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.
Bob David has kindly allowed us to share these memories of his growing up in Splott. I hope it evokes some childhood memories of yours too. The memories have been supplemented with some pictures supplied by Bob and some extra ones. Thank you for sharing Bob.
I was born in Moorland Road Splott in 1946 and have so many memories.
Splott was a great place to grow up in, people didn’t have much money but there was a great community atmosphere.
When I was young Splott was separated from Roath and Adamsdown by the mainline Railway line, Constellation Street and Pearl Street were in Roath. It was said that in order to enter Splott you had to either cross over or go under one of 5 bridges, either over-Windsor Road Bridge, The Black Bridge, Splott Bridge, Beresford Road Bridge or under—South Park Road or north Park Road Bridges from Tremorfa.
I had Uncles and Aunts all over Splott in Moorland Road, Splott Road, Eyre Street and Bridgend Street. My Great Grandfather Joseph Hill first moved to Splott in the 1890s. Kelly’s directory has him his wife and 8 children living in Habershon Street in 1896. By 1901 he was living in Walker Road and by 1916 he and his wife had moved to South Park Road.
The 1901 Census shows my great grandfather was a yard foreman in the Tharsis Copper Works, about three quarters of a mile from where he lived at the bottom of Lewis Road, between Lewis Road and Portmanmoor Road, Splott.
My Grandmother’s house in Moorland Road backed out onto the lanes between Moorland Road and Courtney Road. The lane door and back kitchen door were never bolted except at night. To get in through the front door all you had to do was reach through the letter box and pull a chain. The lane was our playground During the 1950s. The favourite Street games for Boys was either Cowboys and Indians or British and Germans. In Cowboys and Indians we all had Cowboy hats and Cowboy holsters with cap guns. We made bows and arrows out of bamboo canes bought in Rolfe’s on Splott Road the bows would be carefully bent and strung with string. We’d chose the straightest canes for arrows. Every mother would warn her children that if they weren’t careful when they fired their arrows they’d have someone’s eye out. We had Sheriff’s stars pinned on our jumpers sometimes with small photo of our faces in the middle. We’d pretend to be Lash Larue or Kit Carson. We’d read comics like Six Gun Heroes. Everyone wanted to be a goodie, no one wanted to be a baddie.
When we wanted a drink of water, we just went into our houses via the lane door. The Lane was our play park. We’d play football and cricket in the lane and run races around the garage in the middle. In the Summer people left their front doors and backdoors open to let the breeze blow through the house.
I remember in the 1950s most men rode their bikes to work. The biggest employers in Cardiff were the two steel works, Guest Keen Iron and Steel and Guest Keen Castle works. Most of the men in Splott either worked on the docks or in one of the steelworks. I remember all the workers cycling passed our house in Moorland Road before and after shift changes. I also remember the double decker buses driving past the house full of workers.
I remember all the steel workers bikes piled up against the wall of the Grosvenor pub when the 6-2 shift in the steelworks came out. None of them were locked. We used to get paid a 1d to mind them, though when the owners came out after a few pints we’d often get a 3d or if we were lucky a 6d.
I remember the red glow in the sky when they were tipping the slag ladles over the foreshore and the occasional thump when a ladle was tipped into the sea on a high tide and the slag inside had crusted over and burst in contact with the water.
I remember the sulphur smell from the coke ovens on Lewis Road if the wind was blowing from the west.
I remember the mournful blast from the fog horn on the Flat Holme on a foggy night and I used to imagine the ships out at sea finding their way through the fog.
You could get all your shopping done in Splott Road or Carlilse Street or in the dozens of small corner shops too many to mention. There were also quite a few house shops where someone had turned their front room into a small shop mostly just selling cigarettes, sweets or pop.
Some Shops I remember from the 1950s though I could go on and on
Setchfields later Probert’s, corner of Coveny St and Moorland Square
Barret and Puzey, Habershon Street
Dandos the Newsagents, Habershon Street
Orsolinis, Carlisle Street,
O’sheas Carlisle Street
The Ray Café, Carlilse Street
Audrey’s Café, Carlilse Street
The Three Swifts stores in Carlilse Street
Gazzi’s Chip shop, Carlilse Street
Janet’s Pantry in Carlilse Street (great pasties)
Davis the Chemist, Carlilse Street
Kent’s the Barbers, Carlilse Street
The Newsbox, Carlisle Street
Hunts the DIY shop, Carlisle Street, now Larcombe’s the undertakers
Taylors the Chemist, Splott Road
The Bon Marche Splott Road which at Christmas used to have a luck dip barrel outside
Jack Caravias’s Chip shop in Carlilse street
Manley’s the Newsagents on the corner of Janet Street and Walker Road
Browns show repairers opposite Setchfields on Coveny Street
There were two Co-ops on Splott Road, the Co-op Green grocers on the corner of Habershon Street and Splott Road and the Co-op Grocers on the corner of Railway Street and Splott Road. Tuckers Electrical on Splott bridge where in the 1950s I bought my Dinky toys.
I remember Pengellys Toy shop on Splott Road, a really great toy shop. It was a toy shop and a barbers. The toy shop was run by the wife, a French woman called Cherie. Her husband ran the barbershop behind the toy shop. It was only a small toyshop but it was an Aladdin’s cave. I used to spend hours stood outside looking in the window especially at Christmas. I used to go there to buy toy soldiers. You could buy them singly at 6d (2½p) each. On the run up to bonfire night there was a large glass cabinet on the counter full of fireworks. You could choose what fireworks you wanted: 1d bangers, 3d cannons, rockets, Catherine wheels, hopping jinni’s, Roman Candles, Mount Vesuvius’s, Rainbow Fountains.
A few days before Christmas each year I’d go up to Carlisle Street with my uncle. We’d go to Watkins the grocers and off license where he would buy the Christmas booze, Emva Cream Sherry, QC wine, some flagons of beer and some spirits, usually whisky and maybe rum and brandy, and a bottle of Advocaat. We’d then go to Ollins the greengrocers and buy some tangerines and nuts, before walking back to 168 Moorland Road.
