Tag Archives: cardiff history

A trip up Asbo Hill (aka Asda Hill, aka Grangemoor Park)

For the past year, I’ve been writing a column for Caught By The River, exploring the River Taff. My latest piece veers off course from the Taff and heads for the land in between the Taff and the River Ely, a place known as Penarth Moors – unassuming marshland before being turned into a municipal dump in the 1970s.

Here’s the piece in full – Wandering the River Taff: A Detour

But as usual, there was loads of stuff I couldn’t fit in the shorter piece, so I thought I’d sketch out all my research here. This is the area I’m talking about.

This was taken on a sunny day in late autumn 2017 …

At the end of their river flows, both the Ely and the Taff dump their waters into the same large basin (formerly the estuary – now the grander container that has given its name to the area surrounding it: into Cardiff Bay).

As well as ending in the same place, the Ely and the Taff have other parallels. Both have suffered the same extreme pollution problems: declared “dead rivers”, flowing black with sewage, coal dust and industrial waste they had picked up from the heavy industry of the valleys they flow through. Thanks to regulation and a lot of effort, both are in better shape than they were, and are now home to a variety of flora and fauna.

Both rivers have also had their natural courses altered by man: each straightened in sections to better fit our urban plans. The Taff was straightened by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in the 19th century to build Cardiff Central Station, while the Ely was straightened over a century later – less glamorously, to create more space for the Ferry Road landfill site.

Here’s a map of the same place from 1956 (From this NLS Map: ST17 (includes: Cardiff / Caerdydd; Penarth), published 1956). Note the mad wiggling of the River Ely as it heads out towards the Severn and compare with the map above.

The Ferry Road landfill was created in 1969 when the Ely was straightened by cutting off one of its bends. The empty river channel became a hole for Cardiff to throw all its crap into. The city  soon outgrew this hole, and we started dumping our waste across the salt marsh. By the time the tip was closed in 1994, it was one of the biggest in Britain.

At the height of its seafaring power, Cardiff was the biggest port in the world. But the city’s decline in fortunes over the 20th century was so severe, the topic was debated in Parliament repeatedly. After years of discussion, eventually, in 1987, the UK Government created the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation, whose job was to improve or upgrade south Cardiff’s infrastructure and develop a plan for its future use. The Ferry Road and Ely Fields redevelopment was part of the much bigger project of building the Cardiff Bay Barrage, creating an artificial freshwater lake around the city’s waterfront area, covering 490-acres formed from the impounded waters of the Rivers Taff and Ely. It was a hugely controversial project, contested throughout its life. It still draws mixed reviews from residents.

The Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill only just squeaked through Parliament – you can read some of the debate (including discussion about what would happen to the Ferry Road tip) in the Hansard from 25 November, 1991.

Reading through the debate, you get a sense of the enormous complexity of the project. Regeneration of the area is of key importance … but much of the land is taken up by SSSI (sites of special scientific interest because of the flora or fauna). But for me, a key point is from Barry Jones MP (Alyn and Deeside):

There can be no doubt about the need for urban regeneration in the Cardiff docklands. The docks of Cardiff were at the centre of the coal-based prosperity of south Wales. Coal from the valleys of south Wales made Cardiff the world’s leading coal-exporting port. The decline of the docks has mirrored the decline of the south Wales coal industry. Now, with fewer than 2,000 workers in our pits, Cardiff docklands must find a new identity and a new prosperity. 

As part of the plans to improve the area, the Corporation proposed a new A road to link south and west Cardiff with the M4. The plan for this road – which is now the A4232, a road I drive on nearly every day – plotted its route straight through the middle of the tip. Once earthworks began, tipping was restricted just to the area to the north of the A4232. By the mid 1990s, this area towered almost 20 metres above the surrounding area.

If you’re interested in really getting into the detail of the area, this image is a 1960s aerial photograph of the area. It’s taken from a PhD submitted by a Cardiff University student in 2006: Development of Geoelectrical Techniques for Investigation and Monitoring of Landfills, by Andrew George.

Fast forward through time to 1988, and you can see how the river was shortened through diversion, and filled with rubbish. This next image is taken from the same publication …

This 1988 air photograph of the Ferry Road area shows how far the landfill extended from the initial river channel. It also shows the proposed development route for the A4232 – right through the centre of the site.

This view is from inside Grangemoor Park today, underneath the A4232 flyover. It’s fairly quiet, apart from the cars tearing along overhead.

The A4232 neatly splits the site into its two locations: Ferry Road landfill to the north, and Ely Fields to the south. The land of Ely Fields used to be brickworks, rope works, storage depots and scrapyards. A different kind of ‘Elysian’ – a distinctly south Walian, industrial one. Memories of our industrial history – industries we can no longer support, now Cardiff’s not the port it used to be. So a tip was what it became: shovelling endless tonnes of rubbish onto our heritage: burying it deep, deep underneath the consumerism of the 1970s and 80s.

As I mentioned in my Caught By The River post, during its lifetime, the Ferry Road municipal tip amassed four million cubic metres of household and commercial refuse. The initial plan to move all this crap to Bedford by rail was poo-pooed in the end, and the Cardiff Bay Corporation instead decided to pile all the rubbish up in one place, add an impermeable layer on top (which is why the park turns into a bog whenever it rains), and create a city park.

