Families Of Penallt

It is, alas, the eternal fact of human transience, but perhaps accelerated by the mobility of the modern age, that has caused the disappearance from Penallt of many surnames which, only a generation or two ago, were well known in the parish. No longer, except on tombstones, do we find within our boundaries the names of Ballinger, Beard, Edwards, England, Gunter, Haskins, Herbert, Hudson, Pick, Pring, Ricketts, Roach, Robbins, Sadler, Thomas, Wilkins, Yorath – and the list could be lengthened; families once active in the affairs of Penallt and remembered by our senior citizens. But if one looks a little closer one sees that, although the names are gone, some at least of the families are still represented here by daughters who have changed their names in marriage.


A good example of this is the Gunter family, perhaps the oldest in the parish, now represented by the sisters Mrs Dolly Davies and Mrs Irene Card. One of their ancestors, James Gunter, is numbered among the Catholic Martyrs in the days of religious persecution; he was ordained a priest at Rheims, but was arrested and hanged on his return to Britain. A more recent ancestor was farming the Argoed in 1847 as tenant of Morgan Clifford (a relation of the Probert family) and their grandfather still farmed the land; he was one of the founding trustees of the Trellech and Penallt Charity, of which Dolly Davies remains a trustee.

Their father John Gunter had been born at Llanant but moved to Cwmcarvan, and later to the Limekilns, which belonged to his family, on his marriage. The house had once been a small four-roomed house for lime-burners to stay in while the kilns were being fired, in the days when the Gunters paid £13 a year rental to the Duke of Beaufort for the right to dig and burn limestone there; but after the lime-burning ceased it was enlarged to make a bigger dwelling.

When Dolly married Cyril Davies they lived first in Coventry and then moved to Walnut Tree Cottage when Cyril joined up in the Second War. The bungalow at Frostlands was built during this period, and they lived in it for a short time before they bought Glyn Farm from Henry Morgan in 1954; they farmed Glyn for twelve years, then sold it and moved back to the Frostlands bungalow, where Dolly still lives.

The old Frostlands Farm, where the Griffiths family had lived, was enlarged and renamed The Bowles by Major Probert. Old Miss Elizabeth Griffiths, the last of her line, had been living alone in the old house after her sister Hannah died, so Dolly often went over from the Glyn and stayed the night to keep her company. Later, Dolly and Cyril took Miss Griffiths to the Glyn to live with them, but she died soon after the move.

Dolly Davies is full of memories of the old days in Penallt, and of the families in the big houses: of the kindness of the Hankeys at Ty Mawr and the sewing classes they held for local children; how they were always welcome to play in the Argoed grounds in Kyrle Chatfield’s day, collect chestnuts and skate on the pond in winter; of the Pelhams and, later, the del Sandys at Moorcroft – she remembers dancing in a schoolchildren’s performance with Mrs Pelham sitting appreciatively in the front row of the audience; and of the entertainments and dancing classes organised by Mrs de Heaume.


Mrs Violet Heales also has memories of that corner of the parish from her early childhood at the Quab (now renames Pinetops). At one time the house had been two cottages which were Parish Houses, where very poor families were housed, and there was another Parish House, now in ruins, in the field to the north of the house. Vi Heales remembers walking over to Pool Farm in the morning before school and carrying back a big jug of milk; and how the gypsies, when they camped on the Common, would let her father’s animals out of his fields at night and pasture their own horses in them. She moved with her widowed father, Harry Williams, and the younger children to her present home at Yew Tree Cottage, near Penygarn, more than fifty years ago, when she was still a young girl. There she met her husband, George, whose parents lived just up the road; he made a great contribution to the musical life of Penallt with his piano accordion. From her girlhood days, Vi remembers going on family outings to Bristol by train from Penallt Halt to Chepstow and the ferry, pushing a pram with the baby and luggage down Glyn Road – and the much harder push coming home up three miles of steep hill. Then came another uphill walk to draw water from a well near Crick Farm and back with a full bucket, before lighting the stove and boiling a kettle for tea. “But we thought nothing of it!”


