Memories of Aberdare Town by Brian Lendon Berry
ABGS 1940 - 1947
I have just read Aberdare in the 1920s, by David Walter Morris. He was born in the same year as my older brother, Tony, while I waited until 1928 before I made my entry into the world. Nevertheless I can recall many of the businesses and names about which he wrote. Reading through David’s wonderful description brought back many memories of the Aberdare I knew through the 1940s.
I well remember the Park Cinema1, which was quite near our house, (5 Tudor Terrace), and into which in my early teen days we could go on Saturday mornings for a ha’penny at the front or a penny further back. As I reached the sixth form and realised that girls were different, I preferred the Palladium2, which had double seats across the back and down the sides of the balcony, which were ideal for snogging, though in our days this was very much more innocent than it appears to be today.
My grandmother Sarah Jane Protheroe and her great friend Sarah Philpin, into their early seventies, used to go twice or three times a week to the various cinemas, but complained that having got there for the beginning of the evening films, (programmes consisted of an A film, a B film, a cartoon or two and a newsreel, and were continuous from about 2 pm until 10 pm ish), they would fall asleep, to be woken by the attendants to say that the national anthem had been played and it was time to go home.
The family suggested that they went for the early start, when they would be wide enough awake to see the whole programme. They tried this a couple of times, getting there for the 2 pm start, to be woken yet again around 10 pm by the attendants with the repeated reminder that the national anthem had been played and it was time to go home!
The Rex3 cinema, which David does not mention as it came much later, in 1939, had a Compton organ4 which came up out of the depths at appropriate moments, with its lights blending through all the colours of the rainbow. Soon after the Rex opened, my mother, Glynelen (née Protheroe) took us to see a film show there, and having stood through the national anthem at the end, she walked us down to look at the organ. The organist was rather off-hand until my mother told him that her father and grandfather had had sixty years between them playing the organ in St Mair’s Church5, and that in her younger days she had been able to play hymn tunes on it. St Mair’s, with its services in Welsh, was where my parents were married, and where all three of us brothers were christened. It has long since gone, to be replaced, I believe, by an old people’s centre.
Mother’s father, Gwilym Protheroe, had promised that as soon as we boys were
old enough he would teach us to play the organ in order to maintain the family tradition. Sadly,
a year or so before Tony would have started lessons, the old man was taken ill, and
My other grandfather, Richard Lewis Berry, was another accomplished musician, playing about half a dozen instruments. He led a small orchestra which played in one of the cinemas during the silent film days. He had kept his double bass, and said that when I was big enough he would teach me to play it, and it was to be mine. Regrettably, it never came my way when he died.
My paternal grandfather was an entrepreneur, and had several careers. While he was fire officer for the Powell Duffryn collieries, back in the early ’20s, he formed the first voluntary fire brigade in South Wales, which he captained until the start of World War II when it was nationalised, and he was replaced by a professional fireman - his deputy captain - who, if he were to have stayed on, would have been his boss! My father and my uncle served in it as volunteers for some years, too. When I was still in Aberdare I understood that the first fire engine was still kept, in a garage near to the Red and White bus garages off the bottom of the Gadlys Hill.
It was good to be reminded of W. Cable, the newsagent and tobacconist6. When I was about ten I walked past his window in early October, and saw in there a toy fire engine. It was a forerunner of Dinky toys, and was bright red, open-topped, with four little men in uniform sitting in it, and removable. There was a big fire escape on it, also removable, with large wheels and a handle by which you could wind the extending ladder to its full extent.
I went home and told my mother that I would love to have it, to be told to include it in my letter to Father Christmas, who might bring it for me. A few days later my Uncle Bill, mother’s younger brother, came in as he did most evenings on his way home to number 9. He said that he had been into Bill Cable’s, but the fire engine had been sold. I was unhappy, but I was always a fatalist, and I accepted that it was not to be mine.
When Christmas Day arrived and the family gathered to exchange presents, Uncle Bill gave me a present, which, when I opened it, turned out to be the fire engine! It was far and away the best present of my Christmas. I told Uncle Bill that he had said Mr Cable had sold it, to be told "Yes, he had – to me!"
Walking down Commercial Street, David tells us of Watson’s the photographer, and says that before Mr Watson there was a Mr Berry. There was indeed, and he was my great grandfather, who called his studio the Globe Studio7 after the Globe Inn next door. My great grandfather was Joseph Lendon Berry - his grandmother had been a Miss Lendon, and there has nearly always been a Lendon Berry in each generation since. My father’s uncle was James Lendon Berry, and I can just remember Uncle Jim who was a barber at 64, Mill St, Trecynon.
Sadly, we then missed a generation, (all my fault, having daughters only!) but my older daughter’s son is also a Lendon, albeit he is a Silvester and not a Berry. As he is only fourteen I doubt if I shall last long enough to see the tradition continued!
Aberdare has undoubtedly changed beyond recognition since those days, and sadly, I
doubt that I shall have the opportunity to visit it again.
[ Two years after submitting this account,
Brian died in the summer of 2011 - ed. ]
1 The Park Cinema opened in March 1914 with about 620 seats.
2 The Palladium’s history is more complicated. Built as the Temperance Hall in 1858, it was used for a variety of purposes, which might have included dioramas. Soon after 1900, it was renamed The Hippodrome and functioned as a music hall, but films would have featured also. By 1919, the building had been renamed The Palladium and around 1923 it was rebuilt to become a proper cinema. Eventually it could seat 700 filmgoers.
3 The Rex opened on Easter Monday 1939, with 1250 seats, overtaking The Grand in Aberaman as the largest cinema in the valley. In 1986, The Rex was used as the setting for the Welsh language film, “Rhosyn a Rhith”, translated as “Coming Up Roses”. It was about the efforts of the local community to save the town’s last cinema from demolition. In real life, the cinema was demolished in 1990.
4 In an article to be found in the online RCT Heritage Trail,
https://webapps.rctcbc.gov.uk/heritagetrail/english/cynon/rexcomptonorgan.html, it is reported that Stephen Dutfield was intending to rebuild the organ after rescuing it from Ventnor, IoW.
The information about the cinemas is from A Cinema Miscellany (Part 16) by Brian Hornsey, Fuchsiaprint (Stamford), Chapter 1 ‘A Brief Cinema History of Aberdare’, ISBN 1 901425 76 2.
5 St Mair’s was built in 1864 for the Welsh speaking Anglican congregation of Aberdare Parish. It was situated in Seymour St, and the last service was held there in the spring of 1964. St Mair’s Social Centre was built on the site and opened in 1969.
6 William Cable, stationer, was at 14 Canon St, opposite Burton the Tailor.
7 The Globe Studio was at 47 Commercial St.
Watson’s was the popular name of the business that took over from Berry & Co in Commercial St. The proprietor was Samuel Watson, who also had premises in Whitcombe St.
RCT photo archive, then put the word Berry in the Quick Search box. Be sure to view the largest version of the photos. There are three sizes, the largest is called ‘larger image’. Many of these will fill your computer screen.
Acknowledgements: All photographs from B.L. Berry; except The Rex, R.L. Berry portrait,
and ‘W.Cable Stationer’ by permission of R.C.T. Libraries; ‘J.L.
Berry with dog’ from the collection of the late Douglas Williams communicated
by Geoffrey Evans.