Ernest Willows – Airship Pioneer

 

Ernest Willows – the aviator

Ernest Willows constructed a number of airships, the naming of which probably didn’t take up too much of his time.  Willows 1, powered by a motorbike engine, was constructed in his workshop in East Moors Cardiff in 1905 when he was just 19 years old.

Willows I in 1905

Willows I in 1905

In 1910, in Willows 2, he succeeded in flying it to the city centre and landing near the City Hall netting him a £50 prize for the first aerial voyage in Wales.   Buoyed by his success and now with a bit of publicity behind him, he did the same three days later, this time in front of a crowd of 40,000. 

Willows II landing outside the City Hall Cardiff 1910

Willows II landing outside the City Hall Cardiff 1910

A new local hero was born.  Ernest advanced airship design in that he made his steerable, something that is no doubt a great advantage if you are trying to get somewhere in particular.

His next notable achievement was to fly from Cardiff to London in Willows 3 and become the first person to fly an airship over the Bristol Channel, something he could hardly avoid doing as it was on the way.

Willows II in the air

Willows II in the air

 

Channel hopping became all the rage and in November 1910 he was the first person to fly an airship from London to Paris and the first to fly an airship over the English Channel at night (and no I don’t know who the first person to do it in daylight was but it probably made for a better spectator sport).  The flight wasn’t without mishap and he had to put down soon after reaching France for repairs.

Ernest Willows arrives in France

French magazine depiction of Willows landing in France – being charged customs duty for the gas he is carrying

You would have thought by now that fame and financial success would no doubt follow but I’m afraid not.  A number of things happened which stopped this, most notably the outbreak of WWI and the invention of the aeroplane.   Ernest did however play a role designing the tethered barrage balloons which prevented enemy planes getting too low over London to seek out their targets.  He spent much of WWI managing the building of barrage balloons in Westgate Street, Cardiff.

The technical achievements of Ernest Willows and his airships  are well covered in Alec McKinty’s biography entitled ‘The Father of British Airships’. and also in a number of other blogs such as Then and Now. and Phil Carradice.  What interests me maybe more is his family history.

Ernest Willows – Family History

 

Ernest Willows was born on 11th July 1886 at No.11 Newport Road in a row of houses known as Brighton Terrace. The houses became part of Cardiff University and were eventually demolished to allow for the expansion of the university.  It seems fitting that the Cardiff University School of Engineering  now occupy the space where Ernest Willows was born.

Ernest Willows birthplace

 

 

Young Ernest Willows

Young Ernest Willows

His father, Joseph Willows, was a dentist who originated from Hull and his mother Evaline Willows, nee Garrett, was born in Bath.  By the age of four Ernest and the family had moved to Queen Street in Cardiff.  Young Ernest started school in Richmond Road and may even have gone to Cardiff High for a short period of time but most of his education was in Clifton College, Bristol where he lived with an aunt.  He was all set to follow his father’s career and started training to be a dentist but evidently didn’t take to it and soon working on airships became his passion, one his parents it seems fully supported.

In 1908 Ernest marries sixteen year old Irene Davies from Haverfordwest in Lambeth, London.  Their first two children Evelyn and Clifford are born back in Cardiff.  Evelyn dies on the eve of her first birthday in Deri Road, Penylan, Cardiff in 1910.  Poor Clifford was to die in 1932 aged 22 in a motorcycle accident on his way to work as a draughtsman in Whitley aerodrome, Coventry.  They have two more children; Dorothy who was born in West Bromwich in 1912 and died in 1980 and Ernest Joseph Denman Willows born in Hendon, London in 1914 and died in 1989, neither of whom married.  So unfortunately it appears there are no living decedents of our hero Ernest Willows.  Ernest did have two sisters, Daisy who died in infancy and Doris.  It is from this line where it gets interesting from a local history point of view where one of Doris’s daughters marries into the Crouch family, the famous Cardiff jewellers.

Ernest Willows 1911

Ernest Willows 1911

Anyway, I digress.  What of Ernest himself I hear you ask.  Unfortunately he doesn’t have a lot of luck either.  He never seems to make a lot of money from his airship business.  In 1921 he loses all his worldly belongings overboard from a ship off the Isle of Wight and ends up living, with his family, in a schooner moored up in Chiswick on the Thames.  His post-war career appears to be based on giving people joy rides in balloons.  One night in 1925, his balloon escapes from its mooring in the Wembley Exhibition and crashes into the house of Sir Hector Rason, a former Premier of Western Australia, wrecking the porch, knocking off the chimney pots and filling the house with hydrogen gas.

Ernest Willows sets off from Cardiff to London

Ernest Willows sets off from Cardiff to London

Ernest Willows life is cut short at the age of just 40 when he died in a ballooning accident in Bedford when taking two others for a ride in the balloon.  The basket gets detached from the balloon and plummets to the ground.  He is buried in Cathays cemetery in Cardiff along with his parents and infant child Evelyn.

Ernest Willows headstone Cathays

Ernest Willows headstone Cathays Cemetery.

 

The Ernest Willows Pub

The name of Willows is remembered in a number of places around Cardiff including Willows school and the Ernest Willows pub on City Road.  Here the walls of the pub are lined with pictures of famous Cardiffians, including of course our hero after which this pub is named.

