Mr Summers Story

It is a happy experience to share some of the memories of our elder citizens, each event reminding them of something that cannot be found in dusty records. This is Mr Dick Summers’ story, with each reminiscence leading on to another. He lives now in Monmouth and is the brother of Hildred Jones of Little Argoed, some of whose early memories are incorporated in the tale:

My father served with the Grenadier Guards in the Boer War and when he came back he worked as coachman to Mr Trevor Arnott of Troy and the Garth, for eighteen shillings per week and rent free. As there were better prospects he applied for the post of coachman to Mr Chatfield of the Argoed. There he was paid twenty shillings per week, plus accommodation at the coachhouse and as much fuelling and milk as needed. One of my earliest recollections was of Grannie England, one of the two village midwives, who had come to assist with the birth of my sister. I was very ill in the next room and the doctor had given up all hope, but Grannie England asked me if I would like some bread and milk as I hadn’t eater for a fortnight, or was there anything else I fancied? I said, “A sausage!” They gave me one and I got better!

One of my Saturday morning jobs was to open the door of Mrs Chatfield’s carriage. It didn’t seem to matter how long I had to wait, but I was always paid a penny. My father was dressed in livery, white breeches, dark coat and cockaded hat. It was my sister Hildred’s job to harness the donkey for the dog cart. One day she got in and it ran away with her. Once a week we had to stand outside on the steps of the Argoed and recite our poetry to Mrs Chatfield. She was a very strict person and did not allow us to roam the grounds, but we used to cross the fields looking for plovers’ eggs. Miss Belcher was the housekeeper at the Argoed and looked after the children.

At Frostlands, now the Bowles, lived two unmarried sisters and two brothers – the Griffiths. They farmed and kept horses. One sister was a churchgoer and one brother a church sexton.

In 1914 my father volunteered and served in France and we went to live at Argoed Cottage. We had to carry all our water from the Argoed (in buckets hung from our shoulders) but later Mr Chatfield built an underground water tank. My father was also a baker and the old oven was fired with cordwood which we were allowed to collect by licence, or dry wood without special permission. My mother used to scrub the stone stairs every evening after the children were in bed. My grandmother lived for a time at Lion’s Oak at Whitebrook. The stairs were outside: people said they forgot them when they built the cottage, but perhaps it was because they saved on space! She was so poor that she would buy a penny jelly and divide it into six for us children as a treat! My grandfather travelled in the first train along the valley. At twelve I went to work at Redbrook; this was on shift work, and out of my wages of half a crown I paid sixpence for the ferry.

Mr Chatfield was very good to the poor. He started a Christmas Club for the Argoed employees which they paid into each week and when it was paid out at Christmas he added interest out of his own pocket. Each year the Flower Show was held at the Argoed with races for the children and swing boats and a dinner for the Committee.

My first job as chauffeur was to the del Sandys of Moorcroft, who kept a race-horse. I was sixteen. I later worked for Mr Chatfield as chauffeur. He was a great walker, even to Monmouth for the train, dressed in his top-hat. He would be met by the dog cart but would always walk back. When Mr Chatfield died he was borne on a farm wagon to the Old Church. (Usually coffins were carried by four men who rested at the stone at the Vermin Oak.) The “Eagle” at the church was given by Mr Chatfield in memory of his daughter.

Workmen of the parish gave their services free to do the market path through Troy Park from Llananant which forked at the Duchess’s Seat to the Old Church.

I saw the last boat that sailed down the river, on the Wye to Bristol; there are still storage places down by the river for all the goods that came by water. Wilf Pick of Ty Cefn owned one of the barges that took coal and timber. One returned to Tintern on an exceptionally high tide and it was beached in a field; all efforts to refloat it failed and so it was left to rot.

Raglan Castle is said to have been build with stones from the Boat quarry. Millstones were worked by Mr Morris at the Basin and rolled down to the river. (His wife did the Argoed washing, carrying it in a basket on her head.)

Mr Robbins of Robin’s Nest worked the grist mill at Whitebrook. They used to say Tregagle was the site of old roman skirmishes and Roman coins have been found there.

Mr Edwards of Church Farm made the best cider in the area. The secret was that he added crab apples to the cider apples. Cowhorns were used for drinking it. The cider house was opposite Barberry, where the Haskins lived. They were good supporters of village activities. The water from the Boat “spout” was very good and used for beer-making at Redbrook.

Once Len Jones was carrying a basket of bread across the river and the ferry chain hit him and he fell in! – it was the buoyancy of the bread that saved him – he was carried downstream until he was saved by a boat.

Thomas was the blacksmith who lived at the Forge; his granddaughter still lives in Penallt. Mr Jackson lived in the house up above the Church – “Jackstones”. He was eventually called Jackstone. He blew himself up trying to sink a well with explosives, but failed to get out of the hole quickly enough. Fortunately there was little damage and he survived.

There were three old brothers who lived at Miss Vaughan’s cottage and worked for the quarry. They were paid half a crown a yard for “knapping” the stone. One severe winter all three died within the week from hunger and cold.

[from: Penallt – A Village Miscellany]