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Haven of the boys club that was the source of so much fun.

IN 1934 I joined the Central Boys Club and Hostel, situated on the two upper floors of a big old three-storey terraced house in Penarth Road.

It was supervised by Major Appleton, assisted by Mr Loney, who also ran a scout troop and a young chap known only as Sam Jam who appeared only occasionally.

For a penny a week, it was a haven for us kids. On the lower floor was a gymnasium of sorts, a huge, bare place with parallel bars, a vaulting horse and a mat with not much else.

Perhaps the large, empty area once held a boxing ring where Jim Driscoll trained, although there was no evidence of its existence when I was there.

Nevertheless, it was stated that he had used the Central Boys Club for training and was the reason why his statue was erected on the site of the new club in Bute Terrace. There was a huge cupboard at the entrance door end of the gym that held a mass of paraphernalia stacked to the roof. A dismantled ring perhaps? The other floor held the office, reading room, a large area holding three billiard tables and another panelled-off section for table tennis and board games.

When we weren't using these facilities we were scraggin' each other in the gym or around the corner, past the morgue (which we always traversed at speed in case a big stitched-together character, with a bolt through his neck thundered after us in his iron boots) at the end of the short street leading to the timber floats and the risky fun of mucking about on the huge roped-together baulks, a very healthy outdoor activity providing you didn't fall in and had to creep home snivelling to mam, a clout, a lecture, a swill down in cold water and carbolic soap to eliminate the pond life and then bed, to read Treasure Island by candlelight until one of your sisters brought you up cocoa and a sandwich.

For half-a-crown (30p), for which you saved all year round, in my early years as a club member we spent a week under canvas at Nottage, Porthcawl, in army bell tents.

Even the toilets were a hessian sack enclosure with holes in the ground, a bucket of lime and a shovel.

The grub was plain, plentiful and I can still savour the suppers of Spillers hard tack biscuit, with cheese and a mug of hot sweet cocoa. Supervision was minimal; only one organised hike to a lake that held a drowned village, where, if you dipped your head in the water, the tolling of the chapel bell could be heard as it moved with the current.

For the rest of your stay the time between meals was filled with baseball, cricket, scraggin', wandering the countryside and, best of all, fighting the waves or exploring the rock pools, inlets and caves of Sker Bay, a deserted wilderness reached by crossing a golf course.

No kid ever came to any harm! After a couple of canvas years, the first brick buildings appeared, toilets and a cookhouse, then, later, chalets and dining hall.

Jubilee Camp I believe it's called. No more rolling up the tent walls to air our groundsheet, mattress and army blanket beds, or whacking loose tent pegs with a mallet. Bunks and windows were civilised, hygienic and no fun whatsoever.

In 1939 Mr Appleton's dream materialised into a new, purpose-built club, just as war broke out. It was promptly appropriated by the Ministry of Food, I believe, until 1947, when it was returned to its proper status of giving kids a haven, sadly without the morgue, the stitched bloke with the neck bolt or the timber floats.

All gone now, innit! Where? RJ Carlson Coedcochwyn Avenue, Cardiff


From left, boxer Joe Erskine, rugby league legend Billy Boston and Len Bullen, all members of Cardiff Central Boys Club, in November 1950
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Sep 23, 2009
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