Mrs Vi Evans, who lives with her husband, Matthew, near the lower end of Lone Lane, is descended from the Herberts, a family once well known in the parish. Her grandfather was Tom Herbert, a blacksmith at the Redbook tinplate works, known as “Iron Tom” to distinguish him from his cousin “Wooden Tom”, who was a carpenter. One of his brothers was Frank Herbert, who farmed at Noddfa and was Churchwarden for a number of years in the 1940s. Tom’s daughter, Mrs Broben, was Vi Evans’ mother who taught at the school. She moved away when she married but returned in 1937 to her parents’ home after her husband died, and played a part in many parish activities; her daughter has lived in the same house ever since. Her husband, Matthew, moved here while still a young lad when his parents bought Church Farm in 1931 (from William Edwards, Mrs Anne Lambert’s father); in retirement he worked for many years as a salmon-fishing gillie on the Wye, and saw long service in the Territorial Army regiment in Monmouth.

Two of Matthew Evans’ nearest neighbours when he lived at Church Farm were Miss Dorothy Jones and her brother, Billy, whose parents owned Hillside Farm just down the road; Dorothy has not moved far, and still lives in a house a little further down the hill in the Birches. All her life she has been a devoted supporter both of the Methodist Chapel and of the Baptist Chapel in the village; she has been organist at both chapels for many years, besides helping to clean and maintain them, and for some time the Old Church too, cheerfully walking up and down the long steep road from her home. Her brother, Billy Jones, and his wife, Hildred, lived for a long time at the Little Argoed in Tregagle; we have quoted elsewhere some of Hildred’s memories and those of her brother, Dick Summers, about the old days at the Argoed.


Among the farming families whose names are no longer on the electoral roll but who are not lost to us are the Sadlers who farmed the Meend for two generations, first George and then his son, Harold, and daughter-in-law, Marjorie. Though they now live in Monmouth, Marjorie is a frequent visitor and a supporter of our Church, a great walker and tireless distributer of the Newsletter. Harold’s sister, Winifred, lives at the lower Meend with her husband Cyril Williams, one of three farming brothers in the parish; her mother was born there, a member of the Johns family who also farmed in several neighbouring parishes.


Others among us who bear names once associated with farming in Penallt include Mrs Violet Norman who with her husband, Albert, used to farm at the Crick, and Miss Josie Jones, who lives just outside the parish on the Lydart and whose father, Tom Jones, farmed at Noddfa. He was a pillar of the Church, having served as Churchwarden for no less then 26 years between the wars. Mrs Dorothy Phillips’ father was a Richards and her mother a Ricketts, both families once well known in farming and other circles in Penallt.


Another of our respected senior citizens is Mrs Freda Parker, who ran the Post office for a great many years – at its old site on the road from the Baptist chapel to Moorcroft – and who still lives next door. She inherited the job from her mother who took over originally from Freda’s great-aunt, Ellen Ricketts, before Freda was born. Postmen today still take their mid-morning break at Freda’s house. Her father was Tom Roach who was Rates Collector for the district. At first he travelled by bicycle but eventually he had some twenty parishes in Monmouthshire to cover and it was then that Freda, in her teens, learned to drive an ‘Albert’ car brought up from Kew in London by Tom’s brother-in-law, Joseph Robbins, and drove her father on his rounds although she could scarcely see over the dashboard! The car had a gate gear change and the body was made of aluminium painted yellow and, of course, it was known as the Yellow Peril. It is believed to have found its last home in the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu. During the Second War, Freda donned uniform and drove VIPs about the country.

