Humorous incidents in my life

By Evan Davies

 

          As everything in the world varies, so do human beings. Therefore what is humour to one person is not so much humour to another, and it may be that this sermon of mine will be boring and not interesting. So I will mention a few incidents in my life, which have interested me and given me some pleasure to look back on and smile.

          A misty dreary wet morning, the 30th day of November 1871, has been the most important day in my history as it was the day I was born. I was the fourth child of a family or six children and it happened on a small holding In Cardiganshire, within a stone throw or the River Teify, the boundary between the counties of Cardigan and Carmarthen

The first next incident in my life that I remember in my life was being christened. It was the custom in Cardiganshire then at any special occasion such as an invalid or anyone convalescing after an Illness to have the minister or the Chapel, which the family belonged to, to hold a service on a Sunday night at that house, instead of at the Chapel. And in the summertime these services were held in the open air, and this happened on the occasion of my christening. I was then between three and four years of age, and by then another baby had arrived and we both were christened at the same meeting. An old wag in the village who was a deacon in the chapel of another denomination, and who I was very fond of, used to tell people what was going to happen to me the following Sunday. The preacher will have a lot to say about sprinkling, (and he would turn to me and tell me “You tell him to shut up my boy” little thinking that I would take any notice) but in front of a vast congregation and I was sitting on the preacher’s leg I looked up at him and said “Shut Up”. I was censured and I can feel my mother’s fingers on my arm this minute. I am very sorry that I said it, as I am for many words that I have said since during my life. Most of them people are now dead, also the preacher, but I am known by those that live, as the boy who told the preacher to shut up.

          I grew up to be a strong healthy boy, full of mischief, in fact the wickedest boy in Llanwennog church school. My mother used to say that she beat more of me than the other children put together. When I reached Standard V in the Parish School, I was sent to a Grammar School at Llanybyther. I was about the youngest boy and also the dullest as most of the students who were there at the time have Managed to get a living without much hard work, one of them being Dr. Jenkins the 1ate M.O.H. for the Rhondda District Council.

My father was the Steward at the mansion and over the estate of Highmead (but a carpenter by trade). All my family on my fathers side were carpenters except one, he was too small to make a carpenter of him so his parents made a tailor of him but he made a fine tailor. My elder brother was a full-fledged carpenter then and working in Cardiff so it would be a tragedy and a disgrace to the lineage not to put me to the carpenter trade. So I was at 14 years of age apprenticed to a first class carpenter. There were then carpenters and carpenters, building carpenters and cart-house carpenters. The building carpenters were considered a pip above the cart-house carpenters; the latter and his apprentice were carrying their tools on their backs from farm to farm. Every farm of any class had its cart-house fitted up with benches and all their carts and gates and barrows, their   furniture and also their coffins were made in the cart-house by this poor tramping carpenter and his apprentice for a very small wage and their food and about half a dozen farms were keeping this carpenter going and he was a busy hard working man, having been planning so much hard wood that he had developed a big hump on his back. These farmers were either cutting trees down on their own farms or buying them at sales, and when they hadn’t much to do in the winter, they would take them to the sawmills and have them cut into boards and scantlings and the best buts of oak were cut up into very nice inch boards and put up to dry for the coffins of the family. When a member of the family died the carpenter was sent for and at once, wherever he was working, he and his apprentice would be on the job. While he would be at the house measuring and taking orders the apprentice would be taking boards down from the loft and as a rule they were very hard and lumpy and covered with chicken manure, then he would take them to a pond, soak them a bit and with a handful of straw he would wash and scrub them. It would take a couple of days for these two to make the coffin in the cart-house. This coffin would have a lead-lace trimming and lead plates and cast iron bronzed or black handles, and they were artists at covering the black spots that they could not plane so that the plates and the lace would cover it. When a wedding came off at the farm the timber was there ready and the carpenter had to make the furniture in the cart-house It did not matter if he was there twelve months preparing as that would not cost very much comparing the price of furniture at the shop. I may say that   this custom to a great extent now has doled out and some of' those apprentices have made a mark in the world being the heads of large firms of furnishers, and coach builders, and some of them house builders in Liverpool and London and all over England But 1 was apprenticed to a builder and also making a piece of furniture occasionally, and also coffins to rich and poor. My master did the whole of the new building on two estates so he also had to tramp from farm to farm and we would also come in contact with the carpenters I have just mentioned. We very often had to tramp a long way from home and sleep at the farms. The boss, and me the apprentice and the foreman mason and his boy were allowed to sleep in the farmhouse, the rest of the workmen slept out in the storehouses with the farm servants.

