Tag Archives: Whitchurch

“Cardiff owes a debt to its industrial history” – Stuart

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In the 1790s, the ironmasters of Merthyr Tydfil decided to build themselves a canal to bring their goods to market quicker, and on a larger scale than was previously possible along the turnpike. Their target markets were abroad, and they needed a port where they could transfer their goods from the canal barges onto ships to carried out into the wider world. Land surveys determined that the easiest route for this canal was south down the valleys past Pontypridd to the coastal plains beyond, where the River Taff flowed into the Bristol Channel. Cardiff at the time was a small town clinging to the shadow of its ruined castle, neither capital city nor important port. It lay on the route on this little canal, and more importantly to the south had miles of abundant saltmarsh – the perfect place for the ironmasters to build their seaport.

The canal was the Glamorganshire Canal, and the sea port of the ironmasters became known as Sea Lock Pond.

Although the canal continued to operate through to the end of 1951 (in increasing states of disrepair), new industry soon meant that new transport methods were needed. Iron and tin quickly gave way to coal as the main export of the valleys, and during the 1800s and early 1900s five private railroads sprang up to compete for the business of bringing this black gold down to the massive docks that were built to the east of Sea Lock Pond to try and meet the demand.

Cardiff grew rich, prosperous and influential as the middleman in all of this trade. The profits to be had from the coal trade were immense for the time (did you know that the world’s first £1 million deal was done in Cardiff’s Coal Exchange?) and they paid for many of Cardiff’s wonderful parks and its magnificent Civic Centre, and much more besides.

Without this trade, the Cardiff we all know and love today would be a very different – and probably much smaller – place. And yet, the debt Cardiff owes to this industrial history seems to be largely unknown to the good folks of Cardiff, and it’s one that is seldom clearly acknowledged whenever there is an historical exhibition put on in the city centre.

Perhaps the reason why is because this story doesn’t have a happy ending – not for the valleys anyway.

By the 1960s, most of this trade had ceased, having been in decline since the 1930s, and the docks closed down. Over the next 30 years, as the coal mines of the valleys were declared unprofitable and also closed down, the towns and villages of the valleys sank into a deep decline that they have yet to recover from.

It wasn’t just the coal mining that went. None of the industry that lined this industrial corridor at its height exists today. The Merthyr iron forges, the world’s two largest tinworks, the many deep coal mines, the chainworks factory, the chemical works, the bakeries, the power station, and much more besides … every last one of them has closed. Little has come in to replace them.

Today, Merthyr Tydfil is normally mentioned in the media because of its terrible unemployment rates and benefits culture, and things aren’t much better in many of the former coalmining towns and villages that dotted the canal’s route. The valleys had a very small population before the mines came along, and although the mines are long gone, the people have stayed in the places they have made their homes in. It’s difficult to see how their fortunes will drastically improve in my remaining lifetime, as the days of mass employment in heavy industry show no sign of imminent return.

Cardiff too fell on hard times for several decades, but thanks in part to the influx of European funds to transform the former docks into Cardiff Bay, and the money that has been attracted by the setting up of the Welsh Assembly Government, Cardiff’s fortunes have turned out quite different from the valleys. Indeed, Cardiff instead is competing to be one of the top shopping destinations in the whole UK, and its council has announced ambitious plans for a new business district to further boost the local economy.

I’m originally from Yorkshire, a proud area that makes a point of teaching all of its children its major history, which dates back to Roman times. You have a proud and unique history too, and I’d urge you to put it proudly on display before it becomes lost and forgotten.

If you want to learn more about this industrial history, then I highly recommend reading the excellent two-volume set “The Glamorganshire and Aberdare Canal”, by Stephen Rowson and Ian L. Wright, available from Black Dwarf Lightmoor. You can also see some of my own writings about this at my Merthyr Road photography project.

Stuart is an amateur photographer who was first struck by the ruins of South Wales’ industrial past back in 2007 as he commuted past them every day to and from work. Over the last five years, he’s been slowly exploring and blogging about a history that he’s worried has already been forgotten. You can find his work at his blog.

