With headlines like that I admit I could reasonably be accused of clickbait but I hope like me you find the story of Ethel and the Peacock family fascinating.
Ethel was born in Cardiff in 1907, the youngest of the Peacock family that lived at 21 Sapphire Street, off Clifton Street. She attended Stacey Road Primary School and later went on to take up a career in nursing.
In WWII she was a nurse in London at the height of the blitz. The following accounts speak for themselves so I’ll not try to paraphrase them:
Report from those on duty on the night of the raid:
An extract from the book ‘Southwark in the Blitz’ by Neil Bright:
Ethel Peacock, from Southwell in the Midlands, had worked for the St Olave’s District Nursing Association and was based at the nursing home at Cherry Garden Street. Ethel, who was training as a Queen’s District Nurse, set off from Cherry Garden Street to visit an expectant mother, Mrs Louisa Ludgrove, in Renforth Street. Her colleagues were sheltering in the nursing home cellar, but they made sure Ethel had a strong cup of tea before she set off on her five-minute cycle ride.
Ethel arrived at the property in Renforth Street as the raid was intensifying; she had already seen incendiary bombs find their mark on buildings along the route. She was greeted by an Air Raid Warden, a Mr Walker, who suggested that they should evacuate the property immediately, particularly as the block of flats Mrs Ludgrove lived in had caught fire. However, the patient was in a serious condition as birth was imminent. Other residents of the block had left for the local shelter.
A baby girl, Lillian, was born at 10.30 a.m. the following morning; Ethel had been tending to and comforting her patient all night. Just as Lillian was born, there was a knock on the flat door. A policeman was at the door, ordering them out as an unexploded bomb was about 100 yards away and was liable to explode. Ethel explained that Louisa and Lillian couldn’t be moved; instead, she put her arm across mother and child to shield them from any blast. The bomb exploded, lifting the bed off the floor, but the building held firm and all three survived. Ethel Peacock went on with her midwifery career, working as tutor of midwives at the nursing home, winning a succession of awards for her skill in her chosen field.
‘Southwark in the Blitz’ by Neil Bright
So how did I know that the Ethel May Peacock in these reports was the same person that grew up in Cardiff? Well, that’s where the genealogy research comes in.
I found an entry in the 1939 Register for Ethel May Peacock, born 26 May 1907, a Hospital Sister at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital Nurses Home, Marylebone, London.
I also found Ethel Peacock in the Stacey Road Primary School records book, born 26 May 1907, living at 21 Sapphire Street, father’s name Thomas.
The reason why on report describes Ethel Peacock as being from Southwell in the Midlands is because the Peacock family moved around quite a bit. Fortunately with a relatively unusual surname they were relatively easy to trace.
Again I’ve taken a liberty with the headline for this piece in that Stacey School records show Ethel moved away in 1912 when she would have been just five, so her stay at the school would admittedly been brief.
As for the lady Ethel assisted, Louisa Ludgrove, she was a chocolate packer and lived in Bermondsey. She was born Louisa Rich in 1918 and married Henry Victor Ludgrove in 1940. She passed away in 2000 aged 81. As to what happened to the baby, Lillian, born in the blitz I don’t know.
Harold Peacock – brother
The reason I was looking at the Peacock family in the first place was that I was researching the name Harold Peacock that appears on the Broadway Methodist Church war memorial plaque.
Broadway Methodist no longer exists. The church closed in 1950 when the congregation merged with Newport Road and Roath Road Methodist Churches to form Trinity Methodist Church where the war memorial plaque is now housed. The former Broadway Methodist Church building then became a studio building for the BBC and then later a mosque. The building was sadly destroyed in a fire on 19 Sept 1989.
Finding Harold Peacock was a bit of a challenge. I made the breakthrough when I found a newspaper cutting referring to a Thomas Harold Peacock from Rumney, Cardiff, who was killed in 1918. I was then able to trace the family back to having previously lived in Sapphire Street in the 1911 census.
Second Lieutenant, 1st Battalion, attached to 14th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment
Thomas Harold Peacock was born in Grimsby, Lincolnshire in 1895 the eldest child of Thomas Peacock, a basket weaver, originally from Kimbolton, Huntingdonshire and Ellen Peacock née Bond originally from Southwell, Nottinghamshire. The Peacock family moved to Cardiff in 1906 and lived at 21 Sapphire Street, Adamsdown. In the 1911 census Harold is described as a Commercial Student. He went on to work for some time with H.T.James, Barrister, in Windsor Terrace before moving to the offices of the Vacuum Oil Distillery in Cardiff Docks. The family moved to Whitchurch in 1912, and later to The Grove, Rumney, Cardiff. Harold joined the Devon Regiment in Aug 1914 and received rapid promotion. He fought at Loos in 1915, where he was shot through the left lung. He returned to Britain for treatment. After recovering he served with his regiment and returned to France in May 1918. Harold was killed by a bursting shell on the night of 27 Jun 1918 aged 22. He is buried at the Acheux British Cemetery in France (Plot 1. Row E. Grave 17). Harold is remembered on the Broadway Methodist church war memorial plaque, now at Trinity Centre. Commonwealth War Graves Commission record.
Thomas Peacock – father
Ethel’s father Thomas looks an interesting character. In the 1891 census, aged 21, his profession was described as basket maker and local Wesleyan Preacher. In the 1911 census he was described as a Foreman at the Blind Institution. This was the fine building on the corner of Longcross Street and Glossop Road that later got bombed in WWII. I wonder if Thomas appears in any of the old pictures of the time of the card selling woven produce from the Blind Institute.
After living in Rumney, Cardiff the Peacock family moved to Bridgend and then up to Nottinghamshire. Thomas died in 1949 aged 79 as a result of a cycling accident.
