J Ramsay Kilpatrick

J Ramsay Kilpatrick was born in Manselton, Swansea in 1929. After the untimely death of his mother in 1931 he moved to live with his grandmother, 'Ma', in Gerald Street in the Hafod. His early memories are of playing on the streets with his pals and roaming the tip, the playground of generations of Hafod children. Regular Saturday afternoon visits to the Bug (the Landore Cinema) and reluctant attendance at Hafod School were his world until the outbreak of the Second World War. 

He left Hafod School at the age of 14 in 1943 and began work as office boy in the 'QF', ICI's munitions factory where quick-firing shells were being made for the Navy. It was in QF that he began to learn about the world of work. Just as the Second World War drew to a close he began his apprenticeship as a fitter and turner in ICI Landore at the age of 16.

His grandmother died in 1947 and Ramsay left Landore in 1949 to finish his apprenticeship in ICI's Waunarlwydd works. He married Margaret in 1953 and they set up home in what had been Ma's house and Ramsay's childhood home. Ramsay and Margaret lived in Gerald Street until they moved to Dunvant in 1964.

Ramsay retired in 1992 after 48 service to ICI and Alcoa. In 1993 he suffered a debilitating stroke and moved to Brecon with his wife, Margaret. In February 2007 his daughter, Felicity, began recording memories of his early years. Ramsay died in August 2007 but Down the Memory Lanes of My Hafod remains a touching reminder of a lost world. 

Ramsay was from a family that had lived in the Hafod and worked in the copper industry for five generations. It was his dearest wish that people would remember there was once a thriving and innovative industry on the flat scrubland around the Liberty Stadium and on the banks of the Tawe. The area is being revived after years of dereliction but the landscape of Ramsay's memories has long gone.  The world he recalls has disappeared but he recalls the time as if it were yesterday.
Ramsay. 1936.
Ramsay and Margaret. 1953.
Ramsay. 1954.
Ramsay Kilpatrick. National Waterfron Museum Swansea. 2007.
J Ramsay Kilpatrick inspecting a tube plate at the National Waterfront Museum on a research visit to Swansea. February 2007.
Felicity Kilpatrick. Book signing in Waterstone's, Swansea. March 2009.
I have only recently unearthed the photograph. It was taken in the late 1980s but it reveals more of the world he describes than is immediately obvious. Like all the men in his family, my father was a craftsman who worked with his hands. Like his grandfather, his uncles and his cousins before him, he spent much of his life working in an industry that needed skills that few people, on this side of the millenium, can really understand. In our twenty first century lives we no longer value the craftsmanship and the technical ability that the manufacturing industry of earlier centuries demanded. Unless we understand the values of the workplace my father recalls, we can never understand what the industry meant to so many. The photograph has given me a window into the world my father's family inhabited because it reminds me of how my father, and no doubt his father and his grandfather, measured a man.

Dad scrubbed up well for an evening out and, with my mother's natural style and glamour, they made a handsome couple when they went dancing on a Saturday night. They would go with friends but would often meet others, perhaps new acquaintances with whom they would share a few drinks and a few dances before heading home. The next day my mother would chat about the people they had met - perhaps a businessman and his wife, a bank manager and his family, or perhaps a teacher or a lecturer with a group of friends. There'd be a few exchanges about where they lived, what they wore or how well they danced. But my father's final words were always the same: "But Marg, did you see his hands. He's never done a day's work in his life!"

And that's how Dad measured a man: by the lines of hard skin on the palms of his hands and the oil in the whorls of his fingertips. The men whose hands showed none of the scars of labour might deserve respect if they proved themselves. But he reserved his deepest respect for the men with whom he worked; men who learned their trade after leaving school at 14 or 15, and who proved their skills every day for the rest of their lives - and whose hands bore the marks of what my father thought of as real work. 
This is my favourite photograph of Dad because it is how I remember him. I never saw him like this after work; when I was a child, he had already washed and changed before coming home; by the time this photograph was taken, he was already an engineering foreman and his work was rather different. On Saturday afternoons, though, he would spend hours in his very own 'machine shop' - the garage attached to our house. He would emerge covered in grease from head to toe, smelling of oil and happy as a sandboy. I always imagine that he would have looked much the same in his workplace: grinning from ear to ear, sharing a joke with a pal as he turned a hunk of greased metal on his lathe.
Felicity Kilpatrick

