Migration Trails: between the Principality of Wales and England
By Elizabeth Owens
The migration trail starts in Wales, quite a few years ago —and also many centuries ago.
Roy’s grandfather, suddenly and mysteriously arrived in Resolven, a village in the Neath Valley, South Wales. There were not many new people turning up unannounced, all anyone knew was that he was from the north and he was readily accepted, despite the rather negative feelings of the north/south divide, which we have noticed in so many places that we have visited. He was known as Daddy Dick and he met and married Mammy, who had lived in the valley all her life, as her forebears had for generations. She was softly spoken, welcoming and had a happy disposition.
I met Daddy Dick in the sixties, a short and dapper man, with a wonderful accent and a joie de vivre that had him running upstairs at the merest mention of some social activity. A short time later, he was the first by the door, suited and booted, as they say, with a shiny expectant face. Mammy was very capable and turned the small front room into a general store, selling the goods that the village folk needed and couldn’t grow in their allotments. The two Welsh folk were not wealthy in terms of money, but the household was a wealth of love and happiness and no-one went to bed hungry.
Traditional Welsh meals
As the family grew, beds were shared, as were boots. The men were miners with some on day shift and some on night shift. On their way home, covered in coal dust, they could be heard singing. Ifor, Roy’s father’s strong tenor voice could be heard above the others. Walking together in the fresh mountain air, their raised voices alerted Mammy to light the copper for the bath in front of the fire and to tend to the evening meal. The day shift left their boots by the fireplace to warm, for their brothers to wear the following morning. After washing in front of the fire, the men were ready for a substantial meal with a large portion of potatoes. Mammy was an excellent cook and made traditional Welsh meals, Lava bread and Bara Brith and other favourites, greatly enjoyed by the family. Her only daughter learned all these recipes as she worked alongside her mother. I can remember eating very well in her house in the sixties. Roy can remember climbing the mountain, collecting Winberries for her to make a pie, when he spent holidays in Resolven.
Moving to London
Most of the men had “the dust” on their lungs. Eventually, with the first symptoms of Pneumoconbiosis or “black lung” Ifor moved to London, following in the footsteps of his elder brother, Johnny. Jobs had been found for them as market gardeners for the wealthy. The man in charge, George Green had at least two pretty daughters, both of whom were attracted to these good looking men from the Welsh Valleys, with lovely accents and beautiful singing voices. George Green had recently retired from his Vaudeville act with his wife (known as The Two Dots) They sang and danced and Roy remembers his grandfather’s lovely singing voice. The Two Dots were true cockneys, born within the sound of Bow Bells, London. Two brothers married two sisters in the fullness of time. So George Green was Roy’s maternal grandad and the pretty girls, his mother and auntie.
Now in those days, moving from Wales to London was a long way and not only measured in miles. They could have been considered as immigrants in some people’s minds and certainly they weren’t welcomed with open arms. I don’t know how they felt, but they were happy to be in either place and always carried the Welsh Village, the loving family home, and the camaraderie at the colliery with them in their hearts and minds. Whilst they were still alive family meetings were filled with stories of the “Old Days” back home.
My Welsh father moved to London
Meanwhile, still in Wales, but travelling eastwards to a very different place and fifteen years earlier, there lived two parents with two sons, in a small house, by a canal in a small town. The main income of this town was derived from the wool trade. It seems that The Royal Welsh Warehouse was an important hub, where the fleeces were sold. The eldest son had an aptitude for book keeping and the second son, my father, had an amazing feeling for cloth and an aptitude for tailoring and design. Also he had a good singing voice and accent and a way with words, but sadly he stammered. My grandmother had been a hand loom weaver in her younger days, another traditional welsh craft, related to wool. But my guess would be that it was more acceptable for a woman to follow this aptitude for making beautiful cloth from the gift of wool from the sheep’ fleeces.
Knowing that he was not in the right place, but despite always loving Wales and keeping his Welsh lilt, he must have felt that to be a tailor at that time, he needed to be in London and have a showcase for his bespoke gentlemen’s suits, expertly cut and made from the finest woollen cloth. So, a showroom in central London was the answer until World War Two made it necessary for my father to work from home.
The aptitude and love of working with cloth has passed through his close family and onwards down through the generations, giving so much pleasure to those who enjoy needlework skills.
My mother moved from Yorkshire to London too
Now, onto my mother, who was so proud of her Yorkshire roots, as all Yorkshire folk are. She also was capable, a good cook and had the sweetest singing voice, sweet and pure, just like my grand daughter’s. Lily grew up in a big family, where money was scarce, but loving and caring was in abundance. Her father was musical and my mother loved to hear him play the organ that he had installed in their tiny house. He was a nature lover and he took his children into the woods to educate them about the natural world and to instill a love of birdsong, insects, small creatures and wildflowers into my mother in particular.