Charles Egerton Peacock – brother
Another of Ethel’s brothers was Charles Egerton Peacock. He also served in WWI but was fortunate enough to survive. He later became a Methodist Missionary and went to Canada where he settled and was ordained into the ministry.
We were contacted recently by a historian working in Tarragona, Spain. They are interested in any information on the Cardiff crew members of the S.S.Stanwell that was bombed in Tarragona harbour on March 15th 1938 during the Spanish Civil War.
The aim of the project in Spain is to remember the British seamen who died during the bombing of the vessels Thorpeness and Stanwell in Tarragona harbour on 1938 and the consequences of the attacks and to make people know who the Blockade Runners were and the important role that they played during the Spanish Civil war.
A report in the Western Mail of 16th March 1938 gave the following information about the Cardiff crew members:
John L. Davies, (“Master”), (46 Claude-road (Cardiff).
D. E. Jones, (“first mate”), (99 Monthermer-road, Cardiff).
D. G. Owen (“second mate”), (Rumney, Cardiff).
N. Harries (“third mate”), (4 Bangor-street, Roath Park, Cardiff).
C. A. Glus (“ship’s cook”) (Bath-street, Cardiff).
We were also sent a photograph from Spain. The ship’s master, John Davies, is believed to be the person in the white hat in the photo.
Our research to date has thrown up the following likely matches and pictures from merchant navy records:
John L Davies – 46 Claude Road – Master
This appears to be John Davies, born in Newport, Pembrokeshire in 1881. In the 1939 Register Georgina M Davies (b.1881) was living at 46 Claude Road (John was not there). In the 1921 census Georgina Maud Davies née Stephens (aged 40) was living in Fern Cottage, Newport, Pembrokeshire, with John Davies (master mariner – out of employment) and her father-in-law John Davies (retired water mariner). John and Georgina had married in 1909 in Barry. Georgina died in Newport, Pembs in 1941 aged 60. We can’t find any record of them having children, nor of when John died. The middle initial ‘L’ appears to be a typo?
D E Jones 99 Monthermer Road- First Mate
This is David Edward Jones, born 1903 in Cardiff to David Edward Jones, a master mariner, originally from Llanon, Cardiganshire and Mary Jane Jones née Williams, originally from Dowlais, Glamorgan. When David was born the family were living at 220 Inverness Place. He attended Roath Park School. In the 1921 census that were living at 99 Monthermer Road and David was an apprentice in the Merchant Navy working for the Western Counties Shipping Company. We haven’t been able to find out if he married as he has a common name. He died in Cardiff in 1981 aged 78. He did have siblings so there may well be living relatives.
D G Owen, Rumney, Cardiff- Second Mate
We think this is David George Owen, born 19 Feb 1895 in Dinas Cross, Fishguard, Pembrokeshire. David George Jones married Lily M Davies in Cardiff in 1924. In the 1939 Register Lily M Owen is living at 65 Wentloog Road, Rumney, Cardiff with, by the looks of it, two children.
N Harries – 4 Bangor Street – Third Mate
We think this is Haldon Osborne Harries, born 1902 in Aberavon. The initial ‘N’ looks to be a typo. In the 1939 Register 4 Bangor Street was occupied by James Osborne Harries (b.1876), a commercial traveller in the clothing trade, and his wife Emily Harries (b.1879) and their married daughter Vera Gwendoline John (b.1908). In the 1911 census Haldon, aged 9, is living with the family is Aberavon. Haldon is living at 4 Bangor Street in 1964 with his elderly mother. The 1911 census for the family when they were living in Aberavon shows no reference to a N Harries and all births were accounted for (i.e. no children away from home at the time of the census). I purchased the 1921 census for the family and again no evidence of an N Harries. Haldon Osborne Harries goes into the merchant navy (the only one of the family to do so). He died in Llanishen, Cardiff in 1987. There are records of him leaving and arriving at various ports, indicating he had a navy career. We can’t find any records of him being married.
C A Glus – Bath Street, Cardiff
We think this is Clifford John Guias, born 1898 in Cardiff to Augustus Guias, a master mariner, who was born in Montreal, Canada and Emma Guias née Turpitt. Clifford was baptised at St Mary’s, Cardiff. He went to school in Grangetown. Served in WWI with the Royal Army Medical Corps, 14th Field Ambulance. In 1942 he records his career as being Merchant Navy, Chief Steward. I admit it is a bit of a jump from C A Glus to C J Guias, but not impossible. He lived at 50 Halsbury Road, Victoria Park, Cardiff. The newspaper article on the Sandwell says he lived at Bath Street which is a mystery, as there is no Bath Street in Cardiff. Also his rank was Chief Steward in some records. Is this too different from Cook or not I wonder? His elderly mother lived in Broadway which gives a Roath connection, thereby making all 5 crew members having East Cardiff connections – intriguing. He died in Bexley, London in 1977. He does not appear to have ever married. His siblings did marry and have children.
Although we think we have identified the men and where they came from, the bad news is that not many of them seem to have been married and have had families meaning that finding direct offspring is less likely. We never give up hope though. If you are a relative of any of these men it would be good to hear from you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tucked away at the intersection of lanes in the triangle formed by Arran Place, Roath Court Road and Roath Court Place, a small bakery has been turning out fresh bread for 110 years. It is very much off the beaten track, and many Roath residents are unaware of its existence. Signs at either end of the lane serving the bakery were put up when the lane was gated in 2013, but these have now faded into illegibility, maintaining the anonymity of the premises. Despite the lack of advertising or “high street presence”, the bakery has flourished, and the Saturday morning queues speak to its popularity. But on Friday 9th September, the roller shutters will descend, possibly for the last time, when the current owner, John Allen, retires.
