A market in Adamsdown – a century of livestock trading

Roath Cattle Market, somewhat confusingly, was located in Adamsdown, immediately north of the Great Western Railway line and south of Constellation Street, where Anderson Place is today. It was bounded to the east and west respectively by two lost roads, Platinum Street and Cycle Street.

Up to the middle of the 19th century, Cardiff’s cattle market used to be held in the open air in Cardiff town centre, with cattle and other livestock being driven through the streets. A cattle market was established in Canton in 1857, but between the River Taff and Cardiff’s eastern boundary, there were 8000 acres (12.5 square miles) of arable land, and those farming that land wanted to avoid having to pay the turnpike toll necessary to take livestock across bridges crossing the Taff.  Although Cardiff Bridge (the one near the castle) was rebuilt in 1859, one witness said that to reach the Canton Cattle Market, it would be necessary to drive cattle via Llandaff, which suggests that Cardiff Bridge would be unsuitable. 

Roath Market in 1891. Note what looks to be a sheepdog in the middle of the sheep.

And so, in 1860, land owned by Lord Tredegar was put forward as a site for a new cattle market on Constellation Street. The decision to site a market there was a hotly debated one, and because of the petitions both for and against, the Home Secretary was called on to carry out a public inquiry and for the Inspector to report to him with a recommendation before he decided the matter. Some of the opposition was said to be at the behest of the Canton Market operators, but the most vocal arguments focused on the lack of demand, and the likelihood that the construction and upkeep of the market would fall on the ratepayers of Roath.

The inquiry was held on 11 January 1861 at the Clifton Hotel in Roath. The main parties to the inquiry were the Roath Board of Health as proposer and the various objectors to the scheme.

Today, a proposal for a cattle market next to a residential area would be met with an absolute furore, with objections about smell, noise, traffic, etc, etc. However, the scope of this inquiry was a narrow one. It arose as a consequence of the Roath Local Health Board having sent a memorandum to the Secretary of the Home Department asking for powers to borrow £1,000 upon the mortgage of the rates, for the purpose of establishing amarket, and the receiving of a counter-petition containing an allegation that such a marketwas unnecessary. The rate-payers were local landowners, rather than the occupiers, so the battle was between some of the well-known and well-off citizens of the town. Local residents who, in the main, were not property owners and therefore did not pay rates, were not considered to have sufficient standing to object to the proposal.

Unsurprisingly, Lord Tredegar’s agent (who also farmed land in the area) was vocal in support of the scheme. Other supporters included the Trustees of Lord Bute and the Trustees of the late C.C. Williams of the Roath Court Estate. All of the estates owned by these landowners contained farms.  Opponents seized on arguments that the Roath Local Board needed to fund sewerage works on the “poet streets” – Byron Street, Shakespeare Street and Milton Street, none of which were connected to a sewer, were subject to frequent flooding, properties all owned by Lord Tredegar.

Constellation Street with the buildings of Roath Market on the right.

However, the Government Inspector, William Ranger, put paid to this argument, saying that “Property had its duties as well as its rights, and it was the duty of the owners to put their streets and sewers in order and then hand them over to the Local Board of Health”. He also suggested that tenants whose properties were flooded should withhold their rents! What Lord Tredegar made of this admonishment was not recorded.

The evidence that the market was not needed was thin. A temporary open-air market had been established in Splott, which averaged 720 head of livestock a week, and on that basis, the market would be viable, and no charge would fall on the ratepayers of Roath. And so, in May 1861, following the recommendation of his Inspector, the Secretary of State approved the market, which opened in July 1862.

The original plan was to provide a market house, to provide offices and a home for the market manager, as well as cattle and horse stalls, a cattle pen, 60 sheep pens, 12 pig pens, a building to accommodate poultry and cheese sellers, and large open areas for hay and straw storage. Over the following decades, numerous alterations were made to the market, not least the addition of large abattoirs, which, in 1907, despatched 224 cattle a week, and was then overcrowded.  Additional sheep pens were provided in 1891, when 2000 sheep a week passed through the market.

Roath Cattle Market continued on that site for over a hundred years, so questions about its necessity seem to have been well and truly answered. However, the market was not without problems; in 1864 complaints were made to the Board of Health about the state of Constellation Street, along which much of the market traffic travelled, claiming that it has not been cleansed or scraped in 2 years.  In 1884, the market was acquired by Cardiff Corporation under an Act of Parliament, but in the same year, butchers complained that the site was a quagmire, ankle-deep in mud and slush, and a councillor proclaimed it to be “a more filthy place than any of the kind probably in England”. Even in the middle of the 20th century, there were reports of cattle escaping from the market and running around Adamsdown, even knocking down walls.

The abattoir at Roath Market

Despite talk of creating a siding to access the market directly from the adjacent Great Western Railway line, this does not seem to have come about, possibly because, in its heyday, the market had no spare capacity to accommodate additional livestock, and later there may have been problems in funding it.

View of the old Roath meat market and abattoir on Constellation Street from Cycle Street junction 1960s

The market closed in the 1960s and since the early 1970s the site has been occupied by houses, flats and a playground. It is thought that Anderson Place was named after a Deputy Health Inspector of Cardiff.

Cycle Street 1965

Footnote: Photographs of Roath Cattle Market seem to be rare – if anyone has a photograph, we’d love to see it. Recollections of the market would also be welcomed.

2 thoughts on “A market in Adamsdown – a century of livestock trading

  1. All I remember was that on 1 or 2 occasions when I was at my grandparents house in System Street a cow escaped from the slaughter house and ran down System Street. People quickly went into their houses and closed the door.
    My brother has told me that one of our uncles took him to see the inside of the slaughter house when he was a small boy.I may have been taken too but I cannot remember

    • Cattle went into Burston’s house in System St taking out a stair rail. Cattle went into middle-room and couldn’t get out until slaughter-man came. Rail never replaced.

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