The Development of City and Albany Roads

This is a digitised version of a research paper that one of our members authored back in 2009 with some pictures added.

In the 17th century, Plwca Lane or Heol y Plwca (later City Road) marked the western boundary of the Parish of Roath, adjoining the Parish of St John’s, Cardiff.  The centre of the village lay a mile to the east, clustered around St Margaret’s Church.

Cardiff and Roath map from 1799
Map of Roath from 1789.

Surrounding Plwca Lane was an area of dirty wet uncultivated land.  Rushes grew in the fields and were used to make rush mats which were then sold in the streets of Cardiff.  Where City Road, Richmond Road, Crwys Road and Albany Road meet stood the town gallows.  As commemorated on a plaque on the wall of the National Westminster Bank, the Roman Catholic martyrs, St John Lloyd and St Phillip Evans were executed here, as were many others.

Plaque on the side of the Nat West bank on Crwys Road marking the site of the gallows.

In 1802 Parliament passed the Heath Enclosure Act.  Half of the land enclosed was awarded to the Cardiff Corporation, while a sizeable amount went to freeholders who had a claim to rights of pasture.  Most of them were rich and powerful families such as the Butes and the Lewises.  The landscape of the Heath was transformed as Heath Farm, Allensbank Farm and Ton-yr-Ywen farm were created from the former rough pasture land.  Certain rights of way were upheld, among them the future Heathwood Rd, Allensbank Rd and Merthyr Rd (now Albany Rd) running east from the junction of City Rd with Crwys Rd.  Together these two roads would form the framework from which the Mackintosh Estate later developed.

In the 1840s the land surrounding the lower end of Plwca Lane where it joins what is now Newport Road was owned by the Tredegar estate, centred on Tredegar House, west of Newport.

Roath in the 1830s

Of the residents of Plwca Lane in 1851: 28 were born in Glamorgan; 3 in Monmouth shire; 9 in Wiltshire; 1 each in 7 other counties.  One woman, a soldier’s wife, was a British subject born in America.  By 1861 there were 19 houses in Plwca Lane and 14 of their occupants were born in Glamorgan; 4 in Monmouthshire; 8 were born in Somerset; 6 each in Devon and Wiltshire; 5 each in Devon and Ireland and 13 from 11 other countries.

James Hemingway the elder (1802-1854), his 2 brothers and Charles Pearson were all natives of Dewsbury, Yorkshire and were contractors for the construction of the East Bute Dock between 1851 and 1859.  James the elder lived at the junction of St Peter’s St and City Rd (Perrix Wholesalers) but appears to have purchased land on the east side of Plwca Lane on which Talworth St, Pearson St and Byron St now stand. Talworth House which stood to the west of Plasnewydd (now the Mackintosh Institute) had been occupied by James Hemingway the younger, at least from November 1859.  He married Mary McGregor, step-daughter of his late father’s partner, Charles Pearson.  James the younger moved back to Northern England in January 1861.

Example of 1851 Census for Plwcca Lane – the James Hemmingway household

Before the end of 1862 Charles Pearson had moved from Leckwith to Talworth House and was appointed a member of the Roath District Board of Health.  A house in Clive St (now Byron St) was built for Charles Pearson in 1863 and plans approved for further development.  Plans were also approved for additions to Talworth House in  July 1867 and for a new street, James St, off Castle Rd (now City Rd), both for Charles Pearson.  Fourteen houses were built on James St for James Hemingway the younger and it was late: re-named Talworth St in 1872.

Development now spread on both sides of Plwca Lane.  Montgomery Place is pre- 1861 when it had 7 inhabited and 1 uninhabited house.  The 1861 census records 56 inhabited and 18 uninhabited houses in Plwca Lane but the earliest known house plans date from 1865.  Three houses are described as villas, implying a residential district.  In one lived Edward Cleavin, age 39, a civil engineer; Edward Edwards, an engine fitter from Neath and John Webb a builder from Staffordshire who employed 24 men.  Finally by 1865, Solomon Andrews had established his business at No 1 Castle Rd i.e. Roath Mews.