Every Saturday morning I’d go to the kid’s matinee in Splott Cinema. I’d cheer when the cowboys came on and boo when the Indians came on. All the good cowboys wore white hats and all the baddies wore black hats. The last film every week was always a serial and ended with to be continued-to tempt you back the following week.
In those days when you went to the cinema (we called them the pictures) you’d often go in half way through a film and then watch through the films until you got to the bit you came in and then out you’d go. There was always two films and Pathe news and I don’t remember any adverts in the 1950s.
My Grandmother used to love going to Splott Cinema on Saturday afternoons and often she would take me. I remember walking up Splott Road on a sunny warm Saturday afternoon in the mid 1950s on the way to see a film in the Splott Cinema with my grandmother. The shops all had their sun blinds pulled out sheltering the stock in the windows from the hot sun.
I remember floating lollypop sticks and matchsticks down the gutter on rainy days. I remember playing marbles or ‘alleys’ as we called them in those same gutters. The gutters always seemed cleaner in those days, and they probably were because people came along with hand carts and swept them.h I remember my Father used to come home with ball bearings for me to play with. We called them bombers or bomberinos.
I remember when there were roadwork’s in Moorland Road in the mid 1950s. I remember there was a night watchman sat in a little hut with a bright brazier in front of it. I remember seeing himsat there warming his hands when my Uncle Sam walked me home. He’d walk me up to Moorland Road Square then watch me run home from there. I’d wave from the front gate of my house and then he’d walk back home. I remember it made me feel extra secure when I went to bed thinking that there was a night watchman outside all night.
I remember when I was young in the early mid 1950s, the salt and vinegar man coming up Moorland Road pushing a hand cart upon which he had large blocks of salt and a barrel of malt vinegar. He’d cut chunks off the salt using a hacksaw and would break the lumps up with a hammer. If you wanted vinegar, he’d fill a bottle you took out to him with malt vinegar from the barrel. My Grandmother kept the salt in an earthenware pot in the pantry. In those days we had salt not like today where you have table salt and cooking salt, we had just salt.
I also remember a one man band man in Moorland Road. He had a drum on his back, cymbals on the inside of his knees, a mouth organ on a frame in front of his mouth and was playing a banjo. As a child I thought he was amazing. All the kids would follow him as he paraded down the street. The kids would ask their parents etc for money which they put in a cup around his neck. I only saw him the once but the memory has stayed with me ever since.
I remember the huge bonfire that the kids used to build on November 5th on the bomb site on the corner of Bridgend Street and Swansea Street.
I also remember bonfires being built over Splott park.
I also remember when people would set fire to the rubbish in the railway arches on Swansea Street.
Bonfire night was always a busy night for the fire brigade.
As a child I spent 90% of my home time playing outdoors, either over Splott Park, the Tide Fields or Pengam Airport, playing in the aircraft that were used for fire practice including a Halifax bomber and a spitfire.
As my house in Moorland Road backed out onto the railway line I used to hop over the railings and cross the railway tracks to get to Splott Park which was pretty dangerous as in the 1950s the railway was really busy. We also used to put pennies on the track so they’d be squashed flat by a passing train.
I remember lying in bed at night listening to the trains as they rumbled passed. If they were shunting, I’d hear the railwaymen talking and see the glow from the engine’s firebox.
Although I was born and lived in Splott, I went to Metal Street/St Germans school but every Wednesday afternoon we went to Splott Park to either play baseball in the summer or football in the winter.
I broke my leg on the ocean wave/witches’ hat in Splott Park play area in 1955. The park keeper was an old chap called Gussy. I was taken to the park keeper’s hut (which is still there) to wait for an ambulance to take me to the CRI.
The water in Splott pool was always freezing. I used to love the open-air paddling pool in the summer.
The embankment on the Splott Park side of the railway lines was an adventure playground. We used to hang rope swings from the trees and swing out over the railings. I remember one day when the rope broke and a boy was impaled through the thigh on the railings. He was ok after it had healed but had a wicked scar.
I remember doing penny for the guy on Splott Road in front of St Saviours church right next to the bus stop.
I was in the 78th cubs and scouts. The cubs met in St Saviours church hall and the scouts in St Francis church hall.
Although I didn’t go to Splott School in the day I did go to night school there in 1960/61. I remember the smell from the public toilets situated just under the windows in the summer. We also used to go there for woodwork from St Germans school.
There used to be a scrap yard in Portmanmoor Road Lane call Cannes. I remember once my mates and I found an old spring bed base near the vicarage on Courtenay Road. We dragged it down to Canne’s yard and got 6d for it. Cannes had a shop on Portmanmoor Road where I used to buy my air rifle pellets
The article below was written in 2008 by one of our members, the late Cathie Mabbitt (née O’Connor). It is supplemented by pictures featuring some of the shops mentioned in her reminiscences.
I was born in 1930. We lived behind the off-licence in Wellfield Road (Ed: No15 now occupied by Troy Meza Bar). I always say that’s why I enjoy a drink. Our front door was the gate leading into the lane. Next door was Day’s Ice Cream shop and, further down, the Penylan Bakery where my brother was sent on a Saturday evening for 6 pennyworth (2½ new pence) of cream cakes and I was allowed to lick the cream off the paper bag when he came back. It was Louis, who lived there, who let me ride his tricycle to Roath Park School when I was 4.
When I was 5-6 we moved to the flat behind Singer’s Sewing Machine shop in Albany Road, next door to the Misses Bowen’s Wool shop. Next door to them was the Post Office, then I think five private houses before a few more shops, including Mr Roberts the Jewellers in whose porch we would shelter while waiting for a tramcar. The other side of us was the Music Shop, with usually a grand piano in the window. Opposite us was Percy Thomas the Florist, Cadogan’s the Photographer, A G Meek who are still there, a good Ironmonger’s and The Cabin Sweetshop. Further up was “the Direct Grocers, where my Grandfather would sit smoking a pipe until he was served. The Welcome Newsagents, a Sweet Shop, then Woolworth’s – still in the same place now. Littlewoods was on the comer of Diana Street. On the opposite corner to Woolworth’s was either Hopkin Morgan the Bakers or Lipton’s the Grocers. At the top of the road, taking up the entire block apart from [Hopson’s] the Tobacconists, was Collins the Drapers, where you went to the department you wanted, sat on a seat at the counter and, when you had made your purchase, your money was sent in a little capsule on a wire across the store to the cashier and your change winged back the same way. There were lots more shops in Albany Road but these are the ones I remember.
