Flooding and grass snakes

- Peter Davies

When my mother was growing up in Undy, over by Undy church, by the causeway, all that would flood, and it used to flood in my days when I was young. Up until the late seventies or the middle seventies, when the river authority drained the land. And those days, they was hard winters and it used to freeze over and all the locals would go skating on it. Skated all along there. She used to be up there with skates and she had some old skates. It was like a sea there. From there to Rogiet it took, to Severn Tunnel junction, there was always tales there of barges coming, of barges coming up there from the Severn to what they call Noah’s Ark, they do. And there’s always these tales of these barges. And we dug a big pumping station there and go down in the ground forty feet we did, with piles, and dig it out and all the clay out. It was peat it was, and when we was digging the peat out we found lumps of coal we did. I know coal is made from peat but these were lumps, which have fallen off a barge or something, you know. So it probably might have been true because the seawall came right up to Noah’s Ark it did at the time, and when we was doing this, we levelled off the old sea wall because it was no way where it is today.

PD: there was hundreds. And then you’d find the grass snake eggs. They’d lay eggs they would, like a white cluster and you’d find them lots of places. When I left school I used to work on a farm in Redwick and there were all these hay ricks around here. Farmers would make hay ricks. They didn’t have big sheds like they’ve got now. And they’d make these hay ricks, and that attracts snakes in the bottom of them in the winter and they would lay eggs in there, they would, they grass snakes. And you would find them you would, you would come across them.


Seawall at Nash

- Kath Johnson

We used to go down by the seawall at Nash and you could watch the ships come in down there look, you’d be watching the ships come into the dock. And then we used to have a ride sometimes on our bikes. You were never took shopping with your mam in those days and to see the shops when I was about 13 we used to go over the transporter bridge, peddle our bikes up the main street of the town…peddle our bikes to where the transporter bridge is and we went across on the transporter bridge, peddle our bikes up town, looking through the shop windows and then come along Chepstow Road, turn off at the cross hands and peddle home. And that was not every week, only in the summer. You’d see lovely shoes, you’d see everything you know. 

Llanwern – it was terrible for us along here because the lorries with all the shale and all that. And it wasn’t safe to go out on the roads really because they would be coming that fast. They’d be in the hedges they’d be everywhere. And you didn’t want to go into Newport because there was only one bridge then look, which was the old bridge, so you would be queuing way down Corporation Road or Chepstow road because the lorries took over. And then you had a camp up the road here with all the Irish men. You know where NRW is now, well just up the road there coming towards me on the left-hand side there was a hostel there, there was even a church they put there for the Irish men. They were nearly all Irish. They were the main ones on the steel works. They’d go to a town on a Friday night come home all drunk and the priests would be collecting them up! You’d never be on that road on a Saturday because they’d be all over the road! And the priest would be collecting them up and taking them in.


St Brides, 1940s

- Gordon Shears

The Homeguard were on duty on the wall here. They got in trouble. They had a pill box on Tessles ground, which is down past the Lakes and they were supposed to watch the Bristol Channel. Well the commander went down there one night and found them all asleep! And there was a riot!

There was a ramp down to the reen, Sealand Reen, for the horses to go and drink. They were cart horses we had. One was Flower, one was Blossom, one was Diamond. And Bonnie. My father wouldn’t let me take them down in case they trod on me. I used to drive them in the field, raking or tedding. It was dangerous. If I you'd fallen off the spikes would have you. I used to drive Flower on the tedder. She’d plod up the field away from the gate but she’d walk twice as fast back because she thought she was on her way home. Then you’d have a job to turn her around to get her go back up again. That’s how she was. She was willing she was. Because we had a pike we called it, like a crane, for digging in the hay and horse would have to haul it after on a rope and it would swing over the rick and pop it on the rick. And she’d do her best to get it up there because sometimes if we’d left it and it had rained and been on the trailer for a couple of day to settle, you would pick up a great wad. But she was willing until the tractor came in in 1946 and the tractor used to do the job.

We never swam but one thing we used to do, we had these 45 or 50 gallon drums, steel drums, used to cut them in half, but not in half that way, but in half that way (lengthways) so they were sort of like boats and used to go in them and paddle up the reens in them as a boy. I got too heavy. When I sat in it the river was near the top. I always remember by the Alter ??? reen there, by John Cornet’s, I sat in it and thought, no, I’m too heavy for it now, I’m going to sink. And he went and pushed me out, pushed me out into the middle, the idiot! I nearly killed him.

We had a good orchard down there. It was planted after the tsunami and 400 years is about the limit of trees and a lot of them have died off and gone over. There’s only a couple left now. [We didn’t make cider but] during the war they used to can it. The Women’s Institute at St Brides had a canning machine, it was only a wind-up one, and we used to get the tins and they used to fill them with pears, and syrup, sugar and water syrup, seal them. And then they used to put them in the boiler and boil them. They used to do it here. The canning machine used to fix to the table and a couple of people in the village used to come and help and peel all the fruit. And for helping they could have some of the fruit, some of the tins. They’d do it for three or four days non-stop.

