Stories from Cathays Cemetery

The A48 Theatre Company and the writers Living Lines have joined forces to produce “12 Stories from Cathays Cemetery”  which was made possible through a grant received from The National Heritage Lottery Wales and CADW.  The films are on the A48 Theatre Company YouTube channel and well worth a watch.  Quite a few of the people that feature in the stories have Roath connections. 

You can get to the individual films by clicking the links or pictures in the summaries below.  Credits to the writers of both the short films and the short biographies are given on the A48 Theatre YouTube channel. Eleven of the films are in English and one in Welsh. The English films also have subtitles available.

Francis Batty Shand was the youngest daughter of planter John Shand and his long-term partner, a free woman of colour called Frances Brown. She was born in Jamaica but removed to Scotland when she was 4 years old, probably in the care of her aunt Helen Shand of Elgin, Moray. All of Frances Brown’s seven children were taken from her. She had a portrait painted when each one left and, on writing her will in 1834, asked that each child be given their portrait as a momento of her. While living with her brother in Cardiff Francis Batty Shand was instrumental in founding the Cardiff Institute for the Blind: “Miss Shand was concerned with the “ragged” children she saw in Cardiff and toured the city offering help and support. Miss Shand first opened a small workshop in the Canton area of Cardiff, employing four blind men making baskets for the coal ships sailing from Cardiff ports. Within a year, larger premises were purchased at Byron Street in the Roath area, and ten men were employed. In 1868 a third move was made to Longcross Street off Newport Road, and a fourth move to the iconic Shand House.” In her will, Frances left c. £2,600 in small legacies, £1,000 and a life interest in her property at Moss Terrace, Elgin to Ann Allardice, £1,000 to the trustees of the Cardiff Association for Improving the Social Conditions of the Blind for the ‘Shand Memorial Fund’ and the residue to the Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire Infirmary for the maintenance of a children’s ward named for her late brother John Shand as the ‘Shand Memorial Ward’. Her estate in Scotland was valued for probate at £11,777 2s 5d.

James Driscoll, commonly known as Peerless Jim, was a Welsh boxer who fought his way out of poverty. Driscoll was British featherweight champion and won the coveted Lonsdale belt in 1910. Driscoll was born in Cardiff in 1880 and was brought up on Ellen Street in the Newtown region of the town. Driscoll’s parents were both Irish, and both Catholicism and the local St Paul’s Church played a key part in his life. Driscoll’s father died in a goods yard accident before Driscoll was one. His mother was forced to accept parish relief to bring up her four children. Driscoll was an apprentice with the Western Mail printing works when he began boxing in the fairground booths of South Wales. He turned professional in 1901 and by the end of the year he had secured twelve wins without defeat. On 22 February 1904

Driscoll fought his first match at the National Sporting Club in London, a points decision win over Boss Edwards. That year he also suffered his first defeat in a return bout against Mansfield, losing by points in a ten-round clash.

On 26 February 1906, Driscoll took the British Featherweight title by defeating Joe Bowker in a 15-round contest at the National Sporting Club. He undertook four more fights before his first defence, which included beating Mansfield by knockout in their fourth meet. His first title defence was a twenty-round match and Driscoll stopped his opponent in the seventeenth via a knockout. The 24 August 1907 is recorded as a non-contest fight between Driscoll and fellow Welshman Freddie Welsh.

Boxing historians such as Andrew Gallimore have cast doubt on this being a professional contest and instead regard it as a display fight at a fairground. Welsh supposedly took advantage of this situation and attacked Driscoll with kidney and rabbit punches. Driscoll never forgave his former friend for taking such liberties. On 24 February 1908, Driscoll faced New Zealander Charlie Griffin for the vacant Commonwealth Featherweight title. Again fought at Covent Garden, the match went the full fifteen rounds with Driscoll declared champion on a points decision. After claiming the British and Commonwealth featherweight titles Driscoll went on to prove himself in the U.S.. American boxing fans of the era favoured all-action boxers, but they were won over by the Cardiffian’s skills, giving him the nickname ‘Peerless Jim.’ Featherweight champion Abe Attell faced Driscoll in 1910; the Welshman dominated the fight, but with the “no decision” rule in place, without a KO, he couldn’t take the crown. Driscoll declined a rematch in order to attend an exhibition match in aid of the orphans of St. Nazareth House: “I never break a promise.” He returned to the United States the next year, but a chest infection and an injury in a road accident meant a poor showing.