Ernest Willows Wetherspoons

 

The Ernest Willows City Road Cardiff

A Wetherspoons pub never is never small and cosy with a real fire burning in the corner.  Many are in large old buildings of notable architecture.  I wouldn’t describe the Ernest Willows  in City Road, Cardiff as being of notable architecture.  Art deco would even be stretching it.  The building apparently used to be a garage and also a bicycle shop.  It is however friendly, spacious and has an outside area with its own mini-Gorsedd Circle feature around the side.

What the pub lacks in charm is more than made up for by its fabulous award-winning toilets.  Before you men get too excited, I’m mainly here talking about the ladies toilets, not that I’ve seen them firsthand of course.

The opulent ladies toilets are full of marble and mosaic tiles with a central feature that wouldn’t be out of place in the middle of an Italian town. I’m not sure of the history of the ladies toilets but I imagine the builder was told ‘If you do a good job for us here then we’ve a 1000 more for you to have a go at’.

Ernest WIllows Ladies Toilets

Ernest Willows Ladies Toilets

Albany Road and the 1911 census Suffragette protest

Who would have thought it that an e-cigarette shop in Albany Road was the centre of a Suffragette protest in 1911.  I’m certainly thinking this is going to be a candidate for one of our virtual Roath History plaques.

Cardiff and District Women's Suffrage Society banner, 1908

Cardiff and District Women’s Suffrage Society banner, 1908

Earlier this year I saw an exhibition at Cardiff Story Museum that explained the following:

In 1911 the Woman’s Freedom League (WFL) called for its members to ‘Boycott the Census’.  Their motto was ‘No votes for women, no information from women’.

 They declared ‘Any government that refuses to recognise women must be met by woman’s refusal to recognise the Government ……. we intend to do our best to make it [the census] unreliable and inaccurate

 Boycotters in Cardiff spent the night at 34 Albany Road, Roath. The census record for the premises reads ‘this is the shop where the local suffragettes spent the night of Sunday April 3rd 1911 in order to evade the census & on the authority of Mr R J Watkins, Superintendent Registrar, the estimated number was: Males 2, Females 15, Total 17’.

 The Western Mail reported that ‘it is definitely known that the number exceeded fifty’.

 

1911 Census for 34 Albany Road

Extract from 1911 census of 34 Albany Road, Roath, Cardiff.

Whilst the census boycott didn’t nullify the census results, it did focus the public’s attention on the suffragette movement and its campaign for ‘Votes for Women’.  The outbreak of war however somewhat slowed advancement of the suffragettes’ cause.

Eventually, after the First World War, Parliament passed the 1918 Qualification of Women Act which enabled women over the age of 30 who were either householders or married to a householder, or who held a university degree, to vote  It was not until the 1928 Representation of the People Act that women were granted the right to vote on the same terms as men.

 

Then last month Bernice Maynard posted on the ‘Cardiff Now & Then’ Facebook page a postcard of Edwards & Co Drapers in Albany Road and wondered if anybody knew where in Albany Road this shop used to be.  A number of people rose to the challenge and identified it as being  number 34 Albany Road, the very address where the suffragette protest had taken place.

34 Albany ROad, Roath, Cardiff, Postcard.

Edwards & Co Drapers had closed prior to 1911 and at the time of the census was lying vacant,  but the postcard probably still gives a good impression of what the premises looked like at the time. Today it is the Flavour Vapour e-cigarette shop.

Flavour Vapour, Albany Road, Cardiff

There were many responses to  Bernice’s post.  Someone shared a Western Mail newspaper article relating to the protest and someone pointed towards a copy of the 1911 census return for the premises. Many thanks to Bernice Maynard , Pat Allen, Jackie Lewis and others for sharing their research and to the ‘Cardiff Now & Then’ Facebook page.

The interesting newspaper article, supplemented with some pictures found elsewhere, follows below.

 

Suffragette Protest for the 1911 Census – WESTERN MAIL

Password of the Ladies
“ESCAPE FROM THE CENSUS IN CARDIFF.”
HOW A SECRET WAS WELL KEPT.
NIGHT IN UNTENANTED HOUSING.
EARLY MORNING CALL BY REGISTRAR.

None of the suffragettes who were successful in evading the census was prepared on Monday to give any hint as to the number who spent the night in the untenanted house in Albany Road, Cardiff. Reticence on this point was only to be expected for it was hardly likely that they would give any information which would nullify their all-night vigil.  It is definitely known however that the number exceeded fifty, and while the majority of them belonged to the Social and Political Union, some of the members of the Women’s Freedom League and the Cardiff and District Suffrage Society joined in the scheme. Those concerned displayed unrestrained delight that they had kept their plans a secret and had thus been able to “diddle the enumerators” and cheat the Registrar-General.

The story of the scheme was related in Monday’s Western Mail, but it was not known until the early morning where it was being carried out.  It transpires that Miss Barratt of Newport, acting on behalf of the Social and Political Union, had secured the use of commodious premises, part of which is a shop in Albany Road no 34.  The ladies turned up singly or in two’s during the evening and, in order not to create suspicion, they made their way to the premises through the back lane.  None was admitted until she had given the appropriate password “Escape.”
The night was spent in the sitting-rooms of the houses, where fires had been lit early in the evening. A large number of chairs had been secretly conveyed into the building, but those were nothing like sufficient for those who turned up, and many had to lay on the floors. They had, fortunately, taken the precaution of having a good supply of rugs, cushions and pillows.

