Lightest pale yellow whitening, stretching away moorland grass,
waving with the winds shift, slow gusts flow on the uplands plateau,
distant raven specked black wheel, unhinged mating glide soars,
in white grey clouded skies above the flat worn track.
Sinister Catherine wheeled turbines, hypnotically spin now,
the latest transient seal that this margin land has no value,
this hard edged landscape has no worth in any time,
giant windmills that stud and transfigure the landscape,
the latest scarring, killing the calm of the ghost road,
another sacrifice made of wilderness, and in this time
a land of golden plovers and the call of curlews,
nothing is sacred where sustainability is concerned.
I walked wild on the high slopes when I was a child,
in a sheep trailed playground on black curtained slopes,
too many lives unlived, cut short and each one,
someon’s child, someone’s daughhter, someone’s son.
For so many days I’d walk out on the ghost road, through summer,
through winter snows,it was a place to breathe clear air,
a place to be alone, a place to sketch Ffynon Saith’s black worn stone,
on the flat mountain plateau tops, where men once walked,
with open still splayed nerves naked in white daylight,
so many breathless men, taking the air on a Sunday,
in the silence of a long year, in those hardest times,
too many deaths, too many sudden unannounced leavings
a gathering place for the collection of remnants, of a day’s thoughts,
a place to make sense somehow and of blanking out teenage doubts,
a place of quietness, a place for forgetting, a place of dreams.
Understanding time and other things.
I wrote several years ago the following thoughts when constructing a long narrative history of my family titled — “An examination of time.”
The photograph above is like many archive images of the South Wales Valleys in the heyday of its industrial past and the coal industries peak. It is not only familiar because it mirrors so many other photographs of the Rhondda. But the image is all too familiar because it is a photograph taken in 1910 of the village in which I was born in 1950, grew up and left in 1969. The landmarks familiar to me are there in the photograph.
And of course the year 1910 has great signifigance for anyone with a knowledge of the history of this place and the fight by mineworkers forjustice and a living wage in the Rondda and especially those from Tonypandy and Llwnypia. It is the year of the great strike that paralysed the mining industry and left families to strugge in penury and hunger. The subsequent levels of infant mortality and deaths of pregnant mothers was shocking and the highest in Britain. Perhaps the moment this reality struck home was when I discovered the record of my my grandfathers burial and grave to discover there were nine bodies interred.
However my interest in the village is not simply taken up by the associations it evokes or its unusual quality. My curiosity has also focused on the question of the location of the camera when the photograph was taken. The camera in some way had to be suspended high above the ground. However I know that no buildings of that height existed in that part of the valley at that time or since. So I am puzzled as to where the camera was positioned. It is a mystery.
And then there is the matter of the black speck (left of centre in the photograph) which on magnification becomes the form of a young girl running towards the camera. Or at least that was my memory of the photograph when I first viewed and examined it many years ago. I also seem to have elaborated an understanding from the time when I first came across. I rationalised that the photograph must have been taken near the No 6 shaft of Glamorgan Colliery, close to the old dram road tunneled beneath Ynyscynon Road, where the drams could be drawn by long steel cables to eventually spew the pit spoil onto the hilltop known as Mynydd Brithweunydd. Its other name was the “blood field”, purportedly the site of an ancient battlefield. (I wonder how many people know of the blood field and the reason that red bleed of a peat bog each Spring was given that name.)
I’d believed the terraced street to be seen was Ynyscynon Road and that somewhere out of view was my grandfather’s house. And that behind the camera also out of view was a row of tenement housing known as “rotten row” in which children might have friends but with whom they were forbidden to have any romantic attachment and on no circumstances was marriage to be entertained. Such was the fear of the poverty and disease that was believed to be rife there — so called “diphtheria and TB families”.
As mentioned previously the photograph was taken in 1910 the year of the miners strike and the Tonypandy Riots and five years before my mother’s birth. I wondered whether the running girl had seen the funeral procession of the Canadian soldier who had died in 1918 during the great influenza epedemic – which my mother had said was her first memory three years of age.
Or whether the girl herself had died during the influenza epidemic, or hopefully, had survived the poverty and hunger of those days. I wondered too whether she would have seen the great Chestnut tree outside the Ynyscynon Hotel, and the green where men played horseshoes — men including my grandfather. I remember as a child running through the dilapidated walls of the Pub’s old garden and sitting on the rotted out hulk of a great tree that had stood outside the Ynyscynon Hotel. But then it was pulled out and the green tarmacked to make a parking place.
Some two years I’d last looked at the photograph I found myself examining it again — touching base — reconnecting — with what exactly?
But on looking at it again I noticed that the image had changed. Or at least not that the image had changed but that my understanding of it had changed. The image does not in fact show Ynyscynon Road, Trealaw but Partridge Road, Llwynypia a differently named stretch of the same road further along the valley. And the pit shaft was not No 6 but an air shaft or some other kind of minor shaft.
Today in 2018 my understanding of the photograph has undergone another change. I have been researching the number of coking ovens operating in the massive Glamorgan Colliery complex. More specifically I was also researching the number of brickworks operating on the site and the number of women employed in the brickworks. My interest had been spurred by the fact that I was born in the house of a woman who had worked in the brickworks and whose lungs had been badly scarred by her employment there. But I have never been able to find photographic evidence or any detailed account of the numbers of women engaged in this physically arduous work. I found this reference today:
“The colliery (sic Glamorgan Colliery) was also famous for making bricks from clay mined at No 3 pit. Women using hand moulds produced 10,000 bricks per day.”
The photograph below clearly showing the stacks of the brick works in the huge industrial combine hat was the Glamorgan Collieries — locally known as “Scotch” colliery after the Scottish shaft sinkers that were brought in to do the task.
I also happened upon another photograph that I hadn’t seen before which was the reason for the change in the understanding of the original photograph that I began this post.
I had known that there had been heaps of pit waste higher than the houses of Ynyscynon Road. But I was genuinely shocked by the huge mound of pit waste in the centre of the photograph. I had never understood that the slag tip was so enormous. My grandparents’ house is hidden by it, as is my great aunts’ home. It then dawned on me how the original photograph had been taken it was from the heights of this mountain of waste.
However my understanding underwent another change the slag waste heap was not shown in another photograph as the same one taken in 2010. The puzzle of the original photograph remains unresolved.
The first photograph of this article also shows the hulk of buildings, brooding ominously above the village which, I as a child and into adulthood knew as the local hospital. But unbeknownst to me, in reality it had started as a “Workhouse”. In all the time that I had been living and growing up in the village I never heard it once mentioned, or reference made to the “Workhouse”. I know that people feared debt, destitution and homelessness — and the resulting “Workhouse” and all that it entailed. Perhaps that pervasive fear meant that people remained silent. One of the village characters was a Mr. Christmas who was left as a foundling on Christmas Day at the gates of the “Hospital” — he was give work as a kind of janitor and had accommodation in the Hospital where he lived and eventually died. His story was told to me as a child as I was curious about the stories of some of the odd characters who haunted the village like question marks without explanations…not once in relation to Mr. Christmas was there any mention of the workhouse although that was its function throughout my mother’s childhood up until the second world war.
The removal of the tips that towered over my grandfather’s and his sister’s house taking place when I was a child. The viewing point where I suspect the first foto in this article was taken And above the village the Hospital stands, the exact same buildings as the “Workhouse” — there is nothing like fear, fear to silence people, the greater the fear the greater the silence!
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