‘A Pageant to be Proud of’: The opening ceremony of the Sixth British Empire and Commonwealth Games, Cardiff Arms Park, 18 July 1958

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Cardiff Arms Park has hosted many events that have attracted a wide and enthusiastic audience but few have rivalled the evening of 18 July 1958 when John Brockway read out the following message in front of over 34,000 people:

We declare that we will take part in the British Empire and Commonwealth Games of 1958 in the spirit of true sportsmanship, recognising the rules which govern them and desirous of participating in them for the honour of our Commonwealth and Empire and for the Glory of Sport.

The event was the opening ceremony of the Sixth British Empire and Commonwealth Games and John Brockway was the captain of the Welsh team. The ceremony was broadcast across the globe and the story of that evening is told through records held at Glamorgan Archives, including a copy of the official programme for the opening ceremony.

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The Sixth Empire and Commonwealth Games was a major event with 36 teams and over 1400 competitors and officials, almost double the numbers hosted by Vancouver in 1954.  To cater for the opening ceremony significant work had been undertaken at the Arms Park, with improvements to the South Stand at a cost of £65,000 to bring the seating accommodation up to 15,000 and the total capacity to 60,000 for rugby matches. To cater for athletics, the surrounding greyhound track has been converted to a six lane cinder running track. In addition, sections of the hallowed Arms Park turf had been removed to provide for the field events. Stewarding was undertaken by 300 volunteers marshalled by Mr Wyndham Richards, Chairman of Cardiff Athletic Club. However, the key factor in the reduced capacity that night was the determination that the majority of the crowd of 34,000 would be seated. It is interesting to note that, 60 years ago, views on the future of the stadium were remarkably akin to the approach used many years later in the design for the Millennium (now Principality) Stadium:

The Cardiff Arms Park Committee has further plans for development and this may eventually produce a total accommodation of 75,000. I doubt whether it would be possible to increase the total beyond this figure. Yet the seating arrangements for the Games may well be adopted in future years for International rugby since more people want to sit at big matches than stand.

The opening ceremony may not have been the spectacle that is now associated with major events such as the Olympic Games, but it would have still been quite a display. It began at 5.30 with the arrival of the guest of honour, the Duke of Edinburgh, who was greeted by the band and drums of the Welsh Guards followed by a 21 gun salute from Sophia Gardens. The 36 teams then paraded around the stadium, led by Canada as the most recent hosts of the Games with Wales, as the current hosts, taking up the rear.  The Welsh team of 114 athletes contained many well-known names. John Brockway was an experienced and celebrated athlete who had represented Great Britain as a swimmer at three Olympic Games and had won a silver and gold medal for Wales at the Empire Games held in Auckland and Vancouver respectively. Alongside him that day marched many well-known faces, including athletes John Merriman, Jean Whitehead and Ron Jones and boxer Howard Winstone.

Each team paraded in their national colours, with the Australian team described in the newspapers the next day as resembling a …green crocodile and the Welsh team likened to …a flame in crimson and white. Alongside teams from Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the Home Nations there were much smaller contingents, including North Borneo, Sierra Leone and Dominica. The biggest cheer of the night was reserved for Thomas Augustine Robinson carrying the flag for Bahamas as the sole representative from his country. In fact Tom Robinson was greeted with cheers whenever he appeared during the week and, in particular, when he won the Gold Medal in the 220 yards sprint.

The crowd then greeted the arrival of the athlete carrying the Queen’s message. The first leg of the baton relay from Buckingham Palace to Cardiff had been undertaken by Roger Bannister. In all, the baton had travelled over 600 miles in four days carried by 664 athletes and children. The identity of the Welsh athlete who would run the final leg had been kept a closely guarded secret. There was an enormous cheer, therefore, when Ken Jones entered the stadium. Perhaps best known as an outstanding rugby wing for the British Lions, Wales and Newport, Ken Jones was also a talented athlete who had won medals in the sprint relay at the 1948 Olympic Games and 1954 European Games. In recognition of his achievements he had been named as the first Welsh Sportsman of the Year in 1955.

After completing a circuit of the track Ken Jones presented the silver baton to the Duke of Edinburgh, who read out the Queen’s message. This was followed by the release of carrier pigeons carrying the message to all parts of Wales. John Brockway, as captain of the Welsh Team, then took centre stage to take the Oath on behalf of all the competitors.

At that point the teams left the stadium to be replaced by entertainment provided by a 500 strong choir of massed voices representing Wales as the ‘Land of Song’. Their performance concluded with Handel’s ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ to be followed by a display of marching by the Welsh Guards. The ceremony concluded with the singing of the Welsh and British national anthems.

