Thayer’s Ice Cream – the scoop.

There can’t be many more evocative old shop names in the Roath area than Thayer’s.  Drop the name Thayer’s into any conversation you are having with a mature Cardiffian and soon they will be reminiscing about their favourite flavour ice cream or their preferred form whether it be cone or tub.

Thayers - photo from John Thayer

Thayer’s at 13 Wellfield Road (Photo courtesy of the Thayer family)

I was fortunate enough lately to meet John Thayer who kindly shared with me some of the history of the family business that centred around the shop in 13 Wellfield Road.

Thayer’s  dairy ice cream business was started by John’s father Albert Cyril Thayer. The Thayer family originated from Cwm in the Ebbw valley where Cyril’s father Joseph Thayer had owned a grocery business.  Joseph Thayer was born in Llanhilleth in 1888.  He originally worked at the colliery but following a serious flood, forcing him to leave his tools behind, he changed career, moved to Cwm and opened a grocery shop.

The Wellfield Road premises were purchased by the Thayer family just prior to WWII.  For ten years before that it had been a dairy shop owned by F.I. Day.  Cyril Thayer served in WWII and after coming out of the army, married Irene Jackson and opened Cardiff’s first self-service grocery store at 13 Wellfield Road.  What great foresight.  Who would have ever thought that self-serve grocery shopping would ever catch on!

October 1955 Western Mail

October 1955 Western Mail

 

The business went on to be very successful.  Strong contacts were built up with local suppliers.  Eggs from Mrs Johnson’s farm in Usk and turkeys from another source, milk from a nearby dairy, being some prime examples.

Another example of Cyril Thayer’s foresight came later when he witnessed a nearby business struggling to make ice cream of high enough quality to sell and instead having to throw it away.  Cyril thought he could do better than that and the rest as they say is history.  Via their grocery business Cyril Thayer already had good access to the materials needed to make ice cream.

As the years passed competition in the self-service grocery sector increased but by now Thayer’s dairy ice cream was so popular that the shop business could be sustained on ice cream alone.  The back of the shop morphed into an ice cream parlour serving knickerbockerglories and sundaes and the front into an area to sell ice cream and cream to walk-in customers.  Queues could often be seen snaking back out of the shop and along Wellfield Road.

Thayers newer shop, Wellfield Road, Cardiff  - photo from John Thayer

A later view of Thayer’s in Wellfield Road (photo courtesy of Thayer family)

So what was the secret of Thayer’s dairy ice cream?  Quite simply it was good quality, honest, natural ingredients.  As well as milk and cream, ice cream is made from milk powder.  Whereas many other producers would cut costs, Thayer’s always used full cream milk powder in their formulation.  So here’s a scoop.  Here’s the recipe for Thayer’s ice cream which John can still remember to this day:

280 milk, 30 dairy cream, 125 butter, 125 full cream milk powder, 250 sugar, 25 glucose, 12 eggs, a bit of emulsifier and stabiliser thrown in but never any preservative.  I know what you are going to say.  There are no units quoted.  Well the units were kilograms but I thought if I put that in someone would try and copy it and end up eating ice cream for three years.  And no vanilla flavouring in there either, this was pure dairy ice cream.

1965 Cyril Thayer (MD of Thayer's Ice Cream) stirs the ice cream

Cyril Thayer mixing his dairy ice cream at 13 Wellfield Road

There were of course the various other flavours, over twenty in all.  Thayer’s strawberry ice cream was infamous.  The business used to use 14 tonnes of strawberries each year.  That’s an awful lot of strawberries.   Then there were the other favourites, chocolate, coffee.  And I’m sure I remember orange, or is my memory playing tricks there.

Wellfield Road, Roath, Cardiff  in 1972

Thayer’s ice cream shop in Wellfield Road in 1972

The very early ice cream making equipment in 13 Wellfield Road made no more than 2 gallons at a time.  More machinery was purchased to make larger quantities but eventually the time came when the company got so successful that other premises were needed.  In 1966 Thayer’s ice cream started to be made at a site in Wentloog Road, Rumney.

David Thayer at the Wentloog ROad factory in 1975

David Thayer at the Wentloog Road factory in 1975

By now Thayer’s were employing over 100 people, supplying their ice-cream throughout a sizable geographical area, mainly to the small traders such as corner shops.  A small fleet of 14 vans was used to supply the distribution network all efficiently choreographed using early Rediffusion computers.   There was even a small factory in North Wales in Llandudno that John used to visit weekly to supervise the ice cream making.

