A look at some of the people of note that were either born or lived in ‘Roath’. Scroll down below the map to get more information on the people. Click on the links in the summaries to take you to more information about these Roathians.
Getting blue plaques installed can be a tricky business with all the costs, permissions required and hoops to be jumped through. We thought we would take an alternative approach and have created some virtual plaques. Why not make them a bit different we thought and have them red rather than the traditional blue.
Franz ‘Frank’ Ernst Baselow is certainly not a household name and would have escaped most people’s attention were it not for the fact he is buried in one of the most ornate tombs at Cathays cemetery topped with a stone carving of a mother reading to a child. Frank was born in the German port of Rostock. In the 1860s his parents, Captain and Mrs Baselow, emigrated to Cardiff along with their four children. Captain Henrich Baselow and later Frank Baselow made their fortune providing supplies for the thousands of ships that docked in Cardiff each year. The family lived in Mount Stuart Square but when it was decided to build the Coal Exchange building on the square they moved house to Howard Gardens. Not too much is known about Frank but in the newspapers a picture of a fairly flamboyant character can be built up. In 1888 he is advertising in the ‘Lost and Found’ section of the paper for the return of a ‘massive gold watch seal with green and red stone’. The finder is promised to be handsomely rewarded. In 1907 he had a diamond tie pin stolen from outside a restaurant in Soho, London. The pin was said to be worth £23, almost £3,000 in today’s money. Read more about the Captain Baselow and his family in our blog post.
Shirley Bassey’s mother was Eliza Jane Start from County Cleveland. Eliza had one child out of wedlock, Doris, when she was 18. She then married Alfred Metcalf and had a second child Florence. A third child arrived a few years later, Ella, no father listed on the birth certificate. Ella was mixed-race.
Eliza was shamed into leaving the north-east. She left her first-born with her parents, Florence with her husband Alfred and moved to Cardiff with her third Ella. She lived for a time on Fitzhamon Embankment. Here she gave birth in 1926 to another mixed-race daughter, Iris Johnson. The father on the baptism certificate was stated as being Samuel Johnson.
Shirley Bassey’s father was Henry Bassey, a merchant seaman from Carabar, Nigeria born in 1895. He had arrived in Cardiff in 1919 and stayed for the next 20 years, living in Tiger Bay and the Docks, and going to sea sometimes and working on the boats where he worked as a fireman and trimmer.
Eliza and Henry had their first child (Eliza’s fifth) in 1926, a girl Edith Grace, when they were living in Loudoun Square. They married the following year and Eliza gave her father’s name as Alfred Metcalf (deceased) who was actually her first husband rather than her father. Perhaps they were never divorced. Henry Bassey went to sea less and less as he got older, instead earning a living by sub-letting rooms to sailors in their Bute Street house and throwing house parties for sailors.
They moved from Loudoun Square to Bute Street, lived there for the next decade and had five more children (ten in total), the last of whom was Shirley Veronica Bassey, was born on 8th Jan 1937 at 182 Bute Street in a room above the Canadian Cafe. Tiger Bay was the heart of the city’s immigrant population and although at the time it had a reputation for illicit activity and prostitution it also had a strong musical culture with many imported influences.
Shirley Bassey would never have known her father for a year after she was born, her father Henry was arrested and convicted of a serious offence and later deported back to Nigeria. Shirley, her mother and siblings moved away from Tiger Bay to nearby Splott sometime between 1939 and 1943. This would have been a move away from a multiracial area and to a mainly white area at the time which probably bought challenges for Shirley in growing up. The lived at 132 Portmanmoor Road, in the shadow of the steel works. It was a poor household and Shirley being the youngest lived off hand-me-down clothes. It was the poverty that she recalls more than any racial issues. “..being coloured was never a problem, never has been. In Cardiff our problem was more basic: it was a four-lettered word – food.” Having said that she recounts the following experience in a 2009 interview in the Guardian:
Mind you, she says, there was one particular teacher who she is sure was racist. “I was the only coloured kid in the school and I swear the teacher I had was prejudiced. She set about me one day with a ruler, up and down my legs and my arms, so I just went pow!” She pulls her arm back and pounds her fist into an imaginary stomach. “Cos the pain was awful. Just to stop the pain.” You hit her? “Course I did.” Were you expelled? “No, she got expelled. Because the headteacher believed me when they saw the marks on me. That’s abuse,” she shouts. “That’s child abuse.”
