Wednesday, January 10, 2007

La plume de ma tante - Grandemere 'Owell

A story about my great grand mother on my father's side. We never met, but I came close to her by occupying the bedroom above the kitchen where she was killed. as a lad I can remember hearing noises in the night and putting them down to her ghost, as I had been told the tale of how and where she died.

Nana Howell

She was the real matriarch of the family, who managed to buy the Humphrey Street shop and the other properties Don owns around there now. Her mother had only rented lock up shops in the Tenby area. Nana used to travel by the first train of the day to either Llandeilo or Carmarthen markets to buy poultry. She would arrange for a pony and trap there to deliver her purchases to the railway stations for transporting to Swansea High Street where she would collect them with her own pony and trap and then sell as many as possible in the afternoon. This was in the days before shop refrigeration and must have been quite an achievement, as warm weather could cause big losses. Dad used to talk of being sent down with a load of rotting turkeys to the town dump one Christmas. It explained to me why he was essentially cautious by nature, he would never have forgotten an experience like that.

The Tenby area was residential in those days, more like a village, and before supermarkets and people had acquired cars to go shopping in, Humphrey Street was full of small specialist shops supplying all the domestic needs of the streets around Walter Road and the terraces of Constitution Hill up to Terrace Road. I can remember a cobblers, a fish and chip shop, a hardware shop, a florist, a tobacconist, a butchers, a grocers, a dairy, an off licence, a glazier’s, a wool shop/haberdashery, a chemist, a jewellers, two very expensive clothes shops, a bakers, a garage, a dry cleaners/repairs shop and there was a fair sized department store on Walter Road (Ben Evans?) Of course there was also a good selection of churches around. This was years before the solicitors, accountants and estate agents took over. There would have been more in Nana’s day when there was a tram trundling up the hill (you can still see the faint tram lines between the cobble- stones.

Mum and Nana Howell really liked each other. That always surprised me as they were equally strong women and I would have expected them to clash. I think the relationship worked because Mum was still young, came from the same chuch, also had a shop background and was a natural extrovert, quite the opposite of Dad. Nana, I’m sure, realised that Dad was not a great doer, he needed someone with energy to urge him on to make a success of his life. She could see Mum was a worker and would be an asset in a poultry shop, as she’s worked in her parents’ greengrocers for eight years. Mum admired her because she had a great sense of style, which her own mother lacked. Nana Howell adored furs and hats and showed Mum how to tilt a brim to make a hat look fetching. Mum never lost the art of “wearing” a hat. Nana also loved good handbags and patronised the best shops in town. She worked hard and spent well on fine quality clothing. Mum says she was a handsome woman and her photos prove this (see Mum and Dad’s wedding photos) Nana had three sons so was delighted to have a daughter-in-law to spoil and bought Mum presents. When they were courting they often went back to the shop after church for supper with young Frank and Ivor who were a bit wicked and had a lovely time. Nana and Granpa moved from above the shop to 21(?) Woodlands Terrace, a house she had bought in the 1930s with an elderly relative (Grannie Taylor, her mother, or Auntie Jonesy) to look after. Nana wanted to retire from business so suggested to Mum and Dad that she would buy them a house (9 Brynamor Road) and they could pay her back gradually out of their profits if they took over running the shop. This set them up for life. She did exactly the same thing for Frank and for Ivor and fixed them up with food businesses (Frank in wholesale poultry with a house in Lon Bryn Gwyn Ave above Glanmore school, and Ivor in wholesale eggs with a lovely house with a big garden in Caswell) I would really have loved to have known her. When I was born I was named after her and she was delighted. I was the girl child she had never had. When she came to see me for the first time she rolled up a £20 note and tucked it inside my small fist,
“May she never want for money” she said.

She died in the Swansea blitz. 3 or 4 of them had taken shelter under the stairs and she had become impatient. She went to the kitchen to make tea before the “All clear” had blown. A bomb dropped in the back yard of Woodlands and she was suffocated. Grandpa went to live over the shop again.


Blogger Nick said...

Fascinting stuff

9:14 am  

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