Glengariff House Newport
Home For Elderly Single Men

By Jim Dyer
First published in the Western Mail in 1988.

This unique Home was closed by the former Gwent County Council
a few years after this article was originally published.

© Jim Dyer 2012

On the entrance hall wall of Glengariff House, at the bottom of Stow Park Avenue, hangs a Victorian picture, Mother's Treasure, depicting two young innocents in their nightdresses, praying. Ron Lyles, the superintendent for the last fifteen years, explained it had a special meaning for many of the residents. 'I suppose it's their age. They are all drawn to it occasionally, reminded of their youth and I often see them shed a tear or two.'

Tears or not, this imposing mansion is a happy place where rules are kept to a minimum and residents are able to remain as independent as possible.

Owned by Gwent County Council, Glengariff House is a residential; home for elderly men, perched above Newport's scenic Belle Vue Park with panoramic views of the docks and the Bristol Channel. This is not without significance; many of the men were born locally and appreciate the chance to glance back now and then to the places they once lived or worked.

The building was originally occupied by a wealthy ship-owning family and before becoming a residential home for twenty-nine men, was the local income tax office. Ron said 'We still get letters from people about post war credits!'

Ron Lyles, an ex-Royal Navy man who served on HMS Newcastle, and wife Sylvia, have clearly left their mark at Glengariff, and with their nineteen staff encourage a friendly and cheerful atmosphere.

There is a pleasant bar in the dining room, and a focal point for the men-to gather for a chat or to keep their own company as they choose. Ron's naval influence is clear too, and as many were once dockers or merchant seamen, the walls are festooned with photographs of ships and other maritime memorabilia.

Oldest Resident

When I visited the oldest man there was 102, and others have a fascinating range of occupations and nationalities. Many Remember Newport as it was in the twenties and thirties and eagerly recall; tales of Brooke's Field, Commercial Road, and the war years. Ron said, 'We had a lot of dockers pass through and men who spent their lives at sea. This is a good working class home and we have had Poles, Ukrainians, postmen, steelworkers, and lots with military backgrounds.'

'Those who have been in the forces are used to the single-sex environment – a man's world if you like. They enjoy talking to other men from similar backgrounds.'

Though visitors may come and go freely, the bond of male -only residents is one of Glengariff's strongest attributes and the men like it that way, some having lived alone for years. The Women's Royal Voluntary Service visit once a week selling sweets and other comfort and a lively group of 'Friends' arrange outings and special events.

Over a game of dominoes 91 year old Ernie Manley, a budding poet in his own right, told about his harrowing experiences in the trenches during the First World War. A local Pill man and former postman, he was only a boy when he joined the South Wales Borderers. He came back wounded and is proud of his 1914/15 Star.

His partner at the table was Burma Star man, Thomas Jenkins, who was in many theatres of war with the Royal Engineers,the 29th Battalion attached to the Welsh Guards. For Guernsey born Len Hall, the 39/45 war was a little different, telling of life under German occupation.

Ron and Sylvia make no bones about the enjoyment of their job. They are certainly committed and go to great pains to ensure the welfare of the men. He has had to deal with a boost of circumstances in his time, often looking after men with no relatives and few surviving friends who would otherwise be vulnerable and homeless. 'When they were redeveloping Pill I often had to go there to persuade some old chap or another to leave the house which was to be demolished. Once they got up here they soon settled.'

Warship Link

One of the more famous characters to reside at Glengariff was Monty, a man who had lived in a garden shed on an allotment in Pill for years. He was cared for at the Home until he died a few years ago.

It is fitting that Newport;'s adopted battleship, the Type 22 frigate, HMS Battleaxe, takes a special interest in Glengariff House and never fail to visit when they berth at Newport Docks. In turn the officers and crew have adopted Glengariff and keep in touch whilst at sea. Pictures of the warship adorn the walls and there is always an air of excitement when they visit to exchange tales, enjoy a pint and generally socialise. Arrangements are made to take the men aboard and the crew often undertake charitable events for the Home.

Glengariff has seen many humorous moments as when a dance was arranged with a nearby home for elderly ladies. 'At first the men shied away preferring their own company' smiled Ron, 'Like young wallflowers at their first dance. They soon found their feet though and were tripping the light fantastic into the night.'

The aim of Glengariff House is to give the residents freedom and dignity within as few restrictions as possible and at the same time give them support and care. This it is achieving admirably in a pleasant and unassuming way due to the devotion of Ron Lyles and his staff.

Caring for the elderly in our community is an essential task. May the work of Homes like Glengariff long continue.

Jim Dyer – 2nd January 2012.


  1. First published in Western Mail in 1988.
  2. Glengariff House was closed some years later.
  3. HMS Battleaxe has been withdrawn from service and sold.