Vol 4 No 1: Nant Fawr – the Roath Brook and Talworth House


Of great topographical interest in the study of the Roath landscape is Nant Fawr (The Great Brook) the source of which lies in the uplands to the north of the parish.  I am grateful to one of our members, Mr Gethin Davey of Newport, whose special interest is the ancient commote of Kibbor (Cibwr) for giving me some of his personal notes on the Llanishen/Lisvane area and the countryside around the upper reaches of the Nant Fawr, the banks of which, he says, were his childhood playground. Ed.

The Marcher Lords mined coal from the south face of Cefn Onn, and small amounts of coal and iron were mined there in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Both industries developed rapidly north of Cefn Onn in the first part of the 19th century.  Export markets flourished and increased a need for improved methods of transport and so dispensed with the pack-horse and mule-train. The roads to the coast were so poor as to be almost non-existent, so the use of carts and wagons was impossible.

The roads involved very steep climbs – Caerphilly Mountain and Cefn Onn. Three ancient roads run from the summits of these barriers southward – pre-Roman tracks –

(1) along and down the Wenallt Ridge

(2) over Bwlch-y-llechwen

(3) over Lisvane Craig

The weight of iron a mule could carry was one hundredweight, so the size of the billet was restricted.

The RHYMNEY RAILWAY COMPANY was incorporated in 1854. It skirted Carphilly originally and passed through Beddau and Penrhos, joining the Taff Vale Railway near Nantgarw.  In 1864, the railway was allowed to run from Caerphilly direct to Cardiff and a tunnel was constructed under Cefn Onn.

For countless years the many springs in the limestone ridges of Cefn Onn, Tranch and Lisvane Craig were the beginnings of Nant Fawr which drained into Wern Fawr and then overflowed and after a mile, ran through the centre of my grandfather’s Cherry Orchard.

Nant Fawr was dramatically changed when the tunnel was bored and when the deep cutting, running from Cefn Onn for a mile and a half to Llanishen village, was excavated and drained Wern Fawr.  All the earth scooped out by the steam navvies was moved to below Llanishen to form the high embankment standing between there and the Heath Halt.

The floor of the tunnel declined to the south and millions of gallons of spring and filtered bog water ran out and down through newly made wooden sluices and concrete culverts all the way to Cardiff.

Nant Fawr from its name must have been an oversized brook but I remember it as a placid stream. At its upper reaches it was easily forded with a line of stepping stones. Golfers crossed and recrossed it when they played eighteen holes. Then within a mile it was lost in the depths of Wern Fawr. The outlet from the Great Swamp was just an overflow and not subjected to violent winter torrents as were other local brooks. Then the artificial waterways diverted the flow away from Cherry Orchard and although the horses and cattle could walk to it, the household water had to be carried a few hundred yards. The next farm – Llwyn Crwn Fach – above and away from the cutting – encountered massive problems and the miller downstream must have been put out of business – the drainings from Coed Felin would not have turned his wheels. What little water was left crossed the road below Waun Fawr and in 1869 was diverted into the newly made Lisvane Reservoir and from there in 1887 was directed into Roath Park Lake. It powered the medieval Roath Mill – the grist mill for the Manor of Roath, and was demolished in 1897 after a thousand years.

The boring of the tunnel had a  revolutionary impact on the countryside that for two centuries had been predominantly rural – green fields, farms, cottages, isolated community struggling with good

and bad seasons – good and bad harvests regulating their existence. Farming families grew with each generation and as the land was divided between too many sons, farms were becoming too small to be economic.

Then, as men were lured away by higher wages, farmers’ sons’ from Somerset and Dorset moved into the area to fill the vacancies. There was a language revolution – in just twenty years a Welsh community turned bilingual and then English speaking.

In 1801 the population of this countryside, which included two villages, was 550 occupying 120 houses.  In 1841, 625 in 121 houses. In 1881, 719 in 145 houses.

The Llanishen Church School registers reflect the large influx of labour caused by this major work. ‘Tunnel Children’ were unable to get to school in the winter of 1874 because of heavy rain. They lived at ‘The Huts’, ‘The Cutting’, ‘The Railway Cutting’ and ‘The Tunnel’, transitory!

