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16 October 2014

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My Grandparents

By Thelma Williams
July 2002, Crosskeys
A digital story from Capture Wales

Train to Wales

Thelma tells us the story of how her grandparents came to the south Wales valleys in the hope of gaining security for their family.

"I can still remember the wonderful smell of my grandma's baking and of my granddad's pipe - lovely memories. I had long ringlets and my granddad always wanted to cut them to put in his wallet. He would pretend to chase me around the dining table with a very small penknife. He would then tell me the story of bringing his family to Wales.

He was Head Clerk in the wages department at the Great Western Railway in Swindon, which gave him a big house and a good standard of living. One evening, he called into his local for a few drinks with his friends, who were talking about how the streets of Wales were flowing with black gold.

Incredibly he announced to my grandmother that the very next day he would take her and their seven children to Wales to make his fortune and gain security for them all. Later, I wondered, what on earth he could have been drinking? It must have been very strong.

Luckily, his job gave him free rail travel, so next morning they arrived at Newport Station with all the children, not having a clue where to go.

A porter explained that he would find work in the Valleys, not in the town. It was market day and Newport was full of farmers. One of them, seeing these weary children, offered them a run-down farm cottage in Henllys - one room down and one room up. No running water only a stream by the side of the cottage. This was four miles from Newport and they had to walk all the way.

When my granddad asked about this treasure that they had been promised, the farmer explained that they had come to the wrong valley. The colliery was on the other side of the mountain. So every day he walked ten miles to Cwm-Carn Colliery, worked a 12-hour shift and then had to walk back over the mountains to his family.

Many years later I asked grandma, why did she stay with him? Was it love or duty? Her answer was simple. She had taken her marriage vows before God and they should not be broken.

The sad part of my story is that on the morning he died, he finally received his under-manager's papers that he had studied for by candlelight every night after his 12-hour shift."

Thelma Williams

Please tell us about yourself.
I am a widow and I've been on my own for the last eleven years. I have sold our house and I'm living in a small flat now. My husband died six months after my retirement from the general stores we owned. I now do a lot of voluntary work.

What's your story about?
The story is about my grandparents and how, when I was small, I couldn't understand why I was Welsh and both my parents and grandparents were English. Through questioning my grandmother I found out why.

How did you find the workshop?
I was very apprehensive at first, but working with such a friendly, helpful and very knowledgeable team made it a wonderful experience. I didn't want the week to end.

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