Her bond with her mother was strong, probably made by the fact that her siblings were evacuated for a time in WWII leaving Shirley at home with her mother. Her mother passed away in 1982. Shirley attended first Walker Road Infants then Moorland Road School before moving on to Splott Secondary School . Her mother still maintained strong links with the Tiger Bay and Docks area and would return there with Shirley and the children to socialise. In 1948 Eliza Bassey married again, this time to another West African sailor, Alfred Joe ‘Bobo’ Mendi, and the man who Shirley would call her ‘father’. He died in 1956 aged 66.
Shirley Bassey had sung since childhood and always had a strong voice. She says that her mum taught her before she went to school. She also had a love of dance from a young age. She attended after-school dance lessons in the docks at ‘Frenchies’ (run by Walter French). It was he who picked her out to be a singer rather than a dancer.
She changed her mind about wanting to become a dancer and changed to wanting to become a singer after going to see Billy Eckstein at the New Theatre. As she was growing up she used to perform in the Lord Wimborne and the Bomb and Dagger close to her house in Portmanmoor Road and also at the pubs and clubs in Cardiff Docks and Tiger Bay. She left school at 14 and went to work at Currans Engineering for a couple of years.
She signed her first contract aged just 16. Also at 16, she was pregnant with her first daughter, Sharon. She has never named the father. It was in 1955 that her career began to take off when she was appearing in a show at the Adelphi in London and was spotted and was offered her first record deal.
In January 1959, “As I Love You” reached number one and stayed there for four weeks; it was the first number-one single by a Welsh artist. In the early and mid-1960s, Bassey had numerous hits in the UK, and five albums in the top 15. Her 1960 recording of ‘As Long As He Needs Me’ had a chart run of 30 weeks.
She is sang three Bond film theme songs: Goldfinger (1964), Diamonds are Forever (1971)and Moonraker (1979). She went on to have a well documented illustrious singing and performing career as well as her own television show in the 1970s. Bassey appeared on the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show, broadcast on Christmas Day in 1971. She performed the official song for the rugby World Cup, “World in Union”, with Bryn Terfel at the opening ceremony at The Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, wearing a gown designed on the Welsh flag. She was made a Dame in 2000 for her services to the Performing Arts and has continued to perform and record with contemporary artists trough her career.
Back in 2007, Dame Shirley Bassey appeared at a sodden Glastonbury resplendent in a £50,000 Julian MacDonald pink dress and wellington boots decorated with faux diamonds. In 2020, with the release of her final album, I Owe It All To You, Bassey became the first female artist to chart an album in the top 40 of the UK Albums Chart in seven consecutive decades.
She has been married twice, had three children, two daughters and a son. Her daughter Samantha, died tragically in 1985 aged 21 in the River Avon. Her ties to Cardiff aren’t particularly strong, particularly after her mother died. That’s not to say she’s not admired by many Cardiffians for her huge musical talent and forging a career against the odds.
Norman Biggs was an outstanding athlete. He became the youngest player to play rugby for Wales in 1888 and that record was not surpassed for another 120 years. When he went to Cambridge university he got injured and took up athletics, running 100 years in under 10 seconds and possibly becoming the world’s fastest athlete. He played in Wales’s first ever Triple Crown team before going on to captain Cardiff RFC. He went onto fight in the Boer War and then continued in the Military but was killed in Nigeria in 1908 when shot with a poisoned arrow. The Biggs family lived on Penylan Hill in a large house, Oldwell, built in the 1880s and demolished in the 1980/90s. Much more about the life of Norman Biggs can be found here.
William Crossman was born in 1854 in Tavistock, Devon. William was a mason by training and came to Cardiff to work as a foreman mason on the Roath Dock at Cardiff in 1884. He became a labour leader in 1892, at the time of the great building trade dispute. As a member of the conciliation committee he did much to bring that strike to a satisfactory end. He was Lord Mayor of Cardiff in 1906 and was knighted whilst still in office by Edward VII on his visit to Cardiff on 13 July 1907, when the King came to open the Queen Alexandra Dock. More about the life and works of Sir William Crossman can be found here.