During the night the ladies were visited by police officers, and one of the census enumerators handed two census forms to one of the ladies. These were however refused and the enumerator then threw the forms on the floor requesting that they should be properly filled up. The only reply he received was that they would not be touched and that they should have been delivered on Saturday.  The request of the enumerator was not complied with, and when the ladies left, between seven and eight o’clock in the morning- they did so in small batches – they had what satisfaction is afforded in believing that they had prevented a complete census of Cardiff’s citizens. They did not however return to their homes until late afternoon, and after having breakfast at various restaurants, they either took long walks in the country or spent their time in the Free Library.

One of the party told our reporter that the night was pleasantly spent, and none of them had the slightest cause to regret their attempt to “spoil the census.” Everybody she said, “brought a stock of refreshments. and, after our supper party we talked for hours, and when this morning was well advanced we played cards. It was certainly an interesting experience, and if it served to show the ludicrousness of shutting out of the Parliamentary franchise all of the women of the country well -we are satisfied.”

Votes for Women 1911 poster

Newspaper “Beds”

HOW THE LADIES SPENT THE NIGHT

Mrs Keating Hill, interviewed by a Western Mail reporter, described the scheme as “thoroughly interesting and more successful than we at first thought it would be.”

Asked how many turned up, Mrs Hill replied, “We were a large family of about – well, how many do you think? I really didn’t count them.”
Mrs Hill went on to relate how the night was spent. “Although we had before us the prospect of a night’s ‘dossing,’” she said, “everybody was in gay spirits, and the proceedings opened with a ‘reception.’  Then we had to divide forces, because we all could not possibly spend the night in the same room. Things were exceedingly comfortable. There were bright fires in the grates, and we had a plentiful supply of refreshments.  We had to be cautious in regard to light, as we knew police would be keeping a sharp look-out for us, but we had treated the window with whiting, and were able to burn candles with some amount of safety.  After midnight some of the party wrapped themselves up in their rugs and went to sleep, their ‘bed’ consisting of a newspaper spread on the floor.  Others preferred to do some crochet work.  In our room we were fortunate enough to have a clever fortune teller, and she provided an interesting entertainment and of course we talked for hours.”
“There were certainly some diverting incidents during the night.  We soon discovered that we were being ‘looked for,’ and occasionally men peered in through the front window.  Then of course we spoke in whispered tones, so as not to give the game up.  We could hear and thoroughly enjoyed the heated argument between a police officer and a gentleman who had been peeping into the shop, and who turned out to be a Western Mail man.  He was certainly well on the scent at that time, but had he continued knocking we should probably not have answered the door just then.”

Cardiff libraties

Photo: Cardiff Libraries

VISIT BY THE POLICE

“Later a couple of policemen came and hammered at the door, and demanded to know what we were doing on the premises.  ‘The occupier’ was adamant, and a policeman might just as well have endeavoured to get a tramcar to discuss philosophy as to question her.  Fancy, the police wanted to go through the door, but we would not allow them: and them came two more officers and a lady inspector, but it was all of no avail, and the census man who followed was met with no greater measure of success.”

“We all remained at the house until about seven o’clock, and as there were still some of the police about, and we did not want to give them the chance to count us, we had to watch our opportunity to get away.  We left in small batches and scattered in all directions.  We had a jolly picnic, and we believe we have done a service to the cause we advocate.  Some of the party had their first experience of hard suffragetting, and we are pleased to know that they are not in the least bit daunted.  They expressed themselves as being ready for greater hardships than that, so that the Government will experience more trouble than they have had before.”

a group of Welsh suffragettes departing from Cardiff to volunteer as nurses with the Serbian Army, sometime in 1

A group of Welsh suffragettes departing from Cardiff to volunteer as nurses with the Serbian Army, sometime in 1914 (Photo: Glamorgan Archives)

“SCHEME A COMPLETE SUCCESS”

The census dodging party included Miss Barratt of Newport, who is the organising secretary of the Women’s Social and Political Union for South Wales.  Seen by one of our reporters on Monday Miss Barratt remarked that the scheme had been a complete success, and that they had all spent a thoroughly enjoyable night.
“We certainly hadn’t a dull moment in the room I was in,” Miss Barratt went on, “and if we were not listening to entertaining discussions on the situation and the cause, we were able to watch some of the ladies playing their best trump cards in whist.  Of course we did not play cards on Sunday night- we waited for that until the early hours of Monday morning.”
Referring to the visits of the police, Miss Barratt said they appeared to be under the impressions that they had a right of entry to the house and would not credit that the building had been rented for two nights.  “They had no search warrant,” added Miss Barratt, “and of course they could not come in, especially as the person in charge explained that she was responsible for the conduct of the house.”
Miss Barratt stated in reply to a further query that the majority of the census evaders were educated women, and ranging in age from sixteen to 60. The number also included several married ladies.