Waring’s plan of 1869 shows that there was no development north of James St on the even numbered side and north of Tredegarville on the odd numbered side, though an application had been made for 14 more houses to be built in Castle Rd (BC/51/90342) Plans for 6 houses in Plwca Lane were proposed in 1872 (BC/51/90657) and a further 6 in 1874, two of which were described as villas, again implying a middle class market (BC/51/9098).

1869 map. Roath / Cardiff boundary marked in pink went down the middle of Plwca Lane. The land off the southern end of Plwca Lane has been developed but the land surrounding Plasnewydd (later called the Mackintosh Institute) remains undeveloped

In 1874 Plwca Lane was re-named Castle Rd and in the following year the Cardiff Improvement Act incorporated Roath into Cardiff.  Castle Rd continued to develop, plans being submitted in 1875 for 6 proposed villas, 3 stables and coach houses, 4 shop fronts, 2 bakeries and many other alterations.  In general most new houses were still terraced buildings, 2-3 stories high, their dimensions controlled by the end of the 19th century by byelaws passed by the local authority.  At this time, water was increasingly supplied directly into houses.  This permitted internal sanitation, hot and cold water and bathrooms.

In 1877 the Borough Surveyor reported on the state of footways in Castle Rd and submitted estimates for their repair.  Further reports between 1879 and 1887 indicate continuing road maintenance activities being carried out in Castle Rd (CBC Minutes 1879-1881) but in 1880, 123 acres of land belonging to the Hemingway estate was purchased by Cardiff Borough Council for £140 for the purpose of road widening.

1880 map of the northern part of Plucca Lane, again marked with a dotted line indicating the Cardiff-Roath boundary. The four-way junction neat the top was later to become a five-way junction when Mackintosh Place was built. (map from Old-Maps.co.uk)

Cardiff BC had been unsuccessful in 1883 in purchasing Plasnewydd and its grounds from the Mackintosh family for use as a public park and it may well have been this which acted as a catalyst for the family to proceed rapidly with housing development on the estate (Childs, 2005:5).  By now, Merthyr Rd cut through the Plasnewydd estate from the cross roads at the Roath parish boundary with Cardiff St John in the west to Roath Court in the east.  Forty feet wide and constructed along the course of a public drain, it provided a ready-made central highway for future urban development (Childs,2005:7).

John Batchelor and Talworth House

Most of the landowning families in Roath systematically gave their land over to urban housing development during the second half of the 19″ century.  In Roath, Lord Tredegar was the largest landowner and some of the earliest street development was on Tredegar land adjacent to the Cardiff boundary i.e. The Parade.  All the landowners adopted the practice of leasing building plots for a term of 99 years and exercised  overall architectural control over the building operations on their estates.

In 1884 development begins on the Plasnewydd estate.  Harriet Richards of Plasnewydd had by now married the Mackintosh of Mackintosh, Chief of the Scottish clan, which explains many of the street names in the area.  Charles Rigg, an architect with offices in High St, Cardiff submitted plans to the local authority on behalf of the  estate, for the proposed layout of the streets and houses as and when they were ready to be built.  Usually a large number of master builders or contractors were involved in the house building operations on each estate.  They were allowed to introduce minor variations of design, thus pinpointing the work of a particular builder.  Not much is known about the individual builders.  Fluctuations in supply and demand made house building a risky form of enterprise.  Bankruptcies were common (Daunton, 1977).

Plans for 9 houses to be built in Merthyr Rd were submitted by Leonard Purnell, a builder in Calston St, Adamsdown and his partner Mr Fry under the supervision of the Mackintosh estate architect, Charles Rigg.  In the same year Merthyr Rd was renamed Albany Rd on the 10 April 1884 (Keir, RLHS).  Initially intended as a residential. development, which the estate may have envisaged as a superior type of residential road similar to Richmond Rd.  It soon became a commercial centre as houses were converted into shop fronts.

Edward Jellings who lived in no 31 also built 4 houses in Albany Rd in 1884 and another 6 in 1885. Another builder, William Geen, lived at no 1 Albany Rd (Childs, 2005:10).  He sought permission to erect 6 houses in Albany Rd in 1890.  In the area where Charles Rigg was the Mackintosh estate architect, Thomas Gough, a builder at No 1 Oxford St off lower City Rd, applied to build 19 houses.  His architect was E WM Corbett who normally acted for the neighbouring Bute estate.  Applications were made to build a further 48 houses in Albany Rd in1891.  Among the builders were David Edwards of Glenroy St and Henry Lewis of 54 Arran St and Wilde and Allen were neighbours at nos 22 and 20 Kincraig St respectively.  After a lull in 1892, when William Geen applied to build 8 houses, 16 houses were built in 1893 and 20 more by the end of the century in 1899.

