by David Rowe
I first met Ray in October 1984 while I was living in the Bryn Awel Hotel, this prior to my family moving to Mold. As he, along with his friend Dave, would occasionally call in the hotel for a drink and we got to know each other. Our paths diverged for a time while I was working overseas, but we became reacquainted and shared our love of local history. Generous with his time and photographs Ray, along with the late Eric Keen, were only too willing to take any photographs I needed for my various research activities and books.
The following article is based on a conversation I had with Ray in April 2015 and with the exception of one or two notes and the conclusion I have used the recorded text.
“Born in Broughton on 17th February 1921 a place called The Cage and lived with my grandparents to the age of 7. We all moved to Nercwys to live with paternal grandparents at a house, originally a pub called the Feathers Inn.
Grandparent’s outside their house.
I lived in Nercwys for 38 years and although born in Broughton I always consider ed Nercwys my home. Grandfather was a small holder kept a few cows and Great Grandfather was a small holder on Ty Draw Farm – part of Nercwys Estate. One Uncle was a cattle dealer in Anglesey and although illiterate he possessed a lot of business sense and a keen public servant. Another uncle owned a shop shop in Manchester. A relative worked on Nercwys farm – no overtime even during harvest. Asked to join Union 1920s to get payment – Gentleman farmer – travel on traction engine from Liverpool every weekend. We went to live in School Terrace 3 years before we moved to the new council houses, with the luxury of inside toilets etc. I could be late for school. The Headmaster was not a very nice man and one day while drawing a daffodil, he hit me on the back of the head and my face hit the desk and cut my mouth so blood everywhere but continued on as normal. When I got home my mother wanted to know what had happened – she went and tore him off a strip. Number in class about 20. Aged 11 parents were asked if you wanted to go to grammar school. Most parents said no because they could not afford it – you had to buy own books and uniform and this upset a lot of children. No excuse for me as my uncle in Anglesey offered to pay all the expenses and, for some reason, he wanted me to work in Customs & Excise but I was not clever enough. We had a special teacher at school, a pupil teacher, only 10 years older than me and we kept in touch.
She also wrote books on Nercwys. Her name was Gladys Roberts – one of the few children from Nercwys who went onto college because her parents were farmers and could afford to pay for these things. We retained common interests until her death at age 98. When she died I was 88, so not many 88 year old people could continue visiting their primary school teachers at that age. (DR: I met Gladys shortly before her death and she had a remarkable memory.)
During school holidays I used to go to the Terrig fishing and catch very little trout and throw them on the bank, and put them on a stick and carry them home but there was not enough meat on them to feed a chicken. Found a way to kill a lot at one time. Do you remember the old carbide lamps, put some carbide in a tin and put some water on it, jam a lid on it and put it in the water. It would then go bang and all these dead fish would come to the surface. One bad devil, as there was a footpath would chase us on his horse, but once we got to the gate we knew we were all right because it was a shire horse. That was Nercwys, the family at Nercwys Hall did not have a lot to do with the village but I used to go there with the cubs and when I joined the scouts they would take us to Jamborees. The Giffords predated me and I remember the Tringham’s, and replaced by Furse family and he was shot in Brazil. Someone asked for his camera and when he refused they shot and killed him. The recently deceased Mr Furse never got on with the village people, but he had one son who would spend a lot of time with Ted the Smith in the Smithy. They used to have great times and they say he would meet people in the White Lion or Butchers Arms and have a drink with them, but his parents did not approve of it. When this lad got married he wanted Ted the Smithy to attend the wedding but he wouldn’t go. When the smithy was operating we used to stand outside and watch Ted shoe a horse and if there weren’t many of us we could go inside but he wouldn’t let anyone take photographs. But when I asked him once he said “seeing its you lad, yes” and told everyone else to “bugger off”.
He also used to cut my hair and tell me different things. I think his great grandfather used to extract teeth in the smithy. I told my dentist about this and he said this was typical. Two blacksmith’s Ted and Josh were cousins and Josh was a wheelright. The family have been there for generations, about 300 years, whilst the listed smithy is about 500 years old. The current farrier works worldwide covering the Olympics. One bloke rang him from Derbyshire and said “I have 300 horses and although I have my own blacksmith, he isn’t able to shoe one particular horse, so can you come and do it.” He replied “its a long way to come for one horse and the guy said tell me what your daily rate is and we will pay you and he managed to shoe the horse.”
