Roath Park Hotel

The Roath Park Hotel on the corner of City Road and Kincraig Street dates back to 1886.

As of Oct 2020 it is currently under threat of being demolished and replaced with flats.

The three storey stone built property with a roof top platform surrounded by railings is the last remaining Victorian pub on City Road, or Castle Road as it was called when the hotel was built.

Castle Road, Roath, Cardiff with the Roath Park Hotel on the right.

 it was built on land owned by the Mackintosh Estate. Urban development on the Mackintosh Estate began in 1886, but Wright’s Directory of Cardiff 1886 does not list Kincraig Street, so possibly the Roath Park Hotel was not in existence until 1887. An amended plan for some business premises at the junction in 1886 may refer to the building of the Roath Park Hotel, but would need to be examined in the Glamorgan archives (BC/S/1/5933).

We know that the Roath Park Hotel was in existence by 1889 at a time when the Sunday Closing (Wales) Act was in force and was the listed in the Cardiff Directories as being at 170 Castle Rd. It was the last of the Victorian hotels or public houses to be erected in City Rd the earliest being the Gardener’s Arms in what was then  Plucca Lane in 1855 which was renamed as the Military Canteen by 1871 . Richard Steward was the first manager of the Roath Park Hotel until 1904.

By 1905 the Roath Park Hotel was under the management of Enoch D Howells who remained there until 1911, during which time a ban on children under 14 being allowed access to licensed premises was introduced in 1908. He was succeeded by Charles Kyd until 1913, who was in turn followed by Percy A Lewin from 1914 to 1920. From the Electoral Register we know that he lived on the premises with his wife Mary and a lodger(?), Jane Rossatt, a blouse maker.  During World War I 1914 – 1918, early morning, afternoon and evening closing hours were introduced to combat the perceived evil effects of drinking on the war effort.

Photo credit: Brian Lee

Edward J Lloyd was the manager in 1924  (WMCD). Plans exist of the hotel premises in police records between 1926 and 1955 and again can be found in the Glamorgan Archives (DCONC/6/11 a – c), By 1927 Samuel Davey had become the manager.. Photographs of him appear in the Cardiff Yesterday series, vol 8, photographs 55 and 56. The Cardiff Yesterday series can be seen in the Cardiff Heritage Library located in the Cathays Branch Library.

Samuel Davey, landlord of the Roath Park

The hotel mainly manages to keep itself out of the newspapers apart from the usual arguments about liquor licences in the 1890s, the occasional person walking in and dropping dead from natural causes and Mr Naish, a greengrocer, being accused was accused of regularly taking bets in there in 1936.

The 1939 Register shows the occupants as Douglas Buckner (hotel manager), Iris Buckner (hotel manageress), Phyliss Edwards (barmaid) and Ada Selt 9barmaid).

During the 1930’s and after World War II, many young people under 25 preferred the dance hall or the cinema, but fashion changes and in the 1960’s the ‘pub’ was once again in favour only to lose out to bars and clubs in the early 2000’s. Drinking habits, particularly in the evenings tended to revolve around the playing of darts and or skittles and in some public houses singing around a piano. Men would generally drink beer, often Brain’s Dark (the original).  Drinkers of Bitter beer were in a minority.  Women drank ‘shorts’ such as Gin and tonic or Gin and It (Italian Vermouth).

From 1949 the Roath Park Hotel continues to be listed in the Western Mail Cardiff Directory (WMCD), but  the names of managers are no longer given. By 1971, the Electoral Register tells us that David Magee is the manager living in the flat above with his wife Anne. Babycham and Cinazano have now become the preferred drink for women. By the 1980’s the lager revolution was in full swing for both men and women.  For drinking habits generally see The Little book of Cardiff by D Collins and G Bennett, 2015.

(photo credit: Pintof45)

The Electoral Register still refers to the Roath Park Hotel when Melvyn E Evans was living on the premises from 2003 to 2004, but by 2009 it had become simply the Roath Park. Legislation in 2003 had transferred licensing powers from Magistrates to Local Authorities and in 2005 new licensing laws in England and Wales aimed to encourage a continental style café culture and introduced 24 hour licenses. As a result more people spread their drinking throughout the night and public houses continued to close.

An interesting assortment in the windows (photo credit: Sarah Louise on Flickr)

The Roath Park is the last Victorian public house to survive in City Road, there being I believe 8 in 1889. I do realise that fashion and economics are against its  survival as a public house, but given the horrendous change in the topography of City Road, I think that a Victorian building is worth preserving even if put to other uses.  An application  should be made for listed building status and perhaps an approach made to the National Trust or the Landmark Trust. As King Edward VIII once famously said in South Wales, “Something must be done”.

