Anwyn Moyle was born in 1920 in a small mining village in Wales. As a girl, she went to chapel every Sunday with the rest of the village, which was a dirty place from the coal residue. Her father fought in the Great War and was gassed – he was never able to work after that and her mother had to do wet-nursing and take in washing, while the children scavenged for coal and did anything else they could to make some money.
Anwyn and her family lived in a two-up-two-down terraced house with an outside toilet. The back garden of the little house was 60ft long and they grew vegetables and herbs for healing and a type of coarse tobacco for smoking. When electricity came to the valley in 1926 – the power company thought nobody was using it because, when they came to read the meters, people in the first terraced house would bang on the wall of the second house and so on and they’d pull out the illegal wires they were using to get the electricity but bypass the meters.
She went fruit and berry picking in summer – her mother would make pies out of what she gathered or “scrumped” from orchards. The kids also had to clean up after the sheep that came down into the village from the mountains at night – the sheep shit everywhere and pulled rubbish out of bins, etc.. When she was 13, Anwyn got a Saturday job in a ladies hatshop, but had to walk six miles there and back for a thruppence in wages.
She went to London a year later, where she got a live-in job as a downstairs scullery maid – she worked from 5am to 8pm and had to be up first to clean the grates and light the fires, then scrub floors and polish – all for 2 shillings a week, one of which she had to send home to her mother. After being in London for about a year, she applied for a job as a ladies maid. She got the job, and a wage of half-a-crown a week, by lying about her experience (her limited experience in the ladies hatshop helped). She had to send 1s-6d home to her mother which still left her only a shilling a week to live on, but the work was a lot easier. She had a liaison with the owner of the house and got sacked by his wife.
She went back to Wales and got a job in Cardiff as a live-in maid and started going out with a boy who was nice and good-looking and fun. It was 1936. But she’d learned to be independent and didn’t like the parochial attitude of the Welsh boys, so she went back to London again. She got a job as a barmaid and everything was good for a while – she liked the work and the customers and got on well with everybody. It was 1937 now and she was 17.
But it didn’t last – she was injured by broken glass after a fight between dockers and fascists. She was rushed to hospital, but she couldn’t walk properly. She found herself with no job and nowhere to live and went back to Wales. She stayed in Wales until her foot. There was no work about, so she had to apply for another skivvying job, which was back to square one, cleaning grates and scrubbing floors.
Anwyn went back as a barmaid in a pub that had connections to the criminal Ikey Solomon, who was the inspiration for Fagin in Dickens’ Oliver Twist. She was able to go out dancing and enjoying herself, even though there was talk of war – but she didn’t care about that, she was 18 and life was good. A man called Adam Lane used to frequent the pub – he was 10 years older than Anwyn, but was very sophisticated and he beguiled her with words. He asked her to go out with him and she accepted. Anwyn was flattered he wanted to spend time with her and they started seeing each other regularly. In 1940, just before her 20th birthday, Adam told her he was going to be called up for service in the army. He wanted to have sex with her because there was a good chance he would be killed. What she didn’t know was, Adam was exempt from service because his well-to-do family paid for a doctor to say he had flat feet.
Anwyn got pregnant and Adam married her against his will. They went to live with his snooty family who hated her and called her the “Welsh Whore” for “trapping” their boy. Adam turned resentful – he was extremely jealous and stingy with money. She had no idea where the baby would come from and thought her belly would open up and it would “pop out” – her “old bat” of a mother-in-law said “it’ll come out the way it went in”. She was horrified and thought that couldn’t possibly be right. When Anwyn did have the baby, she wasn’t allowed to even touch her own child – the baby was removed by Adam’s mother.
Anwyn ran away to Wales with her baby, but Adam came after her with a solicitor. When Anwyn came back to London, she and Adam moved into a flat near Hampstead, but life with him was unpredictable – she never knew when he’d have a brain storm and attack her, or when he’d creep up behind her and try to strangle her. But she was well able for him physically (but not psychologically) and they’d both be screaming and the neighbours would rush in and he’d say he didn’t know why he did it. Anwyn fell pregnant again. This time the pregnancy was very hard, living on the top floor with a small child and the summer and the war. Adam was no help, he was a gambler and spent most of the money he earned on horses and in casinos.
Anwyn fell pregnant again in 1948 – she went out doing cleaning jobs to feed her children, as Adam wasn’t giving her any money. Anwyn had had enough of Adam and she left him on more than one occasion, but he always came after her and promised her he’d change, just to get her back. He died in 1973 and Anwyn was finally free of him at the age of 53. The children were grown and she could start living a life of her own – and she did!
These are just some of the highs and lows of Anwyn Moyles’ life – there is much, much more!
Anwyn’s story is not a mis-mem – it’s full of gregariousness and hilarity and eccentricity, as well as being a poignant account of the hardships endured by a woman with an indomitable spirit and love of life. It’s a story that contains every aspect of nostalgia from 1920 to 1990 – life in the valleys of Wales – the upstairs/downstairs life of a scullery maid – the duties of a ladies maid – the pub-life in London in the years between the wars. The wars themselves are touched on, but this is not a war memoir, it’s the story of a time gone by and one woman’s determination to be herself, despite the odds against her.