About ten years ago, when my wife and I visited New York, we walked down Broadway and I remember thinking how different it was from Broadway, Pontypool; yes, it was a lot different. The buildings on New York Broadway towered above us like giants. The trouble is, if you build tall buildings you cut out the sun. Broadway, Pontypool was quite wide with low buildings; consequently, when the sun was out, it was always sunny. Also you had a good view our over the town and beyond on the one side.
One day, as I was returning home from Town School, having decided on the Broadway route, I was met at the top of the Donkey Steps by a man and woman who asked me the way to somewhere (I can’t remember where). I said I always passed it on my way home and that I would show them where it was. We walked along chatting as we went. I remember the woman was wearing one of those bell-shaped hats that were very popular in the twenties. When we came to a point where I could show them the place they wanted, they thanked me very much and the man took out of his pocket a small arc-shaped magnet and gave it to me. I still have it.
The slight rise at the top of the hilly part of Broadway led into North Road. My maternal grandparents lived in North Road in the last cottage on the right walking from the Wern Terrace direction. My grandfather died when I was only five years old but I have some fond memories of him. He used to take me on long walks such as down to the Crumlin Road where he would point out what plants it was safe to eat. I remember coming home one day in great triumph after we’d captured a “snake” – actually it was some sort of dark brown worm about two inches long. I took it home in my grandfather’s cigarette packet.
I was always made to feel welcome in the little cottage and would sometimes be given pieces of paper to write and draw on. I remember on one occasion my grandfather made me a pipe out of a cotton reel and some sort of a straw. He always seemed to have ideas which I considered exciting.
The cottage was one of those two down-two up affairs with the staircase in the corner of the living room; it was always difficult to climb. They now have similar ones at St Fagan’s Folk Museum. I remember going up it for the last time when most of my family were assembled around grandfather’s bed. I didn’t know at the time that he was dying but I did notice tears running down my mother’s face. Afterwards I asked her whether she’d been crying and she replied that she’d got something in her eye. I never saw my grandfather again.
If you crossed diagonally across the road at the wide junction there was Williams’ shop where they sold all sorts of sweets in packets and large bottles. I frequently went there to get my favourite sweets at the time – Dolly Mixtures. They were small, varied and lasted a long time. Almost opposite was another smaller shop. I forget the name but I often went there to buy a bottle of pop.
About half way along North Road there was a butcher’s shop. I think it was run by Les Pope. I frequently accompanied my mother there when she went to buy her meat. I well remember the assortment of joints, chops, black pudding and tripe displayed in the window. Tripe was a meal we never had but tripe-and-onions was a popular meal at the time.
I am indebted to Clive Barnby of Pontypridd, who used to live in North Road, for the following memories sent to me by email:
“One character I remember, David, was a chap I usually passed on the donkey steps – as I was walking down, he was walking up towards The Broadway, always reading from a book. I didn’t know his name or where he lived. There was Mrs Harris who had the shop by Town School & would sell cigarettes singly to the pupils who stayed on after 11.
Another was Joe Williams, the landlord, of the Forgehammer. I don’t know where he lived either but in the mornings he would walk up North Road from The Broadway direction. It was in the days when betting shops were illegal but he ran a “book” & would take bets, so he had a “regular time” he’d walk to the pub & people would come out of the house & hand him a piece of paper with their selection on it wrapped round half-crown or whatever. This was up to about when I was seven.”
I well remember Harris’s shop opposite Town School. On one occasion, one of the teachers, Mr Hughes, asked to to go over there at playtime to buy some sweets for him. At the time he was sitting in Miss Brooks’ classroom as she was about to make tea. They were married a year or two later. Perhaps those sweets helped!
Just a little way up the hill from Harris’s was a small newspaper shop accessed by a few steep steps. This was where I went every Tuesday with my penny to buy our favourite comic – the “Tip Top”. My favourite character was the handsome mounted policeman on the front page. I loved his exploits. Captain Jim Hamar of the Boys’ Brigade had been a Mountie as I’ve mentioned previously. Some years ago on a 17 day visit to Canada, you can imagine my disappointment when there wasn’t a Mountie in sight.
Opposite Harris’s was the shop of Mr Bibey, the barber. It was always full but a few of us lads would be regularly sent there with our 9d to get a haircut. Strangely enough, I’ve just returned from the barber’s this morning. My haircut cost me £6.50. Come back Mr Bibey – all is forgiven.