He never got his title shot at Attell. After becoming the first featherweight to win a Lonsdale Belt, Driscoll prepared for an eagerly-anticipated fight against Freddie Welsh. The match was a disappointment, though, as Welsh’s spoiling tactics upset Driscoll’s style. By the tenth round Driscoll’s frustration boiled over, and he was disqualified for butting Welsh. Driscoll’s boxing career was interrupted by World War I. In succeeding years, he continued to box despite failing health, relying on his skills to keep him out of trouble. When he died in Cardiff of consumption at the age of 44, over 100,000 people lined the streets for his funeral. A statue was erected in his honour near the Central Boys’ Club, where he trained, in 1997.

Ernest Thompson Willows was a pioneer Welsh aviator and airship builder. He became the first person in the United Kingdom to hold a pilot’s certificate for an airship when the Royal Aero Club awarded him Airship Pilots Certificate No. 1. Willows was born in Cardiff, Wales on 11 July 1886. He was educated at Clifton College in Bristol, entering the school in 1896 and leaving in 1901 aged 15 to train as a dentist. He built his first airship, the Willows No. 1, in 1905 when he was 19. It was first flown from East Moors, Cardiff on 5 August 1905, the flight lasting 85 minutes. This was soon followed by an improved Willows No. 2, in which he landed outside Cardiff City Hall on 4 June 1910. No. 2 was re-built as No. 3 which he named the City of Cardiff before he flew it from London to Paris in 1910. This was the first airship crossing of the English Channel at night and the first from England to France. The journey was not without incident, including dropping the maps over the side during the night, and problems with the envelope caused the airship to land at Corbehem near Douai at two o’clock in the morning. With the help of the local French aviator Louis Breguet the airship was repaired and arrived at Paris on 28 December 1910. He celebrated New Year’s Eve with a flight around the Eiffel Tower. Willows moved to Birmingham to build his next airship, the Willows No. 4. First flown in 1912, it was sold to the Admiralty for £1,050 and it became His Majesty’s Naval Airship No. 2. With the money from the Navy Willows established a spherical gas balloon school at Welsh Harp, Hendon near London, although this did not stop him building Willows No. 5 in 1913, a four-seater airship designed to give joy rides over London. During the first world war Willows built barrage balloons in Cardiff. After the war he continued with ballooning but on 3 August 1926 he died in a balloon accident at Hoo Park, Kempston, Bedford instantly, together with a passenger. Three other passengers died later that day either in hospital or on their way to it making 5 deaths in all. There is a school named Willows High School built on his old airfield to remember him. There is also a pub called The Ernest Willows which is situated not far from the school.

Senghenedd Disaster. On the morning of Tuesday, October 14, 1913, 950 men and boys were underground at the Universal Colliery in Senghenydd, near Caerphilly. John Walters was not amongst them. He overslept as his young daughters had kept him awake much of the night. At 8am, there was a massive explosion with such force that it sent the cage in the Lancaster pit up the shaft and crashing into the pithead gear. The force of the blast smashed the wooden platform on which the banksman, John Mogridge, was standing and he was decapitated by a large splinter of timber. As there was little damage to York pit, the manager and other men descended the shaft but they were blocked by girders 530 yards down. Mine rescue teams from the Rhymney Valley, Porth, Aberdare and Crumlin raced to the scene but they were hampered by raging fires, thick smoke and roof falls. One rescue worker William John was killed in a roof fall. At 11.30am, an advanced party of rescuers managed to find a man and young boy alive and unharmed in the Bottanic district of the mine. By 1am the following morning, a group of 12 trapped miners were found alive behind a roof fall. A short distance away, another four were found unconscious but still alive. Twenty bodies were recovered from that district. Rescue teams continued to be hindered by further outbreaks of fire, roof falls and gas. After three weeks, only a third of the victims had been brought to the surface. Eventually rescuers reached the districts known as Ladysmith, Pretoria, Mafeking and Kinberly where the majority of bodies were found. More than 90 bodies were so badly mutilated that they could not be recognised. Some had to be identified by their clothing. One young boy’s identity was confirmed when his mother recognised a patch she had sewn into his vest. Another was identified by a champagne cork in his water bottle given to him by a friend and Aaron Manders was recognised by the new boots worn for the first time that day. By the end of the rescue mission, 439 were confirmed dead. Nearly every household in Senghenydd had lost somebody. It was estimated that 1,500 dependants were left without a bread winner. During a Court of Enquiry, several breaches of regulations were uncovered, the most serious being the inability of the ventilating fans to reverse the airflow contrary to legislation implemented on January 1, 1913. It is estimated that if the current of air had been reversed, hundreds of lives might have been saved. This led to 17 charges against the colliery manager and four against the company and they were fined a total of £24. The disaster was the second explosion to cause loss of life at the colliery. Just 12 years before, on Friday, May 24, 1901, a gas and coal dust explosion killed 81 of the 82 men underground at the time.