Many years later The Telegraph newspaper published an interesting account of Ken Jones’ experience of the opening ceremony. It claimed that the runner bringing the baton to the stadium was late. To meet the agreed timetable Ken was handed a replacement baton and told to set off. In the confusion and blinded by the sun he set off the wrong way around the stadium track and mistook the uniformed Lord Lieutenant of Glamorgan for the Duke of Edinburgh, who was wearing a suit. Slightly irked by this the Duke remarked ‘Where have you been? You’re late’. On the conclusion of the ceremony a similarly irked Ken retired to the pub.

There is no way of knowing whether this is true. If it is, it certainly did not dampen the enthusiasm of those at the Arms Park and those listening and watching across the world. The next day the newspapers reported that Ken Jones had been …cheered to the skies… and the ceremony had been a triumph with an estimated 40,000 cramming into the stadium, well in excess of the official capacity. Not even reports of the famous English athlete, Gordon Pirie, being disciplined and excluded from the march past for arriving at the Arms Park late and without his team uniform could detract from the evening. As the Daily Mirror reported, every man and woman in the Stadium …must have been bursting with pride… for …it was a pageant to be proud of.

A copy of the official programme for the opening ceremony of the Sixth British Empire and Commonwealth Games held on 18 July 1958 at Cardiff Arms Park is held at Glamorgan Archives (ref.: D832/5).

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

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Cardiff Plays Host to the World

Amongst the vast collection of photographs held at Glamorgan Archives there are three taken 60 years ago that provide a clue to a grand event that gripped the city and the rest of Wales in July 1958 and ensured that, for 8 days, Wales was the focus of attention not just in Britain but across the globe.

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The first is a photograph taken from St Mary Street looking towards Cardiff Castle. From a first glance the scene looks very much as it would have done in recent years, up until the pedestrianisation of the thoroughfare. Admittedly the cars and the clothes worn by those passing are very much from the 1950s but there are still recognisable shop signs, including a sign for the Louis Restaurant in the bottom right hand corner of the photograph and the Howells building in the centre of the photograph. But look more closely at the Howells Department store. On the roof you will see a giant bronze statue of a figure holding a javelin and just about to launch it – arguably – in the direction of the Old Library.

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The second is a photograph of Queen Street again taken looking towards the Castle. Possibly not as recognisable as St Mary Street and High Street but you will spot a number of current buildings, if you look above the shop fronts, including the old frontage for Marks and Spencer and the bank with its columned front on the left hand side of the street. However, 60 years ago there was clearly something happening for the street is packed with people. In addition, a giant dragon is processing down the centre of the street.

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Finally, there is a photograph of a large group of students standing outside the entrance to Aberdare Hall in Cardiff. Notice the range of national costumes including Welsh, Scots, the Pacific islands and Canada. In addition, some are dressed in a mixture of sporting garb including the fencer on the right. The give-away, however, is the sign being held in front of the Group – The Empire Games comes to Wales.

 

In July 1958 Cardiff hosted the Sixth British Empire and Commonwealth Games. It was a significant occasion. At the first Games held in Canada in 1930 the entire Welsh team had amounted 2 competitors (both swimmers) – just enough to provide a bearer for the flag and the one person to carry the ‘Wales’ placard at the opening ceremony. Ironically a Welsh man, Reg Thomas, won an athletics gold medal at the 1930 games but competing for England in the absence of a Welsh athletics team. Now, only 28 years later, Wales was hosting the Games with 36 countries and 1400 athletes and officials.

 

Over the coming weeks through the records held at Glamorgan Archives we will feature memories of July 1958 when Wales played host to the rest of the world. For those interested in finding out more about the Games, details will be provided of where the photographs and memorabilia can be found at Glamorgan Archives. So, starting with this article, the photographs featured of St Mary Street and Queen Street can be found under ref. 1998/68 and that of Aberdare Hall under ref. DUCAH/43/30.

 

Tony Peters

Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Porthcawl Dock Plans

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In 1825 local industrialists and landowners obtained an Act of Parliament for building a tram road down the Llynfi valley to Porthcawl bay, and improving the bay by the erection of some form of dock. The line began at Dyffryn Llynfi, a few miles above Maesteg, and ran along the valley to Tondu where it turned westward towards Kenfig Hill and through Pyle and Newton Nottage to reach the sea at Porthcawl. Other sites at the mouth of the Ogmore River and at Newton had been considered for the dock but were rejected, either because of difficulties of terrain or because the landowners were uncooperative. The harbour built at Porthcawl was a small rectangular basin which was tidal and so could only be used at certain times of day, and in 1840 it was extended and deepened. By 1864 the growth in the iron and coal industries was such that the two railway companies which then operated in the Llynfi and Ogmore valleys joined forces to obtain a further Act proposing much greater expansion.

