The article below was written in 2008 by one of our members, the late Cathie Mabbitt (née O’Connor). It is supplemented by pictures featuring some of the shops mentioned in her reminiscences.
I was born in 1930. We lived behind the off-licence in Wellfield Road (Ed: No15 now occupied by Troy Meza Bar). I always say that’s why I enjoy a drink. Our front door was the gate leading into the lane. Next door was Day’s Ice Cream shop and, further down, the Penylan Bakery where my brother was sent on a Saturday evening for 6 pennyworth (2½ new pence) of cream cakes and I was allowed to lick the cream off the paper bag when he came back. It was Louis, who lived there, who let me ride his tricycle to Roath Park School when I was 4.
When I was 5-6 we moved to the flat behind Singer’s Sewing Machine shop in Albany Road, next door to the Misses Bowen’s Wool shop. Next door to them was the Post Office, then I think five private houses before a few more shops, including Mr Roberts the Jewellers in whose porch we would shelter while waiting for a tramcar. The other side of us was the Music Shop, with usually a grand piano in the window. Opposite us was Percy Thomas the Florist, Cadogan’s the Photographer, A G Meek who are still there, a good Ironmonger’s and The Cabin Sweetshop. Further up was “the Direct Grocers, where my Grandfather would sit smoking a pipe until he was served. The Welcome Newsagents, a Sweet Shop, then Woolworth’s – still in the same place now. Littlewoods was on the comer of Diana Street. On the opposite corner to Woolworth’s was either Hopkin Morgan the Bakers or Lipton’s the Grocers. At the top of the road, taking up the entire block apart from [Hopson’s] the Tobacconists, was Collins the Drapers, where you went to the department you wanted, sat on a seat at the counter and, when you had made your purchase, your money was sent in a little capsule on a wire across the store to the cashier and your change winged back the same way. There were lots more shops in Albany Road but these are the ones I remember.
In Albany Road we had a porch and a large front door, a wide hall leading into a large living-room with a big pantry in the corner with a large cold slab for keeping everything cool and fresh. Then a kitchen-scullery and outside a toilet and out-house, where you could light a fire to boil the wash and a large mangle which I don’t think I ever liked using. We had quite a good sized back garden with a good piece of grass on one side where I could play and, on the other side, vegetables and flowers. My Irish Grandfather, who lived with us, grew tomatoes. My brother would be sent out with bucket and spade to collect the droppings from the dray horses and dairy horses. My Grandfather would water it down and always seemed to be feeding his tomato plants with it as my Mother would be getting the tea, with the kitchen door wide open. We had a side entrance opening on to Albany Road. During the day, it was never locked so it was not unusual for my Mother to arrive home to find half-a-dozen of my brother’s friends in the kitchen having tea and biscuits.
When I was 7, I was sent to St Peter’s School and made friends with Mary from Angus Street and Evelyn from Treharris Street. We are still friends now. Summer evenings were spent either in the street, playing all the street games, or else at the ‘Rec’ (Recreation Park) paddling in the stream or climbing down ditches. We could spend hours over there with a couple of sandwiches and a bottle of pop, quite safe with just an occasional lecture on not to talk to strange men.
My parents were credit traders, that is they sold clothes, men’s, ladies’ and children’s clothes and household goods. Customers paid weekly for them. My Mother had started the business and then, just before I was born, my Father lost his job so started working with her. They were out every day and in the evenings the customers would come to the house to choose clothes. Our big front room upstairs was the stockroom and, while waiting their turn, they would sit in the living room having a cup of tea. It was a struggle for my parents. Years later, my Mother told me that sometimes, to pay an urgent bill, they would borrow coppers from my money box (I was always the saver in the family) replacing it when they could. My brother had 6d (six pence) a week pocket money, I had 4d. Out of his, he bought my Mother a 2d bar of chocolate and I bought her a penny bar. The other 3d was spent on a pennyworth of sweets and 2d to go to the Globe Cinema on Saturday morning.