Mr. William Jones JP resided at Pencisely House, Cardiff with his wife Martha. He was the General Manager of the Cardiff Channel Dry Dock and Pontoon Company. This company, founded by the Cory shipping family, were instrumental in building the new graving dock in the Bute Dock, Cardiff. He was a JP and magistrate, a philanthropist and great supporter of the Cardiff Naval Brigade, an organisation established by Sir Edward Nicholl. The Cardiff Naval Brigade sought to encourage young men to take an interest in ‘everything that pertained to sound discipline and manliness giving them the necessary skills to fall in line for the defence of their country when required’. An article in the Evening Express on 26th September 1910 describes how 180 officers and men from the Cardiff Naval Brigade were entertained to tea at Pencisely House by Mr. William Jones JP. The lads were warmly complimented by Mr. Jones on their smart appearance.

The tragic story of Louisa Maud Evans, the Balloon Girl, is told in Welsh. An English translation is provided below together with a synopsis of her life:

“To be famous. To be known. To have people whisper my name as I pass them in the streets. There she is. That’s her. That’s Louisa. On a signal, I fell, and I felt Exhilaration, picturing the sea of eyes below mine, there, far, far, below me – 100,000 pairs of eyes looking up at falling me. And all of them, in that moment of time, they all knew my name, they all knew I existed. This moment, it was perfect, a window of utter release, and freedom, and a gleeful understanding that, unlike those who watched me from below with their Sunday best and their feet on the ground , I knew what it was to be a bird, and I knew what it meant to fly and everything beneath me, the city, the country, spread out like a painting drying in the sun. I could see the spires on the churches and the endless ribbon of the river. I could see the clustered trees and the scattergun tin pot houses. I could see the clouds high above me and the crowds far below me and best of all, they could all see me. Whatever they did, whoever they were none of that mattered. I was their focus, the reason their mouths fell open. I could feel the breath of the wind as it chased me through the sky . Then a realisation , there, that morning, cold and dawning , that I was drifting. That I was drifting away from where I should be to where I should not and that I could not do this and that I would not survive this. The dawning on high that I was so small and I was oh so out of control and that the world, one moment, so far below me, was getting bigger, larger, more apparent by the moment like looking at something through binoculars . I was falling like a paper doll with nothing to clutch at but a wind without handles, a fear, rising, hot against the cold, that we are not invincible and though we may think it, we can fall , we can certainly fall. And as I spiralled I thought back to the thing that, since a girl, I had prized above all things and I realised, yes, as I twisted and twisted , that I would be famous , that I would be known, that the city would remember my name. To be famous. To be known. To have people whisper my name as they pass me in the cemetery. There she is. That’s her. That’s Louisa.”

Louisa Maud Evans, otherwise known as Mademoiselle Albertina, fell to her death during a ballooning accident at the Cardiff Exhibition on July 21, 1896. It is estimated that 100,000 people had gathered at the Cardiff Industrial and Maritime Exhibition in Cathays Park in Cardiff, to see Louisa’s ascent by balloon. She was supposed to have landed by parachute on the outskirts of the city to be returned to the crowds via horse and carriage. However, she never reappeared and her body washed up three days later near the village of Nash, a few miles east of Cardiff. It is thought that Louisa was born in Barton Regis in Bristol in late 1881 and was adopted at 16 months old. She went on to work in a cloth factory but, wanting more in life, ran away at the age of 14 to become a circus apprentice and a trapeze artist. An inquest jury reached a unanimous verdict: “The deceased was accidentally drowned in the Bristol Channel whilst attempting to descend by parachute from a balloon.” A member of the inquest jury said: “We wish to censor Mr Gaudron, showman and balloon aeronaut, in that he showed great carelessness and disregard for the safety of such a young girl by allowing her to attempt her descent during such high winds.” Moved by her death, the people of Cardiff gave Louisa a decent burial and a headstone.

Winifred Fortt. Winifred Ellen Fortt’s father ran a lodging house for Greek Sailors in Cardiff Bay. She became the girlfriend of a lodger, Alec Bakerlis, 24, a fireman, who became jealous every time his 19-year old girlfriend spoke to any of the other residents. This got so bad that Winifred’s father gave him notice to quit and Bakerlis moved to other lodgings. Winifred broke off the relationship and asked a friend to return the ring and some letters Bakerlis had given her. Bakerlis refused to accept them from the friend and insisted Winifred returned them herself. On Christmas evening 1916 Bakerlis approached Winifred and her friend in Bute Street and asked her for the ring. Bakerlis then knocked her over and stabbed her repeatedly, seven or eight times on the head and body. A nearby police officer, Arthur Moss, saw Bakerlis running with a bloodstained knife and apprehended him. Bakerlis admitted to stabbing Winifred. Winifred died 3 days later from Blood Poisoning. Bakerlis was charged with wilful murder, found guilty and executed at Cardiff Gaol on 10 April 1917 by John Ellis.