Stuart was photographed at the Melingriffith Water Pump in Whitchurch by Jon Poutney

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“I still have the ration book I used to buy sweets from the shop next door” – Jenny

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Jenny Criddle - childhood

My memories of growing up in Cardiff are clearest from the age of around four to five years. We lived on North Road in the Maindy area of Cardiff with extended family, which consisted of my grandparents, an aunt and an uncle.  We had a front room, used for special events and which also housed the old piano which I would learn to play from the age of seven.  The middle room was where our family of four lived and it contained our table and chairs, easy chairs, the very large old radio, coal fireplace and gas cooker.  In an age where we want our space, I can only be amazed that we all fitted in there and never seemed to be aware of how small it must have been. The back room was where my grandparents lived. Upstairs, there were several bedrooms and this always seemed very big to me as a child. I used to love climbing the extra little set of stairs up to the attic room and from there we could see right into the Maindy stadium when sporting events took place.  Our little family had the front, very large bedroom for us all to sleep in and I do remember how cold it was in the winter, especially getting up in the morning.  It never took long to get dressed.

One of the first personal events that I can clearly recall is the birth of my sister who, less than a year later, burned her arm and was taken to hospital. Her physical scars remain to this day but while they have faded somewhat my recollection of that day has not. I also clearly remember my first day at school, at the age of five. As I had had to wait until the actual day of my birthday to be able to attend, I was very keen to start in Allensbank Primary School.  The faces of some staff and children who were at the school with me still remain in my memory.  By the age of seven I was allowed to walk to school on my own, a freedom that children would rarely be given now.  From there I went to Cathays High School, which was just literally just across the road.  One day, as I sat at my desk in school, I watched a small plane as it circled outside my window and then crashed down into the road just next to my family home. The thing I remember most was how concerned I was about my mother’s safety and I asked to go home. The plane had tried to avoid the Maindy Stadium where a sports day was being held, with many children there.  It did manage to do this thankfully but unfortunately the occupants of the plane did not survive.  As I lived so close to where the plane came down, I was interviewed by a reporter from the South Wales Echo and remember how strange it was to see my name and account in the paper not long afterwards.

As our family home was located on the main road, my parents refused my request to have a dog. My mum was afraid it would get run over by the closely passing traffic but compared to the traffic today it must have been fairly light as I was allowed to walk on my own to the library further up North Road on a Saturday morning.  I was also allowed to walk up to the Plaza cinema, now a block of flats, without adult supervision.  We only had a small back yard in which to play outdoors but there was a large covered area that served as a utility room, complete with mangle. I well remember being allowed to turn the handle and watched as the water was pressed out of the clothes on washday, which was always Monday, come rain or shine.  However, growing up in post-war Britain, the side-roads became an extended yard in which to play. They were not busy with vehicles, except for the occasional horse and cart selling fruit and vegetables.  We skipped and played marbles and hopscotch for hours on end.  Even though we did not live in an affluent area, I remember it as a happy and carefree time.  Front door keys were never needed as all I had to do was put my hand inside the letterbox to pull the string and gain entry.  In those times it was easy to close off a street for a street party and I clearly remember the one held for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. I still have photos of that event, with myself and my sister dressed in costumes made by my mother for the occasion. The Diamond Jubilee has been a good excuse to get them out and show them to younger members of the family, creating amusement. As I looked at the photos, Cardiff seemed a much different and far away place as, indeed, our modern life-style does, compared to the one I knew as a child growing up in post-war conditions.  I still have the ration book that enabled me to buy sweets in the conveniently located shop next door to our house.

We often used to walk from North Road to Roath Park and I recollect walking there while holding onto the pram that held my baby sister.  We would walk up to Whitchurch Road, through to Allensbank Road and down Wedal Road.  I remember getting so excited as I realised we were almost there and our first stop was always to feed the ducks. The highlight of the visit was to sit in the little boats and pedal them around the small area reserved for children.  It is great to see so many people of all ages still enjoying the simple pleasures that Roath Park has to offer.

Cardiff City Football Club was another place I remember well, being taken there regularly by my father, who was also a keen football and baseball player.  He proudly told us how he had had trials for Cardiff City Football Club but this was curtailed when he was called up into the armed forces during the Second World War. My elderly mother still has an old suitcase full of medals and cups that he won playing locally in his youth.  Indeed when I began to knit, my father suggested that my first project should be to make a blue and white scarf. I remember this taking me some time but I proudly wore it to watch Cardiff City when it was finished.  I particularly thought of this when recent proposals to change their colour to red were announced.

We moved to the Whitchurch area when I was a young teenager and, while I remained at Cathays High School, my sister went to a Whitchurch school.  We now had a small garden and, it seemed to me at the time, a more affluent life style than before but I now realise that conditions were generally improving in the country as a whole as people settled back into civilian life.

