My earliest memories of Grandad John (Shoni) and Nana Jones are visiting them at their home in Birmingham. 92, Gleneagles Road, Yardley, was a normal 3-bed semi-detached in the suburbs. There were two rooms downstairs complete with a ‘scullery’ as they would call the small kitchen. The back room was used most of the time and the front room, like so many houses in those days, was kept for special occasions or if the insurance man called. The only heat they had was supplied by an open coal fire, long before the advent of smokeless zones. The bathroom was upstairs and next to it was a full-length cupboard with a water tank that could be heated via an emersion heater to give them a lovely hot bath in private. What a change from the tin bath affair in front of the fire, which is what they had in Merthyr.
I must have been about 3 or 4 years old, so it would have been 1959-60 when I recall my first visits to see them. Grandad was working at ‘The Rover Car Company’ in Solihull, better known these days as Jaguar Land Rover. He was approaching retirement age which was 65 then. He was 30 years older than my Father who in turn was 30 years older than me, making Grandad 60 years older than me. I never knew it then, but I would also finish my working life at the same plant some 60 years later! Grandad worked all of his life, from digging out coal to toiling at the car plant. As soon as he retired, he and Nana moved to Margate to be closer to family.
Although I was only 10 years old when Grandad John passed away, the memories of him have never faded. He seemed a very quiet man, slightly built and unassuming. A vivid memory I have of him is when I was taken to St Andrew’s football ground, the home of Birmingham City FC. They were playing Tottenham Hotspur and I was dragged along with my Father, Grandad John, Uncle Cyril and a host of other older guys as Cliff was playing in the Spurs side. The ground was packed to the rafters and being small at the time, I don’t recall seeing too much of the match, but I did see Grandad. Soon after kick-off, Grandad disappeared and had made his way down to the touchline. I could see him beckoning to the Spurs trainer who amazingly came over to him, shook hands and looked genuinely pleased to see him. They chatted for almost the whole 90 minutes before shaking hands and parting company. Grandad rejoined us and we all made our way home on the football special bus that was laid on for supporters in those days.
Fast forward about half a century and I was researching the family history when I came across the photograph of Grandad John with the Ton Pentre team in 1922. Looking through the names of the players, there was one, Cecil Poynton, who just so happened to be the very same trainer of Tottenham Hotspur all those years later that Grandad had spent chatting to on that cold night inside St Andrews stadium. As kids, me and my brother were often dragged along to local matches when the Tottenham team were visiting. Football has never been my thing, I like it, but I have always preferred music and the arts. Perhaps I’m the ‘runt’ of the family?
Grandad John was the eldest of 10 children. He had 4 brothers and 5 sisters. Born and bred a Merthyr lad, he followed his father, Big Daddy, down the mines at an age which is unthinkable nowadays, at least in this part of the world. He spent forty years toiling underground in the dark. No wonder he enjoyed his beer and roll-ups. At the start of the first world war, he was aged 18, he was kept back in the pits as it was deemed a necessary employment. I don’t know if that pleased him or not, but I’m thankful he made it through. At 21 and with twelve months of the first world war remaining, he married my Nana, Annie Lewis in Merthyr Register Office. Like his parents before him, Nana was expecting their first child when they made their vows. They moved into a little house in Old Penyard, Merthyr Tydfil adding Trevor, Cyril, Hannah and my father, Ivor to the family.
After the general strike of 1926 work in the coal mine was harder to find. Big Daddy was banned from working ever again in that black hole in the ground, perhaps Grandad John was banned too? The 1930s proved even harder to find work, especially in the South Wales coalfields and ironworks. In 1937, Grandad John, Nana Jones, Aunty Glawdys, Uncle Glyn, Aunty Nancy, Uncle Emlyn, Aunty Jane (Nana’s sister), Aunty Beat and Uncle Jack (Nana’s brother) all upped sticks and moved to Birmingham. Grandad, Uncle Glyn, Uncle Emlyn and Aunty Jane all bought houses next to each other in Petworth Grove, Yardley, Birmingham. They were brand new ‘Dare Homes’ semi-detached and cost in the region of £350. They’re still there today and sell in the region of £220,000. If anyone wonders where the name ‘Petworth House’ came from on Aunty Glawdys’ boarding house in Margate, Petworth Grove is the answer. Aunty Jane’s boarding house was called Derren View which was the name of the street where she lived in Merthyr.