Local councillors have organised a petition against the demolition of the Roath Park.  

It had a skittle alley that was still there in the mid-1980s

. This history of the pub has just been added to the Roath Local History Society ‘Pubs’ page.

History researched by Malcolm Ranson & Ted Richards

John Vipond Davies – good at making connections

Sometime last year I was flicking through the pages of a booklet that my late father had written ‘Welsh Expatriate Engineers of the 19th Century’, looking for any that may have had a connection to the Roath Area.  I came across John Vipond Davies, a pioneering civil engineer.  He wasn’t born in Cardiff but the Davies family did move here from Swansea.  I started some research but must have got distracted and put it aside, as is often the case.  Had it not been for a recent enquiry from his granddaughter asking about the family tree I had started to assemble on Ancestry, I may never have gone back to it.  I’m glad I did as it’s another fascinating story.

John Vipond Davies was born in Swansea on 13 Oct 1862 to Andrew Davies, a surgeon and JP originally from Haverfordwest, and Emily Davies née Edmonds originally from Wantage, Berkshire.

The young J Vipond Davies with his mother Emily.

In the 1881 census the Davies family had moved to 2 Haswell Terrace on Newport Road, near the junction with West Grove.  Dr Andrew Davies was working as a physician, possibly at the nearby Infirmary on Newport Road, the building which later became the University. 

By 1881 John Vipond Davies had already been educated at Wesleyan College, Taunton, now called Queens College, before attending London University.  In the 1881 census in Cardiff  he is described as a student of Mechanical Engineering.

Newport Road, Cardiff with West Grove leading off to the left and the Davies house at 2 Haswell Terrace marked

Before we embark on looking at his impressive engineering career let’s step aside and look at something else I stumbled across.  He played rugby for Cardiff. Not only that but there is a wonderfully clear photograph of him and the team from the 1881 season. Records aren’t necessarily all that complete from those early years of rugby.  Cardiff RFC was only formed in 1876.  We know he played at least six times for Cardiff including at half back in the Cup Final against Llanelli in March 1881, played at Neath.  The match was scoreless at full time and went into extra time. When Cardiff scored a try in the second period of extra time the crowd invaded the pitch rendering further play impossible and Cardiff were declared the winners.  It sounds like it was a boisterous affair, with a disputed try, claims of bias against the Cardiff official and a spot of crowd trouble.  On their return the Cardiff team were met at station by a large crowd and carried shoulder high to the Queen’s Hotel where I guess a night of revelry ensued.    

The 1881 Cardiff Rugby Football club cup winning team with Vipond Davies seated left (Photo: Cardiff Rugby Museum)

Getting back to Vipond’s engineering accomplishments, we are lucky to be able to refer to his application to join the Institution of Civil Engineers in which he detailed his early career in some depth.  Between 1880 and 1884 he was apprenticed to Parfitt and Jenkins Engineers in Cardiff.  These years would have been a busy time for an engineering company in Cardiff as industry, employment and the population all expanded rapidly centred on the coal exporting taking place in Cardiff docks. Parfitt and Jenkins Engineers had a foundry in Tyndall Street and were involved in manufacturing a range of things including  locomotives, marine and stationary engines and boilers, points, crossings, turntables, cranes and railway bridges.  

John Vipond Davies’s Apprentice Certificate still in the family and displayed on the office wall of his great grandson, also an engineer.

We also learn from a newspaper cutting of 1883 that Vipond was one of a group of Cardiff students to gain a distinction in an Cambridge Extension examination at the end of a course studying electricity.

After completing his training he embarks on a variety of roles in the South Wales area.  His first job was to prepare plans for a fuel briquetting  works for Charles M Jacobs. It was this association with C M Jacobs that took him to America but not for another five or so years. In between he gained experience working for the Blaenavon Coal and Iron Company designing blast furnaces, rolling mills and coke ovens. He also works for a time as a mine surveyor for the family business John Vipond & Co at Varteg.

In 1888 his career takes a different turn when he serves eight months as the 3rd Engineer on the newly built SS Argus, built in Newcastle but registered in Melbourne, Australia.  The SS Argus was launched in 1889 so it is unclear if Vipond Davies was just involved in the construction and commissioning or whether he sailed on board too.