Mother would help out at the Nercwys Cheese factory and be paid 6d a day for the few days. Only two children at the school sat the 11 plus and one emigrated to USA but we kept in touch. I stayed at Nercwys school until I was 14, others left at 11. Basic 3 subjects – no bible for reading. Vicar would come and check the register on a regular basis and every so often someone would come in and ask questions on the bible. If you answered so many questions correctly you were given a present, a bible or something similar. The annual treat was to be taken to Rhyl by bus and given fruit but no money. At Christmas there would be a party and we would each be given a present. Two women teachers were quite nice but the Head was a horrible man. Woodwork classes were held in premises in Mold New Street. Where the chap teaching woodwork caught anyone talking or misbehaving, would throw anything to hand a piece of wood, a chisel – no one was injured. Can’t remember building but it is still there. The teacher was called Peters, and when we were both in hospital together I reminded him of what he used to do. A Good cricketer, he lived in Buckley. Woodwork lessons were from 11 to 2 and we had to walk there and back (30minutes) without supervision. The school football team played Gwernymynydd and Trueddyn and we had to walk to these games. When coming into Mold for woodwork, we went past Plas Onn and down past the old County Gaol. The current road from Nercwys didn’t exist. Went to woodwork once a week for a 2 hour lesson. For meals I normally went home for dinner. I played football for the school but was not very good, and either played goalkeeper or centre forward. We had no strips and we had to buy football boots. No proper football pitch either, so when we played Gwernymynydd we would put coats down and the other goal would be a large tree. Just enough boys to play as not too many children in the school. The total population of Nercwys fluctuated between 400-800? By then the coal and lead mines had all closed – The old colliery, where the cheese factory was behind, in 1904 employed 100 under and over ground while the last lead mine in 1904 only employed 4. All children had nicknames. A girl who believed she was better than others would get on the bus to Mold and say “Mother can you pay the fare as I only have a tenner?” Now £10 was a lot of money then. My mother was a Methodist but as this was Welsh speaking she went to the church while my Welsh speaking father went to chapel. I broke the link with the Welsh speaking.
A Great uncle was a trainee for Nercwys Cheese making Society, and they used the old colliery winding house. (DR: Now a private residence)
As a tenant of the Nercwys estate, Grandfather used to pay rents at the White Lion Pub, and after the rent audit the estate would provide a dinner for tenants. When times were hard a rent rebate was often given. Resident in Nercwys Hall at the time were the Tringhams. After school I worked in a cycle shop in Mold, had to build wheels even putting spokes in and was paid 7/6d per week for 5 ½ day week (with Thursday afternoon off) for the first year. The woman at D.J. Jones didn’t trust anyone. Jones was a postman, and every 6 months we overhauled Post Office bikes. The Post Office held spares. If you needed to replace something you would take the damaged item to their stores and they would give you a new item.
We got the labour cost. After 12 months I got a rise to 10/-. We used to repair the odd motor-cycle and car in Wrexham Street. Used to store 20-30 bikes upstairs. If I had to take a bike to a separate shop I would have to carry to ensure they weren’t soiled as people asked for money off!! Sometimes I had to go to the station and the bike would have to be carried on my shoulder. They were Raleigh bikes from Liverpool we sold. Sometimes people would order a bike and I would cycle there and be picked up later by the boss in his car. While I was there I often got a cup of tea and some cakes. I cycled from Nercwys to work and this was the start of my obsession with bikes and I got a Silver Arrow Raleigh bike with Sturmey Archer gears. I served in the shop but didn’t take the money, but one day someone came into the shop and Jones’ daughter said “take the money” but later her mother saw me take payment and she said “Don’t you ever go near that drawer again.” I was sent to buy some cakes and the daughter said get one for yourself, but the old lady on counting the change said you are 1/2d short here. The boss and daughter were great. On Saturday night butchers would stay open until 10.00 and we would come into Mold as late as we could by bus, to buy cheap meat. The Savoy cinema was operating and it cost 6d to watch a serial. At the back of the shop was a big yard where people paid 2d to park their bikes while they went to the pictures. The agreement was that any money we took I would get half. My job was to watch the bikes, but one night there was only 4 bikes, so a total of 8d.
