Cassie Owen Interview Summary

In 1984 J K Randolph Ellis interviewed Cassie at Garregglwyd Home for the Elderly in Holyhead when she was 84 and has written a summary of the recordings he made.   

Summary of Recording:

Tape 1

Cassie Owen is now in her 80s and has spent all her life since the age of 17 in workhouses and institutions in Anglesey, being classed as ‘feeble minded’. She was an illegitimate child whose mother died when she was four. She was looked after by her grandmother and brought up in Amlwch on a farm. She talks about her life on the farm, how she helped with the cows and butter making. At 16 she was sent into service at Llanfairfechan but her employers weren’t satisfied and she returned home. She was then sent to Stockport but the job only lasted four months. Again her work was unsatisfactory and she couldn’t understand her English employers. On her return to Amlwch her grandmother sent her to Llanerchymedd workhouse. She was happy there, the nurses (as she calls them) were kind and she used to dance with them. She describes the other inmates, how the men and women had separate quarters and how she used to clean, wash up, make the beds and so on. The master and matron, Mr and Mrs Waterson, and their children were very kind. They were given a gramophone. The men used to tend the garden. They had to move to Valley workhouse after the matron died. There were only a few inmates left then and the workhouse was closed. Two cars took them. When they arrived they were given a bath and institution clothes. There was apparently no uniform in Llanerchymedd. Again she spent her time helping with household chores and the washing. Lice were a problem and had to be killed with paraffin. As in Llanerchymedd the men and women had separate quarters and they sat on different sides of the dining room, entering through separate doors.

Tape 2

She talks about her fellow inmates at Llanerchymedd and again explains the household tasks they had to do. There were few men there and they had their own quarters. Men and women mixed if there was a concert for them or on their birthday when they were given a special tea. She was the youngest person there but was friendly with the older women and used to share her memories of her life on her granny’s farm e.g. when she used to go clapping for eggs or gathering blackberries. Then she explains that if anyone disobeyed the rules of the house they would be punished by being put in a cell on a diet of bread and water. She again stresses that the master and matron were kind – Mr Waterson made a swing in the garden for them, so they wouldn’t have to sit sadly in their room all the time. But they apparently didn’t leave the workhouse much – a trip to the annual market was a treat. She explains that the doctor used to come regularly to the house and the sick were looked after in the workhouse hospital which was at the side of the main building. The House itself was quite cheerful with vases of flowers and lace curtains and tablecloths – nicer than Valley.

Tape 3

She describes how two cars took the people from Llanerchymedd to Valley and how when they arrived their own clothes were taken from them. She regretted leaving Llanerchymedd because she was happy there and it was near her home. Valley was a much bigger place. Children were in a separate house nearby called Bron Heulog.

Once she learnt what she was to do people were nice at Valley, but if she was naughty she was put in a cell in the yard. Her days were spent doing housework, making beds, scrubbing floors, washing. On Sundays she went to Chapel and Sunday School, and they had a wireless. She describes the dormitory she slept in -seven to eight beds, lockers, chamber pots, mats on the floor. She says the men and women were not allowed to mix. They kept chickens at Llanerchymedd and a garden for fruit and vegetables that was tended by the men. They were allowed to go and pick blackberries too. She explains that there were a few married couples there and they were allowed to live together. She can remember babies in the workhouse too with their mothers. She again describes the household work she did there and how she used to help clean in the infirmary where minor operations were carried out. The interviewer took some photographs of the workhouses at Llanerchymedd and Valley to show Miss Owen and asked her if she could remember the layout of the rooms. She also mentions a lady who used to come in to sew the clothes at Llanerchymedd. At Valley she remembers a big wall round the garden and an inspector who reprimanded the master for locking so many doors.