My own working life was mainly spent in Cardiff too and, as an adult, I became a lecturer after studying in local colleges.  This chapter of my working life was the most interesting and even led me into Cardiff prison.  In case you are wondering, I was not an inmate but a teacher in the Education Department for five years.  Now, in retirement, we can enjoy Cardiff even more. The Bay, where once we used to go through the dock gates, at the end of Bute Terrace, to see the banana boats come in, has become a vibrant and interesting place to go and walk across the barrage, or sit and people watch.  The recent 2012 Olympic Torch relay was probably my earliest ever visit to the Bay, however, arriving in time to get a good viewing point, when Dr Who (Matt Smith) started the 6.30am run from the Norweigan Church.

My life in Cardiff has been a very enjoyable one with many fond memories and it has been good to see it develop over the years into the lively city that it now is.  There is even more to look forward to with the planned additions to the sports village, including the building of a Snow Dome, which has been promised for 2013 and we look forward to that.  I feel sure that Cardiff will remain a place where families can happily work and play, just as we have always done.

Jenny Criddle is a retired lecturer/ trainer and is actively involved in supporting voluntary work with young people. In April 2012, she went to South Africa with a large group to help build a Child Development Centre. Jenny and her husband also help with Spree Wales, an annual large youth camp as well as their local church events. Details can be found at www.bethesdacardiff.org / www.SpreeWales.com / www.rycsouthafrica.org

Jenny was photographed at Roath Park lake by Ffion Matthews. Next to that image is a photograph of Jenny taken at the same spot when she was four years old.

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“Back to my roots” – Dan

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Cardiff born and Cardiff bred? Not quite in my case. I was actually born in Leicester; a bit of a mongrel really. Dad was born in Shotton, Flintshire, although his mother was a Welsh speaker from Gorseinon and his father a Mancunian raised in Hawarden.

Mum’s father was an RAF officer from Sussex, shot down and killed over Norway in 1941 before he’d even met his infant daughter. Mum’s mother (our Gran) was a dedoubtable lady of Scottish stock and temperament, one of nine children. After the war she married a Trinidadian civil engineer, and they moved to Sale in Manchester.

My parents met whilst teaching together at Eccles Grammar School in Cheshire, and after their marriage in Sale their careers took them to Northampton and then to Loughborough. In 1972, Leicester General Hospital was the nearest maternity unit, and so that’s where I came into the world. Within a few months we had moved to Newport in South Wales, and then two years later we alighted in Whitchurch, a relatively affluent suburb of Cardiff. By then I’d acquired a sister, and my parents decided it was time to stay put for a bit. And there we stayed for 20 years.

Our house was a Edwardian semi just north of the railway which divides the mean streets of Llandaff North from the leafy boulevards of Whitchurch. Our childhood was blissfully happy and we had a close-knit group of friends from the surrounding streets who all went to the same primary school, Eglwys Newydd, next to the brook in Glan-y-Nant Terrace. At the time, Eglwys Newydd had English and Welsh streams; I went into the Welsh stream in spite of neither of my parents being able to speak the language. Nevertheless, I flourished academically, despite being painfully shy and small compared to my peers.

A fork in the road came in 1983, when a choice had to be made about my secondary education. Would I go to Whitchurch High School, the enormous English comprehensive across the brook, or would I follow several of my closest friends to Glantaf, the (then) relatively new Welsh-medium secondary school across the tracks in Llandaff? My best friend Howard, neither of whose parents spoke Welsh either, had already decided that he wanted to go to Glantaf, so it was natural that I wanted to go there too. But Mum and Dad were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to support my studies if I was learning through the medium of a language they didn’t speak, so I went to Whitchurch.

I often wonder how things would have turned out if I’d gone to Glantaf. It was then, and is now, a very good school with some impressive alumni from the world of the arts and sport.

In any case, the choice was made and I went to Whitchurch High School. My experience in my early teens at that school broadly reflected a lot of people’s experience of the 1980s in South Wales: a feeling of confidence and ambition being crushed by the people in charge. In the early 80s, Whitchurch had grown to be the largest secondary school in Wales, with over 1000 pupils. It was divided over two sites in the village, with kids from places as diverse as Rhiwbina and Mynachdy on the roll. I felt swamped.