The shipbuilders model of the SS Argus

It appears to be in 1889 when John Vipond Davies left Wales for America with Charles M Jacobs that his career really took off.  In 1892 he was Chief Assistant Engineer to Charles M Jacobs working on an 11 foot diameter railroad tunnel under the East River of New York.  The project must have gone well for in 1894 he became a partner in the with C M Jacobs Engineering Company. He worked on railroads and water supply pipelines in Detroit, Ohio,  West Virginia and Tennessee.  In 1895 C M Jacobs also designed a 11,000 ft bridge to connect Brooklyn and Manhattan. 

Perhaps his most prestigious project of the time was the Hudson River Tunnel Project for the Hudson and Manhattan Rail Road company, estimated in 1910 to have cost $60,000,000.  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.  

The Moffat Tunnel in Colorado (photo: W R Berg Jr)

He also ventured to the West Coast and designed the bridge and tunnel across San Francisco Bay and also a bridge over the Mississippi in New Orleans.  

His work was not confined to within USA.  He was consulting engineer on twenty six aqueduct tunnels in Mexico and a bit closer to home he designed and supervised the building of the Paris Metro tunnel under the Seine and across the Place de la Concorde.

You too can find out how to build a tunnel if you track down a copy of a book he co-authored and published called Modern Tunnelling in 1923.

Perhaps the only time his career slowed was in 1907 when he broke his hip bravely arresting a team of runaway horses heading towards a group of school children.  He was in Flushing on his way to catch an early morning train to Long Island when the horses took fright of a passing automobile. Vipond was clinging to the bridle when he was thrown against a tree, fell to the ground and was run over by a passing van.

In 1914 he was awarded the Telford Gold Medal by the Institution of Civil Engineers in UK. He also became President of the American Engineering Society in New York.  An interesting insight into the status engineering at the time is obtained from an address he gave to the memory of engineer and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1920

One paper reports that as a retirement present his employees presented him with a gold-handled silk umbrella.  I wonder what his former team mates at Cardiff RFC would have thought about that.  I suspect much banter would have ensued.

Family Life

He married Ruth Ramsey of Pottsville, Pennsylvania in 1895 and they went on to have three children, John Vipond Jr, Muriel and Margaret, the offspring of which still live in USA today but are proud of their Welsh roots.

A lovely Davies family bookplate depicting the family residence and a tunnel entrance.

His death at Flushing, New York on 4 Oct 1939 at the age of 76 announced him as one of the foremost civil engineers in USA. He is buried alongside his wife at the Presbyterian Cemetery in Pottsville, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania.


Acknowledgements:

Thank you to the Davies family for information and images shared.

Thank you to Gwyn Prescott and Cardiff Rugby Museum for information and the image of Vipond Davies’s playing career.

References & further reading:

Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History

Institution of Civil Engineers Obituary

Uptown Hudson Tubes

The Newport Road Skeleton

Cardiff University Queens Building Skeleton

Newport Road isn’t where I was expecting to see a skeleton. There I was relaxing on the upper deck of the bus when I spotted it out of the window on Cardiff University Engineering Department.  It’s on the stone facade above the doors and looking very Gothic indeed.  The rest of the stone facade looked interesting too, comprising of two statues and four relief stone carvings of distinguished scientists.

Cardiff University Queen's Building

I did a bit of research, didn’t find a great deal, so went back and took some photos on a dank morning.  An ideal topic for a blog post I thought.  Four sculptured busts of scientists, Jenner, Lister, Hunter and Pasteur.  I could write a bit about each.  Then I did some more painstaking research and found a couple of blog posts.  One from Bob Speel looked at the sculptures in terms of the sculptor and style, the other from Pat English does pretty much what I going to do and looks at the scientists themselves.  Both blog sites are very good and I would recommend them.  I’ve little doubt that I can’t hope to add much to their blog posts in terms of knowledge.

The four scientists Hunter Jenner Pasteur Lister

The building in question is Cardiff University Queen’s buildings on Newport Road.  Much of the building is of modern construction but the old tower dates back to 1915. To give it it’s proper description it is gothic Revival tower-facade retaining high-quality sculpture and I’m glad to see is a listed building.  There are two plaques on either side of the oak doors that indicate the first stone was laid in 1915 and then the building was opened in 1921 by the then Prince of Wales. I say oak doors but that’s a guess but they are decorated with what appears acorns, so hardly likely to be eucalyptus.

Cardiff University Queen's Building foundation stones

So if it’s the engineering building, then why is it adorned with the statues and sculptures of four non-engineering scientists. Apparently the building was originally the Medical school which makes sense as it is close to the Royal Infirmary up the road. That would also explain the two life sized statues which are part of the Bath stone facade; Asclepius, Greek god of Medicine and I’d swear an oath that the other one is Hippocrates.  Asclepius is holding his staff and two cocks stand at his feet.  It was traditional to sacrifice a cock to thank Asclepius for being healed.  I would happily sacrifice a chicken or good piece of tofu if only I could get an appointment with my doctor.