The bakery was established in 1912/1913 as a purpose-built bakehouse, around the time that the houses on Arran Place and Roath Court Road were being constructed. The developer was the 39 year-old Arthur John Brewer, a master baker, who lived at 135 Monthermer Road in Cathays. The architects were William Ware and Williams, who had been engaged by the Roath Court Estate to design many of the houses in the area.
The design incorporated a patent steam oven at the rear, and the front of the bakery comprised stabling for 3 horses, with a manure store on what is now an open triangle of land where the wheelie bin is sited. Horse-drawn deliveries were made from the premises for many years, until the 1930s. The steam over is still there, visible as you enter the shop. It was converted to diesel fuel by John Allen but was replaced by electric ovens in about 2000.
At some time prior to 1939, William H Adams and his two sons, Douglas (Dougie) and Leslie (Les) Adams took over the running of the bakery, at which time they lived in the adjacent house at 11 Arran Place. The two brothers were involved in running the bakery over the next 40 or so years, Dougie having moved to Cosmeston Street and Les to Blenheim Road. The Adams van was a common sight in Roath as it delivered bread to retail customers. After Les retired, Dougie continued to run the bakery along with his wife, until he retired in 1984 and sold it to John Allen, who then lived with his parents at 39 Roath Court Road, just a stone’s throw away from the bakery. John had studied food technology at college and had worked in Bruton’s Bakery in Grangetown, and was able to buy the business with a loan from Midland Bank, guaranteed by his parents.
The bakery features (briefly) in the 2001 film “Very Annie Mary” starring Rachel Griffiths, Jonathan Pryce, Ioan Gruffudd and Matthew Rhys.
The bakery has kept customers in Roath and further afield well-supplied with bread, cakes, pastries and pizza dough, although the main part of the business has been the wholesale supply of bread and pizza dough to cafes and restaurants in the city centre and as far away as Pendine in Carmarthenshire. Famous customers have included the former First Minister of Wales, the late Rt Hon Rhodri Morgan, who used to call in when visiting family in the area. The business has also employed numerous people over the years, not least local youngsters for whom a Saturday job was almost a rite of passage.
John and his bakery will be much missed, but we wish him all the best in his retirement, and fervently hope that the ovens may once again waft out those mouth-watering smells so enjoyed by neighbours.
Another of our ‘Occasional Papers’ researched be our members in the past, this time from 2008. This paper is best read in conjunction with another written the same year and previously published as a blog: Allotments in Roath – Personal Reminiscences of Margaret Reeves. Unfortunately the coloured map referred to in the paper below is not available but a map of some sorts has been included.
Allotment gardens used to be fairly well scattered throughout Roath. I suspect that they were mostly established on land earmarked for a different purpose and disappeared with the building of Eastern Avenue, Howardian School, Timbers Square, Melrose Avenue …until now there are no allotments left in Roath, the nearest being visible from Allensbank Road where it crosses Eastern Ave or on Highfields Road near its junction with Lake Road West.
On 20 July 1910, under the Smallholdings and Allotments Act 1908, the City of Cardiff confirmed Rules as to the Sale and Letting of Holdings and Preventing any undue Preference in the Sale or Letting thereof. Among much else, the Rules require the Council to keep “a list of the smallholdings intended … and a map or plan showing the size, boundaries and situation of each holding. Every holding … shall be distinguished by a separate number.” Unfortunately, I haven’t found this list in the Glamorgan Record Office (GRO) or the Central Library.
In the Rules, among the conditions placed on tenancies are:
“(h) The tenant shall not without the written consent of the Corporation … erect on the smallholding any dwelling house, toolhouse, shed, greenhouse, fowl house, pigsty or other building or structure whatsoever;
(i) The tenant shall not use or permit to be used any dwelling house or building on the holding for the sale of intoxicating liquors;
(j) The tenant shall not break up any pasture … All remains or objects of archaeological or other scientific interest on the holding are to be the property of the Corporation and the tenant on discovering any such remains or objects shall forthwith report same to the Town Clerk.”
With regard to (j), at least one such “object”, a Neolithic hand axe was discovered on the site between Colchester Avenue and the River Rumney in the 1940s.
LOOKING AT PLANS
GRO has a map dated 1936, coloured green to indicate allotments and striped or hatched, with a Key to divide them into the categories below. There are also some plots coloured pink and marked as allotments but not included in the Key. (I have put green and pink plots in roughly the same area together and added some description).
Permanent allotments, in use as such
Pengam – 7 acres between Rhymney River and the Great Western Railway line.
In pink, 2 sites east of the Great Western Railway and north of Splott Park.
Temporary allotments in use or to be acquired for permanent allotments
Colchester Avenue — 40.68 acres (includes site of the present Howardian Adult Centre and the former School playing fields. There is an oddly shaped “‘bite”’ out of this site to the south where Lady Margaret High School was probably under construction).
In pink, on either side of the Electric Power Station (present Sainsbury’s/KwikSave).
In pink, between Ty Gwyn Road and Railway (extends as far as Fairoak Farm)
Clodian Avenue — 16.25 acres (west of Allensbank Rd – still existing!)
In pink, Allensbank Rd, north and south of TVR (now Eastern Ave).
Permanent allotments, boundaries undefined
North of the Clodian Avenue site above (part of present University Hospital of Wales)
Ordnance Survey Maps are available in the Central Library and GRO and for the early 1900s the Roath and Cathays sheets show:
OS Sheet Dated 1881 revised 1898/99. Allotments shown:
North of Taff Vale Railway, east of Penylan Road (present Melrose and Colchester Avenues). Field Nos.119 and 137.
OS Sheet Dated 1901.Allotments shown: North of TVR, north of Deri Farm. Field Nos. 39, 139, 142.
Splott/Pengam, east of GWR directly across from Biscuit Factory. Field No. 203.
