Aberdare Boys Grammar School Back to previous page     Site Home Page

Some Brief Memories of Aberdare

in the
1930s and 1940s
(Including the School and its Masters)
by

Malcolm B Lloyd

THE TOWN

For me, Aberdare was a good place to live. It was rightly described as “Queen of the Valleys”. The central shopping area of the town was a hub of three main streets: High Street, Canon Street and Victoria Square, from which Commercial Street, Market Street and Cardiff Street radiated. It was not too crowded a town, with little vehicular traffic since few people had cars. Public transport included buses and trains. The Aberdare Urban District Council buses, in their cream and brown livery, serviced Aberdare and its surroundings, including Trecynon, Abernant, Cwmbach, and so on, as far as Hirwaun up the valley, and Abercwmboi down the valley. The double-deckers would squeeze past each other in Canon Street, before the one-way system began. Only single-deckers used High Street and Victoria Square. The Red & White and Western Welsh buses were the long distance coaches, as it were, travelling as far as Swansea and Cardiff and other, to me, distant places. Both companies had garages in Aberdare: Red and White on the Gadlys, and Western Welsh opposite where I lived in High Street.

Some shops I remember particularly are:
Parr’s the newsagent1, for the Beano and Dandy, the ‘penny dreadfuls’, and the Wizard, Rover, and Hotspur , the ‘stupefy terribles’. It was in the Wizard that I read about the extraordinary athletic prowess of Wilson, who live on the Yorkshire moors and performed his feats dressed in a one piece, black, homespun singlet. He first awakened my interest in athletics.

Lewis the shoeshop2, owned by Mr. Lewis, a short well dressed man, usually wearing jodhpurs and always with well polished shoes. His maxim was that however down on your luck you were, you could always polish your shoes. He had a twisted, waxed moustache which extended an inch or so either side of his upper lip. His assistant, Mr. Jones, later inherited the business from him. Here my mother bought my first shoes: StartRites. All my shoes were bought here during the 1930s and 40s. The last pairs I bought there were when I visited Aberdare in the late 1990s, just before this shop closed and was demolished.

Watson’s the photographer3, in Commercial Street, was where, as a young lad, I had many photographs taken. I particularly remember the one of me in a Welsh Guards uniform (Figure 1). I went as a guard to the annual Hospital Ball, in the Girls’ Grammar School on Cwmbach Road. That year I won first prize, with my picture in the Aberdare leader.

Two soldier photos

Figure 1. Hospital Ball Fancy Dress—Welsh Guard
Taken at Watson’s Studios, Commercial Street (circa 1936)

The Aberdare Furnishing Company and Victor Freed’s, were in Cardiff Road, where my parents bought most of their furniture. You can see some receipts for a sideboard and chairs from Aberdare Furnishing and for a Murphy’s radio bought at Victor Freed (Figures 2 & 3). Notice the need to place postage stamps on receipts above a certain value, at that time: hence the expression “a stamped receipt”? This is presumably a remnant of the Stamp Act whereby the stamp had to be cancelled by the seller before handing the receipt to the buyer. You will see this cancellation on these receipts.

Furnishing Company Receipt

Figure 2. Invoice from Aberdare Furnishing Co.



Victor Freed Receipt

Figure 3. Invoice from Victor Freed

Servini’s Café was on the opposite side of Cardiff Road. On Saturday mornings, during the long summer holidays, the upstairs tearoom was the venue for some sixth form students of both sexes, as well as some past students. There we tackled the Daily Telegraph prize crossword, whilst nursing cups of coffee. On one occasion, we actually won a set of bridge playing cards from the Telegraph, which we donated to Headmaster Reynolds, via his son Dickie, who sometimes attended the gathering. T.B. Reynolds was, apparently, an avid bridge player.


The Trap Surgery, on the corner of Abernant and Cwmbach Roads, was the realm of Dr. Harry Banks, our family doctor, who lived in Ty Mawr, High Street. The surgery was paved with stone slabs and had wooden benches along three walls. It reeked, appropriately, of carbolic soap. Dr. Banks, who was a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, a rare qualification, I believe, for a small town doctor in those days, removed my appendix at Aberdare Hospital, in 1940. It was my impression that Dr. Banks was even more revered than the average doctor was in those days. He was not so easy to approach for a “doctor’s certificate”, as some doctors were, particularly a Dr. Wilson whose surgery was in Elizabeth Street, who I remember had the reputation of handing them out willy-nilly.

