Authors: Richard Llewellyn
How Green Was My Valley
How Green Was My Valley
Copyright © 2013 by Richard Llewellyn
Cover art to the electronic edition copyright © 2013 by RosettaBooks LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form or
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may quote brief passages in a review.
Electronic edition published 2013 by RosettaBooks LLC, New York.
Cover jacket design by Carly Schnur
ISBN ePub edition: 9780795333385
AM GOING TO PACK MY TWO SHIRTS
with my other socks and my best suit in the little blue cloth my mother used to tie
round her hair when she did the house, and I am going from the Valley.
This cloth is much too good to pack things in and I would keep it in my pocket only
there is nothing else in the house that will serve, and the lace straw basket is over
at Mr. Tom Harries’, over the mountain. If I went down to Tossall the Shop for a cardboard
box I would have to tell him why I wanted it, then everybody would know I was going.
That is not what I want, so it is the old blue cloth, and I have promised it a good
wash and iron when I have settled down, wherever that is going to be.
It has always seemed to me that there is something big to be felt by a man who has
made up his mind to leave the things he knows and go off to strange places. I felt
the same for the rose cuttings I took from the garden down to the cemetery. But men
are different from flowers for they are able to make up their own minds about things.
And that should make the feeling bigger, I think.
But all I have felt this past hour since I made up my mind is an itch between my shoulders
where a piece of wood got threaded in my shirt while it was blowing on the fence to
dry. I felt very badly just now, mind, when I said good-bye to Olwen, but since I
did not actually say good-bye to her, and she has no notion I am going, it does not
seem the same as saying good-bye properly, so I am feeling perhaps better than I should
in false pretences.
This old blue cloth is a worry to me now, for I keep having thoughts that it might
be torn or lost and I would have it on my conscience for the rest of my life. Even
when I was very small I can remember my mother wearing it. Her hair was fair and curly,
thick to choke the teeth of the comb and always very pretty even when it turned white.
My father met her when she was sixteen and he was twenty. He came off a farm to make
his way in the iron works here, and as he came singing up the street one night he
saw my mother drawing the curtains upstairs in the house where she was working. He
stopped singing and looked up at her, and I suppose she looked down to see why he
had stopped. Well, they looked and fell in love.
Mind, if you had said that to my mother she would have laughed it off and told you
to go on with you, but I know because I had it from my father. They were married in
six weeks after that in the worst winter for years. We have had terrible winters since,
but my father always said there would never be another winter like that one when my
mother and him were married. They used to get up in the morning and find their breath
had frozen to thin ice on the bedclothes.
Things were very rough in those days. There were no houses built for the men and married
people were forced to live in barns and old sheds until enough houses were built.
There was a lot of money made over houses, too. My father was paying rent on this
one for more than twenty years before he bought it outright. I am glad that he did,
because if he had not, my mother would have had nowhere to go these past few years.
But in those days money was easily earnt and plenty of it. And not in pieces of paper
either. Solid gold sovereigns like my grandfather wore on his watch-chain. Little
round pieces, yellow as summer daffodils, and wrinkled round the edges like shillings,
with a head cut off in front, and a dragon and a man with a pole on the back. And
they rang when he hit them on something solid. It must be a fine feeling to put your
hand in your pocket and shake together ten or fifteen of them, not that it will ever
happen to anybody again, in my time, anyway. But I wonder did the last man, the very
last man who had a pocketful of them, stop to think that he was the last man to be
able to jingle sovereigns.
There is a record for you.
It is nothing to fly at hundreds of miles an hour, for indeed I think there is something
to laugh about when a fuss is made of such nonsense. But only let me see a man with
a pocketful of sovereigns to spend. And yet everybody had them here once.
When the men finished working on Saturday dinner-time, my mother would hear the whistle
and run to put the old stool outside the front door to wait for my father and my brothers
coming up the Hill.
I have often stood outside the door looking down the Valley, seeing in my mind all
the men coming up black with dust, and laughing in groups, walking bent-backed because
the street is steep and in those days it was not cobbled.
The houses, of course, are the same now as they were then, made of stone from the
quarries. There is a job they must have had carting all those blocks all those miles
in carts and wains and not one road that you could call really good, because the land
was all farms, then.
