Olive Clarke interview 4: 31 January 1995. Interviewer (Swansea Sound)
Transcription by Rachael Lovering and Sarah Daly.
I: ….graphic memory, Olive takes up our story.
I: Olive, just to let our listeners know, and you won’t mind me telling them, you’re not all that young these days are you?
O: I’m 88.
I: You told me of a first ferry, ever across the Tawe.
O: It was where Sainsbury’s is now.
O: Across to…where Weavers is. But of course they’ve altered the course of the river. And I think it was in 1835 that happened. They altered it to make the North Dock and put the bridge over St Thomas which was a three (?) guinea toll.
I: Now you were born and bred in Greenhill area of Swansea, was it?
O: Yes, yes
I: What took you over to St Thomas then in the first place?
O: My father looking for work. In the lead works. He was on the furnaces.
I: So you saw some very hard times over there?
I: Now what are your first memories of St Thomas? How old would you have been?
O: Four? Five?
I: Four or Five, so you started growing up there as a child. Where were you living?
O: In Foxhole Road.
I: And for the benefit of our listeners, is that near to the river then?
O: The nearest to the river.
I: Where did you go to school?
O: St Thomas School.
I: And where did you go to church?
O: Kilvey Church. I have been a member of the Mothers’ Union for 60 years.
I: So you grew up and you went to school. What time did you leave school, what age?
I: What did you do?
O: I went into service as a maid. In the Uplands
I: Times were hard then were they?
O: They were hard
I: What did you get? What were your wages?
O: Five shillings a week.
I: And did you live in for that ?
O: Oh yes. The first war. World War started. And Swansea was the first volunteer battalion in Wales, so that’s uh, all the men went to the Forces.
I: How did you meet your husband George?
O: My brother was taken ill with TB in the bowels. He couldn’t walk. And he was getting on to be five years old. And my father was most concerned about his education. So he went to the headmaster in St Thomas School and he explained the situation. My brother couldn’t walk to school, but my father wanted him educated. So the headmaster went to the Classroom where the Foxhole boys were and said; “Boys, I want volunteers to bring Charlie Nicholls to school, take him home, bring him back after lunch, take him back to tea. Piggy back.’ And all the boys volunteered one after another. Every day they turned up and took Charlie to school. It was wonderful to see them boys with him. And so he became educated, become better and educated. My father was so pleased about it.
I: How did you actually meet George your husband?
O: Well George was one of the boys who used to come back and for the house. I was at school with George.
I: This was a childhood romance then?
I: Who popped the question; him or you?
O: It was agreed and that was it!
I: Now then, how did the ferry start again? Had you married George then and was the ferry operating?
O: Oh no. George’s uncle had the ferry then. He had worked in White Rock. He was an old worker at White Rock and he took on the job to run the ferry. Ferrying the workmen back and forth.
I: This is how it started, is it? Do you have any idea of what sort of dates we’re talking about?
O: Sixty years it was in the family. It was about 1900 when Uncle Jack took over and then George’s father took over and then George took over.
I: Tell me what you know about the ferry; when did it start?
O: It belonged to the Duke of Beaufort. And Lord Grenfell and the Vivians approached him and asked him about the ferry to start, that they wished to have a ferry. So he said “Yes, but I want a £1,000 compensation.” So they took over the ferry, the two firms, the copper works and the lead works.
I: So let’s get this straight. They bought what we would call the franchise to operate the ferry, which was originally started way, way back in that thirteenth century when it operated at a lower level.
I: Right. Now because these were industrialists, they had works on that side. (O: That’s right) Why did they want it?
O: Well to get their workmen back and for the works.
I: Where were their workers coming from? Both east side and west?
O: And west. Hafod and Foxhole.
I: And what sort of works have we got there? What we talking about now?
O: A lead works. And a copper works.
Lord Grenfell owned the copper works. The Vivians owned the lead works. Now they lived in Singleton Abbey. Lord Grenfell had a mansion in St Thomas; called Maesteg House. I remember being in a concert in Maesteg House in 1914. An outdoor concert for comforts for the troops. In the First World War.
I: Let’s just go back to the ferry. So they wanted it to bring their workers back and for. How was the ferry a short cut? Where would you have had to walk…?
O: Round to town
I: Right round?
O: Round to St Thomas
I: Ah right, so I mean it was what a good half hour, three quarters of an hour walk?
O: oh yes…yes
I: Right. And how long would it take you to cross on the ferry?
O: Oh…three, four minutes?…Unless, unless the tide was in, and then it was way up.
I: How big was this ferry?
O: Oh only a little rowing boat.
I: How many would did it carry?
O: Six to eight?