Early Morning Call

REGISTRAR’S FRUITLESS VISIT TO ALBANY ROAD

On Monday afternoon one of our reporters interviewed Mr. Jack Taylor, registrar for East Cardiff, who has control of more than 30 enumerators.  Mr. Taylor was familiar with the hiding-place of the suffragettes.  It was he said, the shop and house, 34 Albany road, formerly in the occupation of a draper, and now vacant and to let.
“This morning,” he went on, “at two o’clock, I had some unexpected visitors in the person of Police-sergeant Wootton and Police constable Jack Hudson. They woke me up as registrar and reported that certain females were evading the census.  I got out of bed, and foreseeing certain difficulties, I prevailed upon my wife (who acts as my deputy) to accompany me in the hope that she might be able to identify at least some of the ladies.  We went together, and immediately I rang the bell three ladies came to the door. They carried ‘candle dips’. I asked one of them ‘Who is the head of the house?’ and she said ‘I am,’ but as it was past twelve, she in answer to my inquiries, refused any information.
“Were the police with you?”
“they were outside listening. I asked the ladies for their names, but as the schedules had not been served upon them before twelve they declined to give their Christian or surnames. I did not know them, and I should not know them again, neither do I know how many were in the house, but those I saw were well dressed.  One of the three retired.  I served each of the two remaining with a schedule, but they still declined information. I read to them the section under which they are liable to a forfeiture of £5 each.  All they said was that they were advised not to give their names or addresses because the enumerator had not served them with schedules before twelve.”
“That being so , will they be able to escape the penalty?”
“Certainly not,” answered Mr. Taylor, with emphasis. He added that at half past eleven on Sunday night some ladies were seen to enter the house in Albany Road and at twenty minutes past twelve the police reported the admission of three others.  The officers rang the bell.  The trio made a move towards the door but did not open it.  Mr Taylor will report the facts to the Registrar general.

 

“GONE TO CARDIFF TO EVADE THE CENSUS.”

A prominent gentleman in the neighbourhood of Cardiff has a daughter who is an enthusiastic supporter of the cause, and this young lady was one of those- chiefly school mistresses and assistant teachers – who passed Sunday night in the house in Albany Road. Her name and all the required details had been included in the schedule at home but immediately her father learned of the cause of her absence he put the pen through the name and wrote: ”Gone to Cardiff to evade the census.” The gentleman informs us that a good scolding awaited the young lady on her return on Monday morning.
One person only was found by the police wandering aimlessly about Cardiff streets on Sunday night and was enumerated as one of the homeless.

Women's_Suffrage_Pilgrimage_in_Cathays_Park,_Cardiff_1913

Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage in Cathays Park Cardiff in 1913 (Cardiff Libraries)

A Voice From The Inside.

HOW THE NIGHT WAS SPENT IN ALBANY ROAD
(By one who was present)

Late on the eventful night, along a convenient and little known back street, we approached the House of secret Abode. from the other end of the street’s dimness three forms approached, grotesque shapes gradually becoming outlined into the figures of three women, rugs and bundles, panier-like at their sides.
“Can they be some of us and don’t know the way to it? Shall I ask?”
“Better not,” my companion cautioned. “Perhaps it’s a trap.”
With furtive glances we passed them by. With equally furtive glances they passed us by; when “It must be,” said I, and turning after them called, “Are you a _?”
“ Yes we are!” came the prompt rejoinder, chorused in unmistakable relief. “Oh where is it? We don’t know where to go, and we are afraid to go anywhere.”
“Come along; it’s quite close now. But we must divide.”

So in twos, we dived through the little door, that opened noiselessly and readily at our approach into the garden, and then, with many stumbles and “Hushes,” into the House of Secret Abode, giving vent to a sigh of relief that at last we were safely inside.
Already there was a good crowd of us. From the ”reception-rooms,” sumptuous with a fire, one table and a clean floor, we overflowed into the “bedrooms,” to deposit our rugs in their bareness and select our planks for the night. In many rooms were already stretched on the planks they had chosen prostrate forms, occasioning – for “No Lights” was the order of the House – much stumbling stifled “Oh’s,” and suppressed laughter.
“What’s that? Hush! Oh,” with relief, “It’s only gravel thrown at a window. It’s one of us – she can’t find the way in, Quick; fetch her in or she’ll give us away.”
Gradually all were got safely in, the stealthy tramping to the bedrooms ceased and all sounds died down.
Thunder, thunder, bang –crash!
“Good heavens!” and with the shock of it the floor seemed to depart from our shoulders, and like marionettes on strings we sat up with a jerk.
“Will you open the door?” Bang, bang, “Open the door, I say,” and the impatient hammering began again.
“It’s the police. They’ve found us. Oh!”
Then footsteps were heard hurrying down: the door opened, the voice of She Who Resisted for Us raised in altercation, alternately heard and drowned in the two angry voices of someone who must surely be two huge, angry policemen. Doors were stealthily opened, and from each issued a bold spirit, to hang in darkness over banisters and report in hurried whispers what she heard.
“They want to come in. They want to search the house … They say they will come in … She won’t let them. No, she won’t – protests they have not the right. Oh,” with a gasp that made us all lie back with one accord – flop. “They are coming, I do believe.” And our particular bolder spirit hounded back into our room and fell over all of us in turn in her hurry to hide herself in her rug.
“What will they do?” was asked.
“They can’t do anything,” we all stoutly agreed.
A footstep on the stairs. Coward hearts thumped wildly. “Oh, it’s only one,” And then the re-assuring vision, behind a shaded candle, of Her Who Resisted.
“They have gone to get a warrant to search the house. Mind, answer no questions: give no names: just say you are my guests.”
With a shriek of inextinguishable laughter at the thought of the luxurious accommodation we “guests” had had provided for us, we buried our heads in our rugs till the excitement subsided into harmless gurgles and gasps.
Two hours of suspense. Every creak an alarm: every step in that uncarpeted house the loud step of what we feared. But gradually fear and wakefulness faded, and all rested, save the cricket down in the garden that chirped the night cheerfully away.
W-h-i-r-r-r-r-r, and a bell like twenty alarums for suddenness and violence rang and rang.
“Sh-sh-sh, keep perfectly quiet,” floated up the word from below. Then voices again, not angry, but – argumentative. Snatches were audible:
“Well, I admire you for ——“
“Oh, girls, it’s all right,” came a stifled voice: “he admires us.”
“Well, they won’t, if they come up and see us looking like this.”
Then again silence till the word came up –
“It’s all right. We’re safe.”
Then that House of Stealthy Steps and Stifled Voices became the House of Babel . Doors were flung open, and we trooped out and down the bare stairs to hear what She Who Resisted had to tell.
“Three policemen, a woman, and the enumerator. Yes, positively. But I refused to take the papers in, and, look, they have had to drop them on the floor. And they are gone. They haven’t the right to search.”
“Who wants to give three cheers?” sang out a voice. “No, no, the neighbours. Hush! Now to sleep, and then in the morning we must be up and out before they come for the papers.”
So it was done. Soon after dawn a hasty toilet, assembly downstairs, outer door opened, and we filed silently over the dropped census papers out into the street. And, hey, pronto! We are gone: nameless ones, melted away, no one knows where.
Along my way later dashed a taxi, windows full of fares smiling at me, of hands waving at me, the last batch of the comrades of that unforgettable night – “The rummiest night I’ve ever spent,” as one had quaintly remarked.
And what, after all, is behind it? Not fun, not laughter, not rumminess. Ah, no. It is the spirit of rebellion that is abroad, in growing earnestness and passionate desire for justice and freedom: it is the awakening in women of a new feeling of collective consciousness, of high responsibility for others. And he who reads aright the signs of the time sees therein a tremendous force for good making a higher civilisation, wherein the womanly qualities shall have direct sway in the molding of the nobler race of the future.

