The Transvaal Gold Mining Estates T.G.M.E. of Pilgrim’s Rest happened to employ numerous Welshman in their mines, by virtue of the fact that they were experienced miners, seeking a better life by emigrating from Wales during the dreadful conditions of the industrial revolution.
Many of them through loyalty to the T.G.M.E, and through hard work, had an enormous impact on what made the mining operations successful.
Most of those Welshmen grew to love the Pilgrim’s Valley, which was so like the valleys they had known at home. Once they had a football pitch, and a male voice choir established, they were as happy as Welshmen ever are. They brought their own brand of lilting English to the district, but whenever three or more of them gathered together, they spoke their mother tongue.
There wasn’t a child in Pilgrim’s Rest in those days who did not know a word or two of Welsh, or could not sing some of the old ballads.
Ah, the singing! To this day you have to be pretty good before you dare to sing in public in Pilgrim’s Rest, and even about the best of tenors, the old inhabitants will say: “He’s not as good as Dai Rees was when he was at his best in the old days”.
Every adult male inhabitant of the district owned a horse, and hitching rails lined the main street where the cars are parked today.
On Saturdays the miners dressed in riding breeches, jacket and cap, used to assemble on their mounts at various particular points – Fullard’s Corner, Darke’s Gulley, Geoff Edward’s Corner, or Brown’s Hill. When they were all there someone would cry: “Last man in pays for the drinks!”
That was the starting signal for a wild race to either the Royal Hotel or the European. They would gallop flat out up the main street, dismount, tether their horses, and make a dash for the pub – and the last man to reach the bar counter, paid for the first round.
Long before closing time their voices would be raised in song, and late at night the horses would carry some of the revelers home, riding knee to knee, with the reins hanging free, their arms round one another’s necks, and their heads thrown back as they gave a final rendering of “ The Ash Grove”. A miner’s mount had not only to be able to gallop, but also be able to find its way home on a Saturday night.
These cavalry charges through the village led to keen competition amongst fast horse owners. The miners scoured the surrounding district and countryside for good-looking colts, and even imported retired race-horses from Johannesburg. So enthusiastic did they become, that they established a gymkhana course, on the other side of Brown’s Hill, and held Saturday race meetings.
A Snippet from “The Valley of Gold” by A.P.Cartwright
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