OLD RHYDYMWYN, 1902-1920* by the late Albert Hughes

Mr. Hughes was born and bred in Hendre near Rhydymwyn. His father was a lead miner while his grandfather had been part of the gang that laid live original railway from Mold to Denbigh. Albert became a schoolteacher, ending his professional career as headmaster of Gwernymynydd {1926-1940) and Llanfynydd (1940-1962).
I was born at Tyddyn-y-barcud in Hendre on 21 September 1902. One of my earliest recollections is, when five or six, walking up the road and seeing the local Attendance Officer coming towards me. I recognized him and ran home, but it was too late. The next day I found myself in Rhydymwyn school! This was in 1908.
In those early days it was commonplace to keep animals. We had a pony to pull the cart, a cow for milk and cheese, and fowls for eggs. There were two acres with the house but father rented some more land further away.
The Rhydymwyn Flower Show brought with it competitions galore, not only in the flower section but also in vegetables. However, the most exciting event of the day was a hole-drilling competition held for quarrymen. This comprised of teams of two men seeing who could bore deepest into a large block of rock in the shortest time. One man held the cold chisel while his partner struck it with a heavy-headed hammer. Winners, once they had got their ten shillings prize money, trooped off to the Antelope to get the dust off their chests! Pony trekking was also a favourite activity at the show.
Most minor jobs were carried out by local craftsmen. There was a man down below from here [Hendre] who was quite adept at soling and heeling shoes and boots. A joiner employed at the quarry, over the way, was very efficient as well. It was the quarry’s smith who undertook most of the ironwork here and in Rhydymwyn. His everyday work comprised of maintaining the little railway line that ran from the quarry to the main line, and also, repairing the trucks that ran along it.
There were two shops. An old woman kept one in her house opposite the Post Office. The other was the Post itself which had its gable end on to the road (closed early 1960s). In those days the mail was brought from Mold by a postman on his bike. He would make his drop at the three post offices of Rhydymwyn, Hendre and Nannerch, the latter being his furthest destination and was known as his ‘stopping point’. On his return journey he would stop in each village, blow his whistle, and the inhabitants would hand him their letters for posting. If you didn’t have a stamp you paid the postman a penny for a letter, half-penny for a postcard.
People were very religious in those days. There were two chapels. One up here for the Methodists and the other down there for the Independents; Annibynwyr as they were called in Welsh. They were both very useful in respect of the Welsh language because the first thing they taught you was the Welsh alphabet so that you could read the Bible in your native tongue. There were Biblical discussion classes (seial) each week and the ‘Band of Hope’ for the young people. At Hendre two ladies from the top of the mountain ran the latter, letting us play games and rehearse for singing festivals (cymanfa). Religion unquestionably directly influenced the moral standard within the village. The outlook on life was very narrow with the two denominations often clashing over minor points. You would never see a woman trolling to the pub, and for anyone drinking under the age of twenty-one, it was a regular crime. Like everywhere else you had the ‘Old Sweats’ who were in the habit of popping in for ‘a quick one’ but made it a long one! Also, vandalism in those days was caused by individuals who were not considered by the populace as being 100%. Not like today when groups go about destroying for the devil of it. At the beginning of this century every child was well-versed in ‘The Ten Commandments’ and this, not just at the chapels and church, but also at the school. 1 believe this is what put my generation on the right footing. Nowadays, all that is gone.
The Methodists did not have their own minister. They shared one with Rhosesmor and he lived up there. He would split up his Sunday by preaching up there in the morning and here in the evening, or vise versa. In the afternoon a Sunday School was generally held with the occasional service being led by a lay preacher. The annual Harvest Festival was always well-attended, quarrymen missing a working shift in order to lake part – and let’s not forget – forfeiting their wages for it. Another important gathering was an yearly event called Cyfarfod Pregethu ‘Preaching Meeting’ when they would invite two prominent ministers to deliver two sermons each on the same day. That is, each would preach once in the afternoon and once in the evening. These guest speakers were considered ‘big guns’ amongst the Methodists, one generally coming from along the north Wales coast, the other from south Wales.
