D.M. Davies kindly provided for the Senni Archive, notes of his memories of Defynnog up to 1939. This document was written on 9 December 2004 at his home in Hythe and added to this archive on 20 March 2006.

Memories of Defynnog,1928 - 1939

by D.M. Davies

My first clear memory of Defynnog was in June 1928 when I was taken there by my Aunt Bess when the birth of my younger sister was expected, hence the accuracy of the date. It was at the time of an outbreak of diphtheria and I went down with it.

`Top Shop', as it was known, was a shop incorporated within the house. One passed from one part to the other and back again.

The front room looked out on the main road and was bordered on one side by the road up to Cefn Maescar, which ran between the house and the high wail, which surrounded Penpentre farmyard. As I first remember it, the floor was flag stoned; the front door was in the centre of the wall facing the road and opened out to the concreted area which was built up some four feet above the level of the road. At the side of the fireplace, which was opposite the front door, was a high backed wooden settle and behind the settle a door opened to the staircase, part going straight up to the back rooms and part spiraled around to access the front rooms. Another door behind the settle led down to the shop by two stone steps.

The shop also opened to the raised area above the road, the doorway being closed by a pair of narrow doors, which were secured by a heavy iron bar. Opposite the entrance doors was a door opening to the kitchen also stone flagged and off which there were two further doors, one leading to four steps up to the garden and one approached by two high stone steps to a store known as `tycan' I've been unable to trace a Welsh meaning for this, it may derive from the fact that a large cylindrical tank for storing paraffin was kept there.

Adjoining the house and shop were several small stone built houses facing the main road and also the lane up to Cefn Maescar. The roadside houses were all raised up above the road level along a path, which was bounded by a low stone wall. Next to the shop and opening to it was a store known as `tysha'. That's my phonetic spelling I've been unable to trace a Welsh equivalent. Adjoining this was the bake house, fitted with a stable door and having a brick kiln type oven built into the far corner. Then came a store known as the paint house, used for the storage of hardware goods and at the end the coalhouse. These must all have been cottages with one room up and one down for there was a spiral stone stairway in the corner of each of them.

Along the Cefn Maescar lane, next to tycan, which also had a door to the lane came a small cottage where Annie Davies and her brother, a postman lived. She took in washing and because there was no mains water to her cottage she used to carry water in large cylindrical cans from a tap which was set in the roadside wall below the coalhouse. The tap consisted of an iron plate in the wall with a large iron knob at its centre and a spout below. Turning the knob operated it and when released it sprang back as if it had a heavy counterpoise fitted inside.

Adjoining Annie's cottage was another and next to that a single story building where the wood for the bread oven was stored.

My Aunt Wena baked bread for the shop twice a week She used to carry the wood, off cuts from the wood mill in Sennybridge, by holding up the front of her apron and putting the wood in the pocket so formed. The oven was about five feet square, the base being built up about three feet from the floor, and had an opening roughly two feet by eighteen inches high, which could be closed by a metal plate fitted with two brackets to one edge so that it would stand vertically.

The wood was fed into the oven and liberally soaked with paraffin and then ignited. The dough was mixed in a round metal tub, which I believed had been heavily tinned. It was certainly not galvanized. It had a uniform silver coloured coating and showed no sign of rusting. After mixing, my Aunt would empty the dough on to a low wooden table, about five feet square and eighteen inches high. She worked the dough with her hands and then put it back in the metal container to rise. When ready the dough was back on the table and kneaded into loaves and put into rectangular baking tins. The embers in the oven were racked level and the loaves slid in. If there was a baking of loaf cake to follow, this was mixed in the same manner as the bread and again left to rise. She only baked yeast cake or a more superior type she called best cake for festivals and funerals.

My great aunt Elizabeth owned the shop but by then was doing very little. She was probably over sixty at this time. My grandfather looked after the shop and aunt Wena ran the house and did the baking. The shop stocked practically all the villagers needed, except meat. Sides of bacon were hung from the kitchen ceiling and cut by hand when rashers were needed.