I was almost 9 when war was declared. I remember the day for we all listened to Mr Chamberlain’s speech on the radio. We had the radio two years before in time for [King George VI’s] Coronation. After his speech, I played ball quietly in the garden, wondering what it meant. At first, life carried on as normal with black-out material lining the curtains and the street lights going out, being taught to use a gas mask and carrying it over my shoulder everywhere. My parents sold gas mask cases and black-out material.
We had a large cellar. The coal would be delivered through the manhole in the front but then my Mother would sweep it into a tidy pile and the rest of the floor and steps were washed. (Years later, when the Rent Act altered and the new landlord gave us notice to go, all the new small houses in Roath Court Road had been sold but one came back on the market. There were several people wanting it but the estate agent, remembering our house and how clean the cellar was, thought my Mother deserved it! But I’m going ahead of myself). When the bombing got heavier, a single bed was put down in the cellar for me to sleep, with chairs for the others. A neighbour in the top flat above the music shop would come in most nights, waiting for the sirens to go. The Misses Bowen had a Morrison Air Raid Shelter which they used as a dining table, with cushions and blankets underneath. The houses, I think, had Anderson Shelters.
Albany Road and Angus Street had the first bombs in Cardiff. Most people think it was Canton and Neville Street, but no – it was us. My Mother was in hospital, she had been in the Infirmary but was now in the [William Nichols Convalescent Home] in St Mellons so my aunt with her baby daughter had come from Ebbw Vale to look after us. The sirens had gone but we weren’t paying much attention when there was a huge BANG! and my Grandfather came rushing from the outside toilet with his trousers half-down and there was a crashing of glass as the greenhouse windows broke. The bomb had hit the Antique Shop just past Mr Roberts the Jewellers. They were Canadian friends of my aunt and their eldest daughter was buried under the rubble and killed. I think they all went back to Canada ‘til the end of the War In Angus Street, it was two houses and a boy a bit older than me with big dark eyes, very shy, was also killed.
Next morning, my friend called for me as usual for school but when we came home at lunchtime the barricades were up because sightseers had come in dozens to see what had happened. I remember going up to the policeman to ask to go through the barriers because we lived there and the crowd looking at us with awe.
As the raids increased, Littlewoods had a big fire and St Martin’s Church also went up in smoke. I remember watching both. Because sleep was disturbed we started school later, first 10 am and then 11 am and home at 12 for dinner!
The tramcars started at 4 am, I think they were later on Sundays. We were so used to them, it didn’t disturb us but our visitors always woke up. My brother had a dog, Bubble, part Airedale, who would get on a tramcar in Albany Road, change in town to the one for Pier Head and get off in Louden Square to see my Grandfather who was the park keeper there. Then he would make the journey in reverse. I can remember being on the tram with him.
My Mother didn’t like shopping so, before the War, though we had two grocers within a hundred yards, a man used to call every week to take her grocery order. That was how he earned his living. What we needed otherwise, my Grandfather, my brother or myself would get it. It was this man who advised my Mother to buy an extra bag of sugar and tea and other dried foods each week, in order to have a Store in hand when the War came. My Mother was careful, so we always seemed to have enough and some to share. One customer was a Slaughterman, so often my Mother arrived home with sweetbreads for my Father’s tea, which I shared. My uncle worked for Armours the Meat Importers, so he always gave us the turkey for Christmas.
I never liked margarine and never ate it. When ice cream stopped, we used to buy the cones and imagine the ice cream. When sweets were rationed, I’m sure I must have had my parents’ allocation. I would go to friends in Llandaff every week and come home with eggs and fruit from their vegetable garden. We must have had a big cheese ration, at one time our favourite tea was our own tomatoes fried with melted cheese on top. It didn’t look very interesting but it tasted delicious. When I learned to cook, I made marzipan. with soya flour and toffee with condensed milk. My friend’s father worked on the Docks and one day he came home with a banana, one banana which she took to school and the nuns raffled it for charity!
More photos and links to Albany Road articles on our Albany Road page.
No.60 Albany Road is in the news at the moment as it is currently occupied by squatters protesting against landlords.