The cinemas in Aberdare
These were a great attraction for me. There was the Rex, opened in 1939, very near where I lived in High Street, the Palladium in Cannon Street and the Aberdare Cinema in Cardiff Road. There was also a cinema on the corner of Wayne Street and Gadlys Road, not far from the School, next to a café. Earlier, there was Haggar’s Kosy Kinema in Market Street —the fleapit as it was known—next door to the old police station. It was demolished in the late thirties. The Palladium had Saturday morning matinees, with entrance through the side of the cinema in Weatherall Street. I still remember the aroma of freshly baked bread that wafted from Godding’s bakery, just across the road, next to Miss Alder‘s, who tried to teach me pianoforte. For tuppence you could spend the morning watching the Lone Ranger or Hop-Along Cassidy or Flash Gordon or the Three Stooges, and other ‘B Movies’. The cacophony of children shouting and yelling quieted as soon as the screen lit up. When the Rex first opened just before World War II, it featured an organist who played during the intervals. Sitting at his lighted, multi-coloured organ, he arose majestically, in evening dress, from a pit just in front of the screen, playing as he came into view. What an event for Aberdare!

EARLY DAYS

I was born in 1931 at 54, High Street, then Beecham’s Grocery, where I lived with my parents and an elderly aunt, Harriet Beecham. My mother managed the business for her and my father was the manager of the Western Welsh garage, then opposite the shop, until he volunteered for the RAF before war broke out in early 1939. He served in France and then with a US Squadron of P38 fighters based at Speke aerodrome, near Liverpool. Next door to us were county court offices and the Toc H. Across the road were the Rock grounds, site of the old Rock brewery, where a new clinic and swimming pool (Rock Baths) were built. During the W.W.II, a communal air raid shelter was sited just opposite the shop and against the garage. It was never used. The only time I remember any danger from bombing was when some German planes, returning from bombing Swansea, dropped bombs on the Merthyr Mountain!

I attended the National School from the summer of 1934, when I was 3½ years old. The National School, a church school, was then divided into two departments: the Infants School and the Junior Mixed School. My infants school teacher, Miss Jones, whom I can just remember as an attractive blonde and the daughter of the owner of the White Horse chemists opposite Caradog’s statue, at the top of Victoria Square. Another teacher was Miss Eynon, who left little impression on me other than being a friend of my mother. She is shown in the picture below of the 1937 George VI Coronation school party (Figure 4).

National School 1937

Figure 4. National School 1937 George VI Coronation Party

Miss Eynon is at the back right of the picture and I am to her immediate right in a white shirt, standing against the wall. Notice how we were generally expected to sit with our hands folded behind our backs. Also, there are some Coronation mugs on the tables. I still have mine. I cannot remember much more about this period of my life — except that Haydn Manning peed over me in the play yard urinal! I walked to and from the National School along Bute Street, at the back of the school, where people piled their “rubbish” and fire ashes in boxes on the curbside outside their front doors, on both sides of the street. These I used to jump over, which I see now as basic training for my then, unknown, love of hurdling.

One Thursday, in June 1942, was a red letter day at 54 High Street. That day’s issue of the Aberdare Leader included the listing of the ‘scholarship’ winners: those children from the surrounding schools who, in the coming autumn, would attend the ‘county’ school, as the Aberdare Boys County School was then called. I cannot remember what celebrations took place at number 54, but one thing I do remember is that now I would be able to wear the school cap: black, with two amber rings and a badge. I had for years watched enviously as boys wore these caps around town! It was quite a surprise for me to see my name on the scholarship list and even more so at being in sixth place! I can only put it down to the teaching at the National School and in particular to one Dorothy ‘Dolly’ Davies who taught me in my latter days at the school. Miss Davies was a middle aged, dark haired, wiry, chain smoking spinster who wielded a mean cane, which inevitably found its mark on the outstretched palms of any wayward class member. We were never able to determine if the myth of placing a strand of hair over the palm alleviated the pain, since Dolly would carefully brush the palm before the cane descended! She was a golfer and lived in Alexandra Terrace, Abernant.

The early 40s was a time of food and clothes rationing and it was a great advantage to be living in a grocery. Tea, sugar, fats (butter, margarine, lard), cheese, bacon & ham were all delivered in bulk: tea in tin-foil lined chests (coveted by those who were moving house for packing their china and glass), sugar in sacks, fats came in tubs, cheeses in skins and bacon & ham “on the bone”. Tea would be pre-weighed into blue paper bags and the fats in greaseproof paper — but not too much at a time since there was no refrigeration! Cheeses were sectioned and then cut and weighed to order. Ham and bacon were sliced by hand and also weighed to order. Because of the bulk shipment of these provisions to the grocer from a distributor, ours was in Swansea, there were invariably extra leftovers, or weighing up allowances, which were used at the discretion of the grocer, often to barter for other rationed products, such as clothes and meat, with local shopkeepers - and with Hodges and the Brecon Meat Supply in particular. Most of our customers were from the nearby streets around and opposite the shop, as well as from Green Fach, the area where the new library now stands. They were mostly colliers and their families, who were allowed, at one time or another, unquestioned credit from my aunt. Not all of it was paid back. We had other customers from farther afield: one I remember was Condon, the undertaker, who lived on the corner of Elm Grove and Gadlys Road. Mrs. Condon, a friend of my mother’s, would visit the shop to place her order, which I remember was usually quite large. Her husband would arrive in a hearse to pick it up—my mother said this was because the order was a dead weight!