There was the added complication of my mother being an English teacher at the school. Luckily for me, she was well-respected by the majority of pupils so I didn’t suffer from any of the usual “teacher’s kid” treatment from my schoolmates. On occasion I did suspect I was being made an example of by some teachers, notably when I was given a week’s detention by the head of year for uttering the word “Smarties” during a Science lesson.

My time in Lower School was pretty miserable. But things took a turn for the better when I moved to Upper School in my fifteenth year. We were the first kids to take the new GCSE exam, the replacement for the O-Level. I’d narrowed my career choices down to two options: journalism or medicine. Instead of leaping in one direction, I took a compromise and chose a mixture of arts and science subjects. Partly, I suspect, due to the fact that neither of my parents had any background in science. I did fairly well at both (although I was a disaster at Drama due to my horrific shyness), and when A-level decision time came, I plumped for sciences, as I felt medicine was my chosen path. Probably one of the biggest mistakes I ever made; not that I knew it at the time.

At the same time, my social life had started to re-establish itself, mostly outside of school, through my membership of County Wind Bands and Orchestras. I’d eschewed the sexy french horn in favour of the deeply creepy oboe, but luckily it seemed the oboe section were the outsiders of the orchestra: the kids who were too cool for school. We formed an alliance with like-minded viola and clarinet players and other “edgy” types. Some of them had super record collections. I went from Ultravox to the Cure within 12 months. Girls from Howell’s School, Glantaf and St Cyres danced with me to to “Lovecats” and “This Charming Man” at summer camp. We went on coach trips to Manchester and London listening to The Pixies and The House of Love on our personal stereos. School was all about work, and this was play, with my exotic new friends from Glantaf, Howell’s, Stanmore and St Cyres. The music we played in the orchestras and wind bands was incidental: we were in it for the alternative social scene, which revolved around the legendary and dingy Square Club on Westgate Street.

As a result of this separation of work and play, and also due to some subtle nagging from my mother, I managed to avoid cocking up my A-levels and gained a place at Cambridge to read Natural Sciences. The story of the intervening years between then and my return to Wales over a decade later is for another time and place (check my 30 Day Song Challenge for some highlights), but eventually I ended up in London, in my late 20s, having accomplished not that much.

Luckily for me, London Welsh RFC was the place to be for the young Welshman about town, so I headed there. In 1998 I’d discovered Gwladrugby.com, an Welsh rugby fans’ website created by a chap called Rhys, a Welsh exile in London. The site soon became a focus for rugby-related social gatherings in London and a number of us went on trips to watch Wales play in exotic locations such as Edinburgh, Paris, Rome, Nottingham and Bedford. Wales’s victory over England at Wembley in 1999 was a particular highlight during the period.

Whilst in London, Gwladrugby.com also provided me with the opportunity of meeting my wife. We spent several carefree years in London before something began to tug us back to Wales. I’d like to say it was hiraeth, but in fact it was a job I’d managed to secure, at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff. And so, in 2003, we moved back to Whitchurch, to the street next to the one I’d grown up in from 1974 to 1990.

So finally I get to the point of this story: why I love Cardiff, and Whitchurch in particular.

Cardiff has had a terrible reputation over the years. According to many, our city centre is infested with binge drinkers and football hooligans. Hen and stag parties stalk St. Mary’s Street, rendering it a no-go zone for respectable folk looking for an enjoyable night out in one of Europe’s newest capital cities. This may be true. I’m not that fond of Cardiff city centre on a Friday or Saturday night, but that could be because I’m getting old.

On the other hand, Cardiff has been lauded as “better than London” by many of my London friends who’ve travelled here to watch sporting events at the Millennium Stadium, due to the proximity and density of pubs and restaurants in the city centre. Far better than the suburban wastelands of Twickenham and Wembley, for sure. And cheaper too, for the most part.

For me, the return trip to Cardiff for rugby internationals took a turn for the better after the completion of the Millennium Stadium and the Rugby World Cup in 1999. True, the Welsh rugby team’s fortunes had already been on an upward curve for a few months that year, with victories over England and South Africa, but since we started playing at the new stadium, it feels a lot more like a fortress than the old one and I really think it gives us an edge over visiting teams. Two Grand Slams in the last decade would tend to support this theory. Sadly the fortress effect doesn’t always work, but we’re a small nation punching well above our weight, so we can’t win all of the time.