In Albany Road we had a porch and a large front door, a wide hall leading into a large living-room with a big pantry in the corner with a large cold slab for keeping everything cool and fresh. Then a kitchen-scullery and outside a toilet and out-house, where you could light a fire to boil the wash and a large mangle which I don’t think I ever liked using. We had quite a good sized back garden with a good piece of grass on one side where I could play and, on the other side, vegetables and flowers. My Irish Grandfather, who lived with us, grew tomatoes. My brother would be sent out with bucket and spade to collect the droppings from the dray horses and dairy horses. My Grandfather would water it down and always seemed to be feeding his tomato plants with it as my Mother would be getting the tea, with the kitchen door wide open. We had a side entrance opening on to Albany Road. During the day, it was never locked so it was not unusual for my Mother to arrive home to find half-a-dozen of my brother’s friends in the kitchen having tea and biscuits.
When I was 7, I was sent to St Peter’s School and made friends with Mary from Angus Street and Evelyn from Treharris Street. We are still friends now. Summer evenings were spent either in the street, playing all the street games, or else at the ‘Rec’ (Recreation Park) paddling in the stream or climbing down ditches. We could spend hours over there with a couple of sandwiches and a bottle of pop, quite safe with just an occasional lecture on not to talk to strange men.
My parents were credit traders, that is they sold clothes, men’s, ladies’ and children’s clothes and household goods. Customers paid weekly for them. My Mother had started the business and then, just before I was born, my Father lost his job so started working with her. They were out every day and in the evenings the customers would come to the house to choose clothes. Our big front room upstairs was the stockroom and, while waiting their turn, they would sit in the living room having a cup of tea. It was a struggle for my parents. Years later, my Mother told me that sometimes, to pay an urgent bill, they would borrow coppers from my money box (I was always the saver in the family) replacing it when they could. My brother had 6d (six pence) a week pocket money, I had 4d. Out of his, he bought my Mother a 2d bar of chocolate and I bought her a penny bar. The other 3d was spent on a pennyworth of sweets and 2d to go to the Globe Cinema on Saturday morning.
I was almost 9 when war was declared. I remember the day for we all listened to Mr Chamberlain’s speech on the radio. We had the radio two years before in time for [King George VI’s] Coronation. After his speech, I played ball quietly in the garden, wondering what it meant. At first, life carried on as normal with black-out material lining the curtains and the street lights going out, being taught to use a gas mask and carrying it over my shoulder everywhere. My parents sold gas mask cases and black-out material.
We had a large cellar. The coal would be delivered through the manhole in the front but then my Mother would sweep it into a tidy pile and the rest of the floor and steps were washed. (Years later, when the Rent Act altered and the new landlord gave us notice to go, all the new small houses in Roath Court Road had been sold but one came back on the market. There were several people wanting it but the estate agent, remembering our house and how clean the cellar was, thought my Mother deserved it! But I’m going ahead of myself). When the bombing got heavier, a single bed was put down in the cellar for me to sleep, with chairs for the others. A neighbour in the top flat above the music shop would come in most nights, waiting for the sirens to go. The Misses Bowen had a Morrison Air Raid Shelter which they used as a dining table, with cushions and blankets underneath. The houses, I think, had Anderson Shelters.
Albany Road and Angus Street had the first bombs in Cardiff. Most people think it was Canton and Neville Street, but no – it was us. My Mother was in hospital, she had been in the Infirmary but was now in the [William Nichols Convalescent Home] in St Mellons so my aunt with her baby daughter had come from Ebbw Vale to look after us. The sirens had gone but we weren’t paying much attention when there was a huge BANG! and my Grandfather came rushing from the outside toilet with his trousers half-down and there was a crashing of glass as the greenhouse windows broke. The bomb had hit the Antique Shop just past Mr Roberts the Jewellers. They were Canadian friends of my aunt and their eldest daughter was buried under the rubble and killed. I think they all went back to Canada ‘til the end of the War In Angus Street, it was two houses and a boy a bit older than me with big dark eyes, very shy, was also killed.
Next morning, my friend called for me as usual for school but when we came home at lunchtime the barricades were up because sightseers had come in dozens to see what had happened. I remember going up to the policeman to ask to go through the barriers because we lived there and the crowd looking at us with awe.
As the raids increased, Littlewoods had a big fire and St Martin’s Church also went up in smoke. I remember watching both. Because sleep was disturbed we started school later, first 10 am and then 11 am and home at 12 for dinner!
The tramcars started at 4 am, I think they were later on Sundays. We were so used to them, it didn’t disturb us but our visitors always woke up. My brother had a dog, Bubble, part Airedale, who would get on a tramcar in Albany Road, change in town to the one for Pier Head and get off in Louden Square to see my Grandfather who was the park keeper there. Then he would make the journey in reverse. I can remember being on the tram with him.
My Mother didn’t like shopping so, before the War, though we had two grocers within a hundred yards, a man used to call every week to take her grocery order. That was how he earned his living. What we needed otherwise, my Grandfather, my brother or myself would get it. It was this man who advised my Mother to buy an extra bag of sugar and tea and other dried foods each week, in order to have a Store in hand when the War came. My Mother was careful, so we always seemed to have enough and some to share. One customer was a Slaughterman, so often my Mother arrived home with sweetbreads for my Father’s tea, which I shared. My uncle worked for Armours the Meat Importers, so he always gave us the turkey for Christmas.
I never liked margarine and never ate it. When ice cream stopped, we used to buy the cones and imagine the ice cream. When sweets were rationed, I’m sure I must have had my parents’ allocation. I would go to friends in Llandaff every week and come home with eggs and fruit from their vegetable garden. We must have had a big cheese ration, at one time our favourite tea was our own tomatoes fried with melted cheese on top. It didn’t look very interesting but it tasted delicious. When I learned to cook, I made marzipan. with soya flour and toffee with condensed milk. My friend’s father worked on the Docks and one day he came home with a banana, one banana which she took to school and the nuns raffled it for charity!
