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Authors: Catrin Collier

Beggars and Choosers

BOOK: Beggars and Choosers


Beggars and Choosers

ISBN 9781909840676

First published in Great Britain in 2003 by Orion

First published in paperback in Great Britain in 2004 by Orion

This edition published by Accent Press 2013

Copyright © Catrin Collier 2003

The right of Catrin Collier to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner.

All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Catrin Collier was born and brought up in Pontypridd. She lives in Swansea with her husband, three cats and whichever of her children choose to visit.
Beggars and Choosers
is the first novel in the highly acclaimed
Brothers & Lovers 

Works by Catrin Collier

Brothers & Lovers
Beggars and Choosers
Finders and Keepers
Sinners and Shadows
Winners and Losers
Tiger Bay Blues
Tiger Ragtime

Other series:
Hearts of Gold
Swansea Girls
Black-eyed Devils
– QuickReads)

One Last Summer
Magda's Daughter
The Long Road To Baghdad

As Katherine John:
Without Trace
Midnight Murders
Murder of a Dead Man
By Any Other Name
The Amber Knight
Black Daffodil
A Well Deserved Murder
Destruction of Evidence
The Corpse's Tale


For John, for thirty-eight years of unconditional love and for believing in me, even when I lost faith in myself.


I apologise in advance for the length of this acknowledgement but I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who helped me research this book and so generously gave of their time and expertise.

All the dedicated staff of Rhondda Cynon Taff's exceptional library service, especially Mrs Lindsay Morris for her ongoing help and support. Catherine Morgan, the archivist at Pontypridd and Nick Kelland, the archivist at Treorchy library, for not only guiding me through the records but also helping me to compile maps of Pontypridd and the Rhondda Valleys as they were in 1900.

The staff of Pontypridd Museum, Brian Davies, David Gwyer and Ann Cleary, for allowing me to dip into their extensive collection of old photographs and for doing such a wonderful job of preserving the history of Pontypridd.

Professor Dai Smith of the University of Glamorgan for sharing his knowledge of the Tonypandy Riots with me and his account of the riots in Wales, in the chapter, ‘A Place in South Wales' in the book,
Wales, A Question for History.

Deirdre Beddoe for her meticulously documented accounts of women's lives in Wales at the turn of the century.

The fascinating period photographs Gareth Williams has posted on his Internet site,
A Tribute to the Rhondda,
which also gives an in-depth account of the Tonypandy Riots.

D. J. Rees for his book
Pontypridd with Ynysybwl,
a compilation of old photographs of Pontypridd.

Don Powell for his book
Victorian Pontypridd.

Professor Norman Robbins, whose definitive history of pantomime,
Slapstick and Sausages,
gives an account of the 1894 pantomime
Babes in The Wood
featuring Baron Ystrad Rhondda, in which the robbers are sentenced to sit on Cardiff City Council for the rest of their lives.

Father Mark Rowles of SS
and Raphael Church, Tonypandy, for his help in detailing the exquisitely beautiful church as it might have been in 1910.

The people of Tonypandy and the Rhondda, who helped me and offered me so many cups of tea when I was walking around the streets trying to envisage Tonypandy as it was at the time of the riots. They have to be the friendliest, most hospitable people on the planet. Never once was I asked who I was, or what I was doing.

My husband John and our children Ralph, Ross, Sophie and Nick, and my parents Glyn and Gerda for their love, support and the time they gave me to write this book.

Margaret Bloomfield for her unstinting friendship and help in so many ways.

My agent, Ken Griffiths, for his professionalism, friendship and making my life so much more interesting than I ever thought it could be and his wife Marguerite for her hospitality and warm friendship.

And all the booksellers and readers who make writing such a privileged occupation. And while I wish to acknowledge all the assistance I received, I wish to state that any errors in
Beggars and Choosers
are entirely mine.

Catrin Collier, February 2003


I hope I have not caused any confusion or offence in allowing my characters to occupy actual houses that existed in Pontypridd in the early twentieth century.

The Williams family owned Danygraig House in Taff Street for several generations, it was demolished in 1910 and the present YMCA, among other buildings, erected on the site.

Gwilym James is based on the Gwilym Evans' Department Store. In the early 1900s the site of the store in Market Street was occupied by a general warehouse, which sold clothing and household goods to the public.

Ynysangharad House and estate were bought by public subscription and donations from the Miners' Unions funds in the early 1920s. The land was laid out as a public park and named the Ynysangharad Memorial Park, as a tribute to the men from the area who lost their lives in the First World War.

Ynysangharad House was used as an NHS clinic until it was demolished, like so many other fine old buildings in Pontypridd, in the 1960s.