Everyone looked forward to Christmas. Every year a pre-dawn meeting of carol singing called Plygain was held between 6am and 8am, alternating between Hendre and Rhydymwyn chapels. Us young men would practise carol singing for weeks before that day but would only perform on Christmas Eve by spending all night going round farms and villages, and attending the early morning service next day. There is no English equivalent to Plygain but it served a similar purpose to church matins. The proceedings they collected was shared amongst the singers. This would not be allowed today. You’d have to apply for a licence and provide the authorities with your intended repertoire and itinerary. In the 1980s they go blaring carols round Mold three weeks before the festive season!
Of course Christmas Dinner slays in the memory; especially the plum pudding and a jolly good fowl, and if you were lucky, a turkey. Those living on the margin had to contend with a leg of pork or the like. You could get a leg of mutton for 4s.6d. in those days; it would cost you something like £4 today. The same was true of pork pies, 2d each as opposed to 30p or 40d these days. The gradual rise in prices began with a change in the taxation system during Word War I . Pre-1910 you could get a bottle of good quality spirits for anything between 4s.6d. and 7s.6d. It’s the lax that’s made it so dear along the years.
Rhydymwyn School belonged to the Church and was what they called ‘ elementary’, that is, if you failed the examination to the County School down in Mold (or were too poor to go there), you stayed on here until you were 14 years of age. We were taught: geography, history, hygiene, handwork, physical training ( although very regimented, we liked it because it was the only opportunity we had of going out on the yard ), and The Three Rs’. This last phrase stood for the basic subjects of : Reading/[W]Riting / [A]Rithmetic. A great deal of the learning was done in parrot-fashion and under strict discipline. It was rumoured that the headmaster was an ‘Old Soldier’ and I can well believe it, although to be fair to him and his staff, they did a good job of educating us. Not many couldn’t read and I put that down to the fact that there were fewer in schools in those days. We practised a lot, and were afraid of disappointing the teachers. Misdemeanours were dealt with by having a cane across the hand. The graver the offence, the more numerous and vigorous the caning. Lateness was dealt with in a similar manner. We were tested for everything and spelling mistakes resulted in writing every error out at least twenty times. Dictation was very popular to polish spelling. Success was equally rewarded. Prizes and certificates were given out for good work, attendance and knowledge of the Bible. Because Rhydymwyn was a Church school we were taught scripture from 9am until 10am every morning and had to learn large pieces of both Bible and Common Prayer on memory.
Oddly enough, it was Empire Day that was the most important day in the school calendar. It was held on 24 May (Queen Victoria’s Birthday) and a great deal of extra-curricular activities were performed that day. After the assembly the whole school marched out onto the yard where there was a flagpole. We all stood to attention and saluted the Union Jack. Inside we had special lessons about the countries that belonged to Great Britain. We were reminded of the gold and diamonds that came from South Africa; the sheep and dairy produce from Australia. etc. All pointed out on a wall-map that portrayed all the colonies in distinct red. Many patriotic songs had been learnt in the weeks leading up to the celebration, the nasal ‘Hearts of Oak’ being a favourite.
Perhaps the best period for us children was ‘Potato Week’ that came into being during the War. It look place in October and this is when the term ‘Teachers ‘Rest’ was first given to a break from schooling. The children were told it was an opportunity for them to contribute towards the War cause, while the farmers could bring in their crops in extra-quick time. We enjoyed it very much, especially at the end of every day, when we went to draw our ‘Taters Pay’.
We didn’t have the leisure time that children have today. Yes we played games. Down in Rhydymwyn there was a house with six boys in it, another with five lads, many with three. The games we played involved about thirty or more of us. Activities were : hide-and-seek, chase, Tall-ho, etc. Even before 1 left the little school 1 had found a way of earning some pocket money. A distant relative of ours ran a smallholding in the Rhyd and he also had some fields up in Hendre. In the beginning I simply went there at dinner time to eat my meal but after the boy who helped out gave up his job it was given to me. Before going to school I had to walk down to the village and take the cattle up to Hendre to graze. The same procedure was repeated after school when I had to fetch them back again. By the time I had finished, and had my tea, it could be seven or eight o’clock at night by the time I reached home. In the winter the nights were so dark you couldn’t even play out.