Tony Dell only played one Ashes match, but it was certainly a memorable one. It was the 1970-71 series in Australia. Dell played in the seventh and final game of the series and was present at the crease when Australia lost the game and England won the Ashes. The game was memorable for all sorts of reasons. It was Ian Chappell’s first game as Australia Captain. It was the game England captain Ray Illingworth led his team off the ground, without permission from the umpires, following crowd trouble. And it was the only time England have completed a test series in Australia undefeated.
So what was an ex-Howardian pupil doing playing for Australia? Well, it’s an interesting and traumatic story that has only recently been told in full in a book about Tony’s life; And Bring the Darkness Home written with the journalist Greg Milam.
Tony Dell was born Anthony H Ross Dell on 6 Aug 1945 in New Milton, Hampshire to Alfred H R Dell and Barbara Dell née Panrucker. He was born on the same day as the bombing of Hiroshima. As such, Wikipedia states his parents gave him the middle name “Hiroshima”, with the initial “H” listed on his birth certificate. Tony’s father joined the Royal Navy in 1934 and after leaving the navy took up a job with Hoover, initially as a travelling salesman. After Hampshire the Dell family lived in Hemel Hempstead before moving to Cardiff. Tony’s father was still working for Hoover and involved with the production factory at Merthyr Tydfil.
They lived here in the 1950s at 52 Llanedeyrn Road. Details of Tony’s time in Cardiff was made aware to me by Graham Barrett who interviewed Tony as part of his Once Upon A Time In The Ashes podcast series. Tony tells how on moving to Wales he attended Howardian High School in Pen-y-lan and started playing rugby. He was in the Scouts and during the 1958 Empire Games ran errands on his bike delivering reports from the swimming and boxing back to the Games headquarters. His father was a keen rugby supporter and member of Cardiff Rugby Club and a friend of Cliff Morgan who visited their house on a number of occasions. I don’t know if Tony ever played in any of the Howardian rugby of cricket teams.
In 1959 Tony and the family moved to Australia where his father had been given the responsibility of opening a Hoover factory. In his interview Tony says he was 12 at the time but was probably 15. This oversight probably stems from Tony having gone through most of his life understating his age by a couple years, an error that has only recently been corrected in the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack.
In Australia he lived in Brisbane and started playing cricket for his school and later commenced a club cricket career. However, he found himself called up to serve in Vietnam in 1967. He served a ten month duty principally as a radio operator in the field.
On returning from Vietnam he took up cricket again. As a fast-medium left-arm bowler he played for Queensland and after just a handful of games was quickly selected to play for Australia. He, like many of the Vietnam vets, didn’t talk about his war experiences. Most people had no idea he’d even served in Vietnam. He played just twice for Australia, once in the famous 1971 Ashes game where he took five wickets in a new-ball partnership with Dennis Lillee and then in 1973 against New Zealand before he walked away from cricket. He is the only Australian Vietnam Vet to have played cricket for Australia.
He married and had three children. After returning from Vietnam, as well as playing cricket, he threw himself into his job in advertising and became a workaholic. His life would however be forever tarred by the Vietnam War. He suffered bad dreams, night sweats and his behaviour at times was belligerent. He was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but it went undiagnosed for some 40 years. His life fell apart. He became separated from his family and at one time was living in his mother’s garage.
A chance meeting with another Vietnam Vet saved him. He was invited along to some meetings, diagnosed with PTSD and got the pension he was entitled to. In 2010 he started his charity StandTall4PTS which aims to help other Vietnam Veterans who had no idea why their lives had turned sour after they came home.
I can’t recall Tony’s test appearance in the Ashes ever being mentioned at Howardian. I wonder if anyone made the connection at the time or if any pictures of Tony playing in Howardian junior teams survive?
I am indebted Graham Barrett for making me aware of this Cardiff connection.
Charles Oswald Williams initially grew up in Llanelly (it became Llanelli, after 1960), born on 26th September 1864. When of age, Charles followed his father into the then successful tin industry in Llanelly.
However, around 1889 he moved to Cardiff and married Elizabeth Jane Bate. Living at 7, Stephenson Street and working as a Collector and Canvasser. In 1901 he lived at 10, Beauchamp Street and was a listed as a dealer in watches, musical instruments and homeware.
An enthusiastic, amateur conjurer, Williams corresponded regularly to all the burgeoning magic magazines with ideas, letters and magic effects.
From 1900 onwards he began a regular exchange of letters with Professor Louis Hoffmann, who was considered to be one of the greatest authorities, of his day, on the theory and practice of magic as entertainment.
Williams contributed to many seminal magic books; Hoffman’s ‘Later Magic’, Charles Lang Neil’s ‘The Modern Conjurer’ and many others.
(Picture credit: Glamorgan Archives)
Now living at 107, Stacey Road, Williams was known internationally and nationally as an inventive and skilled magician. Encouraged by Hoffmann he became a professional magician in 1903, working under the name of Charles Oswald. In 1904 he was on the front cover of the American based ’The Sphinx’ magazine as magician of the month.
On Tuesday, April 10th 1906 at Maskelyne’s Theatre of Mystery in St George’s Hall, London, Williams appeared as one of the performers to appear in the newly formed Magic Circle’s first show, or as they called it, ‘The First Grand Seance’. He opened his act by speaking in Welsh! He was amongst one the first magicians to be a member of the Magic Circles ‘Inner’circle.
Charles Oswald programme (Picture credit: Glamorgan Archives)
In 1913 he started as a magic dealer and was the UK representative for the renowned Thayer Magic Co. of the U.S.
Many famous magicians of the day, when in Cardiff visited Williams. Whenever Chung Ling Soo was appearing in Cardiff his first port of call was always the Williams house, on a number of occasions he tried to persuade C.O. to go into business with him and open a magic depot in London, but always the careful businessman, Williams was doubtful about the continued prosperity of the conjuring industry. Besides he already had a thriving and successful business and he looked upon magic as a hobby. Eventually, Soo convinced Williams to start selling tricks. In addition, any magician Soo met he used to tell them that if you are going anywhere near Cardiff then go and see Charlie Williams, where they would see more new effects than all the London depots put together. As a result of this, ‘Afton House’ 107, Stacey Road, Cardiff would soon become known to conjurers all over the world.