Freda’s mother, Kate, was Church organist for a long period between the wars and pianist at every musical and social event. Kate Roach had taken over as organist from Samuel Allen who was blind but is remembered by Freda and others as playing “most beautifully”; he was a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists. Freda remembers meeting Sir Walford Davies at Troy Station and bringing him up in the Yellow Peril to play in St Mary’s. Sir Walford later became Master of the King’s Musick. Freda played the piano by ear in a dance band known as the “Four and One” – the four Roberts brothers and Freda – still vividly remembered by many. Between them the band, led by Jim and Ray, could play most instruments including the xylophone for which the band was famous.

Freda’s first job on leaving school was as nursemaid to the Beyts and Chatfield children at the Argoed. She remembers old Kyrle Chatfield as “almost seven feet tall, with a shock of white hair: rather a forbidding-looking man but very charming”. Freda’s brother, Norman Roach, rose to be a Squadron Leader during the Second (World) War; sadly, he died of meningitis on the way from North Africa to Sicily, where he was buried. Freda remembers him bringing Guy Gibson of Dam-Busters fame to visit and watching with them an enemy plane flying so low over Penallt that they could see the crew, while fire from the anti-aircraft unit at White House Farm failed to hit the intruder!

Two of the best friends of Freda’s youth were Doris Haskins of Church Farm and Greta Morgan, whose father, Harry, farmed the Glyn as tenant of Mr Burgham, the proprietor of the Redbrook brewery. When the Glyn was sold he became the landlord of the Bush which was also owned by Mr Burgham. Harry Morgan’s son, Cyril, and grandson, Godfrey, still live in the neighbourhood and both have followed the traditional local trade of stone-mason.


The name Golder, Gaulder or Goulder (all three spellings were used by different members of the family into recent times) is one of the oldest in this district. Tradition has it that their ancestor was one of the Germans who came to Tintern in the late 16th century to establish the first wire-drawing works in Britain; the Golders were mainly based in Whitebrook, and it is significant that wire-drawing mills were set up there in the 17th century and that after the industry was discontinued some of the buildings, ponds and leats were reused for paper mills. Mrs Kate Roach, mentioned above, was the daughter of Edmund and Joyce Golder, who lived at what was then Fernside and is now Mill House, just in Penallt parish at New Mills. It was the last of the paper mills to close, and Edmund Golder is believed to have been a partner in the business in its last years. His wife, Joyce, was a prolific writer and the “Beacon” published many of her pieces of both prose and poetry – under a nom-de-plume as authorship was still considered rather unladylike in those days. A charming poem which she wrote about Penallt Old Church is printed elsewhere in this book.

Marie Golder, Kate’s sister, married Joseph Robbins who farmed Cae Pen for a time before returning to his original home in London; he was not related to the Robbins who ran the grist mill at New Mills. The Golders had three sons, Bob, Wilfred and Nelson. Bob moved away to Blaina where he worked at the colliery. Nelson, who lived at Glencroft on Lone lane, became partially paralysed, and spent his later years in a wheelchair. In his younger days he had been a great athlete and captained Penallt at cricket and football. Wilfred, who, like his brother, worked at the tinplate factory, also came to live on Lone Lane at Woodbine Cottage. Later he bought the house from the Argoed estate when most of its outlying land and houses were sold after Kyrle Chatfield’s death in 1927. Wilfred’s son, Jack Golder, was born in Woodbine Cottage and still lives there with his wife Margaret, our highly-prized Church organist, and their son, Rob. (Susan, their daughter, now lives in Shrewsbury.) This makes Jack one of the very few people in Penallt who have spent their whole lives at their birthplace.


The same distinction can be claimed by the brothers Tommy and Ivor Gleed, who farm Penygarn as their father, George, did before them. George Gleed was related by marriage to his predecessors, John and Ann Jones, who had farmed the land for fifty years or more; so, in three generations there has been over a century of family continuity at Penygarn, in marked contrast to the changes of tenure which have taken place at the other farms in the parish.


George’s sister, Maud (Gleed), married Ernest Cutter, whose name continues in Penallt through their son, Norman, and two young grandsons.


