Monday, August 2, 2010

Hugh and Ann's Story

After marrying, they moved into a small flat above a shop. All Ann’s family except her brother were at the wedding. James was in the navy and hadn’t been able to make it back in time.

After saying goodbye to the family, they retired for the night. Trembling with anticipation, they lay in bed, chastely side-by-side. Hugh unwound Ann's hair and she threaded her fingers into his curls. Suddenly, a clatter and shout were heard outside. “A drunk, take no notice”, he whispered. “Ann, Hugh, c’mon. It’s me … James”. It was her brother. His ship had arrived at Cardiff docks and he had gifts for the newlyweds. His sailor’s bag was slung over his shoulder and balanced in his arms were a set of eggshell delicate bone china and a large wall clock. Realising that he had missed the wedding breakfast, he had enjoyed a glass or two before catching the last train up the valley. He spent the night on their sofa, snoring. They held hands all through a long unconsummated night.

The presence of an unexpected guest didn’t damper their ardour for long. Morfydd was born in August 1910, Mair in 1912, Eluned in 1914 and Iorwerth in 1916. In 1918 a still-born baby broke into their happiness. Eluned was so excited that there was going to be a baby and ran upstairs. Hugh stood on the landing glassy-eyed with tears and wouldn’t let the little girl go in. “I want to see the baby”, she bellowed. “There isn’t a baby for us today”, he murmured hugging her. Another baby girl, Irene, arrived safely in 1919. Glennys was born in the summer of 1921 but died at seven months. Eluned had knitted a dolly for her baby sister and hugged it on the day of the funeral.

But mostly, it was a happy home. Ann worked hard to keep a good house, blacking the range and scrubbing the front step. Cleanliness and godliness were level pegging in the home. By 1919 Hugh was the foreman-builder on a new development of council houses. He earned a good wage and they could afford a few luxuries. Shelves began to fill with books and occasional toys for the children. Hugh and Ann loved coffee and they would mill the beans for fresh coffee in the evening when the children went to bed. Little Eluned would beg for a sip of coffee but grimaced at the taste every time.

Hugh would bring home his account book and a bag of money to pay the workmen. Eluned and Iorwerth would be given the money to count while Morfydd and Mair bagged up and labelled each wage. Later, when Eluned proved to be adept with numbers, she would be given the columns of figures to check.

Two dogs trotted in and out of the house. There was always a spaniel and a terrier. Each Whit Monday and on the first Monday in August, Hugh would hire a pony and trap and take them to the seaside. A long day with Eluned and Iorwerth on the perch by the side of Hugh and the dogs sandwiched between them. Ann and the other girls would sit in the back with the baskets of provisions and the blankets. Eluned didn’t care whether they ever got to the sea; sitting up in the cart looking at the fields and hedges was the thing. Hugh was a fine horseman having been a teamster before leaving home. He would let the little ones stand between his knees and hold the reins as they trotted along the lanes. On the journey home, the two postillions would be adamant that they weren’t tired enough to need to travel behind but they often found themselves waking up under blankets by the end of the journey.

After Glennys, there were no more babies and Hugh and Ann looked forward to the children growing up. He was making a good living and thinking about throwing his lot in with his brother Robert who had started his own building firm. Robert’s wife still looked down on the shop girl and Alice was busily inculcating her nieces with the “we might be poor, but we’re not common” mantra. In 1924, Morfydd left school to work in the local Corn Stores, a sensible reliable girl. 1926 was a year of great change for the family. Mair left school to work in a dress shop. Eluned passed her scholarship exam to go to the grammar school and Hugh fell ill.

The cancer quickly took hold and one day in the Spring of 1927, the younger children were taken to the hospital to see their father one last time. They arrived too late. He had just just died and they couldn’t recognise the old man in the bed. He was forty-four.

Life changed completely for Ann and the children. The two elder girls became the breadwinners. Irene spent many months with her aunts and Eluned with her uncle and aunt. Iorwerth became the man of the family. He was ten. The light had truly gone out of Ann’s life. Scrimping and saving to keep the family together took away her sense of joy and was replaced by overwhelming sadness occasionally spliced with bitterness and anger.

In 1962, Ann had a small stroke leaving her permanently confused. She wanted to go home – to the house where she had lived with Hugh and their young family. Every day, she would dress her hair, put on her coat and hat and carefully put the two hatpins in place ready to go home. Eventually, she went home in June 1965.

Hugh and Ann were my maternal grandparents.


  1. Beautifully told - as were the two previous accounts - gently and with affection. Ann's last years are particularly poignant.

  2. Thank you, mountainear. My mother and her brother and sisters are now all gone and I really thought that I needed to get the story written while I've still got my marbles.

    The next bit isn't quite so nice.

  3. A lovely story. So sad that Ann was left by herself and in poorer circumstances, but that was the usually the way.


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