by Kay Thomas
Kay was born in Llanfrechfa Grange maternity hospital in 1948. Both of her parents and grandmothers were also born in Cwmbran. Kay’s grandfathers were both Irish and she grew up, with her sisters and brother, in the strong Irish community in the old 2-up, 2-down housing in the Forgehammer. For a few years, Kay’s parents ran The Forgehammer pub, which was on the canal bank next to a lock. When the lock stopped filling it wasn’t repaired and the boats were no longer able to use it. As a child, she played among the trains shunted to the end of the railway tracks, and in the canal and the woods where Maendy Way is now.
Kay attended the Catholic School in Old Cwmbran, which was for infants and juniors at the time, and then went to the Catholic High School, which became the junior school when the high school moved to St Albans in Pontypool.
Practically everyone who lived in the Forgehammer worked in the Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds foundries, and, after leaving school and working in Halliday’s newsagent and Woolworths for a while, Kay also went to work there making and finishing the cores for the moulds for car engines. The hooters for the start of the work day sounded at 7am and people went in with their sandwiches and ‘jacks’, which had their tea in and were kept warm next to the furnaces.
Kay’s family were not happy about her working in a foundry, but she chose to stay there because the pay was so good. The company was keen to employ women (including big women for heavy work) because they paid women £8 a week, but they paid men £20 a week. In 1966, Kay left work when she got married.
Kay had 5 children and, in 1972, married to her second husband, she moved to 8 and then 10, The Twinings. The houses in The Byways estate, or ‘Little Jerusalem’, were very desirable: big and well-designed for a family. There was a strong sense of community on the estate and neighbours became good friends. It was a really good place to live. It was usual on the estate for there to be communities within communities with 2 or 3 rows of houses where everyone was close friends, and then the next 2 or 3 rows would also be close friends, although these people would also intermix, especially for bigger events, such as the street party for the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, which Kay remembers.
People used the Threepenny Bit for all sorts of community events, like parties for the children, as well as for birthday and engagement parties.
Kay noticed that, while her youngest children went out and played freely in the woods and fields or up the mountain, when she left the estate, in 1994, children were just playing in gardens instead.
One thing Kay remembers is having armed police in her house while they were negotiating with a possible gunman in a neighbouring house. Fortunately, the situation was defused without getting any further out of hand.