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National Library of Wales journal


Cyf. 29, rh. 1 Haf 1995

Castle in the making : Casgliad Castell Gwyn /

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was not scouring the second-hand bookstalls and bookstores of Lancashire in
general and Liverpool in particular. This first job lasted for three highly acquisi-
tive years. His salary was £ 234 per annum, for which he traded in a first-class
Honours Degree and an M.A. with Distinction. So how could he afford to buy
books, save those he required for his teaching and research? No problem. He let
Alice buy them for him. But how could Alice do that? Her father, now deceased,
had been a caretaker down at the Docks, where the family lived comfortably
enough. But Uncle Richard made good, was well-to-do and generous to his kin,
and lived handsomely on Park Place, where Alice lived with him as his favourite
niece, and presumably as his adopted daughter and heiress. But he died,
suddenly and calamitously, and for a professional Accountant even culpably,
without having made a will, whereupon Alice's status declined overnight, so to
speak, from that of Little Miss Rich Girl to that of Little Miss Still Quite Nicely
Off Girl. It was her eventual legacy of £ 860 which enabled us to set up home for
ourselves in Wigan, and start to fill it with what in the fullness of time would
become Casgliad Castell Gwyn. For, remember, these were the Hungry Years of
the late twenties and early thirties, when sixpence was money, and half-a-crown
was Money with a Capital M, and it was generally held that a five-pound note
(I had never encountered one) would suborn a saint (and I had never encoun-
tered one of those either).
My happiest hunting-ground was Liverpool, and there the sleazier corners,
and this held good even after we went to live in Didsbury, Manchester. One
could always hope for the best in establishments where a proffered coin cash
on the nail, and no questions on either side really counted. I recall one
establishment in particular part shop, part warehouse, highly eclectic in its
choice of wares on the ground floor middle-aged puppy-dogs and elderly
canaries, second-hand gramophones in need of a new needle, a huddle or two
of domestic fittings and furniture, and a few untidy shelf-fulls of magazines and
romantic fiction by unrememberable ladies nothing you or I would call a book.
Upstairs and it took a number of visits and a few purchases before the owners
were satisfied you were not a coppers' nark or a rival's spying eye upstairs was
a muddled profusion of books. Where shall we start? We follow our eyes to
where an early edition quarto of Pope's translation of Homer withdraws its
fastidious shoulders from too close a contact with a frayed Victorian hymnal and
the loose-girt lucubrations of a late Edwardian windbag. And I was the feller, the
Croesus, who could be trusted to make a bid for one of these, if not all three. Or
even for such inhibitory items as the Reliquiae Baxterianae, Mr Richard Baxter's
Narrative of the Most Memorable Passages of his Life and Times etc. etc., folio
Elisha's Cry, 1696 6 shillings, no less. And also cleared away such hitherto
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