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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cone for me, vanilla or strawberry Had to be careful not to be seen eating the strawberry flavour by anyone I knew. “Pink makes the girls wink” was the inevitable chant. The embarrassment!
I used to be sent to get a block of vanilla wrapped in newspaper. We had this for our afters Sunday tea time. Thayers must have been open Sunday afternoons then. Not many shops were.
A special treat on a very hot summer’s day was Thayers ice cream floating in a glass of orangeade
In a tall glass with corona orangeade too 👍
My Favourite, at my Gran’s in Rhiwbina. 🥰
I’d collect it from the parade just down the road from the Nine Giants..
Mother always had two churns of ice cream from Thayers with cones, wafers and scoops to take to Dalton Street Methodist Chapel’s Whitsun Treat.at Heath Park
Thank you, your information brought back memories of the time when my wife and I first moved to Cardiff. We rented a flat: 19 Ninian Road, Roath, so we were well placed to enjoy a Thayer’s ice cream.
I believe it was John Thayer that I recently met when he attended our Western Front Association meeting at Llandaf. On the night our speaker, at short notice, was unable to attend the meeting so I was asked to step in with a talk. Ordinarily, our speakers cover the subject of The Great War 1914-1918, but on this occasion it was agreed for me to do a PowerPoint presentation on Plas Mawr, Conwy, which is regarded as the finest example of an Elizabethan Town House in the UK. Following my presentation John Thayer introduced himself to me when we briefly discussed the Thayer Ice Cream business. Before departing John said that he enjoyed my presentation but was somewhat embarrassed that he had never heard of Plas Mawr, particularly as he now lived nearby in Conwy. He planned to visit, so I am sure he wouldn’t have been disappointed.
Agree. Thayer’s ice cream remembered very fondly. Very sad that it went.
As a kid in summer, it was our Sunday afternoon treat! We’d drive over from Rhiwbeina and sit in the Ford Corsair opposite the shop, making appreciative noises as we ate our gorgeous Thayer’s ice cream cones. No real words were exchanged between us until the last wafer was crunched out of its blissful existence. Good times!
My first Saturday job was working at Thayers Ice Cream Parlour. I started in 1979 aged 15 and earned 60p per hour – £4.80 for all day Saturday and £5.50 per day if I was needed on a Sunday. Mr Davies was the Welsh speaking manager and he was a wonderful jolly man. We a loved and respected him. Cyril was a regular visitor during the summer, checking that we didn’t make the scoops too big ! I particularly loved the ice cream cake and had one for my birthday that year. I left in 1981 for a Saturday job a little further down Wellfield Rd at The Wellfield tabacconist and sweatshop which was then owner by Mr and Mrs Harker. So I went from scoffing ice cream during quiet times to scoffing sweets and smoking obscure fags with my co- worker and best friend Cate Lindsay. It was great living in Bangor Street just behind Wellfield Rd – took 2 minutes to get to work. Happy, happy days indeed.
Such a flavour I’ve not since had…..as I remember..
Born in Rhiwbina ’65…… I used to collect Theyers from the corner shops just down the road from the nine giants.. all wrapped in newspaper for my gran.
Sometimes served in a glass with Corona pop..
And on visits afterwards ..I had been moved to england…
We’ll have to visit Bath soon to try some ..
Correction, typo..Born in ’64 not ’65..
Quite important! 😉
Nice work Ted.
I try to explain to people that pure Dairy Ice-cream is not Vanilla!!!!!!!!! Best Ice Cream ever. Mr Creamy was a good second!
I wonder why the new owners did not continue with the original, unique recipe???
We found it in North Wales when we lived there. Now I know why!!!
This is so good to read. But why oh why didn’t Express foods continue to make the Ice cream. They used to sell it in supermarkets. And Thorntons Chocolate shops. They still sell Ice Cream but nothing like Thayers.
I worked in wentloog rd for 2 yrs 1977 i think as a driver with alan tully great place and john and burnard and to this day am still in contact with david thayer
I loved reading this having enjoyed childhood treats in Thayer’s in the early 1970s. And you are quite right, they did indeed make orange ice cream. Once tasted, never forgotten!
An excellent article, which brings back wonderful memories for me. I worked for Thayers for a number of years. They were a terrific family business, and they were very kind to me too. An excellent product of course – not matched at all by any of today’s ice creams.