John Vipond Davies was born in Swansea in 1862. The family moved to Cardiff and lived at Haswell Terrace on Newport Road. He was schooled in Wesleyan College, Taunton before attending London university to study engineering. Between 1880 and 1884 he was apprenticed to Parfitt and Jenkins Engineers in Cardiff. It was also during this time that he played rugby for Cardiff when they won their first cup final against Llanelli. It appears to be in 1889 when John Vipond Davies left Wales for America with Charles M Jacobs that his career as a civil engineer really took off. Perhaps his most prestigious project of the time was the Hudson River Tunnel Project for the Hudson and Manhattan Rail Road company. The boroughs of New York are separated by rivers and it is perhaps interesting to think the key part Welshman Vipond Davies had in its development. After achieving much in New York he moved on to design the Moffat Tunnel through the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. His death at Flushing, New York on 4 Oct 1939 announced him as one of the foremost civil engineers in USA. Read more about the life of John Vipond Davies in our blog article.
Lynn Davies, the The Olympic gold medal long jump winner in the Tokyo 1964 games was born in Nantmoel, near Bridgend in 1942. The son of a coal miner, he attended Ogmore Grammar School before moving to Cardiff in 1961 to attend Cardiff Training College in Cyncoed. He joined Roath Harriers which later merged with Birchgrove Harriers to become Cardiff Amateur Athletic Club with its base at Maindy Stadium. His training runs took in the streets of the area including Roth Park. His coach and mentor was Ron Pickering, the Welsh national coach, who soon identified Lynn’s athletic skills. Prior to that he’d had a promising career as a footballer and had had a trial with Cardiff City. Lynn said of his time in Cyncoed that “Suddenly I was in a place which had a running track, gym and excellent lecturers who helped me. At the end of those three years in May 1964 I was the fittest I had ever been.”
Ron Pickering urged him to concentrate on long jumping and the rest as they say is history. He won an Olympic gold medal in the long jump in 1964 with a jump of 8.07 metres (26 ft 6 in), making him first Welshman to ever win an individual Olympic gold medal and still only British man to win Long Jump gold at the Olympics. Since then known by the nickname “Lynn the Leap”. At the 1964 Olympics he also ran in the 100 metres and was a member of the relay team which reached the 4x100m final. And let’s not forget h was a Roath Harrier at the time. Lynn competed in the next two Olympics in Mexico City and Munich and in Mexico was flag bearer for the British team at the opening ceremony.
Joe Erskine was born in Angelina Street, Tiger bay in 1934. In a way he was always destined to be a boxer. His father Johnny was a booth fighter and it is said his great aunt Ann Moore was a feared bare knuckle fighter. Joe was a good all-round sportsman and a good rugby player as well as boxer but as he grew up he concentrated on boxing. He won the British Amateur Boxing Association Championship in 1953 before turning professional. He won the British heavyweight title in August 1956 when he beat fellow Welshman, Johnny Williams, at Maindy Stadium in front tens of thousands of fans. He later went on to become the British Empire (Commonwealth) Champion when he beat Henry Cooper for the second time, a man with whom he had a series of epic encounters over his career. Erskine was a small heavyweight who outmanoeuvred rather than overpowered his opponents. It is said he was unsurpassed for skill, subtlety and sleight of fist but had a propensity for getting cut. He lived in Roath for quite a time including 2 Keppoch Street and trained locally. One phrase repeated in testimonials about Joe Erskine is ‘true gentleman’. He was a well-respected man throughout his life and sadly died young at 56 in 1990. His packed funeral was held at St Mary’s church attended by sporting greats. More on Joe’s boxing career can be found here.
Ralph Hancock grew up to become an accomplished landscape gardener, designing gardens for the Royal Family and the wealthy of New York and London. He was born in Keppoch Street, moving later to Albany Road and then Ninian Road where he attended Roath Park Primary School.
