In Desire Lines I reproduced an old map of a fairly small part of Aberdare town centre and mentioned the pubs which were marked on it. I promised myself then that I’d try and flesh out the rest of the picture. In fact, I’ve spent several months on and off doing just that, drawing on the extensive information compiled by former Aberdare librarian Richard Arnold and published by the Cynon Valley History Society (Arnold, 1982).
In his article, Mr Arnold states that
The oldest inn in the Parish of Aberdare, according to the author of one of the essays published in ‘Gardd Aberdar’, was the Cap Coch at Abercwmboi (not the present establishment there). In Aberdare itself the oldest inn is said to have been the Bon-y-Groes, which stood where the Town Hall is today in High Street … The last landlord of the Bon-y-Groes was W. E. Phillips, who died there in 1826 aged 104 years (Arnold, 1982: 107).
Fair play to him – and I thought the old landlady of the Temple Bar in Aberaman was knocking on a bit!
It’s quite frightening to realise just how many watering holes there were in and around Aberdare at the height of the Industrial Age, but given the way the population grew exponentially in such a short time, it’s hardly surprising. Look at the census figures: in 1821, the population of Aberdare Parish was 2,063; in 1831, 3,961; in 1841, 6,461; in 1851, 14,999; and in 1861 a staggering 32,000.
In 1793, it is said that the Parish of Aberdare could boast of two shops and five inns … Scammel’s Directory of Bristol and South Wales for 1852 lists fifty-five inns and hotels, and forty-eight beer retailers in Aberdare and district, a total of 103 houses (Arnold, 1982: 107-109.)
Even the smallest settlements had at least one pub, and some of them, like the Halfway House – on the mountain track between Aberdare and Merthyr Tydfil – were isolated to say the least.
This was by no means unrepresentative of the rest of the country at the height of Britain’s industrial boom. In 1830, the government of the day introduced the Beerhouse Act. It was originally intended to cut the number of gin shops which were taking a huge toll in terms of public health and social disorder. It sort-of worked, insofar as people stopped drinking gin. The only trouble was, they started drinking beer instead!
The Act allowed anyone to sell beer only, merely by obtaining an excise licence, which could be obtained on demand, by the payment of two guineas [two pounds, two shillings] … Often collections were made to get the required amount in order, for instance, to set a widow up in business as a beerhouse keeper. (Arnold, 1982: 109.)
By 1836, forty-six thousand new beerhouses had opened in England and Wales. By 1869 the figure had reached fifty-three thousand, with two thousand new ones being added annually. Even the increased cost of a licence (to three guineas in 1834) and various other measures designed to limit growth seemed to have little effect.
To counter this upward trend, the 1872 Licensing Act restored the power of magistrates to grant licenses, and this seems to have worked. Between then and 1900, twenty-four public houses in Aberdare and district closed, and only one opened – the Rhos Wenallt, in 1881. After two unsuccessful attempts, the Aberaman Hotel was granted its licence in 1906.
Mr Arnold refers to the earliest surviving register of licences, for 1872, which lists 71 beerhouses and 129 fully licensed houses. In addition,
if we include the two hundred alehouses and beerhouses … and the seventy-three known houses that disappeared before that date, at least two hundred and seventy-three alehouses or beerhouses existed or had existed in the area from Hirwaun to Abercwmboi.((Arnold, 1982: 110)
It’s little wonder, then, that the Temperance Movement tried to make substantial inroads into Wales around the turn of the last century. The Aberdare Leader ran a regular series of articles entitled ‘Temperance Topics’ throughout 1902 and 1903. Even twenty years ago, when my pal Baz was the best man at a wedding in Llandysul, it was impossible to get a drink on a Sunday in the borough of Dinefwr.
The prohibitionists had their last fling as recently as 1997, believe it or not, when a referendum into whether to allow Sunday drinking throughout Wales was held. The ‘anti’ lobby was defeated by an overwhelming seven to one – possibly the last time an election issue really exercised the people of this small country.
However, the law and economics won out where religion had failed. The 1904 Act allowed magistrates to close pubs where they considered that there were too many in the same vicinity. Prior to this, public houses could only be closed because of the licensee’s misconduct. In 1906, the new law claimed its first victims, when four public houses were declared redundant. The following year, seven houses were closed, and ten the year after that.
In all, between 1906 and 1941, ninety licensed premises were closed because of redundancy in Aberdare and the surrounding districts. No applications for the renewal of another four licenses were made (Arnold, 1982: 111).
This took the number of licensed houses from 177 to just 83. It marked the start of an inexorable downward trend, interrupted only by the war and, rather oddly, the subsequent austerity years. The Plasterers Arms closed in 1950, but the next closure took place a decade afterwards. Between 1960 and the publication of Mr Arnold’s research, another twenty-four pubs closed.