Cardiff University Gods

There’s so much on this facade to help keep you or your kids entertained if you are ever passing by on a bus or waiting at the bus stop. Get them to see how many carved animals that can spot just above the doorway. Among them I spotted a squirrel, lizard and mouse. And there’s probably a live pigeon hiding away in there too.

Cardiff University Newport Road Carved animals

John Hunter

And so the scientists. Perhaps the least known is the 18th century Scottish surgeon John Hunter.  Now here’s and interesting character.

John Hunter

Throughout his career he collected many thousands animal and human corpses. It is said that his collection of live animals from around the world at his home in London may have led to the inspiration for the story of Doctor Dolittle. On the other hand his brother who obtained many of the human corpses for him has been accused of grave robbing and even worse, calling into question whether Hunter was more like Dr Jekyll than Doctor Dolittle.  To the top right of Hunter is a patient in a bed being watched over closely by a young man and a skeleton. Presumably this is to represent Hunter pioneering the importance of observations in medicine. But why the skeleton? I still don’t know.

Dr Dolittle or Dr Jekyll

 

Louis Pasteur

Pasteur in his laboratory

Representing France is Louis Pasteur. People no doubt know Pasteur mainly for his work as a microbiologist but he started his career as a chemist and even obtained his first professorship in that field in the University of Strasbourg.  His list of achievements are pretty staggering; vaccines for rabies and anthrax, inventing pasteurisation and an understanding of fermentation. After he died in 1895 he was buried in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, but his remains were reinterred in the Pasteur Institute in Paris. I’m not convinced that’s a move for the better if you ask me.  Would I want to be taken back to work after I die?  Before passing he asked for his laboratory notebook to be kept in the family and not shared. Only recently have historians gained access to them and are divided in what is revealed but seem to agree on the fact that a good summary would be “In spite of his genius, Pasteur had some faults”.  If I had an epitaph like that I’d be pretty happy.

 

Joseph Lister

Joseph Listeur and his impressive sideburns

Joseph Lister was born in Upton House, West Ham, London. I bet I can guess which football team he supported.  He’s the man who realised that washing your hands is so important. If he were alive in these days of Covid-19 I’m sure he’d be features on many public service advertisement.  As the ‘father of disinfection’ he hailed the use of carbolic acid to sterilise everything in sight.  Initially Lister’s ideas were mocked by others in the health field who proudly wore their blood stained aprons as a badge of honour. The medical journal The Lancet warned the entire medical profession against his progressive ideas. Next time I smell the phenolic odour of Laphroig whiskey I will think of Joseph Lister and drink to him as a testament to his ingenuity.

 

Edward Jenner

Edward Jenner

I suppose it’s a sign of the times that when you put Jenner into a popular search engine everything that turns up is about Caitlyn Jenner, who is apparently an American sex-reassigned ex-athlete and now TV personality.  A couple of pages down you come across our man, Edward Jenner, from the town of Berkeley, Gloucestershire.  His work on the smallpox vaccine has led to the much used quote that he ‘saved more lives than any other human’ and earned him the title ‘the father of immunology’.

 

The Unanswered Questions

And so we have it, what is probably a unique collection of sculptures of these four heroic scientists, Jenner, Pasteur, Lister and Hunter all in the same place.  Other than the outstanding question of the skeleton I have one other query.  Why is it called the Queen’s Buildings?

Lynn Davies – A leap away from Roath.

I admit it is borderline whether we should include Lynn Davies as a person from Roath.  I was lucky enough to have a quick chat with him recently and by just by virtue of the fact that he is a thoroughly nice man I think we should do our best to include him.

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 went to 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, the history of which was covered in our last blog.

Lynn Davies with Ron Pickering

Lynn Davies with coach Ron Pickering (pic GettyImage)

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. Lyn 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.”

 

Lynn_Davies_1964

Lynn Davies winning gold in Tokyo 1964

 

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. He was the only British man to win Long Jump gold at the Olympics till Greg Rutherford won gold in 2012.

Since winning gold Lynn Davies has had 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.

 

 

 

1Lynns-medal

Lynn Davies holding the gold medal he won in Tokyo 1964 (Pic: Western Mail)

 

So what of his non-Olympic achievements?  Davies was the 1966 European champion in the long jump and was the silver medalist three years later.  He was also twice the Commonwealth Games champion, winning titles in 1966 and 1970, becoming the first man to win that title twice.  He thereby became the first athlete to hold Olympic, European and Commonwealth titles at the same time.