James Power was born into a rebel family in Crooke, County Waterford, Ireland in 1889. Like his father, he worked on the land. In 1911 James was arrested and found guilty of “riotous behaviour.” When war broke out in 1914 Irishmen were encouraged to fight for Ireland as soldiers in the British Army and James joined the Royal Irish Regiment. He was not a model recruit. His military Charge Sheet cites offences such as “highly irregular conduct in barracks” and being absent without a pass. James did his training at Richmond Barracks in Dublin during 1916. This was the time of the Easter Rising, when Irish Republicans launched a rebellion against being ruled by Britain. The British reacted by mobilising troops onto the streets of Dublin – James Power amongst them. During six days of fighting British troops (including Irishmen such as James) either killed or captured all the rebels. The captured Republicans were imprisoned at Richmond Barracks. Sixteen of them were given a death sentence and were executed. This ruthless punishment made them into martyrs. The Royal Irish Regiment departed from Devenport and James served in Salonika, Egypt and the Battle of Jerusalem. He was awarded the Victory Medal and the British Medal. On returning to Ireland James joined B Company, Third Battalion, East Waterford Brigade as a 1st Lieutenant – the IRA. In the 1920s this was the military wing of the Irish Republican movement that was fighting for Ireland’s independence from Britain. James returned both of his medals. Servicemen who had previously been in the British Army in WWI now needed to prove their Republican credentials to their fellow fighters and one way of doing so was to return their British Army medals. In 1921 a truce was called in the conflict and the next year saw the creation of the Irish Free State when independence was granted to the south of Ireland. There was little work in Ireland at this time and James took up a job in the Merchant Navy, becoming a fireman and trimmer on a ship called the Sheaf Lance that sailed out of Barry in South Wales. It was hard, hot, filthy work – four hours on, four hours off round the clock. In December 1926 James was on a voyage destined for Brazil and Argentina. Its return passage brought it back to Wales, arriving in Penarth near Cardiff on the 5th of April, 1927. James Power left the ship that day, and is not recorded as sailing on any other voyages. His family were told he had died at sea but his death certificate shows that, at the age of 37, James Power was found dead in the Glamorganshire Canal in Cardiff on the 19th April, 1927. He died from “shock from distended stomach acting on diseased heart.” An inquest confirmed that he was not drunk and it is likely that he had a heart attack and fell into the canal. A local shopkeeper identified him, “particularly by his ginger moustache.'” James’ wife, Julia, died in childbirth less than two months later. Their two daughters were adopted. One of them, Mary-Anne, married Albert Martin and had a son, Paul Martin – or Paul Merton as he is better known. Paul said: “It’s 92 years ago this happened. I’m the first member of the family to find out his (James Power’s) final resting place. That is rather remarkable, isn’t it? It’s a long time ago 1927, and it’s taken this long for us to find out the truth.”

Thought to be the most arrested woman in Victorian Wales, the facts of Minnie McGuire’s life can mainly be found in court records and newspaper reports, which variably spell her surname as McGuire, Maguire and Macguire. Minnie’s exact birth date is unknown, but it’s estimated that she was born around 1860. She was descended from Irish immigrants and, during her many court appearances, her address was often given as ‘no fixed abode’, although she lived in bedsit rooms in various houses in the poorest areas of central Cardiff. Throughout her life, she was arrested multiple times for violence, drunkenness and lewd behaviour, and served many spells in prison. An article in the Cardiff Times of 18th July 1885 described her as “an incorrigible woman” and detailed her prison sentence of three months with hard labour, as a result of the charge of being “a disorderly prostitute”. Almost four years later, the South Wales Echo of 29th May 1889 reported that, at her seventy-second appearance at court, the same sentence was inflicted on her for being drunk and disorderly. Such reports brought her infamy and her exploits were well-known to the people of Cardiff. Minnie was also known to have travelled from town to town selling inexpensive wares as a ‘hawker’, although newspapers from subsequent years suggest that she was still getting into trouble in these places, having made appearances at several other courts in South Wales and as far afield as Taunton and Cheltenham. By this point, her total number of convictions was well over a hundred. Elm House, a workhouse for adults in Cardiff, was where Minnie spent her final days. Her death certificate gave her age as fifty-four. She was given a ‘pauper’s burial’ and her grave in Cathays Cemetery is unmarked.