The entrance to the existing basin was to be re-positioned, and a completely new dock of some 7 acres area would be built, connected to it, on the north, and fitted with gates so that it would not be dependent on the tides; the breakwaters would also be extended. The new dock opened in July 1867 at a cost of £250,000, and in seven years the amount of coal exported increased almost ten times.

Depression in the iron industry led the dock to concentrate more and more on coal. Trade reached its peak in 1892 when over 800 ships docked, but it declined very rapidly after that, largely because of the opening of more expansive and modern docks at Port Talbot. Trading from Porthcawl finally came to an end in 1906, and the town turned its attention from commerce to recreation.

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Glamorgan Archives holds 32 plans prepared by the London engineer R.P. Brereton between 1864 and 1866 for the extension of Porthcawl Dock (ref.: UDPC/HARBOUR).  The collection of plans, though comparatively large, may not be complete; some of them are numbered, but not all the numbers are present. As well as an overall plan, they show details of the dock gates, the breakwaters and coal lines. On the ground the dock of 1867 has been filled in, but the plans survive as a reminder of one aspect of Victorian industrial growth, and the changing fortune of different ports.

‘Confined within the 4 wooden walls of a ship’: A voyage from Wales to Australia

The collection at Glamorgan Archives holds many items relating to Glamorgan inhabitants who emigrated from Wales, including several who left to start new lives in Australia and New Zealand.  One of these was Levi Davies of Pontypridd, who left his home on 21st August 1863 and finally arrived in Melbourne on 6th January 1864 after a voyage of some 18 weeks.  Levi’s diary details every day of his courageous voyage across the oceans to the other side of the world.

Levi’s journey didn’t get off to the most exciting of starts:

Left Pontypridd August 21st 1863 By the 9 o clock train to Cardiff thence by the Great Western Railway through Gloucester to Paddington Station arrived there at 4.45pm…

And some days later, he was still in London:

Tuesday 25th August: This was the great day appointed for the ship to leave London for Melbourne, went on board in the morning and soon ascertained she would not sail that day.

Tuesday 1st September: Went on board in the morning and was told she would sail some time in the evening remained on board all day, at 6.30pm she made her first start, went as far as the lock the other end of the basin, stayed there until 3pm the following day

Despite that less than auspicious start, they finally set sail on Wednesday 2nd September.  But again, they didn’t get very far:

…at 3pm it being at full tide, the first mate gave the signal to start and we did… we had two Tugg Boats (steamers) to tow us as far as Gravesend where we casted anchor for the night…

A contrary wind meant that they were forced stay put for more than a week:

Thursday 10th September: At 4.30am was awakened by the sound of the sailors heaving up the anchor… was informed by the First Mate that the wind had changed and was amenable for us to sail… now opposite Dover Castle

Once underway, Levi found that not all the passengers adapted well to life at sea.  Only a few days after leaving London, Levi notes:

…sea very rough, ship rocking worse than a cradle, men women and children vomiting and purging effected by sea sickness.

But as for Levi himself, I am hitherto quite free from the least effects of it.  His secret?  …drinking salt water is very good to prevent sea sickness…

It’s interesting to discover from the diary how the crew and passengers survived such a long journey without putting in to port to collect supplies.  Obviously they had provisions on board, but they also made the most of their surroundings, and Levi refers to some of their food:

Saturday 26th September: Threw 3 alive pigs over board, the remainder of 15 that died from distemper.

Friday 11th September: …spent the morning in company with the Mate of the ship fishing, caught 2 Dog fishes, their skins as hard as Badger

Saturday 3rd October: …at twilight caught a fish called Baracoota…

Tuesday 13th October: …caught upwards of 2500 gallons of rain water for drinking and cooking etc.

Sunday 29th November: …caught a porpoise weighing about 150lbs ate some of it for breakfast.

Levi also details the habits of his fellow passengers, of which he didn’t always approve.  While they were still anchored at Gravesend, waiting for the wind to change, he noted:

Wednesday 9th September: …some of the passengers proposed going on shore in a Boat, to which I objected… about 1pm they went and returned at 6pm, more than half drunk…

Those travelling with Levi on the Trebolgan to Melbourne were from various places, but seemed to band together by nationality:

Thursday 3rd September: …Irishmen gathered together to give us a jig, Englishmen took to play cards, Scotch men to play Draughts, and Dutch men to play Chess, I and my partner amused ourselves by walking backwards and forward on the Deck…

Levi and his fellow countrymen, all of whom were nonconformists, made every effort to keep the Sabbath during their travels:

Sunday 6th September: We Welshmen gathered together and formed a Bible class, we are only 4 Welshmen on board, one man and wife besides Thomas and me, the others are English, Irish, Scotch and Dutchmen, very little respects they show towards Sunday more than any other day.