There was a brief flurry of pub and club openings during the 1980s, when a number of enterprising people established new premises in Aberdare town centre. For a short period, it became known as ‘the Las Vegas of the Valleys’, and there were no fewer than six late-night clubs aimed largely at the youth market. Most didn’t last, though, and the story since has largely been the continuation of the downward trend.
The pub names themselves are fascinating. They reflect the area’s development from its rural beginnings (the Lamb, the Farmers Arms), through its growth as an industrial town (the Engineers Arms, the Puddlers Arms, numerous Colliers Arms), and into the present era of gimmicky or plain daft names. I recall reading somewhere that pub names were originally pub signs – in a time before widespread literacy, an easy to recognise picture would be used as a sort of early ‘corporate logo.’ This would certainly explain why so many names are duplicated from district to district. The names of the iron and coal owners were commemorated in the pub names, too: Crawshay, Fothergill, Wayne, Scales. They’re all gone now.
The words ‘inn’ and ‘hotel’ seemed to be fairly freely interchangeable in the old days, which may have proved rather confusing when Mr Arnold was compiling his list, and certainly didn’t do me any favours when I was researching the photographs.
Obviously, the earliest entries on the list didn’t leave any photographic evidence behind. When you’re walking along a street, a raised roof-line or suspiciously wide frontage might suggest the previous incarnation of an innocent-looking private house. Otherwise, there’s often nothing to reveal the rich history behind the front door.
Mr Arnold’s original list is prefaced with this caveat:
Included in the list are the licensed premises of all types, which were actually licensed in January, 1982. The area covered extends from Abercwmboi in the south to Rhigos in the north, and also Penderyn. As the public houses of Penderyn and the former Breconshire part of Hirwaun did not come under the jurisdiction of the Aberdare magistrates until 1974 [when the county boundaries were redrawn], early information on them has not been available, nor are their closing dates known in most instances, indeed, some may not be included at all. Houses listed as ‘Before 1872’ are those whose names survive from various other sources, but are not included in the Licensing Registers for 1872 (the earliest still in existence) or any subsequent register, and are therefore presumed to have closed before that date (Arnold, 1982: 120).
When he concluded his study, there was a total of seventy-three ‘licensed premises’ in Aberdare and District. Obviously, things have changed considerably in the last thirty years, so I’m going to try and adapt the original information for a contemporary survey of the scene.
Although he says that he’s included ‘licensed premises of all types’, for some reason, Mr Arnold decided to ignore the large number of social clubs throughout the area. I’ve also chosen to omit them, for a couple of reasons. I know that they’ve been an integral part of Valleys culture for many decades, but as private ‘members only’ establishments they don’t fill the same role as pubs did (and still do.) Furthermore, a large number of clubs have closed or merged in the past couple of decades, and it would be very difficult to find accurate information about them.
I’ve also made no attempt to list the many off-licences which have sprung up in the past three decades. Along with the supermarkets, they have made massive inroads into our Valleys communities. They have undoubtedly had an impact on the pub trade, and it could be argued that their burgeoning presence in our towns and villages have led, directly or indirectly, to a fair number of pub closures. At the time of writing, Aberdare town centre has no fewer than seven off-licenses, with a similar number within a mile radius. It would be beyond the scope of this entry to try and catalogue all of them, so I won’t even try!
Mr Arnold marked the pubs which were open in January 1982 (when his article went to press) with a *. I’ve transferred them to my adapted list. I’ve also marked the pubs which are still open today (and even a few later additions) with a †.
To gather my information, I’ve worked my way through Mr Arnold’s list, cross-referencing it with the Ordnance Survey maps kept at Aberdare Library, which date back to the 1870s. They’re works of art in themselves, hand-coloured on sheets of linen, and now encapsulated in plastic to protect them. Each one contains a wealth of historical information, and I’ve come across a few surprises, as you’ll see.
I’ve raided the Rhondda Cynon Taf Digital Archive for many of the old photos, and added some of my own to give a sort of ‘then and now’ feel. My old pal Dave Workman took a fair number of them, and I’ve marked them as DPW. Others were taken by the local photography pioneer J. Lendon Berry (JLB), a chap named Glyn Davies (GD), or are otherwise uncredited on the RCT website. Unfortunately, many pubs vanished before photography became widely accessible. The only traces they’ve left behind are faint footprints in the trade directories of the time.
Without access to older maps, some locations are a complete mystery. Mr Arnold’s information was limited to the Aberdare Urban District, which meant that details of some of the outlying places were sketchy at best. Even the OS maps (and a substantial amount of legwork) have failed to pinpoint some of them, but it was still a good way to while away countless wet afternoons in Aberdare Library.
Mr Arnold listed his findings in alphabetical order, which is handy for reference. However, I’ve taken the liberty of starting at the foot of the Glynneath Bank (just within the county line) and worked my way south, with a few detours so that you can stop for breath. It’s the first Virtual Valley Pub Crawl. Make sure, as Mams always advised us, that you drink a pint of milk before you set out ‘to line your stomach.’ After all, this could take some time.
