They are giving away free ice-cream at Forte's by Grafton Maggs


by

Grafton Magg

 

Our generation was expert on ice cream in the thirties and with some justification as the days of the great mass producers had not arrived. We relied upon the little comer shop who, in the summer months only produced each their own exquisite brand of ice cream, manufactured, somehow or other, in a little back kitchen or shed. It had a special flavour peculiar to that one particular shop and made to a secret formula passed on from generation to generation. One such outlet was Davies the Bakers' shop at the corner of John Street where thousands of small ha'penny cornets were sold every summer, their ice cream was a rich yellow and probably consisted mainly of eggs, milk and sugar with vanilla flavouring and little else. All the other shops had a flavour and texture of their own and over a period of years we sampled them all — in great depth!

 

Another source of supply was the  ‘Stop-Me-and-Buy-One’ tricycle carts and I well remember one such vendor was a Mr. Arnold who made his produce in a garage in St. Helen’s Avenue, Swansea and would appear in Langland, Limeslade, and Oystermouth at the height of the season.  I wondered how he got to Mumbles. Did he cycle that cumbersome vehicle all the way down the Mumbles Road? If so, why didn't his ice cream melt?

 

 So, this was the era of the little ice cream maker and perhaps my taste was less discriminating than it is now but all their products tasted absolutely marvellous. The prospect of such an unregulated foodstuff being marketed today would give an EEC minister a seizure and yet I never heard of any-one who had an illness traced to the corner shop. Our old shop-keepers knew their business!

 

In the later thirties, the big manufacturers such as Lyons and Walls gradually encroached upon the market and most shops began to retail their much varied products under such names as Snowfrutes, Snowcremes etc and soon, green and pink ices made an appearance - their lack of quality being masked by variety and hue. The days of the comer shop ice cream maker were numbered, it was virtually impossible to compete with the mass produced inferior, chemical freeze-up masquerading as ‘ice-cream’. However, all was not lost!


However, a new dimension appeared in Mumbles in 1935. Private enterprise reared its head on the corner of the Dunns opposite to Lowther's Pharmacy and Taylor's the Grocers. The old angular edifice at the apex of the Dunns and Station Square was dismantled and something like a futuristic palace from H.G, Wells' ‘Shape of Things to Come’ began to emerge. A flat roof with a verandah capped a sweeping curved wall extending from opposite Ace the Butcher's right around to face Oystermouth Station. This wall was glazed from ceiling to within a foot of the floor and was only broken by the entrance foyer facing the Pharmacy. In that foyer was a glass pillar containing a menu (‘North Pole 6d, Knickerbocker Glory 2s 3d etc.’) and a reproduction of the latter item - something never seen in Mumbles before and about as attainable as a cruise on the Queen Mary. The inside was indeed a palace with a hint of the twenties in the Lloyd Loom furniture, set in a colour scheme of blues and white. The overall effect created a delightful airy atmosphere enhanced by the all round glazing. Forte's had arrived in Mumbles! This was our first encounter with the American Ice Cream Parlour!

 

A week or so before the opening on Friday 29th May 1936, Mumbles was rife with the rumour and a breathless John Clements with an equally excited sister, Poppy informed me, ‘they're giving away free ice cream on the opening day!!’ This seemed to be too good to be true, knowing the capacity of the average Mumbles child for ice cream (especially FREE ice cream), I doubted if there was enough of this precious emulsion in the whole of Wales to satisfy demand. However, one beautiful Saturday afternoon, Forte's opened and a queue, extending from the entrance to the back of Strawford's and beyond, quickly assembled. Spirits were high, reflected in the playful jostling and buzz of excited conversation. At last we reached the inside of the parlour where six people, clad in spotless white, were serving cones furiously to the youth of Mumbles who reached up to the counter like starving gannets. Back outside, blinking in the sunlight, we all returned to the back of the queue. This routine continued for most of the afternoon until we had to admit defeat. I gathered from Elio Macari, years later, that to achieve this conquest over 160 gallons of ice cream was given away that afternoon! And what was the decision of the experts on this ice cream? Unanimously - superb! The new owners of this parlour were Giuseppe Macari and family, at that time consisting of his wife and two sons, Elio and Olympio.

 

Mr. Macari, at first, seemed to be an unsmiling, abrasive character but as time passed this was seen to be quite a wrong impression and was partly due to a language problem and, I think, shyness. Over the years, I got to know him well and found him to be a kind hearted soul. Elio and Olympic attended the local school and became life-long friends, soon to be involved and totally committed to the family business. This business with such an excellent product and backed by Italian finesse in this field, flourished and soon expanded to kiosks around the popular bays.