As you would expect, the voyage was far from smooth.  At times it proved truly terrifying for those on board, passengers and crew alike:

Friday 18th September: …explosion of thunder such as I never heard before nor any other one on board this ship, the forked lightning exhibiting in various shapes on the sky, dividing the heavens as it were, the howling of the wind, the roaring of the big waves raising up like mountains tossing the ship like a ball and the pouring of the rain… was enough to sink us all in despondency and give up all hopes of ever reaching any port… all of us expected every moment to be dashed to atoms and buried under the waves…

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Sunday 20th September: Was awakened this morning by the loud splashing of the great waves against the thin planks which separate us from sudden death…

Thursday 22nd October: Tremendous heavy squalls at 2am which aroused us from bed, ship almost capsized several times…  I was asking some of the sailors at breakfast time what did they think of the weather last night… they said, that is just the sort of weather for us… but actions and manners speak louder than words sometimes, although they answered in that way when the uneasy moments were over, they did not mean it, there was seriousness imparted on every countenance at the time the squall occurred…

At such times of despair, and on such a long journey, Levi’s thoughts naturally turned to home and to the friends and family he had left behind:

Thursday 24th September: …many times I climbed up the rigging turning my face towards home anxious to know the state of your mind concerning me, but many a long month must pass before it is possible for me to hear from you on account of the long journey which is before me.  Please God I shall see the end of it.

And he began to wonder whether he had made the correct decision:

The 115th day of our voyage: The light of another Christmas Day has dawned upon us  …I had some thoughts of sadness about the past and some of anxiety when I looked into the uncertainty of the future…

And, although life on board was dull at times…

Wednesday Thursday Friday and Saturday the 11th 12th 13th and 14th November: Nothing of much moment occurred these last few days…

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The 115th day of our voyage: Now I am upon the sea with nothing to relieve the dull monotony which I have now had (with little exception) for four weary months, confined within the 4 wooden walls of a ship, with nothing but strangers for our companions.

…the new experiences Levi encountered during his voyage were wonderful indeed:

Wednesday 30th September: …saw a big fish called by some Turtle, by others Tortoise, it’s a fish with hard shells on his back.

Saturday 24th October: Crossed the line (Equator) at 6pm when old Neptune’s Secretary came on board… stated that his Divine Master was ill of cold which confined him to his room… medicine exactly to his disease not being obtainable in the waste of waters… wishing it to be understood that that particular kind of distilled spirit called rum was particularly suited to his Master’s disease…

Sunday 1st November: A meteor commencing eastwards flashed up and along the sky, towards s. west, lighting the whole heavens more clearly than anything I ever saw except the sun itself, it must have lasted about 5 seconds and then exploded in sparks, leaving a luminous streak in its course behind it, which gradually disappeared, leaving everything in darkness as before…

Wednesday 4th November: A matter of considerable excitement occurred today, a report spread among the passengers and crew that a shark was to be seen hovering about the prow of the vessel… the assertion was repeated that the rapacious monster was still there… The Captain… making his appearance with a large fishing hook in one hand and a piece of pork in the other (about 2lbs) the bait was fixed immediately and the hook attached to a rope which was carried by the Captain to the side of the ship and thrown over, in a very short time Mr Shark made his appearance… his jaws closed upon the bait… the word past, hoist away, and in a few moments we landed him safely on the Deck.

Tuesday 1st December: In this part of the world it is not dark until 9pm.  I never saw daylight before at 9pm on the 1st December.

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Thursday 10th December: …sighted an iceberg about twice as large as this ship…

After months at sea, Levi and his fellow passengers finally caught sight of their destination:

Monday 4th January: Was called this morning at 5am by the First Mate (Mr Armstrong) to see land Cape Otway which was on the left of us just before we entered into Hobson’s Bay…

And, at last, they landed in Australia:

Wednesday 6th January 1864: At 3pm went to shore on a boat, walked about in Williamstown landing and St. Kilda Hill…

We don’t know a great deal as to Levi’s fate once he reached Australia.  Some notes in the diary give us clues regarding what he did in the few short years following his arrival:

Commenced work at a Farm near Bald Hills ‘Henry Loader’ on the 13th January 1864. 

L. A. Davies was appointed Secretary of the Bonshaw ‘Accident Fund’ on the 13th day of March 1868.

If any reader knows what happened to Levi Davies after his adventure on the high seas, we would be very pleased indeed to find out.