Ready? Okay, let’s wet our whistles at …
* The Butchers Arms, Pontwalby 1872 – 20?
This one closed a few years ago. I went in there just once, on my way back from Swansea after the connecting bus from Rhossili had buggered up. I ended up travelling back in several stages, and caught a taxi home from the terminus of the X5 route – which was the Butchers. (I even got my taxi fare back after complaining to First Bus.) It’s now a private house.
* † The New Inn, Rhigos Unknown – Still open
I haven’t been in here for ages. They used to do fantastic meals when I was younger.
* † The Plough Inn, Rhigos 1851 – Still open(-ish)
I’ve been told that there’s some sort of legal covenant in effect, which means that it can’t be changed from a pub, and must remain open in perpetuity. Having said that, I’ve never seen it open. Gaz had a pint there once, but it’s a complete mystery how he managed it.
It’s time for some vigorous exercise to work up a real thirst. Let’s take a brisk walk down Halt Road, over the Foel into Penderyn, and stop at everyone’s favourite country retreat …
* † The Red LionUnknown – Still open
Another one which keeps odd hours. It tends not to open during weekday afternoons, but the evenings make up for it. Its key features include open fires, real ales, and a building project which seems to have been in progress since my first visit thirty years ago.
The Cynon Valley Profile gang managed to gain access to it one lunchtime in 1987, when we were taking photographs around the area. We enquired about bar snacks, and were offered pies or pasties. Kathleen was a vegetarian, and when she mentioned this fact, the landlady replied, ‘Have a pastie, love, there’s not much meat in them.’ You couldn’t make it up!
* † The Lamb HotelUnknown – Still open
This is a quaint village pub, with an open fire and an odd range of beers. It’s old-fashioned and popular with the farming community. My brother and some of our mates used to play for their pool team years ago.
The last time I was there, they wouldn’t let Stella in. I assumed, as a country pub, they’d have been dog-friendly, but I was wrong. In the batch of old photos which Rowland gave me was a cracking shot of some of the regulars, probably taken by Leader photographer John Wright, but not dated.
* Butchers Arms, Pontbren Unknown – Closed 199?
I’m not sure when this one closed. Its most notable feature was a load of stuffed animal heads on the walls of the lounge. I remember that Trevor and the Sprouts played a storming gig there back in about 1985. I actually danced with a girl I fancied, but that was far as it went between us. Strange things happen in Penderyn, I tell ye…
This was another Cynon Valley Profile stop-off on the same photographic expedition. This time Kathleen decided she’d have more luck ordering ‘crisps and a roll’, and was given a sliced bread roll with a few plain crisps inside. Penderyn wasn’t exactly at the forefront of the Gastropub movement, as you’ve probably gathered.
Brecon Arms, Penderyn Unknown – Unknown
This one doesn’t appear on Mr Arnold’s list, presumably because it was in Breconshire throughout its lifespan. I found it by chance on the 1904 OS map. It’s right on the northern edge of this section. Aberdare Library doesn’t have old maps stretching further north. Once again, Facebook came to my aid. After I shared this map, my friend Mel C. put me onto the Penderyn Community Historical Society website. Their online leaflet about the village pubs filled in some gaps about this pub, and others which I’d never heard of. It was apparently still open until the 1940s; after that it became variously a dairy, a hairdresser’s, and the village Post Office. It’s now a private house.
Rose Arms, Penderyn Road 1867 – Unknown
I found this one marked (just!) on the Ordnance Survey map of 1885. It was tucked away in a little row of cottages beside the railway line, opposite to the entrance to Bryn-y-Gaer Cemetery. On the maps of 1904 and 1919, the cottages are still marked as ‘Rose Row’, but there’s no sign of the pub.
* Mount Pleasant, Hirwaun Road 1867-20?
This was where Lisa and I used to go, back in the autumn of 1983. It was near her house, but quiet enough that we wouldn’t get asked for ID (not that it happened very often in those days anyway.) The last time I was there was after Uncle Stan’s funeral a few years ago. I passed it a while ago and there was no obvious sign of life. I’ve since been told by a friend from Penderyn that it’s been converted into houses.
* † Ty Newydd Guest House1975 – present
It may be licensed, but it’s hardly part of a pub crawl. It’s the sort of place that caters for wedding receptions. It’s on the list just because it is. I’ve never been there, and probably never will.
Three OaksUnknown – Unknown
Another mystery. Mr Arnold’s list states only that it was ‘on railway line to Penderyn’; other than that I’m none the wiser. The Hirwaun Historical Society list names it as ‘Royal Oak’. However, I found it on the OS maps of 1870, 1904 and 1919, indicating that Mr Arnold was right. This section of the 1904 map has it marked as a ‘beer house.’ Only ruins remain, according to the Penderyn Historical Society. Intriguing, eh?
