CHILDHOOD MEMORIES OF PENYBANC
By Fred Evans
I am now 'getting on a bit' and have become a bit sentimental in my old age, I have many memories and how strange it is that the older a memory is the more vivid it is in one's mind. It is sometimes difficult to remember what happened yesterday but things that happened in my childhood are so vivid in my memory.I was born in nineteen twenty-nine in the village of Penybanc, and it was there that I spent my early life, that the memories are so vivid. Little has been documented about this place and I have decided to correct this and try to describe the way of life as it was then.It was a special place and I am often reminded of this because when I meet anyone who was born there, there is talk of the people and events of childhood and it becomes obvious of their fondness of the place.
This is perhaps hard to understand because life there was not easy because of the harshness of the times, and the poverty that existed, but it was a strong community and it is this perhaps that made it so special in the minds of those who were privileged to have lived there.Penybanc was not originally built as a village but as an 'isolation hospital' where the contagious diseases of the time were treated, but with what success - no one knows. It was located about halfway between the villages of Fochriw and Deri in the county of Glamorgan, in the northern border of what is now Cwm Darren Park.
The hospital was in the lower part and the accommodation for some of the staff was in the upper part of the complex. Its function as a hospital was eventually discontinued and the buildings were converted to about twenty cottages for mine workers in the expanding coal industry. As time passed a chapel, hotel and school were built and it became the village of Penybanc. The railways came and the Newport to Brecon line passed through the centre of the village, but the luxury of a station on that line was not to be, and if one wanted to use the railway train it was necessary to walk the one and a half miles to either Fochriw or Deri to board the train.
Each cottage consisted of two rooms downstairs and via a narrow twisting stone stairway, two bedrooms upstairs with a small 'lean-to' building at the rear which was used as a coal-store and also housed the primitive washing facility. There was no piped water initially but it was
installed at a later date. Water was provided for the whole street by a standpipe at the front of the street for communal use. Each residence had a small garden at the rear with a small built toilet at the bottom;' TY BACH' (The small house) as it was sometimes called. Inside was a wooden shelf with an appropriate sized hole.
It was connected to a main sewer but had to be flushed each day by means of a large bucket of water.
There was no electricity in the village and we relied on a paraffin oil lamp for lighting after dark and used candles to light one's way to bed.
Near the back door was a candle in a glass jam pot with a string attached and this was used to light one's way to the "TY BACH" if one was taken short at night. Sometimes in the winter one would have to leave a warm bed to make the journey to the bottom of the garden only to find that the door had been left open and the shelf with a hole in was covered in snow. This had to be brushed away and one could spend a very uncomfortable few minutes there! How nice it was to get back to a still warm bed, I will remember the terror of a winter's night on one of these occasional nightly visits, when through the small window behind me were two large pink eyes observing me! With a loud yell I ran back into the house, and upon investigation by my father the 'apparition' was not a 'BOGEY BO' at all, just a large horse who was sheltering there. I have never forgotten that feeling of terror of that moment.
Eventually electricity came, and each house was fitted with two lights, one in the living room and one in the main bedroom with a 'bob in the slot' meter. What a wonderful improvement this was to our oil lamp and candles, but one had to remember to keep a few shilling coins handy for use when the one in the meter ran out.Heating was provided by a large brick built fireplace in the living room which had five thick iron bars and a cast iron oven at one side, and a hob to accommodate a .heavy cast iron kettle on he other to provide a source of hot water. It had a stone hearth in the front on which stood an iron fender to prevent any glowing coals, which might fall from the fire setting alight anything in the room. The