End

 

More information on the protests in Cardiff at the time is detailed here

 

 

The sad story of Harriett Fleming

wye velley youth hostel, welsh bicknor 2
Wye Valley Youth Hostel, Welsh Bicknor

 

It had been a splendid weekend. We had rented out Wye Valley Youth Hostel in Welsh Bicknor, near Goodrich.  It’s become somewhat of a tradition of mine to rent a youth hostel in January, something to look forward to after Christmas and a great opportunity to meet up with friends.  As the years pass it’s become less of a question of ‘Where can we put the cot?’ and more ‘Would you mind putting me down for a bottom bunk?’ Vacating a hostel by the midday deadline on a Sunday used to be a struggle as people recovered from a very late Saturday night.  This year however, after a day of walking or cycling in the Forest of Dean, people were clambering for their beds before midnight and up to experience the lovely Spring like day on Sunday.

st margaret's church, welsh bicknor 2
St Margaret’s Church and River Wye, Welsh Bicknor, from Wye Valley YHA

The Youth Hostel is the old rectory building adjacent to the idyllic St Margaret’s church on the banks of the River Wye.  It is part of the Courtfield estate, rich in history.  A young King Henry V even lived here for a while after the death of his mother.   It must have been one heck of a rectory.  The hostel is on three floors and sleeps 46 not including the staff.  How much space does a rector need?  It’s actually the ‘new rectory’ built in the 1800s.  The old rectory was adjacent to the church, which itself was also rebuilt in the 1858.  They had the sense to build the new rectory in an elevated position safe from any flooding.

harriett fleming grave

The grave of Harriett Fleming

I took a peaceful stroll in the Sunday morning sunshine down to the River Wye and St Margaret’s church. My eye was caught by one particular grave, not an ancient one and not a particularly attractive one.  It looks to be covered in concrete which has two holes in it as is the grave once had something on top of it.  The inscription is what interested me.  It reads:

In loving memory of HARRIETT, widow of John Fleming, Ninian Road, Cardiff

Died Dec 29th 1925, aged 60

Gravestones don’t often have an address on and I began to wonder why this one did and why Harriett was buried here in Welsh Bicknor.  The obvious reason seemed to me to be the idyllic setting but was there more to it?  In the week after I got home I started researching Harriett Fleming.

part of 1911 census of 3 ninian road cardiff
Part of 1911 Census of John & Harriett Fleming, 3 Ninian Road, Cardiff

In the 1911 census I found Harriett and John Fleming living at 3 Ninian Road, Cardiff with three children and a servant.  John, aged 52 was a marine surveyor and born in Maryport, Cumberland.  On the census however it stated that John and Harriett had only been married six years and the children were 21, 18 and 15, so pointed towards them being step-children of Harriett rather than her children.  Harriett’s birthplace was down as English Bicknor, just across the river from Welsh Bicknor.  There we are I though, mystery solved, she wished to be buried where she could look over to where she was born.  I almost left it there but felt pulled to do a bit more digging.

3 ninian road cardiff
3 Ninian Road, Cardiff, as it looks today.

In the 1901 census we find the John Fleming was living in Glossop Road, Cardiff with his first wife Jane, their three children, John’s father William, born Holywood, County Down,  and a brother, also called William.  Jane died two years later in 1903 aged 43.  The following year John marries Harriett in Ross on Wye.

