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An interview with Fred Harry at the Moorland Community Centre in Splott. Interview recorded on 26 August 2016.

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The Chronicle Project is a community heritage project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and run by VCS Cymru with the aims to document the history of volunteering in Cardiff, from 1914 to 2014. 

Visit our website at: http://chronicle.vcscymru.org.uk
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FH = Fred Harry, HS = Hannah Sweetapple

[Introduction - 0:00 to 0:56]

FH: My name is Fred Harry; I live in …. In Tremorfa, I went to Tremorfa in late 1949 as a gent’s hairdresser and then I finished hairdressing and went onto another job. I took leave for cancer, I lived with my daughter down in Castleton. I had bowel cancer. So I was afraid, and couldn’t travel 8 miles from Newport to Cardiff so wanted to get back to my roots. So I bought a house next to my old shop in Tremorfa and I have been there now about nearly 20 years, my wife and I, although I lost my wife unfortunately last year. But in the meant time, in the 60s, I was very interested in the Labour party. Very interested! I was a councillor for this ward. I have got some stuff in my car. I was very fortunate, I got the highest majority ever in this ward!

[Splott geography - 0:57 to 1:52]

But mind you it never happened again because the houses that used to be here have been demolished and that’s from Menylow Street down the bottom of Splott down to Milfort Street which is about 17 streets away, all demolished in the 60s, late 60s. So I went to Tremorfa and I went on the council. It was a by-election as the old gentleman who held it before me died. And as I say I was a hairdresser and I went in on the by-election in November. It was a one-man hairdressing shop and I had a child and I found… I stuck the year out but I didn’t run for re-election because my shop was falling apart from being away for all the meetings… I enjoyed it but in those days there was no remuneration, all voluntary. But I enjoyed it!

[Memories in Splott - 1:53 to 3:31]
I have a couple of stories. One story was a young lady has come to see me, I won’t say her name. Her husband was having a bit of a nervous breakdown and she had children in high school in Cardiff. And her husband had broken into the electric meter. She was in a desperate situation and had come to see me and in those days my wife used to have £5 a week wages, back in the 50s, early 50s.

Oh of course this was the 60s. It was only £5 a week even then, so what I did was I gave her my wife’s money and said go down the bank, it’s shut down in Splott road now, and get 5 shilling pieces and put it in your meter, just close the lock up and when he [the landlord] comes, just say the lock broke. So they had my wife’s weekly wage and so my wife had to wait for her wages.
And another story I thought was very funny was an old couple who lived in Bridgend street. They were in a dilapidated house and housing then was a big problem. More so than today I would say. People living with in-laws in houses. So I went to see the housing minister and he was very kind, very helpful. And of course, there was a big waiting list and point system but they had to wait for a while. But in the end we managed to get them a house in Llanrhymney. And this is the funny part… we got them a house in LLanrhymney and she was pleased.

[Receiving a letter - 3:32 to 5:25]

Three weeks later I received a letter, “Dear, Councillor Harry, thank you very much for getting us in the house in Llanrhymney, but we hate it here. We don’t like it; could you get us please back to Splott”. I had to write back, “I am very sorry but you have a house and there are hundreds waiting”. After three weeks in the house they wanted to come back! Two old sisters they were lovely old people. And that was another story.
And of course there was that time in the middle of the night there were domestic problems. I remember going to a police station to bail a man out because his wife was expecting a baby. He was arrested for stealing from the steel works in his wagon and he was being held in custody. And his wife was expecting a baby and she came to see me. And his wife said, “They won’t give him bail”. So I said, “He’s in Jannat Street?”, which was where the prison was in those days. So I went to Jannat Street and saw the police sergeant and said, “His wife’s expecting a baby and I would like for him to be released on bail.” And he said, “Impossible.”