He started his career in maritime insurance but eventually found success in designing gardens. After one of his designs was installed at the home of Princess Victoria, he headed for USA and specialised in roof garden design. A garden of his design still exists on the roof of the Rockefeller Building. More about the works and life of Ralph Hancock can be found here.
Arwel Hughes was born in North Wales in 1909. He trained at the Royal College of Music in London and in 1965 he became head of music at BBC Wales. He was appointed OBE in 1969 for his services to Welsh music and for organising the music for the Investiture of Charles, Prince of Wales, in the same year. For many years Arwel Hughes conducted performances by the Welsh National Opera. He wrote two operas in Welsh; Menna and Serch yw’r doctor (Love’s the doctor). He also wrote orchestral, choral pieces and hymns of which perhaps the best known is ‘Tydi a Rhoddaist’. It is regarded by many people as Arwel Hughes’ most famous work. Since its composition in 1938 it has been performed and recorded by hundreds of artists and choirs the world over. In 1938 whilst waiting for a train connection at Shrewsbury Station, Arwel Hughes penned the piece ‘in about twenty minutes’ setting the words given to him by BBC colleague and friend T. Rowland Hughes. A plaque commemorating this event was unveiled by his son Owain Arwel Hughes at Shrewsbury station.
Owain Arwel Hughes. Renowned conductor Owain Arwel Hughes grew up at 1 Colchester Avenue, Pen-y-lan, Cardiff, attended Marlborough Road Primary and Howardian High School before going on to University College Cardiff and then the Royal College of Music. He held appointments with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Over the years he has had international appointments too with orchestras in Cape Town, Newfoundland and Aalborg in Denmark. He maintains strong links with Wales and in his time has was proud to be musical director of the National Youth Orchestra for Wales and driving force behind the creation and success of The Welsh Proms. Moe about the life of Owain Arwel Hughes and his early days in Cardiff can be found in our blog post.
David Hurn, documentary photographer, was born in Surrey in 1934 but moved to Cardiff shortly afterwards and grew up in Roath. He attended De la Salle school and later Sandhurst. He shot to fame for his photographs of the Hungarian revolution against the communist regime. In the 1960s he photographed many iconic film and music stars. He is known for taking the shots of Sean Connery as James Bond holding the gun or as was the case an air pistol. He was also one of the first photographers on the site following the Aberfan disaster. On moving back to Wales he initiated a Documentary Photography course which ran in Newport. Still an active photographer he today lives in Tintern.
William McKenzie was born in the village of Oyne, Aberdeenshire in Scotland in 1853. He joined the police force in Lancashire before moving south to Bristol in 1876 where he gained a series of rapid promotions ending up as their Deputy Chief Constable. In 1889 he moved to Cardiff to assume the position of Chief Constable, a position he held for 23 years. Part of his role as Chief Constable was to meet important dignitaries visiting Cardiff. Reports describe him greeting such visitors such as King Edward at Roath railway station whilst mounted on his distinctive grey charger horse. More information on the large part he played in Roath Presbyterian church (now called St Andrew’s URC), the Caledonian Society and his charity work is outlined here.
William Pettigrew designed Roath Park and lived in Roath Park house, the now dilapidated building in the Roath Park Pleasure Gardens. William was born in Scotland and brought to Cardiff when his father Andrew secured a job as gardener in Cardiff Castle. William trained at Kew before working in Scotland then returned to Cardiff to take up the post of Cardiff’s Head Gardener. More about the life of William Pettigrew is available here.
Bernice Rubens was the first woman to win the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1970. She was born on 26 July 1923 at 9 Glossop Terrace, the row of houses opposite Cardiff Royal Infirmary and next door to the maternity clinic. She was part of a Jewish family that had their roots in Latvia and Poland. She attended Tredegaville Infants school, Roath Park Girls School and then Cardiff High School for Girls before going on to read English at Cardiff University. The family moved to Kimberley Road during the war. Her three siblings went on to be professional musicians. Bernice had an early career as a teacher before moving on to be a documentary film maker, but she is mainly remembered for her writing including ‘The Elected Member’ which won the Booker Prize in 1970. More information of her life is in our blog article.