During WW1 he performed charity shows for wounded soldiers, arranging concert parties and on occasions persuading his famous visitors to accompany him to the King Edward VII Hospital (now Cardiff Royal Infirmary) to entertain the soldiers on the wards.
Charles Oswald Williams died on the 30th January 1924. He had eight children.
Charles Oswald Williams has been added to our ‘People of Roath’ page and given a red plaque.
I was asked recently by a friend if I knew anything about Thomas Williams whose name appears on a plaque at the Cardiff Royal Infirmary. I didn’t, but offered to take a look.
I first had a look to see if there was any information readily available regarding the plaque. There is reference to it in a 2010 Wales Online article describing the future refurbishment of the Infirmary and how the plaque will be saved, but that was all I found.
To understand the background of the plaque you have to realise that hospitals in those days were built and maintained with a lot of public donations. The newspapers are littered with fundraising events and lists of people who donated sizable sums of money for its construction. This was way before PFIs and long before the NHS.
This plaque is different from others in the Infirmary that name famous Cardiff dignitaries. This plaque names Thomas A Williams, of 72 Alfred Street, who donated his estate of £404-6-4 to the hospital that was then called King Edward VII Hospital. It seems Thomas wasn’t like the others. He wasn’t a wealthy Cardiff ship owner or industrialist. He was simply a generous working man.
To be honest at that stage I was expecting one of two things; either that I couldn’t find anything given that Thomas Williams is a fairly common name or to find that Thomas was simply what was evident on the plaque, a generous working man, with no family to pass his money onto. I certainly wasn’t expecting to uncover the interesting story I did.
I’ll take you through it in the order I discovered things just so I can share the surprises. It’s also fair to state that although I am fairly confident of my discoveries I am by no means certain and am open to being disproved.
From a genealogical investigation point of view things initially looked like they should be easy. I had a name, date of death and an address. I used FreeBMD to see if I could find his age when he died. Given he died on Jul 30th 1919 his death should have been registered in Quarter 3 of 1919. Ahh, no Thomas A Williams death in Q3 in Cardiff or anywhere in the country nor in Q4 for that matter – strange. There is just one Thomas Williams whose death was registered in Cardiff in Q3 and he was 78 years old.
Another approach needed. He wasn’t living at 72 Alfred Street in the 1911 Census nor did he appear there in the 1914 Cardiff Directory. My first breakthrough came when I found a probate record. Thomas Williams (note the lack of middle initial) of 72 Alfred Street died on 30 Jul 1919 at King Edward VII leaving £545-7-11 in his estate with Robert Evan Salmon, Congregational Minister appointed as Executor of the Will.
Probate record for Thomas Williams
Robert Salmon lived on Morlais Street and was the minister at Roath Park Congregational Church (now Tabernacle) on Pen-y-wain Road. We don’t know if Thomas left instructions with Rev Salmon on how his estate should be split or whether Rev Salmon made the decisions himself (a copy of the Will has now been ordered).
I took a punt at this stage and ordered the death certificate of Thomas Williams who died in Cardiff aged 78 in Q3 1919. In the meantime I continued my research.
My next breakthrough came when I found a newspaper article from Sep 1919 detailing the death in Cardiff of Thomas Williams. It was full of interesting facts for a family historian. It stated his parent’s names, his place of birth (Laleston, near Bridgend), his occupation – he used to work for Taff Vale railway, his places of residence – Cowbridge, Sunnyside – Bridgend and then Cardiff, the fact he was a widower etc. It describes a lovely man:- “Mr Williams was one of the old school, affectionately remembered as one whose social qualities and kindly disposition seemed to make life sweeter, and to brighten the lives of men”.
Armed with the leads in the newspaper article I returned to searching the census records.
I quickly found him in the 1911 Census, living in Sunnyside, Bridgend with his niece Sarah James. He is described as 70, a widower, a ‘retired engine driver loco’, and born in Laleston.
His entry in the 1901 Census was also easy to find. He was living in East Village, Cowbridge, aged 59, a railway engine driver, born in Laleston, and spoke both English and Welsh. He lived there with his wife Sarah, aged 40, born in Barnstaple, Devon.
In the 1891 Census he and Sarah were living in Taff Street, Cowbridge. Thomas, aged 49, is described again as an engine driver and Sarah, aged 30, has her place of birth as Langtree, Devon.
The first surprise came when I went back another ten years and searched the 1881 Census. Here I found Thomas Williams, aged 39, railway engine driver, born Laleston, living in Guilford Street, Cardiff. He is married not to Sarah but to Mary Williams, aged 42, born Guilford, Pembs. Also living in the house is a daughter Mary A Williams, aged 18, born Aberdare.
So it seems our Thomas Williams had been married twice and had a daughter and possibly other decedents. Now I’m beginning to ask questions like why he didn’t leave his estate to the family.
Searching the 1871 Census for Thomas Williams, born in Laleston around 1841, yielded nothing. I think I have found him on the 1861 Census, living in Alice Street, Canton, a 19 years old, working as a railway brakeman, born Laleston, boarding with some engine firemen. In 1851 I have found him at home, aged 9, in Laleston living with his parents, William Williams, a collier from Newton and Elizabeth Williams from Laleston. I found his baptism record, on 27th Feb 1842 in Laleston with his father William then described as a labourer.
The missing 1871 census is still troubling me so I tried a few other angles. I now know he is an engine driver and was married to Mary so I go back to searching the newspapers and found something I certainly wasn’t expecting.
On 23 Dec 1891 Mary Williams had summoned Thomas Williams, an engine driver from Cowbridge, to court to make a case that he should pay her maintenance. The defence however seems to be preparing to make the case that her marriage to Thomas Williams we bigamous but we never quite get to hearing all the evidence as Mary Williams is the worse for wear.
The newspaper description of Mary Williams:
…… The Complainant, a person who might fittingly be described as fair, fat and forty, then entered the box. She wore a bibulous look, and proceeded to give her evidence with incoherency of speech which betokened an association with the contents of certain glass ware. She had only reached the preliminary stage of her testimony, stating that she lived at 29 Stoughton Street, Saltmead, when the Stipendiary interposed, and suggested that the woman had been drinking.