The old lady would always take half even if only one bike, while the daughter would tell me to take the lot. When did you first go into a pub? I didn’t drink even in the Navy, although I would have my rum tot in the winter but not the summer. At the cycle shop for 4 years, when I was 18 the boss died and so they closed the shop. They offered me the opportunity to keep doing repairs and buying spares from them, but I turned the offer down. So I looked for a job in the Summers steelworks. I was on the dole at 14/- a week against my previous wage of 10/- per week. At Summers I worked on the cold site production because the rolling side used to scare me to death. Those big red hot plates would come out and they would be grabbed by what looked like a big pair of pliers and be passed onto the next person. The sheets were checked for little holes and as they were used for building cars they would be rejected by Inspector. Eventually the section I worked in closed and I went to ‘new construction’ as an electrician’s mate and there we worked all hours – the longest I worked was 6.00 in the
morning until 10.00 at night. Some would work all nighters and work 20 hour shifts. Unions stopped this practice. I had been there for 6 months before war was declared and I said if I have to go into the services I want to go into the Navy. I volunteered even though I can’t swim, which in peace time was compulsory. I was 19 when called up and went to H.M.S Collingwood, Fareham to do my basic 6 week training, square-bashing only. This included the art of putting the right number of creases in bell-bottoms – a difficult one.
We had leave and then I went on a ship HMS Vimy (named after the WWI Vimy Ridge battle). The WWI destroyer had previously been mothballed. I was an Ordinary Seaman – Leading Seaman said no tea for you but the others two lads shared theirs. Next morning 12 Welsh Guardsmen came on board and we took them to Boulougne.
They went to do demolition work in the morning and in the afternoon we went back to pick them up. Only 6 returned and we don’t know what happened to the rest. Before we came back we tied up alongside Boulougne and there were men in civvies shouting “take us back to Blighty as old soldiers never die but their legs get tired.” Six nurses in uniform we took on board but they could have been German spies. While we were waiting, one of the officers on the bridge was shot by a sniper and was killed. The Captain looked through his binoculars to try and find the sniper and a shot went through his binoculars and straight into eye – he died on the way back to Dover. We took another Captain onboard and he had been at Narvik, so his nerves were a problem. One morning they were looking for him as they couldn’t find him. He was never found, so they believe he must have committed suicide by jumping overboard. Went from Vimy to a similar ship called HMS Winchester, I left that to do a ‘torpedoman’ course in the Portsmouth area.
I finished the course, went back to barracks and then got posted to a battleship. Why I don’t know. There were two Battle ships, the Nelson and Rodney and I went on Nelson. The torpedo bays were well down in the ship. However, the ships could not manoeuvre quickly enough to fire torpedo’s. At battle stations we would be locked down behind 4” doors, so if the ship got hit and went down you had no chance, even wearing the little life jacket I still have somewhere. I was on the Nelson for a while before transferring to destroyers. On the destroyers we travelled back and forward to Rosyth and one day picked up a convoy to escort to Sheerness. If the journey was estimated to take 2 days it would only carry provisions for that period, so if you were held up you were reduced to only having biscuits to eat. While escorting a large convoy of 52 ships, the Captain said sail in two lines and one day planes came out of the sun and although there was nothing we could do the enemy failed to sink one ship so the convoy continued on its way. During these convoys when we got to Flamborough Head a spotter plane would appear overhead and we called it “Flamborough Fanny” it came so low that we could see pilot in cockpit. This was followed by a bomber who picked out the largest ship and sank it. Only 6 survivors were rescued and it is the only time I saw a ship being sunk and as it went down stern first when the water reached the boiler room we saw all the steam coming up. Stokers and engine room crew would not have stood a chance in hell. If on Russian convoy it is said if you fell in the water you were dead!! The next ship was the latest ship in the navy the Barlfour, a destroyer of the Battle Class, a good ship.