And there are, of course, other old farming families still “in business”. Mr Ernest Cowles of Chapel Farm, Lydart, maintains his family tradition here (though his house, to be precise, lies a few yards outside the parish boundary). His Uncle Frank was at Hoop (now Springfield) Farm and his father Alan at Lone House Farm, another property bought from the Argoed estate, but now, alas, derelict. Frank Cowles must have been an excellent sheep farmer; he was reported in the “Beacon” in 1943 as possessing a record-breaking eye which had reared eleven lambs in four years, while her sister had produced eight in three years.


The Spencer family’s presence in Penallt began when Arthur Spencer moved from Llwyna Farm on Llanishen Far Hill to Llananant; his wife, Emily, was one of the numerous Morgans of Penallt and had six brothers and four sisters, most of them living in the parish. Their son, Leslie, took over Llananant when his parents retired from farming, exchanging houses with them from Little Pentwyn, where his wife Evelyn had run the village shop (as had the Morgans and the Halls previously). Eventually the Spencers sold Llananant and part of its land and built their present home at the top of Glyn Road.


One of Arthur Spencer’s brothers-in-law was Phil Morgan, who lived at New Mills with his wife Lizzie; she taught at Penallt School, and succeeded Mrs Roach as Church organist and as pianist at musical events over a long period.

Of a different family were the brothers Henry, Ray and Ivor Morgan. After they had lived and worked with their parents, first at Cae Pen and later “next door” at Cherry Orchard Farm on Lone Lane, Henry Morgan bought the Glyn from Mr Burgham and farmed there with his brothers for many years. Eventually he sold it to Cyril and Dolly Davies and returned to the Cherry Orchard, where he stayed until retiring to Trundleys, Cross Vane. Before the Glyn was sold, Ray Morgan had bought some of the land and built the house a little further up the road, where he still lives with his wife and family. Sadly, both Ivor, who lived all his later life at the Grove in Tregagle, and Henry died recently. One of their sisters, Lily Morgan, is still remembered as the indefatigable postwoman who, after collecting and sorting the mail in Redbrook, delivered it on foot, in all weathers, along the lower part of Lone Lane, through the Washings and the Birches and up past the Old Church to Penygarn, and back down by the Black Brook and Glyn Road, a heroic task it seems to us today, but not so exceptional in the days when people often walked to Monmouth and back with their shopping and when the tinplate workers – men and women – had to walk home, some as far as The Narth, after a long day’s work.

Hilda England and Ponto in front of the Old School


A “character” from those days was Hilda England, who died in 1969 just short of her 88th birthday, the last of a family of seven brothers and two sisters. Their father was Edwin England, a stone mason and builder; their mother, together with a Mrs Meredith, was both midwife and “layer-out” to the parish before the First World War, when trained midwives has not appeared in rural areas. Like many of her calling, Granny England, as she was known to the younger generation, was held to be not only a wise woman but something of a witch. Her memories and those of her friend, Mrs Pryce, of strange happenings in the village were published in 1904 in the magazine Folk Lore in which she appears as “Mrs Briton”. (See our articles elsewhere in this book on “Penallt’s Ghosts” and “Witches”.) There were certainly some ancient beliefs still current in Hilda’s young days. She told of a Sarah Griffiths who “they said was a witch” (although a staunch church-goer) and recalls that when her brother Joe was ill as a baby Mrs Griffiths prescribed that an ash sapling in the woods above the Church should be split and the boy passed naked (even through it was a cold winter) three times through the cleft; the tree was then to be bound up and if it recovered so would he … and fortunately it did! As for Joe, he grew up well and eventually emigrated to Canada.

As a girl, Hilda worked as a lady’s maid to Mrs Pelham at Moorcroft; when she was suspected of having contracted tuberculosis the Pelhams paid for her to be sent to a sanatorium for treatment. She was always a regular church-goer, a habit formed during her years in service. As she put it, “You were told to go to Church or Chapel on Sunday – it didn’t matter which – and you went!” But Hilda had a real love for the two churches; we still cherish the beautiful altar cloth which she crocheted and her legacy to the Parish Church was a welcome addition to the Restoration Fund.