 

Very soon, ‘See you down in Forte's!’ became a set piece in our conversation comparable with ‘See you outside the Tiv!’ or ‘I'm slipping down to Johnnie's for some chips!’ and as we grew older and our funds increased, so we patronised the place all the more. I shall never forget that marvellous aroma, that greeted me as I walked in to the parlour, a blend of coffee, made as only Italians know how and that subtle sweetness of the ice cream. In life, I found that there were few things that lived up to my expectancy, but here were two items that did. I am sure that there are many ex-servicemen from WW2 who, like myself, when in strange hot lands, thought of ice-cream soda with the condensation on the outside of the glass and wished themselves back in Forte's in the heart of the village!

I am indebted to the Macaris for bringing it here. It brought me happiness as a child, as a youth, as a soldier and as an adult and although the family business continues to flourish in Limeslade, it is to the original Forte's in Station Square, Oystermouth, that my warmest thoughts return - the days when the sun always shone and I was going to live forever

 

Another of our favourite landmarks began its life at the end of 1934, when the corporation workmen appeared in Dunns Lane to clear the site opposite the Victoria Hall. For many years, this area had been occupied by the burnt out remains of the local fire station and mortuary. Charred rafters had long since collapsed into the rubble and nature was re-establishing its supremacy with the appearance of tall weeds, mosses and wild life. It was a dreadful mess, but had been there so long that it failed to register on the brain. Now at last something was happening and the men, manually, soon stripped the site clean.  On the 23rd February 1935, Mayor Davies, complete with Chain of Office, laid a foundation stone, and like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the pleasing contempo­rary building that was to be the new Library, appeared, on the 21st September 1935. Councillor David Richards at­tended the opening less than a year after the initial clearing of the site.

 

To appreciate the true worth of this event, it is necessary to remember that the country was just beginning to pull out of the worst depression in its history. Unemployment was still at an obscenely high level and the average home in Mumbles barely existed on the meagre handout of the dole. Radio was in its infancy (and unaffordable, anyway), and only the daily newspaper and the cinema offered any respite from the constant, nagging worry of survival. Books were precious items, far too expensive to buy or even borrow from the small, private lending libraries who charged 2d per book per week, offering, of necessity, a limited selection. Mumbles had several of these excellent little units, amongst them - Marion Clements in lower Newton Road (now gobbled up by the voracious White Rose) and the Castle Library at the bottom of Woodville Road.

 

Now, here was a lifeline. Overnight we had a free lending library with access to thousands of books. How well I remember Mr. Edwin Timothy of 4 Gloucester Place, eulogising the event—‘Grafton, my boy, you are too callow to have a cognition of the magnitude of this largesse and what it means to a culture famished community’. At the time, I did not know what he meant but had the suspicion that he was pleased and was echoing the general feeling of most of the adult population of Mumbles. Edwin Timothy in the time left him, tried to read every book of note on the shelves of Oystermouth Library! In no time at all, the Library became a vital part of the community with unruffled, head librarian, Victor Morgan always ready to advise and demonstrate his many skills, one of which was his superb calligraphy. He went to great trouble to impress the value of the books we borrowed, in pragmatic terms and also to make us understand the enormous cost of running a library system.

 

To get us more involved, we were invited to assist behind the counter. This taught us part of the administra­tion of the unit and it was a much sought after privilege. Every Saturday morning, as soon as the Library opened, Mr. Morgan would be besieged by many youngsters begging him....’Can I help stamp the books, Mr. Mor­gan?’, To be fair he would allow us an hour each and the rest of the time would be spent in returning books to the appropriate places on the shelves, not difficult in those days because only the top two or three shelves were stocked. The Library became a general meeting place and the reading room which was always so clean, tidy and warm, a haven for the senior citizens and the unemployed who now had access to all the national dailies including the now defunct - Daily Herald, Daily Sketch and News Chronicle. On winter evenings, teachers from local schools would organize discussion groups, making us realize that there was life beyond Blackpill.

 

The contents of the Library soon weaned us away from the popular fare of 'Tuppenies1 such as the Wizard, Skipper, Magnet and Champion. From the adventures of Chung and Clicky - Ba, Harry Wharton and the Famous Five, we graduated to Richmal Crompton's 'William', Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan1. H.G. Wells' -'Invisible Man' and so on. En passant, I should mention that the outlets for the 'Tuppenny' were manifold as newsagents abounded, from Ceaton's hi Southend to Jack Steddiford's at the top of Queen's Road. Newton Road boasted the Book Shop opposite Chapel Street and lower down, opposite Stratford's Chemists, traded Miss John (shortly after WW2 this business was taken over by Jack Cowley and more recently Lewis News). In the Dunns, opposite Abse Peachey's garage, was Christie Tucker's not only a retail newsagency but also publisher of 'The Mumbles Press' a weekly journal ably printed by Gillard Bidder. We all had our favourite shop and without doubt ours was Steve Davies's on the corner of Chapel Street, adjoining his brother Johnnie's famous chip shop (thankfully, still with us).