Thayer’s was very much a family business.  John recalls helping out in the Wellfield Road shop from a young age serving people such as Mr A G Meek who ran the shoe shop around the corner in Albany Road.  Over the years John and his brother and sister took an increasing role in the business and eventually took over from their father Cyril. John used his knowledge gained from studying  engineering at university to make the process more efficient whilst maintaining their superior quality.

Bob Davies in Thayers Wellfield ROad in 1988

Bob Davies retired in 1987 from Thayer’s in Wellfielld Road after 27 years service. Bob, originally from Ruthin in North Wales, would often be heard speaking Welsh to customers.

However, all good things must come to an end as they say.  People’s shopping habits were changing and the corner shop outlets fast disappearing.  Margins were shrinking and the sad decision was eventually taken to sell the business together with the name.  It was purchased by Express Foods in the 1980s.  David Thayer, John’s brother,  does still have an ice cream shop in Bath trading under subtly different trading name of David Thayer’s Ice Cream Shop.

Thayers in Bath - photo Michael Haines

David Thayer’s Ice Cream Shop, Bath (photo credit – Michael Haines)

Cyril Thayer, the entrepreneur and perfectionist and man whose name is synonymous with one of Cardiff’s most famous brands, passed away in 2006. He was also a dedicated family man and devoted his later years of his life caring for his late wife Irene, who suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease, as well as raising awareness of the condition.

 

Photos: Cyril Thayer and his wife Irene.  John Thayer

 

For me the name Thayer’s takes me back to my childhood.  For a special treat some weeks my grandfather would be sent down Pen-y-lan Hill to buy a block of Thayer’s ice cream whilst my grandmother was busy making dinner.  It would arrive back, carefully wrapped in newspaper to insulate it.  By the time dinner had been consumed the ice cream was in perfect condition, nicely soft around the sides and full of flavour.  Raspberry ripple was my favourite.  There were no freezers in those days so naturally the whole block had to be consumed in one sitting – such a hardship.

So I’ll leave you to reminisce, trying to recall if you were a tub or a cone person and what was your favourite flavour.

 

Pen-y-lan Road blitz victims

I have a confession to make.  I enjoy researching the names on war memorials.  I enjoy unravelling the facts behind the life …. and death, of the named person, where they lived, their professions  and  their family.  At the same time I find it incredibly sad.   I periodically have to take a break when my eyes get a little watery, when I discover their fate; on the battlefield, being shot down from the air or lost at sea.  As a parent of boys myself I start to imagine what it must have been like for those parents to receive the harrowing news of the loss a son or in some cases two or three.  Then after a minutes reflection, its back to it.  Back to the immersive hobby of being a keyboard detective.

Penylan Road bomb damage

Where the Pen-y-lan Road victims died, 8, 10 and 12 Pen-y-lan Road.

 

My old school Marlborough Road Primary have embarked on a year-long project looking at WWII.  Not an easy topic to tackle though.  To teach children about the history and horrors of war whilst at the same time not in any way glorifying it or sending them home with nightmares.  I admire the way they are going about, travelling that delicate route.  The pictures I’ve seen so far look great.

CBS23 Marlbourough Road board school

The original Marlborough Road Board School opened in 1900, on the corner of Blenheim Road and Marlborough Road, damaged in an air raid and subsequently demolished.

I couldn’t help them personally when they put out a plea for people who had lived through the war to be interviewed by the children.  I’m too young for that category.  All I remember is ‘playing soldiers’ in the playground at playtime and the old air raid shelters used in my time for storing the pungent remains of school dinners.  Were they air raid shelters or just outbuildings?  Who knows.  Memories often play tricks

I thought however  I may be able to assist in looking at a local example of how the neighbourhood was impacted by WWII.  The school itself was bombed and badly damaged necessitating the main building to be demolished.  Fortunately the bombs fell at night and no lives were lost.  The same can’t be said however for the adjoining Agincourt Road.  There lives were lost.  Maybe that is too close to the school to pick as an example, plus I haven’t seen any pictures of that post-bombing damage or for that fact the school itself after the bombs fell.  Instead I have looked at nearby Pen-y-lan Road.

The Pen-y-lan Road bombs don’t always get a mention in articles about the Cardiff blitz.  Yes, the loss of life wasn’t as great as the horrific Hollyman’s Bakery in Grangetown where 32 people died  in January 1941.  But the Pen-y-lan Road bomb did kill eight people, five of them from the same family.

So where in Pen-y-lan Road are we talking about?  The lives were lost in numbers 8, 10 and 12 Pen-y-lan Road which is near where if joins Albany Road, near the Bottle Shop (no.4) and da Mara (no.2).  The bombs fell on 18th May 1943 in what has been described as the Final Blitz on Cardiff.

