Continued from UK trip 8 May 2005: Davies family at Gobowen | Khanya
We spent the light with John and Shirley Davies at Gobowen, near Oswestry. I woke up at about 2:00 am, and caught up with writing my diary and made family history notes. Later at breakfast Shirley told us more about their lives since I had last seen them 35 years before.
After breakfast Shirley did some spinning, and it was the first time I had ever seen a spinning wheel in action. I’d only ever seen them used as decorations before, starting with the people who bought our old house in Westville, and made it into the homes and gardens pages of one of the Natal papers, which featured a picture of a spinning wheel.
I’d also read about spinning wheels in Grimm’s fairy tales, and still had no idea of how they worked, and pictured someone with a fat thumb pressing raw wool on to the big wheel and somehow manipulating it into thread. The name of their house, Nyddfa, means “place of spinning”. The house was interesting — a compact single storey, with a nice back garden; no TV, but a computer, which Shirley worked on often. She said, “What did you do when you woke up early before you had a computer?” and I was at a loss to tell her. She wakes up before John, as I do, and John, she said, sleeps nearly 12 hours a night now. But as I get older I wake up earlier, and find the computer provides plenty to occupy me with in the early hours
of the morning. They had good furniture, and everything is neat and clean and comfortable, with ornaments, and such a contrast to their life in South Africa, where the furniture was makeshift, and
everything simple, the garden a jungle, especially at 11 Queens Road Parktown. Shirley said she hated living there, because she felt boxed in, but it held good memories for me, because that was where they lived when I knew them best.
We left just after lunch, at 1:30, heading north, and re-entered Wales, going in to Wrexham to cash a travellers cheque at the Nat West Bank, and then going on to the M6 motorway and driving as fast as the traffic and speed limit would allow. We stopped at one of the services places after we had passed the Liverpool-Manchester conurbation to buy sweets and a Coke and a Sunday paper, the Independent. While my Cottam ancestors had lived in Manchester and in the Lancashire area, we did not have time to go and look for the places where they had lived, and so stuck to the motorway through the urban areas.
I noticed a change there from when I had lived in the UK in the 1960s. Then I had been struck by how orderly and polite British drivers had been compared to South African ones, who tended to be aggressive. Back then British motorists would flash their headlamps to say “After you,” while South African motorists would flash their headlamps to say “Get out of my way.” Now it was the other way round.
I recalled a visit from Val’s second cousins a couple of years previously, John and Maxine Wincott. I took them on a tour of Tshwane, and John was amazed at the behavious of drivers at four-way stop steets and places where the road narrowed, how they filtered in, taking it in turns. On the busy motorway junctions in the Liverpool-Manchester area, however, if anyone tried to filter in from an acceleration lane there would be angry light flashings and sometimes hooting from other vehicles. I wondered if it was a change in culture brought about by Maggie Thatcher.
We turned off the motorway to drive to Windermere, where I had once visited the home of a college friend, Craufurd Murray, in 1967. Then it had been cold and overcast, and the lake had looked grim and grey and cheerless. Now it looked a bit brighter.
We drove round the northern end of Lake Windermere, through Ambleside, and then over the Wrynose and Hardknott passes, which were reminiscient of the mountains of Lesotho, though of course they were much lower and closer to the sea.
The roads were narrow and winding, and we saw lots of sheep. The young lambs were black, and the older sheep brown with white faces. Seeing them reminded me of Rebecca West’s book Black lamb and grey falcon, describing travels in the Balkans in the 1930s, and indeed the Cumberland fells looked a lot like the mountains of Albania too. The Hardknott Pass was even steeper than the Wrynose Pass, but we were going downhill over the steepest bits, down into Eskdale.
We drove in to Whitehaven, where Val’s Pearson and Ellwood ancestors had come from (see The Pearson and Ellwood families of Whitehaven | Hayes & Greene family history). We looked for somewhere to stay,
and also for a loo, but could not easily find either.
We went to see Nora Pearson, the widow of Val’s mother’s double-first cousin John Pearson (and the mother of Maxine Wincott, mentioned earlier), and had coffee with her, and showed her photos of the
family. She had been ill, and was only now able to walk around again. She had a cat which she kept a prisoner and would not allow to go outside, though she had a fairly big garden and lived in a quiet cul-de-sac. We had corresponded with her for about 30 years about the family history, but this was the first time we had actually met her face to face.
We phoned one of the bed and breakfast places on our list, at Lowca, and went out to stay there, and returned to Whitehaven for supper in a Chinese restaurant, one of the few open and serving food as it was after 9:30 pm. We were the only ones there, and an excessively polite and smiley waiter persuaded me to try Chinese beer, which wasn’t bad. We had eggs foo yong which was good, and sweet and sour pork, but that was not up to our benchmark of the Phoenix restaurant in Point Road in Durban, which was the standard by which we evaluated all Chinese restaurants.
We looked at books on old Whitehaven that the people in the B&B place had lent us, and there was one on Lowca Engineering, which had made steam locomotives, where Ernest Pearson (Nora’s father-in-law) had worked. He was originally an acetylene welder at Lowca Engineering Works, near Whitehaven. He served in the 1914-1918 War in the Royal Flying Corps at Halton, Bucks and at Blandford, Devon. About 1923 the Lowca Engineering Works closed down, and he went to work for his brother-in-law’s company, John Ellwood & Co, as a plumber and electrician, and remained there for the rest of his working life.
- Continued at UK trip 10 May 2005: Whitehaven to Girvan | Notes from underground
- Index to all posts on our UK trip here UK Holiday May 2005