I left Cardiff in 1990 and didn’t return for 13 years. During that time, another massive project was completed in the city. The Cardiff Bay Barrage was constructed and with it came the redevelopment of the waterfront around the old Bute Docks. In the early 90s the barrage and the wider redevelopment of the Bay were very contentious and many people questioned the long-term value of the project. Twenty years later those objections have been largely forgotten and Cardiff Bay has been transformed into an impressive waterside destination. I’ve worked in the area on and off for a few years since I moved back to Cardiff and I really like the Bay as a place to go, whether it’s for food, drink, a show or a film.

The Bay still feels a bit disconnected from the city centre. It’s partly a transport problem, but the regeneration has been concentrated around the waterfront and has left the relatively deprived areas of Butetown and Riverside which sit between the Bay and town untouched.

Until the mid noughties, the development of the Bay left the city centre looking tired and unappealing. People in search of a quiet night out would stay in the suburban peace of places like Pontcanna and Roath. But in 2010 the balance was restored with the opening of the new St. David’s 2 shopping centre, complete with a John Lewis department store and celebrity chef-branded restaurants like Jamie’s and Carluccio’s.

“Where’s the local identity?” you may ask. Most of these newcomers are chains; this could be any city in the UK. There are still plenty of Cardiff originals, such as the Cameo Club and Bully’s restaurant in Pontcanna, along with relative newcomers like The Potted Pig and Oscar’s. The big question is whether Cardiff can sustain places of this quality itself, through local residents, without having to rely upon big events to draw in the punters from elsewhere. That depends on the affluence of the city increasing. At the moment I don’t think it’s quite there.

When it comes to the arts scene, Cardiff is definitely there. As a boy in the late 1970s I went to see Star Wars at Chapter Arts Centre in Canton. More than 30 years later the place is still going strong; a recent refurbishment having injected new life and light into the building. Whether you’re going to see a film, show or just hang out in the bar with the great and the good of the Cardiff media and arts scene, Chapter is a wonderful destination.

Fairly recently I’ve also discovered a couple of groovy smaller venues: The Gate and the Globe in Roath, and Gwdihŵ in Guildford Crescent. Last year I was lucky enough to see one of my childhood heroes, David Gedge, play at the Globe with his band The Wedding Present.

I also saw the eternal loony Julian Cope play the Globe in October, and a toweringly beautiful and fierce set by the Throwing Muses, one of my favourite bands from the golden age of Indie Rock, at the Gate just a couple of weeks ago. The Gate is a former chapel just off City Road in Roath. An intimate venue with a friendly little bar; it’s a great place to get close to the performers, as I did when Neil Hannon played there last October.

Then there’s the WMC. As I said, I worked there before, during and after its opening in November 2004. One of the most ambitious building projects ever conceived in Wales, it very nearly didn’t happen. Several times. But through the hard work of a dedicated, passionate team of people, we got it open on time. It’s now part of the dramatic skyline of Cardiff Bay, and an institution that is respected and admired across South Wales and beyond. I love going back to the building and it evokes some powerful, proud memories for me. The centrepiece of the is the staggeringly beautiful Donald Gordon lyric theatre; probably the best place to see and hear live performance I’ve ever been in. Although I’m probably a bit biased.

Before it became the glittering, albeit slightly tarnished capital city it is today, Cardiff was little more than a collection of villages: Llandaf, Radyr, Llanishen, Llanederyn, Rhymney, Rhiwbina, Tongwynlais and the rest. And to a great extent it still is. Certainly my village, Whitchurch, retains a character of its own: a high street, the common, a village pub or two, small primary schools and some well-kept local shops. My favourite shop in Whitchurch is Martin Player’s butcher opposite the library on Park Road. Shops like this bring you closer to the producers of the products you’re buying, and you can see the care taken to preserve this closeness.

For the past five years or so our lives in Whitchurch have revolved largely around activities with our children. We’ve been incredibly lucky to have access to exceptional Welsh-medium nursery and primary education in the village; it makes such a difference when these facilities are on your doorstep. And with kids come a new social circle. We have a jolly and sizeable Mums and Dads’ club who enjoy nothing better than lounging on each others’ patios in the sun, sipping wine while the kids chase each other around the garden.

Finally, there’s the allotment. Earlier this year our 30 month wait was rewarded with an allotment plot in Llandaff North, just around the corner from our house. The first harvests have been pretty fruitful; some spuds, beetroot and runner beans. It’s early days, but over the years I’m sure we’ll get the hang of growing our own and the crops will become more bountiful each time. Gardening is great exercise and being outdoors makes me feel particularly happy, even when it rains (which it does a lot in Cardiff). Coming back to my roots in Whitchurch has been a joyful experience and I can’t imagine life being any other way.