Rushton and Hilda England

During the Second World War she was one of those who took in evacuee children; with one family, the Wakelings, she developed such a close bond that Mr and Mrs Wakeling eventually came to live here and were able to give care in return to Hilda in her old age. As a happy postscript, the Wakelings’ grand-daughter, Bronwen, recently married Tom Cooper from “The Reynolds”, Tregagle. The story of Kathleen Price (nee Wakeling) is available here.

Perhaps the best remembered of Hilda’s brothers was Rushton England, who worked as a printer on the “Monmouthshire Beacon”, walking to and from work on the path through Troy Park and never once missing a day’s work, and often carrying back shopping for his neighbours. In Penallt he was the school caretaker and the treasurer of the Parish Reading Room in the school building; he was also a jobbing gardener and handyman, kept the churchyard tidy and sometimes dug graves.

Another brother, Ted England, lived at New Mills and worked at the fish hatchery at Fernside (now Mill House), owned first by Mr Brown and later by Mr Crosse. After his wife, Lucy, died in 1943, Miss Anne Charles allowed Ted and his sister Mamie, who was also widowed, to live rent-free in her house, Cae Lles at Pentwyn. Some people still remember the cider mill being worked there, drawn by a small donkey, and the well which was reputed to yield the purest water in the parish – “pure crystal”. A story told about Ted is that he once picked a large basketful of mushrooms and carried them down to Monmouth to sell in the market. There must have been a glut of mushrooms for no one would buy his, and Ted in disgust, rather than carry them all the way home, threw the whole lot in the Wye. After Mamie died, Ted moved across the road and lived with his elder sister, Hilda, until his death.

Ted England and the Wye Valley Fisheries lorry


Anne Charles then began coming to Cae Lles for weekends and holidays, and finally retired to live there; she had earned the MBE for her pioneering work in the teaching of mentally handicapped children. Her sister, May, had at one time been assistant mistress at Penallt School and their father, Alderman Charles of Newport, had bought Cae Lles for her to live in. In his will he had left the house to May and his town house to Anne, but when May left Penallt School the sisters exchanged houses.


One branch of the Pick family came to Penallt from Whitebrook in 1893 when William Pick bought Pool Farm at Tregagle and later acquired the neighbouring houses, Ty Cefn and Grace’s Cottage; his sons, Wilfred, Hubert and Ernest continued to live there. The Picks were timber merchants and woodworkers and owned some of the last barges on the Wye; Monmouth Museum has a model, made to Wilfred Pick’s description, of one of these barges. They were staunch supporters of Whitebrook Baptist Chapel and played a prominent role in the musical life of the area.

The last member of the Pick family to live in the parish was Mrs Jane Ellis, Wilfred Pick’s daughter who eventually sold Ty Cefn and moved to Gloucestershire.


After Hubert’s death, Pool Farm was let to Eddie Ballinger, a member of a well-known local family; his father built our War Memorial, another relation owned a soft drinks factory in Monmouth (some of the old bottles are on show in the Museum) while another became Director of the National Library of Wales and received a knighthood. Eddie Ballinger was the last maker of cider and perry in quantity in Penallt, and he and his wife are affectionately remembered by many. He was Vicar’s Warden for several years in the Second World War, but resigned because his Home Guard duties were preventing him for carrying out those of Church Warden properly.


His successor was James Hall (the father of Mr Ron Hall and Mrs Olive Saunders) who with his wife kept the village shop at Little Pentwyn.


Miss Bertha Vaughan’s parents, James and Elizabeth Vaughan of Little Hoop Cottage were born and lived in Penallt all their lives. James Vaughan’s parents lived at the Graig.

[from: Penallt – A Village Miscellany]