Chapter 5

Over the River Severn to Wales


At some point after the end of World War 2, along with his sister Lou and her husband Arthur Henry Smith, my grandfather, Ernest Arthur Albert Nixey made the move over the River Severn to Abertillery, a valley town in Monmouthshire, where Arthur and Ernest both worked in the coal mines. It was here in Abertillery that Ernest met Esther Annie Cooksey, known as Nance, who had moved to Abertillery to nurse her ill grandfather, George Cooksey. Nance had been born on 9th July 1901, the daughter of George Cooksey and Annie née Powell who were married by licence on 19th May 1891 at the Llanwenarth Baptist Chapel, Govilon, in the presence of William Tibbs, and Nance’s aunty, Mary A Wilson.

The village of Govilon is situated in the Usk Valley at the foot of the majestic Blorenge mountain, about three miles west of Abergavenny. The chapel is one of the oldest in Wales, the original chapel having been built in 1695. It was rebuilt in 1807, and has been renovated three times, in 1870, 1893, and most recently in the late twentieth century.

At some point following George Cooksey’s death in the Spring of 1920, Ernest and nance were both living in the Cooksey family home at 21 Upper Waun Street, Blaenavon. It was while living there that they were married on 21st April 1924 at the Llanwenarth Baptist Chapel, Govilon, in the presence of Nance’s brother-in-law and sister, Richard and Edith May Buck.

The Western Mail in its issue dated Thursday 18th November 1926 reported on an incident supposedly involving my grandfather, Ernest Nixey, under the heading “Protest By Bath Magistrate.–An Abertillery Man Acquitted”:

A case heard on Wednesday by the Bath City magistrates, involving a grave charge against an Abertillery man named Ernest Arthur Albert Nixey, who was eventually acquitted, was marked by a remarkable incident.
Nixey declared that at the time certain incidents occurred in the Royal Victoria Park he was in another part of the city. His wife and mother were in court to support his alibi.
When the former was called to give evidence, the mother was ordered out of court.
Alderman A. Wills, a prominent magistrate and ex-mayor, at once rose from his place on the magisterial bench and made an indignant protest. “The police,” he said, “have just ordered a witness out. They did not order their own witnesses out. I object strongly to that partiality and one-sidedness. Prisoner’s mother has been ordered out. It is not fair.”
When the Chairman announced the acquittal of Nixey, Alderman Wills said he quite agreed it was a very proper case for the park-keepers to have brought forward.

Ernest and Nance had 2 sons, my father Arthur Ernest in 1927, and Jack in 1929, both of whom were born in Abertillery.

Something my father had told me was that his grandfather, George Cooksey, along with his second wife, Sarah Matilda (latterly Hillier formerly Boycott), and their son, Reginald, had moved to Melbourne, Victoria, Australia when my father was several weeks old. I found the three of them recorded on passenger lists, but interestingly they appeared to have sailed from the UK twice the same year, the first time from London on 13th October, and the second time from Falmouth on the 31st October. Obviously this was quite confusing as it simply wouldn't have been possible to have made the two journeys within such a small space of time. The following article which appeared in the Kirkintilloch Herald, in its issue of Wednesday 2nd November 1927 gives a clear description of what went on from a fellow passenger on the same voyages. Unfortunately, the newspaper has two errors, the date should read 13th not 3rd, and the second ship’s name is Balranald not Balranold:

