The Valleys is the usual name of the densely populated mining coalfields of south-eastern Wales in the hinterlands of the port metropolises of Swansea, Cardiff and Newport. The well-known Welsh historian Gwyn Alf Williams described all of south-eastern Wales – his region – as ‘American Wales’ based on the fact that the ‘uprooted’ population was a heady mix of the native Welsh from other parts of Wales and incoming English and Irish, and that the ensuing identity of the population was less typically British identity and more cosmopolitan than many parts of Britain. Pontypridd has always been known as the ‘Capital of the Valleys’ is set at the junction of two of the most important South Wales mining valleys, one coming from the Rhondda, the other coming from Merthyr Tydfil, and is the last Valleys’ town before you descend to Cardiff, the Welsh capital.
Pontypridd (colloquially Ponty) was then a busy place both during the day and the weekend and acquired a reputation for its teddy boys : “‘Knives out in Teddy Town battle’ – ’The Teddy Town of South Wales’, that is what people are calling Pontypridd, busy mining town at the gateway to the Rhondda,” screamed the Empire News already in early 1956 (22.01.1956). Teds continued to be very much present in the area well into the early 1960s (as the accompanying picture illustrates), and one testimony describes that period as follows: “the Valleys Teddy Boy culture was very popular at the time, and none were more aggressive than Ponty’s gangs. They hated the Cardiff Teds and vice versa. … There was one really violent confrontation between the Cardiff and Ponty Teds at the town’s railway station. Ponty station has the longest platform in Wales, and one Saturday night in 1960 around a hundred Cardiff Teds pitched up, with knuckle-dusters, bicycle chains, coshes. Some were even armed with old fashioned cut-throat razors. Their intention was clear; they wanted to sort out the Ponty boys for good. All hell broke loose. The Ponty teds got wind of the invasion and were out in force to meet them. With only a few Bobbies on the beat, the warring gangs were uncontrollable. / The fighting lasted for around two hours with both sides beating the hell out of each other and the railway station. Police reinforcements finally arrived forcing the Cardiff gang onto the next train, outclassed by Ponty’s ‘elite’ Teds. I say ‘elite’ with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek. There was nothing elite about the Teds who prowled around the streets of Pontypridd in feral packs of six or seven. Their sideburns, velvet collared drape suits, boot lace ties and drainpipe trousers marked them out for trouble and boy did they go looking for it!”
The witness quoted above is Vernon Hopkins in his 2012 book Just Help Yourself. Vernon was a founding member of the local rock’n’roll band the Senators who recruited none other than Tom Jones to be their vocalist in 1962. As usual – and despite their reputation – the Pontypridd Teddy Boys were far from all being hooligans and you can read here about one who wasn’t, Tommy Woodward, who would later befriend Elvis.
“The curious musical epilepsy of Presley and his tribe holds sway here as it does in Peckham, Rye or Pretoria.” 1963 Gwyn Thomas
POSTED October 2021.
|⇑1||From the 10-minute film ‘The Road from Pontypridd’ narrated by Gwyn Thomas|