After years of complete disinterest in her father's early life and Swansea's industrial past, in February 2007 Felicity Kilpatrick began recording and transcribing her father's memories of the Hafod and life as an apprentice in ICI Landore. She began researching the world her father was describing simply to check the facts he was recalling but gradually became enthralled by the era her father remembered. Her main contribution to Down the Memory Lanes of My Hafod is the Introduction to the Hafod and Morfa works, and her thorough research for the historical footnotes. Some of the family history she has so far uncovered is also included as a final chapter: The Burn Family in the Hafod.

Felicity lives in Brecon with her husband and three sons. Her research led her to the family's industrial heritage and Swansea's rich industrial past, and helped her to discover a place she had only ever known through her father's stories. She will always be thankful that she had the chance to find it.
My favourite photograph

The Measure of a Man by Felicity Kilpatrick
Ramsay in the 1980s. Like his father and his grandfather before him, he would measure the worth of a man by lines of hard skin on the palms of his hands and the oil in the whorls of his fingertips.
Answers to frequently asked questions:

Down the Memory Lanes of My Hafod

based on Felicity Kilpatrick's conversation with Stephen Ballinger
at the Christ College Literary Festival in October 2010.

In common with many men of his generation, Dad would never tell you his life story; instead, he would tell you his life in stories, meandering through anecdotes and leaving the listener to work out a ragged timeline of his life. He shared his stories with pals at work and told them to strangers in the pub. Their response, as Dad would report it later, always seemed to be ‘you should write a book, Rams’ and so the seed had been sown many times over well before we thought about writing down any of his stories.
Some of his stories, like the time he burnt his boots on Hafod Tip, I’d heard hundreds of times. Hearing that story was my earliest memory of my father and it was my favourite bedtime story for years. Stories of his childhood, though, seemed only to be special because they were stories my father told; they were family legends, family myths that didn’t seem to have any importance anyone else. My belief changed very quickly, though, with the unexpected realisation that he had more important stories to tell.
One of my sons had been studying the Second World War in school and he was coming up to the age of 14. We don’t think about it as a marker of any sort now but I’m sure the age of 14 is a time for reflection for men of my father’s generation as they watch their grandsons reach the age when they would be getting ready to leave school and enter the world of work. I’m pretty certain that those two events together – my son’s age and talk of the war - made Dad utter the following sentence: ‘See, the thing was, in 1933 they were measuring up and redesigning the old Upper Bank works. Some bright spark in Whitehall must have known what was coming and by 1939 QF was ready to go into full production. And, of course, because I was an office boy there, I knew that works like the back of my hand.’
This was a real surprise to me. I had always believed that Dad had worked in the aluminium industry for all 48 years of his working life. Now he was telling me he had worked elsewhere, though at that stage I had no real sense of where he had worked because nothing he’d said had any meaning for me: QF? Upper Bank works? Office boy? These were all new points of reference and they took me from the familiar Hafod landscape into a landscape I knew absolutely nothing about. What I discovered was that the Upper Bank works was one of three major copper works on the east bank of the Tawe. It was out of use by the 1930’s but before the war it was rebuilt as a fully functioning munitions factory producing quick-firing shells for the Navy. It turned out that Dad had indeed left school at 14 but had worked as an office boy in the munitions factory while waiting to take up his apprenticeship as a fitter and turner at ICI Landore at the age of 16.
When Dad had told me stories previously, I had always known the people and the places he was telling me about. This new story suddenly took me into unfamiliar territory and I had to ask questions. The more I found out, the more questions I had to ask, and the dam burst as he told me story after story of his early working life. I suppose that was the real driving force to write the words down: the realisation that he had a story to tell – and that he could give me – and others – a glimpse of a past that was so unfamiliar.
The original intention was simply to type it all up onto a few sheets of A4 and send it out to family and friends at Christmas. By the time we got to 25,000 words it was obvious that there was going to be more than a few pages of A4. That gave me the scope to add in the footnotes and references I had begun to research, and Dad and I chose the image for the cover. He never saw the book in print but he was very involved in the early planning and he loved telling everyone he met that he was writing a book. I suspect not everyone believed him so you can imagine the thrill it gives me when a copy catches my eye on the shelf in Swansea Library or when I sell a copy

