Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mary and Ruth , daughters of Dr and Mrs Ivor Williams, enjoyed an idyllic childhood at Craig-y-nos. Here they are with one of their ponies and Paddy, the Irish setter, belonging to Matron Knox-Thomas

Mary became a physiotherapist, married and moved to Hampshire and her sister, Ruth, trained as a dentist and lives near Hereford.

This is Part One from an extract of an interview Mary Sutton-Coulson gave to Dr Carole Reeves, Outreach Historian with The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College, London.

"My sister must have been six or seven when we got to Craig-y-nos. I was three and a half in 1947.

Dr and Mrs Williams

Mummy and Daddy met at Liverpool University and they both played hockey for Wales. They married in 1936.
They were very keen sportsmen/ women, and that’s I think why, when he was at Craig-y-nos, he encouraged the staff so much and he arranged this badminton club for them and the tennis club. After badminton we used to go and toboggan on that hill opposite Craig-y-nos.

Well, some of the staff – I don’t know whether any of them are alive now – after playing badminton, we used to go in the moonlight on an army sledge up to the top of that hill and come down. And one of the staff broke her leg one day by putting it out as we went over a bump.

The Adelina Patti’s theatre was fantastic because it could be made a badminton court as well as a ballroom.

I think we played badminton twice a week – we certainly played every week anyway. He had the tennis club as well that he organized at the hospital for anybody to join in. That was very much his sporting side.

But Myra came into our lives when she was sent to Pembrokshire from Penhesgyn as a little girl – well, she was fifteen by then – and had had next to no education or training but she obviously could sew. So she was sent to the sewing room at St Brides and was there for two years before they sent her back to Penhesgyn to sew. Daddy saw her sitting alone in one of the mini-buses one night and said, “Whatever’s going on? Where are you from?” He then invited her to go for tea with him and Mummy, with the two teachers, Miss Jones and Miss Hall, and my sister was two-years-old.

From then on, Myra used to go and spend every Saturday with them, and look after Ruth, and so she was still there when I was born, I think. Then she went back to Penhesgyn into the sewing-room, and eventually when that closed in 1959 … she said that she changed from being in the sewing-room … they were short of nurses or something, and she said, “I can nurse. I’d like to nurse even though I’ve got a stiff hip.” She’s got a four-inch raise on her leg. So she started nursing.

When Penhesgyn closed in 1959, she lived at Craig-y-nos with mummy and daddy for seven months. They kept in very close contact with her because her parents didn’t want to know anything about her really. So she became very much an adopted sister. She’s twelve years older than us. Her story is quite interesting although it’s not obviously Craig-y-nos, as a TB patient.

She used to make all our clothes – beautiful clothes and the smocking she did was quite amazing.

I suppose, living at Craig-y-nos, was just the most amazing place for a child to live.

It was a dreadful house for my mother because the kitchen was at the nearest end to the courtyard (right near the new wrought iron gates that go through to the marquee), so you had to walk the full length of that and then down to the right. Our dining-room was half-way down that corridor and the funny square yellow block at the end was our lounge. Then we had three storeys up to our attic bedroom. Our attic bedroom was fantastic because we had a little link door into the theatre up in the eves. So we used to watch all the performances. We’d creep in there at night and watch any performances they had for the patients. Of course, if they were magic shows, we could see what was going on behind!

Mary and Ruth with their mother, Mrs Williams

We used to look between the big, tall curtains down on the stage.

I remember as a little girl finding my father’s medical skeleton in a box and making up horrendous stories about it .

I’ve still got it, the little wooden box with daddy’s medical skeleton.

Also, under the stage, linked to our basement, we had a table tennis table. It was mainly used by the family and daddy was a very keen table tennis player as well. We used to go and play underneath the stage. It was fascinating this arrangement that that theatre has of being able able to jack the floor up and down, and make a little orchestra pit and put the stage lights on and then have that amazing fire screen of Madame Patti with her chariot
We had that amazing area to play in and in fact we even used to roller skate in that theatre when the floor was flat – on the beautiful wooden floor!

Edgar, the head gardener

And then of course we had this amazing area and life, and Edgar (the head gardener) played a big, big, big part helping us look after our ponies and matron’s dog, Paddy, the Irish setter, the boats – we were always out in the boats on the lake.

Of course, that car park (Craig-y-nos Country Park car park) now was the most beautiful big vegetable area. It was all vegetables. At the bottom right hand corner was where we had our stables and our haystack. There were two big Victorian glass houses against the wall to the near lake, which Edgar was in charge of. They grew peaches and lots of tomatoes. We were self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables.

Then in the corner where our ponies (Lady and Tosca) were, we had a whole area where we used to have chickens and ducks. We used to have about two dozen eggs a week, so when there were spare eggs, my mother would be giving those to matron and that.

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