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.
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.
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.
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.
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.