If you’re already feeling a bit unsteady on your feet, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Welcome to Hirwaun.
This is a bit of a problem as far as the historical records are concerned. Until 1974, a fair part of the village was in Breconshire and the rest was in Glamorganshire. For this reason, the information in Aberdare Library was rather sketchy in the early 1980s. It’s probably a lot easier these days, in this age of digital archives, but for the time being I’ll work through Mr Arnold’s list as best I can. I’ve also found a list compiled by Hirwaun Historical Society, which filled a few gaps on my database.
Some of the pubs have nothing but a name. Even with an up-to-date street atlas I’m at a loss to pin down some of them. I know my way around the place quite well, but so many old buildings were demolished during the 1960s that a map doesn’t really help.
Like many Valleys communities, the original village grew organically, with no rhyme or reason to the street layout. Its industrial origins are reflected in the names of some former pubs – for example, the Crawshays were a family of wealthy ironmasters who built Cyfarthfa Castle in Merthyr Tydfil.
This leg of the pub crawl is going to get a bit messy, so any people with experience of Operations Research should probably get on board now. It’s a perfect example of the Travelling Salesman’s Problem, as you can see from the following map.
I’ve reconstructed this as best I can, using Ordnance Survey maps dating back to the 1870s and Mr Arnold’s list as a guide. Even so, I can’t pinpoint a fair number of the older ones. Cross-referencing the list with the 1904 map has enabled me to mark twenty-two pubs. (There’s no guarantee that I’ve identified all of them correctly, mind you!) I’ve numbered it from approximately north to south, west to east, and the numbers appear in brackets before the pub name on the list below. Take a deep breath, here we go to …
(3)* Bodwigiad Arms, Station Road 1865 – ? Demolished 2010.
I only went there once, with Baz, after a Defcon gig in Hirwaun Church Hall. The gig itself was an odd one – a thrash metal band called Snakebite were headlining, and at about 10.00 Russell Chiswell, the vicar, came in to tell us our time was up. I don’t know what he thought about the inverted crosses on the drumkit, or the Satanic lyrics. He probably wouldn’t have minded, to be honest, he was a laid-back kind of guy.
Baz and I were surprised to find Brian, the former guv’nor of The Carpenters, running the Bod, so we had a couple of late ones and made our way home via the minor roads. At one point we came across a ‘courting couple’ in a car. There was a highly embarrassing moment when Baz went over to investigate, thinking that it might have been stolen. Weird night all round!
(4) Rolling Mill Inn, 42 Station Road Unknown – Unknown
(5) Maesyrhidiau Inn, 31 Station Road Unknown – 1972
(6) Blacksmiths Arms, 4 High Street 1865 – 1906
(7) Railway Inn, Neath Road 1852 – 1908
I’d assumed that this would be further from the village than it actually was – maybe out towards the present Hirwaun Industrial Estate. Imagine my surprise when I found it clearly marked on the OS maps of 1885 and 1904, only a short stagger from the junction with the Penderyn road. Then again, I’d forgotten that there was a railway junction right beside the row of cottages which included the pub.
(8)* Globe Inn, Rhigos Road 1872 – 20?
This was opposite the old road junction to Penderyn. It was one of the few pubs in the northern part of the Cynon Valley which I never set foot in. It went through a variety of changes for a while, becoming Rasputin’s, The Hungry Horse and a restaurant in quick succession. Last time I passed there, in July 2014, it was a Chinese takeaway.
(9)* † Lamb Inn, 78 Brecon Road 1864 – Still open
I’ve never been in here either. It seems to be very sports-oriented, with big screens and Sky Sports advertised on big banners outside.
(10) Greyhound Inn, 81 High St 1865 – 1923
(11)* † Cardiff Arms, 33 High Street 1835 – Still open
I say ‘still open’, but I’m not actually sure whether it is. This was substantially tarted up in the early 1990s and became known locally as ‘The Dagmar’ (after the trendy wine bar in the BBC TV soap opera EastEnders. Since then, it’s seemed to slide gradually downhill. The last time I was there was the day Hirwaun Flats were demolished, in May 2004.
(12) Puddlers Arms, Trevenock Place 1841 – 1907
Belle Vue Inn, Davies Row Unknown – Unknown
Hiding somewhere in the side streets somewhere in the centre of the village.
Colliers Arms, Wind Street 1869 – 1907
Also tucked away in the same area, but not marked on the map.
(13) Beehive Inn, 44 High St 1844 – 1922
(14) Masons Arms, High Street 1844 – 1908
(15) Crawshay Arms, 53 High Street 1835 – 1919
The pub appears to be the building on the far left of the photograph. When I was growing up, Hirwaun Conservative Club, where Dads used to go on a Saturday evening, was on this same block, but I don’t know whether it was the same building. The club itself mutated into the Village Tavern a couple of years, but now appears to have died a death entirely.
