On bedsits

April 28, 2023 2 Comments
Bath Street, Aberystwyth

We’re having some work done in our bedroom, so I’m currently sleeping in the attic, my normal place of work during the day.  In other words, the attic is now my bedsit.  It’s a slightly strange experience, and it’s got me thinking of bedsits of the past.

My first was in Bath Street, in the centre of Aberystwyth, not far from the cinema.  I moved in at the start of August 1973 and occupied a single room on the ground floor.   There was another lodger, somewhere upstairs.  Our landlady was Mrs Jones, a women of few words, probably in her seventies.  I don’t remember much about her, except that she was fond of watching wrestling, which ITV used to show on Saturday afternoon in those days – or about the room, which I suppose wasn’t very different to the rooms I’d inhabited as a student.

Royal Oak, Cardiff

My second was in Cardiff.  I arrived there in summer 1975, to take up my first proper job, and found somewhere cheap to live in Splott.  It was part of a small terraced house in Beresford Road, a busyish and litter-strewn street leading off Newport Road.  If I’d been fond of a drink or a fight, it would have been an ideal location.  The Royal Oak – it was once run by the brother of the famous boxer Jim Driscoll, when it had a boxing gym on the first floor, and it’s still open today – was at the end of the street, on the corner of Newport Road, and round the back of the same block, on Broadway, was the smaller New Dock Tavern (closed 2009).  Broadway was the way to go to get to the city centre, and there was a small park on the Roath side of Newport Road.  It was the first time I’d lived in a city, and the novelty of the place, and the glamour of my new workplace (the building had opened at exactly the time I arrived) were mildly exciting.

The house’s owner – or maybe it was his parents who owned it – was a steelworker in the old East Moors Steel Works.  He lived on the first floor, and I had the ground floor.  There was enough room for me and my few possessions, include a bike: it was just too far to walk from there into work, and I soon found I needed to cycle. I was happy, even in 1976, the year of the Great Drought, when the water supply wasn’t always reliable.  I didn’t see much of the man upstairs, but we seemed to get on well enough.

Locomotive Inn, Cardiff

After a year or two there was a change.  The man upstairs disappeared – this may have coincided with the closure of the steel works, which happened around this time.  I carried on living downstairs.  Then a new tenant, a woman, came to live above me.  We rarely met, and I thought little of her.  I must have been very unobservant or very naïve, or both, but it dawned on me eventually that the lady upstairs seemed to receive an unusually number of male visitors, some them arriving in taxis and bearing bottles.  I also spotted underwear left carelessly on the stair banister.  I thought nothing of it, and got on with my quiet life.

One day the phone rang (there was just one phone in the house).  No one else was in, so I went up and answered the call.  Avoiding any small talk, a man with a gruff voice and a foreign accent asked me to ‘send a girl round immediately’.  Suddenly the scales dropped from my eyes.  There couldn’t be any doubt about it, I was living in a brothel.  In shock, I put the phone receiver down without saying a word to the gruff man.  C. and a friend were visiting at the time, and when I told them about the phone call we all walked down Broadway to the Locomotive pub (soon to be demolished), where we laughed and laughed over our beers.

Berthwin Street, Cardiff

Soon after this discovery I was asked whether I would like to leave the bedsit.  I suppose the business upstairs needed space for expansion.  I moved to a new bedsit on the other side of the river, in Berthwin Street, Pontcanna.  Today Pontcanna is heavily gentrified.  At that time it was less so, but it was still very different from the mean streets of Splott.  Berthwin Street was a short and quiet cul-de-sac off Cathedral Road, and I could cycle through the gates at its eastern end into Pontcanna Fields and across the river to Cathays to get to work. 

I had the front room on the ground floor.  It was cramped.  There was too much furniture, and I was working on a large index at that time so that the room filled with a growing number of shoe-boxes full of slips of paper (indexes being still unautomated in those days).  In fact, it was so crowded you couldn’t get at the cupboard doors in the room to open them.  After some time, I started to notice an unfamiliar smell in the room, musty and faintly malodorous.  Still the innocent, I paid it little attention, and carried on with my indexing.  But the smell got worse.  Finally I decided something must be done.  Moving all the furniture and shoe boxes aside with some effort, I opened one of the cupboard doors.  The inside was filled with a cobwebby mass of rusty-coloured fluff.  I shrank back in horror.  It looked like one of Dr Who’s deadlier foes, a malevolent visitor from another galaxy.  Of course, I’d never seen dry rot before. The landlady took one look at it and acted swiftly.  Within in few days I’d moved out, the room was emptied, and all the timbers in the room, including the floorboards, were stripped out. 

Glenroy Street, Cardiff

And that was almost the end of my bedsit life.  I moved for a while to Bedsit no. 4, but then managed to buy, from a work friend who was moving away, a small terraced house back in the east of the city, in Glenroy Street.  That house, too, had its issues.  Damp walls had to be coated with a plastic paint of some kind, and the louvres in the front room proved to be easily detachable, so that one night a thief walked through the window from the street and helped himself to the television and a pile of my favourite CDs.  But from that time on I never missed the bedsits. Glenroy Street turned out to be a fine place to live, and the source of lasting friendships.

A bedsit has its uses, as cheap(ish) accommodation and snug hideaway.  It might seem a tight fit, but with a bit of imagination, it’s possible, as Xavier de Maistre found, to travel a long way within one, and you can launch a great career from it, as did Tracey Thorne, singer and author of Disco bedsit queen

At the moment life in the attic is no problem – though I am looking forward to keeping the locations of day and night separate once more.

Comments (2)

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  1. Nigel says:

    “In my life” was a fine song by the Beatles about place https://youtu.be/N0tOm2mjWAw
    You have got me thinking about my time in such accommodation, (no brothels though). Thanks for sharing your memories

  2. Gill Lewis says:

    Bet your current bed sit has the best views!

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