Memories of Denis Foley Farm Hand
In 1964, Denis Foley was about 14 and by his own admission “a bit of a naughty boy. I always liked the outdoors, never liked school, that’s why I got into trouble -mitching school. I liked to be out on the Gower, on Worms Head fishing. I got into trouble – nothing serious just like pinching apples”.
In the 1960s young people who had committed a crime were sent to Approved Schools for punishment. The local Approved School was the Glamorgan Farm School in Neath. There the boys could work on farms, in paint shops, garages etc.
“The easiest way out of trouble was to work hard. If they saw you were a tidy person and worked hard and you weren’t going to escape, they sent you out to farms to work.
“I wanted to go farming and was sent out to a couple of farms to work, one was Llys Nini and another was Cynghordy but you’d work like a dog and were given pennies, 10/- a week plus board and lodging.”
The farm boys were treated like other farm labourers, even driving the tractors and trailers, they often had hard jobs to do which they had to tackle by themselves, without help or supervision. One job for Denis was to take the tractor to the field above the farm house and pull (plough up) the swedes, then he had to top, tail and peel them by hand. All this was done in December, outdoors in the cold.
“in December you’d have to pick the Swedes, top and tail them and peel them, on your own. .. I still have the scars and all done outside, even though there was frost on them. You’d bring in trailer-loads of Swedes on your own. Then put them through the mangles.
“The farm was not a very romantic place and the work was hard - hard as nails you’d do hours before you had breakfast. Got up at 6 and worked, breakfast was at 8 or 9 o’clock.” The jobs and length of the working day depended on the season. In the summer, it could be a 20 hour day while there was always things to do in the winter months, such as painting gates, repairs and pulling root vegetables. The animals had to be cared for and during the cold winter days when there was little grass the sheep and the cattle had to be fed on the roots that had been pulled, prepared and stored in field clamps. “
There was always a lot of work to do on a farm and the farmer often relied on free or low cost labour. Board and lodging often formed part of the labourer’s wages, even in the 1960s. Denis worked at Llys Nini and slept upstairs in the house. He would get to his room through the cupboard-like door and up the stone stairs at the side of the fire place and behind the chimney. The family would also sleep upstairs but in the other part of the house and they would have to use the other staircase to get to their bedrooms. The family and workers would use the door at the back of the house, presumably into the most recent extension/kitchen area.
Denis recalls that Llys Nini had electricity, at least downstairs when he worked there, but not all farms in the area were so lucky in the 1960s. He remembers his time at Cynghordy, his bedroom was at the gable end of the attic and he had to take a candle up with him.
The farming community was close knit. In Pontlliw, many of the farmers were members of Carmel Chapel and they used to learn new skills and techniques from one another, through conversations at Chapel or watching one another. Most of the local farms were very similar, about 20 cows, mostly Friesians, chickens, a couple of pigs, possibly horses and root crops plus hay. The farms were passed from generation to generation, with sons and daughters learning their skills from their parents. Many of the farm families were related, as was the case with Llys Nini and Cynghordy.
At busy times of year, such as hay making, everyone used to help his neighbours. It was a very busy time and long hours, “you’d never call a farmer if he was out cutting, thered be murder.”
There was a farm run by 2 elderly sisters near Cynghordy. The Llys Nini /Cynghordy families used to help them at hay making and in return they would be fed by the sisters. “They put on a spread you’d never seen anything like it – every single thing was home-made or home cooked even the ham, bacon, butter cheese and milk. Bread you’d never tasted nothing like it. It was the same at Llys Nini with Mrs Thomas. Hay making was like Christmas; everything was laid out, it was good.”
Llys Nini’s hay barn was to the west of the house, roughly on the site of the current Miscellaneous Animal House. It was an open-sided structure that covered the hay which was used as winter feed for the horses and cattle. There was also a closed barn where Vic Thomas kept his dogs, which he used to control the cattle.
Denis seemed to think that his treatment and life on the farm was acceptable, even though he was only 14 and living away from home. He doesn’t think that it would now be possible to work young people so hard due to legislation and regulations. “The work we did at 14 is nothing like kids today. If you look back at life – my father went to war at 17 he was fighting in Africa, captured, sent to a POW Camp in Italy, he escaped and was taken to another, all at the age at 17 or18. So you might have thought of the life as hard but it was easy compared with what that generation had. We look at everything as difficult but it was easy compared to them. “
In the 60s, like most local farms Llys Nini had a mixture of animals, like pigs and chickens to provide for the family, cows for milk and they grew root crops.
Llys Nini had about 20 Friesian cows which had to be milked twice a day, every day. “The cows were like part of the family and all had names.”
The milking parlour was a little way to the west of the house, roughly where the boat sheds are situated. There was a stone-cobbled roadway leading from the front of the house to the milking parlour.
Denis remembers that there were often cars of courting couples in the lane. Although cars were still a luxury at that time, he remembers that he had to do a lot of walking. He even used to walk home to Swansea, on the old road which passed the Cross Inn, although at the time he didn’t think it was that far.
“When I was a kid playing around the Castle (in Swansea), you could still smell the war. There was an old ammo dump behind the castle and a burnt paper smell. St Mary’s was still being reroofed. You could see the old houses marked out on the bomb site under where the quadrant is now – it was all flat. My grandmother’s house was in town, single room downstairs and the toilet as far from the house as possible”.
“After I finished work on the farm I went back 2 years later when I was 17 it was just before Christmas. I pulled a full field of Swedes up- horrific work at that time of year. I cleared the whole field; they would grind them down for feed for the sheep or cattle. At the end of the week, Christmas Eve I finished and I went for my wages and he gave me £1. 10/- (£1.50) instead of £4, as he had deducted every cup of tea and food he had given me in the week. You can you imagine Christmas Eve with £1 10/!”