 

Another favourite pastime was ‘Going to the pictures.’ It was a special occasion with an excitement far exceeding that of a visit to the impersonal, sterile cinemas catering for today. The village cinema, or  ‘bughouse’ was a social centre and Mumbles had two of its own, right in our midst. We knew all the staff, we knew each other and we were in easy walking distance of our homes The Tivoli, 'down the front' was the older cinema and hence was called ‘the Old’ and the Regent in Newton Road, being newer, was called the ‘New.’ In later years, confusion reigned amongst 'foreigners (i.e. anyone from East of Blackpill) because the Tivoli was knocked down and rebuilt in the late thirties and yet locals persisted in calling it  ‘the Old’. As a result, the newer cinema was 'the Old' and the older Regent called ‘the New’ !
 
The original Tivoli had a tin roof, which although excellent for acoustics had obvious disadvantages with heavy rain, hailstones and the proximity of the Mumbles Train. However, being a small cinema with no upstairs these distractions only added to the feeling of cosiness and security and created an enchanting atmosphere. Regarding atmosphere, this was physically added to as a result of treatment meted out by some parents, every Spring,  ‘for cleansing the blood'. Young offspring were dosed with sulphur-containing tonics or plain sulphur tablets. Possi­bly this worked but had one grave social disadvantage which when compounded by many dosees in a confined space begat a formidable environment. A rumour (entirely false) was that, in Spring, the usherettes used miners' lamps in case of an explosion!
 
Each cinema presented two programmes a week, spanning Monday to Wednesday, Thursday to Saturday with mati­nees on Wednesday and Saturday. Every programme had a double feature, supported by news, trailers, cartoons e.g. Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat etc., or a short comedy e.g. Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chase etc. A matinee would start at 2 00 and finish at 5.30—three and a half hours of entertainment for 3d! Before the advent of the continuous programme, the cinema would close for clean­ing and ventilation (essential after a Spring matinee) and reopen at 6.00pm.
 
Being rationed to one visit a. week it was an agonising decision to choose a cinema. When Buck Jones was chasing Indians in the New, Boris Karloff was rising from the dead in "The Mummy" at the Old -- a decision that would have tested Solomon. The cinema would start filling about half an hour before curtain-up. Excited chatter would build up as raucous greetings and insults were exchanged. Here and there high-spirited skirmishes would erupt, rapidly quelled by immacu­late usherettes, Dolly Chugg and Olive Kostromin. Miscre­ants were threatened with the direst of penalties— ‘Vin­egar,' ‘Trailer! I'm going to tell your mother about you!’ and ‘Tiddy' Talbot, take that half soaked grin off your face!’ This usually did the trick but when hard cases like Georgie (Pudgie) Jones resisted, it resulted in a bang on the head from a torch. The last line of defence was to call in Mr. Sermon, the uniformed commissionaire, who, like a latter day bouncer, would eject the young hell-raiser.
 
At 2.00, cheers would greet Roley Thomas, who resplend­ent in green page-boy's uniform would swagger down the aisle, mount the stage and pull a rope to raise the safety curtain—a curtain emblazoned with Mumbles' trades-people's names, such as T. & G. Davies, Bakers; Lowther's, Stratford's,  Varley's, Peachey's, Kemps etc. Roley would then saunter back bestowing a wink here and there on a favoured few.
 
Then the lights would dim and the curtains part to reveal the famous Gaumont-British News composite of small action pictures surrounding a central town crier, ringing a bell. The news was about a fortnight old, not that this mattered because we were hearing and seeing famous people, from Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin to Duce Mussolini. We saw long-shorted soccer players always, seemingly, playing on dark, foggy afternoons and such things as the RAF team flying over Everest, which evoked cries of ‘My father was driving that first plane!’ or ‘My father AND my two uncles were driving the front planes!’ and so on. Soon the main feature would be on and invariably we were transported on the magic carpet of total absorption, screaming our rage at villain Lon Chaney and our encouragement to Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) to swim faster and save Jane. We marvelled at H. G. Wells' epic "The Shape of Things to Come" and we laughed at the Hulberts, Sydney Howard and a young George Formby And, at the end, we stood dutifully for ‘God Save the King’.
 