(16) Bridgend Inn, Merthyr Road 1850 – 1971
(17)* † Glancynon Inn, Swansea Road Unknown – Still open
A big pub with a beer garden overlooking the river. Noted for real ales and good food.
(18)* Croesbychan1848 – 20?
This pleasant riverside pub on the minor road between Hirwaun and Llwydcoed is now a private house. It seemed to close under everyone’s noses, and took people by surprise when the news got out.
(19) Golden Lion, 45 Merthyr Road 1844 – Unknown
(20) Red Cow Inn, 61 High Street 1867 – 1908
(21) Patriot Inn, 66 High Street 1864 – 1928
(22) Cross Inn, 13 Cross Street 1865 – 1922
(23)* † Prince of Wales Inn, 1 Harris Street 1871 – Still open
My friend Martyn E. ran this pub for a while back in the day. I’ve only been there a few times.
(24) Royal Exchange, Tramway 1871 – 1927
Not on the map, but off to the east beyond the village centre.
Plus a handful which I couldn’t locate on the map:
Butchers Arms1869 – Before 1872
Farmers Arms, 1 High Street 1871 – 1920
Hirwaun Castle, Bethel Place 1830 – 1869
Holly Bush, Rhigos Road 1869 – Before 1872
Joiners Arms, Rhigos Road 1869 – Before 1872
Vulcan InnUnknown – Unknown
Welcome to TownUnknown – Unknown
I think we’ve probably lost some of the lightweights by this stage, but we’re going to press on regardless, to Penywaun …
Black Horse Inn1871 – 1933
* Colliers Arms1865 – 2014?
I’ve always been too scared to go in here. Last time I passed it, in July 2014, it was boarded up.
New Inn, 5 Penywaun Terrace 1841 – 1884
We’re going to take a little detour to Cwmdare now …
* † Tonglwydfawr Inn1854 – Still open
I’ve been in there for a couple of quizzes, but I’ve never bothered otherwise. Bit of a far-right hangout, apparently.
Castle Inn, Bwllfa Road 1866 – 1968
Colliers Arms, Dare Road 1853 – 1931
Dare Inn, Dare Road 1858 – Before 1872
And back down the hill to Trecynon. I’ve already explained the story behind some of the street names in Nooks and Crannies. The historical link to the Earl of Plymouth is marked in some of the pub names as well…
Railway Inn, 56 Cemetery Road 1864 – 1926
* † Llwyncelyn Inn, 51 Cemetery Road 1864 – Still open
Bear Inn, 27 (?) Hirwaun Road 1861 – 1871
Blue Bell Inn, 58 Mill Street 1826 – 1926
Now a private house.
* † Bridgend Inn, Harriet Street 1867 – Still open
This used to be our Sunday night local when I first moved to Llwydcoed, as it was an easy stroll downhill and back again. I haven’t been in there for ages. The house to the left in the picture was demolished when the Aberdare bypass was built.
Bush Inn, Harriet Street 1869 – 1884
Butchers ArmsUnknown – 1870
Carpenters Arms, 11 Mill Street 1844 – 1939
Coopers Arms1864 – Before 1872
Corner House, Margaret Street 1835 (1811?) – 1908
Apple Tree Inn, 7 Hirwaun Road 1861 – 1917
* † Cross Inn, Hirwaun Road 1861 – Still open
* † Welsh Harp, Hirwaun Road 1861 – Still open
I’ve grouped these three together because they were apparently next-door neighbours. The Apple Tree is now a private house. However, the Welsh Harp and Cross Inn merged during the 1908s, when the landlord of the one married the landlady of the other. It even made the national media, and the pub(s) is (are) in the same hands today.
On the wall in the Welsh Harp you can see an old photograph of Thomas Lewis, a blind harpist who used to entertain the customers. In Victorian times the landlord was fined for serving after time and keeping a disorderly house. Perish the thought …
Cross Keys, 10 Bell St1835 – 1906
Earl of Windsor, 4 Mill Street 1854 – 1914
* Full Moon Inn, 60 Harriet Street 1844 – 200?
Now three private houses
Glancynon Inn1867 – 1870
Globe Inn, Harriet Street 1865 – 1870
Golden Lion, 1 Cynon Place 1848 – 1939
Not only has the pub gone – Cynon Place has long gone as well. My pal Graham remembers a pub which used to be on the tramroad, but it was obviously closed when he was young. I assume it must have been either this one or the Royal Oak.
Greyhound InnUnknown – Before 1872
Labour in Vain, Harriet Street Unknown – Before 1872
Masons Arms, 47 Bell Street 1861 – 1881
* † Mount Pleasant Hotel, Mount Pleasant Street 1835 (1811?) – Still open
This was the pub I wrote about in ‘Another One Bites the Dust’, after it closed for what seemed like the last time. To everyone’s surprise it reopened a couple of years ago, and I’m pleased to say it’s been a great success. It’s good to see Dad’s old local (and mine) back at the heart of the community.
