George Clifton Hughes (b.c. 1911): An Introduction

title memoir

Section on Hughes’s hometown in the Dundee Courier: Monday, January 31, 1944
Section on Hughes’s hometown in the Dundee Courier: Monday, January 31, 1944 –

My name is Rhys Williams, a third year English student at Liverpool John Moores University.  I have chosen the typewritten memoirs of George Clifton Hughes.  Hughes grew up in Rhosllanerchrugog in the early twentieth century, which at the time was the largest village in Wales with regards to population according to the newspaper article on the right of thise page. Rhosllanerchrugog is on the outskirts of the mining town of Wrexham and this was instantly appealing to me as I originate from the town of Wrexham and have always been interested in the history of my hometown.  His date of birth is not revealed but Hughes indicates that he gained a scholarship to go to Ruabon Grammar School in 1922. This would suggest that he was born around 1911 as the usual age to start at Grammar school was eleven.

Gresford Colliery in October, 1934 -
Gresford Colliery in October, 1934 –

Hughes’s main points of interest are his education, entertainment and leisure, World War One and the mining culture in Wrexham and the surrounding area. There is no mention of his own occupation but Hughes gives an in depth account of the importance of the coal mining culture in Wrexham.  Wrexham is engulfed in working-class history, as it was home to a number of mining collieries which were vital to North Wales as a whole.  These collieries included Gresford, Hafod, Bersham, Chirk and Ruabon.  Gresford colliery was the location for the tragic mining disaster on 22nd September 1934, where 266 men lost their lives following a number of explosions.  A memorial still stands as Wrexham’s inhabitants remember the incident as one of the most tragic events in the history of Wales.The work generated by the mines drove the local economy in the early twentieth century.  The village of Rhosllanerchrugog is famously a mining village, meaning it was a typically working-class environment.  Despite Hughes not disclosing his own employment, his knowledge on the ins and outs of the mining culture suggests to me that he or a member of his family may have been involved in the industry.

Hughes looks at the mining culture of the area and is very detailed with regards to earnings and lifestyle.  His work gives an interesting insight into a number of different occupations, including the local police force and the bus drivers.  This is important as we are able to make comparisons with different occupations and understand which of them gave Wrexham’s occupants social status.

The memoir shows that Rhosllanerchrugog was a close-knit village where the residents knew each other.  Despite Hughes looking at general working-class life, he makes the piece personal to himself and to the village.  The memoirs include the names of a number of local residents who have clearly been important figures in Hughes’ youth.  Hughes discusses how difficult it was for the men who worked at the local collieries with regards to the long hours of labour they faced.  However, he also gives a light hearted outlook on working-class life.

Shut the Mountain Gate is around 65,000 words and 141 pages.  It is an incredibly detailed account which mainly focuses on Hughes’s childhood and adolescent years.  Much of the memoir is concerned with education.   I have therefore separated his education into three sections.  Throughout his early education he spent the majority of his time misbehaving, planning playground activities and playing football with his friends.  This shows how important the social side of school was to his development through adolescence.  It is in in school where we all make our first relationships.  Both the negative and positive experiences on the playground are what help shape peoples characters.  In addition to his playground activites, we learn about his introduction to corporal punishment and the influence of Latin on Grammar Schools.

In the early twentieth century, there were significant developments in forms of leisure.  The emergence of television, cinema and the radio was important to the working-class as they provided new methods of escapism.  Hughes looks at leisure in great detail, including three sections titled ‘The Silents’, ‘The Adult Cinema’ and ‘The Theatre comes to Rhos’.  He also focuses on the emergence of automobiles and transportation, which became prominent in the early twentieth century.

Hughes was a huge football fan and his memoirs include his accounts of local football games during the early 1900’s, which contain football teams that still run today.  This was an important section to me as I currently play in the same football league that Hughes discusses.  His interest in local football is extremely exciting for me and I look forward to delving deeper into these sections.  As well as discussing local football, Hughes was present at the first ever FA cup final at Wembley in 1923 between Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United.  Wembley was first opened that year and is one of the most symbolic football stadiums in the history of the game.  The fact that Hughes was there and wrote about his experience at the first ever cup final is incredibly interesting.

Those who choose to read George Clifton Hughes’ memoirs will not be left disappointed.  His humorous outlooks on his schooling and his youth in general make for exciting reading.  While it is entertaining to read about his youthful misbehaviour, Hughes’ memoirs are also incredibly informative with regards to the First World War and the effects of labour on local men.  Those who are interested in the mining history of North Wales will find these memoirs extremely helpful.  However if you haven’t previously been interested in this topic, Hughes will be sure to raise your level of curiosity.


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