I loved Thayers ice cream
My favourite was dairy
My grandpa had a tailors shop almost opposite
J E Boughton I always went there as a child in the 60’s also the saspirlla shop in the David Morgan Arcade I think it was
My Dad did the signwriting on the vans & in the factory, as a sideline, in the ’60s. I went there a few times, as a kid, then later dropping him off, so I could take mum shopping on a Saturday. Loved watching truckloads of fruit being tipped into vats & puree’d, as well as the dairy stuff. He always came home with a few ‘freebies’ for the freezer.
I was evening and weekend (mostly Sunday) manager at Thayers from 87 – 90. I knew Mr Davies and his partner Rev Lewis very well. As well as the Bath shop, Thayers also had two in Swansea (competing with Joes icecream) and a small unit in the open market in Cardiff city centre. David Thayer also opened an ice cream parlour in one of the big arcades in Cardiff.
I was on Bourton on the Water in the Cotswolds In about 1987 and there was a Thayers ice cream shop there!!
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The various comments bring back some lovely memories. I worked for Thayers Ice Cream over a number of years. They were wonderful, caring employers. I mostly worked from the factory at Wentloog Road, but at various times I also worked shifts in some of the shops – Penarth Road, Penarth Pier, Swansea Uplands etc. My brother Neil also worked with Mr Davies in the shop in Wellfield Road. I mostly was a driver – delivering ice cream to shops, cafes, and schools all around South Wales, and delivering to Thorntons shops all around the country. I used to collect frozen raspberries from Scotland in a lorry, and collect fresh strawberries from Herefordshire. Plus I would pop around to the off-licence in Rumney to buy bottles of rum for the rum and raisin ice cream !! Very happy times !!
David Thayer often used to give me a lift to the factory in the mornings, and I am still in touch with John Thayer.
When I first moved to Cardiff in 1974 I was told I had to have Thayers Ice Cream and Brains SA beer to be welcomed in the Principality properly.
Strawberry was my favourite and all flavours were nicer than the beer was!
Reading this brought back some great memories for me. I worked in the Wellfield road shop, occasionally on Penarth Road & outside the Penarth Pier.
Lovely times of just starting out on my working career. A lovely family to work for & I’ve always said it’s the best ice cream ever
In 1977 my work took me away from Cardiff to Muscat, Sultanate of Oman. There was a supermarket (small) run by Spinneys and you can imagine how delighted I was to find Thayers Ice Cream in the freezer!
Thank you so much for that, lovely to hear the history. I am a 66 year Cardifian and Thayers shop in Wellfield Road is a treasured memory of my childhood when living around the corner in Strathnairn Street. You brought my memories alive. Hot chocolate topped with fresh cream in a bacolite cup and saucer on a Saturday morning. Knickerbockerglory as a special treat. Thank you once again.
Brains dark, Clarke’s pie and Thayer ice cream. It’s a Cardiff thing.
My grandparents lived in Pennywain place and as a treat would take us around the corner for Thayers strawberry ice cream. Never have I tasted a comparison. 50 plus years later I have returned from many years in Canada and would give anything to turn back the clocks and walk from Nanas around the corner to Thayers.
Yes I’m with you on that
My grandma lived on the pen y lan estate used to go there every Friday in the sixties
I lived in Bangor Street just behind Thayers. In 1980 aged 16 I got my first Saturday job here earning 60p an hour plus all the ice cream I could eat when no-one was looking ! I had at least 2 ice cream birthday cakes from there. Loved the dairy and toffee flavours the most. Happy, happy days
There is a Thayer’s Ice Cream Parlour in Eastbourne, passed there today.
Wow that’s amazing I wonder if it’s as good I’d have to have stopped and gone in?
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Omg I have wonderful memories of the Thayers family especially Cyril funny serious and John looked at me with one eyebrow raised showing me how to run the office and David nice man always calm such lovely family. I’m sure I was a pain very shy I worked in the office in Wentloog Road Delese Jones I think I was 17 then. I loved that job. ❤❤❤❤ I miss cardiff but sadly my parents died and two brothers so moved to lytham.
Just found your site. Went to school with David Thayer. I live in County Durham, but was born and brought up in Roath – Claude Road and Sturminster Road. Went to Marlborough Rd school and Kings College.
How do I keep in touch. Particularly interested in the 3rd Cardiff “Rowland Reynolds Own” – I was a cub and scout.
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