Market day in Sennybridge was always a busy time. There was a bus which went up to Senni to bring folk down to the market. Some large baskets would be left in the shop en route with orders to be collected on the return journey. The bus was a converted lorry with a tarpaulin cover and wooden benches fitted down the sides. The farmers' wives used to bring large baskets of eggs to the market and often half pound pats of butter to be sold in the shops. Certain customers always asked for specific farm produce.

During slack periods in the shop, Grandfather would weigh out and pack various sugars and dried fruit. When weighed out they would be placed on rectangular pieces of stout paper, each coloured according to the contents. The narrow edges would be brought together and folded over to form a flattened cylinder and then the ends would be tucked in to form quite a firm package. Sugar came as 'granulated' castor, Demerara and moist. For some reason, icing sugar was already factory packed in boxes. The dried fruits were currants, sultanas and raisins. For the 'best' cake the raisins came in wooden boxes and had to be stoned with a machine resembling a meat mincer, but instead of a helical cutter there was a rubber roller in contact with a set of coaxial cutters. On rotation of the roller, the raisins were fed through and the stones squeezed out.

Shop hours were fairly flexible; the same people always came outside normal hours and in the dark at night shadowy characters would come through the garden to the kitchen door bearing large trout for sale!

The geography of the village has changed since the pre-war days. The main road to Sennybridge went up the hill to what was the police station and hence to what my aunts called the other village.

Opposite the shop there were three or four alma-houses consisting of one room up and one down. Three doubty characters occupied them; Jane Evans in the end house was the butt of a good deal of teasing by the children, then Mrs. Diplock a strong tall weather beaten soul who always wore leather boots laced up to the calf and numerous aprons. She worked diligently in her garden at the back and would from time to tie produce buckets of the most excellent peas, beans lettuce and cabbage to be sold in the shop. Finally, Evan `Bacco' a small crumpled man with a straggly beard and wisps of fair hair. He tottered about either due to age or inebriation: probably both.

Turning off the road down the end of the almshouses was Stone Street. This was completely cobbled with large round stones, which gave the ladies some trouble walking to Tabernacle Chapel on Sundays.

The allegiance to the chapels always puzzled me. Grandfather and my aunt Gwladys always went to Tabernacle on Sunday morning and my great-aunt Elizabeth and my aunt Wena always walked the mile or so down to Salem in Sennybridge for evening service

It was after the War, I believe, that the cobbles were removed and replaced by tar macadam. The old cobbles had attracted a film company to use it for scene setting on at least two occasions.

One other thing that puzzled me that the sole police officer ever seen in the village was a sergeant who lived in the house adjoining the court house. He seemed to cover a large area on his bicycle without any other constable.

The village Post Office was in the house opposite the hill going down to the Tanners Arms. Geoff Stevens and his wife and daughter ran it. His daughter had the most brilliant red hair I have ever seen. Geoff also farmed the land around Tryffylip [again my phonetic spelling]. A Capt Jenkins who ran the Tabernacle Sunday school owned the house there and his wife played the organ The drive up to the house led of the track which went over the concrete bridge over the river Senni. This was built in the early thirties to replace the old wooden bridge that a flood had swept away.

One of the greatest events of the year was the Defynnog and Sennybridge Show, held very early in September on the land now used by the Army I believe. After the War a much reduced show was held in the field opposite the Tanners Arms.

Note added 29/04/2009: 'Top Shop' is no longer a shop.

Current map of the area described. It is on Ordnance Survey maps at reference SN92697 27658.

John L. Jones has written on 02/01/2006 `.. Mr. Davies must be a cousin of mine, because I also have fond memories of staying at Top Shop with my Aunts Wena, Mary, Gwlad and Cassie and Uncle Walter. This was much later, in the early 1960's. I would spend much of my time fishing for small trout in the Senni with the kind permission of local farmers.