So I said, “It could be any minute” and he still said “no”. I said “I will go see the chief constable”. I didn’t tell him who I was, I don’t like using the phrase. And he said “You can’t he is in the city hall”. I said, “I know he is, and I am a councillor.” I said I would go to city hall to see him as it was an emergency job. Anyway, he let him home on bail. I think that was the only time I used my little bit of authority. I tried to get round another way as I knew the chap from years ago when I was hairdressing of course. I knew him well and I knew he wasn’t going to abscond as he had 3 kids and expecting a 4th. So there’s another little story that happened. There were so many little stories, you forget most of them now.

[Memory of Jim Callaghan - 5:26 to 7:48]
I remember once, Jim Callaghan, I’ve got a photograph of him in my car, in the Ocean club. He had a secretary by the name of Ruth Sharp. And we compared notes, Ruth and I, and she was a paid secretary to the MP. He wasn’t the Prime Minister then, MP for Cardiff South East. I had more interviews with people in a year than she had in a year, and I was only part time, voluntary if you like. And she was a paid secretary but she was a nice lady, you know. And I liked James Callaghan, but he only became prime minister later. I have a photo of him and Dennis Seeley in, you’re probably too young for this, in a place called the Ocean club. Beautiful it was.

Like there was one in Caerphilly called “Double Diamond” and one in Tremorfa, it was a lovely club. But like all of the clubs its vanished. We had a Labour Party do there with Denis Healey, Barbara Castel, Jim Callaghan, I have a photograph. I also have a copy of the original, when I took the oath in 53 for the council. I have a photo of my brother and I, he was killed in 1951, on the top of the old Splott baths. Where the new Hub is now, there was open air swimming baths and they had a balcony on the top. And it’s only a small little photograph but I recon it’s just after the war… So that’s probably 70 years ago.

It was an interesting time! I enjoyed it, but unfortunately being self-employed it was almost impossible ‘cause I said, if you spent half the day you’d have 10 shillings but if you did a whole day you’d have 32 shillings. And you had to say that you were losing this income. You had to sign for it, like it was a fortune! Now it’s what? 6, 8 thousand a year? 10,000 would be there chair person.
HS: What motivated you to volunteer?

[Motivations for volunteering - 7:52 to 9:24]
FH: I don’t know. I am not religious but my father was very religious and he was always interested in the community. My father was a Methodist local preacher, what they call a voluntary preacher not, you know, like a reverend. And he was always interested in the community. And my uncle was well known in Splott, he started the first camp for young people before the war. For poor people in Porthcawl, in Nottage. In later years the city council took it over with built places, but he used to do one in tents.

And he would take all people if you were poor, and they were all poor then of course. Doesn’t matter who you were, catholic, protestant, if you were poor you could go to Porthcawl for a week or so, to Nottage. He was in the honours list and his son was quite the same, giving that he worked for youth. That was my mother’s relations that was, called the Bowlies. Very well known in Splott. Very well known in the church and voluntary things.
It was an interesting time, I never regretted it, although my shop… On second thoughts when you owned a business. But I enjoyed it. I used to have lots of letters thanking me.

Comments (3)

PDSTdivegroup's picture
Thank you for uploading this video interview, I'm particularly impressed with the addition of a transcription. As a small boy, I spent a lot of time playing on the 'field' at Menelaus Street. I have vivid memories of cleaning the cells at Janet Street Police Station for 'Bob a Job' week and when I injured myself (often) first stop was 'Pop' Bowley in Cornelia Street for first aid. I would be very grateful if you would please make the following corrections to street/area/person names which have been misspelt. If anyone searches for these, this video will then appear in the results. Menylow Street - Menelaus Street Llanrhymney - Llanrumney Milfort Street - Milford Street Jannat Street - Janet Street Dennis Seeley - Denis Healey Bowlies - Bowley's
VCS Chronicle's picture
Thank you for the corrections! Will update them as soon as possible.
VCS Chronicle's picture
Updates are pending moderation. Thanks for your help in correcting our transcription!

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