Francesca takes a look at an old (ish) photograph that helped inspire her village of Dorcalon
I’ve talked often of how my mother’s family, and in particular, a great grandfather’s First World War record, were instrumental in me starting the Valleys series. Some of you may have noticed a few of the photographs I’ve used in my publicity for the books. Most were taken by me, but there is one old (ish) one, taken by my father.
My mother and grandmother were born in the village of Abertysswg in the Rhymney Valley, which forms the basis of my imaginary village of Dorcalon. When I was a child, although much of the family had moved by then (some as far as Australia), we still had cousins in Merthyr Tydfil, who we stayed with from time to time. They used to love driving us around Wales, and consequently I got to see the village where my mother was born.
The photo above was taken by my father in 1973, and although not nearly as old as the setting in the novels, it does show buildings that were there in World War 1, that have since disappeared. The original is in black and white, but I managed to find a site to colourise it. The tall Ainon Baptist Chapel (attended by my great grandparents and their family), built in 1906 in the Romanesque style, had the large front portion demolished in 1997, leaving now only a single storey building at the back. The Workmen’s Institute, opened in 1910, has since been demolished. The McLaren Arms (The McKenzie Arms in my novels) was demolished in 2005.
The colliery, dating from 1895, stood on the grassed area on the right of the photo and was closed in 1959 (or 1969, depending on which source you read!). Most, if not all of it seems to have disappeared by 1973.
The two public buildings that have survived from that time are the school (which my grandmother and her siblings will have attended) and the parish church.
There are some very much older photographs of Abertysswg that have been massively helpful in picturing what it was like. I don’t have the copyright to them to be able to put them on the blog, but here are some links to them: Workmen’s Institute / Abertysswg / McLaren Mine
The next photograph is one I took in 2014 of Abertysswg, though it’s side on to the village.
It’s easy to see that the most imposing buildings have gone. Despite this, apart from a few added domestic buildings, the houses are much as they were a hundred years ago. At the forefront of the photo, slightly to the left, you can see McLaren House, where the colliery manager lived (McKenzie House in the books) and either side, McLaren Cottages (McKenzie Cottages).
What a shame most of the wonderful old public buildings have now disappeared. They would have all been hubs of the mining community, the Workmen’s Institute in particular, with its library and staged talks, plays and musical events. Today there is a much smaller Working Men’s Club on the edge of the village. Times change, but it’s great to have these old photographs to allow us to glimpse into the past.
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