OS Sheet Dated 1919.Allotments shown:
North of Newport Rd, around Tramways Depot. Field No.157.
Area north of above, includes Roath Brook (now Sainsbury’s?). Field Nos. 77, 145, 157.
Around Roath Pottery and Brickworks. Field Nos.138, 139, 136.
Splott/Pengam alongside GWR. Field Nos.174,175, 184, 186, 188 (184 is same field as 203 on 1901 sheet).
Between TVR and Colchester Ave. Field No. 204.
OS Sheet Dated 1936 (not OS sheet – existing and proposed allotments on previous page)
OS Sheet Dated 1947 (surveyed in 1941). Allotments shown:
Albany Road east of Princes Street, opposite Marlborough Road junction (present Timbers Square).
West of Allensbank Rd, north and south of Taff Vale Railway, (present Eastern Ave).
North of Ty Draw Rd and north of railway, immediately west of Convent of the Good Shepherd.
There is more research that could be done on allotments in Roath. GRO holds the minutes of Cardiff Borough Council’s Parks, Open Spaces, Allotments and Gardens Committee and its Smallholdings and Allotments Committee in their Repository. The latter Committee’s minutes extend from 1890-1974 in volumes and the question is, how much of that relates to allotments? Still, it would be interesting…
Ever received one of those invitations where you wish you had a good excuse handy to say no? I challenge you all to beat this for an excuse:- In 1907 Lieutenant Geoffrey Biggs was unable to attend his brother’s wedding in consequence of him being in command of the famous submarine A1 which was acting as escort for the German Emperor.
It took me a while to realise that in 1907 Britain and Germany were on friendly terms and linked by the family ties in the Royal Family.
The A1 Submarine
The A1 submarine wasn’t quite the first British submarine but was certainly a very early one. It had an unusual history in that it sunk twice. She was accidentally sunk in the Solent on 18 March 1904 whilst carrying out a practice attack by being struck on the starboard side of the conning tower by a mail steamer, SS Berwick Castle, which was en-route from Southampton to Hamburg. She sank in only 39 ft (12 m) of water, but the boat flooded and the entire crew was drowned.
One consequence was that all subsequent Royal Navy submarines were equipped with a watertight hatch at the bottom of the conning tower. She was raised on 18 April 1904 and repaired and re-entered service, in time for Geoffrey Biggs to take command of her in 1907. Following a petrol explosion in August 1910, she was converted to a testbed for the Admiralty’s Anti-Submarine Committee. She was lost a year later when running submerged but unmanned under automatic pilot. Although the position of her sinking was known at the time, all efforts to locate her were fruitless. It was not until 1989 that the wreck was discovered by a local fisherman.
Geoffrey Biggs was one of six Biggs brothers who all played rugby for Cardiff. I’ve written about his brother Norman Biggs previously and how he died after being shot with a poisoned arrow. All six brother however have a story worth telling so here I focus on the younger brother Geoffrey.
Geoffrey Nepean Biggs was born in Cardiff on 12 Jun 1885 to John Biggs, a brewer, originally from Cardiff and Emily Sophia Biggs née Clarke originally from Usk. He was baptised at St Andrew’s church on 16 Jul 1885 when the family were living at 37 Park Place, Cardiff. Soon after the Biggs family moved to their new house they had had constructed, ‘Oldwell’ on Pen-y-lan Road.
He was educated at Bath College on a scholarship. Geoffrey enrolled in Royal Navy in 1900 and the following year, aged 15, passed out fourth at the Navel Cadet training ship HMS Britannia, Dartmouth, Devon. He had a successful naval career gaining promotions fast. becoming a Sub-Lieutenant in July 1904 and a Lieutenant in April 1906. In 1904 he gained a distinction when he served as midshipman on HMS Eclipse in the China despite blood poisoning in his right hand. After that he chose became a submariner.
His military records make interesting reading. He was described as trustworthy, capable, processing excellent judgment, zealous, and painstaking. It added that he was very skilful and dashing in making attacks. At the same time he was noted to be not good socially but processed a fine physique and good at all outdoor games.
Geoffrey Biggs went on to command other submarines after working on the A1. A 1910 newspaper article regarding his finances referred to him as Lieutenant Biggs of the ‘submarine B6’ and late of the ‘Forth’. Between Nov 1913 and Sep 1915 he was in command of C16 as the war started. He died on 22 Nov 1916, aged 31, when the submarine he was commanding, E30, is thought to have stuck a mine at Orfordness, Suffolk. He had been awarded the Crois de Chevalier by the President of the French Republic in recognition of services during the war a few months before his death. He was also posthumously awarded the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun. He is remembered on the Portsmouth Navy Memorial and the Bath College Memorial in Bath Abbey.
Model of an E Class submarine
Outside the Navy
Geoffrey Biggs was a good rugby player and played at centre for Cardiff in 1906 versus the Barbarians. He also played for Bath, United Services, Royal Navy and Somerset. I haven’t quite figured out why he played for Cardiff in 1906 as evidently he had moved from Cardiff quite a few years previously. Was it just so that it could be said that all Biggs brothers played for Cardiff I wonder.
In 1910 an order of bankruptcy was made against him. His naval records record that a fifth of his pay was to be set aside to pay his debt. There is no indication as to how the debt arose other than it was for ‘money lent and work done’.
