Monday, July 21, 2008

Mary-Sutton-Coulson, Dr Williams' daughter

Edgar, head gardener with Mary, Ruth and pet badger, Bonzo

Mary Sutton-Coulson in conversation with Dr Carole Reeves:

"What was very interesting was the station at Craig-y-nos (Penwyllt), I gather it was built by Adelina Patti for Edward VII to visit. During the petrol crisis in the 1950s – the Suez Crisis (1956) – my parents didn’t have enough petrol to drive us to Staffordshire so we used to have to go by train from Craig-y-nos Station, and it was five changes. It used to take us all day.

(right) Nurse Glenys Davies

I remember Glenys Davies, Euryl (Thomas) and Ina (Hopkins) in the office. I knew them really well because I was in and out of the office.

Euryl and Ina tried to teach me shorthand-typing when I was home for six months after I left school, when I was learning to drive. I got to know them, and Glenys Davies and the people who played badminton with us. I can’t remember whether the dentist (Jenkin Evans) used to play badminton. I think he used to play tennis. Certainly, a number of the miners used to come up and play tennis and badminton with daddy.

My parents left Craig-y-nos the year I went to university in London when I was eighteen and that was 1962.

Father Christmas (dentist, Jenkin Evans) holding a child patient watched by Mary and Ruth in the background and Matron Knox-Thomas

Christmas at Craig-y-nos
Ruth and I used to sing Christmas carols on the hospital radio on Christmas Day to the patients. I don’t know whether anybody remembers it.

We always had to have our Christmas on Christmas Eve so we always had duck on Christmas Eve because Daddy had to carve the turkey on Christmas Day. So we always had to be good little girls and go and have Christmas lunch with all the sisters and Dr Huppert in the room opposite the front door of the main building.

We used to go in and up into this room and that was the main, formal doctors’ dining-room. On Christmas Day the senior sisters were invited for Christmas lunch there as well. We used to go and have our turkey lunch there after daddy had carved the turkey for all the wards. So we always had to behave ourselves with Dr Hubbard there.

Dr Huppert ( left)

What do you remember about Dr Huppert?
You did what you were told. If it was bed-rest to get you better then you jolly well bed-rested! And you got punished if you didn’t.

We used to have a laugh with her, I seem to remember. She was there always in the background. Other than that, I can’t remember much about her other than these formal Christmas lunches.

Sister Outram and Sister Powell

Sister Powell
The person I remember most and with great fondness is Sister Powell.
Sister Bessie Powell retired to live in Mountain Ash in one of the vertical little narrow roads.
She bought a house there. She loved Craig-y-nos. She was very, very sad to have to go back to Mountain Ash but her family were there. Well, her sister was there, so she bought a little terraced house there. We continued visiting her until she died. I can’t remember what year she died.

A lonely life
To me, in a way, it was a bit of a lonely life. Our friends were all the local farmers and there were only three farms -- one either side opposite the hospital and Dan-yr-Ogof where the caves are now. I used to spend my holidays up there sheep-shearing and feeding the baby lambs, so we were quite limited in our local friends really when we were at Pen-y-cae (school); until we went to Ystradgynlais and even then most of our friends were Abercraf and Ystradgynlais. That was still seven miles to get to. They used to come up to us and we used to hold these amazing Guy Fawke’s parties every year.

That was the one time we used to invite our friends from Abercraf and Ystradgynlais to have a party with us. Because of transport and that we didn’t bike down to Abercraf or anything.

Playing in the grounds of Craig-y-nos
Edgar lived just a very few miles down towards Abercraf. We used to spend a lot of time crossing that river (in the grounds of Craig-y-nos) to the far lake and messing about in the river. I had a lovely grandfather. My mother’s parents were from Liverpool and they spoke Welsh, and my mother spoke fluent Welsh. My father spoke a little bit of Welsh although he was much more anglicised. He was born in Wrexham but their home was Machynlleth (Powys) but we always used to laugh that he was the one who didn’t really speak Welsh. My maternal grandparents used to come down, and after my grandmother died, my grandfather came and he used to fish trout in the two lakes and in the river, even when he was nearly blind. We used to have a croquet lawn where they now have the marquees. That was all our garden.

