Memories of my Welsh Grandmother

I am currently reading a book called “Bronwen” by Hilda McKenzie, and so much of the book has brought memories back of my side of the family.

The story is based in the 1930’s in Cardiff and many times a description has reminded me of my childhood. I had Uncles and Aunts, now long dead, with lovely Welsh names, Ceinwen, Bronwen, Blodwen, Glyndor, Brynmor, and Tudor who was my father. The surname was James and my Grandfather had been a tailor and was known as James the tailor, to tell him apart form James the Death, the undertaker and James top of the hill and all the other James’s who lived in the town.

In the story I am reading there are certain Welshisms that I have not heard for 50 years. Cariad,(sweetheart)is one, also there are words in the book that I can remember being said but I am not sure if they are Welsh or English, or their meaning.

In one of the descriptions about the inside of the hallway she depicts the wallpaper as having baskets of fruit all over it, and painted with green varnish, sounds ghastly, but I remember the very same wall paper in the hallway of my Grandmother’s house. She mentions that women did not attend funerals, and that was the same in my family, I remember when my Grandmother died, the women of the family waited for the men to return.

The older women in the book wear black mostly and she described one character’s best hat, it was the same as my Grandmothers. A black straw boater with a red rose on the brim. She would always wear a hat to go out, with a dangerous looking pearl hatpin, and her long black coat and high button boots and gold topped cane. Every day one had to be tidy (a much loved word) to face the day.

I can remember liberty bodices a padded type of vest that one wore under one’s clothes, I had to wear one as a child. When I reached puberty my grandmother was scandalized that my father would not allow her to put me in corsets. Maybe my posture would have been better if she had. I remember her corsets, with laces all the way down, that had to be yanked tight to make her look slimmer. She was a tiny woman, only 4′ 9″ but with an erect posture and a firm stance that proclaimed that no nonsense would not be tolerated.

Although my widowed Grandmother had come with her sons to London early on in World War 2 she brought Wales with her in many ways and passed on that heritage to me. I visited in 2003 and found many parts of it to be very beautiful.

4 Responses

  1. Mick and I toured Wales about 18 years ago and loved it. We just found nightly B&B’s (the food was great) and found none of the antiEnglish feelings we’d be warned about. One day we went into a pub and some chaps were playing darts. Seeing Mick was watching them (an avid darts player himself) they asked if we’d like to join them. What a wonderful evening we had!!! We loved all the scenery and had really hoped to go back again one day.

  2. I love books that stir up memories that sometimes get buried beneath the tasks of the day! There are even certain smells that send me back into my grandmother’s kitchen…the only place I ever felt loved…she could not speak a word of English (she was Polish) but all us kids knew how much she loved us.

  3. The book sounds like one I would enjoy simply because I love reading books that are about the way things were and ethnic cultures.

    Thanks too for the very kind words on my blog – really a picker-upper for me they were.

  4. Greetings from Wales (8 miles from Cardiff) I was hunting for books on the web and came across your blog. If you enjoyed Bronwen you will enjoy the other three books Hilda McKenzie has written. I have read all four of them but she seems to have gone quite since then.

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