Dan Allsobrook is an IT consultant who lives and works in Cardiff. In his spare time he’s one of the editors of Gwladrugby.com, an irreverent, amateurish yet surprisingly popular Welsh rugby fans’ website, and is responsible for @gwladrugby on twitter. He writes about politics, music, food and many other things on his own blog, Eggnewydd and has been known to tweet as @eggynewydd too. He is married to Eleri and they have two young sons, Geraint and Rhodri. Dan currently lives in Whitchurch.

Dan was photographed near his allotment by Adam Chard

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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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“In Cardiff they name roads as salutations to angels” – Nor’dzin

Nordzin

My first impression of Cardiff was somewhat romantic. My dearest friend – later to become my husband – lived in ‘Hail Gabriel’. How fantastic I thought – in Cardiff they name roads as salutations to angels. I later learned that ‘hail’ was in fact ‘heol’ and simply meant ‘road’, but by that time I was already in love with Cardiff and it mattered not.

It was an interest in Buddhism that brought me to Cardiff. I had been attending weekend events at the Lam Rim Buddhist Centre in Raglan for two or three years and had developed friendships with people living in Cardiff. On first moving to Cardiff as a newly qualified teacher, I worked in many schools throughout the city providing supply cover. I struggled with the children’s names. Rhiannon, Angharad and Iwan were new names to me, and even familiar names were spelt strangely, such as Dafydd, Alun or Huw. I never did get used to children telling me that they had ‘been to England’ for their summer holiday. It had been quite usual for my family to go to Wales for a holiday, but it just sounded really odd to hear people saying the same about England. For me England had always been where I lived, not a place you went to for a vacation.

I have taught in Community Education since I first moved to Cardiff in 1983. At first I taught pottery as I had trained in art and design, particularly ceramics. The health problems of my children when they were little led me into studying homoeopathy and so I taught this for a while. Underlying all my experience and work is my life as a Buddhist practitioner and I am now ordained as a ngakma, and so in more recent years my community education teaching was meditation and Tibetan yoga. My second book has just been published which draws on my experience of these classes. Relaxing into Meditation offers a gentle and pragmatic approach to the practice of meditation through relaxation and breathing exercises. We also run a weekly meditation class in Whitchurch which anyone is welcome to attend.

Cardiff is both spacious and compact. It is spacious with the many wonderful areas of open parkland where you can cycle or walk and feel part of nature. It is compact in that the main shopping centre is easily covered in a single expedition whilst still offering a great range of shops. We call our local Whitchurch shopping area ‘the village’ and indeed there are many such areas surrounding the city centre and each has its own personality. I also love that I need only travel a few miles north from my home in Whitchurch and be in beautiful and scenic countryside.

My two sons are Welsh like their father, and I now feel rather more Welsh than English. Although the sound of a Brummy accent makes me feel warm inside and brings a smile to my face, Cardiff, and Wales are my home. I have tried to learn the Welsh language with some success – I can read and write simple Welsh, but I have never succeeded in tuning in my ear to hearing it. I pick up words here and there, but I cannot follow the flow of a conversation. I hope to get back to this soon and improve my understanding.

I revitalised a love of horse riding at Pontcanna riding stables and eventually, in my middle age, realised a childhood dream of owning my own horse by purchasing a mare from them. We now have two horses and livery them at the splendid Briwnant Riding Centre in Rhiwbina. It still amazes me that I can keep my horses five miles from the city centre and yet ride for hours on woodland trails, hardly needing to touch a road.

Ngakma Nor’dzin Pamo grew up in the Midlands of England and moved to Wales as an adult. Her training in meditation began in the early 1980s and in 1989 she was ordained and became the first Western woman to take ordination into the non-monastic tradition of Nyingma Tibetan Buddhism. Her first book, Spacious Passion, was published in 2006. Her most recent book, Relaxing into Meditation, is available now through Aro Books Worldwide. Follow her online through her blogs, ceffylau.blogspot.com, transport-of-delight.blogspot.com, ngakma-nordzin.blogspot.com or spacious-passion.org. She currently lives in Whitchurch with her husband and has two sons.

Nor’dzin was photographed with her mare, Dee, at Briwnant riding stables in Rhiwbina. She was photographed by her husband, ‘ö-Dzin Tridral

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