I: And how was it operated? By oars or by sculling?
O: Sculling. My husband sculled.
I: What time did it start in the morning?
O: Half past six.
I: And did it go through the whole day or just… to coincide with work shifts?
O: Oh it went through the whole day. My father in law did the morning. And my husband did the afternoon and the evening. Finished at seven. Then it was open again quarter to ten for the ten o’clock shift.
I: Have you any idea how many he would carry? How many that would carry in the course of a day? Are we talking about a few hundred?
O: I should think so.
I: We’ve seen the, Lord Grenfell and the other gentry owning the franchise. Did they employ the Clarke family to run it?
O: Yes. White Rock employed George. White Rock.
I: So that was technically his job?
O: That was his job.
I: Who kept the ha’penny or the penny tolls that they paid?
O: Oh George kept it.
I: Oh right, so in fact he probably made more money out of the tolls than he would have been paid as wages?
O: That’s right.
I: Any idea what his wages were?
O: 25 shillings a week. His father paid him that. I don’t know how much his father had. But that’s what George had. 25 shillings.
I: Was it only the, the workers or did they take other people as well?
O: Oh they would take other passengers as well. There was a lot of shoppers went up over. And they would cross the boat. Go up the Boat Lane up to the Hafod Inn. And take a tram down to town.
I: Where exactly was the crossing now if..? You know, point me as a stranger trying to find out where the, where the two stations were. Where would I catch the boat on St Thomas side?
O: Not on St Thomas. You’d have to come up to Foxhole and the Hafod. Yes.
I: Now where in the Hafod would I go?
O: Maliphant Street. Then the Boat Lane
I: Would he…wait for the boat to fill before he took the whole lot or…?
O: Oh no.
I: or did it run like a timetable?
O: It run back and for, back and for, back and for.
I: Whether there was anybody in it or not?
O: That’s right.
I: Now you say the river was sort of more dangerous then was it?
O: Oh yes.
I: What happened to the river? Was it diverted or what?
O: No not there. Further down it was diverted.
I: It was diverted, yes?
O: Yes you know it was the new cut. Well they call it the New Cut now. New Cut Prince
I: Do you remember the ships coming up that river?
O: Oh yes.
I: You do?
O: Yes. They used to come up by the Patent manure…Patent manure works…. It used to stink!
All the clay boats from Cornwall used to come up. It was very busy at one time. There was a lot of tugs up and down the river. Taking ore up to the works.
I:An Interview with Reg Griffin; Reg, you were a user of this little White Rock ferry?
R: Yes I used it many times.
I: Why did you use it?
R: Well to get across between Pentrechwyth, Bonymaen to visit to walk around would be a very long way; probably about four miles, five miles.
I: You were living where then?
R: In the same street I am now; Field Street
I: Field Street, so if you wanted to get around to the St Thomas area, it meant you walking down..?
R: Walk down to Maliphant Street and the street down and you come to the ferry at the bottom.
I: And if you didn’t take the ferry, you had to walk..?
R: You had to walk all the way around into Swansea, along Fabian Way and back up Foxhole Road
I: And where would you have crossed the river actually down there?
R: Well there was a main river bridge, it was a swing bridge as well because there used to be a North Dock and they used to open the bridge for the ships to come in the Dock.
I: Did you pay a toll fee to cross that bridge?
R: No, not that bridge, to cross the bridge, that was free.
I: But it would have cost you about half an hour, a three quarters of an hour?
R: Oh an hour I should think.
I: You find this little ferry very, very useful?
R: Oh yes I go across the other side cause I had a friend who worked at the Works with me, quickest way to go over was to cross the ferry.
I: So from this little house where you are living now in Field Street, you walked down to Maliphant Street?
R: I walked down to Maliphant Street.
I: Was there some sort of a little … station there or?
R: (No, same as everywhere it was just a track down to the river??) and the ferry boat crossing would be just moored there like, you know.
I: Would you call for them or would they just ply across?
R: Well sometimes they might be across the other side, we’d wait till they come back, if they were, they had a little hut, if I remember right, alongside of the boat on which they’d tie up, until they had customers coming.
I: So you had to wait until the boat was full ..?
R: Oh you had to wait, well sometimes they’d say if there was only one, they’d take you, but they’d usually wait a bit to see if other people are coming as well to make more people in the journey.
I: Now what did it cost?
R: If I remember right, about a penny.
I: What was a return ticket or?
R: Oh yes, yeah, across and back.
I: Actually a penny isn’t all that cheap when we’re talking…?
R: Oh no, no, as a young man, I was earning five shillings a week with a bakers’ round.
I: So it was fairly expensive?