Geoffrey Biggs married Daisy Elizabeth Boys in Portsmouth in 1907. Four of Geoffrey’s brothers married wealthy heiresses but Geoffrey’s marriage seems different. His naval records record that he made ‘a very undesirable marriage’. Daisy was daughter of naval man William Boys. The 1911 census records the following information: he was aged 25, born Cardiff, Glamorganshire, Wales, married, Lieutenant – Royal Navy, resident with his in-laws at 53 Winter Road, Southsea, Eastney, Portsmouth, Hampshire. Geoffrey and Daisy appear to have had one child together, Gilbert Hugh Kellett Biggs, whose birth was registered as Gilbert Hugh Kellett Boys in 1906 but then re-registered again as Gilbert Hugh Kellett Biggs in 1928. In Aug 1923 Gilbert was charged with stealing six books from a bookshop in Southsea. A few month later he left for Australia in search of a new career as a farmer. He subsequently returned to England but died in Brighton in 1929 aged just 23. Daisy Elizabeth Biggs died in Camden in 1981 aged 93.
Jack Petersen was a fine Cardiff boxer, the first man be both a British light-heavyweight and heavyweight champion at the same time. He boxed in the 1930s and was forced to retire at the relatively young age of 25 after an eye injury. Tall, good-looking and articulate, he was a popular fighter and favourite with the general public. He processed tremendous courage but some say he was somewhat prone to injury.
Jack was a humble individual but found his own popularity somewhat tiresome. He liked visiting pubs in the valleys and talking with local miners who had walked miles to meet him, though was not a smoker or drinker himself.
Petersen was the first Welshman to hold the British heavyweight boxing title. He held it on two separate occasions as well as gaining the Commonwealth heavyweight title in 1934. He turned professional at the age of 20 and went on to top the bill in all of his professional fights.
Over 70,000 people went to see him fight at the White City stadium and 53,000 saw him box Heine Muller at Ninian Park.
Jack had won 33 of his 38 professional fights, winning the Lonsdale belt outright in 1935 after two successful defences. The belt was sadly stolen from the family home in 2013. His premature retirement came at the age of 25 due to eye injury.
Jack Peterson’s boxing career if well documented in his biography, ‘Gentleman of the Ring’ by Bob Lonkhurst. In this article we focus on his ties with our area.
Jack Petersen was born John Charles Peterson on 2 Sep 1911 at 52 Monthermer Road, Cathays. He was baptised at St John the Baptist church in central Cardiff on 2 Oct 1911. He was son of John Thomas ‘Pa’ Peterson (b.1885), a gym owner, originally from Passage West, County Cork, Ireland and Malinda Laura Peterson née Rossiter (b.1887) originally from Cardiff.
Jack’s paternal grandparents were living with them in Monthermer Road in 1911. They were Albert Peterson (b.1841), a ship’s carpenter, originally from Stavanger, Norway and Catherine Peterson née Cullinane (b.1853), originally from Cork, Ireland.
The Peterson family may not have lived at Monthermer Road for that long. In 1910, when Jack’s elder sister Kathleen was born, the Peterson family were living at 32 Albany Road. In 1913 when his younger sister Mabel was born the address given on the baptism register was 6 St John’s Square where the Jack’s father had his health health institute/gym.
John Thomas ‘Pa’ Paterson (Jack’s father)
Jack’s grandparents originally came to Cardiff in the late 1880s, no doubt attracted by stories of Cardiff’s rapid expansion as a port. In 1891 they lived at 49 Janet Street, Splott. At the time of the 1901 census they were living at 21 Railway Street, Splott and John ‘Pa’ Peterson, then aged 15, was working as a sawyers labourer.
Sometime over the next ten years he finds his calling as a trainer/masseur and amateur boxer. He had an interest in medicine and is believed to have studied in Norway. He purchased the Lynn Institute in St John’s Square in 1905 where he practiced physiotherapy, osteopathy and manipulation as well as teaching boxing and wrestling. In the 1911 census he describes his profession as ‘instructor of physical culture’, in other places as a Swedish masseur and even a Professor. Pa Peterson was described as a volatile character. His boxing record remains un-chronicled but it is thought that he at one stage boxed the famous Cardiff boxer Jim Driscoll.
Jack’s younger years
Jack Peterson’s commendable biography, ‘Gentleman of the Ring’ by Bob Lonkhurst describes his childhood as being unhappy years. He was one of six children born to John ‘Pa’ and Catherine Peterson. Jack’s younger brother spent some time in a workhouse. Pa Peterson also fathered a child with housekeeper Rebecca Morgan. Sybil Grace Morgan-Peterson was baptised at St John’s in May 1919.
Jack was sent away to school. In the 1921 census he is attending the St Elizabeth Convent school at Lower Bullingham, Hereford. At some stage Jack’s parent’s separated. When Jack returned from living at the convent school he spent much of his time at the Lynn Institute, doing chores and learning from his father. He then attended St Illtyd’s College in Cardiff.
Pa Peterson remarried in 1930 to Enid Williams before moving to Barry. He managed his son’s boxing career for most of his career.
The family’s religious background is somewhat puzzling. The children were baptised in St John’s Anglican church whereas they went to Catholic schools. This is probably explained by the Norsk/Irish ancestry.
Peterson or Petersen?
Yes, it is a bit confusing I admit. It seems the official spelling is Peterson. The birth, marriage and death records all appear to use that spelling. Indeed, Jack’s headstone at Cathays cemetery also uses the Peterson spelling. Petersen is more akin to the traditional Norsk spelling. It was used by both Jack and his father in boxing circles and was the spelling Jack used on his British Boxing Bard of Control application in 1932.
Early boxing career
At the age of 15 his father arranged a three month working trip for him to South America aboard the merchant ship Fairwater. It is said to have toughened him up no end.
Jack developed a love of boxing. He learnt some of basics from his time with Bob Downey at his gym in Tiger Bay as well as naturally from his father. After that he joined the Gabalfa Amateur Boxing Club and soon began his boxing career in earnest.
The peak and culmination of his amateur boxing career was when he won the ABA championship in a fight against Joe Goydner at the Royal Albert Hall in 1931. He turned professional soon afterwards although his father took some persuading, not keen initially for Jack to become a professional boxer.
