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William Remembers Part 2.

I am not sure of the date but at least 60 years ago there were coracle fishermen on the river; the father and grandfather of Mr. Johnson of the Basket Shop fished from coracles, their right to so fish being eventually acquired by the river authority.  Then paddling in the river as a boy I recall that roughly opposite the Rectory there was a large concrete slab set in the river armed with a hook the purpose of which was to catch and rip the nets of poachers.

William and John Griffiths, brothers, who lived at Turn of Dee, were local butchers.  John was really the butcher and he also made deliveries; they did not have a shop but delivered to order from their house which is where the river turns westward away from Overton Road.  Cattle were killed at the house and delivery made by horse drawn cart; they also had a stall in Wrexham Market.  If a customer complained that the meat supplied had been tough John’s reply was invariably “the gravy was tender wasn’t it missus?" Herbert Williams in High Street (where there is an antique shop) was also a butcher.  As a boy on the way to school I recall seeing blood running into the street as they were slaughtering the animals.  At the bottom of Abbeygate Hill there was originally only one house and Mr. Minshall lived there.  He was the village pig killer.  In those days both cottages and farms kept and killed a pig for their own personal use.  If you did not wish to kill your pig then you would send for Mr. Minshall who would arrive in a pony and trap with the tools of his trade; a portly gentleman almost as big as his pony.  Near neighbours came to help on the day of the killing.  The animal was held down on a bench whilst Mr. Minshall knifed it.  The blood was caught and used to make black pudding.  The carcass would then be placed in a pig turnell, a wooden bath oval in shape, hot water poured in and the pig scraped clean.  It would be hung up with a gambrel through the hocks, the intestines taken out, and left until the next day to dry.  The following day Mr. Minshall would be back to cut up the carcass into sides of bacon, hams, smaller joints and fat.  As a helper you each received a piece of pork in return for the help given.  The pig turnell was given a layer of salt, the bacon added and sufficient salt put in to cover the contents, the hams and other odd pieces also being included.  Salting took approximately three weeks for bacon and hams a month, the latter having salt petre and brown sugar worked around the bone.  At the end of this period hams would be hung up, probably in the kitchen, for as long as twelve months.

The Police Station was on the Whitchurch Road corner, next door to a little shop (always known as Olive’s shop), now, a pet food shop.  The first policeman I can remember was named Jones - probably Nurse Owen’s father.  Then for a considerable period of time Tom Parry’s father filled the post.  In those days local policemen would mete out their punishment for minor of fences e.g. a good clout with no ill feeling on either side afterwards.

Field Oaks, where Charlie Bevington now lives, was the home of Coal Merchant Dan Bartlam whose coal business operated from Bangor Station.  Delivery was by horse and cart with coal dumped where required from heavy sacks.  Another merchant named Owen Warburton came from Worthenbury.  There was little delivery for farmers who had to fetch coal from the station.

Mr. Jack Spoor, followed by son Jack, operated the Smithy on Whitchurch Road catering for horses over an area extending two miles or more around he village.  His daughter, Mrs. Gerry Roberts, lived at the Smithy in its working days.

Local farmers, Blakes the Cloy, Mr. Mort at Althrey Farm, Suttons at Althrey Hall Farm (now Roger Done) engaged local people to help with the milking.  Three ladies, who helped night and morning, probably for a few shillings a week, were Mrs. Mullock, Mrs. Jack Roberts and Mrs. Joe Roberts.