Gethin Davey


The 1840 Tithe Plan (Plots 201, 202 & 203) shows an area of about seven and three quarter acres on the Roath side of Plwcca Lane (now City Road) sandwiched between the lands of John Mathews Richards (later the Mackintosh estate) on the north, Sir Charles Morgan (later the Tredegar estate) on the south and Charles Crofts Williams (Roath Court estate) on the east.  It was owned by Edward Evans, Esq., and consisted of three adjoining portions: Plot 201: an arable field of 4 acres 1 rood 15 perches tenanted by “Thos. Lewellyn”.  Plot 202: an arable field and garden of 2 acres 3 roods tenanted by Daniel Vines. Plot 203: Cottages and Gardens of 2 roods 26 perches the several, occupiers of which are un-named.  The owner of the land, Edward Evans, appears in the Glamorgan Voters’ Lists for Roath in 1845-1853.  His qualification for the vote is ownership of “freehold lands, Plucca Lane”. His abode was “Town of Cardiff”.  Daniel Vines is probably the same man whose entry appears in the parish register of Llanedeyrn “Buried 10 June 1841 age 43 – Daniel Vines of Roath”.  As for Thomas Llewellyn, as there was more than one of that name in the 1840’s in Roath, further clues are necessary to identify with certainty the one who had the use of this field in Plwcca Lane.

Plwcca Lane (variously spelt) sometimes went under its Welsh name of Heol-y-Plwcca or Plwca. (Welsh, the road of the plot).  According to William Rees (Cardiff – A History of the City, 2nd Ed., p.20), the name probably refers to the Gallows Plot, Plwcca halog, (i.e. the unhallowed plot), which stood at the junction of Albany Road with City Road.  In 1874 the name of the lane was changed to Castle Road (after Roath Castle or Plas Newydd) and in 1905, to commemorate the elevation of Cardiff to the status of a city, it became City Road.  The boundary separating the old parish of Roath from the Cardiff parish of St. John the Baptist ran along the middle of what is now City Road and Crwys Road.  In the Cardiff Records (Vol.V. p.321), J.H. Matthews records the reminiscences of a certain William Luke Evans, who was an Inspector of Explosives and evidently had a long memory. In 1895 this old man, talking of Plwca Lane mentions how rushes once grew hard by the lane and how mats were made of them and sold in the town for domestic purposes.  But what is more relevant to our present study, he remembered that in 1830 the only habitations in Plwca Lane consisted of Roath Castle and six small cottages in two fields “now the site of James’ Square”. The fields which he mentions are clearly the very same as those shown in the Tithe Map referred to above and which later became the site of Talworth Street and Pearson Street on the east side of City Road.


Talworth Street is named after Talworth House which according to the 1:2500 0.S.Map of 1880 was one of the more substantial residences in the area, standing in its own grounds complete with an entrance lodge, but modest in comparison with nearby mansion of Plas Newydd.

The house was not in existence at the time of the 1851 Census but the following year it is given as the address of John Batchelor in Scammell’s Directory. In Charles Wakeford’s Directory of 1855 John Batchelor is shown as at Talworth House, Plwcca Lane, Roath. In Ewen’s Directory of the same year, he is shown at “Plwcca Lane (Roath Road)”. Batchelor Bros., shipbuilders, were at Bute Dock Head. James Sydney Batchelor, shipbuilder, was at 11 Charles Street.

The Hemingways

The next family to occupy Talworth House were the Hemingways.  On 9 November 1859 at Leckwith Parish Church James Hemingway described as ‘of Talworth House’ had married Mary McGregor, step-daughter of his late father’s partner, Charles Pearson of Woodlands, Leckwith. (Cardiff & Merthyr Guardian of 12 November 1859). He and his bride made Talworth House their matrimonial home for a period of just over one year.

