There hasn’t been a mill in Roath since 1897 when the last one was demolished. The new one isn’t very big and looks exactly like the previous one. That’s because it is a bronze model of the last mill on the site in Roath Mill Gardens. I say the last one, as there was probably a long line of mills at this location stretching back all the way to the 1100’s.
The new bronze sculpture is by Welsh artist Rubin Eynon and is one of the finishing touches added at the end of the work on the Roath Flood Defence scheme. Look carefully along the river bank close to the new sculpture and you can still see the remains of the last working corn mill on this site.
Roath Mill can hold a fascination for local historians. There are a number of photographs of the last building and the people that occupied it. There are also quite a few references in historical documents to mills in Roath. The big question is, can we say with certainty that the mills quoted in earlier references were on the same site?
The history of the mills of Roath are covered in a number of places. Our own Project Newsletter back in 1985 summarised some of the history. A much more comprehensive article by Diane Brook can however be found in the journal Morgannwg (Vol 57 pp77-102) published by Glamorgan History Society, available from the society for £5 or can be viewed at either Glamorgan Archives or Cathays Library.
The article in Morgannwg not only summaries the mill’s history but also describes the geophysical survey and small excavation carried out in 2012 by Cardiff Archaeological Society to look for evidence of earlier mills on the site. The result of the geophysical survey is that ‘the last mill building was very thoroughly demolished’. Although no firm evidence of earlier mills was found during this work the article concludes that “The known mill site lies approximately at the same location as its twelfth-century predecessor and certainly there was only ever one main corn-mill in Roath”. A summary of the survey itself is available online.
The earliest reference to the mill is from Norman times where it is referred to in around 1102 as ‘Molendinum de Raz’ (Roath Mill – Raz being the old name for Roath). At that time the ownership of the mill was handed over to Tewkesbury Abbey. You may think that strange but much of the Roath area was owned by Tewkesbury Abbey before the dissolution of the monasteries.
The history of mills in Roath becomes somewhat hard to unravel as some references mention Keysham Abbey, another landowner in the Roath area. There are also references to a ‘fulling mill’. Fulling is the process of removing oil and grease from cloth. The later references seem to refer to another mill that may or may not have been on the Roath area. Nobody said studying local history was straightforward.
Things would have looked very different around here in the days of the last mill. The three-story mill building and its associated cottages was probably constructed in the seventeen century. Records show that the building was renovated a number of times in the 1800s. In 1801 for instance there is record of a new cast iron wheel and shaft being transported to the site.
The area upstream had a pond, to hold back water to power the mill. I’m also struck when looking at some old photos of the area how deep the stream’s channel appears. The rubble from the mill demolished in 1897 would have later been used to infill the area when it was converted into the park as we now know it that that was opened to the public in October 1912. That probably explains why trying to find evidence of earlier mill buildings was so difficult.
For much of the 1800s the Evans family were millers at Roath Mill. Ownership and residents of the mill are much easier to trace during this period as the records still exist.
So next time you find yourself in the Pen-y-lan area, head for Sandringham Road (CF23 5BL) to visit Roath Mill Gardens, have a look at the bronze model of the last Roath mill, then walk around into the park itself and see if you can see the last remains of the mill along the riverbank.