After his parents separated his mother lived on Mynachdy Road, Gabalfa and his father moved to Kelston Road, Whitchurch which is probably where Jack spent much of his teenage years. He was a scout in nearby Rhiwbina. His dedication to the scouting movement was demonstrated in the fact that in Dec 1931 he boxed in a three round exhibition match against Andrew Pettigrew (of the Pettigrew gardening family) at Rhiwbina Scout Hall the day after he had been involved in a gruelling contest against Gunner Bennett.
In less than twelve months as a professional fighter Jack won three titles and he was not yet twenty one. Jack’s boxing career is very well chronicled in Bob Lonkhurst’s biography of Petersen and well recommended to any boxing fans. I’ve picked out a few snippets of stories related to our local area. In June 1933 Jack beat George Cook in front of a 50,000 crowd at Ninian Park. What interested me was the fact that George Cook and his team had their headquarters at the Claude Hotel in Roath.
On 9 Oct 1935 Jack took time out from boxing to marry 18 year old Annie Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Williams, daughter of an auctioneer. Betty lived at 18 Ninian Road and was herself keen on sport having played hockey and lacrosse for the school.
They got married in Marshfield church, between Newport and Cardiff, where the Williams family originally came from. Press reports say that 3,000 gathered to try and catch a glimpse of the couple despite inclement weather conditions. Jack’s father didn’t attend the wedding leaving the press to question why. The guard of honour was formed by the 1st Rhiwbina Scout troop where Jack was still a Rover leader. The wedding was covered by Pathe News. The reception was held at St Mellons Country Club. One of the bridesmaids at the wedding was Betty’s younger sister Barbara who sadly died in WWII whilst serving as an aircraftwoman with the WRAF.
Jack and Betty lived at 24 Tydraw Road, on the opposite side of the Rec to where Betty had grown up.
In 1933 he visited Cardiff Royal Infirmary when he heard that one of his schoolboy fans Clifford ‘Jimmy’ Laverick was ill with lockjaw after cutting his foot whilst bathing. Jimmy, a schoolboy boxer himself, had been making poor progress until he was told of the visit of Jack Peterson. When Jack walked into the ward he shouted “Who said boxers ain’t good looking?”. Jimmy made a full recovery and later appeared as a guest on Jack’s edition of ‘This if your Life’
Jack announced his retirement in April 1937, the end of a career of one of the most popular boxers Wales has ever seen. He quickly picked up a job working as a journalist for the Sunday Chronicle.
He spent many years in the army as a physical instructor. He became a Major with the Territorials and a Captain in the regular Army but his requests to serve aboard were always declined. Training young boxers with the Glamorgan Army Cadet Forces after the war became his pride and joy. In 1950 he was awarded the Territorial Decoration (TD), a military medal awarded for long service in the Territorial Force and its successor, the Territorial Army.
Tragedy struck in 1945 when his father, Pa Petersen, was found dead in a bath at the Lynn Institute, St John Street in 1945 having been accidentally electrocuted.
In 1938 Jack had stood for the council elections in Plasnewydd for as a Liberal Party candidate and narrowly lost. After the war he was elected to Cardiff City Council in Dec 1951 when he stood for the Conservative Party in the Plasnewydd ward. He stayed as councillor till May 1953 bur did not stand for re-election.
Jack remained an ardent supporter of the scout movement. He was also very much dedicated to developing facilities for the youth of the area in South Wales and did a huge amount of work for the Sports Council of Wales.
He ran a sports shop in Barry but it was not a great commercial success as many of the visitors wanted just to talk to him rather than make purchases.
In 1978 he was awarded an OBE for his services to sport. He had spent 40 years striving to give youngsters opportunities he had missed out on as a boy.
Jack was the subject of BBCs ‘This is your Life in 1957’, filmed in Barry.
The Petersen family later moved from Cardiff to Itton near Chepstow and later to Porthcawl.
Described as a perfect ambassador for the sport of boxing, he was elected President of the British Boxing Board of Control in 1986 and their headquarters in South London is now names Jack Petersen house.
Jack died of lung cancer in Bridgend on 22 Nov 1990 aged 79. People described him as polite and well-spoken, a gentleman in every sense and a great personality. He is buried in Cathays cemetery.
One of Jack’s sons is David Petersen, the successful sculptor. He went to Marlborough Road Primary school and afterwards worked at the steel works in Cardiff before going to college to study art. Perhaps his most famous work is the dragon memorial at Mametz Wood, erected in 1987, where the 38th (Welsh) Division lost about 4000 men.
David Petersen has three sons who are all sculptors and blacksmiths in their own right including Gideon Petersen who made the trophies for the 2015 Young Dancer of the Year Competition.
Roath Virtual War Memorial
In researching this article I came across two of Jack’s family who were lost in conflict and both have now been added to the Roath Virtual War Memorial:-
Norman Peterson was living at 52 Monthermer Road, Cathays when Jack was born there in 1911. Norman would have known Jack for about four years before he went off to war. Norman Peterson served as a Rifleman with the 10th Battalion Rifle Brigade. He died of wounds on 14 Apr 1916, aged 24. He is buried at the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery in Belgium (grave VI. B. 20). His Commonwealth War Graves Commission record states he was son of Catherine and Albert Peterson. This would have made him an uncle to Jack Petersen. It appears however that Catherine and Albert were probably his grandparents making Norman cousin to Jack. After Catherine dies in 1922, Mary Ann Greenfield of Bedford Street, Roath, claims to be Norman’s mother and is awarded his pension. In the 1911 census Norman is working for Pa Paterson as an ‘assistant instructor of physical culture’. A couple of stories appear in the newspapers of him boxing in the same contests as his uncle.