The following image shows you the detail around the layout of Grangemoor Park, including the extent of the old landfill site. This was taken from The Reactivation and Remediation of the Landfill Site at Ferry Road by A. Phillips and H. Cherrill, in Geoenvironmental Engineering: Contaminated Ground: Fate of Pollutants and Remediation.

Whatever you think about out-of-town shopping complexes, I don’t think anyone would complain about having a park replacing a landfill. Would you?? Go on. Just try it. Urban wildlife flourishes here. There are butterflies, endless insects, skylarks and other birds. I’ve read that the pond at the bottom of the site has various species of newts, dragonfly and damselfly (although everytime I wander past the only thing floating around in the water is empty McDonald’s wrappers).

As well as the birds and squirrels I see on the site (and the rats and foxes my dog goes mad sniffing after when we walk), the site is also now being used for refugee animals being turfed off their homelands. In 2006, 850 slow worms were moved to the park from a local housing development (the new houses and flats you can see on the other side of Ferry Road). The slow worms have not only survived but babies have been found – apparently the mix of tall grass and small bushes is an ideal habitat for the worms. They like mosaics – of shaded areas where they can hide and rest, and areas which are exposed to the sun where they can bask and increase their body temperature.

Stand on the link artwork at the top of the hill. Look south. See rising lands ahead of you: this marks the edge of Cardiff and the start of the Vale of Glamorgan. Leckwith behind all the hills. And then the River Ely, gently winding around you.

The peaked building in the centre of this shot above is the charmingly named “Outfall Sewer Cardiff (Western District)” (known today as the Pumping Station or the Pump House). It was built in 1907 by engineer William Harper, who’s been mentioned in this column before (he designed and built much of modern Cardiff, specifically the Clarence Road Bridge, which I wrote about last time). This Edwardian Sewage pumping station is formed of a single storey yellow brick building with slate roof and six round headed bay windows with red brick arches. If you visit it today, your experience is a far more sanitary one: there’s a nice little cafe, and vendors dealing in antiques and collectibles in the 32,000 square feet of the place.

Back to the chain link sculpture at the top of the hill. Look down, right there, by your feet: the flatpack mixture of the same out-of-town shopping offerings you’ll find in any of these man-made hubs. It’s where you’ll find our Ikea – on weekdays, full of confused students whose parents are trying to help them kit up and grow up, as if adulthood comes flatpacked, accompanied by a set of tumblers and some candles.

But look beyond, to the north, beyond Ikea, to the maritime-inspired spikes of the Millennium Stadium. You see the city spread around you, like a glossy plastic puzzle that you could reach out to and move pieces around in. Closer to the lens, you see Cardiff, the buildings like tiny toys – for so long, the city kept from building upwards to “preserve the skyline of the city” (what skyline, you might well ask). Integrity now forgotten, they’re bollocking high rise up everywhere they can. The Millennium Stadium, the BT Tower. It looks like one of those pop up cards that show you the city you live in as a weird, 3D-2D image. The mountains that invite you to the Welsh valleys to the north; the Garth, Machen Quarry. Even Castle Coch is visible on a clear day, if you’ve got eyes like a shithouse rat.

We’re a city that’s poor, iconically, which is perhaps why we’ve struggled to market ourselves effectively. We have no Clifton Suspension Bridge, no Museums of Science and Industry. No huge glass structures, or sculptures standing on the tides. Without a visual soundbite that works in silhouette, a visual catchphrase, what are we?

I’ve always thought that Cardiff was more of a feeling than anything that’s easy to explain through leaflets or website copy. Maybe that’s why so many first time visitors come here expecting little, but leave with an inexplicably warm glow about them. 

Further reading:

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The history of Clarence Bridge and William Harpur

My latest post for Caught By The River was published recently, for my Wandering the River Taff column. In it, I explored the history of Clarence Bridge, which connects the wards of Butetown and Grangetown. I always end up doing about ten thousand percent more research than I can fit in the columns, so get ready for all the interesting extra bits I couldn’t cram in.

The basic history of the bridge is documented in the piece:

A wooden swing bridge went over the Taff, about a hundred or so metres south of where the bridge is today, joining ‘Lower Grangetown’ to the Docks. This bridge connected the areas from 1861 to 1890 – the period when the docks started booming. Increasing numbers of people started using the bridge to get to work from Grangetown, but the Taff Vale Railway Co leased the bridge privately, and started charging for its use.

(Map: Glamorgan XLVII, surveyed: 1878 to 1879. Published: 1885)

Towards the top right of the picture, you’ll see James Street running horizontally across (it’s where you’ll find the police station today). If you stretch that line out directly to the left, you’ll find the current location of Clarence Bridge.

I did quote from the wonderful Grangetown Cardiff’s history section in my column, but I didn’t manage to get all the details in. On the day they introduced the toll, local residents rioted and threw the bridge’s gate off its hinges and threw it in the river.

The Times reported that 1,000 men took part in the protests each day against the railway company. There had been “upmost good humour” for the most part, as 200 police stood by, but then there was direct action. “They rushed at the newly-erected toll gate and tore it from its hinges, throwing the structure in the river.” The first gate was replaced the following day, as well as a sentry box for the toll-keeper. The toll house was also damaged. The paper later publishes court reports of three men who were arrested for causing the damage, costing £5 – Cornelius Dacey, William Smith and William Webb, all under 23. Police were also after another man called William Drew, who was heard to shout “Go it boys, that’s right, pull it off!” The court was told of “200 armed navvies with iron bars up their sleeves.” The three were found guilty and the judge expressed sorrow at having to sentence them to a month’s hard labour.