l remember at one farm we were building a new barn too far to walk home. The farmhouse was a large one, thatch covered. The farmer and his wife slept in the parlour. Which was a small room on the ground floor. The loft was only one large room with a bit of the far end partitioned off to make a little room for the preacher man when he would be staying there. That was called the preacher’s room and the bed was nice and clean, no one else should sleep in it. In the large room, the whole of the loft there were 5 beds. In three of these beds slept 5 maids and one daughter, and in the other two beds slept the boss and me, and the master mason and his son.  My master was a deacon with the Methodists and the master mason was a deacon with the Wesleyans. Those poor maids were worked very hard at the hay in the summer and also did all the milking and butter making etc. They were so tired in the mornings that it was difficult to get them out of bed, and they had to get up at five to churn every morning, and we were also getting up at five in hot weather and taking two hours off at middle day. So this was the procedure. The farmer’s wife would shout from below “Girls get up”. We would get up, the girls wouldn’t move. The farmer’s wife would then get up herself and come to the foot of the stairs and shout, “Now girls come on”. No move again. Then she would hear us on the boards and come back in a bit of a temper and shout “John Williams” that was the mason’s name “Pull the clothes off those girls to see if we can get them from there. Then John would walk up quietly, catch hold in the corner of the bedclothes, pull them down on the floor off the girls’ three beds and then they had to get up, and sometimes there would be a bit of a fight between the older men and the girls but we boys had to be neutral. When it was raining in the morning we did not want to get up so early but the girls had to get up so off came the bedclothes off our beds, the tables were turned.

About half a mile away from where I was apprenticed there was a little shop, kept by two good religious old maids. They were not sisters but an aunt and niece and that is where we youngsters went at night in the winter to have a chat and talk about what w e were doing daily, apprentices of all trades and also farm servants. The old aunt was always in the choir. Here all the tricks of the district were arranged, they were always censured by the old aunt and the niece was generally the one to make the plans and we boys would carry them out to the letter.

I was a twelve-months old apprentice before I had a chance to make a coffin and hearing the other apprentices talking about what fine coffins they were making, even those cart-house apprentices, I developed a mania to make a coffin and wished some of our customers would die for me to try my hand and show these fellows up. There was a poor old woman who belonged to the Methodist chapel close by, very old and ill and my boss was going to see her very often. I was asking him how she was and he used to say that he did not expect her to see her in the morning, that lasted a long time but I didn’t tell anyone my wish. At last the news came that the o1d Iady was dead and I naturally asked who had the coffin to make, and 1 was told that another carpenter had made the coffins for the family for generations. That was a shock to me 1 can tell you and I was ill for days and felt quite nasty to the old woman for dying.

 

We were living within a mile of Maesycrugiau Railway Station and I very often went to the station in the evening to see the 8.0 p.m. train, the Iast train going up to Aberystwyth. This was a one man Station, single Iine, and the Station-master  was the porter, signalman and all, and he was pleased to have a bit of help to shunt the trucks from us boys.

0ne very wet winter night on the way to the station I was passing a small mansion, which was close to the road. lt was occupied by two maiden ladies and two servant girls (I worked there sometimes). I knew all these people were afraid of frogs and mice and such things. I saw a big black toad crossing the road, I picked it up and carried it as far as the mansion. The side door was slightly open and I put the toad on the doorstep and off I went to the Station and forgot all about it. On my way back I saw the four young ladies running out in the rain, properly frightened and they armed me in to see the toad walking quietly across the flagged floor of the kitchen. They asked me to pick it up with the tongs and take it to the river close by which was in flood. I pocked it up with my hand and they came with me to make sure it was thrown to the river. Then I had to go back to the house, wash my hands in three hot waters and I had a nice supper. I tried the toad trick several times again, but the toad would not go in, as I wanted it.

          We would very often go to small concerts and Eisteddfods, coming home late generally through the fields for short cuts and we often passed a bog in a hollow which had a lot of Willows growing in it. I heard a little bird singing in the night dozens of times in the Willow of the bog. I noticed that it was singing very nicely, sometimes I would stop a minute to listen to it, and no more notice made of it. A few years back now I heard that same bird on the wireless, it came back to my memory quite fresh. That little bird was a nightingale. Time will not permit me to relate more of my country reminiscences. So my apprenticeship came to an end and I was to make room for the next apprentices. I may say that the apprentice that left for me lives in Aberdare, a successful builder, a district councilor and a JP. He had been through similar circumstances that I have related to you.

