News - May 2018
The Story of Rags Hunt
Rags Hunt boarded the bus at Cardiff General station. He was dressed in his usual battered old jacket and knee worn trousers held up by string and a pair of old scuffed boots. I never knew his real name apart from the surname and everyone called him Rags. He was a lovely old man who was probably not as old as he looked but had had a tough life.
I had known Rags Hunt since I was a little boy when I used to go collecting eggs from the chicken field of Ifor Maes Mafon’s farm in the village of Nelson (now in Mid Glamorgan) and then later helping with the haymaking and potato planting and harvesting. Rags was a local labourer who would turn a hand to most things on the local farms when extra help was needed. If he wasn’t working, then he was at the Hollybush (or the Wellington or the Nelson inn) and usually drinking cider. I recognised him straight away so as he sidled his way up the full bus I moved my holdall onto my lap to make room for him.
After the initial greeting he asked me where I had just come from, so I replied: ‘Rochester up in Kent. I’m on my way home to see Mum’. Immediately he replied: ‘oh I walked there once.’ I looked at him and said: ‘Are you sure you’ve got the right place?’ ‘Yes’ he said ‘it’s got a big bridge with arches over the road and a wide river and a very tall castle.' Well that sounded right so I asked; ‘Why did you walk to Rochester?’ (by now the bus was working its way through the streets of Cardiff). He replied: ’There was no work in South Wales in the late 20s because of the Depression and there hadn’t been any for months and things life was hard. We had heard that they were opening coal mines up in Kent near Dover and as there was nothing to do apart from walk the streets I decided that as I couldn’t afford train fares I would walk to Dover.'
He had slept in barns, under hedges, on the streets in London and eventually reached Rochester. As he crossed the bridge he could see that at the far end there was quite a large crowd of men and so he went over to see what they were looking at, thinking someone had fallen into the river. He couldn’t see anything so asked what was going on and one of the men standing there told him that a man with a top hat would arrive soon and offer 6 men who were travelling through the city free board and lodge with food and a bed for the night. He joined the crowd and sure enough at six o’clock a very smart man in a shiny top hat arrived and selected 6 men. By now the crowd had heard about Rags having walked up from London so they pushed him forward and he became one of the selected men. He followed the man through the streets and he then described the building with its stone front and small windows and the gables at the top and at that point I knew he was being fully honest with me. He told me how he went in and was given a small bed in a small comfortable room with a fire at the back of the building and then allowed to wash and clean himself up properly for the first time in weeks. Then he was called to dinner at a long table with the other five men. They ate bread and meat and had a drink (he said it was beer) and what was left over they could have for breakfast or take with them for food the next day. He eventually reached Dover only to discover that there was no work in any of the coal mines there either so turned around and walked back to Wales.