Widespread destruction was caused during the night raid involving no more than 50 German bombers which lasted only 83 minutes from 2.36am, dropping high explosives and parachute bombs and incendiary bombs.  Over 40 people were killed that night in total with 52 seriously wounded.

Following the railway line from Llanishen Reservoir through Whichurch, Rhiwbina and the Heath to Queen’s Street Station and the Docks.  Cathys Cemetery itself was hit.  Houses were damaged in Pantbach Road, Llwynfedw Gardens and Mynachdy estate.  A direct hit on houses in St Agnes Road killed six people.

The greatest loss of life in Pen-y-lan Road was in number 12.  Here five members of the same family were killed; Elizabeth Wing (aged 82), her daughters Lilian Wing (aged 49) and Olive Margrett (aged 47) and granddaughters Mavis Rees (aged 9) and Patricia Margrett (aged 19).  I first came across this family last year when researching the war memorial plaque in Albany Road Baptist church where Elizabeth and Lilian are remembered.

Register 12 Penylan Road - Copy

Occupants of 12 Pen-y-lan Road in 1939.  The victims of the bombing marked in red.  Patricia Margarett record likely to be the ‘closed’ record.

Elizabeth Wing was born in Leicester.  She married painter and decorator John Wing from Pembrokshire in 1887 and had eight children, three of whom it appears died young.  At the time of the 1911 census the family were living in nearby Moy Road and Elizabeth working as a dressmaker.  John, her husband, had died in 1916 aged 63.

Lilian Wing was a shop assistant in a confectionery shop, presumably downstairs from where they were living and which appears to have been owned by her sister Dora, described in the 1939 register as a confectioner and tobacconist.

Olive Margrett was married to Archibald Margrett, a steam raiser on the Great Western Railway who died in 1953. They had just the one daughter Patricia Margrett.  Archibald later remarried in 1945.

Mavis Rees, then aged 9, was the daughter of Dora and William J Rees who were married in 1925. Mavis also had a brother Colin J Rees aged 12, but I don’t know if he or the father William were in the house at the time it was bombed.   The following extract from the Roath Girl’s school log (presumably Roath Park?).  It seems to indicate Mavis as a pupil at Marlborough Road school.

The Head of Roath Girls’ reports Miss Hughes was unable to remain in school for she was suffering from shock after the early morning Raid, when her home was blitzed. Mavis Rees of 12 Penylan Road [a Marlborough girl and an evacuee] was seriously injured and taken to hospital. Later she died as the result of burns and shock. The pupils of her class sent a wreath and a letter of condolence was sent to the nearest relative, an aunt’.

Albany Road Baptist Church war memorial

Elizabeth Wing and Mavis Rees remembered on the memorial in nearby Albany Road Baptist Church

In number 10 Pen-y-lan Road Ivy Witts lost her life aged 45.  She was wife of Sidney Rowland Witts.  Ivy Dwynwen Morgan was born in 1896 in Cardiff and grew up on Broadway, Roath.  She married Sidney Witts at St Margaret’s church Roath in 1919 and had three children.   In 1939 Sidney is working as an official in the British Legion for ex-servicemen.

Ivy Witts

An early picture of Ivy Witts

Next door in number 8 Pen-y-lan Road husband and wife Edith Maud Davey and William Charles Davey were killed.  William Davey was a hairdresser had been a hairdresser all his life.  In the 1911 census we find him living in Harpur Street aged 17 and employed as a hairdresser.

Ivy Witts register - Copy

The occupants of 8 and 10 Pen-y-lan Road that died in the bombing of 18th May 1943.

Also living at 8 Pen-y-lan Road at the time of the raid was their son, 22 year old Trevor W C Davey, an apprentice electrical engineer.  Two months after the loss of his parents Trevor gets engaged to Sylvia Perkins from Ely.

Trevor Davey engagement 7 Jun 1943

In the book Cardiff – A City at War, Dennis Morgan recounts how another family in Pen-y-lan Road had a lucky escape:

Just across the road it was once again a Morrison shelter, which was under the stairs and protected with sandbags, that saved Mrs. Webber and her family.  The house had collapsed on them and, “the next thing we knew was that things were cascading down on to the shelter’’.  At first the rescue party saw little hope of finding them alive.  Eventually their shouts were heard and their morale was uplifted when their dog, Kim, scrambled into the shelter with them.  A flask of coffee was handed through a tiny hole but it was more than 6 hours before they were rescued.  Like many, who experienced the terror of the blitz and lived to tell the tale, Mrs. Webber commented, “None of us would ever grumble about anything again”.