Such was the impact of a good film that it would be the main topic of conversation on the way home and for weeks to come. This is understandable because apart from reading and the early wireless programmes, the cinema was our only illustrated source of knowledge of life beyond Blackpill and had a tremendous influence on our behav­iour. Of paramount importance was that every film demonstrated that good vanquished evil. The handsome, clean-shaven hero always defeated the scruffy, shifty-eyed blackguard and as a bonus to the glory won, the affection of a beautiful damsel. As early adolescents we were just beginning to appreciate the merits of the latter. For weeks after a special film, our street behaviour was affected and to this day I can hear John (Butty) Hinds' Tarzan call as he dived off the sea wall into two feet of water. After the King Kong epic, we would all climb trees or walls and beat our chests, unfortunately without a Fay Wray in our arms. The sound of Tommy gun fire was heard all over Mumbles after the Chicago cops eliminated Scarface (Paul Muni) and the important point is that we all wanted to be the cops not the villains.
 
In their heyday, the picture houses played a great role in most peoples' lives, not just the children's. Here was a haven to which hard working mums and dads could escape and find a Shangri-La for a few hours. Here, too, was a warm sanctuary for courting couples who could share a few hours of precious togetherness, away from a crowded home, being able to whisper lovely things to each other.I know that many, many married couples in Mumbles still treasure memories of those shared moments in 'the Old' and ' the New'.
 

          So this was the essence of my often remembered and always treasured childhood, but tragically many of my erstwhile playmates were destined not to grow old, as they would be lost on the battlefields of the second world war.

Previously published in the All Saints Church Parish Magazine, July 1996, August 1997, July 1997  and  April 1997

 

 

It saddened me, recently, to read in a national daily that teachers had discovered that children in certain junior schools did not know how to play games in the school yard and attempts were being made to teach them the old traditional games once played in school and street. Blame for this was placed upon the lure of the television screen, videos and computer games. Add to this the dangers present on every street and one can understand why parents are happy to accept the little screen as the lesser of two evils. This has meant, of course, that the passing of games knowl­edge from generation to generation has come to a halt.

 

Tragically, after the war, the 'experts' (I use that word very loosely) decided to obliterate the seaward side of the Dunns which meant the loss of the old shops like Eley's, Strawford’s the Bakers, Christie Tuckers, Harry Libby's, Matthew's the Jewellers and of course Forte's. This took away a village street of character and to console us, left us with no protection from any thing blowing in from the sea. However, we do have a lovely unrestricted view of a weed infested square, buses splashing through filthy water and a variety of contemporary litter. Vive le progress!!
 
Fortunately, Forte's was able to acquire new premises opposite to the Tiv’ and soon established a delightful ambiance, yet so different to the original. After a short while, the Macaris decided to reduce their empire to the one establishment at Limeslade, here the family continues to serve in the delectable shape of Francesca and Lucia. Fortunately for the village, 'Joe's' became the new owners and being a part of the Cascarini family, once again brought in Italian know-how based on the success of the Swansea parlour, which was founded in 1922. Like its predecessor, Joe's has a superb ice cream (I'd kill for the formula), coffee that is a nectar and a cool pleasing decor, again with a hint of the twenties. Yet again, the village has a wonderful social centre and the fact mat so many people enjoy places like Joe's, Treasure, Verdi's ;and Ripples demonstrates that there is a large element in Mumbles who enjoy socialising without the need of alcohol.

So! Forte's came and went in the heart of the village, all within my lifetime.

 

 

A selection of articles by Grafton Maggs

Christmas in Mumbles between the Wars by Grafton Pearce Maggs
I was born in 1925, which implies that my conscious memory extends back to the late 1920s. So, by ‘Prior to World War Two’,

Going to the Tiv by Grafton Maggs
 Another favourite pastime in the 1930s was ‘Going to the pictures.’ It was a special occasion with an excitement far exceeding that of a visit to the impersonal ...

The Games we played by Grafton Pearce Maggs
 I look back on my childhood in the thirties as on halcyon days, a great deal of that happiness coming from shared moments with so many ...

The Saturday Tuppenny Tradition by Grafton Maggs
I remember so well those cold, drizzly, winter mornings, waking, as a little lad, to the soft grey light that filtered through the bedroom curtains.

Village Schooldays by Grafton Pearce Maggs
‘Schooldays are the happiest days of your life!’, expressed a sentiment with which I have never been in full harmony.

The Instant Army that came from Nowhere by Grafton Maggs
May 2010 came, and went, remembered mainly for one thing.   A General Election which, after all the counting . . .

Some members of ‘C’ Coy (Mumbles) 12th Bn. Home Guard recalled by Grafton Maggs & Duncan Bishop
Any additional names or details would be welcome