Built in 1920 by the local mine owner for the mineworkers, and utilising mine waste in its construction for economic reasons, 'Cinder Town' sprang into existence in open fields on the opposite side of the main street through the village of Kenfig Hill in South Wales. It was a small network of roads and houses housing some of the poorest paid people. But at least they had a job and in the 1920s that counted for something.
Laing Street, like North Avenue and Tytalwyn Avenue, is just the width of a coal lorry with two small pavements on either side barely able to accommodate a pushchair. Flanking the road are blocks of either three or four terraced houses with tiny pocket-handkerchief sized gardens, big enough to park two cars side by side but only if you breathe in when you get out. Number 9 however still retains the original front garden: rose bed on the left of the concrete path and tiny swathe of green grass to the right accessed by a rusting, wrought iron gate in desperate need of a lick of paint. In the middle of the lawn stands the fishpond. It was made out of four-feet diameter miners' washbasin which the owner sunk several feet into the ground and around which he then built a concrete wall. When he wasn't looking, his wife decorated it with large stones when the concrete was still wet. This pond held some thirty or more large goldfish which darted between the water-lily stems and hid beneath the huge green plate-like leaves. Sadly after nearly fifty years' use, the wall has cracked and the goldfish are no more, although the population of water snails adhering to the sides is thriving in the reduced water level.
One step up from the path is the covered porch. Immediately on the left as you enter through the solid wooden front door is the cloakroom. This was the old pantry and once upon a time boasted a marble shelf, meat-safe and provisions for the family. Now it is home for the coats and the vacuum cleaner.
Winding up from the hall is the staircase to the upper floor. There are three bedrooms here and through a quirk of fate, the smallest one was occupied by Tom, his wife Bell and baby daughter. It is barely large enough to take the single bed yet in it is crammed a chest of drawers (the bottom of which made a handy cot for the small baby), a wardrobe and a small cupboard. A window half the width of the back wall boasts a view out over the garage, the back garden and the housing estate. The curtain hangs at a drunken angle; the screws for the rail have recently pulled out of the cinder-filled walls that no longer have any substance. The 'back bedroom' has a double bed complete with the original metal frame and wooden headboard, and if you look carefully when you make the bed you'll see the patches which have been sewn on the sprung bottom mattress - 'make do and mend' being the watch words for this South Wales Miner's cottage.
The main bedroom stretches the whole width of the house and if you look carefully on a clear day you can just make out the flame burning in the refinery in Port Talbot. Almost everything about this room says wartime austerity, from the utility dressing table and mirror to the enormous wardrobe lurking in the shadows. The pictures hanging on the wall are of two little girls in short, white dresses steadfastly staring away from the camera. The rocking chair has been repainted many times, the latest being pale green, and lying dejectedly on its wooden seat is a lumpy, worn-out red velvet cushion made from a remnant of fabric.
Continued on next page