The best ship I had been on and was with it while it was being built. Sent to civvy digs, every day we had to walk to the ship and had to find out where everything was. One gunner, one stoker one of each branch all had to make a note of where everything was, ready for when the ship was commissioned. First ship to have radar on but they decided it was more important to put the radar on to a cruiser rather than a destroyer. They took it off the destroyer and put it on the cruiser, and while this was being done we had to stay in digs. Eventually we were called back to the ship when it was recommissioned, and we travelled from Portsmouth to Gibraltar, Gibraltar to Malta then Malta to Egypt through the Suez Canal and went to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and from there went across to Australia. We went out and bombarded the shores of Japan in 1945. Towards the end of the war, the only action we saw out there was with the American Fleet and we took our orders from an American Admiral. We stayed out in Australia before going towards Japan, where we were told of the armistice and that peace had been declared. All of a sudden a plane flew over us and we thought it was a Kamikazi but it wasn’t. It circled over us and a plane took off from an American Aircraft Carrier and shot it down, the pilot parachuted into the water and he was just left there. He could have been saved but we were told to leave him, so we followed American orders. Planes could take off and land three aircraft for our one. We were kept at sea for at least 6 weeks while the Americans went in to sign the peace treaty, they wouldn’t let us in because although we went all over, they wanted the glory. We went to Yokohama which was badly damaged where it had been bombarded. We were, sent to Aikta? Islands to pick up some American and British POW’s to take to Tokoyo Bay for transfer to a hospital ship. These prisoners had not been ill treated in any way and had lived well The camp commander gave them more food and more comfortable beds but it didn’t last too long as it was too nice for them. I believe it could have been down to religion, if you surrendered you were a coward, fight to the death was the rule. We were in harbour before we sailed back to Sydney because the war had ended. ‘First in’ rule applied for sailors and we came back on something called the ‘Woolworth’s Carrier’. A horrible thing with one aircraft aboard. When it went into action it was only used as a spotter plane and as it couldn’t land back on board, it was only launched when near a neutral country so it could land safely. A converted cargo ship, with not many of us aboard, conditions were not too bad, we were well fed but everything came on one plate. Starter there, main course and sweet on other side, and if a rough sea it would all join together or food would come off other plates. Not my sausage as I had eaten them and if they were not quick enough the food would end up on the floor. What we did have was all right. No drills and it took 6 weeks to get home. Came into Portsmouth and back into barracks to be demobbed. Kitted out with suit, raincoat and shoes. We always wore shoes in the navy. We landed home 2 days before Xmas and were paid up to May 1946. I had to get own job back then as not on any reserve list. At the end of my Navy service, I went back to Summers as they had to give you your old job back and stayed there until I retired.
If I knew we were going to work overtime I would go to work on the bike.
When we had all nighters! We would go in at 7.30 p.m. work all through the night to 7.30 a.m. the next day and sometimes stay on until 4.30 in the afternoon. When I was first demobbed I got put on shifts and didn’t like that because I had to be up at 4.30 to start at 6.00. I then got a job on days with less money, but overtime was available all the time so very busy all the time. The Union and not the company put the stop to the all nighters as it was not safe and people still slept at work. The Maintenance staff would be in a cabin and if a trade was required they would sound a hooter so many times, two for an electrician, three for a fitter…they would go and do the job and then come back. One of the bosses said I’m quite happy seeing those lads in there playing cards, or reading books, because steel is being made. When that is empty then I start to worry. Summers, then British Steel Corporation, but Peter Summers still worked there and he was a nice chap, but some of the old bosses wouldn’t even look at you. One bloke called Reith Gray? Would say “What’s your name?” you would tell him, and he would see you 6 months later and he would shout “Hello Ray” and would remember all the names. I retired at 60 in 1950s, so now retired over 30 years and, as Grace said, not worked since. I then followed my hobbies and interests. I used to do a lot of cycling, including a fortnight around Norway, been into Italy and Austria cycling. With the cycling club mainly but sometimes on my own locally. When going abroad it would just be with a few friends. Stayed in B & B/Guest houses as very few hotels to stay in Norway, but they very good and friendly. Went to places serving smorgasbord and had two soups, 2 main courses. Cycling was an interest I kept up for years and also a walker. When the roads got busy I stopped cycling and joined a Rambling Club, The Aerospace group was open to everyone. I enjoyed this because they were a great crowd, 10 mile local walks. I did the last 10 mile walk when I was 83. Another big interest in life was photography, I worked in the steelworks with a chap who was a keen photographer who gave me lots of information. Started doing my own developing and printing and had some published in magazines and was a founder member of Mold Camera Club along with others, including Ken Sweetman. (DR: The 1955 picture of Mr England outside the Miner’s Arms, Maeshafn. was taken by Ray, and also features his other great pastime, his bicycle).