I used to thatch the hay ricks. I used to do that with reeds from the reens or straw. And father did it but it was too much for him so I started doing it. I used to cut the pegs from the willow/withy trees and sharpen them. I’ve got a gash there, still a little scar there where I gashed my trousers and my leg. So I used to cut the canes from the reens, cut them, then do the thatching. I used to have a very long ladder and used to lean against the rick, then you put the butt down to start, you put a roll along the top first and then, then put butt down to start and then you turn the other way so the butts were up then. And then put about four layers up the side. Baling string we used to use, twine. We’d wind it on a peg, bring the peg over and put a bare peg in there and then wind the string around it. It was like thatch you know.


The winter of 1963 in Redwick

- Douglas Howells

We skated on the reen because the reen was frozen over. We used to walk on the reen because it was all frozen over. And next door to us, they didn't have no water for about five or six weeks. Their water was frozen. And we used to have a water pipe going across the reen and it used to be exposed and it used to freeze up every morning. So we used to go up with a blowlamp and warm this pipe up to thaw it so we could have some water. And we used to run a hose pipe from my place to next door and fill their bath tub so they could have water to wash and things. For weeks it was like that. [There were no skates] we just had shoes. It was all frozen over. That was the first time I did it and the only time. Because the reen used to go straight across the front of our house. Don’t know the name of it. Most of the family and other people used to come around and skate on the reens, bit of fun. No one ever fell through.

[In the summer] we used to have a canoe and we used to put it on an old pram and we used to push that up towards Magor and there’s Windmill reen and we used to put the canoe in there. Quite a big reen. And we used to canoe on there. quite wide the Windmill if you know it. We used to canoe on there. Used to have great fun down there. I think my father bought the canoe. Only one seat.


Goldcliff Fishery

Adrian Williams

Before we came it was owned by Burgess the fishmongers in Newport. And prior to that the owners were called Fennell and they were actually tenants to Eton College. My father and grandfather bought the fishery here in the mid-sixties. I used to come down with my mother because she was the one that used to come and collect the fish and get the fish to the station. We were living in Chepstow then and this was before the motorway was built, and we would have to come through all the lanes from Chepstow to Goldcliff. And then we’d get the fish in in the old Landrover, which was very unique; we were probably the only commercial fishery that went to work in a Landrover.

We had the Flood rank, the Ebb, and there was one called the Shrimp. We used to have the Shrimp which was only a small rank and it wasn’t worth really putting putchers in it because there were very few salmon in it. But years ago, they used to use it for kype fishing.

Wyndham would have his sort of living area in the day time and have like a day bed where he could have a snooze, then he’d have a coke fire, a fire which all the schools had them at the turn of the century, these pot stoves, and he had one of those to keep himself warm. He had asbestos fingers. He used to be able to lift the top of the coke fire with his fingers and then he’d be able to fill it with coke, not coal, coke, which is what they used at the steel works. And that used to get very hot, red hot sometimes.

We ‘inherited’ Wyndham Howells, it was more he was part of the furniture. He repaired the baskets, which was an important job. I suppose he would have been mid-sixties when we first took it over, so he’d been reasonably fit and able in those days, but as time went by we had to employ somebody else. I used to employ people, just local, whoever was available really. Towards the end of it I couldn’t get the locals to do it. I used to have to get people coming from Chepstow. I used to go to parts of Chepstow where I knew there were a few unemployed people and say, right, I need men for a day, two days’ work, and they’d all come down, a bit of cash in their hands.

[The salmon, when they were taken out of the putchers] would go into the fish house and in there, there would be a big fridge and a freezer making ice and what we call a bosh, which is a big sink, and we’d chuck the fish in the bosh, wash them all off, put them in the fridge, ice over them and then wait ‘til we got enough to take to market. In the early days they would go to Billingsgate, but that was very early days because the amount of fish that we used to catch, grew less and less and less, so in the early days I used to deal with a company called Bennet’s in Billingsgate, but when father took it over he used to deal with a different company. But I guess it probably became Bennet’s. And that was established in 1840 apparently and this is H Barber & Sons (looking at a receipt).

Wyndham Howells repairing putcher nets.

Life living next to the sea wall at Porton

Howard Keyte

The way the house was built, there, close to the sea wall bank, you’d get a good high tide coming over and washing down the bank as it come over. It would go down the foundations of the house and through the kitchen and out through the front door then. Would happen two or three times a year. Well just got on with it really. We used to move upstairs in the evening then, yeah, there were fires in the bedrooms upstairs, fireplaces, small fireplaces and just gather there til it was time to get into bed then, aye. But in the sixties we did have a tide come over one time, and a few fields nearest the house were covered in salt water then and when that went down after, that summer then we had the best crop of mushrooms we ever had then. 

My father told me the stones for the sea wall, they used to come in by boats, that’s something new that is, aye, I suppose you didn’t know that, did you? The stones they used to maintain the sea wall, they used a lot of stone, the stones used to come in by boat from up the Wye Valley the quarries were. They’d come in on the one tide, then maybe two posts parked in the ground a certain distance apart to tell them where to land their boats and they’d wait there til the tide went out and the boat was grounded, and they’d unload the stones, I suppose they’d barrow them off somehow and they’d go off on the next tide then, back up to Chepstow or somewhere up that way then.