Where The Streets Have No Name

In which The Author passes on an important message

A few years ago, in Nooks and Crannies, I told you how I’d explored my home village of Trecynon in minute detail, revisiting side streets and back lanes which I hadn’t walked through since my teens. I did much the same thing this morning.
Following the successful launch of The Men Who Marched Away on Tuesday (see They Shall Not Grow Old), Geoff E. is raring to get on with the street names project. We met up in the library a couple of days ago, and he gave me a large collection of 6″ x 4″ cards on which he’d written his preliminary notes, and a folder of old news clippings, legal documents and correspondence. I was surprised by how much research he’s done already, but since the folder label reads ‘Street names project 2006’, it’s obvious that we’ve been thinking on similar lines for quite some time.
I suggested a title for the joint book a few weeks ago. Geoff liked it, and a couple of other people like it too. It implies that we’ll have to extend our research to Mountain Ash and Abercynon as well, which will appease some of the grumblers in the Cynon Valley History Society. It also gave us a convenient abbreviation to use as a code-name. However, with a nod to Sir Ian Botham’s autobiography, I think I’ll refer to it as ‘Don’t Tell Olga’ for the time being.
I’d already taken the liberty of drawing up a framework for the overall structure, and this morning I sorted Geoff’s cards into a box which I had tucked in a drawer. Then it occurred to me to try and plug some gaps in my photo collection. It wasn’t raining for the first time in about a week, so I took advantage of the sunshine and headed out.
A few weeks ago, Geoff mentioned something which I hadn’t realised before. It seems obvious now, but you might find it surprising as well. Until 1847, there was no legal requirement for houses to be numbered, or for street names to be displayed on signs. That changed with the passing of the Town Improvement Clauses Act. It gave local authorities the responsibility for erecting street signs and fitting house numbers. In my area, this was undertaken by the Aberdare Local Board of Health. Geoff mentioned that their old signposts were a quite distinctive shape and style. It dawned on me that I already had a photograph of one of the original signposts in my Vanishing Valleys collection. I took it a few years ago, when I was taking Stella for a walk along the old tramroad between Trecynon and Hirwaun.
Note the old spelling of 'Gelly'
Note the old spelling of ‘Gelly’
These cast-iron signs have largely been replaced throughout Aberdare town centre. (Rather ironically, the parts within the ‘conservation area’ have modern signs in a cod-Victorian style.) Luckily, I live in Trecynon, one of the old villages in the Cynon Valley, so I knew that there were still a number of old signs dotted around. This morning, I set off in search of them.
I struck lucky almost immediately, as the original sign for Llewellyn Street remains in place. I walked past Windsor Street, went up Iestyn Street, explored as far as the end of Cemetery Road, and then back as far as the top gates of the park. I was disappointed at not finding any more original signs, but I found a curiosity at Cledwyn Terrace – a carved stone bearing the name of the street, set into the frontage of the first house. Unfortunately, the whole row is covered with scaffolding, so I’ll have to return when the work is finished to get a decent photo.
I already knew that there was another curiosity at the top end of Windsor Street. I’d passed it one day when Stella and I were coming back from the park. If there hadn’t been a chap working on the house at the time, I doubt if I’d have looked up in the first place.

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I had another wasted walk down Church Row, but I hit a double at Arthurs Place, right at the foot of Llwydcoed Hill. There are only two houses, and each of them has a sign affixed to the frontage. I photographed one of them and headed back towards the old part of the village.

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I was surprised not to find more original signs around the heart of the village, to be honest; Mill Street, Harriet Street, Stag Street and Clive Place all let me down. I found just one, at the top of Clive Street. I crossed the square and ventured back into the back streets which I remembered from my childhood. I had more luck in Bell Street Belle Vue, Union Street, St John’s Street and Gadlys Uchaf.
From there I walked down the hill into Robertstown. This compact little village consists pretty much of one long street with a couple of side streets cutting across it at the southern end. When I was growing up, the Helliwells factory occupied the middle of the long street – Wellington Street – and divided Robertstown into two halves. Now it’s the familiar Valleys hinterland of a builders’ merchant and a few small industrial units. Considering that it’s an old settlement, I drew a complete blank on the original street signs. I made my way across the footbridge (no prizes for guessing where Bridge Street gets its name from) and up towards the Gadlys.
I’d hoped to find an original Hirwaun Road sign, but drew a blank there too. I looped round at the end of the new houses and made my way towards Aberdare. I was on the wrong side of the main road when I spotted this, opposite the White Lion.

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However, I was on the right side of the road to photograph the original signs for Gadlys Street and Dowlais Street. I decided to leave the side streets for another day, but even so I took a small detour into South Avenue when I spotted the sign from the main road. Dad used to live there when he was a young lad, but I think it’s the first time I’ve ever set foot there.
[A digression: One mystery which Geoff and I might need to address in the course of our research is The Problem of the Vanishing Avenue. Fairly close together on the Gadlys there are North Avenue, East Avenue and South Avenue – but there’s no sign of West Avenue. I don’t know if there’s ever been one. Answers on a postcard, please…]
Anyway, I’ve plugged a few gaps in my Vanishing Valleys archive this morning. I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for the Board of Health signs when I’m out and about with the camera from now on. They’re intriguing remnants of our Valley’s industrial past. They’re more interesting than the identikit metal Cynon Valley Borough Council signs, and far more characteristic than the plastic RCTCBC signs which are spreading like wildfire. I’ve already asked my Facebook friends to tip me off about any which I’ve missed. Please let me know if there’s one near you, so that I can add it to my collection.
And this brings me to the point of this blog. The Welsh Ambulance Service has issued an appeal to householders throughout the country, and I’ll give you the gist of it here. While I was walking around Trecynon this morning, it struck me how many houses aren’t clearly numbered. It’s true in my street, which is a straight run of terraced houses numbered from 1 to 30-something, with a couple of As thrown in to complicate matters. It’s particularly true in tucked-away places like Belle Vue and St John’s Street, where the numbering system seems to be pretty haphazard.
Trying to find one’s way around these winding streets must be a nightmare for a new postman on the round. Imagine what it would be like for the emergency services, where every second counts on the way to a call. Finding the right house could quite literally be a matter of life or death.
That’s why the Welsh Ambulance Service, and the various police services in the country, are appealing to everyone to make sure that their house number/name can be clearly seen from the road. They’ve produced a handy poster with some useful tips, which is spreading via social media at the moment. While it’s fresh in my mind, I’m going to share it here. Please do the same. It’s a simple thing, and it could help save lives.

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