The Horse and Groom was demolished in the 1960s, the New Inn in 1981, Pontypridd Police Station in Gelliwastad Road during recent years. Mill Street is no longer the main road to the Rhondda but a cul-de-sac. The cottages and shops I housed Owen Bull and his butcher's shop in were demolished and others built on the site between 1910-1912.

Penuel Chapel and its burial ground were situated behind

the fountain in Taff Street. The chapel was razed to the ground in 1967 and the burial ground excavated. The remains of those buried there were transferred to Glyntaff cemetery with the exception of James James. His remains and later Evan James's were interred beneath the bronze memorial in Pontypridd Park, to the father and son who wrote the Welsh national anthem,
Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau –
Land of My Fathers.

In the mid-1890s a farmer in Llanerchymerdd, Anglesey, remarried after the death of his first wife. His bride refused to allow the children of his first marriage to continue to live on his farm, so sixteen-year-old Ruth Jones and her two brothers, thirteen-year-old Owain Glyndwr Jones and twelve-year-old Harry Glyndwr Jones walked from North Wales to the Rhondda Valleys in search of work. They settled in Tonypandy where Ruth went into domestic service and her brothers became boy colliers. Harry Glyndwr Jones was my grandfather and although I only met him twice, I am proud to be descended from a miner who took an active part in both the 1910 and 1926 strikes.

Chapter One

A tinsel and candle bedecked Christmas tree soared upwards from the ground floor stairwell to the balcony in the foyer of the Empire Hall theatre. Beneath it stood a trestle table covered with a red tablecloth. Sali Watkin Jones, her two brothers, sister and the family's housekeeper, Mari Williams, were busy arranging pyramids of paper cornets containing boiled sweets on it when the door banged open and Mansel James strode in, followed by a train of errand boys carrying large cardboard boxes.

Mansel returned Sali's smile and directed the boys to set the boxes down on to an empty table next to the theatre's closed box office. He lifted his hat and inclined his head. ‘Miss Watkin Jones, Master Geraint, Master Gareth, Miss Llinos, Mrs Williams, compliments of the season to you all.'

‘And to you, Mr James.'

Sali's formal greeting contrasted oddly with that of her two younger brothers who ran to Mansel and proceeded to ‘pretend' box with him. One of Gareth's punches flew wide and hit Mansel on the chin.

‘I yield. I've taught you too well,' Mansel pleaded, adopting a pained expression as he rubbed his jaw. He opened one of the boxes in an attempt to distract the boys. ‘I promised I'd check the contents, but only because I knew I could trust you two to do it for me. There should be eight hundred assorted sixpenny toys, for the knockdown price of fifteen pounds, as negotiated by your father with Mr Hopkins.'

‘You want us to count them all?' Gareth gasped, horrified by the prospect.

‘Only if you're up to it,' Mansel replied gravely.

Geraint, who knew Mansel's ploys well, untied the string on a second box. ‘Bet I finish before you, Gareth.'

‘Bet you don't.'

Mansel crossed to where Sali was standing. ‘I am not the only businessman in town to complain that your father spoils his workers and their children at this time of year to the detriment of every other employer in Pontypridd. I don't think he realises that our staff expect, no,
the same generous treatment.'

‘Father says that Christmas only comes once a year.' Sali set the last cornet from her box on the table. ‘I assumed Mr Hopkins would deliver the toys.'

‘He was busy so I volunteered.'

‘The owner of a toy shop was busier than the owner of a department store two days before Christmas?'

‘Would it make you happier if I admitted that I bribed him into allowing me to make the delivery because I wanted to see you?' he flirted outrageously.

Disregarding Mari's knowing smile, Sali inspected the toys her brothers were counting. ‘Mr Hopkins really did send us an assortment this year,' she commented, eyeing the array of tin mechanical toys, spinning tops, bags of marbles, card games, jigsaws, doll's tea sets, boats, miniature rag dolls, teddy bears, scrapbooks complete with envelopes of coloured scraps, and, for the older girls who had been press-ganged into helping with the babies, wooden brush and comb sets. A gale of high-pitched laughter echoed from the auditorium.

‘It sounds as though your father's colliers' children are having a good time. But then so they should with buns and pop supplied courtesy of the management, free admission to
Babes in the Wood
and ...?' Mansel sat on the edge of the table and looked quizzically at the paper cones Mari was still arranging.

‘Boiled sweets,' Geraint explained, muttering numbers under his breath as he foraged in his toy box.

‘I dread to think what this lot is costing your father and that's without the free chickens he handed out to every worker for their Christmas dinner and the party he hosted for his colliers in the Horse and Groom last night. I heard they drank the pub dry.'

‘I didn't realise you were an admirer of Scrooge's philosophy before the ghosts of Christmas converted him,' Sali mocked.