BARBARA SARAH WATKIN WILLIAMS
Aircraftwoman 1st Class, Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (Service Number: 883075)
Barbara Williams was Jack’s sister in law and a bridesmaid at his wedding in Marshfield. She was born on 29 Jul 1922. Barbara joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in 1939. She died on 20 Jun 1940, aged 17, as a result of injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident at Temple Bruer, Lincolnshire. She was in a car with two RAF pilot officers on the Lincoln-Sleaford road during the black-out when it was involved in a head-on collision with a truck. All three occupants were killed. She is buried at Cathays Cemetery adjacent to Jack’s grave . Commonwealth War Graves Commission record. She is remembered on the war memorials at St Edward’s and St Martin’s church.
I first came across Jack Peterson a few years ago when a friend pointed out his grave to me when we were walking through Cathays Cemetery. I took some pictures and put them aside. I happened to come across him again this month as part of my Armchair Travel Challenge where I visit a different country each month ‘in my imagination’ and set about a series of challenges. This month I am in Norway. I was reading about the Norway connections with Cardiff; the Norwegian church in Cardiff Bay, Roldh Dahl and up popped the name of Jack Petersen and his Norwegian background. I thought I would take a look at his background not expecting it to be so connected with us here in Roath, Cathays and Splott.
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.
On the 14th April 1880, Alfred Donald Mackintosh (b.1851) of Moy Hall near Inverness, 28th Chief of the Clan Mackintosh and 29th Chief of the Clan Chattan married Harriet Diana Arabella Mary Richards (b.1857) of Cottrell, St Nicholas. Alfred’s vast estates in the Scottish Highlands covered 124,000 acres, though much of it was moorland with the result that his rent roll, together with the economic potential of the land was considerably less than that which accrued from his wife’s property in Glamorgan even before the Plasnewydd estate was developed.
The Richards pedigree begins with William Richards, a late 17th century Alderman of Cardiff. In the 18th century the family prospered becoming lawyers, clergymen and administrators and were the most substantial family resident in or near Cardiff. Harriet’s father Edward Priest Richards (1831-1856) was the third son of John Matthews Richards (1803-1843). He was named after his great-uncle Edward Priest Richards (1792-1867) who for 40 years was the chief agent of the Marquis of Bute’s estates in Glamorgan and while contributing to the Bute fortune, doubtless did not neglect to increase his own. He also accumulated almost every public office in the county of Glamorgan and the borough of Cardiff and in doing so established a powerful and intricate network of local control.
On the 5th February 1856, Edward Priest Richards the younger married Harriet Georgina Tyler of Cottrell, St Nicholas, 6 miles west of Cardiff. According to an eye witness Edward was short sighted, wore an eyeglass and walked with short steps and a curious little hop. He died during the first year of the marriage, when after having attended a ploughing match dinner, he and his horse were involved in a fatal collision with a cart load of manure in Heol y Plwca (now City Road).
At the time of her husband’s death, Harriet was pregnant and their daughter Harriet Diana Arabella Mary Richards was born at Cottrell House, St Nicholas in June 1857, where she continued to live as a young girl. The St Nicholas Poor Rate Records for 1879 and 1880 show that Cottrell was owned by Gwinnett Tyler, a naval lieutenant, but occupied by his niece, the 22-year-old Harriet Richards. George William Tyler, a nephew of Gwinnett Tyler, inherited Cottrell in 1886 but did not live there. He too had entered the Navy in 1866 as a naval cadet and after 20 years service retired, and sold Cottrell to his cousin Harriet. She could afford it as in 1867 she had inherited the fortune of Edward Priest Richards the elder, who had died that year. She was now a very wealthy young woman.
Harriet married Alfred in 1880 having signed a comprehensive “Ante-nuptial contract of marriage” the day before. Arranged marriages were not unknown between the wealthy and there are in the Mackintosh papers, in the National Archives of Scotland, documents which relate to arrangements made for the care of Harriet Diana Arabella Mary Richards from between 1862 and 1874, as well as a copy of the contract of marriage. The resulting situation seems to have been that Alfred owned the Scottish estates and Harriet the Glamorgan estates. This arrangement seems to have anticipated the Married Woman’s Property Act,1882.
Alfred’s father and grandfather had been fur traders at Detroit in the USA, though the family seat was at Moy Hall, near Inverness. Alfred was born at Moy and was educated at Brighton, Sussex and Cheltenham College. He then enrolled at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst and in 1870 was commissioned in the Highland Light Infantry. The death of his brother in 1876, with no male heir, caused Alfred to become the 28th Chief of the Clan Mackintosh. He resigned from the regular army, but became a Captain in the militia battalion of his local regiment, the Cameron Highlanders.
Alfred and Harriet divided their time between Mayfair, Moy and Cottrell. For the first six years of their married life, they lived at Cottrell but did not own it. Their main preoccupation at Cottrell was hunting, while at Moy it was fishing and shooting. The Glamorgan Hunt was not large, as many were in the 1880s and in 1882 they attended a meet at Llanishen (then described as a rural hamlet) and also supported local steeplechases and point-to-point races. The Hunt Ball was the social event of the year. Alfred and Ella (Harriet’s pet name) would have danced waltzes and performed the Lancers to tunes from The Mikado and Ruddigore. Polkas listed on the dance card were Buffalo Bill, Bugle Call and Hanky Panky! Even more energetic were the gallops Post Horn and John Peel.
Both took their role as landowners seriously. Each Christmas they gave joints of beef and bags of coal to the poorer people. The schoolchildren of St Nicholas and Bonvilston were treated to a Christmas Party every year. This would include tea and cake, a bag of sugared almonds, dips in the bran tub and a march around the Christmas tree, after which everyone was given a present. They gave the Bonvilston Reading Room to the village as a social centre and also donated a cricket pavilion. Finally they organised a Boy Scout troop, paying for the uniforms and equipment and providing an old cottage in which to meet.