Hamadryads are Greek mythological beings or sprites that are bonded to trees. Cardiff’s Hamadryad gave her name to a ship, a hospital and more recently, a Welsh medium primary school. Here, she introduces us to Dr Henry Paine, Medical Officer of Health, now a resident of Cathays Cemetery but best known for the public health improvements he brought to Cardiff and for the seamen’s hospital ship, The Hamadryad. In the face of a rapidly growing population throughout the nineteenth century, many of Cardiff’s inhabitants faced poverty, unsanitary conditions and repeated outbreaks of disease. Dr Paine made improvements to the water and sewage infrastructure of the city and is credited with saving many lives over the course of his career. In 1866 Dr Paine bought and fitted out the Hamadryad, a 43 year-old frigate, as a hospital for seamen, with a doctor, medical staff, matron, nurse and cook. The ship was moored on “Rat Island” and was used for thirty years. To celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, a permanent seamen’s hospital was built and was opened on 29 June 1905. The Royal Hamadryad Seamen’s Hospital provided free medical treatment for seamen until 1948, when it was incorporated into the National Health Service. The hospital ship was broken up, but the ship’s bell and figurehead were preserved. Today, the figurehead is exhibited in the Cardiff Story Museum.

Edward Kaltenbach and his brother Adrian Kaltenbach sought asylum in Cardiff from Baden (now part of Germany) in the late 1860s. Cardiff was expanding rapidly thanks to coal. They set up their watch, clock and jewellery business in Caroline Street, a business which continued to flourish on the same site for nearly 150 years. The main shop premises were always at 22 & 23 Caroline Street where Edward Kaltenbach advertised “WATCHES! WATCHES! WATCHES! Silver patent lever watches, chronometer balances, all kinds of other gold and silver watches, and gold and silver jewellery”. Kaltenbach’s contemporaries were William Weichert and Polish born Wladyslaw Spiridion Kliszezewski. A measure of Spiridion’s prestige is the fact that James Keir (1839–1921), another Cardiff watch- and clockmaker and jeweller, always paid tribute to him in his advertisements, proudly stating that he had been ‘10 years with Spiridion’. Another watchmaker, George Best, was not so well-renowned. His business was located at 27 Talbot Street Cardiff and later in the High Street Arcade. In 1889 he was declared bankrupt, a circumstance which he blamed on the failure of the shares he had bought in Allsopp’s brewery. The Official Receiver stated that his assets would produce only 1d in the £. His Honour granted the debtor his discharge but suspended his business operations for 18 months, Best having previously been declared bankrupt in 1885.

Margaret Jones-Morewood was a well-known soprano soloist in the late 1800s. Born Margaret Ann Jones on 17th August 1863 in the Swansea Valley, she was singing locally by the age of ten, and benefit concerts were arranged so that she could hire a singing coach. When she was seventeen, she went to train at the Royal Academy of Music in London and graduated with the distinction of medallist. Margaret’s father was employed at the tinplate works owned by Messrs. E. Morewood & Co. in Llanelli and, as his colleagues were very supportive of her aspirations, she adopted Morewood as part of her stage name during her time at the academy, along with the informal version of her first name, Maggie. Further success beckoned, including performances at the National Eisteddfod, leading parts with the Turner Opera Company, and top-billing at the Cardiff International Exhibition of 1888. In 1890, Margaret married John Jones, the manager of a silversmiths, and moved to Cardiff, where they had a daughter and a son. When she was expecting her third child, she went into labour two months early and gave birth to a stillborn baby. Two days later, on 9th October 1894, Margaret died. An inquest was held and her youngest sister, Gwendolyn ‘Gwennie’ Jones, was called as one of the witnesses along with the couple’s servant, who claimed that John had been physically violent towards Margaret, including during her most recent pregnancy, a claim that he denied. Following the post-mortem, the verdict was that she had died from natural causes and that premature births were common. However, although the jury concurred, they requested that the Coroner severely censure John for his conduct towards her and he agreed, stating that he could not understand how any man could treat his wife in the manner alleged, especially in her condition. Before long, most of the family left Wales for new lives in the United States. Their connections to the metal industry continued, however, as Gwennie married William H. Davey, General Manager of a tinplate works in Washington, Pennsylvania.

In this video, Roger Swan (Memorial Manager, Bereavement Services, Cardiff Council) introduces us to the cemetery, some of its history and emphasised the benefit of visiting and having a walk around.

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