Many of his stories were already well-crafted because he had told them so many times and these flowed easily. The less well-rehearsed stories often had a different emphasis when he told them but they took on a new life by the time he gave me more detail. A good example of this was the dream he had about the Landore Social Club. I arrived at his house one day and he greeted me with ‘You’ve done it now’. It turned out he’d had a dream, one of those that seem to live with you all day. He had dreamt that he was actually back in the club where he used to meet my mother, her girl-friends and his pals when he was a young man. He told me the dream was so real that he could even feel the brittle rubber on the table-tennis bat and smell the stale beer. He wanted to tell me what a terrible dream it had been. For me, though, my 78 year old father’s vivid dream of being 17 again was haunting in its poignancy and it is an emotional moment – one of very few – in the book.
More often his unrehearsed stories emerged over a few days. One example is the story he tells of being given some fireworks by one of his uncle’s pals. He wanted to tell me about the uncle’s pal and his motorbike accident but I was keen to draw out of him the experience of the fireworks. Over a couple of sessions, he gave me intermittent descriptions of his excitement but he also shared how much he hated fireworks after the war. Dad didn’t see these memories as stories but so many of them give us a hint of his world. The crucial thing was to listen to the undercurrent of the story, not just what he was telling me, and then re-hear the words in my head before writing them down.
The overall result is an uneven style, with descriptions of characters or specific events hung a bit like pearls on a fragile narrative thread. Quite a few people who didn’t know him have made contact with me to let me know how strongly Dad’s voice comes through in the book and that is really good to know. Perhaps even more gratifying is that men who had worked alongside him for more than forty years have said much the same thing; one man wrote to me to tell me that it was if Dad was standing right behind him as he was reading and it was really special to know that. I’m sure retaining the uneven style is what makes it possible for his voice to come through.

There were plenty of stories to capture, and Dad’s work mates have told me that there were lots more about Waunarlwydd too but we never got that far. He’d often say ‘you’ve squeezed it all out of me now’, meaning that I had dragged out all the stories he had to tell, but there always seemed to be another one or two to tell over a cup of tea. Richard Porch, a well known Swansea writer, played a really important part in this. I’d been put in touch with him by Bernice Cardy at Swansea Museum, and he would send me a photograph every now and then with a gentle note: ‘see what your Dad says about this’, or ‘ask him if he remembers this’. I’ll always be very grateful for his kindnesses because those photographs, together with other photographs I’d found on the internet, prompted a whole range of descriptions - especially of working practices. Dad and I went on a few site visits, not just to the works but also to the streets where he had spent his childhood, and they prompted a whole batch of new stories too. I have a picture in my head of sitting in the car with a picnic outside what had once been Sillman’s, the bakery in Odo Street. He described his grandmother dashing off for a refund when the cakes got burnt in his ovens, and we reflected at some length on the detailing in the chimneys of the houses there. It was at such moments that I felt strong links to the past, Dad’s past and mine.
I often tell people I included all Dad's stories but that’s not quite true. He told me a story about a gypsy and I didn’t put that in. Dad had a respect for the gypsy community but I wasn’t sure whether it would come over in the telling. Perhaps more importantly the story was mainly about a Land Rover engine, and I knew that would be taking technical detail a bit too far! The other story, though, was rather different. He told me a story about a girlfriend; she was the daughter of a coal trimmer and this was really important to Dad. To understand his story you have to understand what a coal trimmer did, and also understand the status of the job. When a ship was laden with coal for export the coal trimmers would go into the hold with long-handled wooden shovels and spread the coal evenly throughout the various sections of the hold. The job demanded a lot of manual dexterity, strength and expert knowledge. Coal trimmers were highly paid and Dad regarded it as a badge of honour to be going out with a coal trimmer’s daughter. One Saturday evening he met his father while out on the town - my Dad out with the coal trimmer’s daughter, his father out with his brother-in-law.  This how Dad told the story:

‘The next day I was called into the front room by my father so I knew it must be serious. ‘That was a pretty little girl I saw you with last night,’ he said. ‘What’s her name?’ I told him who she was and that her father was a coal trimmer on the docks, which meant he was earning big bucks. It was his job to trim the coal when they loaded it up onto the ships; it was his job to make sure the ship’s load was balanced right. They were paid on piece work – so much per load – so he could earn quite a bit of money when the ships were being loaded up at the quays.  ‘Now,’ my father said, ‘I’m going to give you three lessons: the first, and the main one, is you don’t ever raise your fist to a lady; the second is, look but don’t touch and the third is that a lady should be treated with respect and courtesy at all times.’ 