Lynn Davies on his way to win a 100 meters invitation race at the British Games, 1966 held at White City, London

Lynn Davies on his way to win a 100 meters invitation race at the British Games, 1966 held at White City, London (pic: London Illustrated News)

 

His personal bests were: 100 meters – 10.51s (1967); Long Jump – 27′-0″ (8.23m) (1968).  Lynn Davies’ long jump best of 8.23m, set in Berne in June 1968, is still the fourth best long jump of all-time by a British athlete – despite the improved facilities of today, where all-weather run-ups have replaced the soggy loose cinders that Lynn mostly competed on.  It is also still the longest ever jump by a Welsh athlete.

Lynn Davies was twice a winner of the BBC Wales Sports Personality of the Year award, taking the honour in 1964 and 1966.

 

 

 

 

After retiring from competitions in 1973 he became technical director of Canadian athletics until 1976 before returning to live in the Cardiff area where he has lived ever since.  He became British athletics team manager and took up  broadcasting career with BBC Wales.

Davies was created a CBE on 17 June 2006, having previously received an MBE in 1967.

He’s always been regarded as one of the sport’s finest ambassadors which no doubt led him to becoming President of UK Athletics, the governing body of the sport in Great Britain, a position he only stepped down from in 2015.

The college in Cyncoed where Lynn Davies started his athletics career was new in 1961 having previously been at the Heath. It has undergone many name changes over the years but he has maintained a strong association with it.  Not only was he a student there but has also been a Senior Lecturer and an ambassador.

Cardiff Met Cyncoed campus Lynn Davies Photo credit - Peter Creighton

The refectory wall at UWIC Cyncoed campus pays tribute to one of its former students.

I think but am not certain that the name changes have been:  1976 it became part of the South Glamorgan Institute of Higher Education, then in 1990 Cardiff Institute of Higher Education, in 1996 University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (UWIC) and finally in 2009 Cardiff Metropolitan University.

Lynn Davies in 2018 photo Dai Sport

Lynn Davies in 2018 (photo Dai Sport)

So why so I say its borderline whether he is famous Roath man? Well, the Cyncoed campus sits literally just outside the border of the old Parish of Roath.  Lynn, with one of his famous jumps could have leapt over the border and into Roath, and probably still can. We will therefore include him on our Roath People page.

 

 

 

The WAAF Balloon Squadron casualties

A couple of months ago I published a blog post on the Pen-y-lan Road blitz victims.  Shortly after that I was put in touch with someone who remembered the night clearly and told me about another group who lost their lives that night.  They were members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) who were living in the newly built Lady Margaret’s school caretaker’s house on Colchester Avenue and managing a barrage balloon tethered nearby.  They were killed when the house took a direct hit from a German bomb.

Training session

Much Googling later and I had failed to turn up any details. The internet seemed to be devoid of any information about the incident.  The casualties don’t seem to be on any Cardiff memorials and neither could I find them mentioned in the newspapers, which isn’t too surprising given the censorship in place at the time.  The civilian casualties of the Cardiff blitz bombings are listed but of course these were military victims and don’t appear on that list.  I tried looking at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) records but again drew a blank.  Then, last weekend I happened upon a folder on the Cardiff blitz in Cathays library and in there was a copy of a letter to the South Wales Echo in 1997 recalling the same incident.

Newspaper Article on Colchester Avenue WAAF Victims

The letter provided a lot of leads.  It pretty much mirrored what I had been told a few months earlier but not only did it list the names of the casualties and the injured but also information about a book written by a WAAF officer, Muriel Pusham, who was stationed at Cardiff Castle and one of the first on the scene afterwards.

WAAF Training

Training session for the WAAF balloon operators.

Now armed with names I could do a lot more research.  Three of the four women named in the letter  I found listed on the CWGC website.  It soon became clear why I hadn’t found them earlier.   There was no mention of Cardiff on their records.  I discovered that their bodies, rather than being buried at Cathays cemetery, were transported back to their home towns and buried there. Also, having found their names I could find their squadrons and more information about what happened on the night.  This is what I discovered:

  • 18/5  02.31
    The barrage was flying at 500′ when a “stand-by” followed by a “shine” at 02.34 was received from the Balloon Officer, 10 Fighter Group.
  • 18/5  02.41 to 03.35
    E/A attacked at varying heights from 1000′ to 10,000′ dropping flares, IB and HE.  At approximately 03.10 hours site 53/18 received a direct hit from an HE bomb which killed three WAAF balloon operators. Mary Askell (sic), Betty Stannard and Paddy (sic) Brand and wounded four others, Terry David, Cpl Lilian Ellis, Marjorie Oates and Betty Reynolds.  These were the first war casualties sustained by the Squadron.
  • 20TH MAY 1943
    The remains of three casualties, left for their respective homes. Each coffin accompanied by a W.A.A.F. Officer and N.C.O.

