it home in a sack, each carrying as far as he could without putting it down. No doubt he had foreseen the possibility of food rationing. Rationing brought a hint of black-marketing, a certain gentleman was caught by Ministry officials carrying a ham in Abergaveny Market. When asked what he intended doing with it he said he had bought it from home so that it would not get stolen! Rations were supplemented by pheasant, rabbit, and the occasional chicken, the pig, and various fruits and perks of the farm. Mother was a caretaker at Newton School for a lengthy time and popular with the younger ones and had without doubt found her true vocation. Her genial manner was always present.
She would listen keenly to the supposedly insurmountable problems of a disheartened teenager. All were listened to and discussed with patience and understanding as the case was presented, then came the summing up which would leave the young confidant, encouraged, enlightened and with total respect. Over the years many regarded her as ‘Mother’ confided in her and trusted her discreet council. She was capable and proficient, and in demand at confinements or bereavements. Mother was a keen supporter of the W.I.
Daphne and I both hold in high esteem Gladys Watkins, who lit the fire at Upper Rock, St. Margarets, for us to return to in 1946 on our Wedding Day. She carried water once again from the well in the orchard and fetched our milk daily from Woodlands Farm. No electricity, no flush, no mod cons, but half a ton of potatoes under the stairs and half a flitch on the cratch in readiness for the blizzard of 1947. Things have changed since that ‘happy event in 1923’ at the Middle Rock, the old abode which was covered in Virginia Creeper and whose Autumn gold tints glowed beautifully in every setting sun.
Jack Pritchard now enjoys his retirement living in Hereford