New Inn, Mount Pleasant Street 1835 – 1882
Park View Inn, 17 Hirwaun Road 1867 – 1909
Patriot Inn1860 – 1872
Plymouth Arms, 49 Harriet Street 1844 – 1929
Rose and Crown, Mill Street 1833 – 1870
Royal Exchange, 81 Harriet Street 1864 – 1924
Royal Oak, Cynon Place 1841 – 1908
Scales ArmsUnknown – Before 1872
Six Bells, Margaret Street 1861 – Before 1872
Stag Hotel, 61 Harriet Street 1839 – 1914
I don’t know when this was demolished, but I’m pretty sure it was before my time. Stag Street is the lane behind Harriet Street, so the name still lingers on.
Star and Garter, 12 Mount Pleasant Street 1854 – 1908
This was a bit of a news item in 1984, just before I did my A levels. A row of houses in Mount Pleasant Street was being renovated. While they were knocking off the render, the builders uncovered the original pub name. It’s now a private house.
Swan Inn, 34 Bell Street 1860 – 1910
Wheatsheaf Inn, 12-14 Bell Street 1863 – 1871
Wyndham Arms, 24 Hirwaun Road 1861 – 1922
It’s time for another detour. From the bottom of Harriet Street we’re going to head uphill to Llwydcoed, taking in the hostelries there before coming back into Trecynon and carrying on where we left off.
* Corner House, Merthyr Road 1852 – 2014
Earl Grey,, Greys Place 1861 – 1920
Fox and Hounds1848 – 1910
According to the caption for this picture, this was ‘Dr Wilson’s house’ in 1972. I’ve absolutely no idea where it was (is?)
Masons Arms, Moriah Place 1861 – 1889
I found this marked on the OS map when I was rummaging through the drawers in Aberdare Library. It wasn’t where I thought – it was right on the main road, near the entrance to the new housing estate. If it still exists, it’s now a private house.
Miners Arms, Miners Row 1841 – 1928
* † Red Cow Inn, 6 Merthyr Road 1855 – Still open
Ysguborwen Hotel1976 – 198?
We’re going to take a quick sidestep into Robertstown for this next leg of the journey. This is probably a good time to duck onto the old tramroad and water some Japanese Knotweed.
Belle Vue InnUnknown – 1872
Britannia Arms, 8 Thomas Street 1861 – 1908
This used to be the village shop when I was young. It’s now the office of a local company with flats upstairs.
* † Gadlys Arms, Bridge Street 1852 – Still open
Right next to Salem Chapel, this has hardly changed externally since the old photo was taken. This pub has a reputation for its meals, although it’s been a while since I’ve been there. Shanara and I called in there on a Sunday afternoon a few years ago, because the dippy bint had got the train times muddled up. I could be wrong, but I think it was the first time some of the locals had seen an Asian person (apart from on TV).
Great Western Hotel, 28 Bridge Street 1871 – 1969
Back up to the main road and onto the Gadlys. The first stop is right opposite the park gates …
* † White Lion Inn, 56 Gadlys Road 1841 – Still open
* † Beehive Inn, 3 Gadlys Street 1870 – Still open
Very much a local pub for local people, I think. It doesn’t seem to have changed since Glyn Davies took his photo, apart from a lick of paint. I’ve been there a few times, but unless you’re a sports fan there doesn’t seem to be much on offer.
Farmers Arms, Cwm Place 1868 – 1870
I was lucky to find Cwm Place on the Ordnance Survey map for 1875. By then, the pub was closed. Cwm Place no longer exists.
* † Glandover Inn, 98 Gadlys Road 1870 – Still open
This one seems to change hands quite frequently, which is usually a bad sign when it comes to pubs. It was popular with youngsters a few years ago, but is usually fairly empty whenever I pass it.
Kings Head Inn, 86 Gadlys Road 1858 – 1919
* † Mackworth Arms, 25 Gadlys Road 1867 – Still open
* Waynes Arms, 30 Gadlys Road 1864 – 198?
I can’t remember exactly when this closed, but it was our local for a while in the late 1980s. Defcon played a gig there, and local guitarist Pete Morley played the entire Sgt. Pepper set on the twentieth anniversary of the LP’s release. For a while during the Miners’ Strike, it bore the words REMEMBER 1984, THE YEAR OF THE SCAB on its side. Someone later altered the last word to read MINER. There’s now a tiny patch of land where it stood. It’s hard to believe it was once a pub.