1 Penylan Road bomb damage

All that remained where 1 Pen-y-lan Road where Mr & Mrs Webber and their dog  survived (photo: Cardiff Libraries)

I must admit I didn’t know what a Morrison shelter was.  It is not something purchased from your local supermarket.  It is a steel cage with a flat surface on top that often used to double up as a table.

Morrison shelter

Morrison shelter (photo Wiki)

The Webbers lived at 1 Pen-y-lan Road, almost opposite where the lives were lost at No’s 8, 10 & 12.  There is one blitz picture sometimes described as Albany Road and sometimes as Pen-y-lan Road that looks like it could well be No 1 Pen-y-lan Road, given the angle of the houses behind which would be Albany Road.  Amazing to think that anyone survived that damage.

The Webber’s had two children, William Webber and Anne Webber who would have been 11 and 9 at the time of the raid.  There is no mention of whether they too were also sheltering under the stairs at the time.

Looking at Pen-y-lan Road today it is easy to see where the houses involved in the raid were.  All have since been demolished and replaced with new housing, though judging by the architecture I would guess that the sites remained vacant for some time after the war before rebuilding took place, but I admit I am no architect.

Penylan Road today

The post-war houses that have replaced 8, 10 and 12 Pen-y-lan Road

1 Pen-y-lan Road today

The new building built on the site of 1 Pen-y-lan Road that was destroyed in the WWII blitz.

The other source of information available to researchers in addition to the traditional census records and birth, deaths and marriages is the Trade Directories.  These weren’t necessarily  issued every year so there are gaps.  The Cardiff Trade Directories can be viewed in Cathays Library.

 

 

 

The Friends of Cathays Cemetery have issued a booklet listing the casualties of the Cardiff Blitz.  As well as detailing their names and addresses it also lists where the casualties are buried in the cemetery.  Armed with this information I paid a visit to Cathays Cemetery to see if I could find the graves of the Pen-y-lan Road casualties.

plan oof new cemetery at Cathays Cemetery

Plan of the new cemetery at Cathays Cemetery

Finding the plots at Cathays Cemetery, even with a plot number isn’t easy.  Plot maps are available on FOCC website but even then trying to work out on the ground which row and column is which is confusing.  What I found helped a lot was the fact that Commonwealth War Graves are marked on the plot maps with a diamond shape.  Then referring to another list of the Commonwealth war graves at Cathays it is possible to calculate where in relation to those graves is the plot you are looking for.

War graves marked with diamond

A section of a plot map at Cathays Cemetery with Commonwealth War graves marked with a diamond

Unfortunately the plots I found of the people who died in the Pen-y-lan Road bombing, all except one,  had unmarked graves i.e. no headstone present.  The exception was the grave of Elizabeth Wing and her daughter Lilian.  Here there was a headstone but it had become too weathered to read. I don’t suppose the absence of headstones should come as a surprise considering the burials took place in wartime, but a sad discovery nevertheless.

Grave of Elizabeth and Lilian Wing

grave of Elizabeth and Lilian Wing  at Cathays Cemetery

So next time you are in the vicinity of Pen-y-lan Road, spare a thought for those killed by one of the last bombs to fall on Cardiff; Elizabeth the dressmaker, Lilian the shop assistant, Ivy Witts and William the hairdresser and their families, just like the man in the photograph is probably doing.   Then spare another thought for all those killed in WWII and indeed all other victims of war before and since.

Penylan Road bomb damage

Postscript

After publishing this blog I received quite a bit of feedback, including this very moving recollection from Pat Laing who has given me permission to include it here:

Mr and Mrs Rees and their son Colin and daughter Mavis came back from South Africa in 1938 and rented 116 Marlborough Rd. I lived at 120 and being only one year younger than Mavis we quickly became close friends. We went to different schools but took ballet lessons together every Saturday in Charles St and played together in the afternoons and in school holidays.  When the war started Mr Rees joined up and Mrs Rees and Colin and Mavis went to live at 12 Penylan Rd.  I was there playing the piano and doing block designs with Mavis on the evening of May 18th.  She was playing White Christmas as she had just got the sheet music.  I said goodbye at about 7pm and added “See you Saturday at the bus stop”, but of course I never saw her again.  By 1946 her father and mother were running a sweet shop in City Rd.  I met up with Colin about 1948 and we played tennis together for a few years in Roath Park. He went to Bristol University.  He a always bore burn marks on his legs.