Archive for May, 2011

Donkey Steps & Gibson’s Square – a revised sketch and more information

May 27, 2011

I’d like to thank Clive Barnby for his comments regarding the last posting about the Donkey Steps. I found them very helpful in jogging my memory. It needs jogging these days! He says:

“A neat sketch, David. In “my day” there was a butcher’s to the right of the steps as you looked up. Whether it was immediately to the right, I’m not sure. Think there may have been a house on the left.”

I’d forgotten the butcher’s shop when I was drawing my rough pencil sketch, but Clive is absolutely correct. There was a butcher’s shop just a little way down from the steps. It wasn’t immediately to the right of the steps. There was some sort of large structure in that place and, after thinking about it, it must have been some part of a boundary wall around the Gibson’s Square houses. I’ve printed below a rough watercolour sketch showing my revised thoughts. The butcher’s shop must have been built below the foundations of the Gibson’s Square houses. This suggests that it might have been just one storey but I cannot be certain about this; it might have had living accommodation above it.

This is my revised rough watercolour sketch of the area, again drawn from memory
of over 70 years ago.  I’ve put the little figure in the red coat to give some scale to the picture.
He is looking over the wall and down into the basement of the house.

When speaking to my friend, Eric Smith, about the Gibson’s Square houses we both thought that there were probably three of them, although there could have been six semi-detached houses as the structures were very large, probably much larger than those drawn in my sketch. The anonymous building to the left of the steps I simply cannot remember in any detail but Eric Smith says that he remembers that it was a house and that he recalls seeing a man in a wheelchair who used to sit outside it.

In my sketch I have placed the butcher’s shop next down to the large wall but it might have been a little further down the hill. As I passed it four times every school day I vividly recall looking into the window of the shop and seeing joints of meat and large trays of tripe. I would have been quite small at the time but I remember that the shop window was quite low and I think the building was constructed on a step area which I’ve tried to show,

Lower down were several small cottages also built on their own “steps” and a little way back off the pavement. One of them belonged to Watkins the tinsmith who featured in an earlier posting.

Clive further says:

 “The house at the top had disappeared; there was little evidence of houses there but my memories are from the 50s.  Remember a hedge running along the top to the right as you walked up, think some of the land the other side of it was used for the growing of vegetables during WWII.”

This comment really jogged my memory and I now recall the area at the top of the steps where the path flattened out. This was opposite the ruined buildings bordering Broadway. On the right there was a wire fence bordering some allotments. There might well have been a hedge inside the fence.These were used before the war so we can be certain that they would have been used during the war when we were all urged to “Dig for Victory”.

Clive’s final comment is this:

“Not sure whether from the bottom of the steps, you could see the top. Think the top curved out of sight but it is a long time ago !! Also seemed quite long but, then, things seemed longer, bigger. On returning in adulthood, it is surprising how small many of the places are.”

I’m sure this is correct too. That is why I queried the curve of the steps in my last posting. I couldn’t seem to remember being able to see from bottom to top of the steps. In my revised sketch I’ve made the steps curve around more to the right.

I think this revised sketch of over 70 years ago is about as far as we can go with information about this area unless there is someone who remembers further details or possibly might have a photograph or a drawing made many years ago.

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Is this how you remember the Donkey Steps and Gibson Square?

May 23, 2011

So far I’ve not received any further information about the Donkey Steps and Gibson Square, and certainly no photographs. Therefore I’ve decided to draw a rough sketch of both from my own memory of them over 70 years ago. I found this rather difficult as I was trying to draw something I couldn’t see and could only vaguely remember in an imperfect way. This has resulted in a pretty awful drawing. Still, this might start a few other memories stirring and I might possibly end up with a reasonably accurate drawing.

I enclose a copy of my sketch hoping I’ll get some information on the following questions:

1. Do you know what two buildings were on either side of the entrance to the steps on the Bell Pitch?

2. Do you know how many steps were in each flight and how many flights there were?

3. I know the steps were curved. Have I got the curve more or less correct?

4. Were the Gibson Square houses two or three storeys?

I remember that the wall in front of the Gibson Square houses was short enough for us to look over the top and down into the bottom floor of the houses which was below ground level.