‘Father said the colliery has had a good year and it's only fair he share his profits with the workers who made it possible.' Geraint repeated his father's standard explanation for his generosity. ‘Hear that booing? The evil robbers have been caught by Robin Hood and Maid Marion, the Babes rescued and Baron Ystrad Rhondda has promised to take everyone to Ilfracombe on holiday to celebrate.'

‘You've seen the pantomime?' Mansel directed his question at Geraint, but he was still staring at Sali.

‘Father booked a box the night Gareth and I came home from school and Llinos came with us.'

‘Not you?' Mansel asked Sali.

‘I'm too old for pantomimes.'

‘No one is too old for pantomimes. I'll book us a box.'

‘When?' she enquired. ‘My father's Christmas ball is this evening, our family Christmas Eve dinner with all the aunts and uncle tomorrow, and we could hardly go on Christmas Day, even if the theatre was open, which it isn't.'

‘Then I'll book it for Boxing Day.'

‘You're hosting Aunt Edyth's party, remember?'

‘So I am.' He dismissed it carelessly. ‘We'll have to make it Wednesday night.'

‘I've accepted an invitation to Harriet Hopkins's party.'

‘So have I, but we don't have to go.'

‘And what would it look like to the rest of Pontypridd if you and I sneak off by ourselves?'

‘Like we find Harriet Hopkins boring.' Mansel made a face. ‘She's a nagging busybody. The last time I saw her, all she could talk about was her precious Bible Circle and the desperate need for young men to volunteer their services to lead the boys' discussion groups.'

‘A very worthwhile cause.' Sali had difficulty keeping a straight face.

‘Miss Llinos, you and your brothers would like to see the pantomime again, wouldn't you?' Mansel called out.

‘They would not,' Sali answered for them.

‘You really intend to go to Harriet Hopkins's tedious party? And it will be tedious. There'll be parlour games of the spin the plate variety,' he lowered his voice to a whisper, ‘and no postman's knock. And she'll sing. Something ghastly and Victorian like “Come into the Garden, Maud.”'

‘It would be ill-mannered not to turn up after accepting her invitation.' Mansel's prediction was likely to be accurate, given Harriet's previous efforts, but Sali refused to join in his criticisms.

‘Then I'll go with you, but only on condition you promise not to leave my side all evening.' Mansel's words were swallowed by a deafening burst of music.

‘This bit is funny.' Geraint pushed open the door to the back of the stalls and he, Llinos and Gareth crept inside the darkened auditorium. Mansel felt for Sali's hand under cover of her skirt, and pulled her after them.

Two robbers in clown make-up, black-and-white striped jerseys and red baggy tights were sitting, tied back to back, in front of the closed curtain. Maid Marion was standing centre stage in a glittering gown of Lincoln green hung with spangles. Sali blushed as a well-endowed female Robin Hood stepped up alongside her, in a pair of knickerbockers that skimmed the top of her thighs, revealing what seemed like yards of leg.

‘I sentence you robbers to a fate worse than death.' Maid Marion's clear young voice rang out above the heads of the hushed audience. ‘You will sit on Cardiff City Council for life.'

‘Grand Finale is next,' Geraint whispered in Sali's ear, as laughter rent the air. ‘We'd better go back and help Mari prepare for the attack.'

‘For me?' the small girl asked Sali in wonder.

‘For you.' Sali handed her a rag doll dressed in a sailor's outfit. ‘Don't forget to go along to that lady and gentleman to get your sweets.' She indicated Mari and Geraint.

‘Thank you, Miss Watkin Jones.' The child, who was dressed in a dark frock and white, ruffled pinafore, clutched the doll, curtsied and moved to the table Mari was manning.

‘I thought that queue was never going to disappear.' Mansel peered into the box. ‘How many toys do you have left?'

‘About fifty, which Father expected.' Sali closed the box. ‘The coachman will take them to the orphanage along with some other things tomorrow.'

‘So you're finished here?' Mansel smiled hopefully.

‘Miss Sali, the coach has arrived and you only have two hours to dress before the ball.' Mari boxed the remaining sweets.

‘You haven't even five minutes to spare?' Mansel helped Sali close the toy box.

‘Apparently not.'

‘Keep all your dances for me tonight?'

‘No,' Sali retorted.

‘I only want to make the other boys jealous.'

‘At the cost of my reputation.'

‘All the waltzes?' he pleaded.

‘Maybe,' she murmured softly, as Mari called her a second time.

‘This dress is nothing but hooks.' Mari tore a fingernail as she fastened the cotton underbodice of Sali's evening dress. ‘Breathe in and stand still.'

