1800s

Written by Alexander Marriott Moore who was born at St Nicholas on August 4th, 1857 and died at Stroud in 1940.  He became master saddler and post-master in the village, before retiring to Gloucestershire in the mid 1930s.

Christmastide 1939

This is my eighty-third Christmastide.  A long time it would seem to many people, but to myself nothing extra-ordinary, probably because from my earliest days and all my married life I have received nothing but consideration from my parents, my dear wife and my children.

It is only when I review and think of the days of long ago that the Christmas Day of 1857 seems a long way off.  This is accounted for by a change in the people, the disappearance of a lot of friends and companions and their places been taken by new generation.  The village itself is altering.  New houses being built on or near the site which housed ones friends.
Cottrell House has been transformed from a country house to a mansion - Dyffryn House now at magnificent pile of buildings, was much smaller and have fallen into a miserable state of decay and a lot of the farmhouses and cottages have been re-built or extensively repaired.

The church was re-roofed before my time and a school and house was built in the 1850’s. This was kept by a Miss Knowles, who was succeeded by Mr Bilby, a Norfolk man who lived with us, and was a perpetual source of anxiety to my mother.  An old man who had slipped down the social scale by drink, and indifferent teaching abilities, and who publicly burnt my first copy book, for which I was privately thankful, as I could not show such a despicable thing to my mother and father.  He was perfectly harmless and well-liked as education at this time was endured not encouraged.

My first recollection of the old church was on an Advent Sunday when I was very small. My mother had bought me a new coach of thick rough cloth, with brass buttons and a pair of gloves to go with it. I can still see myself sitting there and noticing the first time the words of the collect for the day, “Cast away the works of darkness and put on the whole armour of light” and wondered what the old Canon meant.  Never since that time, have I heard or read this prayer but the whole scene comes before me, although this happened nearly 80 years ago.

At that time the choir sat in the West End of the church, and Miss Knowles used to play the harmonium. After she left, Mr. Bilby used to give the Key Note.  The conductor of the choir was Tommy Miller, who was the estate mason and was allowed by Mr. Bruce Pryce, to have his cottage rent free.

Mr. Miller's family has good voices and all sat in the choir. Later, John Miller, who was once a principal tenor in Wells Cathedral.  Miriam Miller used to take the soprano solos in the anthems.  Thomas and William Miller had very powerful bass voices.   Another good base, was Robert Thomas, and the his daughter were a good help. I remember the old man walking into church one morning with a neatly folded pocket handkerchief resting on his head.  His daughter had placed it in his box had ready for church and the old man had not noticed it.

At this time the woodwork in the belfry was getting very shaky, so only one of the five bells could be rung. William Griffiths was the sexton and he had to climb the steps to the first floor to do this.  When the old Canon left the vestry to conduct the service, old Jimmy Ellis went from his desk at the bottom of the church and pull the wire, which stopped Griffiths further exertion, and when the old man and this clumped down, the service began.  Mr. Jimmy, as he was respectfully called used to wear ribbed trousers, and as he had a fairly long stride, it resulted in a cwich cwach, which I regret to say, was sometimes augmented by the choirboys.  - who were not a bit better behaved seventy years ago as they are to-day. 

We used to watch with great interest the arrival of the Duffryn House party.  First a footman would arrive with a large bag containing prayer and hymn books.  Then the old squire came along, followed by the ladies.  But this featured small compared with the arrival of Mr. Lewis Bruce, the Manor House. He had lost the use of his legs and had lifted off his horse by John Edwards at the church gate, and carried into the church.  Cottrell people were also regular attendance and used to sit behind the door.

At this time St. Nicholas was a busy place - a village almost self-contained. We had three butchers, two shoemakers, two carpenters shops, one saddler, one blacksmith, one tailor, two sawyers, two grocers, two wheelrights - two public houses and one policeman.  All were kept busy with the work from the surrounding farms and villages. There we had one bard, Tom Rees of the Downs, who used to wake me to wake me at nights en route for home after the closing of the public houses.
Transport services were very poor and a great deal was made of the good nature of farmers and others who use drive into Cardiff.  One two-horse bus used to come from Llantwit Major to Cardiff on Saturdays and a light wagon kept by William James of St. Athan occasionally had a seat to spare by the time it reached St Nicholas.  But a good many people walked and one lady, Sarah Ellis, used to walk into Cardiff each Saturday for her weekly supply of grocery and got home in time to cook dinner for her family.

The present-day custom of wearing short skirts was anticipated but I cannot say that the effect was very good as thick woollen stockings and heavy lace-up boots did not help very much. But at that time people have to walk and as the roads were very badly kept, trousers and skirts well up ants of the mud were a distinct advantage.
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As this time St. Nicholas was well noted for people who had long passed the age limit.  Kitty Earl, John and Anne Morgan, were over 85 years. Mr Howard was nearly 90. Barbara and John Rees, William Earl and his wife following closely.  Tommy Minnett, the gardener at Duffryn House, was an old man, but his father who died at 100 was still living. I remember speaking to this man and as I am now 82 years of age, the both of us can cover a considerable space of time.

The old John Jenkins, the tailor, take his box at for an airing, but he was young and sprightly and just over 80.  Ann John and Mary Miles were contemporaries of Edward and Betty Jones. Only one or two were bedridden out of the lots and were able to walk to the door when the poor law officer called on Thursdays with a little help from the Parish Funds.  A man named Eagleton.

The shortage of water for domestic purposes used to cause a lot of excitement and hard work in the dry summer months as it had to be carried from the well.  Woman and children formed a constant stream of water carries down the Well Lane, and in several very dry summers we had to go further afield to Homri.  No wheeled casks were used - share and share alike was the watchword - until one morning it was found that Tom Morgan had gone down at mid-night with casks, and had emptied the well.  The non-existence of Parish Stocks prevented the dire punishment of the man!  I used to look with boyish admiration of ‘Mary the Muddlescombe’ who would lift a big milking pail full of water, placing on her head and walk all the way home without resting anywhere.

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