I had originally planned to get this post written and published yesterday for Mother’s Day (which always falls on Mothering Sunday here in the UK), please excuse me for being a little late.
Today I want to remember a woman who must have been very strong and adventurous in her life. She was fondly remembered by her Grandchildren and even as her Great-great-grandchild, I still hear the occasional story about her. Sadly, these stories are few and far between – and none of them are about her youth or even from when she was married. This is a record of ‘Nain’ (Grandmother in the Welsh spoken in the part of Wales where she was born) aka Elizabeth DAVIES.
Nain was born in a small terrace of houses, which now, at least, have shop fronts with living accommodation above. This row of houses was Mitre Terrace, now part of New Street on modern maps, in Pwllhelli, Gwynedd, Wales.
The daughter of William and Catherine DAVIES, Elizabeth was born 16 November 1871 as the sixth of their eight children. William was a Settsmaker, a hard job involving the splitting and dressing of granite to make paving stones called sets. Elizabeth grew up in this picturesque Welsh costal town with five brothers and two sisters. Other than the information on her birth certificate and the two censuses that followed, nothing is known of her childhood.
In 1893 Elizabeth had found her was down to Bargoed, Glamorgan, Wales and is wed at St Cattwg’s Parish Church, Gelligear, Glamorgan, Wales on the 18 December 1893 to Richard John OSBORNE a Coal Hewer.
Elizabeth bore 11 children for Richard, three were lost in the first few weeks and months of life. The remaining eight children would all survive to adulthood. As a wife and mother in a mining town, Elizabeth’s life would have been governed by the rhythm of the collieries. As soon as her eldest son was old enough he would have left school and joined his father down the coalmine learning the skills he would need to follow in his father’s (also grandfather’s and uncles’) footsteps at the coal face. Both Richard and later the eldest son Herbert would have brought home large amounts of coal dust caked on their clothes and bodies. Elizabeth would have been expected to have hot water ready in the tin tub for them to bathe and a meal on the table when they arrived home. But alas, the mines ran shifts so while one person was finishing his shift and getting his belongings together, the other could be on his way to start work. We should not forget that Elizabeth also had other children to take care of and to ensure that they attended school. When the 1911 census was taken, all 10 of Elizabeth’s children (the youngest not born until 1912) were named, even the three sons that had died in infancy. The eldest son was just 16 years old and recorded as a Hewer just like his father.
When Britain went to war in 1914, Herbert joined the Army and became a Driver. I have been told that he drove the horses on the front lines and had gained this position as he had experience of working with the pit ponies down the mines. The only photo I have ever seen of Elizabeth was taken when Herbert came home on leave – if I estimate the ages of the youngest four children, I would estimate that the photo was taken circa 1915-1916.
In 1918, Elizabeth’s world must have been shattered! The family were expecting to have a visit from Herbert however when Richard returned from the Railway Station alone and carrying a telegram the excitement and joy would have instantly have become grief and despair. Another child lost, Herbert was just 23 years old. At that time, Richard had been unwell for some time and it seems he never recovered. Early in 1920, Elizabeth was widowed and had all of the still living children at home.
Elizabeth now had no husband and no relatives of her own to help raise the children. She made a brave choice and took five of her children back up north to the area she has grown up in as a girl. This split the family – the eldest daughter married in 1921 and another daughter stayed behind.
Elizabeth’s youngest child Mary gave an interview to a local newspaper in her old age describing how when they first moved to Penrhyn (Gwynedd, Wales), there was no street lighting as there had been back in Bargoed.
One of Elizabeth’s granddaughters (my grandmother) recalled visiting Nain as a young girl. Nain would send her down to a local farmhouse to buy buttermilk “to fatten me up” she would tell me. I always had the impression that my grandmother didn’t like the buttermilk as she would cringe as she told me his.
Another story I have been told many a time as we passed Nain’s house in the car was that Nain us to work the level crossing at Penrhyn. While I cannot prove this, the line was definitely in use at the time Nain lived in the area. I hope one day to be able to locate records to either prove or disprove this story.
My heart bleeds for Elizabeth and I wish I could have known her. She took what life threw at her and raised her children the best she could. Elizabeth die in 1960, she is kept company in her eternal slumber by her two spinster daughters Catherine Mildred (Milly) and Mary, while other children and grandchildren sleep in the same cemetery. They all have a beautiful view of the sea, the nearby town and the surrounding farmland.
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