|This is part of Margaret Glover's story of her life
in an area of hilly streets with terraced dwellings in Manselton, a district in Lower
Swansea on the west side of River Tawe.
Age of Innocence (1948-53)
My early childhood was spent in Manselton. A village of terraced streets' bounded on one side by the Pentre and on the other side by Cwmbwrla. To the north was the hilly estate of Penlan and to the south Cwmfelin Works and the road leading to the sea. The area had been laid out in the grid plan with vertical streets being intersected by horizontal streets. The broad tree lined streets of Manor Road and St. Johns road were occupied by what we viewed as the most affluent people. Our street of about sixty houses, with a couple of post war prefabs at the bottom, led on to Courtney Street, which itself was backed by the railway track which cutting us off from the steel works. All the neighbourhood children took every opportunity to gain access to the rear of Courtney street so that we could overlook the track and watch the trains. Ignoring warnings from adults we often climbed the steep incline at the side of the arches to stand on the railway embankment. Dreadful tales of disasters, told by the adults, deterred us from this activity for a while but not for long.
Manselton in retrospect was almost a middle class area. Everyone was very polite and well behaved although we played in the street we would not dream of kicking a ball at someone's window or wall, or fight. Any misbehaving was done out of sight of the adults on the many bomb sites that surrounded the area. Our homes, in the main were comfortable and warm, considering it this was a time of post war austerity. We had lino on the floor and rugs, a large range in the kitchen which as well as providing warmth was also used for cooking delicious meals including rice pudding. Because of the shortage of houses at that time we shared the two bedroom house with my paternal grandmother and my mother's sister. As you can imagine in a two up and two down house space was limited, but to us children at least it never seemed overcrowded. There was a lean-to at the back, which contained a food safe, a gas cooker, deal table and Belfast sink where the washing was done. At that time the sheets were sent to the Laundry.
One of the most eagerly awaited callers to the house was the library man who carried his wares in a brown holdhall. Books could be borrowed for a couple of pence. My mother told me of the time that her and my father smuggled "Forever Amber" under their mattress, hiding it from my disapproving Nan. People were more formal in their manners then. Elders had to be addressed as Mr. or Mrs.; the more familiar ones were Uncle and Aunty. Although front doors were often left open if someone had a glass door you were expected to knock before entering. If the front door was open, you gave a tap and called Auntie Elsie/ Jane or whatever. I remember my father would not answer the door without putting his tie and jacket on.
Evenings were spent around the fireside, telling stories, (weeping hard at Hans Christian Andersons' "Ice Queen), singing songs and listening to Wilfred Pickles gleefully saying "give him the money Mabel". A persistent memory is listening to the Wireless when "Greensleeves" was being played (my father had told me that this was an old English song from the Tudor times, long ago). On this occasion I can remember looking out of the kitchen window at the long back garden and imagining a sunlit river scene with meadows on either side and trees overhanging the banks. I don't know whether at that time 1 had seen such a scene, but for me that is and always will, be England.
Summertime was cricket season. Sunny evenings meant a walk to the park where my father's team was playing and watching him as the handsome sportsman in his whites. Other time was given over to piano lessons and practice. Although my father was non-Catholic some members of his family hailed from Greenhill and his particular friends belonged to any an Irish family. This helped my mother settle in Swansea. Sunday evenings often involved get-togethers in each other's houses when song were sung and stories were swapped. As Catholics the church was central to our family.and social life. We all attended the church socials and Ceildhi's even my non-Catholic grandmother. The St. Patrick day parade in the Church, when I dressed as a colleen was an extra special event for my mother and aunty. Once a year on Corpus Christi all the parishes collaborated and a big procession snaked its way right through the town to St. Helen's Ground where a service was held. Once again the whole family attended - no matter what faith.