WAAF Balloon Squadron inspection

This is what I have been able to find out about the victims:

HELEN ROSS BRAND

Aircraftwoman 1st Class, 953 Balloon Squadron, Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (Service Number 2116411)

Helen Ross Brand was born in 1922 in Keith, Scotland to John Brand and Jessie Ross Brand nee Lobban. She died aged 20. She is buried in Keith (Broomhill) cemetery in Scotland (section B, grave 28). She is also remembered on the Keith War Memorial.  The newspaper article  reporting her death wrote she was due to be married in three weeks to a RAF Cadet.

Keith War Memorial Helen Ross Brand

MARY MACASKILL

Leading Aircraftwoman, 953 Balloon Squadron, Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (Service No: 2045888)

Mary MacAskill grave headstone

Mary MacAskill was born in c1921 to Norman and Joan MacAskill of Culrain, Scotland. Prior to enlising in 1942 she was training to be a nurse. She died aged 22.  She is buried at Kincardine Cemetery, Ross and Cromarty (grave 166) in Scotland. She is also remembered on the Ardgay War Memorial.

BETTY MARY STANNARD

Leading Aircraftwoman, 953 Balloon Squadron, Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (Service Number 2068971)

Betty Stannard Grave

Betty Mary Stannard was born in Kent in 1922 to Albert James Stannard, an Estate worker from Monkton, Kent,  and Mary Eleanor Stannard nee Williams. (Her father Albert worked on the estate belonging  to Collingwood ‘Cherry’ Ingram, ornithologist and plant collector and son of Sir William Ingram, owner of London Illustrated News).   She died aged 21. She is buried at St George’s in Benenden, Kent (grave reference : Row 13. Grave 59).  Betty Mary Stannard is commemorated on the Benenden War Memorial in Kent.

I have added their names to the Roath ‘Virtual’ War Memorial which now has almost 100 names on it, but a lot more to add.

Location

I examined old maps to see if I could work out exactly where the incident occurred.  I recall the caretaker’s house in Lady Margaret’s / Howardian school but it wasn’t necessarily rebuilt in the same place as the one that had been bombed.  On one of the old maps there are ‘ruins’ mentioned.  I wonder if this was the site.  If that’s the case then it would be on what is now Hammond Way, not far from the Colchester Avenue junction.  I am guessing this barrage balloon site was chosen to try and protect Roath Power Station from being bombed.

Ruin mentioned

Cardiff had quite a lot of barrage balloon sites across the city. They were also flown from Splott park, Cathays park and Roath park recreation ground.  I have read recently that the balloons were made and maintained at a base in Ely.

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Barrage balloon flying over Roath Park Recreation Ground – 1939

We All Wore Blue: Experiences in the WAAF by Muriel Gane Pushman

We all wore blue

This book adds some interesting memories to the incident described above though also contains some mysteries and be warned some gory bits.  The author was stationed in various parts of the country during her WAAF career so not all the book is about her time in Cardiff.

She describes there being eight balloon sites in Cardiff, ‘one being in the centre of the docks, the famous Tiger Bay area.’

‘….our headquarters were in the stables at Cardiff Castle’   ‘….. a solitary balloon was flying stoically from the keep.’

‘…..the men were responsible for the maintenance of the balloons and winches, and we were in charge of the girl operators.’

She describes the night of a raid and writes:

  • ‘It was not until daybreak that the full horror became known. One of our balloon sites up on a bill on the far side of the city had received a direct hit, blowing the Nissen hut to smithereens and instantly killing several of the girls.  The pretty young corporal in charge had her arm and shoulder blown off and suffered dreadful damage to one side of her face.  in this appalling condition, she had managed to crawl to the Pioneer Corps position – nearly a quarter of a mile away – to raise the alarm.  She had only been married the previous week, …..’
  • ‘Now, as I stood with the other officers while the parts of the bodies were collected, I found myself shivering despite the warm sunshine.’