R: Oh yes, yeah
I: When you look at it like that. What did you do, sit down in the boat?
R: Yes well you just, well you sat for a few minutes.
I: Would they sing you songs and things like that..?
R: It was just a short journey and you might have a chat with the ferry man; he’d say; “What sort of day is it”, things like that, or “where you going to, what time you coming back?”, but uh, it was nothing much more than that, you wasn’t in the boat long enough to do any more talking!
I: How long did the ferry take?
R: Oh only about 3 minutes at the most, they had a rope; like a hawser (??) something across from both sides of the river and it pulled it across; they did have oars as well for rowing, but if the current was very strong, they could never row against the current.
I: Cause we tend to forget this river was in far more flood than it is now?
R: It’s static now, cause they stopped the tidal flow.
I: Olive, did you like it or did you curse this ferry that your husband was condemned to?
O: No, I was telling him to give it up all the time.
I: Why was that?
O: The wages were small and it was a job to live on them, heck of a job to live on them, but he was called up to the forces and he went to the forces and I was six years on my own with six children.
I: What happened to the ferry in the meantime?
O: A boatman took it over from the docks, but it was a different type of work to what he was used to. The river was different to the docks, much different. In fact, there was a boy drowned Christmas Eve 1942, he was a little apprentice from the area of St Thomas and he was drowned, the river was in flood and he was washed away. George would get home on leave and they asked him, they couldn’t find the body and they asked him; ‘Where would he be?’ so George could pinpoint exactly where he’d be with the currents of the river. He knew it like the back of his hand.
I: When he came back from the War, he took the job back up again, did he?
O: No, he went to Dawney’s in King’s Dock.
I: So you said goodbye to the River Tawe, across the river in..?
O: Yes, in 1942.
I: ’42, was it still running after that?
O: Yes, but with this boatman, but not for long.
I: What memories have you got, have you got any nice memories about this ferry?
O: I remember a row of houses along the river bank and I remember we didn’t have a midwife in the area, but there was an old lady, she used to come out when she was called, her name was Sara Thomas. She’d come out, but only if she had a jug of beer alongside her!
Any trouble and then she’d call a doctor, but she delivered nearly all the children in Foxhall.
O: There was a tramp; he was begging around the doors all day, everybody was maggiewith him. Then the boys off to work used to call for Tommy Edgar, I started to call about him, Tommy was full of arthritis and anyway they used to bring him piggy back down the boat, but Tommy was in charge of the kettle and teapot. Tommy made tea all day, yes, he was good, old Tommy was. He had to be taken into Tawe Lodge, but he couldn’t move for arthritis, but you’d laugh if you saw the boys trying to carry him down piggy back and he was a stout man, a big man and they struggled down with him and sat him by the fire and he was in charge of the kettle and the teapot, always a mug of tea there ready and with George coming down from the river and the wet, always a mug of tea ready.
Ken: But there’s two of her children dead, you know, Georgie died about 10 years ago, Anthony died about 8 years ago, she’s still got five children left
I: You’ve always gone to Kilvey Church?
I: You’ve seen such poverty?
O: I have seen such poverty.
I: You’ve seen hardship?
O: Oh yes.
I: You’ve seen men suffering?
O: Oh yes.
I: You yourself have suffered?
O: Oh yes
I: And you still say there’s a good God?
O: Oh yes, keep faith always, my grandmother was an Irish woman; she was a Protestant from Northern Ireland, but she was very religious, very religious, she came down from Liverpool, to Swansea by coaster, grandfather met her cause she wasn’t very well in Liverpool but in fact he didn’t like the family brought her down to Swansea. He met her at the North Dock and took her to a place called Frog Street, which is at the back of, was at the back of St. Mary’s Church then, but she didn’t like it, so she moved to Manselton and she lived there for two years. Grandfather went to sea, she died and left three children and neighbours took them in and that was hardship because the woman who took them in was a drunkard and she neglected them, sadly neglected them.
I: Did you see a lot of drunkenness?
O: Oh yes.
I: Why did they drink, to escape?
O: From the misery ,I expect.
Talking in background
Ken: Davey’s mother…Davey and his wife, and my father and mother were the only double wedding that’s ever been in Kilvey Church
T: The year, can you remember which year?
K: Oh she was married about 1924.
K: It’s a beautiful church, that one
Talking in background continues
I: The White Rock ferry lasted until 1953,(sic) [ 1945] new roads and bridges had to make it a thing of the past. My very sincere thanks to Mrs Olive Clark for her help, advice and cooperation and of course to Reg Griffin. This programme was edited and produced by Phillip Steven and I’m Mike Firman/Philman/Finman?, thanking you, our listeners for being there. Goodnight.