On the sixth day of July 1889, I booked my ticket at the station I had visited hundreds of times. The farewell meeting had been held the night before at the little shop and some of the boys prophesied that I was going on tramp too young and that I would be back among them in less than a twelve month. My ticket cost me nearly all I had in my pocket. If ever I had prayed in my life I prayed then and my prayer was that God would give me plenty of work and that I would be able to stick it for one year whatever. I prayed sincerely with tears running down my cheeks. You may say “What a selfish prayer”, but it was answered and I have been short of plenty of things in this world but never short of work. I have never been idle for want of work for one day from that day to this. I had a job ready at Treharris and I landed at Quakers Yard at one o’clock mid-day. It was a Saturday and the man I was going to work for came and asked me to go and help him to make a coffin that afternoon and I worked till late and we took the coffin “Home” as they used to say. I worked for that man for the year round and then took a week off to go home. I had more money in my pocket going back than I had coming. I had cast away the old clothes and had a new suit of the latest style. I bought a silk umbrella, a pair of kid silk gloves and a bowler hat the colour of a pigeon. It took a whole day to go to the country by train then. When I got to Neath I had two hours to wait for the London-Fishguard train to come, so I put my gloves and my umbrella by my side on the seat, and at last the train came in and I got a bit excited and entered one of the carriages and after it had started I could see my new umbrella and my gloves left behind on the seat and I never saw them again as this train didn’t stop again till it was in Carmarthen. When I was passing Ferry-side, I had my head out through the window enjoying the scenery. The river Towy and the fishermen with their coracles on it, and the speed of the train created a little wind, and it blew my pigeon coloured bowler hat clean off, and I could see it like a little boat on the river Towy. I had an hour to wait at Carmarthen and I went to buy a new hat, a black one this time, and God told me now, “I have been true to you now you be true to me and go home more like the way you came from there, drop that pride and don’t try to take the rise out of those poor little apprentices that are left in the country”. I never bought a pair of gloves of any sort from that day to this, and always avoided being a swank. I think I learned a lesson that stuck to me all my life.

Eventually I went to Barry. The Barry dock had been opened there, and Barry was being built, and the Mecca of all the speculative builders of England and Wales. Circumstances moved me back to Pontypridd and then to Porth. I had a job in the Timber Yard in the carpenters’ shop. I was the biggest, strongest man there and I think about the dullest too and those were the qualifications appreciated there then. There were about five apprentices there most or them the children of well to do people who could pay a high premium, and they were a mischievous lot. Work was harder the than now as it had to be done all by hand. There were no machines then but there were carpenters worthy of the name, first class crafts. There was a little man calling at the carpenter’s shop then selling books, and being a friend of the late Mr. Jenkins he was allowed to go around the men canvassing these books, and also receiving money from those who had bought books previously. This man was getting to be a bit of a bore and the men objected to being bothered in this way, but could not very well I stop him, because he was being permitted, but the apprentices settled the matter. When he used to come to the shop he always left his bag by the foreman’s bench by the door, there was no loft over this part so they waited for him and when he came and dropped his bag they dropped a rope down with a hook on the end of it and up goes the bag and contents. He never saw it again and we never saw him at that shop either.

It was a custom then to give sawdust free and the Rheola hotel, the Porth hotel and the Imperial Hotel used to invite the men of the Timber Yard to a nights free beer once a year. That night was called ''Sawdust Night” and it was a very interesting night.

 

 

 

 

 

We had to go out to do jobs occasionally from the shop and the same man was always sent to certain houses.

When there was anything to do at the Porth hotel I was always sent to do it. One day they were preparing a big dinner and they were expecting many visitors to stay the night. I was sent for to put up some beds. Mrs. Howells, the landlady then was very worried because she had a very peevish little boy of fifteen months and she had to nurse him and could not attend to the duties of the hotel. I proved to be the only one who could consol him and I had to nurse the baby and work overtime at it and another man sent for to put up the beds.

Time will not permit me to mention many more incidents but I remember the carpenters making a flight of stairs for the old Tylorstown Co-operative. They made it one step too many and decided to come back quick breakfast time and cut a step off so that the other men not to know anything about it. Anyhow one of them stayed and cut  off a step and the other one also hurried back and cut a step off so when they put up the stairs it was a step short. One said to the other, “It was right at first as I only cut one step off. '' ''Well said the other I have cut a step off also'', and there was some very select language.

Many years ago the late Mr. David Jenkins and Col.