Thrice Through the Bay of Biscay
Kirkintilloch Woman’s Experience
Mrs. Helen Shields, formerly of Union Street, who sailed on 3rd October for Australia, to join her son there, has had an experience of voyaging that she is not likely soon to forget. She was a passenger on board the S.S. “Bendigo,” and they had just got through the Bay of Biscay when one of the ship’s propellers broke. The passengers were asleep in their cabins when the crash came, and were naturally greatly alarmed, especially as they were kept in ignorance of what had gone wrong. It was not till they had reached Las Palmas they were told that one propeller was gone and the other was damaged. From Las Palmas they were ordered back to Falmouth, and they were not far on their way when they encountered a storm, in which the crippled steamer behaved like a bird with a broken wing. The passengers got the tossing of their lives, and thought every minute that the ship was going to the bottom. This second crossing of the Bay of Biscay turned the ship into an hospital, nearly all on board being down with sea sickness for a matter of three days. It required three tugs to take the disabled steamer into Falmouth, as she was on her last legs and could not have gone any further. The passengers are being transferred to the “Balranold,” and they have the dread prospect of another crossing of the Bay of Biscay in its winter fury. Mrs. Shields is going to Kalanning, West Australia.

There’s a hand-written memo filed with the Bendigo passenger list, which reads:

SS “Bendigo”
Out Going Passengers List returned herewith BT 27/1169.
Note: The passengers shown on this list finally left the U.K. (Falmouth) by the S.S. “Balranald” – see list attached hereto. The “Bendigo” after leaving London was compelled to put back owing to a broken propeller.

Then, at the head of the SS “Balranald” passenger list, the following is typed:

All the passengers enumerated hereon originally embarked on board s.s. “Bendigo” in London on 13th October, 1927, and transferred from that steamer to s.s. “Balranald” at Falmouth on the return of the s.s. “Bendigo” partially disabled.

Interestingly, on the Passenger List for the “Balranald”, the date of sailing was originally stamped as 13th October, but had been crossed out, and overwritten with 31st October.

At the time of the 1939 Register, Ernest, Nance and the two boys were living at 44 Queen Street, Abertillery, Ernest’s occupation being recorded as “Colliery Timber Man (Below)”. Arthur and Lou Smith are found not that far away at 17 Darran Road, where Arthur’s occupation was recorded as “Colliery Rider Below Incapacitated”. Also at number 17 were Arthur’s parents, William and Elizabeth, William’s occupation being recorded as “Colliery Engine Driver Retired”, their dates of birth being given as 26th July 1860 and 8th July 1864 respectively. Also living with the Smith family was a young boy named John O Hayward who was born on 16th February 1933 in the Kingston area of Surrey. It's quite likely that John was an evacuee, because evacuation of children from the London area began EARLY in 1939, well in advance of the formal declaration of war. The Register shows many evacuees being displaced from their home towns, notably schoolteachers as well as children. Further research on the Hayward family actually shows that they were very closely related to the Smith family.

At the age of fourteen in July 1942, my father completed his schooling at the Abertillery County School, gaining three passes in English Language, French, and Physics, and three credits in Geography, Mathematics, and Chemistry. Several years later, he took three examinations in practical music with the London College of Music, which were held at the Central Methodist Church in Somerset Street, Abertillery, and were for “pianoforte playing”. Awards were given by the examiner based on the following five points: the position of the candidate’s hands on the keyboard; the touch; the fingering; expression; and correctness of notes, and attention to time, rests, etc. The first of these exams was at the intermediate level, and was taken on Friday 25th July 1947 at 11:20am. He was awarded a first class pass, having achieved a score of seventy-eight out of a possible one hundred. The second examination was taken on Thursday 1st April 1948 at 10:55am, and was at the advanced intermediate level. He did a little better in this examination, and achieved seventy-nine out of one hundred, which earned him another first class pass. His third examination was on Friday 29th April 1949 at 12:30pm, and was at the senior level. Once again, he was awarded a first class pass, having scored a total of seventy-six.


1939 Register:
Arthur Albert Ernest Nixey and Esther Annie née Cooksey, Abertillery, Monmouthshire: RG101/7434A/022/12.
Arthur Henry Smith and Caroline Fanny Louise née Nixey, Abertillery, Monmouthshire: RG101/7433F/024/41.

Unless otherwise stated, all newspaper articles can be found at the British Newspaper Archive.