Mass on a Sunday meant a ten minute walk to church. We usually sat in the side isle (for reasons unknown) listening to the choir whilst studying the sunbeams shining through the stained glass window. On the way to Mass we would pass what, at that time, I called the "black people". These were sombre men and women dressed in black with two or three black books clutched in their hands. The women wore black hats and sometimes had fur fox collars, I was entranced by the face of the foxes, expecting them to come to life at any minute and bite their owners. I couldn't understand why they all looked so sombre. My mother explained that the people were going to Chapel - Welsh Chapel. This bemused me, because in Dublin we all went to Chapel but we didn't dress like them, and we chattered and laughed on the way to and from church. However, on the return journey from church the atmosphere couldn't have been more different, as we stopped outside the chapel in wonder. How could those sombre, sad and mournful looking people make such wonderful sounds. They took our breath away and defying damnation we stood and listened to the singing for as long as possible. It saddens me, as I now daily pass that derelict chapel and that ghostly choir haunts my memory.
Another of my pervading memories was of what, I term "the Sunday Quiet Streets" and in my adult life it is something that gets under my skin. I like peace and quiet but somehow I start to panic at that
quietness, all I need is to hear a child giggle and my sanity is restored. My mother used to say that the streets were so quiet because some people were so poor that the children had to stay in while their clothes were being washed for Monday. At that time and place, respectability was everything. Despite our adherence to religion, I was an eager participant in any event or organisation that offered me sociability, I went to Band of Hope, joined the Baptist Christmas Pantomime, and Bromhams Sunday School in Greenhill. If my church didn't provide it I would find it elsewhere.
Cwmfelin Steel works, also long gone, played a large part in our life, its hooter dominated our daytime hours. Time for school, time for lunch. In the night the glow from the furnace lit up my bedroom. The tinplating shed was on the route to school and as we walked past the door would be open and we could watch the green overalled women inside working with the metal. At lunchtime and home time we followed them as they walked up the road in front of us carrying their lunch boxes and tin tea cans.
Age of Discovery and Exploration (1953-1964)
In the winter of 1953 my family was rehoused on one of Swansea's new housing estates. When we moved in the roads and pavements had still not been tarred; the houses on the other side of the street were still skeletons surrounded by scaffolding. I remember my excitement on a cold frosty day to see the little girl next door running round her muddy garden warmly clad in hat and gloves. I had a friend! For us, the new home was luxurious. My parents, at long last, had their own bedroom (except for occasionally sharing it with the new baby or an errant child). I shared a fair size bedroom with my Aunt and my brothers had bunk beds in the boxroom. I had my own bed. We had a bathroom (water was heated in the fire's backboiler) and the council even provided a new gas stove and a gas boiler for clothes washing for a couple of extra pence. The living room was huge with enough room for the dining table as well as the three-piece suite. The dining table was now only used on special occasions, `Sunday Tea When We Had Important Visitors', or Christmas day.
Meals were now regularly eaten in the kitchen at a newly bought kitchen table. However these mealtimes were still magical as my mother was an avid storyteller and would regale us with tales of her life in Ireland, time in the Army and how she met my father. Aunty Rose from next door supplied the Swansea information. Having lived in the town centre, Aunty Rose had experienced the worst of the blitz and we regularly relived it with her. Aunty Rose was also a borrower, she would boast how she had steak for George's dinner but then come in, always by the side door, to borrow a bit of `dripping' for the gravy. On one occasion my mother - not to be bettered - told a half lie. Mammy told Aunty Rose that we had `Beef' for Sunday dinner, but didn't add the word `Sausages'. Rose would borrow a pinch of salt, a cup of flour or sugar, or a drop of milk, but besides this she had a kind heart and wouldn't do anyone any harm.
Clase at that time was a magical place (for us children anyway). Only three short miles from town it could have been miles away. Except for the adjoining village, Tirdeanauw, we were surrounded on all sides by fields. Our gardens were at that time just bogland and you can imagine our excitement in the spring to find we had our own tadpoles and we could watch our pet frogs developing. This didn't make my mother happy. Our neighbours were a mixed bunch, quite a few of whom my father had grown up with. The lighthouse keeper lived on the corner, next to him lived a carpenter, further down the road a schoolteacher his neighbour was a works manager. We were awfully proud of Uncle George, he was a builder and worked on the Jersey Marine roundabout and Trunk Road. But in contrast with today, everyone's father had a job. The exception on the street was one family of children who were fatherless. Their mother was a very hardworking woman, struggling hard to provide for her children. `Fathers', except for shiftworkers, normally disappeared during the day, and weren't seen until maybe Saturday afternoon or Sunday. Sunday then became a day of oddjobs around the house, gardening in the summer and reading the Sunday Paper, enjoying the luxury of Sunday Dinner and Tea.