31031_a100061-02252
Will of John Fleming

In 1909 John Fleming makes a will, witnessed by a Doctor living next door at 1 Ninian Road and a solicitor.  Maybe his neighbour suggested that making a will was a good idea for in February 1912 John dies and leaves his estate to Harriett, and then on to his children.  Some two years later in 1914 we find Harriett has seemingly moved from Ninian Road and living at nearby Shirley Road. Did her three step-children move with her or were they still at 3 Ninian Road?  And why if she had moved out of Ninian Road in 1914, was the address on her gravestone when she died in 1925?  Time for some more research.

I tried to find out a bit more about Harriett’s background.  I knew from the 1911 census that she had been born in the village of English Bicknor in around 1865.  I hadn’t at this stage been able to find her marriage so didn’t know her maiden name.  Luckily there was only one Harriett in the census records of the right age from English Bicknor and that was Harriett Keene, daughter of Roger Keene a farmer and another Harriet Keene and farming at Cowmeadow Farm.  in 1881 at the age of just 16 Harriett is a school teacher in English Bicknor.  Her parents, Roger and Harriet Keene, had many children and by 1891 had moved away from English Bicknor to another part of the Forest of Dean.  So it still left me wondering why she was buried across the river from her childhood home.

It was then that I found the probate record for Harriett which sadly stated that her body had been found in the River Wye at Welsh Bicknor six months after she had disappeared.   At the time of her disappearance she had been living in Cheltenham.  I’m not quite sure how you can tell the cause of death was drowning is a body has been in the water for six months.

probate of harriett fleming
Probate of Harriett Fleming

Curious to know if I could find out any more I visited a local library, immediately across the road from 3 Ninian Road, the address on her gravestone.  I learnt how to access the newspapers online and found three articles, two explaining her disappearance and one the inquest.

harriett fleming inquest
Inquest of Harriett Fleming nee Keene

The articles explain how Harriett was probably suffering from depression following the death of one of her sisters.  She had been living in Cheltenham but had decided to visit a brother, James Keene, the one closest in age to her and now running his own farm some eleven miles upstream from Welsh Bicknor.  She goes out for a walk but never returns.  A witness thinks he may have seen her on the bank of the flooded Wye and has a short conversation.  Her body is found tangled up in tree roots in the following June.  What a coincidence that her body should be found in the same place she was born some 60 years earlier.

will of harriett fleming
Will of Harriett Fleming

The inquest into her death was held in the Rectory in Welsh Bicknor, the very building in which we were staying that weekend.  She had written a will just a few days before she disappeared whilst staying with her brother at Wier End Farm.  Her will appears to overwrite that of her late husband in that it leaves the bulk of her estate to brother James and her other brothers and sisters but also some to her step-children.

harriett fleming accound of death
Harriett Fleming mystery solved

A sad but interesting bit of research.  I’m still sort of left wondering why she was buried here.  Was it the fact that the family thought it was meant to be as her body was discovered here, next to her childhood home?

What happened to Roath’s War Memorial?

There has been a lot of emphasis this past month remembering the people behind the name’s on the WWI war memorials.

I thought I would try and gather together information about all the memorials in the old parish of Roath.  It’s been an interesting exercise and far from over.  I have visited some, found photographs of others and had commitments from people supply information on others.  I think there are still quite a lot out there that I haven’t yet found or seen photographs for.  I’ve begun to put together a page on the memorials I know about.  Please let me know of any others!

The one big surprise to me was that we once had a stone memorial in Roath.  It stood in front of Roath Road Wesleyan Methodist church on the corner of Newport Road and City Road.  The church was badly damages in  an air raid in WWII but photographs show that the war memorial survived.  But then what happened to it?

Roath Road Wesleyan church and war memorial

The war memorial can be seen in front of the church in this fascinating photograph.

I’ve read recently that war memorial is said to have been taken down round about 1955 and put on a porters trolley “borrowed” from the Infirmary and towed by pick-up van to the Trinity Methodist church on the corner of Piercefield Place and re-erected in it’s forecourt. Does anybody remember it there?  I’d be interested if anyone knows where the memorial ended up.

Roath Road Wesleyan War Memorial

The name of W M Seager, son of the Cardiff shipowner of the same name, can just about be made out half way down the list of names on the right .

On a close up picture of the memorial I can just about make out the name W H Seager.  That would have been William Henry Seager or Willie Seager as he was known.  He was the son of Sir William Seager, Cardiff shipowner.  The Seager family lived close to the church on Newport Road. Sir William commemorated the loss of his son in many ways.  He financed a ward in Cardiff Royal Infirmary.  We also set up the Willie Seager Memorial Trust which had a row of cottages for retired merchant seamen built on the corner of Newport Road and Colchester Avenue.  Those cottages have since gone but new Willie Seager cottages constructed at the eastern end of Westville Road in Pen-y-lan.

Some other war memorials and plaques have fared much better.  The stone memorial outside St Saviour’s in Splott was renovated and looking good.  The Cardiff High School memorial is now on a wall at the ‘new’ Cardiff High school on Cleyn Avenue and students at the school actively researching the names on the memorial and another memorial that includes the name of W M Seager.

