Before the Normans arrived, Roath was variously referred to as Raz, Raht, Rad, Rahat, Rottie and Rothe and there are many theories about the origins of the word. The most popular is that it derives from the ancient Gaelic word, ‘Rath’ or ‘Raath’ which means an earthwork or enclosure with surrounding rampart. There is evidence that there was such a fortification at the heart of Roath, but the origin of the word could also be from the Welsh ‘rhodd’, meaning gift.
At that time, Wales was divided into gwledydd (states and kingdoms). A Prince ruled each state (or gwlad) from a llys (court). The chief administrative unit of a gwlad was a cantref (constituency). A cantref was then divided into a hundred small settlements called trefydd. A tref was in turn divided into two or more cymdau or commotes which would be the place of a lesser courthouse dealing with issues of local government.
The lands of Roath lay in the commote of Cibwr (Kibbor) in the cantref of Sengehenydd. The llys of Kibbor was Llys Faen or stone court which is now more commonly known as Lisvane. All were parts of the glwad or state of Morgannwg.
In the late 11th century, the Norman warrior lord, Robert Fitzhammon, a kinsman to The Conqueror himself , made Cardiff Castle his base. He gave much of his newly acquired land in Glamorgan to his followers, but kept Roath for himself. He established Roath Manor as the ‘home farm’ for the Castle so that it could provide food for the vast numbers of people serving the Fitzhammon household.
The Manor itself stood on the site now occupied by the Roath Court Funeral Home on the corner of Newport Road and Albany Road. The lands attached to the original Manor were vast and extended far beyond the boundaries of the Parish of Roath taking in parts of Llanedeyrn, Lisvane, even Whitchurch.
During the 12th and 13th centuries, the Manor of Roath was divided into three parts. Large areas came under the jurisdiction of the abbeys in Tewkesbury and Keynsham, Somerset, hence the new manors of Roath Tewkesbury and Roath Keynsham. The remaining land came under the jurisdiction of the Lords of Glamorgan and became known as Roath Dogfield.
Roath Tewkesbury and Roath Keynsham remained under the control of the monasteries until their dissolution in the 16th century.
The heart of Roath was the manor of Roath Dogfield. The village kept its identity right up until the end of the 19th century. It was only with the new housing development of that time that the village lost its distinctive rural character.
The village consisted mainly of a group cottages, clustered around the parish church of St Margaret’s but also included various cottages dotted alongside the old Merthyr Road (now Albany Road) as far as the turning for Lisvane (Penylan Road).
Apart from the church, the main features of the village were Roath Court, formerly the site of the old manor house, Ty Mawr (The Great House) which was demolished as late as 1967, later the site of an old people’s residential home (also now demolished), and Roath Mill, which stood for many centuries next to the stream in what is now Roath Mill Gardens. The ‘village green’ would have occupied the space which is now a roundabout – the junction of Waterloo Road, Albany Road and Marlborough Road.
The Merthyr road (Albany Road) was bordered on the south side by a whitewashed stone wall (some of which is still visible at the eastern end). This denoted the grounds of Roath Court. On the north side of the road up until 1886 there was an open ditch bordering open fields and countryside.
Further down the road on the side of the old wall stood the village school, a small detached cottage providing a basic education to a handful of local children. When Albany Road School opened its doors in 1887, the village school became redundant and closed in 1902.
Just beyond the school were three terraced cottages known collectively as Roath Court Cottages. The cottages and the old school building survived until 1958 but were then demolished to make way for the petrol station (since demolished) and health centre.
Next to the cottages the Claude Hotel opened in 1890 to provide a local watering hole for the newly built Claude Road housing and the planned development on the other side of Albany Road.
Opposite the junction of Claude Road and Albany Road stood a thatched cottage – a most ramshackle building, Ty -y-Cwn, or Dog Cottage, where the keeper of the Lord of the Manor’s hounds lived.
Further along stood Cross Cottage and close by Fynnon Bren, a well reputed to have curative properties.