A census taken in April 1881 lists their daughter Violet, then 8 weeks old, who was sadly to die 2 years later. Puis Henn the butler is still there as he had been 10 years previously. Maria Jones, age 73, is still the housekeeper but one new face is Hugh Fraser, the Mackintosh piper. There are 15 other staff, including 2 nurses.
The Queen’s grandfather, George V was a friend of Alfred, staying at Moy Hall on a number of occasions. The Mackintosh held several public positions, ranging from Lord Lieutenant of Invernesshire to President of the Highland Agriculture Society. He was also President of the Cardiff Caledonian Society. During the 1930s, Harriet continued with her charitable and social work and was particularly involved with the St John’s Ambulance Brigade.
Alfred died on the 14th November 1938 and was buried in the family vault at Petty near Moy, his piper playing the Mackintosh Lament. He had no direct heir, his son Angus Alexander (b.1885), a Captain in the Royal Horse Guards had died of pneumonia in Canada in 1918. He had been on the military staff of the British Ambassador in Washington. Harriet survived him by two years, living alone at Cottrell, in increasing poor health. She died in March 1941 and was buried at Petty Church. In 1942 the Cotrell estate was sold.
This Roath Local History Society ‘Occasional Paper’ was researched and written in 2009. Refs: Cottrell – Cottrell Park, St Nicholas, Vale of Glamorgan – John Richards (1999). A Short History of the Mackintosh Estate, Roath. Jeff Childs (2005)
Another of our ‘Occasional Papers’ from 2008 supplemented by some photographs and maps – not necessarily of the places referenced in the article. For some reason historic photos of allotments are tricky to find.
I can claim family connections with many of the former allotment sites in Roath. Each allotment had a tool shed at one end with a water butt and, at the other end, a compost heap. We grew the serious root vegetables like potatoes and carrots at the compost end, then runner beans, sometimes peas, then the quick-growing salad crops like lettuce and radish. At the shed end were soft fruits, strawberries and blackcurrant bushes. Between the salads and the soft fruit was a scrubby patch of grass – I think the intention was that eventually the whole plot would be cultivated but we never kept a plot that long! Meanwhile, if the ground and vegetation were dry enough, we sometimes had a bonfire on the middle patch and we children tried cooking jacket potatoes in the ashes (they always came out burned on the outside and raw in the middle).
I have a dim memory of visiting an allotment off Ty Gwyn Rd or Ty Draw Road in the early 1940s; I think it belonged to my great-uncle, Jesse Tanner. My aunt, Joan Tremlett, also remembers this allotment in the 1920s, she says it was near the Convent of the Good Shepherd and her mother (my grandmother) also had a plot there. This was probably the site of my great-grandfather’s market garden, shown in the Street Directories for the 1920s between the Convent and Penylan Road.
The earliest allotment I definitely remember was a plot my mother had on Roath Park Recreation Ground. The allotments stretched from the stream at the Alder Road end to beyond the junction of Ninian Road and Penywaun Place. My grandmother and my great-uncle David (Dai) Edwards also had plots on the Rec.
I started Roath Park Girls’ School in 1946 and used to join my mother on the allotment after school. As well as the runner beans, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, blackcurrants and strawberries, I remember a very large marrow grown on a raised bed which my vegetarian aunts stuffed and roasted. We must have had this plot during the War because most of the allotment holders were elderly men like Uncle Dai who, although very willing to give Mum advice, never offered help with the digging.
I remember this plot very clearly (there’s a photo on Commanet to prove it!) but plans in Glamorgan Record Office for 1936 and 1947 show the Recreation Ground without allotments – perhaps they were an Official Secret!
I’m not sure when the Rec allotments were closed and turned back into playing fields but one summer great humps of red clay were dumped on the playing field side of the boundary fence (we used to climb over them on the way home from school, rather than using the diagonal path from the allotment fence at the Ninian Road end to the bridge near the Ty Draw/Penylan Road junction). I suppose this soil was eventually spread to level the height of the allotments and playing field.
When I started Lady Margaret’s High School in 1949 we could see allotments all around the back and one side of the school, on land which later became the Howardian School building and playing fields. Uncle Jesse had a large plot there and sub-let half of it to my parents. The allotments did not extend right to Colchester Avenue and Barons Court Rd; there was rough ground overgrown with blackberry bushes and a tall dead white tree. Among the brambles there was also a large concrete circle with hooks set into the ground where a barrage balloon had been moored during the War.
Shortly after I started Lady Margaret’s, we moved from Amesbury Road to Connaught Road and the allotment was not so easy to reach. At some time in the 1950s, my parents rented another plot off Albany Rd at the end of the white-washed wall of Roath Court, where Timbers Square now stands. This was a smaller site surrounded by elder bushes. I don’t remember much about what we grew there, but during a couple of summers we picked the elderflowers to make “champagne”. I don’t know the dimensions of the plots but I have the impression that the one on Colchester Avenue was considerably larger than either the Rec. or Timbers Square.
As well as the fork, rake, spade etc our shed usually held folded deckchairs. There wasn’t room for much else. I remember one heavy shower of rain on the Rec when three of us, my mother, myself aged about 7 and my brother in a pushchair, tried to shelter from a heavy shower in the shed, all sticking out at knees and elbows.
So far as I know, there are no allotments left in Roath now, the nearest being the site off Clodien Avenue (visible from Allensbank Road and Eastern Avenue) and there are sites on either side of the Lake, one near the junction of Highfields Road with Lake Road West, the other off Lady Mary Road near its junction with Lake Road East. Unless there may be plots lurking in an odd corner somewhere, waiting to make a comeback.