Complainant: (with an air of injured innocence), I beg your pardon Sir, I beg your pardon, I was put in prison for three weeks under false imprisonment, so I dare say gentlemen you will allow me to speak, and if you don’t I shall report you. I’ll offer you up what ……..
A week later, Mary Williams is back in court, this time perfectly sober. In the course of the proceeding we hear how Mary Williams had earlier been convicted of owning a brothel. The representatives of Thomas Williams argued that her third marriage to him is unlawful as her first husband Daniel Phillips is still alive. She claims he is dead and even when Daniel Phillips is called she denies knowing him, “I should never know him if I was to meet him in the street”. Daniel Phillips is sworn in and testifies that Mary Williams and he were indeed married. Case dismissed.
The newspaper reports of the case give some further clues as to the life of Thomas Williams as well as more questions. There are a surprising number of cases involving a Mary Williams in Cardiff being convicted of keeping a brothel. The one referred to in the court case was quite possibly from Aug 1893 and involved 54 Diamond Street.
Given the case was in Dec 1893 and we found Thomas Williams married in Cowbridge in 1891 we are also left wondering whether his own marriage was bigamous. Did his wife even know of the court cases in 1893 I wonder.
We know from the newspaper reports that Mary’s second husband was Robert Skyrme (at last – a less common surname to make searching easier!). He died in 1875 and his probate states he was living at 3 Guilford Street. This confirms that we seem to have the correct Thomas Williams from Laleston who was living there in 1881. It also helps us find the marriage of Thomas Williams to Mary Skyrme in Cardiff in 1876. So we know they were together for at least five years as evidenced by the 1881 Census. We now also know that Mary A Williams, the daughter of Mary Williams is not the daughter of Thomas Williams but the daughter of her first husband Daniel Phillips.
There is another newspaper report of Thomas Williams, an engine driver for Taff Vale Railway, who lived in Cowbridge, helping break a strike in 1902. Was this the same man I wonder? The paper states that this Thomas Williams was commonly called ‘Robin’, could be Robbie, short for Anthony, that middle initial incorrectly included on the plaque – I wonder.
When the death certificate did arrive it substantiated the assumptions I had made. Thomas Williams of 72 Alfred Street had died of bladder cancer aged 78 and was a retired railway worker. I have now ordered his Will. It will be interesting to see what that reveals.
Thomas Williams Death Certificate – Cardiff – 30 July 1919 – King Edward VII Hospital
It looks like we have found out quite a bit about the life of Thomas Williams, but by no means all I suspect.
January 2022 update: I have now received a copy of the Will of Thomas Williams. It is interesting in that it seems he was renting a room at 72 Alfred Street whilst at the same time owning 19 Llantwit Street, Cathays. That information nicely ties the story together for in the 1993 court case featuring the bigamous Mary Williams, she claimed to have been living at 19 Llantwit Street.
In the details of the Will it specified his Estate should be divided as follows:
£20 to his landlady Miss Gray
£20 to the Roath Park Congregational Church, Penywain Road
£20 to the Brecon Congregational Memorial College, Brecon
His Gold Chronometer Lever Watch to Reverend Robert Evan Salmon
All the rest to the Cardiff Infirmary
I have also now also visited Laleston and attempted to find his grave in the churchyard there but without any luck.
In March 1939, in scenes reminiscent of today’s Kabul, Archibald Dickson sailed the SS.Stanbrook into the blockaded Alicante harbour. Rather than load up with the cargo he was there to collect he loaded 2600 refugees trapped there by Franco’s approaching army and took them to Oran, Algeria. Archibald Dickson and his family lived in Pen-y-Wain Road, Roath Park and was tragically killed later that year, aged 47, when the SS.Stanbrook was torpedoed at the start of WWII.
Archibald Dickson was born in Cardiff on 22 Jan 1892, one of thirteen children born to Robert Dickson, a stone mason, originally from Beer, Devon and Thirza Dickson née Hodges originally from Weston-super-Mare. He grew up in the Canton area. He joined the Merchant Navy at the age of 15 and gained his First Mate certificate in 1913, aged 21. He served as a temporary Lieutenant in the Navy in WWI before being discharged in 1919. In 1925 we pick him up sailing to New York on board the Majestic. His profession at the time is Ship’s Officer and his address 9 Princes Street, Roath. He married Rebecca Phillips and they had three children together, one of whom died in infancy. Archibald and Rebecca Dickson and his children lived at 77 Pen-y-Wain Road, opposite the church. He was tragically killed on 18 Nov 1939, aged 47, when the SS.Stanbrook was torpedoed in the North Sea. Archibald Dickson and 19 crew members were lost. He is remembered on the Tower Hill Memorial for Merchant Seamen in London. Commonwealth War Graves Commission record. We have also remembered him on the Roath Virtual War Memorial.
My attention was initially drawn to the story of Archibald Dickson when reading the following piece by Ray Palmer who has kindly allowed me to reproduce it here:
Cardiff has many heroes, though some are better known than others.
For instance, have you heard of Archibald Dickson from Pen-y-Wain Road in Roath? Chances are if you live in Alicante in Spain you’re more likely to know the name than if you live in Roath.
His command was an old tramp steamer called The Stanbrook, which had seen better days. In March 1939 he sailed out of Cardiff to Alicante to pick up a cargo of fruit. But this was the time of the Spanish Civil War, and General Franco’s fascist army was on the brink of victory. His Italian ally Mussolini was blockading the port, making it virtually impossible for vessels to get through. But Dickson was a hardened sailor used to coping with difficulties in his 33-year service, and – anxious to fulfil his contract – he decided to run the blockade anyway, and was able to dock in Alicante.
But what he found there were nearly 30,000 refugees fleeing from Franco’s forces, expecting the town to be bombed, and hoping to catch a ship to safety. Dickson crammed almost 3000 of them onto his ship, and sailed out of the port. Just ten minutes later the expected bombardment of Alicante began in earnest. Dickson made a 20-hour run across the Mediterranean to French-controlled Oran.