The Howard Gardens / Howardian High School war memorial plaque has survived the current demolition of the school and is now safely installed in the new Howardian Primary School.  Only a small fragment of the original Howard Gardens WWI plaque however survived the WWII bombing of the school.

So there you have it.  The list of memorials and photographs I have so far collected are on our War Memorial page (click to open that page and on other links on that page). I hope to add others soon such as the now missing Mackintosh Institute plaque and the nicely restored Vivian Llewellyn memorial in Highfields church.

Roath Road Wesleayan Methodist damaged with scafolding

The bomb damaged  Roath Road Wesleyan Methodist church with scaffolding erected. Evidently it was decided not to repair the church subsequently and demolish the remains. But what happened to the war memorial?

 

Ted Richards – Dec 2018

 

 

The New Roath Mill

There hasn’t been a mill in Roath since 1897 when the last one was demolished.  The new one isn’t very big and looks exactly like the previous one.  That’s because it is a bronze model of the last mill on the site in Roath Mill Gardens.  I say the last one, as there was probably a long line of mills at this location stretching back all the way to the 1100’s.

Roath Mill Sculpture

Roath Mill Sculpture by Rubin Eynon

The new bronze sculpture is by Welsh artist Rubin Eynon and is one of the finishing touches added at the end of the work on the Roath Flood Defence scheme.  Look carefully along the river bank close to the new sculpture and you can still see the remains of the last working corn mill on this site.

Roath Mill c 1890

A busy scene outside Roath Mill in around 1890 (Cardiff Libraries)

Roath Mill can hold a fascination for local historians.  There are a number of photographs of the last building and the people that occupied it. There are also quite a few references in historical documents to mills in Roath.  The big question is, can we say with certainty that the mills quoted in earlier references were on the same site?

Roath Tithe map of 1840

The Tithe map of 1840 showing the mill circled in red and the mill pond upsteam from that. Note the stream overflow going around field 266 and down what is now Marlbourough Road, infront of St Margaret’s Church (174) before rejoining the stream.

The history of the mills of Roath are covered in a number of places.   Our own Project Newsletter back in 1985 summarised some of the history.  A much more comprehensive article by Diane Brook can however be found in the journal Morgannwg (Vol 57 pp77-102) published by Glamorgan History Society, available from the society for £5 or can be  viewed at either Glamorgan Archives or Cathays Library.

Roath Mill sculpture

The article in Morgannwg not only summaries the mill’s history but also describes the geophysical survey and small excavation carried out in 2012 by Cardiff Archaeological Society to look for evidence of earlier mills on the site.  The result of the geophysical survey is that ‘the last mill building was very thoroughly demolished’. Although no firm evidence of earlier mills was found during this work the article concludes that “The known mill site lies approximately at the same location as its twelfth-century predecessor and certainly there was only ever one main corn-mill in Roath”.  A summary of the survey itself is available online.

Roath Mill c 1870

The Mill building in around 1870 (Cardiff Libraries)

The earliest reference to the mill is from Norman times where it is referred to in around 1102 as ‘Molendinum de Raz’ (Roath Mill – Raz being the old name for Roath).  At that time the ownership of the mill was handed over to Tewkesbury Abbey.  You may think that strange but much of the Roath area was owned by Tewkesbury Abbey before the dissolution of the monasteries.

Rubin Eynon Roath Mill Sculpture

The new sculpture in place next to Roath Brook.

The history of mills in Roath becomes somewhat hard to unravel as some references mention Keysham Abbey, another landowner in the Roath area.  There are also references to a ‘fulling mill’.  Fulling is the process of removing oil and grease from cloth.  The later references seem to refer to another mill that may or may not have been on the Roath area.  Nobody said studying local history was straightforward.

Roath Mill painting by Hodkinson

Roath Mill 1878 – Watercolour by W B Hodkinson – Cardiff Libraries

Things would have looked very different around here in the days of the last mill.  The three-story mill building and its associated cottages was probably constructed in the seventeen century.  Records show that the building was renovated a number of times in the 1800s.  In 1801 for instance there is record of a new cast iron wheel and shaft being transported to the site.

Rubin Eynon working on Roath Mill

Rubin Eynon working on the sculpture of Roath Mill (Photo: Rubin Eynon website)

The area upstream had a pond, to hold back water to power the mill.  I’m also struck when looking at some old photos of the area how deep the stream’s channel appears.  The rubble from the mill demolished in 1897 would have later been used to infill the area when it was converted into the park as we now know it that that was opened to the public in October 1912.  That probably explains why trying to find evidence of earlier mill buildings was so difficult.

Roath Mill gardens

The remains of Roath Mill as seen in Roath Mill Park in the 1950s/1960s. Westville Road is in the background.

For much of the 1800s the Evans family were millers at Roath Mill.  Ownership and residents of the mill are much easier to trace during this period as the records still exist.

So next time you find yourself in the Pen-y-lan area, head for Sandringham Road (CF23 5BL) to visit Roath Mill Gardens, have a look at the bronze model of the last Roath mill, then walk around into the park itself and see if you can see the last remains of the mill along the riverbank.

Roath Brook and remains of Roath Mill

Roath Brook looking east downstream and remains of Roath Mill over the river.

 

 

Where to is Roath?

