George Clifton Hughes was born and raised in a village named Rhosllanerchrugog near the town of Wrexham in North East Wales. Rhosllanerchrugog (or simply Rhos) was the largest village in Wales in the early twentieth century, with a population of around 11,000 people. The focus of Hughes’s writing is mainly in the area of Ponciau, or Ponkey, which is a small village between Rhos and Ruabon. This is where Hughes attended both Infant and Junior school.
Hughes does not disclose his date of birth; however he does reveal how he gained a scholarship into Ruabon Grammar School in 1922. This is key information regarding his life, as the usual age for gaining a scholarship was eleven, which suggests that he was born in 1911.
Hughes’ memoirs are separated into sub headings, which have been put in order in accordance to the timescale. The titles to each section are an indication as to what Hughes is looking to bring to the reader’s attention, and they seem to deal with key sections of the twentieth century from his perspective. From this point of view, it would suggest that he may have been looking to get his work published for people wanting information on some of the most difficult times in history from the perspective of a working class man.
This blog will look at Hughes’ purpose behind his memoirs and who he was writing for. It is difficult to decipher whether Hughes wanted his work to be published or not. Hughes may have simply been looking to give his own adaptation of the early twentieth century to his family to look back on, or perhaps the surrounding area. However, there are examples within his memoirs which show how he may have hoped that his work would be read further afield than Wrexham.
The memoirs were written in the latter stages of his life, having moved from Wrexham to Bristol. We are not given any indication as to when Hughes passed away; however in the section titled ‘What’s in a name? – Sarah Clifton’, Hughes says ‘Some four years ago (1972).’(32) This is important as we learn that Hughes had written the memoirs in 1976, meaning that he would be around 65 years old when he wrote his memoirs. Having moved to Bristol, this would have been an ideal chance for Hughes to reflect on his life and perhaps share his experiences with the family he may soon be leaving behind.
The village of Rhos embraced the Welsh language and it was being spoken in the local community. During his memoirs, when he refers to the Welsh language, Hughes attempts to explain the language to those who may not understand. He translates Welsh words for his reader such as, ‘Mynydd Seion (Mount Sion)’ (22A) and ‘Capel Bychan (Small Chapel)’ (22A). This would therefore suggest that he had written for an English-speaking audience and sought to make his memoirs meaningful to readers outside his own community in North Wales. This may have been influenced by the fact that he had written his memoirs in Bristol, meaning that he had to make his work accessible to the local, English-speaking community.
A large number of the sections within Hughes’ memoirs look at significant times in British and even global history. As early as page 3, Hughes looks at the First World War and its effect on his community. The war had an effect on people all over the world; therefore by looking at his own experiences of such a general subject, he opens his memoirs up to a much larger audience.
‘It must have been in the opening phase of the 1914-1918 War that the village was shocked by news of its first fatality. A ‘wire’ had been received that [a neighbours son] Charlie Kemp, had been killed in action.’ (3)
This looks at the heartache which the war had caused to so many communities, but also how quickly the seriousness of the situation had dawned on so many.
‘Charlie had been one of the many volunteers, some under age, who had ‘joined’ immediately after the declaration of war. They were going in to do their bit and the war would be over by Christmas.’(3)
As previously mentioned, the war affected so many across the world, which means that many are able to empathise with this situation. It is well documented that the men who went out to fight, as well as everyone else at that time, did not believe that the war would escalate into what it eventually became. The soldiers did not expect to be away from home for so long, and the idea of not returning home at all had not crossed many people’s minds. This of course relates to thousands of people across the country. However, by Hughes personalising this situation, he manages to show how the war affected Rhos directly as well as the rest of the population. This would therefore suggest that, yes, he may have intended for his audience to be anyone who was affected by the war themselves, or anyone who wanted to learn about the effects of the war; but he is also looking to make this piece personal to Rhos and to his local area. Therefore, with regards to whether Hughes had intended for his memoirs to be published, I would say that he did.
Hughes clearly felt that his message and story is of use to people who perhaps wanted to learn more about the local area but also hear more personal tales of difficult times, such as the First World War and the mining culture. The war and the mining era were a part of thousands of people’s lives; however as opposed to hearing about the effect on the main cities of the world, it is sometimes more interesting to hear of what kind of effects the war had on small, working-class villages and towns.
Comes from the Dundee Courier in the British Newspaper Archive – www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk