12th June 2023

Obituary: Oswald Barnes

Oswald Barnes was a dedicated member of the Institute and devoted husband to his beloved wife Marion.

By Chris Armstrong

This obituary is slightly different from a normal one. It honours both a very famous member of CTSI and the love of his life, his constantly supportive wife who passed away a very short time after his death. Oswald and Marion Barnes were an inseparable and devoted couple, celebrating their platinum wedding anniversary last year.

Oswald was born in Plymouth on 3 September 1927, the eldest child of Clifford and Lillian Barnes. He eventually settled in Cardiff, at number 33 Tydfil Place, when he was 15. He spent less than a year in Cardiff High School, and then started work as an office boy in Cardiff’s Weights & Measures Department. He worked with his dad, who was also the boss, the Chief lnspector of Weights and Measures for the City of Cardiff.

Growing up, Oswald loved cycling with friends and collecting stamps. He was an avid reader – well into his later years, he was forever borrowing books from Cathays and Cardiff Central Libraries, as well as records and CDs because of his lifelong interest in classical music.

At 18, when National Service beckoned, Oswald chose the Navy. He got to travel the world for free and visited some exotic locations – parts of Canada, the USA and the Caribbean among them. He enjoyed these years, and often spoke about them.

Oswald and Marion Barnes

Marion was also born in Plymouth, on 22 December 1928. Having moved to Belfast while at school during the war, she started work in the Civil Service. And when her parents settled in Cardiff after the war, she moved to Cardiff to join them when a posting became available in the Board of Trade offices, in the export department.

The pair met through St James’ Amateur Dramatic Society. Love blossomed, and they were married in St John the Baptist Church in the centre of Cardiff in June 1952. They remained regular congregants and continued to worship at St Johns until recently, when access and mobility issues made it difficult for them to do so.

Learning the ropes

Following National Service, Oswald returned to work in the Weights & Measures Department. The variety of work suited him well, especially in his early days, much of which were spent checking that shop scales worked correctly or prosecuting market traders who sold fruit and vegetables underweight. He worked to ensure that individuals had their statutory rights honoured under The Sale of Goods Act when electrical goods or clothing proved to be defective, and seeing to it that the law caught up with dodgy second-hand car dealers who made false claims about the vehicles they were selling.

During his time in office in the late 1970s or early 1980s, county officers, together with members of the armed forces, took part in an exercise that centred on an imagined scenario in which Cardiff suffered a major disaster. ln the wake of the imagined catastrophe, how would it be possible to maintain essential services? Oswald took on the role of petroleum officer. He was given an imaginary limited supply of fuel, which could be distributed anywhere throughout the city, with the intention that whoever wanted petrol could have as much they needed when it was required.

It was a good exercise in logistics. Having walked large areas of Cardiff as a young inspector, he carried an A to Z city street map in his head. Towards the end of their time together, a naval captain asked Oswald, “Where did you learn to do that?” “l didn’t”, he replied. “It’s who I am.”

As Oswald’s working life unfolded, he eventually succeeded his father as Chief lnspector of Weights & Measures in Cardiff. When the County of South Glamorgan was created in 1974, he was appointed County Trading Standards Officer, which he remained until his retirement in 1990.

Colleagues have described Oswald as a legend: a big man in stature and an influencer who commanded respect. To most Weights & Measures Inspectors he was ‘the Institute’.

Weights & Measures was a profession he loved and about which he was very knowledgeable. He served as Secretary of the Institute for nearly 10 years from 1965 to 1974. He claimed to know all the members, as he was a signatory of their certificate of membership. As Secretary he was involved in every aspect of the Institute as there was no paid secretariat until years later. He organised the ballots for membership of the Institute Council and one Saturday each year made sure all staff attended the office to count the ballot papers.

Oswald was awarded a Fellowship in 1967 and served as Registrar from 1984 to 1992.

Both Oswald and his father’s backgrounds were in boroughs, as opposed to counties. Weights & Measures Inspectors took their own cases and it was quite normal for one Officer, usually the Deputy, to train for the Bar. His father had done it and so did Oswald. He found the experience of travelling to his Inn of Court three times a week very difficult in combination with having a day job and a young family. The incentive was always the chance of immortality with an appeal case with your own name on it. Oswald’s came with Trickers v Barnes.

Changing world

Oswald was not such a fan of the new direction of the profession after 1974, with the rebranding as Trading Standards and the embracing of Consumer Advice. But he did his share of advice work as he was very knowledgeable about the law. Each evening to allow the Advice Centre staff to finish work on time the senior officers dealt directly with consumers who called in or phoned. Oswald always did his share. That is, until one day a consumer called in to seek advice about an Alfa Romeo that was constantly breaking down. Oswald was heard to say, “That’s your fault for buying a foreign car”. He was always fiercely patriotic and loyal to British manufacturers.

He firmly opposed courting the press about consumer issues and prosecution results, as the service did after he retired. Nevertheless, such was the regard Oswald was held in that the Council was easily persuaded to name the new Consumer Advice Centre in Cardiff after him. It was opened by Lord Gordon Borrie.

Some years later, Oswald was walking through the city centre, and decided to pay a visit to the Consumer Advice building. Oswald Barnes House, as it was called, had been opened when the Trading Standards Department moved from Tredegar Street down to the new county headquarters in Cardiff Bay.

As he approached the entrance, he noticed that the sign bearing his name had been removed and, once inside, not one member of staff recognised him. Somewhat crestfallen, he returned home to Marion, who was able to console him by saying, “Oh, I wouldn’t worry dear. It’s a reflection of the transient nature of this world.”

Oswald passed away on 31 January and Marion on 20 February 2023. Many people have reflected that they are now reunited as they had always been together. They leave three sons – Stephen, Michael and David – and their families, to whom we extend our sincere condolences.

Compiled by Chris Armstrong with contributions from family, friends and colleagues.

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