THE SCHOOL

I arrived at Aberdare County School, as it was then called, at the beginning of the 1942 school year, in September. I remember little about the first years. The school was laid out much the same as shown in the school plan elsewhere on this website: there were lower and upper yards, with the class rooms more or less as shown. However, a lawn existed where the new dining room is shown on the plan. Photographs of school teams were taken here. The Head’s office was then immediately to the right of the main hall, where the secretary’s office is now shown. In fact, at morning assembly, the Head would appear from his office, deus ex machina, through a door directly behind the dais, from which he would lead morning prayers. Directly in front of the Head would be the junior forms with the seniors at the back of the hall. Masters would stand along the wall facing the windows.

G.P. Ambrose, Headmaster. I can say little about Ambrose, except that he was a keen musician and played piano in the first School concert I took part in at the Coliseum. We performed Haydn’s “The Seasons”, with P.E. Phillips conducting and with Peter Pears, tenor, as one of the principal soloists. (q.v. Musical and Dramatic Activities: School Choir 1942-43.) Ambrose was replaced as Head by T.B. Reynolds.

J.T. Bowen. Sasso was a tall man with a stiff gait and closely cropped hair. He was not well liked with the students as far as I remember. He taught me Welsh for one year — I wish now I had paid more attention to those lessons, as to many others! If he wanted to make a point to you he invariably pointed his index finger at you from an upturned hand, with shoulders hunched and his left hand behind his back, holding back his gown, and would growl: “Now look here boy!” I believe he had a son attending the School a few years after me.

S. Evans. Sammy taught me chemistry for just one year before he left and Little Willie took his place (see below). Sammy knew my parents and it was his encouragement that led me to my first “chemistry set”. This was used in the cellar of our house which developed into quite a chem. lab, with condensers, retorts and lots of chemicals, bought by mail from a laboratory supply house. Right up to the time I left Aberdare in the late 40’s, I had a supply of sodium, kept in a glass stoppered bottle, under mineral oil. It was eventually disposed of in a pond at the side of the Heads-of-the-Valleys road. I often wonder if there was ever a mysterious explosion reported from that pond.

E.J. Excell. No nickname, he was just “Excell”. Always seemingly calm and collected, he invariable wore a sports coat and flannels — and the inevitable trilby. I cannot remember him changing from this attire, even when refereeing and umpiring School rugby and cricket matches. The same at School sports days. It was Excell who took a few of us to Cardiff one summer Saturday to join a number of athletes from schools throughout Glamorgan. There we met Geoff Dyson, the British Olympic coach and husband of Maureen Gardner, the British and Olympic hurdler. It was Dyson who taught me to run over hurdles and not jump them, with consequent successes in many hurdle races thereafter. Just shows what professional coaching will do — and there was little or none available in Glamorgan schools at that time, including ABCS.

R.V. Hoggins. He never taught me. All I remember of him is that of a large man who had a son at School — Bryan Hoggins.

H.I. James. Jimmy, the biology teacher, left to join the army shortly after I came to the School and he returned at the end of W.W.II. During his absence he was replaced by a rather voluptuous lady who we called Katie4 — I cannot remember her full name. Katie would sometimes take here biology classes, al fresco, on the lawn, in the summer. She was very popular!

T.R. James. Butch was a first class maths teacher. A small man who tolerated no nonsense, he taught me in the sixth forms. He was a heavy smoker evident from the yellow stained first and second fingers of his right hand. He actively participated, with P.E. Phillips and Ambrose, in the annual school concerts.

C.E. Jones. Caesar. Just one year of Latin with him. He lived in Llwydcoed, near W.D. Towler. Can’t remember much about him except that he had one eye?

D.A. Lewis. Dai’ood, the woodwork master, seemed rather out of place with the rest of the masters. He was an artisan.

W.D. Towler. Towler taught me physics through the sixth forms. He was an avid photographer. He had an attractive daughter who married a relatively well known opera singer.