John Sankey was born in 1866 in Moreton in the Marsh in Gloucestershire but moved to Cardiff as a child and grew up in the Roath area, initially on City Road and then Newport Road. He trained in law and became a barrister in and around the Cardiff area. Later Lloyd-George appointed him Chairman of the Coal Industry Commission which became known as the Sankey Commission. Its surprise conclusion was that coal mines should be nationalised. He was later appointed Lord Chancellor in Ramsey MacDonald’s cabinet i.e. the top legal man in the government and was also the presiding officer of the House of Lords, the head of the judiciary in England and Wales. He gave his name to the Sankey Declaration of the Rights of Man. This had strong input from H.G.Wells. This in turn led to the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights. More details about John Sankey and his associations with Roath are detailed in our blog: Viscount John Sankey, Lord Chancellor – Roath’s top brief.
Sir Oswald Stoll was born in Melbourne, Australia on the 20th January 1866. His name was originally Oswald Gray but it was changed to Stoll after his mother remarried. He moved to Liverpool in the UK with his mother, Adelaide Stoll, where she bought and ran the Parthenon Music Hall, around 1880.
On the 24th June 1886, Oswald and his mother bought Levino’s Museum of Varieties in Cardiff, on a 99 year lease for £175 a year. The building was later re-opened in 1889 as the Empire Palace of Varieties, a Music Hall with a licence for music and dancing. In 1892 the Stolls had added the Philharmonic, in Cardiff, to their portfolio and sold their interest in Liverpool.
Business boomed in Cardiff and in 1896, after extensive rebuilding and refurbishment by the renowned theatre architect Frank Matcham, it reopened as the New Empire. The frontage of the theatre was in red brick and Bath stone with the centre portion being a tower with a large imposing circular window made of coloured glass. In the middle of the window was the word Empire which was illuminated at night. Built under the auspices of the Cardiff, Newport and Swansea Empire Company, the Cardiff theatre was the first of these three Empires to be built.
Now living at 39, Newport Road, Roath, the non-smoking, tee-total, Oswald Stoll, in conjunction with H. E. Moss, of Moss and Thornton moved to make the Music Hall ‘respectable’.
Soon every town would have a similar Empire. Moss-Stoll-Thornton owning 37 theatres around London and the provinces. These plush and well-built theatres would offer good, quality entertainers advanced bookings around this theatre circuit and by having control of the quality and decency of the acts and radically improving the surroundings, Stoll would attract into his theatres the respectable and upright folk who previously avoided these scandalous places of entertainment that were up until that time frequented by mainly young men of a ‘commercial nature’ and ladies of ‘dubious repute’.
Under a system developed by Stoll and his contemporaries, each theatre offered two performances a night. With the duplication of exits and entrances to the hall and a waiting room, it was now possible to take the money for the second performance whilst the first was taking place and hence only a few minutes interval ever elapsed between the two performances.
In 1904, Stoll built the London Coliseum in St Martin’s Lane, London. Even today it still has the largest seating capacity at 2,359 of any theatre in the West End.
Parting company with Moss and Thornton in 1910 he went on as Stoll Theatres Ltd, a Company which would eventually include, along with the London Coliseum, the Manchester Hippodrome, the Middlesex in London, the Bristol Hippodrome, the Hackney Empire, the Shepherds Bush Empire, the Chiswick Empire, the Wood Green Empire, the Ardwick Green Empire, the Chatham Empire, and the Leicester Palace amongst many others.
1912-1926 Stoll was the vice-chairman and executive producer of the Royal Variety Performance charity. Putting on the first Royal Variety Performance on the 1st July 1912 at the London Palace Theatre. He set up the War Seal Foundation, later the Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation, to support disabled soldiers returning from WW1. He was Knighted in 1919. He had film studios in Cricklewood, Stoll Studios, which ran from 1920 to 1938. He later reunited with Moss, to form Stoll Moss Theatres. He died at home, in Putney, in 1942.
Lew Grade acquired Stoll Moss in 1962, sold again in 1982 and bought again in 2003 by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group and run under the Really Useful Theatres name.
Stoll married twice. He married his first wife, Harriet Lewis, in Cardiff in 1892, and they had one daughter. Harriet died in 1902, and Stoll married Millicent Shaw the following year. Oswald and Millicent Stoll had three sons. Lady Stoll became President of the Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation following her husband’s death.
