Following the Wales

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Have you ever watch the film “The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain“?  It’s the true story of a town in Wales.  During WWI, the English government sent surveyors around Britain to create accurate maps.  When the surveyors come to this little town, they tell the townsfolk that what they had always thought of their mountain was actually a few feet short of mountain. So they request a remeasure, but, in collusion with the younger surveyor, they conspire to keep the surveyors in town.  In the meantime, the whole town carries stones and sod and wheelbarrows full of earth to the top of the hill until they have added enough height to make it a mountain.

There is so much that I love about this film, not the least of which being a young Hugh Grant.  But, I shall put my hormones away for the moment.  I love this film because it is such a great portrait of the Welsh character: hardy, proud, inventive, stubborn and strong.  How could so many people survive the coal mines (and they were terrible places) without this kind of character?  I’ve had family members lost in the mines.  My cousin Gillian lost her father in a mine cave in when she was just five.

My family story is interesting.  My great grandmother was the first woman in Wales to be given a licence by a brewery to run a pub/hotel.  I still have the medal that they awarded her.   This goes back to the late 1800s.  The pub was called the King’s Head and it sat in the tiny town of Blaina.  Back in 2005, my daughter and I went to Wales and one of the things that I wanted to find was the King’s Head.  As far as I knew, the King’s Head closed sometime in the 1970s.  I didn’t even know if the building was still standing.  Gill was driving us back to Blaina and then on to Abertillery where most of my family came from, and where a few still lived.  As we drove down the main street in Blaina (Blaina is pretty small – if you blink you’ll miss it), I looked up at an old, abandoned building.  “STOP!”  I yelled at Gill who slammed on her brakes.  “Look!” I said not quite so loudly.  On the top of the old abandoned brick building was a sign that said “King’s Head”.
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It was my great grandmother’s pub and we almost had driven by it.  Sadly, someone had stuccoed the front of the building, making it a dirty grey-brown, but the sides and back were still the original brick. The first floor windows were boarded up but the glass in the second and some of the third floor windows was gone. At the back, high at the top a sign proudly stated “Kings Head, Rhymney Beers.  In spite of being derelict, there was something proud in the way the building stood, especially knowing how long the Kings Head had been there.

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I did a little digging on the Kings Head.  The earliest reference to the pub was in Pigot’s 1844 directory of South Wales.  This tells me that my great grandmother was not the first to run the Kings Head.  She would have run it at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.  To the best of my knowledge, the last person to run the pub was a Welsh Rugby player by the name of Jack Gore.  Jack was born and raised in Blaina in the 1920s and 30s and played on the Wales National Union Rugby Team.  When he retired, he returned to Blaina to run the Kings Head.  He passed away in 1971.  Sadly, the last thing that I found online about the Kings Head was a newspaper article from 2012 saying that the United Welsh Housing Society had applied to demolish the Kings Head to make way for the development of flats which would operate as a kind of transitional housing for people suffering with depression and anxiety.  While it makes me sad to think that the Kings Head may already be gone, I think this an appropriate use of the space.  I suppose I won’t know if it is actually gone until my next visit.

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4 responses to “Following the Wales

  1. Me too. At the end of the film they show the current (or current at the time of making) residents of the town. The weather eroded the top of the mountain and the people of the town did exactly the same thing – carried dirt, stone and grass to the top of the hill and made it a mountain again.

    • Yes, for those of us who are one of the ‘newcomers’ (meaning not First Nations or Native Americans) in North America, it is easy to lose our roots. I think this is often why we hang on to them so tenaciously.

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