P.E. Phillips. PEP. A dapper man with a pale, waxy complexion and Hitler-type moustache. He lived in Glannant Street. He taught me French in my early years and was a keen musician, actively contributing to the annual school concerts, mostly as conductor.

T.B. Reynolds. Brin was my French teacher before he became Head, and always wore a gown — which most masters did not, in my days. I will always remember, when he was Head, and the School had won the Middle School Cup at the Glamorganshire Sports, he took me aside before he was to present me with the cup that morning at prayers, and said: “now Malcolm, don’t let this success go to your head!” Brin was a keen bridge player. His younger son, Dickie was one of a team of old boys which toured Somerset in 1950 (q.v. photograph in Sporting Activities).

Aubrey Roberts. When I knew Bobby he was an elderly man of small stature and a suggestion of wispy, graying hair on his near bald head. He walked the corridors in Harris tweed suits carrying a two foot, flat piece of polished wood, which he used to slap a desk to get attention. I believe he played scrum half at Oxford. His lessons were always interesting since he made history a series of stories, using very descriptive language. Whenever any historical figure was to be punished, he would invariably be placed first in “a deep, dark, dingy dungeon, with only cobwebs to wipe away his tears”!

W.E. Roberts. Bonzo taught English language and literature, and taught them very well, from form I through V. He was a quiet, gaunt faced, pipe smoker. I believed he lived in Clifton Street and most days walked to school with PE Phillips, who lived in Glannant Street. They would meet up in Monk Street. Since they walked along High Street, I would look out for them to pass my house before starting for school myself. I preferred to walk behind any masters than in front of them. On the occasion I played truant and spent the afternoon at the Rex, I had to take great care coming out of there, since PEP, Bonzo and Little Willie would pass along High Street on their way home, up Monk Street, to Glannant and Clifton Streets! Bonzo’s plan was to retire to Aberaeron. We learned this one day when he commented on the name of one of my class mates, Aeron Davies. Whether he did retire there, I don’t know. Many parts of poems I now remember were through writing them out as punishment lines. They include, from Tennyson’s La Morte D’Arthur: “deep harm to disobey, seeing obedience is the bond of rule” and “the old order changeth, yielding place to new”.

A.L. Trott. Trott was another dapper man who always wore heavily starched, usually white, collars. He taught me art for one year and I am indebted to him for his lessons on perspective, which I have found, from time to time, very useful. If I remember correctly, the “art” room was above the kitchens, next to the staff room. Pre-lunch art lessons were taken with pre-lunch kitchen aromas. In fact, the art room was also used to seat an overflow from the main lunch room below.

G. Williams. Little Willie was my chemistry master until I left school, before he became Head. He was a tall, good looking man from, I believe, Mountain Ash and graduated from U.C. Cardiff. When I first arrived at school, during W.W.II, he was nicknamed Conshy, a somewhat derogatory name used to denote a conscientious objector. I later learned that he had an invalid, widowed mother in Mountain Ash, which, presumably, was why he did not “join up”. After the war, he became known as Little Willie. He had a penchant for puns, but seldom laughed at them, he just placed his tongue in his cheek. This led to most in my class doing the same at the appropriate time! He would demonstrate various experiments from the raised bench at the end of the chemistry lab. These were somewhat nerve wracking experiences since occasionally the experiments would not quite work out, which is why he was also called Willie Blow-Up! One experiment involved the use of a catalyst and produced a crystalline substance which had a distinctly mousy smell, which Little Willie attributed to the catalyst used! Such was his humour. He occasionally refereed rugby games.

So much then for some brief memories I have of the Aberdare I knew in my adolescence. It was a happy life and the education I received at “the County School” was priceless and everlasting. I regret the School no longer stands. But then, as I remember well: “the old order changeth, yielding place to new”!

Malcolm B. Lloyd. March 2009. Virginia USA.
email: Blank

Editor’s comments
1 Edward Parr Newsagent was opposite the Palladium at 33 Canon St, and became the newsagent known as R.J. Doherty in later years.
2 Mr William Lewis, 1 Canon St.
3 Kellys (1923) lists Watson’s Studios at 47 Commercial St as well as in Whitcombe St.
4 This was Katherine Davies. She was at the school from Jan 1942 until March 1945; she went on to be Biology Mistress at Milford Haven County School. Prior to arriving at ABCS, she had done a year at Narberth County School also in Pembrokeshire. When she arrived at ABCS she was just 27, so I imagine she might have caused quite a stir with the older boys. There were hardly any women appointed to the school after 1913 when the school became single-sex. Two temporary appointments were made during WW I and six during WW II.

Back to previous page