And we finally arrive at Aberdare town centre. Only the die-hards are still going by this stage of the expedition, but we’ll press on regardless in Part 2. Watch this space …
You won’t be familiar with the word ‘Retcon’ unless you’re a fan of the sadly discontinued SF series Torchwood – or, latterly, Doctor Who, where it got an unexpected namecheck in ‘Face the Raven’ a few weeks ago. For the uninitiated, Retcon is a drug which Captain Jack Harkness and his pals administer to the unwitting victims of extraterrestrial contact. It’s part sedative and part memory wipe, and it leaves the people of Cardiff with no memory of their close encounters.
I used to think that Retcon would be a great idea, personally. A few years ago I wrote a piece called ‘Memory Dump‘. I speculated about the real-life applications of the Mierzwiak Procedure, the selective memory erasure at the centre of Michel Gondry’s terrific (and terrifying) 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I could free myself from my traumatic childhood memories, wipe out at least one sort-of ex-girlfriend, and get rid of all sorts of crap I remember from the book trade and will never draw on if I live to be a hundred. It was a choice between the Mierzwiak Procedure (non-invasive but still dangerous brain surgery), or a little white pill to add to my nightly cocktail of Things Beginning With M. With no pun intended, it seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?
However, to judge from a number of recent conversations, I seem to have been spiked with Retcon quite a few times already. Over the last year or so, I’ve lost count of the number of apparent strangers who’ve started talking to me like old friends. In fact, it’s reached the point where it’s embarrassing.
I used to put it down to the fact that I worked in a city centre shop with a very large catchment. Consequently I met a couple of hundred of people (at least) every week. It was hardly surprising if I couldn’t remember everyone. Oddly enough, when I was in Cardiff before Xmas, literally the first person I bumped into on my way from the station was one of the shop regulars. I groped around my neural archives for his name and came up with Neil. It’s actually Nick. Two letters out of four isn’t bad, though – especially after nearly seven years away from the place.
If I hadn’t met people in the shop, I might have met them on the train, where the same people tend to cross paths fairly regularly. If you don’t believe me, have a quick look at the daily feature in Metro, where lovestruck commuters can invite their fellow passengers out for coffee – or whatever else comes to mind. (My own commuting crush kinda paid off one evening, when I woke Shanara the Dippy Bint in Aberdare and rescued her from an unplanned journey back to Cardiff.)
The third place where I might have struck up a conversation with a random stranger is, of course, the pub. After all, who needs Retcon when there’s beer on tap? If you can’t even remember leaving the place – never mind who you were with, what you were talking about, or what karaoke songs you inflicted on the rest of the punters – then everyone’s favourite legal amnesia drug has obviously had the desired effect.
On Boxing Day afternoon I called into the Lighthouse for a pint, and ended up staying until the early evening. There was a cracking live duo playing there: The Shakes, from Swansea. They’re two middle-aged guitarists who’ve been doing session work for years, and now play gigs and small festivals across South Wales. I had a chat with them while they were setting their gear up, and stayed for the first half of their set. They managed to get through forty minutes without touching anything from the Kings of Leon’s or Stereophonics’ backlists, so that was a good sign. When they stopped for a break, I explained that I had another gig to go to. For once, I wasn’t just making my excuses and leaving.
[A digression: There wasn’t much competition, to be honest. On my way into town on 23 December, I passed the Constitutional Club, a huge place on the corner opposite the library. For well over a month they’d been advertising a show band (a guy and two women) for Boxing Night, with large full-colour posters in the windows. I know these agency photos are always touched up before they hit the streets, but the women both looked pretty tasty. If the tickets hadn’t been seven quid a throw – and if it hadn’t been in the Con Club – I might have been tempted to check them out myself. On 23 December, though, I noticed this:
I posted this photo on Twitter and added the message, ‘Now you know what happens when everyone in Aberdare will be Replaced By Robots on Boxing Night.’ Andrew L. (one of the keyboard players and vocalists in the band) added the comment ‘Oh dear!’ I just hope everyone who had tickets for the Con Club gig got their money back.]
Anyway, when I got to the Rugby Club the boys were still setting up, so I went into the bar and checked out the price list. Call me old-fashioned, but three quid a pint (in a club, for Goddess’s sake) is almost Cardiff prices. I bought a glass of Coke and killed some time with the big FT crossword until it was time to go upstairs.
The place was filling up nicely when I got into the big room, so I grabbed a chair and staked out a place at the back. I’ve previously mentioned Tug Wilson, who used to come to the Carpenters for the Thursday night gigs. He was well into his eighties, and would have a whale of a time grooving with the youngsters who frequented the place.
Well, on Boxing Night, I knew exactly how Tug must have felt when he was surrounded by people at least half his age. I checked with a couple of other people, and was reassured to find that I was officially the oldest person in the room.
I decided to stay on the soft drinks, mainly because I begrudge paying three quid for a pint and having to wait over five minutes to be served. It wasn’t all bad news, though. The boys played a cracking set; there were lots of attractive female punters in the room; there was a great atmosphere and a good crowd. Gareth L. came in and we attempted to have a chat before admitting defeat. I didn’t see him leave, but when I went to get my final drink there was no sign of him.