Eventually the Cardiff Corporation relented to the chaos and built two proper public access bridges – Clarence Bridge, which spanned the River Taff, and the James Street Bridge, which spanned the Glamorganshire Canal. You can see both these bridges appearing in maps from 1898 onwards. Also note the original wooden swing bridge has disappeared – been dismantled by this point, leaving Hamadryad Road cut off abruptly by the Taff.

(Map:Sheet 263 – Cardiff (Outline) Published: 1898)

If you want to see the location of the original wooden bridge, head to Hamadryad Road on the Butetown side. You can’t reach the Taff directly as there’s a big fence up, but if you face the water, you’ll be standing roughly where that original bridge was – well over 100 years ago. It had cost £60,000 when it was originally built.

Grace’s Guide shows the original plans for the bridge, which was designed by William Harpur. I’d never heard of him before, but turns out he’s a fairly important figure in Cardiff’s modern history.

Some more lovely photos that were posted in the Cardiff – Now and Then Facebook Group by David Lawson:

Clarence Bridge construction, 1898

 

The original Clarence Bridge, mid swing

William Harpur, the bridge’s engineer, is not really a household name, but modern Cardiff has his fingerprints all over it. He was appointed Borough Surveyor in 1883, and as such had final and ultimate say over all proposed street layouts and individual buildings that were going up through the city’s boom years.

If you’ve walked down Castle Street, visited Cardiff Indoor Market, or been to Roath or Victoria Parks, you’ll have first hand experience of his work. There’s also the civic centre at Cathays Park, the widening of the Hayes and Working Street. He built the city’s first municipal hospital (the Hospital for Infectious Diseases – later Landsdowne Hospital) and also the Pumping Station – now an antiques market.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BUEye7jlz2A/?taken-at=1034659895

Harpur was also engineer to the tramways department, and carried out the construction of the track for the electric cars. As his obituary so delicately puts it, his mark is left on the lay-out of every inch of modern Cardiff: all the plans of new roads, buildings, bridges etc having had to receive his approval.

William Harpur – 1853-1917, Cardiff city engineer and surveyor

Bit of a hero, William Harpur. Good beard too.

Read all of my entries about the Taff in my Caught By The River column

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Cardiff cinemas long gone: Olympia / ABC

A few weeks ago, I came across some old pics of the Olympia (then the ABC) cinema at Andrews Buildings (today it’s where River Island is on Queen Street). I’ve got fond if sketchy memories of that cinema (most notably seeing The Jungle Book and Jurassic Park in there as a child), and had almost completely forgotten where the building was on Queen Street.

 

cardiff_cinema_olympia

(photo from 1948, photographer unknown)

The original facade is still there, although the auditorium was demolished in 2003.

(compare and contrast – 1954 to today. Photos from Cardiff History Tumblr)

The Andrews Buildings on Queen Street were originally built in 1899 by Solomon Andrews (you’ll probably know him better for being the driving force behind Cardiff’s Indoor Market). The place was a leisure and retail centre that was home to Andrews Hall, a concert hall that was converted into a theatre: first the Olympia, then ABC. The cinema finally closed its doors in 1999.

There’s also this rather charming video shot in the projection room in 1998, a year before the cinema finally closed.

Was anyone else at that screening of Jurassic Park? Ah, good times.

More information:

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Caught By The River – This is Rat Island

So, you guys. I’ve recently started a column for the wonderful Caught by the River website, based on my wanderings (and wonderings) around and about the lovely River Taff.

Read my first instalment here: Wandering the Taff: This is Rat Island

I know, can’t I write about anything other than Cardiff, amirite? Anyway, two weird things happened after the piece was published. Firstly, after living on the edge of south Cardiff on “Rat Island” for nearly seven years and having NEVER seen a rat down here, I saw TWO within the space of two days – one running across the car park in Morrisons and one scurrying around in the bushes on Dumballs Road.

Wait … there’s more … secondly, what I thought was just a little bit of basic desk research into what is essentially a fluff piece about the place I live got way more complex. It turned out to be the question that kept questioning, itself, other people, and me.

In the piece I wrote for Caught by the River, my conclusion was that no one really knows where Rat Island was exactly, but that we have a rough idea (based on all my research): it was the land that lay between the River Taff and the Glamorganshire Canal, to the south of where Clarence Road Bridge is now.

This is the conclusion I had come to from all the many things I’d read, personal accounts, articles on the BBC, Wales Online, modern history books, etc. Fine.

You can’t actually see Clarence Road Bridge in the map below – it hadn’t been built at this point (1879). But roughly halfway down the picture, you can see James Street on the right hand side – imagine that carrying on to the left (westwards) and going straight over the water into Grangetown. That’s the horizontal line we’re talking about, just above where it reads ‘Dumballs Marsh’.

rat-island-location

(Map: Glamorgan XLVII (includes: Cardiff; Penarth; St Andrews Major – surveyed: 1878 to 1879, published: 1885)

But no, not fine. Writer, poet, historian, all-round good guy Peter Finch has done all of the due diligence with respect to Cardiff history when researching for his Real Cardiff books (recommended reading, students), and he responded to an email I’d sent him asking if he knew where the spot was with this: the general area was right – it was between the Taff and the canal, but rather than being south of where Clarence Road would eventually be built, it was actually north (up towards where the centre of town is): in between that bridge and the timber ponds, on an actual island created by the Taff, oxbowing its way down to the Severn and the sea beyond.