But in Oran the authorities kept 1000 men on the ship for weeks, only permitting them to disembark when the ship became a health hazard. Most of the refugees were sent to internment camps and spent years in exile. But those left behind in Alicante suffered far worse at the hands of Franco’s vengeful Nationalists, and thousands were marched off to concentration camps on the outskirts of Alicante.
There was no happy ending for Dickson or his crew either. Just a few months later, World War II broke out. In the early hours of 19 November 1939, The Stanbrook was sailing back to England from Antwerp when a German torpedo hit her port side. She broke in two and sank quickly. Dickson and the 20 crew members died.
The sailor from Pen-y-Wain Road is still regarded as a hero in Spain today, and in April 2018 a bust of Captain Dickson was unveiled in the port. I believe there is also a commemorative plaque in Cardiff Bay.
Another interesting report of the Stanbrook at Alicante was written by Jack Troughton in the Costa Levante News:
SHIP’S Captain Archibald Dickson, his crew and the SS Stanbrook sailed into history when they snatched a cargo of desperate men, women and children from the stricken city of Alicante in the last days of the Spanish Civil War.
The 230ft-long ship left harbour with 2,643 refugees crammed on board; some of the 30,000 desperate supporters of the doomed Republic hoping to flee the country and escape the advancing forces of Nationalist leader General Franco and his fascist allies from Germany and Italy.
In April, a bronze bust of the Cardiff-born seaman was unveiled alongside the existing plaque on the docks, remembering the bravery of the skipper, his 24-strong crew and the ship in March 1939 – the war officially ended on April 1.
And yet the story of the Stanbrook remains largely unknown or forgotten in the United Kingdom; possibly, because the British government with Neville Chamberlain at the helm as prime minister was intent on a policy of appeasement with Nazi Germany at the time.
In Alicante and across Spain the name of Capt. Dickson, his ship, and tale of the maritime great escape are revered.
The Stanbrook sailed into Alicante on March 19, 1939, after a two day voyage from Marseille; using the cover of darkness to evade a naval blockade of the city. The ship remained tied up as the captain waited for instructions and was informed by the ship’s owners to proceed to sea “forthwith” unless he was likely to load a cargo.
SS Stanbrook loaded with refugees
A day later a lucrative cargo of tobacco, oranges and saffron arrived at the port – but so did a host of people looking to escape the fascist forces; many were soldiers and militiamen of the Republican army, along with trade unionists, international brigade members and foreign advisors.
Ignoring orders, Capt. Dickson crammed people onto the Stanbrook and, again at night, set sail for Algeria, bombs being dropped in an air raid as she headed out to sea.
Sadly, six months later in November 1939 and the start of the Second World War, the Stanbrook was lost, torpedoed by a German submarine as she headed to Tyneside from Antwerp. The 47-year-old captain and 22 officers and men perished after the ship broke in two. However, Capt. Dickson was able to tell the story before his death in an interview with the Sunday Dispatch newspaper in London; he said, “Amongst the refugees were a large number of women and young girls and children of all ages, even including some in arms.
End of Archie Dickson letter to the Sunday Dispatch
“Owing to the large number of refugees, I was in a quandary as to my own position, as my instructions were not to take on refugees unless they were in real need.”
“However, from seeing the condition of the refugees, I decided from a humanitarian point of view to take them aboard as I anticipated they would soon be landed at Oran in Algeria.”
He said the crowds at the port were made up of people of all classes; some very poor and “looking half-starved an ill clad, attired in a variety of clothing ranging from boiler suits to old and ragged pieces of uniform”.
The captain noted how some people seemed to be carrying their worldly possessions in suitcases, bags or “tied up in handkerchiefs”.
The Stanbrook’s gangplank soon became choked with people and the captain contemplated leaving the quay – but remained tied up because he was fearful people would be thrown into the water and drowned.
Numbers on board made it impossible for anyone to move, people refused to go down below deck into the hold and if any space was made, it was immediately filled with people.
“In all my experience at sea covering some 33 years, I have never seen anything like it and I hope I never will again,” said Capt. Dickson.
With rumours being spread of an impending air raid — two bombs later fell in the ship’s wake as she left – there was a last-minute rush to get on board before the Stanbrook was able to leave; steering a zigzag course to try and avoid warships mounting the blockade. Capt. Dickson said: “We had only just got clear of the port when the air raid rumour proved to be true and within 10 minutes or so of leaving port, a most terrific bombardment of the town and port was made and the flash of explosions could be seen quite clearly from on board my vessel and the shock of exploding shells could almost be felt.
“The refugees appeared to think that every vessel which moved in sight was a Franco vessel coming to intercept them; and as a large number of refugees were armed, I was rather alarmed at what might have occurred had we sighted a Franco ship.
“Many of the refugees stated that if a Franco vessel did intercept them, they were prepared to sell their lives dearly.”
It was a 22-hour journey to North Africa and conditions were atrocious; there were just two toilets on board and a shortage of both food and water.
When the Stanbrook steamed into Oran, the French colonial authorities first refused to allow her to dock – an angry Capt. Dickson first negotiating the landing of women, children and the elderly; men remained on board for days and were only allowed onto dry land when the seaman underlined the threat of a typhus outbreak.
Captain Dickson’s son Arnold and his daughter Dorothy visited Alicante in 2009 as guests of the Alicante Civic Commission for the Recovery of Historical Memory to attend a ceremony to remember the story of the Stanbrook.
Arnold said they were “lionised”; he said: “I felt very humbled. There must have been 3,000 people there – they wanted to thank my father but he wasn’t there; we were the only way they could express their gratitude. I met two sisters who told me ‘we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for your father’.”
And in 2015, Labour International Costa Blanca Branch arranged for a delegation from the Alicante civic commission to visit Capt. Dickson’s home city of Cardiff where they presented a stainless steel plaque to the then Lord Mayor Margaret Jones, depicting an image of the Stanbrook in Alicante harbour and bearing an inscription in English, Welsh and Spanish.
Also present were Capt. Dickson’s two children, two great-grand-children of the ship’s engineer Henry Livingstone, and members of the Welsh section of the International brigades Memorial Trust.