The emphasis for Dad was the reflected glory of going out with the daughter of a coal trimmer; at that stage in writing up Dad’s words I didn’t have the experience to change his emphasis. Reading it now, though, I can see the story quite differently: being called into the front room, the formality of the conversation and the ‘lessons’ he was given all add shading to his life as well to the times. I really regret not including it.
It was Dad’s choice to leave out one particular aspect entirely. He would tell plenty of stories about households where there were no wages coming in but he chose to leave out the poverty of the Hafod. Dad always regarded himself as a wealthy man and yet he lived alongside families who had to live on very little money indeed. The situation confused me for quite a long time until I found an explanation in an article written by Jack Jones, the Swansea artist who was also Dad’s second cousin. In it he explained that the regularity of the wage ‘from the ICI’ made all the difference; I came to realise that regular employment meant that Dad and his uncles always knew where the next penny was coming from. Not everyone had that luxury. Dad felt very strongly that stories of harsh poverty belonged to other people - ‘that’s their story to tell’ he’d say.
I’m confident we'd just about exhausted all his Hafod stories. I have to admit there was a period of a few days when I almost left out many of the works stories. I knew people would enjoy his childhood stories because they would seem familiar to them. Ironically - because they had been the initial impetus for collecting up his memories - I was much less confident with stories of working practices because there was so much detail in them; in fact, the minutiae were so technical that I couldn’t even  weed out what was relevant and what wasn’t. In the end I decided to leave everything in and make a point of not apologising that every word was retained. I’m really glad I made the decision because it turned out to be a particularly valuable part of the book; it’s a part of the men’s lives that is so little told and seems to resonate with people in a way that I could never have anticipated.  
The last few years have been truly magical; I am very conscious that I keep using that word but there isn’t a better one. I’ve had the privilege to be invited to speak to a wide variety of groups of people and through those experiences I’ve discovered the real value of Dad’s words. I have no illusions about what Dad and I wrote together: Down the Memory Lanes of My Hafod will never be classed as great literature but the vernacular style seems to help people value their own memories. And all those memories help people realise the worth - the treasure if you like – of their own stories. I’m learning that stories like Dad’s stories, and the stories of people I meet, give us a window into a world that is gone forever; they are our inheritance and that’s their true value.
All that remains of the Musgrave Engine House on the banks of the Tawe: on the site of a copper works that was once the largest in the world.
Ramsay. Hafod School. 1936.
Ramsay on a research visit to NWMS. February 2007.
Felicity Kilpatrick. April 7th. 2011.
"Fireworks were something we couldn’t normally afford and no one else I knew had ever been given their very own box. I lifted the yellow and blue lid to find tightly-coiled Catherine wheels and brightly-coloured rockets on stalks, all with little tails of thin blue touch paper. I couldn’t wait for it to get dark and, as soon as I was allowed to, I went out into the yard to pin a Catherine wheel to the wooden pole that held up the washing line and I put a rocket into a milk bottle. I lit the blue touch papers and watched in wonder as the Catherine wheel went spinning round in circles and the rocket went up and up over the rooftops. Before the first shower of sparks had fizzled out, the yard was filled with children from the street. “Gi’ us another rocket, Rams,” someone shouted. “Put up another cartwheel.” And I ran round the yard pinning up wheels and launching rockets until the box was nearly empty. I’d kept the Demon until last and I lit the touch paper as I held it in my hand. It went off much sooner than I expected. I threw the Demon to the floor in panic and the sparks sent us squealing and shrieking down the lane. This must have been before the war: there was no blackout and it was probably the only time I ever really enjoyed fireworks. I think I’m not the only one of my generation who will say that November 5th was never the same after the war, when the explosions and noises on Guy Fawkes’ night became reminders of more frightening times."