This was the point when the Retcon must have kicked in. I was on my way back from the bar when an attractive dark-haired woman started talking to me. She knew my name, and knew that I used to work in Waterstones. Her other half knew me too. A fortnight later I still have no idea how, or from where, though.
The three of us chatted for ages, and we decided to head to Thereisnospoon for a late(-ish) drink. The conversation continued until closing time, covering a wide range of topics. It turned out that she was interested in having a website for her business. I said I’d get in touch with Chris D., who’s sorting out the websites for the Lighthouse and Alwyn’s artwork, and put them in contact with each other.
This was the really awkward part. I simply could not remember her name – if I’d ever known it to begin with. Fortunately for me, my phone battery had died a couple of hours earlier, so I was spared the horror of asking her name when I was saving her number. She took my number, though (that was the easy part) and promised to get in touch when the Xmas and New Year nonsense had died down. Later on, her other half mentioned her first name, so I was halfway out of the dark. Halfway …
We went our separate ways and I walked home, racking my brains to recall how we knew each other. Over the next few days I spent quite a while wondering exactly where the hell we’d met in the first place. I’m still none the wiser.
All I knew for sure was that my new/old friend’s first name was Linda. That doesn’t really narrow it down. (On the other hand, I’ve absolutely no idea what her other half’s name is.) I wondered whether I could track her down via Facebook, but with only a first name it’s a very long shot. I didn’t even have the first letter of her surname, which might have narrowed a billion or so people down to a few million. It crossed my mind to ask my Facebook friends (many of whom were out that night) if they could fill in the missing information. The snag was that there was no guarantee anyone else would remember either – it had been a long few days, after all.
The whole affair reminded me of the time when Jeffrey Bernard was approached to write his autobiography. He famously wrote a letter to the New Statesman, asking, ‘Can anyone tell me what I was doing between 1960 and 1974?’
Michael Molloy, the editor of the Daily Mirror, replied, ‘On a certain evening in September 1969 you rang my mother to inform her that you were going to murder her only son.’
Next time I can’t think of anything to blog about, I’m going to get one of my friends to post the message ‘Steve O’Gorman is unwell.’
I was in Lidl on Wednesday evening when the woman in front of me at the checkout struck up a conversation with me. Once again, I was totally unable to place her. I knew her face, and I was sure I’d known her for a long time, but her name simply wouldn’t come to mind.
I’ve had to adopt a crafty tactic to cover up my Retcon phases: if I’m chatting to a guy, I call him ‘mate’; if I’m chatting to a woman, I can usually get away with ‘babe’ or ‘chick’.
I once bluffed my way through an entire sub with a book trade rep I’d known for years, by calling him ‘mate’ throughout the appointment. At the end I reached for the diary, flipped it open to that day, saw his name on the page, thought, ‘Oh, for fuck’s sake, of course it is!’ and said, ‘Right then, Dave, when are you in town next?’ Nicely saved, even if I say so myself.
I managed to hold a fair conversation with my friend at the checkout, all the time trying to remember her bloody name. She left before I did, and headed for her car. That saved me from digging an even deeper hole for myself.
Anyway, I was walking up Gadlys Road when – joy of joys – I bumped into Linda herself. It was perfect timing. I grabbed my pen and scribbled her number on my hand, to make sure I had it when the time came to store it in my phone. Just to complicate matters, it turns out she’s Lynda with a y – yet another Doctor Who reference, folks. Unlike me, though, the Doctor has the enviable gift of being able to remember everyone he ever meets.
It was only when I got home that I realised who the woman at the checkout was. Her name’s Liz. She grew up about half a dozen doors away from me. Not counting my cousins, I think she’s the woman I’ve known for the longest period in my entire life. Even worse – she used to be my local Plaid Cymru councillor, and her husband is the branch secretary! I’d seen him less than twenty-four hours earlier, when he’d given me a lift home from the meeting. Ridiculous!
When a computer runs short of memory, you can either delete some unneeded files or upgrade the hard drive. In fifty years’ time it might be possible to do the same thing with the human brain – plugging in extra storage as and when required. Until then, unfortunately, we’re all in the same position as the schoolboy in Gary Larson’s cartoon, asking to be excused because his brain is full. (Of course, the cybernetic memory add-on could be an uncomfortable affair, because human beings have only a limited number of expansion slots.)
If I’m like this now, a couple of months short of my fiftieth birthday, can you imagine what I’ll be like when I’m in my eighties? It doesn’t bear thinking about. Even Tug managed to remember people’s names on the odd occasion. Scary prospect, isn’t it?
Being a Non-Linear Account of the Life and Opinions of The Author, Cross-referenced and Illustrated, with Occasional Hesitations, Repetitions and Deviations.