On the 4th December 1960, the most serious Bridgend flood of the 20th century occurred in the early hours of the morning and I wasn’t around to witness the event; I was in boarding school just a mile or two away. We boys were informed about the flood at breakfast time; I was quite shocked and although I was very timid and quiet plucked up enough courage afterwards to enquire whether Dad’s shop was flooded; the headmaster didn’t know but said he’d find out. Later in the day I had the news, yes the floods had reached the shop, but he didn’t know the extent of any damage. This was not something my father would have wanted to be happening just three weeks away from the busiest trading day of the year, Christmas Eve!
The following morning a letter from my grandmother told me the news; Gran was a prolific writer of letters, I used to have at least two, if not three a week from her telling me all of the gossip and trivia of family life. The letter contained information that the shop was the last one up Caroline Street to be flooded and probably to a depth of a foot (30cm in new money) and the shop floor was covered in river mud. Much of the solid wooden block floor laid in a herring-bone pattern had also risen and all the blocks had floated to different positions. She said all the family had gone down early on the morning of the flood to have a look at the, by now, receding water; I was rather envious of this as I should love to have been there and seen for myself.
It had been pouring with rain for days and for life at school it meant we were cooped up inside during that time with just the small gymnasium as a playground. The grounds were sodden with large deep pools where the lawns and sports fields should be and we were prevented by the incessant rain from going to play outside. On the morning of the big flood, which was a Sunday, the rain had stopped and after chapel, with strict instructions no boy was to get his feet wet by wading in too deep, we were allowed to venture out in our wellington boots and explore the puddles and pools. Later, matron would do an inspection and, although she was a kindly soul who never told us off, if any socks were found to be wet she would inform the headmaster who would punish us with the full wrath of his acerbic tongue, of which I was terrified, and possibly he’d even send any miscreant to bed for the rest of the day.
Although at the time I convinced myself it was the Bridgend floods that had covered the school grounds, a practical impossibility as the school was on a higher level, I really would love to have had the opportunity to see the town under water; sadly I was denied that experience and can now only relive the day through the photographs, recollections and experiences of others.
The above photograph is one of many in my collection and shows some of the crowd that had assembled at the water’s edge. The gentleman looking directly at the camera is my father, John Stokes, and our shop is just visible on the extreme right edge of the picture. The young fair-haired lad in shorts and a raincoat in the centre is my brother Geoff. By the time this photo was taken the water had receded considerably. There are many copies of this photograph in circulation but no reference as to who the photographer may have been although I suspect it was probably Mayfair Studios from the lower end of Caroline Street. The photograph has been ‘aged’ for the purpose of illustration.