Please email me with any information you might remember or leave a comment.

My rough sketch of the Donkey Steps and Gibson Square houses

Fairfields of Pontypool crops up again

May 17, 2011

Regular visitors to this blog will remember that Jan Davey was interested to know where Fairfields was. I think the consensus was that it must have been houses that were built on what was known (in the 1930s and 40s) as “The Fairground” near the river at the bottom of Penygarn Hill. In a recent email I received from Jan this idea seems even more likely. I quote the relevant part of Jan’s email below:

“Thanks for your e.mail regarding Fairfields in Pontypool and Jeff’s reply in response to the matter. I understand from a conversation I had with an elderly Aunt of mine who actually remembered visiting there (possibly in the late 40s or early 50s) that it was definitely “down by the river, next to the park, behind where the old Post Office and Labour Exchange were situated”.  Before receiving this information from my Aunt, I actually explored the area up at Wainfelin, that being the only ‘Fairfield’ I could find in Pontypool. However, it simply did not relate to any description that I can recall my mother shared with us about her childhood.  She always talked about the park and that her mother (who was an avid film buff) spent a lot of her time at the cinema, which I understood was not that far from where they lived.  So yes, if Jeff or anyone else has any further information that they would like to share on the subject I’d love to hear about it!

My Grandmother still lived at the property (8 Fairfields, Pontypool) until some time in the late 50s before it was demolished by the Corporation.  My Aunt said my gran along with the other residents there were offered new housing nearby but that my gran refused to move (even though her house was in such a bad state!) and eventually had to move in with my Aunt in Blackwood.  I simply don’t know of what construction my Gran’s house was other than my Aunt’s description of it having a round roof similar to that of a nisson hut and that it was decrepit!?! The fact that the properties there were given a proper address and that they were numbered means that they must have been legitimately recognised by the authorities and should have some documented history as they were demolished by the council in the 50s.  So if anyone has any advice as to how one might make enquiries relating to the history of these properties, perhaps to the council,  I’d really appreciate them passing it on to me.”  

If anyone has anything specific to add such as map references, or, ideally, photographic evidence, I’d be pleased to hear about it and will pass the information on to Jan.

The Queen’s Ballroom Pontypool

May 10, 2011

In a recent telephone conversation I had with my friend, Eric Smith, he was telling me that a lot of people do not know where The Queen’s Ballroom was in Pontypool. This is quite understandable because it is now known, and has been for very many years, as The Palais de Dance.

I remember it by that name way back in the early 1940s when dances and other forms of entertainment were held there. At that time it was the only dance hall in Wales with a sprung floor; in fact there was only one other such place in the whole country with such a floor and that was in the Blackpool Tower. You might remember that, a year or so ago, some of the Strictly Come Dancing programmes were held there.

One of the regular events at the Palais de Dance was the annual NSPCC Children’s Ball, an event to raise money for the charity. Eric attended these and, on one occasion, all the children were taken along to Turner’s Fish and chip shop in George Street and were provided with a meal of fish and chips. When Eric asked me to go along to the ball with him I agreed. We were about 12 years old at the time so it was during the war. Sadly there were no fish and chips on that occasion but I do remember going upstairs to have refreshments on the small balcony. I remember it being very crowded with several hundred children in attendance and quite a number of adults.

The entrance to the Palais de Dance, usually referred to by Pontypool folk simply as “The Palais” (usually pronounced “pally”), was directly opposite the top entrance to the market in Crane Street. I don’t have a photograph of the whole building but I do remember it had a fairly large foyer leading to the inside doors. There were a few steps down to the pavement. I do, however, have a photograph of a troupe of performers in their costumes sitting on those steps. If anyone has a better photograph of The Palais, please let me have a copy and I’ll include it in a future blog post.

A troupe of performers sitting on the steps of The Palais de Dance