Tuesday, 13 November 2012

What was my mother thinking of?


In an earlier post I mentioned that I was having a lot of enjoyment looking at the Caerphilly Local History Facebook page. It's continued to come up with some amazingly evocative images but none better than the other day.  Then they showed a photograph taken at the old Caerphilly open air baths in the 1950s. I took one look at it and thought "that's me in the background" (as indicated by the red arrow). Of course it's not, at least I don't think it is, but it could very well be. I spent a lot of time there during the mid 50s to the early 60s.

They are closed now but were located in Morgan Jones Park and were just open during the Summer months. They were the only baths for miles around and acted as a mecca for children during the seemingly endless, and hot, Summer school holidays. The water was freezing, there was scarcely room to swim more than a couple of yards and the changing rooms, with their rudimentary cubicles and fragile wire baskets, were strictly utilitarian. No showers, no mirrors and certainly no hairdryers! Despite all this, a trip to the baths was always fun and, strange to relate, almost exotic.

We used to catch a bus (not just any bus - a blue and white Bedwas and Machen Urban District Council omnibus driven by Dai Davies) to Caerphilly and get off at the Tanyard (sometimes called Lavender Corner by bus conductors on account of the atrocious smell emanating from the skins that were processed there. To be accurate, it wasn't a tanyard, it was a fellmongers where flesh was removed from the skins and the hides prepared for leather making elsewhere. My great grandfather, Jacob Batt, worked there in the early part of the twentieth century as a 'flesher'). A ten minute walk took us to the park, around the children's paddling pool and then through the hallowed turnstyle into the baths. After a swim, and when our blood circulation had recovered from the cold, we'd head back home, sometimes buying a frozen Jubbly on the way and sometimes making a detour to play on the towers and walls of Caerphilly Castle (hoping not to see the ghost of the Green Lady!).

Back to the photograph that prompted this nostalgic thread, take a close look at the swimming costume the young lad is wearing. It is made of wool and is knitted! Was any material less suited to its function? Get it wet and the crotch dropped to an alarming level. Diving off the side of the baths in them always had an element of danger and embarassment! Will they come off? They frequently did. I know of what I write: I had a pair. The phrase 'as useless as a chocolate teapot' comes to mind to describe them.

1 comment:

Glynis Duggan nee Hill said...

I spent hours at the 'baths' during the school hol's, around 1960/61. It was wonderful, the sun always shone and we hardly noticed the cold water! Mostly walked there from Penyrheol with just the 4 pence to get in, and very rarely had a 'bob' to go, 4 pence for a Jubbley on the way, 4 pence to get in and 4 pence for a bag of chips and scrumps on the way home...riches indeed!