She also describes attending the funerals:

  • ‘The next week was a blur. Nothing seemed quite real.  We were called upon to accompany the bodies to their respective home town and attend the funerals alongside the families.’
  • ‘I had never been to a funeral before and having to attend so many was physically and emotionally draining.’
  • ‘……. when the other WAAF officers returned from the funerals in Scotland’.

There were a couple of odd things that stuck me about the information in these quotes.  I don’t think I would describe the Colchester Avenue site as being ‘on a bill’.  Also she describes never having been to so many funerals before and the other WAAF officers returning from the funerals in Scotland. The three WAAF casualties I have identified, two were in Scotland and one in Kent.  So does that mean there are some not yet identified?  There is one more name in the letter that appeared in the Echo that I have not been able to trace but there may sadly have been more than that.

Barrage Balloons

A barrage balloon was three times the size of a cricket pitch. The balloons consisted of several panels of very tight fabric, at the back were three fins. The top of the balloon was filled with hydrogen, the bottom half was left empty, so when it was put up at a certain height it filled with natural air. If there wasn’t enough wind, the tail fins looked floppy but in time they filled with air. Balloons lost a certain amount of hydrogen when flying so they had to be topped up every day at the sites.

Crown Gardens 1939

The barrage balloon at Crown Gardens (Cathays Park) in 1939.

Balloons were held by cables which were fixed to winches on lorries. Cables were more important than the balloons as an aircraft had only to touch a cable and it would be destroyed straight away. If the balloon was shot it exploded, taking the aircraft with it.
The bombers had to fly over the balloons, so they couldn’t get any accuracy with their bombing, and they couldn’t dive bomb. It was dangerous to be near a cable if a balloon was shot down as the falling cable could kill a person. The winch has an altimeter which told you how high to fly the balloon, as they were flown at different heights. It was a hazardous job when you were winching up in a confined space, in wind and rain. If there was a strong wind the balloon would take itself off. It had to be handled with care because of the hydrogen.
The rope attachments consisted of metal rings which secured the balloon when it was down. Because of wear and tear the ropes were becoming dangerous so they were replaced with wire, and the metal rings were put on the wire.

There were over 15,000 WAAF barrage balloon operators throughout the country, operating 1400 balloons.

National Memorial Arboretum

Memorial to the Barrage Balloon Squadrons at the National Memorial Arboretum

(The photographs used in this article are not from the Colchester Avenue location.)

It would be interesting to hear from anyone who recalls this tragic incident. 

Postscript:

Steve Duffy, journalist and local historian, who has researched the Grangetown WWI victims, has turned up the following information in newspaper reports regarding a heroine from that night:

HEROINE When a bomb hit a balloon site during raid, killing three others, Leading Aircraftwoman Lilian Sarah Ellis, although seriously injured herself, organised relief parties and undoubtedly saved the life of at least one airwoman.” Throughout the raid,” says the citation accompanying the award to her the B.E.M. “she displayed outstanding leadership, coolness and courage.”

Liverpool Express, May 20th: When bombs fell near barrage balloon site in South Wales on Monday night killing three WAAF. crew and wounding others, Corporal Ellis, Waaf in charge, who was herself injured, refused to accept assistance until attention had been given to her comrades, says Air Ministry News Service. When the raid started Corpl. Ellis ordered all the airwomen she could spare to shelter and had just put down the telephone after reporting to Headquarters when a bomb fell a few feet away, killing three airwomen wounding four, including Corpl. Ellis. Two airwomen who were injured went to the help of the others, although bombs were still falling. Men of the Pioneer Corps rendered first aid.

Another paper reported she had refused first aid herself, until the others had been attended to.

There are no clues in the reports as to who Lilian Sarah Ellis was or where she was from – one possible, a woman who had got married in the previous summer to a Charles Ellis – Lilian Sarah Humphrys and would have been 22 at the time and was from London. 

Norman Biggs – Welsh rugby international killed by a poisoned arrow.

Headlines

Norman Biggs portrait

There are so many headlines I could have used for this article such as ‘Wales’s youngest rugby international‘ or ‘The fastest man in the world?‘ or ‘Where’s his missing memorial?‘.  I was spoilt for choice.

I’ve been researching Norman Biggs now for a couple of years – a fascinating character.  It’s not just him – there’s a story to tell about the whole of the Biggs family, but let’s concentrate on Norman for now.