It seemed obvious that we should make some sort of vocal recording and, once we had agreed to record the stories, I took a Dictaphone with me when I went to see him one day. I stuck it under his nose and said, ‘Speak Dad!’ but he spoke very formally and slowly, as if he was trying to form his words very carefully. At first, he was very stilted and all his natural fluency was lost but he gradually got more used to it. We worked like this for about three or four sessions. I’d take home the Dictaphone each time and type up what he’d said. In many respects it didn’t work very successfully but playing and replaying the tape in order to type up the words meant I could pick up his speech rhythms and the patterns of his sentences. He would often start a story with ‘the thing was...’, for example, and he would frequently shape a sentence with carefully placed ‘though’ or ‘of course’. Later I found I could piece together a story from a few lines and then rebuild it by adding in some of his choice phrases; once the sentences were shaped I could leave out those phrases without altering the rhythm. That certainly put me in a better position when it came to reordering some of his stories.
The other feature of his speech was that he would tell the same story several times in succession. He’d had a very severe stroke in 1993 and one of the consequences was that he would tell a story once, the he’d tell it again and – almost before finishing the last sentence – he would tell the same story all over again. I should have been aware of this because in everyday life it sometimes drove me to distraction but it wasn’t until I heard the tapes that I realised how helpful this would be to the writing process. When I felt brave enough to abandon the Dictaphone, we worked much more freely: Dad would tell me a story and I would sketch out the main structure; as he retold the story I would add in the detail and I’d ask some questions; by the third retelling he would answer my questions and include even more detail. It was very much like creating a tapestry, sketching out the structure then adding texture and depth to certain parts. It meant each story was reworked several times but it also meant there was a natural editing process in place and that seemed to work well.

I began recording Dad’s memories on 14th February 2007 and he died on 31st August of the same year. It was quite a specific timeframe but he was drawing on a bank of personal memories that covered a period of about 30 years – from his early life to his move from the Hafod in the 1960’s. In each story he would tell me all sorts of new things about the works - a part of the works or the owners, for example - but his words didn’t have much meaning for me because I understood so little of the industry he was referring to. I found I had to do quite a bit of research to find the right context and very quickly I realised that this would be an important part of the book as well. There would be readers who, like me, knew Swansea well but who would need to understand the copper industry before they could understand Dad’s words.
I’m not an historian and that made a real difference in the writing I am sure. I couldn’t rely on studied context to help me fit Dad’s life into Swansea’s history. Instead I discovered a detail and worked out the context from there. I am sure that gave Dad’s words an immediacy that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible. Once we had decided to publish the book I knew I needed to check what Dad was saying. I had a responsibility to make sure that Dad didn’t look foolish but we both had a responsibility to the reader.

After that early experience I began to believe what Dad was telling me and my research became corroboration of the facts rather than verification – I no longer felt the need to check up on him! The research trail became a fascinating one as I pieced together Swansea’s copper history. Gradually I began to refer to primary sources as well as the secondary sources available and they gave more detail to the world he described. I’ll give you a good example of this: Dad had told me about the way the men in the casting shops had to drop their trousers if they were cascaded with hot metal droplets when a spark shower was caused by a wet mould. I found some recordings in West Glamorgan Archives of copper workers’ memories; it was an extraordinary moment when I heard another copper worker say exactly the same thing as Dad had said.
Gerald Street. Hafod.
White Rock Ferry. The Hafod works is on the left bank and the White Rock Works is on the opposite bank.
You have to remember that I had didn't know how reliable Dad was because I knew so little of the world he described. I took him at his word but, to start with, I often doubted whether he could remember events of more than 60 years earlier. Quite early on he referred to 'Clark the boat' and I have to say I found it hard to believe that he could remember the name of a man who had a boat on the Tawe. I was proved wrong when I found pages of memories on the Internet and a photograph of the White Rock Ferry with Mr Clark senior and Mr Clark junior. I realised at this point that any limitations on the information would be because of my ignorance rather than Dad’s memory.
Remembering a World That was: Christ College Literary Festival. October 2010.
In Spitalfields Life, 'gentle author' describes the hands of Brian Barrett, a foundry foreman, working in Spitalfields. It is a wonderful read: http://spitalfieldslife.com/2011/03/26/brian-barrett-foundry-foreman/