What pictures does the name Thompson Street evoke?
In the early 1900's its reputation was on a par with Cardiff's Tiger Bay. A great number of people who did not live in the area and seldom visited it or mixed with its residents had preconceived ideas about it.
The street and its immediate surroundings had much to commend it. It had a community spirit that is sadly lacking nowadays, and although it had a reputation, was one of the safest places for youngsters who lived there to be brought up in. They and their families knew practically every grown-up in the area, neighbours were considered to be extended family members and were usually addressed by the children as Auntie or Uncle.
There were a number of social clubs in the street, one of which was a children's club. This was the Domino Club that ran for a great number of years attracting children from around the area and was a great success, and was the innovative idea of Mr Abby Farah, who earlier had been the president of the Colonial Club. Other clubs catering for adults were the RAOB Club, the Colonial Club, the Coronation Club, and the Barry Borough Club.
The only club that is still left in the street and is still in operation is the Liberal Club. Before becoming the Club's home, the building had seen many changes. On Saturday nights it was used by a "Cheapjack" to hold his sales, and on Sundays as a Sunday school.
The Seamen's Rest was one of the most popular buildings, erected for the benefit of the thousands of seamen arriving in Barry Docks. It was considered to be a better place to stay than many of the other seamen's hostels nearby. After docking or being paid off in Barry, seamen who had been at sea for a considerable length of time could call in at any one of the many pubs and clubs situated nearby, have a drink, and not be lectured (however subtly) on the dangers of "Demon Drink" when they returned to the Rest. Mrs Ambridge, who was in charge of catering, always made sure that when she catered for "her boys" they always had a good meal (usually Irish Stew) in front of them.
The Seamen's Rest eventually became the Ex-Servicemen's Club, and has recently been demolished.
The street comprised of many nationalities - Greeks, Italians, Maltese, Somalis, Arabs, Welsh, Irish, Scottish and English - all making a living, some in cafes, some in shops or lodging houses, but many as seamen. In the early part of the century the area was reputed to be a place where a lot of money could be made, and to contain some of the richest trades people in Barry, catering for the tremendous number of seamen arriving in the port and in many cases leaving. Ship chandlers and outfitters, of which there were over a dozen in the area, supplied palliasses of straw, known as " Donkeys Breakfasts", wet weather clothing, and other essentials for life at sea.
Amongst the many well known shops and cafes in the street were Tibbetts the Grocers at the Holton Road end. One of the last remaining old type provision merchants to be found in Barry in the 60's, it still retained shop assistants who did just that - assist you. Another was George Frangoulis, Shoemaker, who made and repaired shoes. Next to George's is a car park where Vint's Cinema once stood. Vint's was a favourite of all the children and many of the adults in the street, and was destroyed by fire just before the outbreak of the Second World War. James Tallboy in Greenwood Street supplied ships and shops with vegetables, and meat to ships and the general public was supplied by Tom Patterson, whose butchers was adjacent to the Liberal Club.
Crossing Merthyr Street was the Barry Business Club and the Domino Club, and in the same block, Mortimers newsagents, Ernie Hole's off-licence, Clements (later Anderson's) fish and vegetable shop, and at the corner of Hirwaun Street, Alf Crane's Café and Bartax Taxis. The latter moved to Dock View Road, and later to Broad Street.
On the opposite corner was Issy Apter's outfitters, and just up from there, David's, who supplied fishing tackle and leather for tapping your boots and shoes. In the same block was Trevor Andrews' outfitters, and Max Corne, who ran a credit agency that enabled people to buy goods on the "never-never".
Ceri Griffiths' chemist shop had large glass jars and bottles in the window that contained coloured liquids. Behind the counter stood a large cabinet containing dozens of drawers with their contents engraved on white celluloid or ivory on them. It was a magnet compelling you to stop and look in through the shop doorway.
Later a number of premises in this block and on the opposite side of the street became car showrooms run by Mike Nash. At the top of the street (at the Dock View Road end) stood Lloyds Bank, one of the street's and town's most imposing buildings. In the same block Saleh Saif's restaurant with a small mosque at the back, was used by members of the local Islamic community and Arab seamen arriving in Barry. A number of arched doorways led into among other businesses, such as Woodham's and Ernie Knill's yards. These were piled high with rope, wood and scrap, and where for a few coppers an old bike could be bought, which with a bit of work could make you independent of public transport.
Taylor's fish and chip shop, with the smell of cooking chips pervading the street, attracted customers from all round the area. The piece de resistance was Yuen's Chinese Restaurant near Greenwood Street. Chicken curry and rice, chicken curry and chips, or steak egg and chips for the less adventurous, were the favourites. The restaurant was always full in the evenings, and on weekends it was almost impossible to obtain a seat. Customers would wait for a table to be vacated, and in the rush to obtain a seat, tempers would sometimes become frayed, resulting in a swift vacation of the premises as the police were called.
Every other building in the street seemed to be a café or a lodging house for either seamen, or for workmen employed on contracts in the area. Some were better than others.
Bookies runners could be seen on street corners or in doorways, taking bets. At the first sign or warning of the unwelcome presence of the local bobby, it was in through the front door, out of the back, over the wall, and a quick exit into any number of houses who had left their back doors open for this purpose. If it was your turn to be caught, it was a minimum amount of fake bets and cash that would be found on your person. Bookies runners seemed to take it in turns to be caught, which satisfied the local magistrates, and made the work of the local police officer much easier.
The early 1970's saw the demolition of the street. Buildings such as Lloyd's Bank, and the row of Edwardian houses in Travis Street that in many other towns would have been listed, were demolished and their residents moved to different areas of Barry, breaking up a community and the families that lived there.
© T. CLEMETT 2000