St. Athan Boys' Village
What: Young persons' holiday camp
Where: West Aberthaw, Glamorgan
Built: 1925-1938, extended c. 1970s
Architect: Probably Thomas, Morgan and Partners of Pontypridd
Last Known Condition: Derelict and partly demolished, 2013.
Page Updated: October 2013
Monday: a cold, grey afternoon in the small Welsh village of West Aberthaw. It is hard to believe amidst the squeal of conveyors, the clatter of coal trains and the buzzing of transformers coming from the nearby power station that anyone would want to spend their holidays here but eighty years ago this was a very different place.
The Boys' Village was the brainchild of Lord Davies of Llandinam, president of the Ocean Coal Company and Capt. J, Glynn-Jones, the company's Welfare Officer. In 1922, the two men founded the Boys' Club Movement in Wales, opening clubs where the young men of the South Wales Coalfield could socialise and engage in healthy excercise and the following year, a visit to a temporary youth camp in Kent run by H.R.H. The Duke of York seeded the idea of a permanent holiday camp for boys belonging to the Clubs.
St. Athan's Boy's Camp, as it was originally known, opened in 1925 for an experimental two-week period and was deemed a success, although additional facilities were needed before it could open permanently. In 1926 a donation was made for a sanitation block and water supply but the General Strike of that year meant that the official opening had to be delayed until 1930, with the last buildings being completed in 1938.
The site, designed for 100 boys aged 12 to 18, was well equipped with two dining halls, dormitories, workshops, concert and sports halls, a swimming pool, putting green, tennis courts, football, rugby and cricket pitches and a chapel built by some of the boys themselves. The camp was run on the firm foundations of co-operation, discipline, healthy excercise and helping those less fortunate than onesself. Community and respect for elders were also vital to the camp's ethos and every year an old miner and his wife would be elected 'Lord Mayor' and 'Mayoress' of the camp and given a free holiday there in a specially built cottage.
The camp was requisitioned for military use in 1939, finding various military uses until it was finally returned to civillian use in 1946.
In 1962, the camp underwent a £20,000 refurbishment and was officially re-opened by H.R.H. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother as St Athan Boys' Village. The centre now catered not only for Boys from the coalfield, but for youth groups from across the UK and Europe A new building, Glynn-Jones House, was opened in 1978 and a 56-bedroom conference centre was added in 1982.
The Boys' Village continued to provide a retreat for young people throughout the 1970s and '80s despite the slow decline of Welsh coal, the rise of cheap holidays abroad and the opening of a large power station nearby. Increasingly, however, dwindling attendances and high costs meant that clubs were more inclined to use the centre for weekend activities only. In 1990, facing extreme financial difficulties, the Boys' Clubs of Wales were forced to cease operating and the Boys' Village
closed for good.
After closure the camp was used for residential Bible courses by various church groups before becoming a battleground for airsoft groups. Since then, without a permanent security presence, the village has become a target for metal theives, vandals and arsonists. Rumours have sprung up of a troubled past: abuse, murders in the church or fires that killed boys staying there but all are patently untrue: the simple truth is that by the late '80s the Boys' Village had become both unappealing and expensive to maintain.
Current plans are to demolish all of the buildings on site and replace them with a development of between four and twelve houses. There is a local campaign ongoing to save the war memorial.
The Derelict Miscellany: website and all content © D. A. Gregory unless stated to be otherwise.