George Clifton Hughes, raised in the mining village of Rhosllanerchrugog, tells of many recreational activities which he took part in as a child. The reader is constantly reminded throughout his memoirs of his love for the beautiful game of football. As well as playing the game both with his friends and for a local team, Hughes also describes his trip to Wembley stadium for the first ever FA Cup final in 1923. Even in his early years, football was on his mind. In the section titled, ‘Ruabon Grammar School’, Hughes describes how he and the other pupils would play football every dinner time. ‘Of course every boy has to have his own football boots and we were to play every dinner hour on the Top Field and we would all be in sets. (47) This is the reader’s first introduction to Hughes’s main hobby. Later in the memoirs Hughes delves deeper into his love for the game as we are introduced to the popularity of local football in the Wrexham area.
Hobbies were incredibly important to the working-class society at that time, as it was something to look forward to; something that would distance people from the repetitive nature of their jobs. In this case, football was something for Hughes to look forward to after going to school. The detail Hughes gives when talking about football is interesting as it is clear that he feels passionate about the game; and he carries this passion through from his youth into adulthood.
‘…Rhos did have one or two right ones up for the pre season trial matches. Remember that one from Chirk; as good as Billy Meredith the famous Manchester United winger, they said he was. Missed an open goal with a header yards over the bar, he did, and then at half time blamed his football boots and not the size of his head, or his timing.’ (80)
As well as local football, Hughes had the opportunity to travel further afield to enjoy the beautiful game. In the section titled ‘The First Wembley Cup Final of 1923’, Hughes tells of this incredibly momentous day for him personally and the world of football. Wembley Stadium is laden with history and to this day is one of the most famous arenas in the world. The game on the 30th April 1923 was particularly famous as it was the first ever cup final in the stadium’s history. Not only this, but it is remembered for an incredible turnout of supporters which led to thousands spilling onto the pitch and having to be restrained by the police.
This was a huge day for Hughes personally as he was thirteen years old and visiting the most famous football arena in the country with a group of locals Rhos residents. It is an interesting section as we are able to see how the local community felt about such an event. Trips like these were incredibly rare for the working-class society, as London was such a distance from Wrexham. Therefore, when the group left in a coach, the local community gathered on the streets to wave them goodbye. This shows how close-knit the local community of Rhos was.
The day itself is incredibly famous; therefore to get the perspective of a spectator is amazing. ‘It had been estimated that there were 120,000 on the ground that day. A section spilled on to the field and they were drafted back by the police, ably helped by a policeman, mounted on a superb white horse, proving marvellously effective. Many sports writers have commented on the initial overcrowding of the ground, whose maximum capacity was limited to 90,000 immediately afterwards.’ (92) The match itself included Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United, which was also interesting as Bolton Wanderers have a working-class history as they were founded by a Vicar and a Schoolmaster in 1874.
At this time, there was a noticeable increase in local entertainment which was another way for working-class people to escape from their day to day lives. The section ‘The Adult Cinema’, Hughes looks at how he and his friends would often go to the local pavilion to watch the latest films. ‘We now selected our films with more care. We were beginning to feel that the romances of the screen were adult in concept and had a modicum of appeal. The hall and the pavilion’s nightly shows commenced at 8 and finished at 9.45 unless there was a special 7 part film attraction.’ (116) More importantly, Hughes focuses on the prices of visiting the pavilion in Rhos in comparison to the cinema in Wrexham. ‘Things were moving on in the world, especially the prices of admission to the cinema. The lowest seats were fourpence, the middle ones sixpence and the elite circle at the very back or in the gallery eightpence. Down in Wrexham the prices at the Glynn Cinema near the market and at the Majestic at the corner of Regent Street were sixpence and ninepence.’ (116) This is important as we discover how accessible the cinema was to working-class citizens. However, Hughes acknowledges how society may even be separated by class with regards to recreational activities. ‘The people of Wrexham seemed to be happy enough to be segregated into two bands of society while in Rhos we had our more defined areas of stratification. Nevertheless it constituted some snob value to pop down to town to either cinema.’ (116) It would seem that the working-class village of Rhos were happy to be separated from the other classes who gathered in the town of Wrexham. This is also typical of this era as the working-class people would live in the country side where capital was gained through manual labour; while the centre of the town belonged to the higher classes of society.
Hughes also attended Cadet Camp in Criccieth which, similar to the scouts, was an important part of children’s lives in the early twentieth century. It is interesting how Hughes describes his experiences in a post-war camp. ‘I suspect that due to the prevailing climate after the Great War and international thinking which brought about the establishment [of] the League of Nations, enthusiasm among the public for anything savouring of the military was out of fashion. For this reason the military aspects of the camp were not prosecuted with the same vigour as when survival depended on the successful outcome of the war.’ (95) Following the war, it is clear that these camps were more about bringing children together and teaching them practical skills, minus the military mentality. As opposed to early military training, the camps would instead look to shape the children into smart, practical men.
Another form of recreation for the community was to visit the local chapels and pubs. ‘Our light do-it-yourself entertainment centred largely around the extra mural activities of the churches and chapels. In our village there must have been an equal number of chapels and pubs, about seventeen of each.’ (7) The pub was a popular place for the working-classes to relax following a long week of labour. It is clear by the sheer volume of pubs in the village that it was an important part of life. The churches were also integral to working-class life as faith was incredibly prominent in these types of villages. Hughes does not mention religion in his memoirs from a personal point of view; however it would appear that he realised the importance of religion to his local community.
These experiences helped to shape Hughes as a man and contributed to building his character with regards to his opinions and beliefs. For example, Cadet Camp played a substantial role in helping children’s transition into adulthood; and it seems to have contributed to Hughes’s own life. Travelling to London without his parents as a thirteen year old boy was a big deal to the family; however he conducted himself maturely and enjoyed the day. His maturity shows how the people who are mentioned in his memoirs, such as his teachers, deserve the credit that he gives them.