Peter, wonderfully poetic even when answering inane questions from Cardiff bloggers, wrote me this:

The Taff has always moved about. Thrashed about perhaps, as it traverses its delta. Rat Island, as I understood it, was a section of Taff’s bank made an island by the river ox bowing itself. This was  upstream of Clarence Road Bridge near The Dumballs. It was formed, according to Mary Gillham, following one of the periodic floods that plagues the Taff. Gulls and other birds nested there. Rats invaded along a revealed at low tide causeway in order to steal their eggs. The land became rat infested. The name followed.

That was Peter’s first email. Isn’t he a gem? Being in a mad rush, as I always am, I misread the ‘upstream’ part and thought he meant downstream …

But there’s a reason for that. All of the folks I asked – people who used to live here, and had the story handed down from parents or grandparents – had heard the area was called Rat Island because of the rats that were disturbed either when the HMS Hamadryad first to the area (in 1866), or when she was finally dragged away to be destroyed in 1905.

Even once the initial piece was published, I had some tweets also corroborating this theory:

It makes sense, but the area being referred to is south of the Clarence Road Bridge: quite a lot further south … and adding to the confusion, I had read somewhere else the area was already called Rat Island, long before the ship came to Cardiff in 1866.

So how does it all fit together?

The discrepancy between the locations – north of the Clarence Road Bridge, versus south?

I raised the possibility of the name referring to an area north of the bridge with the Cardiff Docks Remembered Facebook (where people share memories of the area and discuss such matters) and it was pretty much universally poo-pooed. No way, said people who had grown up around here. Their truth was in the tales from their parents and grandparents, and they had been definitively told. Rat Island was south, the area next to the Sea Lock, that would eventually turn into Hamadryad Park.

We aren’t debating the European Convention of Human Rights or anything here guys. I am well aware this is a long gone name for an area that bears no resemblance to the marshy hinterland that inspired it – but that doesn’t stop me wanting to know WHY, does it??

There is, I think, anyway, a solution to this, that includes all of these seemingly conflicting perspectives and accounts: an ultimate answer that I – Helia Phoenix, non-historian, non-expert, super-nosey local person – will put forward as the only conclusion to this burning issue … this imperative question … that literally no-one – apart from me – is asking …

Where was Rat Island?

Here’s my theory. The entire area that fringes the main urbanised docklands – from the Bute Ironworks all the way to the south and east, where you can see the HMS Hamadryad hospital ship – would have been a muddy, marshy wasteland at that time – its only purpose really to keep people with infectious diseases away from the overcrowded docks and Tiger Bay. There was very little of interest on any of that land – either north of the future Clarence Road Bridge, or south of it.

So … it’s possible that the one spot was originally named ‘Rat Island’ – the small island next to the Ironworks, as pointed to by Peter Finch – but the name spread down (or was re-used) in the south, once the HMS Hamadryad showed up (or was hauled away), spreading its ratty citizens across the undergrowth that is now Hamadryad Park.

hamadryad_hospital_ship
HMS Hamadryad Hospital Ship on “Rat Island”, Cardiff. Photo from People’s Collection Wales

I won’t hold out for my Nobel Prize. But I did feel like I might have actually sort of solved something that’s been bugging me for ages.

I emailed Peter asking if he thought this might be possible. He agreed – that there were two things that were getting confused here …

Rat Island, the geographic island, i.e. a piece of land with water on all sides is the place you’ve spotted on your map. This is the one Mary Gillham suggests had birds nesting on it whose eggs were stolen by rats. Then there’s the local name for the whole district. Bill Barrett who died in 2013 and who was writing his piece on Rat Island for the Cardiff Book #3 (Stewart Williams Publishers)  in 1977 suggests that all the land between the canal and the Taff was known as Rat Island. He suggests that this went as far north as the Timber Ponds. These were where the Iron Works are shown on your map … it does seem to be probable that the whole slab of land took on the name of the island. 

So, Bill Barrett (RIP) might have got there before me. I wasn’t able to find a copy of his book anywhere (I’m on the lookout – please tell me if anyone finds one), but I’m happy enough with the result.

I did a lot of research for the initial piece (though it might remain inconclusive…), so if you’re interested in further reading:

Canal Park and Sea Lock Pond (Stuart Herbert)

The Hamadryad Hospital Ship (BBC Wales History Blogs / Phil Carradice)

#towerlives: Rise of towers and fall of Tiger Bay (BBC)

The Cardiff Coal Boom: The Chronicle Radio show (featuring Ian Hill from Save the Coal Exchange, author / historian Neil Sinclair, Juliet Lewis – Senior Lecturer at the Welsh School of Architecture), broadcast February 2017

Not really relevant for this piece, but lovely to follow if you’re on Twitter: @OldCardiffPics

Big thanks also to Peter Finch for indulging me. His latest book, The Roots Of Rock From Cardiff To Mississippi And Back, is available from Seren now, priced £9.99. View Peter Finch’s archive.

Images in this piece: both taken on the section of the Taff that runs through the now disappeared Rat Island: Instagram malayabbasi and heatherpatterson.

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#towerlives: a festival of storytelling and music in Butetown

#towerlives is a week-long festival of storytelling and music, on air and on the ground, around the council estate tower blocks of Butetown in Cardiff. How fabulous!