For us, however, Sunday still meant Mass, a mile walks downhill to Morriston. This was very difficult in icy weather. Sometimes the journey had to be repeated when we attended Sunday school. If we protested my father would say, "its up to you but if you don't want to be Catholics you can change schools." Argument closed. Walking to church in fine weather without a supervising adult could be fun. We would leave the road and meander through the park or fields, climbing trees and crossing streams, enjoying imaginary adventures. We knew that we were sin free if we arrived in church before the offertory - a quarter of an hour late. A mark for attendance at Sunday school meant arriving in time to for the Benediction. The excuse `sorry, missed the bus', was probably sceptically received but couldn't be argued with. The journey home would be by a different route often involving a detour to the `Poles Camp', where we crouched down below the window ledges, before heaving each other up for a peep in the window. If an adult appeared we would scarper like lightening.
As we lived so far out of town, with an erratic bus service, lateness at school was normally tolerated, particularly in the winter. On icy days, Llangyfelach road and Caemawr dill became impassable and this meant buses making a detour. We frequently had a long wait for the bus, which sometimes didn't arrive at all. If snow threatened or started during the school day we were let off early as we often had to walk from Brynhyfryd to Clase in the snowstorm. However, the snow didn't bother us once we had arrived home and changed into dry clothes. Being provided with a season ticket also gave us opportunities for what was, in our opinion, harmless mischief. One of our favourite games was seeing how many buses we could catch home. This entailed getting off the bus after one or two stops and travelling on as many different routes as possible. This was only achievable if the conductor didn't closely examine our ticket. Of course this made us late terribly late home, but the same excuses were used, "the bus was late, missed or full up". The last excuse "full up" was valid because our school was two stops from the town centre where the grammar school boys and girls got on. We sometimes tricked the drivers and conductors by letting one child stand at the bus stop until the bus arrived. When the bus drew to a halt, the other children, who had been hiding behind a wall, stormed the bus and got on, much to the annoyance of the conductor.
The same rules of etiquette applied on the estate with regard to our relationships with adults and how they were addressed. We were definitely were forbidden to cheek another adult. If we felt hard done by complaining to Mammy and Daddy didn't get us anywhere. There was a Police Sergeant living on the estate and his word was law. God help the child whose parents had a visit from `Butler'. He did regular foot patrols of the estate. We children would be playing football or cricket and the 'Tomtoms' would start. 'Butler's left his house, he's on the way'. All games would cease, all balls, bats etc., hidden away. Children would sit demurely on the walls. You could have heard a pin drop. We didn't want him to walk down our path.
As children we could walk and cycle for miles. The countryside around us provided adventure, making dens, climbing trees, and having bonfires (scout fashion). Walking through bogs and getting our wellies full of frogs spawn. Walking along icy paths, being the first to crack icy puddles and polishing a strip of ice to slide on. Playing snowballs by the light of the street lamps. Communal bonfires on Guy Fawkes day, November 5th, and closely guarding our treasure before hand. Playing cards and holding our own clubs and shows in our gardens and sheds. These must have been the last halcyon days of childhood.
1 don't want to give the impression that we were all goody two shoes. My brother and his pal were once caught hiding a stolen bike. The fact that his best friend was sent to the remand home for the night taught all the gang a salutary lesson. Despite larking around and fighting our short part of the street gave fruition to a Doctor and a nurse, two teachers, a policeman, civil servants and local government workers. On the other side of the coin we also had a boy who was accused of rape and another boy convicted of a serious theft offence. But on the whole, despite some early misdemeanours most of us became respectable citizens.
Margaret Glover, 24/4/02