James Hemingway (I) the elder, (1802-1854), his two brothers and Charles Pearson, were all natives of Dewsbury, Yorks. and were contractors for the construction of the East Bute Dock (1851-59). James (I) lived at the corner of what is now St Peter Street but he appears to have purchased the land on the Roath side of Plwcca Lane (referred to above) on which Talworth, Pearson and Byron streets, and the lower part of Plasnewydd Road (formerly Charles Street) stand, because he is known to have bequeathed 10 acres to his sons, James and John.  It is probable therefore that Talworth House was only leased to John Batchelor, as it would have been to the successive occupants after the young James Hemingway moved north in January 1861; it is quite likely that the latter had intended to retire to Talworth House but he died at the early age of 45 in 1879: his monument at Macclesfield records that he was “of Foden Bank, Macclesfield and Talworth House, Roath, Cardiff”.  He bequeathed his share of the land and the property (7 Acres) in equal shares to his 13 children.  On 26 September 1860 James Hemingway’s first child was born at Talworth House.

Further evidence of Hemingway ownership of the land from the middle of the 19th century comes from:

(1) An ‘In Chancery’ legal notice in the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, 18.12.1858, p.4.col.3 stating that a petition was being made by Hannah Hemingway and her sons, James and John for powers to be granted to grant building leases on 10 acres of land in Roath held under the will of her late husband James, the Trustee being her brother-in-law John.

(2) The government ‘Return of Owners of Land, 1873’ which lists James Hemingway (II) as owning 7 acres in Roath (presumably Talworth House and environs, with his brother John possessing the remaining 3 acres).

The Last Occupiers and the Demise of the House

Between January 1861 and September 1862 Talworth House was leased to Samuel Nash, a Cardiff businessman, as can be seen from contemporary directories.

Before the close of the year 1862 Charles Pearson had moved from Woodlands, Leckwith to Talworth House and was soon appointed a member of the Roath District Board of Health.  In the minutes of this body (which are in the Glamorgan Record Office) we find:

3 Feb. 1863. Charles Pearson – new member.

1 Sept. 1863. Plan approved of houses in Clive Street proposed to be built by Mr Pearson.

2 July 1867. Plans approved (inter alia) for…

Additions to Talworth House for Mr Pearson.

3 December 1867. Plans approved (inter alia) for new street (James Street), Castle Road for Charles Pearson.

6 Oct. 1868. Amongst plans approved are 5 houses in Clive Street for Charles Pearson.

1 December 1868. Street extension approved in Clive Street for Charles Pearson.

5 Jan. 1869. A new street near Clive Street approved for Mr Charles Pearson.

5 July 1870. Plan for house and shop Clive Street for Charles Pearson.

6 December 1870. The death of Charles Pearson on 19 November is recorded in the minutes.

According to Waring’s 1868 and 1869 maps, the south and east sides of Talworth Street (then James Street) were in course of building.  For a short period c.1868 to 1876 Talworth House was known also as ST. JAMES’S HOUSE.

On the night of April 2nd 1871 the Census enumerator records (Enum. Dist.27/1.Sched.42) that the head of the household at “St.James, Plucca Lane” was Emma Pearson, a 60 year old widow, born in Swansea.

The house was leased from c.1871 to 1876 to W.Lukis, Esq.  After his departure from the premises the name reverted to Talworth House.

In the M.O.H.’s Report for 1872 presented in person by Dr H.J.Paine in April 1873 to the Board and later issued in printed form (C.C.L.), he stated:

The remaining (i.e.undrained portions – those in the St. James’ district, consisting of James Street, Charles street, Rose street, Lily street and Clive place have only recently been built, and are not provided with any description of drainage. There are about 150 houses occupied in this locality, ….. it is essentially necessary your attention should be directed to this urgent want (i.e. lack of drainage) before the hot weather sets in.

The Roath District Board of Health minutes record:

6 Feb.1872. New streets approved.  Saint James’ for Mr James Hemingway.

2 July 1872. Plans for 14 houses approved for James Hemingway .

1 April 1873. Plans approved for 18 houses St. James for James Hemingway

The 1:2500 (25″) Ordnance Survey plan of 1879 shows Talworth House and its parkland with south and east sides of “James Street” built.

From 1876 to 1890 the house was leased to W. Webb, colliery proprietor.

