I'M NO expert on Penarth's history - a mere tyro compared with Mr R C Chick - but the article on the Esplanade Hotel fire (Penarth Times, May 26) brought back memories from my professional life.

In the early 1970s I commuted weekly to a boiler-making factory in Glasgow. My client paid my expenses as part of the contract, so when the first invoice went in my firm listed the mileage from Penarth to Glasgow at the agreed rate.

He produced the invoice at the Monday afternoon meeting, and for a moment I thought he was going to query something.

However, he just scribbled his initials on it, and told his secretary to put the cheque in Friday's post (no jokes about stingy Scots please!). He came back to the table and asked how things were in Penarth, saying he was billeted in the Esplanade Hotel during the war, and rather enjoyed his stay here.

He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the local pubs, especially of those which were relaxed about opening hours. This struck me as unusual; I knew barrack rules were then quite rigorous, and "lights out" and locked doors at 22.30 would be the norm. "So they were," he said. There were guards at the main door to the Esplanade; all other outer doors were securely locked and keys held by the sentries.

However . . . .

A particular sash window at the back of the building had been "modified" so that the can-opener on a standard-issue "jack-knife, soldier for the use of" could ease the catch open and closed, even from the outside!

He said it was "a d... sight harder to open the knife than to open the lock". Having been issued with the same standard knife as an ex National Serviceman, I knew what he meant! Quite remarkably, the extra exit remained a secret until they left Penarth for active service.

As he described it the window was in the back wall of the building, facing the cliff, at the West (pier) end of the building.

It would have been on the extreme right-hand edge of your photo in last week's edition.

M M Campbell Jones

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