BBC Wales, 1XTRA, Radio 2 and News Online are collaborating all week with documentaries, news reports, features, comedy, spoken word and music.

#towerlives

Ceri Jackson has written this in-depth and beautiful piece about #towerlives: Rise of towers and fall of Tiger Bay (it’s a great long-read): “By the later 1800s Butetown had taken on its unofficial name as the legendary Tiger Bay, the source of tales once told by sailors around the world. “Local folklore has it that there was a woman who used to walk around Loudoun Square with two tigers but then seamen were known for their tall tales,” says Neil. “Portuguese sailors are believed to have come up with the name. The tides in the area are notoriously difficult. After successfully docking they would say that sailing into Cardiff was like sailing through a bay of tigers. And so it was – Tiger Bay stuck.” Another theory is that its reputation as a wild hotbed of hedonism, rough house boozers, crime, prostitution and illegal gambling earned it sole use of a once generic term long used by sailors for raucous ports everywhere. Some of the nicknames given to the area’s 97 pubs – House of Blazes, Bucket of Blood, Snakepit – infamous for brawling sailors and prostitutes could add some weight to that.”

Cardiff comedian Leroy Brito explores the curious dialect that is spoken there (watch the video on this page:#towerlives: Leroy Brito in Butetown ‘talking Butetown’

Chris Walsh-Heron’s blog – telling the story of life on a high-rise estate: “The old Tiger Bay had a fearsome reputation for danger and debauchery. But if you dared to venture into the dockland streets, you’d stumble across the whole world in just one square mile. The laughter from the late-night Maltese cafes would echo down lanes full of Chinese laundries, Arabian tea houses and Caribbean dancehalls, where sailors from Cyprus, Somalia and Sierra Leone would be trying their luck with the local Welsh girls.”

#towerlives

Looks great – and how awesome for this part of the city with such a diverse community to get this kind of coverage.

More please! #towerlives

Butetown History and Arts Centre

Butetown history

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The Cardiff Waterways Map project

Writer Ellie Philpotts attended the launch of the Cardiff Waterways Project, headed up by ArtShell.

 

waterways

Cardiff is a watery city. As well as the surrounding Bay and beachside areas such as Barry Island and Penarth, residents will be accustomed to the River Taff winding throughout, plus the fact that it rains. A lot. But did you know just how much the city is built on waterways?

Forty volunteers, headed by Johana Hartwig, founder of Art Shell, have been busy working on The Cardiff Waterways Map project. The year-long venture has researched our city’s changing waterscape – from its humble origins to industrial boom, while also thinking about the role it has today and will no doubt have in the future. Local artwork; website development; tours of the waterways by poet and Cardiff literary king Peter Finch and museum visits were all part and parcel of the scheme, which was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and has just reached its conclusion.

I went along to the grand finale, where the new beta website for The Cardiff Waterways Project was also revealed.

Johana, whose organisation Art Shell is based in Grangetown, said one of the incentives for the project was the fact that ‘many of the waterways are hidden or filled in.’ The roots of the city are not always acknowledged or even known about, despite the fact that industry has developed from them. Art Shell helps to facilitate art in alternative spaces and engages in artistic research.

Held in Cardiff Story Museum in the Hayes, the day exhibited historic waterways postcards, displays and snippets of info, the focal point of which had to be the Glamorganshire Canal model, made by The Boat Studio and commissioned by Art Shell. The Boat Studio run an innovative scheme in which a functional narrow boat hosts arts residences and performances.

As well as learning about the waterways themselves, I found out a lot about Peter Finch’s role in bringing Cardiff’s past to life. His vast range of creative work centres on his native city, and spans to The Real Cardiff Trilogy, depicting how the capital has evolved over the years.

One of his publications is Cardiff as a Watery Place, a smaller compilation commissioned for the waterways project by Art Shell, with chapters on ‘lost rivers of Cardiff’, ‘The Glamorgan Canal’, and ‘The Bridge over the Canna’, among others. He’s recently begun working on the fourth addition to the series, so it seems if you want to find out more about Cardiff’s history, Peter is the trusty fountain of knowledge (see Peter Finch’s website for more details). He’s also a long time friend of We Are Cardiff – you can read his entry about Cardiff on the site here: Cardiff, city of new height).

The team’s dedication and the ultimate showcase proved to me that if there’s one thing to be said about the people of Cardiff, it’s that they have pride in their heritage and culture, as well as a genuine passion for where we live.

Want to find out more? Check out www.ambermottram.com/the-boat-studio; www.peterfinch.co.uk or www.artshell.org – or pop by the Cardiff Story Museum because it’s definitely one of the places to be to immerse yourself in some good Welsh history.

Ellie Philpotts

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Thanks Ellie! See you again …

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Roath Local Historical Society – Winter Programme, 2015/16

Members and visitors are invited to join the Roath Local Historical Society for a series of lectures on subjects of local interest. All meetings are held in the Community Hall at the Mackintosh Sports Club, Keppoch Street, Roath and commence at 7.30pm. On site car parking is available and refreshments are served after the meeting.

Please join them, and bring a friend!

roath_local_historial_society

 

THURSDAY NOVEMBER 12
Where Cardiff Edges the Estuary.  Peter Finch, author, historian and lecturer pays a very welcome return to give a talk based on his latest book.