‘I'm trying.' Sali gripped the cheval mirror to steady herself, as the housekeeper heaved the boned back over her spine. She held herself, tense and rigidly upright, lest she lost her balance and accidentally stepped on the ruffled lace skirt of the dress that lay heaped on a sheet around her feet.

‘At last.' Mari fastened the last hook and lifted the skirt carefully to Sali's waist before hooking it on to the bodice and handing Sali the silk cord that held the long train. ‘This is beautifully worked lace. You are going to be the belle of the ball.' Mari lifted the cream satin and lace bodice from the bed, slipped it over Sali's arms, hooked the back and pulled it down to cover the waistband. She frothed out the layers of lace on the sleeves, low-cut décolletage and the hem, finally smoothing the lines of fine gold baby ribbon threaded through the lace borders. ‘Definitely the belle of the ball,' she muttered, as much to herself as to Sali and her younger sister Llinos, who was sitting on the bed playing with Sali's ivory and lace fan.

‘You say that before every party, Mari, but there are far prettier girls than me in Pontypridd.' Sali studied her reflection critically in the mirror. She held no illusions about her appearance, but she was not displeased with what she saw. A slender young girl of middle height with an abundance of rich, chestnut hair pinned in an elaborate style, a small, neat nose, large grey-green eyes and a determined chin. She smiled and a dimple appeared at the corner of her mouth.

‘Gloves,' Llinos reminded, handing Mari a pair of cream satin, elbow-length evening gloves.

Sali held out her arms and Mari rolled them over her fingers, wrists and arms.

‘Jewels.' Llinos opened the white satin-lined case and picked out the heirloom sapphire and diamond hairpin, bracelets, necklace and ring that had belonged to their grandmother.

‘Miss Harriet's maid told me that Miss Harriet wears six hairpieces to pad out her evening hairstyles. I told her straight, my Miss Sali's hair is that thick and long, she doesn't need to wear a single one.' Mari pinned the diamond hairpin to the side of the elaborate bouffant hairstyle she had taken over an hour to create. ‘Look at that, perfect.'

‘You don't think it's too elaborate for a family ball?' Sali asked anxiously, turning her head.

‘Not for tonight.' Mari fastened the twin bracelets over Sali's gloved wrists, fastened the necklace around her throat and slipped on the ring.

‘Scent?' Llinos unscrewed the silver cap of the blue and silver glass bottle that held Sali's favourite essence of violets.

‘What would I do without you, muffin?' Sali took the bottle.

‘Let me, or you'll stain your gloves, or even worse your dress.' Mari intercepted the bottle, removed the rubber stopper and upended the bottle on her forefinger. Dabbing carefully she applied scent to the back of Sali's neck, behind her ears and sprinkled a few drops on her hair. ‘Where's your hanky? We can risk staining that.'

Sali handed over a scrap of silk and lace.

Mari placed a dab, then screwed the cap back on the bottle and set it on the dressing table.

‘Grandma's fan.' Llinos flicked it together and Sali smiled as she took it.

‘Well, you're as ready as I can make you. And if I do say it myself, you won't disgrace your father when you stand next to him in the receiving line,' Mari announced.

‘I don't see why I can't stand in the line,' Llinos grumbled. ‘Geraint is, and he's only four years older than me.'

‘And when you're four years older, Miss Llinos, you'll be able to stand in the line too,' Mari said ruthlessly in an attempt to stamp out Llinos's envy before it became any more apparent.

‘And by then I'll be an old withered spinster.' Sali hooked up her train and tried a twirling dance step.

‘That, I doubt,' Mari countered.

‘Here's your card.' Llinos glanced at it before giving it to Sali. ‘Aren't you terrified that no one will ask you to dance? If I have a single line left free at my first ball, I'll die of shame.'

‘Then it's just as well that you're not going to the ball, Miss Llinos, because no girl is engaged for every single dance at a ball. Except perhaps your sister tonight,' Mari amended. ‘Looking the way she does I wouldn't be surprised to see the men queuing up as soon as they come through the door.'

‘That's nonsense, Mari, and you know it.'

‘I know no such thing.' Mari combed the hair from Sali's brush, curled it round her finger and placed it in the hair tidy. ‘Right, now you're finished, I'll go along and see if I can help Alice with your mother.'

‘Do you think you'll be able to persuade her to come downstairs?' Sali asked.

‘I'll do my best.' Mari pursed her lips disapprovingly. Gwyneth Watkin Jones's ‘delicacy' was famed from one end of Pontypridd to the other and the ‘good days' since the birth of her youngest son Gareth ten years before, had been marked by the occasions when she had relinquished the day bed in her boudoir, for the drawing-room sofa. ‘You run along, Miss Sali, you don't want to be too late to greet your father's guests.'

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