|Hill Street, Penycae|
Continuing past the house on Hill Street, you pass over the Pentre bridge, with the river flowing beneath it. Just past the bridge, higher up the bank, (you can see a white house to the right of mine) lived the first girl I was ever keen on. I was only about 5 or 6 remember, and never told anyone about it. To be honest, I'm as useless today as I was then about mentioning feelings to females. Our respective families were quite close, and I remember walking up the steep path to their house from off the road. There were fruit hedges on either side of the pathway lined with the biggest, juiciest gooseberries you could ever imagine seeing. We ate loads of them, and I still love gooseberries to this day.
|Hill Street Shop|
There are two things that I remember about that shop when I was growing up. One was the range of sweets you could buy, that you could get from nowhere else locally. The weekly treat while very young was worth waiting for. The second thing that I remember is being absolutely terrified of the daughter of the shop owners. I have no idea why - time has been kind and erased this from my memory. It must have been of sufficient scale though, as my sister has occasionally referred to it. Terrified I may have been, but the need for sweets was all consuming in an age of general austerity, and purchases were made with the speed of a Usain Bolt.
The Barber's shop was a small room where I used to have my hair cut on a Saturday morning every 4 - 6 weeks. Prior to going to secondary school, the style (don't imagine for one moment that there was any style about it) was fairly short on top with a parting down the left side. A pudding bowl, suitable to the size of your head was placed on it, and all the hair cut off that was not hidden by the bowl.
On going to secondary school, I rebelled. I had enough problems in school to cope with without the shame of a pudding bowl haircut. I needed a more sophisticated look. Unfortunately, the Barber had two styles available. One with the pudding bowl and one without. I think that the hair styles in the three periods of my life - junior school, secondary school, and everything after - could be summed up by one word, crap.
|Pub Map of Penycae|
- Wheelwrights Arms
- Bricklayers Arms
- The New Inn
- Royal Oak
- The Anchor
- The Cross Keys
- The Bird in Hand
- The Queens
- The Black Horse (still operating)
- The Cross Foxes (still operating)
- The Eagles
- The Red Lion
- Name Unknown
|The Anchor Pub|
Unfortunately, on the 26th June 1953 a stray spark set the thatch roof on fire, destroying the pub. We moved from Hill Street in 1953 to live on the farm. I don't know if the move was before the fire, or after it. The Pentre area of Penycae was an interesting place to live.
It is said that Wales has been brewing beer for 4000 years, and enjoying every minute of it. An 1850 report on public health in north east Wales stated, "Drunkenness I found complained of, by all parties, as the disgrace of Wrexham". The historian Russell Davies said in 2005, "The real opiate of the Welsh was alcohol. Alcohol was a thirst quencher, a reliever of physical pain and psychological strain, a symbol of human interdependence, a morale booster, a sleeping draft and a medicine. The hopelessness of destitution demanded a short-cut to oblivion".
We often hear today about marketing policies (offers on drink by supermarkets and pubs), youth drinking and binge drinking as if they are all new, and life was so different in the past. Look at some examples.
Marketing - in 1836, One Merthyr Tydfil publican was found to be offering three drinks for the price of one as an early morning special offer.
Youth drinking - in 1891, the popular novelist, Daniel Owen complained that pubs "were now filled with empty-headed youths, not old enough to shave, drinking like animals and going home in a worse state than any animal".
Binge drinking - in the 1830's, members of the Ebbw Vale Temperance Society were allowed two pints of beer a day, similar to the current recommended maximum for men of 3-4 units per day. However, problems arose when some adherents decided to save up their weekly beer allowance in order to knock back 14 pints at the weekend. The Society soon moved to the view of total abstinence.
Wales' love of rugby is well known, as is the fact that it went hand in hand with drink. The period from 1964 to 1979, when Wales won seven Triple Crowns and England failed to record a single victory in Cardiff, led according to John Davies to "a redefinition of the characteristics of the Welsh" from "puritan chapel-goers" to "muscular boozers who were doubtful whether there was any life beyond the dead-ball line".
When pubs were closed on Sundays in Wales, people came up with all manner of creative ways to get a drink. In Penycae, buses came to the village on a Sunday to take people to Oswestry for a drink - this was a small town just across the border in England. This was one of the benefits of living near the border with England.
There's a wonderful story of ingenuity in Penycae concerning the Cross Keys pub. There was a house next door attached to the pub, and the house owner and pub owner agreed to knock a hole in the wall between the pub and the living room in the house. Drinkers would go to the house and be served drink through the hole in the wall, so technically people were not drinking in the pub on a Sunday. I loved the description given to me that the pub was closed, but the house had lots of friends.
Throughout Wales there were examples of man's cunning spirit. In the 1890's, Cardiff's Hotel de Mari arranged for gatherings of up to 2000 men on Sunday mornings to meet at a disused clay pit, where barrels of drink were provided free of charge in return for a 'voluntary' fee. Drinkers also made use of a clause in the legislation allowing the provision of drinks to genuine travellers, by walking to the next parish for a pint. Finally, one very enterprising brewery sought to take advantage of the ban by selling 'Sunday sustainers': two pint flagons of beer that could be bought on Saturday to drink on the Sunday.
I'm strangely proud that my village had its fair share of cunning plans to get a drink on a Sunday. We've spent a lot of time on drink here, which was important to my village, and I hope that the wider context has been of interest. Let me finish by pretending that we're in a pub quiz, and ask two questions.
- What is the highest pub in the United Kingdom? - it is the Tan Hill Inn, Yorkshire at 1,732 feet above sea level.
- What is the remotest pub on the British mainland? - it is The Old Forge in the village of Inverie, Lochaber, Scotland.There is no road access and it may only be reached by an 18 mile walk over the mountains, or a seven mile sea crossing. See http://www.theoldforge.co.uk/