The New Roath Mill

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.

Roath Mill Sculpture

The new sculpture of Roath Mill by Rubin Eynon

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 c 1890

A busy scene outside Roath Mill in around 1890 (Cardiff Libraries)

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 There are also quite a few references in historical documents to mills in Roath.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?

Roath Tithe map of 1840

The Tithe map of 1840 showing the mill circled in red and the mill pond upsteam from that. Note the stream overflow going around field 266 and down what is now Marlbourough Road, infront of St Margaret’s Church (174) before rejoining the stream.

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.

Roath Mill sculpture from different angles

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.

Roath Mill c 1870

The Mill building in around 1870 (Cardiff Libraries)

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.

Rubin Eynon Roath Mill Sculpture

The new sculpture in place next to Roath Brook.

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.

Roath Mill - W B Hodkinson - 1878 - Cardiff Libraries

Roath Mill 1878 – Watercolour by W B Hodkinson – (Cardiff Libraries)

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.

Rubin Eynon working on Roath Mill

Rubin Eynon working on the sculpture of Roath Mill (Photo: Rubin Eynon website)

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.

Roath Mill Remains

The remains of Roath Mill as seen in Roath Mill Park in the 1950s/1960s. Westville Road is in the background (Photo: Cardiff Libraries)

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.

Roath Brook and remains of Roath Mill

Roath Brook looking east downstream and remains of Roath Mill over the river.

 

 

3 thoughts on “The New Roath Mill

  1. This is very interesting – thank you for sending it.

    I would question the age of the photo from Cardiff Libraries dated as 1950s/1960s. I attended Marlborough Rd infants and junior, 1953-59, and lived in Sturminster Rd. I passed through, and played in, this park almost every school day in that period. I have no recollection of the rockery being that big, nor of the summerhouse structure. I also have a 1957/8’ish class photo, attached, taken a little further along towards St Edward’s church with Westville Rd in the background, and the shrubbery along the fence next to Westville Rd is far more mature than shown in this photograph. According Jeff Childs, Westville Rd was built in 1907, and – from the general appearance of the photo and the other factors above – I’d guess it was more likely taken in the 1910s or 20s.

    Regards….Neil

    PS I’m in the back row, the middle of the three boys on the right!

    • Thanks Neil,
      I tend to agree. The photo does look earlier.
      I have checked my source and it is indeed labelled 1950/60s. I may however be an earlier transcription error with labeling the photo or alike.
      Regards
      Ted

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