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 Roatharians.
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.
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.
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.