THURSDAY DECEMBER 10
The Kemys-Tynte Family is the subject of a talk by Malcolm Ranson, following exstensive research on this important dynasty.

THURSDAY JANUARY 14
The Development of Rugby in 19th century Cardiff and Roath. Writer and sports historian Gwyn Prescott will present this talk which is of interest to all rugby fans.

THURSDAY FEBRUARY 11
History of Roath – the First 500 Years is the theme that Jeff Childs will present, looking at the beginnings in the late Norman period and the fascinating feudal system that administered the old manor of Roath. This will reflect aspects of Jeffs book Roath, 1000 Years of HISTORY

THURSDAY MARCH   10
A History of Albany Road School. Wil Howlett, Acting Headmaster, will trace the origins  and history of the School. Many members met Wil on our visit earlier in the year.

THURSDAY APRIL  14
Cathays Cemetary – a World Tour Gordon Hindess of Friends of Cathay’s Cemetery will give an illustrated presentation on the famous people and events connected with this Victorian cemetery .

http://www.roathlocalhistorysociety.org

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Cardiff on camera … watch ‘Tiger Bay and the Rainbow Club’ (1960) #BritainOnFilm

Who doesn’t LOVE seeing archive footage of the city? The British Film Institute (BFI) have recently released a load of films from their archives, including a number based here in Cardiff.

The first one is ‘Tiger Bay and the Rainbow Club’

Tiger Bay and the Rainbow Club screenshot

This film offers a great portrait of the communities in the city in the mid-60s. It was made by Malcolm Capener who was both Chair and Secretary of “South Wales Films”, a film-making club for amateurs. He shot footage of Tiger Bay, recording both the activities of The Rainbow Club – set up to encourage the children of the docks area to participate in the performing arts – and the varied range of cultural festivities and events that took place there over a period of years. Tiger Bay was home to people whose origins spanned the globe and who had established a successful, integrated society – very few films from black, Arab and Asian families living in the UK at this time have made their way into our collections, so this is a particularly important find.

Malcolm Capener, Roath-based proprietor of the Welsh Travel Company, Bute Street, Cardiff, was chair and secretary of South Wales Films, a filmmaking club for amateurs. He shot footage of Tiger Bay (part of Butetown), recording both the activities of The Rainbow Club and the wide range of cultural festivities and events that took place there over a period of years. Tiger Bay was renowned as an ethnically diverse area of the docks, home to people from across the globe who had established a successful, integrated society in Wales’ capital city.

National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales preserves and celebrates the sound and moving image heritage of Wales, making it accessible to a wide range of users for enjoyment and learning. Its film collection reflects every aspect of the nation’s social, cultural and working life across the 20th century, giving a fascinating insight into Welsh filmmaking, both amateur and professional.

From Britain on Film available at BFI Player

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“Newtown, Little Ireland, Cardiff” – Mary

mary_sullivan_web

Newtown (Little Ireland)

For almost 40 years I’ve been living in a leafy suburb in North Cardiff. I’m happy here and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else – but my most vivid memories are of growing up in a very different part of Cardiff.  A tiny place called Newtown (‘Little Ireland’). I can clearly remember those six streets of drab grey terraced houses. There were no trees, not one visible blade of grass but  life in Newtown was anything but dull. And I loved it.

It all started with The Great Irish Famine during the 1840s. Thousands of people lost their lives and thousands more faced starvation and destitution. During that time Cardiff was going through rapid development and the Marquis of Bute made arrangements to bring over a large number of Irish families (mostly from west Cork) to provide the labour to complete the building of Cardiff Docks. He settled them into purpose built housing near the docks and the Newtown community was born.  A vibrant self perpetuating community – spanning four generations – lived and thrived in those six streets.  Most of the men and some of the women too worked on the docks And once they were complete the people of Newtown continued to work in or around the Docks. The men became dockers, steel workers, foundry or factory workers. The women (who weren’t at home looking after their children) worked in some of the many other small manufacturing industries, like the Cigar Factory, or in local offices as shorthand typists and clerks, or in the retail industry as shop assistants.  Early maps indicate that Adamsdown was part of Newtown but the Newtown I knew consisted of just six streets, these were: Tyndall, Street, Pendoylan Street, Roland Street, North William Street, Ellen Street and Rosemary Street. We had several corner shops and a few public houses. but at the core we had our Church –  St Paul’s –  where we prayed together and had our baptisms, our weddings and our funerals.

Newtown was situated between the Docks and Splott. It was surrounded by railways, walls and feeders to the dock – rendering it a virtual island. My family lived in Pendoylan Street, and when I say my family I really do mean my family.  My Grandmother – who worked for Edward England on the Dock unloading potatoes – had thirty seven grandchildren. All but six of them lived in our street. The rest of the houses were occupied by other relatives or friends.

No-one had a telephone, but there was a Public Telephone Box at the end of Tyndall Street, opposite the Church.  I remember someone putting a piece of carpet on the floor of the phone box. I have been told that the Priest’s Housekeeper used to polish the phone and occasionally put fresh flowers in there. Oh, there is so much to tell about the Newtown but I have neither the time nor the space here. But I shall jtry to give you a snapshot of what it was like living there.  As anyone who lived there will tell you that doors were never locked and what little we had we shared.  It was a common occurrence to go next door or across the road to ‘borrow’ a cup of sugar, a couple of rounds of bread or a ‘drop’ of milk. The first family in our street to have a telly were ‘the Welsh’s’ and we would queue up to watch it. Needless to say everyone wanted to be Terry Welsh’s best friend.