In the directories of 1890-91, no mention occurs of Talworth House,

Subsequent Street Development on the Site

The Cardiff Corporation Index of Deposited Plans show that plans were approved for the building in Pearson Street of:

6 houses Aug. 1889

6 houses Sept.1889

1 house Oct. 1890

The date on a stone medallion on the facade of one of the houses is still (1987) clearly visible as 1890.

1892-93. Pearson Street and Talworth Street (new part), built on the site of Talworth House, appear in the directories for the first time.  Some, if not all, of the houses built at this time were erected by John Charles Pearson whose father John, also a native of Dewsbury, was a brother or cousin of Charles Pearson. The name of John Charles Pearson of Castle Road, Cardiff occurs in the deeds of a house in Pearson Street as being granted a lease of 99 years on 5 May 1899 by “WILLIAM MOGREGOR of Beaufort Villas, old Trafford, Manchester, contractor, and CHARLES ROBERT HEMINGWAY, late of Cardiff but now of Neeld Terrace, Hendon, Middx., contractor.”

Visual Evidence

No photograph of Talworth House appears to have survived, but there is a small “snapshot” in the Cardiff Central Library’s collection of the wall and gates in a demolished state; this was taken by William Booth, an indefatigable local amateur photographer of the period who lived in Wellfield Road. The limits of the City Road frontage of the Hemingway land can be seen today by observing the change in roof level and architectural style (a) north of the chemists Shop between Milton Street (Tredegar land) and Byron Street; and (b) south of the shop on the corner of Cyfarthfa Street (Richards/Mackintosh land).  The eastern boundary of the land is where the rear of the houses in lower Plasnewydd Road (formerly Charles Street) met Rose Street, Lily Street and Clive Place (Roath Court land).  A remnant of the wall dividing the Mackintosh (Plasnewydd) estate from the Hemingway plot is visible from Talworth Street at the rear of the houses in Cyfarthfa Street.

Street names

In 1891 the then Town Council changed a number of duplicated street names; on the Hemingway estate these included:

James Street to Talworth Street

Charles Street to Plasnewydd Road (continuation)

Clive Street to Byron Street

Batchelor’s Family

In 1845 John Batchelor had married Hannah Reese, daughter of a Monmouthshire farmer. She died two years later leaving two daughters.  On 2 August 1851, John Batchelor married at Bocking,. Essex, Fanny Smith Burder of Codham Hall, Essex.  She was to bear him ten children.  Their third son, born at Talworth House was named Cyril Talworth.  In researching the origin of the name “Talworth”, Mr Geoffrey Dart has found that the name occurs in the family history of the second Mrs Batchelor. She had a brother, John Talworth Burder, who was accidentally drowned at the age of 5. Tradition in the Burder family associated their ancestry with an ancient armorial family named de Talworth of Talworth Wratting, Suffolk.

On 17 October 1851 (qualifying date for the 1852 voters’ List) his address is given as 10 Charles Street, Cardiff.  His first son, John George Herbert (second child of second marriage) was born at Talworth House on 10 July 1854. On 15 October 1859 (qualifying date for the 1860 Voters’ List), John Batchelor was still at Talworth House.  He must have moved out shortly afterwards . The Voters’ List for the following year shows that he was residing at New House, Llanishen on 15 October 1860.

John Batchelor’s statue which stands in the Hayes has always been a favourite target for pranks. Here, a white scarf adorns his head and a flagon is held in his right hand. In 1981 when this photo was taken the statue occupied its original site close to the underground public conveniences.



It so happens that one of our most knowledgeable and respected local historians, Mr Geoffrey Dart, former chief librarian of the South Glamorgan County Council, married into the Hemingway family. One of his wife’s relatives, Mr Guy Yeomans Hemingway, is the author of a 700 page privately published family history of the Hemingways, a copy of which is held by Mr Dart.  He has very kindly made available to us extracts from this mammoth family history together with copies of documents in his possession which have a bearing on the story of the Hemingways’ connections with Roath – in particular Talworth House, which once stood on their land on the east side of what is now City Road.  Some research on the subject has been done by Mr Dart himself and he has characteristically made it freely available to me for the preparation of the notes in this Newsletter. The results of some of our own comparatively modest researches have been used to supplement the data provided by Mr Dart and have been incorporated in the notes below.  Any errors and omissions are my own.