I spent the war years in the Alun County School. It was a new world for me, meeting people from different backgrounds but with the same aim in life; getting ahead. Some were there because their families had money, and others, because their had the brains; the cream so to speak. My background was one of a poor family. I wanted to earn money and couldn’t gel to work soon enough. My father had other ideas and one day, look me down the Olwyn Goch Mine where he was a lead miner. The first thing that struck me about the place was the wetness of the rock sides, and on reaching the bottom, the ankle-deep water you encountered. Father was quick to point out that when the pumps malfunctioned it was even deeper! It was comparatively dark underground because there was no electric light. All the men wore peculiar protective hats. Nothing like the kite-marked helmets of today but ordinary hats that had been covered in clay and fired hard. At the front there was room to stick a candle in and that was the miner’s light. Life was difficult in those days. The idea of unions had been mooted for some time but few belonged to them. They were afraid of getting the sack. Father had been made redundant on many an occasion and had been employed by the Rhosesmor Mines, the Halkyn Mines, at the Twmpath Mine in Rhydymwyn and the Olwen Goch. It was a period before the advent of mechanical transport, a time when horses were employed in large pulling Hal ‘lorries’ up to the mines and returning with ore which was loaded onto trucks at Rhydymwyn Station. I decided there and then that manual work was not for me.
I remember the outbreak of World War I very clearly as it was a great disappointment to me. My parents and an uncle had decided to go to Liverpool for the day, 4 August 1914. When they turned up at Rhydymwyn Station the porter turned them assay, telling them, ‘You won’t be able to travel. All the trains have been commandeered for moving troops to France.’ We children, who had been brought up in the Empire tradition thought it was a wonderful idea to defend our heritage in the name of ‘King and Country.’ A couple of ‘Old Soldiers’ from the village went early on. One, who worked on the Coed Du estate, and another from the bottom here, became a territorial because he would receive a shilling every time he turned up for drill or guard duty. There svas also a young fellow from near us who, anticipating conscription, signed on against the wishes of his family in 1915. His father thoroughly disapproved of such action and threatened to deprive him of his inheritance. He need not have bothered as the son was killed soon afterwards. With conscription introduced Mold and other towns became plastered with propaganda and volunteering posters but I cannot remember once seeing any of the military inRhydymwyn offering men over 18 years ‘the King’s Shilling’ to join up.
The impact of the war on the district was felt almost immediately in the lead mining industry because of the heavy demand on lead for bullets and shells. Rationing of food was also introduced in 1915; individuals being restricted to half a pound each per week of sugar and butter, and a small allocation of meat. Soon, some seven or eight trains were passing through the village every day in both directions. I remember one filled with German prisoners of war. A group of them billeted around here used to be marched to various farms to carry out agricultural tasks. An elderly local was in charge of them and they all had a large red patch sesvn at the back of their trousers.
After the war indifference seemed to have crept into men’s altitude towards work. Prior to then most ‘put their backs’ into tasks and few stuck religiously to 8 hours pay for 8 hours work as came about later. None of this morning and afternoon tea-breaks and clocking-off at a certain time, whether the job had been completed or not. During the early 1920s we also witnessed many outsiders coming here for the day from Birkenhead and Liverpool due to a sudden demand for a change of scenery and fresh air. The majority of these visitors were women who, after walking the village, strolled up the Leete to Loggerheads where they had tea, and from where a newly formed bus service ran them down to Mold to catch their train back home. Go around Rhydymwyn today and you’ll find many of these ‘Merseyside young ladies’ are now ‘local old ladies’!
* This account is primarily based upon a taped interview with Mr. Hughes by Tim Liar del. Reproduced here by kind permission of the Flintshire Library Service from their Local History Cassette Collection, No.34250981G., dated 12 March 1981.
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