The caring side of his nature was to the fore, as he volunteered in the St John’s Ambulance Brigade and took turns to tend to those that needed his help, in his free time. Full training was given. Now , that caring thread passed to my mother and onwards through the family, with family members caring for the physical and mental wellbeing of others.
So back in the 1920s, a difficult decision was made by my mother, Lily, who loved Yorkshire and her family very much. She considered that to be the best trained nursing and theatre sister, the London teaching hospitals were the best places to gain the knowledge that she needed. This was where my parents met, having left their homes and moved to London to be “the best that they could be”.
Sadly, I don’t know how they felt, for the lack of asking them, but they remained very proud to be in London, doing what they thought was right and carrying Wales and Yorkshire in their hearts. If only we talked to our loved ones and listened well. They set up home in Barnes, south west London and a few years later Roy’s parents set up home close by. My parents never returned to their family homes, which they kept in their memories.
Roy and I move between Wales and England
Then some years later when Roy and I were teenagers we met and fell in love and married in 1966.
Sixty years after meeting, we were celebrating our fifty-fifth wedding anniversary with a meal out. We had just received Anniqua’s post on Tillism about being an immigrant, so this was our main topic of conversation. We knew nothing of how it feels to be an immigrant. Well, this conversation seemed to pose more questions than answers!
We, each independently of one another have an affinity to Wales, despite being born in England to two English mothers, who we loved equally as we loved our Welsh fathers. We have such a love for that country (Principality) and we think that somehow the the warm and comfortable feeling (“Cwtch” in Welsh,) that we have for Wales is nurtured in our genes. Our next visit will be in October and the excitement, planning and nostalgia is getting us through this locked in strange period of time. As the Welsh saying goes “Mae Arnaff i Hiraeth“, from time to time, we have a yearning and wistfulness that cannot be denied.
If Wales was a country, rather than a Principality, would we have been able to live there for six happy years, a short while ago without being immigrants?
We moved to Wales as soon as we retired from work, but were recalled by our hearts, to look after our daughter-in-law, with her new baby and kidney transplant. She is from Chile and loves that country dearly, but she has willingly taken on British Citizenship, with its bizarre tests and is now proud to be a citizen in her new country. She loves both countries, the land of her birth and the land of her daughter’s birth. Ginetta will stay in England, as will Roy and I. Unless otherwise!!! Who knows what the future will bring?
Ifor would have returned to Wales, if he had stayed well enough after his beloved wife Rose died. Sadly, I don’t know where my parents would have preferred to end their lives if poor health hadn’t taken decisions from them. I am an individual and I don’t strive to be like either of my parents, but if I’m like one of them, then it’s down to genes.
Thinking about this whole subject, my thoughts are that immigration equates to freedom of movement within the confines of personal desire and circumstances. These Residential Tests seem to be put in place for reasons of logistics and planning for the financial stability of the country. So to make a home where we are at present and where our heart is, is ideal. The three deciding factors that pull each one of us this way and that seem to be family ties, freedom of movement, and health.
Roy and I have really enjoyed thinking about this post. We realise that being an immigrant is personal to those that are immigrants. We will always find it difficult to empathise with situations that we have never been in, but we can try.
Click here to read more from Elizabeth Owens: A Love that Extends to Everything on this Planet
Elizabeth Owens – through the eyes of her husband who has known her for 58 years.
Elizabeth is a devout Christian and by definition is a person full of love and caring for her fellow humans. She is full of empathy and truly listens to other people’s joys, woes and opinions. This love extends to everything on our planet, Earth. She loves the countryside, plants and animals, and the sea, and all the creatures whose environment is being polluted by us. Sadly, we are putting them and ourselves in grave danger. Dogs, in particular, recognise this love as when they all come in contact with her. They immediately respond with their tactile nature as if she was their ‘mummy’. I am blessed to be her husband.
Create Cultural Memories through Literature and Art
The best way to learn about people is through the stories they tell. Books recommended by Elizabethe Owens:
The Little Book of Welsh Culture by Mark Rees
The Little Book of Wales by Mark Lawson Jones
The Story of Wales by Jon Gower
How Green was my Valley by Richard Llewelyn
The Heyday in the Blood by Geraint Goodwin
“Britain and the world were shocked in October 1966 by live television pictures coming from a small mining village in Wales. They showed a human tragedy unfolding after thousands of tons of coal waste fell from a mountainside onto its primary school and surrounding houses. The majority of the 144 people killed were children under 12.”
I really enjoyed reading about the earlier generation of immigrants from Wales to England. It’s also made me want to read or watch How Green was my Valley again. Thank you so much for your contribution.
So beautiful! I loved it and particularly this line resonated deeply with my own attitude and feeling: “So to make a home where we are at present and where our heart is, is ideal.” I am an immigrant by choice in a very different place and have been and remain a traveler at heart and love, friendship and freedom is all there is. Rest are details. Thank you for this lovely reminder of what’s essential to a good life.
Thank you Anniqua and Reena for your lovely comments. Elizabeth