Pontypool vs Penarth: Rugby and The High Street and Town of 1951

This post has been ready for some time, but I thought I would publish it today, as it is National Sporting Heritage Day. If you are reading this on the 30th in Stirling then the University is hosting a pop-up event on our Commonwealth Games Archive between 1-5 pm. This post is about some of the personal sporting heritage that I possess.

Readers of this blog will be aware that my father played rugby.  Since his death I have occasionally tried to sort out and organise some of the artefacts he left. A few weeks ago I started looking at his rugby programmes and something caught my eye.

His rugby career began aged 19, when he started playing for Pontypool.  Quite why Pontypool is another story given he lived miles away, and quite why Pontypool tried him on the wing, centre, second row, lock (No 8) and wing forward in his first few games must be another.  But they persevered and he played over 20 games for them in his one and only season in Monmouthshire.

But what caught my eye was the programme for Penarth vs Pontypool in early March 1951.  This was one of the few ‘away’ programmes amongst a collection of ‘home’ Pontypool ones for that year.  It was the adverts that seemed so different.  So, I took a closer look at the Penarth programme, and a home Pontypool one from two weeks later.  Scanned versions of both programme are in the slideshows in this blog.

These I feel can be used as representatives of these two towns, as the programmes seem to be essentially the same all season, varying only in team sheets and club secretary updates and a column or two.  Most of the pages are unchanged in every programme – for cost reasons one suspects.

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The volume of adverts, at a time of rationing (one butcher asks for customers to register), is impressive, but the nature, style and content got me thinking.  The table below summarises the two programmes by the number of adverts by line of business.  The sheer variety is immediate, but closer inspection reveals, I think, more.

 Categories (38) Penarth   Pontypool  
CTN 3 2
Printers 1 2
Menswear 2
Radio Engineer 2
Laundry 1
Grocers 2 3
Butchers 1 1
Radio Hire 1
Garage 2 1
Ballroom 1
Paint merchants/home decorators 1
Electrical 1 1
Barbers 1 1
Chemist/Opticians 1
Florists 1
Shoes 1 1
Fishmonger 1 2
Hotel 1 1
Cinema 1
Watchmaker/jeweller 1
Hairdresser (M) 1 1
Brewery 1
Builders Merchants 1
Photography 1
Auctioneer 1
Removals 1
Fish & Chips 1
Heating/plumbing 1
Café 2
Ironmonger 1
Coal merchants 1
Drapers 1
Furniture 1
Welding/engineer 1
Bus/coaches 1
Undertaker 1
Painter/decorator 1
Furnishings 1
Chivers Preserves 1
Total 29 32

Firstly, the adverts are essentially written only – there are few illustrations – and they bear very little by way of branding or logos.  They are to an extent visual, but design is about typography alone.  Is this a marketing or a publishing technology constraint?

Secondly, the adverts are very much for local businesses.  This is especially so in the Penarth programme, but even in the Pontypool one it extends only to a few surrounding local villages.  The adverts represent a local community supporting a local team and the close cultural and locational place bonds are apparent.  In the Penarth programme the business addresses suggest a tight grouping as well, focused as they are on the main shopping streets.  This local dimension also links to the lack of branding.  Many of these businesses are of course no longer trading.

Thirdly, there are some common elements across both programmes but also possibly surprisingly, large differences. The variation is really impressive and paints a picture of these local communities.  The CTN and grocers adverts are the most numerous (including in Pontypool, Daniel & Son, ‘the oldest and the best, still going strong as ever, over 160 years today’), but common elements include barbers, butchers, fishmongers, printers, garages, hotels and men’s hairdressers.  The differences, to my eye at least, tell a story of ‘posh’ Penarth vs the industrial or working class Pontypool, with the latter containing coal merchants, welders, ironmongers and amongst the grocers the Abersychan and Pontypool Co-operative Society.

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Finally, there are some (for today) oddities.  There is no mention anywhere of television (then nationally in its relative infancy) but there are radio engineers and radio hire.  Perhaps the strangest is the Pontypool undertaker who as well as funeral furnishings, cremations and embalming, offers out his Rolls Royce hearses and cars for weddings, concerts and ‘outing parties’.

These two programmes are snapshots to a bygone age of locality, place and community.  Some 65 years old, the adverts (and indeed the programmes themselves) point to the tight inter-linkages within community.  This local sense of place has been swept away in recent decades.  This is not to romanticise this past – or the retailers whose adverts are in the slide shows – nor to claim it was better then – I don’t know, but doubt it – but rather to highlight the changing nature of our places/towns, our high streets, people and businesses, through these cultural artefacts.

I have a feeling that this theme of change as seen through the artefacts my father left me might be one I revisit on occasion, and that there is much more to be done using this collection of programmes including more work on these two in particular.

In case you are wondering, at the end of his first senior rugby season, in Pontypool, my father was ‘enticed’ back to his home town, Bridgend (and a couple of interesting letters in his papers show how this happened).

And keen readers will recognise the name Sidoli in the Pontypool programme (both in rugby terms and in cultural terms); an example of the Italian influence throughout South Wales and its effect on our diet – chips, ice cream and coffee.

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Education and Students.
This entry was posted in Advertising, Community, Cooperatives, Design, High Streets, Independents, Local Retailers, Places, Retail History, Rugby Union, Small Shops, Towns, Urban History and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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