Alec Keir


In 1841 the first Hemingways arrived in Cardiff.  They were three brothers – John, James and Joseph Benjamin, all natives of Dewsbury in Yorkshire.  James Hemingway(I) was born there in 1803; he was the brother most concerned with Roath. It was he and his Dewsbury partner, Charles Pearson, who immediately set up in business as ‘contractors’ in the rapidly developing West Bute Dock area.  They were contractors for the building of the East Bute Dock, an enterprise that commenced in 1851 but was not completed until 1859.

Other relatives had arrived in Cardiff in 1850 – his cousin, Robert with his family – all from Dewsbury, the birthplace of generations of Hemingways going back to the end of the 16th century.  One of their ancestors, Abraham Hemingway (senior) who died in Dewsbury in 1636 was born in Halifax, to which town the line of succession has been traced through several generations back to the mid-fifteenth century. (See the simplified family tree).

Roath Connections

James Hemingway (I), according to Hunt’s Directory of 1849, was living in ‘Blucher lane’. But his residence was not on the Roath side of the road; it stood in its own grounds on a site on the corner of what is now St Peter’s Street where James and his wife, Hannah, leased an old house, sometimes known as ‘Plwcca Farm’; it was the subject of complaints by residents and in a petition of 1883 was described as an ‘affront and an eyesore’.  It was eventually demolished in 1890-91 and the site was later occupied by a dairy – Cardiff Milk Supply Co., at No.47 City Road, on the Cardiff side of the road.  James(I) also held land on the Roath side of the road and was known to be farming land leased at Hackerford, Cyncoed.  Indeed, in the 1851 Census he is shown as ‘Gentleman; farmer of 65 acres employing 9 labourers’.  He died at his residence in Plwcca Lane on September 9th 1854.  His widow, Hannah, died in the same house on 4th April 1874.

The parcel of land on the Roath side of the road on which Talworth House had been built passed to the two sons, James and John Hemingway. John Batchelor had been living in Talworth House since 1852 and continued in occupation until 1859.  In that year James (II) married Charles Pearson’s step-daughter, Mary McGregor and the couple lived in Talworth House until January 1861 when they moved with their 3 month old son, Charles Robert, to Macclesfield where he lived until his death on September 22nd 1879.  His younger brother, John, died in the same year. He had married Charles Pearson ‘s daughter Elizabeth in 1866 and lived for a time in Roath – at Haddington Villa, just beyond Elm Street in Newport Road.

John Hemingway, the brother of James (I), appears in Lucas’s “Britannia Bridge’ painting which was recently on display at the Welsh Industrial and Maritime Museum, Cardiff in the “Engineers of Wales” exhibition (on loan from the Institute of Civil Engineers).

The Hemingways were a distinguished family of public works contractors who built the towering columns of Stephenson’s Britannia Bridge, the East Bute Docks, the direct Rhymney Railway line including the tunnel at Cefn Onn, the Clarence Bridge, the Penarth to Biglis railway and the first Roath Park contract (diversion of the brook, the Recreation Ground, flower gardens and the surrounding roads).

Joseph Benjamin Hemingway, the contractor (also described as a railway contractor) was born in Dewsbury in 1812 and died at Quarry Hill House (now an Old people’s home) at Mount Pleasant, St Mellons in 1856 where he is buried in the churchyard with his son, William (1838- 1859).

Same Name – No Relation

A well known personality in Cardiff a hundred years ago was Walter Hemingway, the Chief Constable.  He came to Cardiff 1n 1876 and died suddenly in 1889. No relationship can be established between him and the contractor family. Unfortunately some people, including myself, have in the past been guilty of confusing the two Hemingway families. The index (Vol.6) of the ‘Cardiff Records’ and even the Borough Council minutes do not help in erroneously attributing Roath Hemingway affairs to W. (i.e.Walter) Hemingway, the Head Constable.

City Road March 1987. Boundary between Hemingway and Tredegar land evidenced by difference in roof levels.