 The Music Hall and Theatre Web Site Dedicated to Arthur Lloyd, 2021, http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/OswaldStoll.htm  ‘Cardiff Empire Destroyed’, The Western Mail, 31 October 1899.  The Theatres Trust Database, 2009, http://www.theatrestrust.org.uk/resources/theatres/list; ‘The Music Hall and Theatre Site - Dedicated to Arthur Lloyd’, n.d., http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/.  ‘New Empire at Cardiff’, The Western Mail, 29 September 1900. Thanks to Steve Sanders for this contribution to the People of Roath
Clive Sullivan was born at 49 Wimborne Street, Splott in 1943. He suffered medical problems with his legs necessitating several operations at the Royal Infirmary. The family moved to Ely and he attended Herbert Thompson Primary School. After leaving school Sullivan worked briefly as a mechanic before he joined the army. Whilst at Catterick he started playing rugby for the army. His skills were spotted by a Hull FC scout and he was signed up though it was somewhat of a stuttering start to his sporting career, plagued with injuries, knee operations and a bad car crash in 1963. He played on the wing and was a prolific try scorer. He had blistering pace, exploiting any gaps in the opposition defence. He first played for Great Britain in 1967. In 1972 he was selected as Captain of the Great Britain side that went on to win the Rugby League World Cup held in France, where he scored a try in each of the four games. In all, Sullivan represented Great Britain 17 times and appeared at three World Cups, 1968 and 1972 with Great Britain, and in 1975 for Wales. Just six months after retiring from rugby he tragically died of cancer aged just forty two on 8 Oct 1985 in Hull.
Maurice Turnbull has been described as ‘Wales most complete all-round sportsman’. He has the unique distinction of playing Test Cricket for England and Rugby Union for Wales. He also represented Wales in Hockey and Squash. Maurice was born in East Grove in 1906, but in his first year the family moved to Penylan Road. He was from a distinguished Cardiff family, prominent in the commercial, civic, religious and sporting life of the city.
He was a prolific public schoolboy batsman at Downend school, a successful Cambridge
University Captain and won 9 Test Caps. However, it was his career as a player, captain and secretary of Glamorgan (1924 -39) that was his cricketing legacy. He transformed a club that was on the brink of extinction to respectability and his side formed the basis of the championship winning team of 1948. So dire was Glamorgan’s financial state that it was said that this debonair and charming man danced as many yards across the dance halls of South Wales, at fundraising functions, as he had scored runs. The highlight of his rugby career was making his international debut in the first Welsh victory at Twickenham, in 1933. He also scored the winning goal for the Welsh hockey team on his 1st. appearance. In addition, he headed a consortium that built the Cardiff Squash Club in Pontcanna. A full account of the life of Maurice Turnbull can be found this blog
In 1911 the suffragette movement protested by evading the census, held every ten years. Their motto was ‘No votes for women, no information from women’. In order to evade the census enumerator a group hid inside 34 Albany Road on the night of April 3rd 1911, an empty drapery shop. It was estimated by the enumerator that 17 individuals were present in the shop, though maybe there were more. Some accounts of what it was like in that shop overnight have recently come to light and are detailed here.
Charles Oswald Williams was amongst one the first magicians to be a member of the Magic Circles ‘Inner’circle. He was born in Llanelli in 1864. On moving to Cardiff be became a dealer in watches, musical instruments and homeware. He became a professional magician in 1903, working under the name of Charles Oswald. He was amongst one the first magicians to be a member of the Magic Circles ‘Inner’ circle and appeared in their first show. More about the life of Charles Oswald is detailed in our Blog.
Ernest Willows, Cardiff’s airship pioneer, was born at No.11 Newport Road, where Cardiff University’s School of Engineering now stands. A happy coincidence in many ways. 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 His life however was far from happy it seems. His life came to a tragic end in 1925 in a ballooning accident at the age of 40 in Bedfordshire when the basket gets detached from the balloon and plummets to the ground. He is buried in Cathays cemetery. More on the life of Ernest Willows can be found here.