My Childhood Year in Brecon
by Pam Hussin of Brecon
This is the first of a series of recollections kindly offered to the BLFHS by Pam Hussin.
Pam was born at 5 Newgate Street, Llanfaes.
After a snowy winter of snowballing and sledging, spring brought the gypsies knocking on front doors trying to sell their wooden clothes pegs. Then it was time to pick our "wild" daffodils in a field up a side road in Ffrwdgrech. On the Merthyr Road there was a beautiful bluebell wood that was destroyed when the by-pass was built. Every year huge bunches of bluebells were taken home to our mothers. In a field opposite, each year a farmer built a haystack which, to our great delight, we climbed and slid down.
At the top of our street was a field where we played "May Queens", making our crowns out of the May blossom and joining the buttercups and daises to make chains, and wearing them as necklaces and bracelets. This was where our street gang of boys and girls played cricket and football. Both boys and girls climbed trees, walls and gates (easier to climb than to open!). We made pea-shooters out of hollow stems of certain plants, and catapults with a stick and rubber band.
Every first Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of May, the fair came to town and we tried to save 10/- (50p)** for the three nights. Sunday afternoons, after Sunday School, mothers and children went for a three-mile walk and of course, the highlight of the year was the Sunday School outing by train to Barry or Porthcawl.
**[Ten shillings (10/-) in the 1940s, had about the same spending power as £15 in today's money]
We played "House" in our den in the allotments; the boys only came to annoy the girls. Here we made tea from the seeds of the dock leaf plant, cakes from mud and scent from the petals of the rose bushes.
With skipping ropes we skipped, hopped and jumped along the pavements, and we played hop scotch before the rain washed away our chalk marks. Remember the whip and top? Oh, the glory if your top spun the longest. We played marbles in the gutters at the side of the road, and when they were full of water, we had races with paper boats, leaping in the air if ours was first down the drain.
Llanfaes Playing Field, known as "The Big Field", where all the street gangs congregated, had a Maypole where everybody soared high trying to reach the sky! Then onto the swings to see who could jerk the fastest. The great competition between us never seemed to bother us even if we came last. We just tried harder the next time.
With the River Tarell being so close to our homes we would fish for tiddlers with our hands putting them into jam jars full of water. Remember catching butterflies and putting them in jars also with string around the top for a handle? Oh, how cruel!
We paddled in the River Usk opposite the Boathouse and had picnics of ham sandwiches and bottles of pop. No litter was left and the glass bottles were returned to the shop in exchange for a penny: we thought we were rich. Standing on the Llanfaes side of the river, a wave to the Boathouse brought a man rowing a boat who took us there and back for a penny.
Autumn to me means blackberries, raspberries, mushrooms, firewood, conkers, nuts, dried leaves, damsons, rosehips, harvest thanksgiving, pickling onions plus other vegetables from the allotment.
It was idyllic here in Brecon even though it was wartime. We roamed the fields and woods freely and without any fear even though there were many troops of different nationalities stationed here.
On some evenings I went with our next door neighbour to pick blackberries, usually on the A470 Merthyr Road by the River Tarell. We were suitably attired in wellingtons, etc., to stop the nettles stinging our legs and of course, we had a walking stick to reach those big beautiful blackberries much taller than us. Other times we would go to the Held Wood to pick raspberries – a much easier task, no nettles or thorns to maim us! Alas, the raspberry canes have long gone from the wood. Then it was time to collect firewood. Oh, the joy of hearing the twigs "crack" as we trod on them or deliberately broke them to put in our baskets. It's strange how I never remember it raining on these evenings.
Some mornings, my friends and I would rise early and go to a certain field alongside the A40, the Swansea Road, to pick mushrooms. One morning my friend found a huge mushroom and from then on we all tried to find a larger one but it never happened. We went home very proudly with our 'pick' but only our parents ate them as, at that time, we did not like their taste.
Our next harvest would be up the Warren Road on the way to Mynydd Illtyd to the ruins of a cottage with an orchard. Here we picked damsons for our mothers to make damson jam. In recent years I have looked for the orchard but cannot find it.
Whilst in Llanfaes Primary School (which has been demolished and is now a car park) I can remember the evacuee teacher, Mrs Edwards, taking pupils on nature walks in the fields up Bailyhelig Road by the side of St David's Church where we collected rose hips for rose hip syrup.
Then it was time to raise the remaining carrots, potatoes, etc., from the allotment. The carrots were stored in ashes for the winter, and the potatoes were carefully dried and put into sacks. The runner beans were sliced and layered with salt in a jar so we had fresh runner beans with our Christmas dinner. Oh, how our eyes watered as we cleaned the shallots, but the pickled onions were lovely to eat in the winter.
Then we were off to Ffrwdgrech Road to collect our nuts and conkers. All my friends had younger brothers and prams. Remember the prams, with big 'boots' at the bottom or where the middle of the pram slid back to reveal a compartment? We would go to the Three Bridges Road to collect our nuts and fill the 'boot' (we always forgot about the telling off we had the year before). Then it was back to a certain horse chestnut tree on Ffrwdgrech Road for these marvellous conkers, and then stringing them for our conker fights. No health and safety then! I do not remember any injuries but only our pride being damaged when we lost the conker fight. One year, I forgot about the conkers I had put in the oven to harden, until they eventually went "pop pop"! I was more concerned about my spoilt conkers than what my mother had to say to me!
Then last, but certainly not least, the walk through the dried leaves in the gutters of Ffrwdgrech Road. I was always thrilled to hear this crisp sound, a sound I'll never forget and possibly one of my childhood pastimes that I can still indulge in. The dried leaves are still there in the autumn so if somebody says to you "Have you seen a recycled teenager walking through those leaves?", you will know it was me.
If you have any memories or stories about Brecon, please send them to Hilary Williams for possible inclusion on this website.
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