In those days everyone had a tin bath which would be brought into the living room every Saturday night and the younger children would be bathed in front of the fire. The first one to have a bathroom was my Aunty Nora (my mother’s sister) and us older ones would have to put a shilling in the Mission Box for African babies if we wanted to have a bath.

Babies were delivered assisted by the appointed unofficial Street Midwife (in our street it was Mrs Slade) and when there was a death in the street the same Mrs Slade would oversee the washing of the body while an army of women would take care of cooking for the family, helping with the children and preparing the front room where the corpse would be laid out ready for a good old Irish Wake.  The wake could last two or three days and nights. As children we would be encouraged to knock on the door to pay our respects – the smaller ones having to be lifted up to peer into the coffin and say a little prayer. The men would take it in turns to stay up all up all night sharing a couple of bottles of Guinness and maybe a drop of the hard stuff too, recalling stories and telling tales involving the deceased.

Before any of us had television we entertained ourselves – there was always someone to play with in the street. We played games of baseball, football, Rugby (touch & Pass), Cricket Alleligo, Leapfrog, Bulldog, Hopscotch, Allies, Buttons and Rat Tat Ginger, We’d sling a thick rope on the arms of a lamppost to make a swing. Summer days seemed to last so much longer then. Towards the end of October we’d start collecting old wood, newspaper and orange boxes in preparation for Bonfire Night. Our Bonfire was generally built at the top end of the Street.  Window panes would crack and putty start to melt before we’d hear the siren and wait for the big red fire engine to lumber into the street.  Luckily I don’t remember anyone being injured – although for the life of me I cannot understand how any of us escaped.

The streets always seemed to be alive.  I have memories of Hancock’s Draymen with their two big shire horses delivering beer to the Fitzy’s  Pub at the top of our street and of being woken up most mornings by Sammy the Milkman who yodelled as he cycled his way through the street to make his doorstep deliveries. Throughout the week we had a variety of tradesmen selling their wares, Gypsies would come around door to door selling pegs and lucky charms. Then there was the baker, the greencrocer, the fishmonger and Robbo, the ice cream seller on his motorbike, who was later replaced by Mr Dimascio in his van. They had fierce competition from my Auntie Annie though – she made her own ice cream and sold cornets and wafers and toffee dabs too from her back kitchen. I also remember Mr Cox who  came over the bridge from Union Street  to sell custard slices from the back of his green van. There was also the pop seller; the laundry man, the salt and vinegar man; the coalman and the essential ‘Jim The Ashman’ with his famous ashcart – keeping  the streets clean. I promise you I am not just looking through Rose Coloured glasses.  Life in Newtown was at times tough, tempestuous and tragic, but there was a lot of love and laughter in those streets and – most importantly of all – an overwhelming sense of community.

Sadly a Compulsory Purchase Order during the mid sixties began the demise of Newtown.  It’s Church, houses shops and pubs  were demolished and its community scattered to the four corners of the city. Remarkably the community survived – we still had a Newtown Identity. So thirty years on, inspired by a poem recorded by Tommy Walsh, entitled Newtown: the Parish of St Paul’s,  a group of us former residents got together and formed The Newtown Association.

I am pleased to say we achieved our aim, which was to record the History of the Newtown community, to keep its memory alive, and to provide the people of Cardiff with a source of educational archive material about the Newtown community,  And in March 2004 we unveiled a permanent memorial to the significant part which the people of the community played in the development of this wonderful City.

Mary Sullivan lives in Penylan with her husband Vincent to whom she has been married for forty four years. They have five grandchildren and a great grandson. She is Chair and Co-founder of The Newtown Association – an organisation set up in 1996 to record the history of the Newtown community and to keep its memory alive Mary currently works as an administrator for Communities First in Cardiff Bay – an area very close to where she was born.

Mary was photographed in the Newtown memorial garden by Ffion Matthews

Related: you might also like to read THE HISTORY OF TYNDALL STREET – AND THE LOST COMMUNITY OF NEWTOWN, “LITTLE IRELAND”, CARDIFF

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“We moved to Cardiff in 1971 – and have loved living here ever since” – John’s story

John Meredith Jones

Although I am a native Welshman, I had been working for the civil service in London for 30 years when I was relocated to Cardiff. Although apprehensive at first, my wife Mary and I bought a home in Whitchurch, and we moved permanently on St. David’s Day, 1st March 1971, and it has been our home ever since. It is good periodically to retrace and recall the path we have been privileged to tread. Retrospection often brings clarity to occurrences that have mystified us for a long time past. On reflection, it is good to be reminded that ‘our lives have fallen in pleasant places’ and that we have a most beautiful inheritance – in Cardiff – our happy home!

When we first came here from the metropolis of London, probably the most renowned cosmopolitan city in the world, Cardiff was a junior city, its status having been granted in 1905. It didn’t look or act like a city. Furthermore, it was only in 1955 that it was designated the capital of this small principality of Wales. In the early 1970s there was a general feeling that, although WWII had ended nearly three decades ago, Cardiff was still licking its wounds. There was a lot of demolishing and rebuilding evident. There was a lot to be done to justify Cardiff as a respectable city of stature, both nationally and internationally.