All the women used to dress up specially in their second best with starched stiff
aprons on a Saturday morning, for then the men were paid when they came off the midday
As soon as the whistle went they put chairs outside their front doors and sat there
waiting till the men came up the Hill and home. Then as the men came up to their front
doors they threw their wages, sovereign by sovereign, into the shining laps, fathers
first and sons or lodgers in a line behind. My mother often had forty of them, with
my father and five brothers working. And up and down the street you would hear them
singing and laughing and in among it all the pelting jingle of gold. A good day was
Saturday, then, indeed.
My father and my brothers used to go out in the back to the shed to bathe in summer,
but in winter they came into the kitchen. My mother filled the casks with hot water
and left wooden buckets full of hot and cold for sluicing. When they had finished
and put on their best clothes they came in the kitchen for the Saturday dinner, which
was always special.
Sunday, of course, there was no cooking allowed unless my father was going down to
the pit to see into some matter or other, and even then my mother was very careful.
But Saturday was always good with us. Even I can remember that, but only when I was
We always had hams in the kitchen to start with, all the year round, and not just
one ham, but a dozen at a time. Two whole pigs hanging up in one kitchen, ready to
be sliced for anybody who walked through the door, known or stranger. We had a hen
house for years in the back yard, here. Fine white and brown hens, and you should
have seen the eggs they laid. Brown, and dark speckly brown, and some almost pink,
and all as big as your fist. I can just remember going out and crawling in the straw
to the nests while the hen was shouting and flapping her old wings at me, and laying
hold of one, very warm, and so big for my little hands that I had to hold it to my
chest to carry it back to Mama in the kitchen. Hens have got a funny smell with them,
one that comes, I think, from their feathers, just as a man will have his own smell
about him. That smell of hens is one of the homeliest smells it is possible to put
your nose to. It makes you think of so much that was good that has gone.
But when we used to sit down to dinner on Saturday, it was lovely to look at the table.
Mind, in those days, nobody thought of looking at the table to keep the memory of
it living in their minds.
There was always a baron of beef and a shoulder or leg of lamb on the dishes by my
father. In front of him were the chickens, either boiled or roast, or ducks, or turkey
or goose, whatever was the time of the year. Then potatoes, mashed, boiled and roast,
and cabbage and cauliflower, or peas or beans and sometimes when the weather was good,
all of them together.
We used to start with Grace, all standing up and Mama holding me in the crook of her
arm. My father used to close his eyes tight and look up at the stain on the ceiling,
holding his hands out across the table. Sometimes when he opened his eyes he would
catch me looking at him and shake his fist at me and say I would come to a bad end,
in play, of course. Then Mama would tell him to go on with him and leave me alone.
But indeed, so far my poor old father has been so right I have long thought he must
have been a prophet.
When we sat down, with me in Mama’s lap, my father would ladle out of the cauldron
thin leek soup with a big lump of ham in it, that showed its rind as it turned over
through the steam when the ladle came out brimming over. There was a smell with that
soup. It is in my nostrils now. There was everything in it that was good, and because
of that the smell alone was enough to make you feel so warm and comfortable it was
pleasure to be sitting there, for you knew of the pleasure to come.
It comes to me now, round and gracious and vital with herbs fresh from the untroubled
ground, a peaceful smell of home and happy people. Indeed, if happiness has a smell,
I know it well, for our kitchen has always had it faintly, but in those days it was
all over the house.
After my mother had taken out the plates with my eldest sister, my father carved the
chickens or whatever was there. My mother was always on the run from the table to
the stove to cover the plates with gravy and she was always the last to start her
“Eat plenty, now,” my father used to say, “eat plenty, my sons. Your mother is an
awful cook, indeed, but no matter. Eat.”
There was never any talk while we were eating. Even I was told to hush if I made a
noise. And that way, I think, you will get more from your food, for I never met anybody
whose talk was better than good food.
After the plates had been polished clean with bread that my mother used to cut holding
the flat, four-pound loaf against her chest, the pudding came out, and let me tell
you my, mother’s puddings would make you hold your breath to eat. Sometimes it was
a pie or stewed fruit with thick cream from the farm that morning, but whatever it
was, it was always good.
And after that, then, a good cup of tea.
My father never smoked his pipe at table, so while my sister was washing in the back,
he and my brothers went in the next room, and sometimes I was allowed to sit on his
If he and the boys were going in to Town to buy something, there was a wait while
my mother got ready to share out the spending money.
My mother kept all the money in the tin box on the mantelpiece over the fire-place
in the kitchen. Every Saturday for years she put her little pile of sovereigns in
with the others, until the box was so heavy they had jokes helping her to carry it,
and sometimes my biggest brother, Ivor, carried her and the box and all.