I’m a man who likes to know where he stands.  It wasn’t long after I joined the Roath Local History Society that I started to ask the question ‘Where exactly is Roath?’  Or to use the local vernacular, ‘Where to is Roath?’  It turns out to be a much more complex question than I originally imagined.  The answer to the question varied tremendously and ranged from ‘A large area, bigger than Cardiff itself’ to ‘Roath doesn’t exist any longer’, so I decided to look into it a bit more.

Roath on Council map

Roath on Cardiff Council cycling and walking map – but no boundaries

Back in the twelfth century I get the picture that Cardiff was basically the Castle stuffed full of hungry people who needed feeding, and Roath was their breadbasket…. and their dairy supply and anything else they fancied eating.  The manor house and home farm was believed to be on the site of what is now James Summers Funeral Home on Newport Road.  The mill was in nearby Roath Mill Gardens.

During the twelfth century sometime Roath fragmented into three areas, Roath Tewkesbury, Roath Keynsham and the charmingly named Roath Dogfield. But let’s just look at what those three areas of Roath covered in today’s terms.  Roath Dogfield included most of the town of Cardiff, today’s Roath, parts of Splott, Tremorfa, parts of Cathays, Butetown, Cardiff Bay and portions of Pontcanna, Grangetown, Llanishen and Lisvane.  Roath Keynsham included Pen-y-lan, Cyncoed and significant portions of Pengam, Llanishen, Thornhill and Whitchurch.  The area belonging to Roath Tewkesbury is unclear apart from it including St Margaret’s chapel but looking at it there wasn’t much left of what we now call Cardiff to go around.  You just get the feeling that if there had been a football team in those days it would have been called Roath Rovers rather than Cardiff Town.  It also seems like those guys in Cardiff castle certainly took a lot of feeding.

For anyone keen to grapple yourself with Roath and its early history I can recommend the book written by our vice chairman Jeff Childs, ‘Roath, Splott and Adamsdown – One Thousand Years of History’, as detailed on our publications page.  Alternatively there is a brief history given in The Story of Roath.

Jumping forward some 600 years to the 1700’s and the Parish of Roath has emerged as its own entity and seems to have shrunk.  It encompasses today’s Roath, Penylan as well as Splott, Tremorfa, most of Adamsdown and part of Cathays, and even edges its way into Cyncoed.  The parish boundary of Roath, visible on maps all the way from 1789 up to the 1920  appears not to change.

Copyright: Anne Leaver and Jeff Childs

1840 tithe map of Roath – northern section only (Cardiff Libraries)

So let’s look in a bit more detail where the parish boundary is.  In the west the boundary defined by City Road, Crwys Road and Fairoak Road is easy to pick out.  Going south from City Road the boundary goes down Glossop Road and Meteor Street, cuts across Adamsdown Gardens before picking up Windsor Road and then East Moors Road and straight on into the Bristol Channel.  Overlaying the boundary on a modern map we find that only three quarters of Roath Dock would have been in the parish of Roath whilst Roath Basin would have been outside.

1869 Roath Parish (Map credit: Glamorgan Archives)

Jumping now to the north of the parish we pick the boundary up at the eastern end of Fairoak Road.  The parish boundary cuts north east to Cyncoed Road, up Cyncoed Road for a very short distance before going east, through what was Queen Wood and Well Wood and following Nant Pant-bach brook into the River Rhymney. From then on it’s easy. The parish boundary goes south along the River Rhymney into the Bristol Channel.

The parish of Roath marked on a modern map – well 2003 (Copyright A-Z Map Company)

You’d have thought anyone with an interest in local history would be happy with that.  In a perfect world I would like to push the western boundary just a bit further.  After all what about all that history wrapped up in the Richmond Road and The Parade areas, and how did they manage to get left out of the parish of Roath? Then there is the western part of Adamsdown which includes Howard Gardens etc.  Can’t we argue a case for that too?  And I haven’t mentioned Roath Park Lake yet either which falls outside the parish.  You get the feeling that many places with Roath in the title are not in Roath at all.

So where exactly is the boundary of modern Roath?  Well, if you can tell me where that is you are doing well.  It appears as if I am not the first person to grapple with this slippery question.  Peter Finch in his splendid eloquent way tackles the question in one of his books.  Then there was a project that took a different approach and drew a chalk line around the boundary – theirs included Roath Park Lake.

The Roath boundary as many people would argue it? (Image Credit: The Cashmore Johnson Art Collective Roath Boundary Ramble in 2014)

Surly the Council must know I thought.  Then I discovered that there is no such area as Roath in terms of a council ward any longer, it has been absorbed into Plasnewydd and Pen-y-lan.  In fact looking at the history of the council wards sketched out in the map collection of the Cathays Heritage Library map collection is fascinating.  The Roath boundary seems to change regularly over the years before disappearing entirely.

The 1973-83 council ward boundaries    (Image credit: Cathays Heritage Library)

Current council ward boundaries. What happened to poor Roath? (Image credit: © Andrew Teale)

Fear not folks.  Roath is still here and alive and well.  Pick up a modern Ordnance Survey map, an A-Z and even a Cardiff Council map of cycle routes and alike and Roath/Y Rhath is still there as bold as anything BUT with no boundaries marked.  That’s why I like the old parish map of Roath – I know where I stand with it.  But what is the old map showing me?  Is it the old ecclesiastical parish or the civil parish  of Roath?  Ahhhh – more questions than need an answer!

The name Roath lives on today, here in the form of some street art.

 

Ted Richards