Conway Valley - The final years
by Rebecca Green
I wrote about Conway Valley and the firm of B. S. Bacon in the November 2009 issue of this magazine. My research for that article included identifying Bertie Samuel Bacon’s parents and children, particularly his son Roy Bertie Bacon, who became a director of B.S. Bacon (Games) Ltd. I also attempted to locate and contact R. B Bacon’s children, hoping that they could add to what we know.
Keith Bacon, son of R. B. Bacon and grandson of B. S. Bacon, received my letter and contacted Wendy Gater as I’d suggested. Wendy then sent on his letter and photocopies to me. Keith enclosed copies of part of the last B.S. Bacon trade catalogue. The catalogue is undated, but the telephone number shown changed in 1972, so the latest possible date is 1971.
Page 2 of the catalogue shows three models of dolls houses.
Barbara owns a DH/6
and Nicki owns a DH/5.
Page 3 shows three more dolls houses – instead of the straight gable timbers, these have wavy-edged timbering along the lower edge of the gable, or on the roof peak.
I have seen these models come up on ebay – do any members own one?
Note that a musical movement could be fitted to any model. Barbara’s DH/6 has a music box, no longer working, which she believes plays ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’, so perhaps the tunes changed from year to year.
These six models, DH/ 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 9, are the only dolls houses shown in this last catalogue. The smallest, DH/2, is listed but not illustrated. The double gabled model, with straight gable timbers, which appears in the factory photo from 1952, is no longer offered. Sarah Boirin’s house has the same wavy timbering as those on page 2, but is larger than the DH/3 pictured. It would seem to be a slightly earlier model, no longer offered in this last catalogue.
The other pages which Keith Bacon sent show garages, forts and an animated farmstead.
Keith also enclosed a newspaper clipping with a photo of himself putting the finishing touches to a toy fort at the Llanrwst factory in November 1962. 20 toymakers were striking over a dispute about trade union recognition, and Keith was helping his father, another director Jack Freshwater, an employee Mrs Rita Thomas and two volunteers to complete the Christmas orders.
The fort shown in this photo does not appear to be either of the models in the last catalogue. The dolls houses behind Keith, however, do look like the DH/6 model in the catalogue.
Keith wrote, “I found Rebecca’s letter of great interest, certain details of which I was not previously aware, including that of my great-grandfather.”
However, I had not got all the details right. You may remember that I wrote that Bertie Samuel Bacon was born in West Ham in 1894, the son of Frederick William Bacon, a coach porter and dairyman, and his wife Sarah, a charwoman in refreshment rooms, and that he had three sisters and two brothers. Bertie started life as an invoice clerk in a shipping company, enlisted during World War I and in 1915, he married Ethel M Shields, a machinist, with whom he had 5 children.
Keith wrote that “since both our parents are dead, the only surviving member of their generation is Dad’s eldest sister Thora (not Thomas, by the way).” I had found the children in the index to birth registrations, and Thomas is the name typed out there, which just goes to show that indexes can’t be relied on – in this case, someone copying the name from the original handwritten entry must have misread Thora as Thomas!
Following WWI, B. S. Bacon worked as a commercial traveller in fancy goods, and some time between 1927 and 1933, he set up in business as a toy manufacturer. He had premises first at 129 Church St N16, then at 85 Brady St, E1. By 1938, the business had moved into two locations: wood toy manufacturing at 99 Walmer Rd W10, and games manufacturing at 24 Belsham St E9. Keith Bacon remembers that during WWII, one or both premises were bombed during the Blitz. This may explain the move by both manufacturing bases back to 85 Brady Street, from 1943 - 1946.
After the war, B.S. Bacon (Games) maintained a base in London for a few years, at 23 Wilson Street, EC2. By 1947 they had also established a factory at Llanrwst, in the Conway Valley, Denbighshire, North Wales.
At the 1947 British Industries Fair at Olympia, they are listed as “Manufacturers of Indoor Games, Darts, Dartboards, Quoit-boards, Draughts, Table Tennis Sets, Shove Ha'penny Boards, Skipping Ropes, Wooden Toys, Forts, Garages, Airports, Farmsteads, Cots, Beds, Blackboards and Easels, Ironing Boards, Skittles, Garden Games.” It seems then that dolls houses were added to their range between 1947 and 1952.
Keith Bacon filled in on the final years of B.S. Bacon (Games) Ltd, and of B.S. Bacon himself. I had been unable to discover when B.S. Bacon died – his grandson informed me that he had emigrated to Christchurch, New Zealand in the late 1950s, and died there in 1963.
“The firm dealt mainly with large mail order companies such as Littlewoods, and my father used to attend trade fairs like Harrogate (of which I’ve found his name tag badge), Birmingham, Glasgow and Brighton
As for the original designs of the objects and dolls houses etc, although I cannot prove it, Dad was extremely artistic and practical-minded – he could turn his hand to almost anything, including machine repairs, and I have a suspicion that he’d had a hand in it.
As kids, my sister and I, whilst growing up, obviously were in possession of a whole range of wooden crafts and toys but gradually grew out of them or passed them on or they got damaged. So very little is left – I do possess one pair of their skipping ropes, a couple of sets of darts, and an unusual early form of kids’ football rattle patented as a “Tumblo”! “
My father, due to a variety of reasons, sold the business as a going concern to a British subsidiary of the Ohio Art Co in the mid 70s, who in turn closed it down and sold the land to the local council who subsequently built a small housing estate “Tan y Graig”.
The Ohio Art Company, which made metal toys, had also made a bid in 1971 for the Chad Valley company, famous for their soft toys and dolls, but which also made tin toys. However, Chad Valley was purchased by a group called Barclay Securities, which included Sebel Toys. Clearly the Ohio Art Company wanted to expand into Britain, but why did they purchase a company which made wooden toys? Perhaps its not surprising that they closed it down not long afterwards – and this was a period in which many toy manufacturers were firstly taken over by larger concerns, stripped of their assets, and then closed down.