Watts-Morgan, Dai Watts-Morgan then were candidates for a seat on the County Council for Porth and Hafod. We all had to canvass for our candidate and Watts-Morgan was well known among the colliers more so than Mr. Jenkins. He went to a house on Monkey’s Tump and asked the wife where was John, her husband, as he had not been to vote and it was drawing on towards 8-0.p.m. She told him he would most likely find him in the “Sants” so off he went and found John enjoying a pint. He was coaxed to go to the school to vote and standing by the fire was the other candidate and the returning Officer, Mr. Evan Llewellyn, and they said ''Come on quick as it is closing time but John did not know the way to vote s the Presiding Officer asked him who he was going to vote for.” For Dai of course” said John. “But which of the two” he was asked “They are both Dais”. “With Dai Jenkins of course” replied John, “Because he gave me some boards to build a chickens cot”. Dai Jenkins got in by 16 votes but did not contest the seat after, so Col Watts-Morgan got in afterwards and held the seat all his life.

          In the year 1898 I was sent to Mountain Ash to work and we had a lot of work there that year and the old foreman mason there was from by Llanrhystud, and a crowd of masons and carpenters from the neighbourhood of Aberayron and Llarhystud followed him and there was a little boy from Aberayron also a curate in the Welsh Church there. These boys and him came from the same place and we used to take a walk together in the summer with us was the little curate. We also went on Sunday nights to church to hear him preach and we used to tease him that he was a poor preacher, but he was a good preacher all the same. I eventually left Mountain Ash and lost sight of the curate for 30 years until I heard his name. Timothy Reese appointed Bishop of Llandaff.

          When we were building the Nythbran houses and after we had got in the swing of the job, and in the fine weather, we were putting these houses up pretty smart. We built a batch of 28 houses in 28 days, that is at the rate of a house per day taking the 28 together. We had 2 very large portable engines, 25 H.P. each driving 5 motor mills. There was a man from Ynysybwl working one of the motor mills, walking night and morning over the mountain. He was living in a caravan at Ynysybwl and one morning he lost a quarter and did not turn up until breakfast time. The head engine driver asked him what the matter was and he replied that an old pal of his had come over to see him from Ystrad and it was such a rough wet night that he stayed the night with us. The foreman said “I thought you lived in a caravan John, if he stayed the night with you he must have slept with you and your wife”. Oh, yes he did “ said John, that is how I lost the quarter, I couldn’t leave them until it was light then I could trust the old girl as long as she could see who was there with her.

          About the time I started at Porth most of the young masons and some of the carpenters belonged to the Militia at Aberystwyth and the service time, 21 days in the summer, were their holidays and they would spend all the money they had saved in the first few days, and they were not having any pay until they were terminating the training, so a few of these invented a scheme to make a bit of money on fair day at Aberystwyth. There was a chap from Lampeter in the Militia who was not quite 16 ounces. They were billeting in private houses that year and so there was no camp. One of our masons pinched a feather bed from the lodging and another one found some tar and they tarred and feathered the Lampeter chap and put him in one of the stables of the Black Lion and they shouted at the yard gate, “Come and see the wild Prince just sent home by one of our battalions in India. Threepence each” People crowded in and they made a good morning. They would throw pieces of raw Iiver to him till head was covered with blood. By and by the officers of the company saw a gang of soldiers in the yard of the Black Lion and went in to see what was going on. They all ran away and left the Black Prince on his own in the stable. This chap was known as the Black Prince until his dying day.

Life is made up of tragedies and worries and an occasional humourous incident is like a spring of fresh water in the desert. Thanks be to God, a great deal of the troubles and worries of Iife get more humorous as we grow older hence the old Welsh hymn “O Fryniau Caersalem Ceir Gweled”, and by the time we grow old all the circumstances of life harmonise together and we are like a flower bed with all its colours blending together, and many of our troubles of the past have become later to be humour and joy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Footnote by granddaughter Anne

 

Evan Davies 1871 – 1940

 

Evan Davies wrote the above towards the end of his life. His brother Shem had been drowned in the river Teifi at the age of 16. Evan  married Mary Jenkins, the daughter of the blacksmith (John Jenkins y Gof) from Llanwennog. They married in 1892 at Splott Chapel in Cardiff. They had three children, Griffith Robert 1893 - 1917, Sydney Austin 1895 – 1984 and Henrietta Elizabeth (my mother) 1902 - 1973. Griffith and Sydney served in the Great War and Griffith lost his life at age 25 in Ypres.

http://www.cwgc.org/cwgcinternet/results.aspx?surname=Davies&initials=G%20R&war=1&yearfrom=1917&yearto=2000&force=Army&nationality=6 

 

2

DAVIES, GRIFFITH ROBERT

Sapper

134954

10/11/1917

25

Royal Engineers

United Kingdom

III. A. 16.

ST. JULIEN DRESSING STATION CEMETERY

 

 Mary suffered from puerperal insanity after the birth of Henrietta and she was committed to the mental institution at Bridgend in 1909, and remained there until she died in 1940.

 

Evan’s life had seen great sadness.