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.

 

8 thoughts on “Thayer’s Ice Cream – the scoop.

  1. 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

  2. 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.

    Regards,

    Alun Salisbury

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. Ah..
    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..
    Yum..
    And on visits afterwards ..I had been moved to england…
    We’ll have to visit Bath soon to try some ..

  6. 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!!!

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