At our farm tramps passed by constantly on foot for either Whitchurch or Wrexham.  In return for bed and board at the Workhouse they had compulsory work to perform after which they were free to go on their way with a chit from the Authority which they might present at Twiss’s shop in High Street, receiving in exchange tea, sugar, bread and cheese.  On the road they called at houses along their way for hot water to make tea in an old tin can, on an average day as many as seven or eight would pass the farm.  One gentleman of the road was a regular caller on Friday night; he would wait until we had turned out the cattle before calling at the house to enquire whether we could put him up for the night.  We accommodated him in the Bing that is where hay is stored in front of the cattle.  By five thirty the next morning he had always departed.  He told me that he aimed to get into Wrexham early where he would stand outside certain public houses.  Men coming out would not wish to be seen to be giving him money but would drop it on the ground and he would pick it up.  If he’d had what he regarded as a good day then his next destination would be by bus to Oswestry.  Pubs in those days opened early.  Apparently he had a round which included Bridgnorth and he passed our way every three months or so. Eventually a long time elapsed and we thought that he had probably died but then he turned up again.  It seems that he had been knocked down by a car and suffered a broken arm.  During his incapacity art students had used him as a model tramp and paid for his sittings.  A man and wife were also regular callers.  They traveled with an old pram, what was in it we never knew, but it was very heavy and required quite an effort to get it going.  In their case there was usually difficulty in getting them out of the Bing when it was needed.  The wife was co-operative but husband was often awkward.  Cows have a strong sense of smell and after they had gone there was difficulty in getting the animals back under cover as they were aware of a strange smell in front of them. Tramps wore old and dirty clothes, carried on their person their few possessions - cups could be old fruit tins with a hole each side and a handle formed by passing wire through the holes.  One winter we experienced a terrible snowstorm which raged all day and night.  When I went to attend to the cattle there was a tramp leaning against a building in a state of exhaustion.  We took him into a shed by the side of the house where we had a furnace and boiler used for cheese making, put him in front of the fire and gave him something to eat.  The next day Dad took him to Whitchurch Workhouse.  Shortly afterwards we received a postcard thanking us for our help.  On other occasions at night time tramps would go into the hay bay without first calling at the house.  We did, however, have a dog with a very good nose who wild search out such visitors.  We did not begrudge a shelter providing that matches were given up before going into the hay.  We accommodated very many travelers and never had a fire.

Going back in time, as the result of my parents making friends with an Irish couple on holiday’ in the Isle of Man, my mother and I went to Dublin in 1916 on a visit to their home.  It was at the end of the rebellion. In the house next door a body lay for three days unattended because no one dare move it.  When we left they gave me a school satchel which lasted for the rest of my schooldays.  On the way back we saw an airship over the sea.

In the 1920s Luther Williams was the village cobbler who lived next door to the present Post Office; his house has since been demolished.  The Royal Oak yard had a building with a loft and a door on the ground floor through which customers went to get to the yard.  As previously mentioned Mr. Jones, Tailor, lived in School House, Overton Road; he was the grandfather of Bette Jones who lives in Rectory Lodge.

On one occasion I went into the village after a deep flood, getting there across fields and along the bulwark from Deeside; walking along the bulwark with a gale blowing and water only a few inches away was a frightening experience.  When I reached Mrs. Johnson’s house the door was open and she was upstairs in bed and alone; she was all-right and remained upstairs until the water went down.  Our farm and house were well above flood level but my Chapel has been flooded at least twice and probably three times. In 1945 a neighbour and I went to the Chapel by boat.  We lifted the tubular heaters and put them higher up and then moved the organ on to benches.  Philip Duckett who took us in promised to call back but, when we had done all that we could and water was still pouring in, he failed to return so we got a message out via a passing boat and someone else called and got us out one at a time.

When the Second World War was declared I was in Church and learned about it as I came out.  So far as farming was concerned we were obliged to plough up a third of our land for grain.  This proved to be something of a fiasco as we only had horse power and there were few agricultural contractors available to help the small farmer. We had, therefore, to wait our turn with the result that the land was ploughed at the wrong time of the year.  A field of 4 acres was ploughed in the Spring when the land was wet rather than the end of the previous year.  The wet clayey ground hardened as the weather improved until it resembled a field of concrete.  Contractor’s came on a Sunday to work it rolling and harrowing it to a fine tilth but, as moisture had been lost the grain germinated and then largely died - the harvest yield was less than the seed sown in the first place.  At threshing time the Threshing Machine came around and land girls arrived to help along with members of nearby farms - as with pig killing we all helped each other.  In the winter I would be either threshing our grain or going to help others who had previously helped us.  Land girls were needed because of the shortage of men.

I volunteered for the Local Defence Volunteers later renamed Home Guard.  We met every week with a rota for duty when we would be out on patrol.  In the beginning we met at the Village Institute until we acquired a 1914 Army Hut sited where there is now a car park, this had a games room at one end accommodating two full size billiard tables.  Later in the war the Army took over the Village Hall and the billiard tables disappeared; before the war there had been a thriving young men’s Billiard Club with a membership of 60-70, the better players competing for a cup.  At the time I have in mind there was talk of a likely landing by the Germans and we had only our own shotguns and felt very vulnerable until after a considerable period of time we received proper weapons.  We patrolled the village and its surroundings and one morning at about 3 a.m. we were called out because it was reported that a parachutist had landed in Worthenbury - the parachutist turned out to be a parachute flare.  That morning left me with a vivid recollection of being on Overton Road near where the New Bridge now stands and seeing the sun come up and the valley wreathed in mist, a lovely sight when the war was going so badly.