Grandad John was 43 when World War II broke out so he volunteered for the Home Guard while working at the Rover during the day. During the blitz on Birmingham in 1940, a garden in a house on the corner of Petworth Grove took a direct hit from a German bomber with shrapnel going everywhere and poor Hannah was hit while desperately trying to shelter. Although badly injured, she survived but suffered from T.B. after the experience which unfortunately claimed her life a few years later. Most of the houses in the grove had the roof tiles blown off from the blast together with windows smashed. My father and a cousin, Kenny Lewis, spent a couple of weeks with neighbours replacing the roof tiles. In 1944, Grandad John’s youngest brother, Bert, was killed in action in Burma. My Father Ivor was serving out there at the end of 1944 with the Welch Regiment, but thankfully, he came home.
When the war was finally over, celebrations took place at the local public house, The Good Companions. The pub became a great focal point for many Welsh and Irish families that had moved to Birmingham. Every Christmas morning, a football team would be selected from the patrons which usually include my father Ivor, Ken Jones, Emlyn Jones, Kenny Lewis and if Grandad was up to it, he would play at least part of the second half. It was usually played against a pub called The Sheldon over playing fields about half a mile away, raising monies for local charities. As a side note, I met my wife, Debbie, in the Good Companions.
In 1948, Aunty Jane and her new husband, Norman together with Aunty Gladwys and Uncle Glyn moved to Margate to set up their boarding house businesses. Uncle Emlyn and Aunty Nancy moved to Blackheath which is now part of London. Grandad John and Nana Jones stayed where they were because Hannah had become very ill with T.B. She had recently had a baby, my cousin, Michael Bradshaw so it was a difficult time for them. Unfortunately, Hannah passed away in March at 25 years of age. Hannah’s husband Donald, moved back to his native Swansea with baby Michael and no more was heard from them again until Michael contacted my Mother when he was in his early twenties. Uncle Trevor who had been through World War II, fighting in Cairo and presumed missing at one point, was eventually found by older brother Cyril. However, Trevor returned home after the war suffering from what today would be known as P.T.S.D. It was called shell-shock back then. He had trouble settling back into daily life and was found deceased on a cold night in April 1951.
When Grandad eventually retired in 1961, he and Nana Jones sold up and rented a small two-bedroom basement flat in Margate, Kent. 16, Trinity Square. What a magical place Margate was when we first went to visit. It still has its magic, but my brother and I were young and the bright lights, funfair, Winter Gardens, sea, sand and plenty of summer sunshine were so inviting. The summer used to seem to last forever and a day. A few houses up on the corner of Trinity Square, Hattie Jaques and her husband John LeMesurier would spend most of their summer at her Mothers house with their two sons, Robin and Kim who happened to be the same age as me and my brother. We had many a laugh playing in the school football field opposite their house. Margate seemed a million miles away and we would often set out from Birmingham at around 4:00 am in the morning in my fathers Austin A40. No M25 then or Dartford crossing, you had to drive through central London and out the other side into Kent and on to Margate.
Grandad John would often spend some of his days in the pub up the road called the ‘Prospect’. I can see him now, walking back across the car park which used to be where the huge Holy Trinity Church stood before it was bombed in the war. He always had a newspaper with him, The Sporting Life if my memory serves me right. He liked a little wager on the horses. Grandad and Nana Jones celebrated their Golden Wedding in December 1966 with a party in their basement flat. I remember it like it was yesterday. Just after New Year, 1967, Grandad John was taken ill with a haemorrhage on his brain. He stayed in Ramsgate Hospital for 13 weeks, never regaining consciousness and passed away on 26 March 1967. My father went to visit him every week for those 13 weeks, driving back and forth, Birmingham to Ramsgate in his little A40. At Grandad’s funeral, it was the first time I ever saw the remaining brothers together. Ivor, Emlyn and Bryn. A sad time and how I wished he could have lived longer as we all do for our loved ones.
As time went on, Nana Jones started showing signs of early-onset dementia. It was decided that she would be better off if she moved back to Birmingham so the family could care for her. She moved into her own apartment in Yardley in 1970 and was able to spend the rest of her days there until the 9th November 1975 when she passed away. The end of an era for me.