We used to have these awful peacocks that used to come and preen themselves in the two French windows and make such a noise in the morning.

Bonzo the badger
One day Edgar’s dog brought in these two badgers. The mother must have been killed and one of the little babies was dead and the other one was alive and so we looked after him. He lived in our stable. That was Bonzo.
Daddy didn’t like him because he used to bite daddy.
He had a dog collar. We used to take him for walks on a lead. I think my sister must have been at boarding school by then and I was there on my own.

Mrs Williams with daughters,Mary and Ruth

My mother
My mother didn’t really want me to go to boarding school because in a way, she was a very intelligent woman and she didn’t have a job or anything at that stage.

There wasn’t a school where she felt she could go and teach her biology and botany, so she became very involved with various charities and Chairman of the Court down in Ystradgynlais. Quite amusing because she did understand Welsh although North Wales Welsh is quite different from the South Wales, you still could understand quite a lot. There would be a lot of these people swearing and cursing in Welsh and of course they had no idea she could speak Welsh, and then she’d sum up in Welsh and that would put them off a bit. They just loved living in Craig-y-nos and the countryside. They were very enthusiastic naturalists. I think they were early members of the conservation societies. They used to have us walking the Brecon Beacons and all around the Cray reservoir and all of the valley reservoirs. Every Sunday we used to go for walks.

We used to scramble up Craig-y-nos itself, that Rock of the Night, and there were lovely wild strawberries up there and blueberries, we used to go and pick.
It was a very interesting childhood but because we both went to boarding school, we met up with people who lived in Leicestershire and Nottingham and Rugeley, who had a totally different sort of social childhood with all their parties and tennis clubs, etc. We used to spend quite a bit of time with them at weekends and holidays because by then I wasn’t really keeping up with any friends down in Craig-y-nos.

The last years of Dr Williams
Daddy liked being in charge of it all, just making things happen and run. And of course he got terribly involved with the restoration of the theatre, and got the people down from St Paul’s Cathedral to do all the gold leaf, all that restoration of all the composers around the top of the theatre.

And again, he was very involved with the television programme, the life of Adelina Patti, starring Joan Sutherland and Paul Schofield. There was also a short TV programme made in the late 1950s showing Glenys Davies walking around the wards at night with a candle against the background of Patti singing ‘There’s no place like home’.

I had an LP of Adelina Patti. You wouldn’t believe it but it was the one LP that was cracked right across the middle after I had my house fire and they moved all my LPs into my garage.

Daddy left Craig-y-nos in 1962. He died in 1995. In the end, Daddy unfortunately did have a few minor strokes so he became aphasic (loss of speech), which was very, very frustrating for him. It was dreadful because he was such a sociable person. But he continued playing tennis until he was over seventy-five in a lovely house overlooking Llangorse Lake.
They built a bungalow in Bronllys village itself overlooking the Black Mountains and spent their retirement there, which they absolutely loved. He became passionate about his garden and his vegetables, but always continued with the conservation of Wales.

Dr Carole Reeves (right)
"The kids who left Craig-y-nos remember going to his clinic in Brecon and Bronllys. One lady (Eileen Gibbons) told us a sad story about how she ran away from Craig-y-nos at the age of about twenty. She was one of the only people who did. She literally walked out one Saturday with the visitors and made her way back to her home in Hay-on-Wye. Her father had just died and she couldn’t bear being away from home. She’d always been told that if you discharged yourself from a sanatorium, no doctor would have anything to do with you or treat you. But your father continued to treat her as an outpatient. He knew the circumstances. She never, ever forgot it.

This whole project has been very, very important for the ex-patients because a lot of them were badly traumatised by being in Craig-y-nos because they were separated from their family and friends, often as very tiny children. It’s had a complex effect on some of them in ways that probably people at the time didn’t realise would happen. There was no particular concept of children’s emotional needs as well as their physical needs."

Mary went on to become a physiotherapist and her sister, Ruth, a dentist.

Extract from interview given by Mary Sutton-Coulson to Dr Carole Reeves Outreach Historian with The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College, London.

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