Regeneration has been the hallmark and the impetus throughout the last 30 years, in industry and commerce. White-collar employment has predominated, replacing big industries’ demands. Manufacturing is now directed mostly for home/domestic market. The building industry has generally been kept busy particularly with new construction and upgrading and modernising houses. Likewise the catering industry, due to the preference for spending holidays in the UK, rather than overseas, has benefited from the changed public decision.

Religion in the city has, of necessity, through falling number of adherents, undertaken a slimming exercise within traditional denominations. Congregations have united and many churches have been declared redundant. With the inward flux of new nationalities there has also been growth in new religions, and consequently, in the building of new meeting places and temples.

The siting of the new Wales Millennium Centre in the docks area in 2006 has attracted new clientele to the area. It is the venue for arts and cultural events, complementing the well-established St. David’s Hall. It is also the home of the Wales National Opera and Orchestra, and the headquarters of the National League for Welsh Children and Youth – the URDD. Coupled with the establishment of the National Assembly for Wales in 2006, the Senedd, all these new structures enhance the status of the waterfront and are a marvelous advertisement to spread the name of Cardiff abroad.

This city is well endowed by the Bute family (three generations), Lord Davies of Llandinam and his two spinster daughters, Roald Dahl and many other benefactors. Cardiff can boast of its Castle (as well as Castell Coch); its unique Civic Centre (arguably the best in Britain, if not in Europe); its post-war rebuilt Llandaff Cathedral (together with the remarkable statue of Jacob Epstein’s ‘Christ in Majesty’, and a completely rebuilt organ); and a greater acreage of parks and open spaces per head of population than, it is said, of any other UK city.

Cardiff has an enviable history for the excellence of its educational facilities, catering from the toddler to the oldest adults, ‘from the cradle to the grave’. The university has fostered a happy research relationship with Welsh industry and further afield. For centuries the educational system was geared towards producing professionals (teachers, solicitors etc) to satisfy English demands. With the comparatively recent legal equal validity of both the English and Welsh languages in Wales, it has undeniably caused recurring problems (in staffing and administrative matters), but also given marvelous opportunities denied to the Welsh language and speakers since – and including – the Tudor period.

Shopping in the city has been revolutionised during the time I have lived here. The establishment of large department stores in shopping precincts has resulted in the mass closure of the small-to-medium family retail stores. This has had an enormous social and economic effect on all the traditional villages and shopping areas. The old “corner shop” has virtually disappeared. It has also resulted in a plethora of charity shops as an alternative to a host of depressing empty shops – a Hobson’s choice for the shop owners.

I remember in earlier years there were only a few instances of violence or mass-misbehaviour in sporting events – an exception possibly was when Cardiff and Swansea were engaged in a football cup-tie! But recently, such bad behaviour has proliferated. Many reasons have been advanced for this, the foremost being as stated by our Prime Minister: “cheap alcohol is turning this country into the Wild West”! The majority would agree with him, I think; I certainly do, and like many others, now prefer to worship the sport from afar and watch the games that are televised. I would still visit live rugby matches though – they are civil and well regulated.

On reflection also, we have bidden farewell to all the street vendors who vocalised their wares in days gone by. The only daily visitor now is the postman and he is usually a silent dropper. The one I miss most is the daily milkman who delivered his “pinta milka day” invariably before breakfast and often before we were awake.

Perhaps one the greatest of all the changes during our 30 years in Cardiff (and indeed throughout the UK) is the change in attitudes, particularly in our personal relationships. The chords that bound together families, for example, are no longer as powerful as they once were. Economic demands were possibly the first to cause this rift – when mother had also got to seek paid work, often during antisocial hours.

One other constant irritation is the traffic congestion and parking facilities. The number of commercial and private vehicles on the roads has proliferated enormously and this is coupled with the poor state of road maintenance. This escalating problem will have to await another Solomon to resolve it. Meantime, I’m afraid, the holes in the roads, both the mains and the subsidiaries, will only get bigger and oftener.

Would I want to move from my present home in Cardiff? The answer is a loud and resounding NO! Thirty-nine years established here surely also qualifies me not to call myself a Cardiffian, and proud of this vibrant city.

I still remember about 25 years ago when crossing over in Niagara from the Canadian side to the United States, the caustic remark of the American officer who examined my passport – “Cardiff? where in heaven’s name is that?”

I recall also when we first arrived here we received a letter, properly addressed to Cardiff, which had been incredibly misdirected to the corresponding town in the USA. It was subsequently returned to us with the astonishing red ink addition on the envelope – “Try Wales”! Now I believe the whole world is aware of Cardiff, if only because of its international sporting connections with the Millennium Stadium.

It is also good to be reminded of our antecedents! To be reminded that it was a product of the 19th century industrial revolution. Were it not for the exploitation of iron ore and coal in the hinterland, Cardiff might still be a fishing village! Its remarkable wealth was the product of the extraction of those minerals from the earth’s belly at the vast human effort and sacrifices of the inhabitants of those three Welsh valleys. Yes, we should be proud of those men and women – and be grateful.

And to end, foremost in my mind is the old hymn –

“Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done”.

I find this profound in its simplicity. Yes, give thanks where it is due – including, for 39 years of happy living in this part of Cardiff, and for the friendships we’ve found here.

John Meredith Jones was born in Braichgarw, Tal-y-bont, and gave a lifetime’s service to the civil service. He currently lives in Whitchurch.

John was photographed with his wife Mary up a hill somewhere in Wales, sometime in the 1950s.

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