In 1940, the night before we planned to cut the grain, German planes were going over at the rate of one every five minutes towards the mountains from where we heard the sound of bombs dropping and this went on the whole night long.  The next day the mountains were on fire with smoke drifting as far as Chester.  Years later when I was in the Special Constabulary, in the course of a lecture an Inspector referred to the bombing of the mountain and said that the planes had been flying on a radar beam to Liverpool but our boffin's had bent the beam to the benefit and relief of Liverpool.  Fires first started were kept going and this attracted the bombers on the second night.  Some farms had a direct hit and people were killed but only incendiaries fell on Bangor although a bomb did fail by the main road at Buck Farm, Whitchurch Road, when three cattle were killed and a massive crater was left in a field.

We members of the Home Guard were also sent on exercises in Llangollen and Ellesmere.  During the latter part of my service: I was Lieutenant in charge of the local platoon whilst Tom Osborne had charge of No. 2 platoon. Pitcairn Campbell was captain.  At the time when we turned out for the supposed parachutist at Worthenbury when I was on Overton Road I could hear Khaki Campbell as he was called (an old soldier from the 1914-18) was shouting on the old bridge.  We learned later that he had stopped and boarded with fixed bayonet a bus carrying workers to the Ordnance Factory and demanded to see their identity cards - needless to say his intervention was not well received.

A typical Home Guard exercise was for a party to go to Howes Wood, which no longer exists, where certain items were placed around the wood.  Other members were stationed around the wood carrying out different activities.  Patrols of about eight men were sent to the wood to find out what was going on.  Some men were talking, others had a tin can through which poultry wire was drawn making a sound like barbed wire being rolled out.  The patrol then had to go back to HQ (the Village Hall) to report to Captain Astley about what they thought was going on in the wood, the object being to find out whether they could report correctly activity by the enemy.  At other times army personnel would come to instruct us in the use of weapons.  Duty hours were 8.p.m. - 10.p.m., 10.p.m. - 2.a.m., 2.a.m. - 4.a.m. and 4.a.m. - 6.a.m., with two men to a patrol, 10 men slept at the hut and everybody had night duty once a week.  From time to time we traveled to Acrefair for instruction in new weapons, bombs and the conduct of exercises.  Church parade happened once a year. Our activities were somewhat restricted owing to the fact that we were all working long hours in agriculture.

One Saturday afternoon two Spitfires were stunting above and below the clouds immediately over Bangor, suddenly there was a bang and one of the planes came spiraling down, the pilot parachuting safely to land on the Cloy whilst his plane dived into Done’s wood where it buried itself in the ground. As I was watching the other plane came down close to where Mr. and Mrs. Evers, Ty Graig, now live.  The pilot baled out but his parachute failed to open.  On a Sunday morning some time later other planes were stunting and a Miles Master Trainer crashed in a field just beyond Hollybush.  I got there to find that the plane had ploughed into the ground with the pilot’s head just visible in the solid clay, the engine was underground but the wings and body had smashed into small pieces.  On another occasion there was a further collision when a Spitfire crashed at the side of the Green Lane near to the home of Herbert Williams.  In that case the pilot baled out successfully.

At the end of the First World War colliery hooter's sounded and to celebrate the Armistice villages had a bonfire in the field opposite Deeside with an effigy of the Kaiser on top.  I cannot remember what or if any celebration took place at the end of the Second World War.

Since the end of the war there has been further flooding, some serious and some minor, a pattern which must have been repeated since time immemorial until the present control and improvements.  Foot travelers in time of flood would have to travel to Wrexham via Overton.  Travel by train or horse drawn vehicle would probably have been possible but not without some difficulty.  Neighbour helped neighbour with the Police and local volunteers fully occupied.

When I was young there was a boat stationed by the Royal Oak.  This had its origin in the loss of Mrs. Mytton’s eldest son who drowned in the river.  As a result Bangor on Dee Public Safety Committee was formed and I was Treasurer.  We raised a lot of money which paid for the building of the Boat House (still standing by the river at the side of the Royal Oak) and the purchase of a shallow draft boat with outboard motor.  The Boat House was the work of craftsmen from the Cadbury Factory.  The scheme had the best of intentions but unless a member of the boat crew was present when a person fell into the water then the boat could not be launched.  The boat proved to be a recovery vessel only and there was always difficulty in getting a crew with potential crewmen almost always otherwise engaged on shift work elsewhere.  The boat eventually disappeared.

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