I have continued with photography until today and fortunately the cameras are different today. Because my hand shakes they have built in ‘stabilisers’ and still work.
I enjoy football and like the miners in Nercwys I kept canaries. There were working underground ponies in the local collieries, and they would be brought to the surface a couple of weeks a year. You would see them rolling around the fields. I have always had an Interest in local matters & history and am still a member of Mold & District Civic Society. Extremely knowledgeable on Nercwys and been involved in a number of projects with the village school. Spoken to children and one joint session with you for a fund raising event. The children enjoy listening to old tales, particularly us walking to football matches at Gwernymynydd. Use to walking as no transport, even to Mold. I married 50 years ago to Grace, a widow, and have a lovely step daughter, Susan, and we have a son, John who works in the south of England. We are a close knit family, including in-laws, and go out regularly for meals also with friends. I don’t drink much these days but like to eat. First time I met you was in 1984, in the bar of the Bryn Awel Hotel, we also did a couple of mini pub crawls (DR: Well I was on my own) with a good friend Dave. Dave was an expert clock man who had a horrendous end with the arthritis he had. Sadly both he and his wife are now dead. Eight of us used to go out on a regular basis, the remaining six go out most Fridays (at time of recording but not after Jan 2015). We vary where we go, although we do like to go to the Butchers at Nercwys. Someone said the White Lion has been demolished, and John took me over to see it and I couldn’t get over it and they are going to build a house in its place. When they demolished one side, the other side collapsed and the house has to be built on the existing footprint. It was a large building with lots of outbuildings, and Paul Davies, secretary of the Buckley Society, parents were landlords there for a number of years.
Healthwise, I have done quite well, although a few scares over the last couple of years. I have stayed reasonably fit and did things when I could, and got pleasure from walking and cycling and all the places I visited. Even my time in the Navy I wouldn’t have missed, because I went to places I wouldn’t normally have visited and saw things I hadn’t seen before, some I would rather not have done. All the bits are now wearing out along with the pleasure of getting old. The best moment in my life, apart from marrying Grace, was having a wonderful step-daughter and I was the lucky one. The best Man asked Susan, aged 4, at the wedding “who is that,” and with a big smile on her face she replied “That’s my Daddy”. She makes a wonderful fuss of me even now. Over the last couple of months when both Grace and I have not been well, she has always been around. Biggest regret? I hated every minute working in the steelworks, a horrible place to work and I didn’t like it all. I went there because I had no trade and the money was good. My first job in cycle shop I really enjoyed, even when they started dealing with motor cycles and cars. We might have to work late but no overtime was paid. Went to work in a cycle factory in Rhydymwyn when I finished in Shotton and I was quite happy there. Used to check bikes before they went out to make sure they were o.k. For a while I went on the dole and then learned of an enterprise scheme and they paid you £1,000 for a year to start your own business if you wanted to, but didn’t enter my head to join. I enjoy reading anything on local history and don’t bother with novels or anything like that. Have a collection of photographs and used to collect postcards as well. Local postcards appear on E-bay and one of Nannerch Station went for £73. Brian Bennett got in touch with the chap to ask what his connection with Nannerch was, and he replied he did not know where Nannerch was. He bought it because of the railway link. Railways and pubs are of great interest to collectors. I can’t remember seeing a photograph of a pub although a few in collections, but even these were copies.
Ray & Grace moved into Llys Jasmine in 2014, and although plagued by various ailments & falls they settled into their new home. As we have already heard Ray’s great passion was photography, and whilst some people guard their photographs, Ray has always been generous in supplying photos to anyone who asked. He retained his interest in local history and possessed a wealth of stories about his childhood. These stories he enjoyed retelling to the children of Nercwys School until his health issues intervened. Ray died at the age of 95 on the 16th January 2017 and is sorely missed.
The final photograph combines Ray’s love of walking and photography and was taken by his friend the late Eric Keen. It shows Ray walking away from the camera along the Leete path in Loggerheads Country Park. A true friend with whom I spent many hours talking about local history.
My thanks to Grace, Susan & John Davies for their assistance.
David Rowe 27th April 2015
(Revised 25th May 2023)
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