The 1383 ton cargo steamer Stanbrook was built on the Tyne in 1909. It was originally called Lancer but in 1937 renamed Stanbrook, but the same year also carried the name Polyfloisvos for a short time when used by the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War. The Stanbrook was a blockade-runner in the Spanish Civil War regularly breaking through Franco’s blockades to deliver food and essential materials. In August 1938 it was hit by bombs dropped by Italian warplanes and sunk at Vallcarca, 25 miles southwest of Barcelona. She was later refloated and repaired before once again suffering serious damage after being bombed in Feb 1939. It is not known if Archibald Dickson was Captain on these occasions. In March 1939 it was involved in the rescue of refugees from Valencia (described above).
The sinking of the Stanbrook in WWII is described on uboat.net and wrecksite . At 02.13 hours on 19 November 1939 the unescorted Stanbrook (Master Archibald Dickson) was hit on the port side in the stern by one G7a torpedo from u-boat U-57, broke in two and sank quickly west-northwest of the North Hinder Lightship. The master and 19 crew members were lost. The torpedo had been a tube runner and hit despite of being launched manually due to the short distance to the target.
First Minister Mark Drakeford with the plaque in 2019
The story of the Archibald Dickson and the Stanbrook have been told on many occasions. Here are just a few more. Some are in Spanish but browsers are clever these days and often ask you if you want an English translation.
The old Gaiety Cinema on City Road is under threat of demolition again. Admittedly the iconic domes don’t look at their best any longer. Maybe with some tasteful renovation they could be incorporated into a modern structure making a real feature in this historic street, formerly known as Plwcca Lane, the Castle Road and now City Road. Join us as we take a look at the history of the Gaiety.
Assessing the Gaiety Cinema building in 1995, John Newman refers to it as “presenting an appearance of gay abandon” a marked contrast to its appearance in 2020. Built in 1910 and originally planned as a roller skating rink and cinema the building is listed by Cardiff Council in its List of Local Buildings of Merit (no 297). The Gaiety opened in 1912 with a seating capacity of 800. The picture of the cinema in 1913 advertises the main feature as ‘Thor, lord of the jungles’ (1913) A feature of the design is a pair of small art deco domes on either side of the entrance. The words “The Gaiety” were inscribed above the entrance within a curved head mould. There was also some swag detail on the upper façade.
The Gaiety Grand Cinema was opened by the Lord Mayor, Alderman Morgan Thomas J P for the Splott (Cardiff) Cinema Co. a group of Cardiff business men who eventually owned 7 or 8 cinemas in the suburbs of Cardiff and who by 1913 had changed the name to the Gaiety Electric Theatre. The then manager was a Mr J Schlentheim.
Between 1920 and 1923 plans were submitted for alterations to the roof and the gallery seating. As with most cinemas of the time there were two programmes each week, half the chain showing a film on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and passing it to the remaining cinemas on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. All cinemas were closed on Sundays until the early 1960’s. Unlike today you could enter the cinema at any time, even in the middle of a film and stay to the end of a following screening. Again like most cinemas there were Saturday morning matinees for children.
By the 1930’s there was growing concern about the influence of the Hollywood film industry. Film going in the United Kingdom was most popular in Northern England, Scotland and Wales. Data on consumer expenditure in the 1930’s indicates that the average Welsh household devoted 14.4% of their household expenditure on going to the cinema, well above the national average. In Cardiff the most luxurious cinemas were to be found in Queen Street. The Empire was converted to a cinema in c1933 and The Capitol had opened its doors in 1920. The Queen’s cinema was less pretentious, but in 1929 presented Al Jolson in The Singing Fool, the first “talkie” film released in 1927. By this time The Gaiety had been open for over 15 years and by 1934 had been remodelled and enlarged by William S Wort an architect who increased the seating capacity to 1518.
Renamed as The Gaiety Cinema, prices in the late 1940’s ranged from 1/6d to 2/6d. Plans were submitted for alterations to the toilets and to have neon lighting fitted. Thousands of leaflets were distributed each month advertising forthcoming programmes. By the 1950’s cinema attendance was 45% higher than in 1934 and the British are the world’s most avid film goers. In 1956 The Gaiety Cinema becomes part of the Jackson Withers Circuit, an alias for the Cardiff banker, Sir Julian Hodge, but by 1961 it had closed and reopened as a 7 Day Bingo Hall until 1994. Initially part of the Coral Bingo Hall network, by 1991 was part of Top Rank. Edith Pearce had visited the cinema many times as a child and was later employed in the Bingo Hall. She observes that in her opinion one of the failures of the Gaiety’s design were the two shops on either side of the entrance. Rented out to independent retailers, they continuously changed hands, both in the cinema and bingo eras.
Following a planning application to become a public house in 1998, which was withdrawn, the building was taken over by Spin Bowling Ltd in 2001. After an extensive renovation it became ‘The Spin Bar and Bowling Centre’, now having two floors, a Ten pin bowling alleys and a bar and restaurant area. Sadly it closed in 2006. A planning application to re-open as a bar, entailing further alterations, was rejected by Cardiff Council in 2007. The building remained empty and visibly deteriorating. In 2012 an anarchist group called the Gremlins break into the building and set up ‘The Gremlin Alley Social centre’. They are later evicted.
An evaluation of the state of the building was made in 2014 , when ripped out piping, crumbling walls and a floor covered with needles were found. Councillor Mary McGary then proposed a compulsory purchase order which would have allowed Cardiff Council to dispose of the site with the consent of the owner. The proposal was rejected due to lack of funding.
In 2015 the Wales United Housing Association began negotiations with the then owners Bonnes Mares Ltd to buy the property. Their proposal was to demolish the building and to construct 40+ affordable flats on the site. By 2018 ownership appeared to have changed again and the new owners the MSG Group apply to Cardiff Council for a demolition order to demolish the building on 1 Aug 2019. Recently developer Bonnes Mares has applied for planning permission from Cardiff Council for a temporary car park on the site but has not stated how long this would be for.
Young people will probably find it hard to believe that in the days when the Gaiety opened the films didn’t have any sound. Theatres had pipe organs to provide music and sound effects to accompany the silent film. Should, heaven forbid, the domes ever be demolished, then maybe someone should set themselves up on the pavement opposite with an organ to provide appropriate musical accompaniment in true Monty Python style. Fingers crossed that will never happen.