Old Grouse – Thelma has happy memories!

Just half a century after Moseley School took possession in 1968 of the remote stone cottage which was to become a centre for building pupils’ character and initiative, a previously unknown part of its earlier history has been revealed.

For about 20 years until his death in 1958 the Old Grouse was home to retired pit worker George Davies, his wife Susannah and their daughter Phyllis and grand-daughter Thelma.

Thelma, adopted by Phyllis shortly after her birth in 1943, is the sole surviving resident of Old Grouse and recently came across the Moseleians website. And in it the story of how her one-time home became the school cottage.

After the cost of meeting planning requirements outstripped the means of the trustees who sold it on, Thelma Dieltjens emailed webmaster Roger Green to express her delight at finding the cottage had been restored from its 1960s dereliction and says she hopes, under new owners, it will stand for years to come.

In contact with the Moseleians she has explained how her stepmother, who had worked at a wartime ammunition factory in Herefordshire, met in 1947 a Belgium soldier, Morris Dieltjens, stationed in Wales. They moved to Antwerp in 1948, married and six months later Thelma, then aged five, travelled to Belgium to complete the family.

Until then, says Thelma, she had gone on living at Old Grouse with her grandparents who rented cheaply because George had worked at the colliery, and the family would return for regular holidays until her grandfather died in 1958.

“In those days we had no water (we had to go to the spring), nor electricity and our nearest neighbour was “Cheese’s Farm” on Church Lane,” Thelma recalls.. “However, I stayed with my grandparents every year during the school holidays for a month. After that I visited relatives who lived in Brynmawr so I could still go for a walk past the old house while taking a picnic at the foot of the Peaky Stone or Lonely Shepherd.

“I can still remember as a child shooing our own sheep (we only had about 10 or 12) towards the sheep dip just a little past the turn off of Church Lane.  I’m sure a lot has changed since I was there but looking at the pictures I am so happy that the house has been done up so nicely.”

Thelma, who celebrated her 75th birthday in January, said the post-war holidays usually meant taking non-perishable food with them, as Britain still had food rationing and Belgium by then did not. Her grandparents, (with limited income), eked out provisions with crops from their vegetable garden on the hill behind the house.

“I do remember the winter of 1946/47,” Thelma goes on. “Though I was very young it left a great impact on me as we were snowed in for several days. As the house is so isolated nobody could get there to help out. I cannot recall for how long it was that we were snowed in but I do remember my grand-dad shovelling snow away to let daylight in.  We also had to put snow in a bucket and the kettle to thaw out as we couldn’t get to the spring/well for water.” It left her so scared of snow, even today this mother of three children, six grandchildren and four great grandchildren, confesses to not liking the white stuff.

It appears that given her young age at the time, adults in the family circle never mentioned the Old Grouse had once been a pub but Thelma recalls her gran being annoyed at grand-dad when he went down to the “Drum and Monkey” on what is now known as the Head of the Valley Road!

“Sometime later when I was a bit older we would go down Church Lane to a small pub near the church but then I had to sit in the kitchen” Thelma adds. Sadly, she knows the church, where her grandma was a Sunday school teacher, is gone, torn down to cut the Valley Road.

The sheep, she remembers, were kept in a field with a shed at the back of Old Grouse and to the right of the house. There were also chickens and next to the vegetable garden the outdoor toilet.

Grandma cooked on an open fire on the ground floor and meals were served in a small living room also used as a bed/sitting room where Thelma’s mother slept when she was home from the munitions factory hostel.

Bags of coal, potatoes and swede were kept in a scullery at the back of the house, which was built into the hillside making it dauntingly dark for little Thelma. A stone staircase led to two bedrooms, the smallest being her’s.

A spoil container rescued from the mine’s overhead cable waste disposal transit system was used as a butt to collect rainwater at the front of the house and Thelma still has vivid memories, as must scores of our readers, of the marvellous view from the Peaky Stone, right down to the distant Abergavenny.

In writing to the Gazette Thelma has been conscious that her English may have suffered during nearly 70 years of living in Belgium, 55 years married to her Flemish speaking husband until his death last year, and using that and the similarly based Dutch language in her secretarial job before retiring.

The Editors would like to assure Thelma it has been a pleasure to edit this account from her clear and colourful recollections and there will be many who read this feature envious that this girl from the Welsh valleys is no mean linguist having also learned to read, write and use French and German by the age of 15. And to understand her mother, who in 1980 emigrated with Morris to Canada, and who spoke a mixture of English and Flemish with a Welsh accent.