Albany Road in the early 1900s looking east with St Martin’s church on the right.

By 1900, the development of the Mackintosh estate was complete.  The estate comprised about 2750 houses, various shops and commercial premises, several places of religious worship, 2  schools, 3 public houses and many trades and services needed for the maintenance of  what was a densely packed housing zone.  The total population of the area was some 15,000 (Childs, 2005:7).

By 1901, 76 houses had been built on the north side of Albany Rd and 67 on the south side, where an area of rural development still existed between Roath Court and the Claude Hotel. Castle Rd (renamed City Rd in 1905) numbered 479 houses of which only 23 of the occupants could be described as private residents.

Given the estate’s large population, the transformation of Albany Rd into a suburban commercial centre was unsurprising; indeed it could be said to be a natural development.  The conversion of the properties’ ground floors into shop fronts involved the disappearance of the low front walls and small forecourts (Childs, 2005:11).  In City Rd a Doctor’s surgery was established by 1908 at 107 when a waiting room and dispensary were added.

In 1895 there were 13 planning applications for shop fronts in Albany Rd, 23 in 1896 and 11 between 1897 and 1899.  There were also 10 applications for stables to be built in this period and G H Hodgkinson applied to build a shoeing forge in 1895.  From 1900 to 1902, 11 more shop fronts were converted in Albany Rd and 12 in the period 1903 to 1908.  Conversion also continued in City Rd e.g. at no 169 when a house was converted into 3 shops, in 2005 the site of Rent Direct.

Cardiff postcard
66 Albany Road before it had been redeveloped into a shop.

By 1912 Albany Rd is a tree-lined road with a line of tram poles running along the centre, removed by 1925 (CY 10:24).  Occupations include tripe sellers in 1910 (CY 10:53) and W H Bishop and Son, sanitary engineers at no 60 (Cardiff Dir 1910).  Cardiff Co-operative Society had premises at no 69 in 1907, as did E Snook at nos 52-54 City Rd and 113-115 Albany Rd.  Land tax returns for 1910 record a G H Snook as residing at no 126 City Rd and owning premises at no 3, but the Burgess Roll for  1911 records Geo Hill Snook as living at no 30 The Parade and owning property at no 126 City Rd!

From 1910 garages or motorhouses became the object of planning applications rather than stables.  10 were built between 1910 and 1915.  Another sign of the times was that Walter Andrews, a son of the mighty Solomon, undertook an apprenticeship in the motor trade in his father’s garage in the former livery stables and in 1910 Daimler cars were introduced into the car fleet, to be replaced by Austin limousines in 1929.

Gaiety Cinema, City Road, Roath, Cardiff
Gaiety Cinema, City Road, Roath, around 1912

Other commercial enterprises in City Rd were Smith & Bedoe, decorators at no 5 in 1910 and William Lamerton, a butcher at no 195 but at no 236 by 1920 (CY8:48).  W H Wormleighton was a sculptor or monumental mason at no 197, next door to the Gaiety Theatre.  T Shapcott is still a fruiterer at no 119a and Samuel Milkins, once of the Bedford Hotel, at no 185.  According to the land tax returns for 1910, Samuel Milkins is also the owner of a house at no 21 City Rd, where Albert Stone is the occupier, and at no 189

John and Minnie Rich at no 103 City Rd seem to have owned a group of properties in City Rd.  Minnie also seems to have owned houses at nos 105 and 109.  By 1920, John and Ethel Rich are living at no 109.

Finally, City Rd celebrated its 100th birthday in 2005, when part of the road, north from the Roath Park Public House to its junction with Albany Rd, was closed on the 10th July.  In addition to dancing and live music, the stalls were filled with displays and exhibitions by local schools and Societies, together with street performance workshops, community information and charity stalls.

City Road centenary celebrations in 2005.

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