Norman’s early life

Norman Witchell Biggs was his full name.  Yes, I thought it was a misprint too and it should have been Mitchell, but no, it really was Witchell.   He was born in 1870 in St Andrew’s Place in the middle of Cardiff, to John Biggs, owner of the South Wales Brewery and Emily Sophia Biggs née Clark.  Norman was baptised a few months later in St Mary the Virgin church on Bute Street.  This confused me for a while as it’s not the nearest Anglican church to St Andrew’s Place until I found out that the Biggs family had strong associations with the church; there is a plaque in the church to Norman’s grandparents John and Eliza Biggs.  Perhaps they were benefactors when the church was being built.

In the 1881 census we find Norman Biggs in Lewinsdale School, Weston-Super-Mare.  I’m always amazed by how much travel there seemed to be between Cardiff and Somerset 150 years ago.   There is no sign of the school there nowadays, just Lewinsdale Lodge, now a B&B.

When Norman Biggs returns to live in Cardiff he attends Cardiff Proprietary School, also confusingly known as Cardiff College.   I say confusingly because the building was on Dumfries Place, and later went on the become part of the University and later still the Student’s Union.

Cardiff College

Cardiff College building on Dumfries Place, later became part of the University and later still the Student’s union (Pic credit: Cardiff Libraries)

Norman’s sporting prowess started to show though at a young age.  In 1884, aged just 13, he is playing for Cardiff College (Cardiff Preparatory School) against the University 2nd team and scores two tries. A year later the paper reports Norman, aged 14, playing cricket for Cardiff College versus Llwynypia 2nd XI.

International debut

In 1887 Norman Biggs plays first match for Cardiff on March 9th 1887, aged just 16 years 4 months and scores a try.  His speed makes him a natural winger.  He had a meteoric rise and a year later, he is picked to play for Wales against New Zealand. He becomes the youngest player to play for Wales aged 18 years 1 month 19 days. He held that record for 120 years until Tom Prydie made his Wales debut in 2010 at age of 18 years and 25 days.

Norman Biggs in Wales jersey

Norman Biggs in Wales jersey (pic credit: Wikipedia)

Norman’s first game for Wales didn’t go well. Although Wales won Biggs was ‘palpably nervous’.  The game was held in Swansea where the crowd was hostile towards Wales players from Cardiff and the east of Wales. Newspaper quotes include: ‘The crowd positively pooh-poohed Biggs’, ‘Biggs I am bound to admit disappointed me’, ‘He is a rattling good man, next to George Morgan, the best in Wales’.

A week later, on 29th December  1888, Norman Biggs faced the same tourists, this time as part of the Cardiff team. Biggs had been disappointing in his international debut, but regained his form on the pitch at the Cardiff Arms Park. Within 90 seconds of the start of the match, Biggs scored a ‘sparkling try’.  Biggs should have scored again, but dropped the ball after crossing the line in the slippery conditions.  Cardiff won by a goal and a try to one try.

1888-89New Zealand Native team

1888-89 New Zealand Native team

In January 1889 Norman is picked again to play for Wales, this time against Scotland, but pulls out as part of the ongoing dispute between east and west Wales clubs.

In March 1889 the papers report on Norman taking part in a debate at Cardiff University on smoking, speaking on the side that smoking causes harm and winning.  That’s pretty insightful considering it was 60 years before the link between smoking and ill health was proven scientifically.

On March 2nd 1889 he plays again for Wales in Swansea, this time against Ireland. Wales lost with Ireland scoring two unconverted tries.  Biggs had a bad game being at fault for at least one of the Ireland tries when an overhead pass of his was intercepted. Wales finished bottom of the table that year; bottom of three – England didn’t participate that season.

Let’s take another break from the rugby now for this story that demonstrates the athletic ability of Norman Biggs.  It is reporting on the Cardiff University sports day on May 11th 1889: ‘The lion of the day was Norman Biggs, well-known Cardiff Football player who pulled off the 100 yds, 220 yds, the quarter, the hurdles, the high jump, the prize for throwing the cricket ball, and then crowned a phenomenally successful day by bringing himself and partner in first at the three-legged race’. How many modern day rugby internationals would take part in a three-legged race!

Reports of him partaking in a fun three-legged race are somewhat contradicted by his appearance in team photos.  He always seems somewhat grumpy and surly.

Cardiff 1888-89 team Norman Biggs middle row 2nd from left

Cardiff 1888-89 team Norman Biggs, middle row 2nd from left. perching on a backwards facing chair (pic credit: Cardiff Rugby Museum)

Fastest man in the world?

Watching Norman Biggs sprint down the wing with ball in hand must have been an exhilarating experience given his outstanding pace. There’s even an argument for saying he could have been the fastest man in the world.   In 1889 Norman Biggs goes Cambridge University.  It is not clear what he studied or whether he ever graduated. Here’s an extract from an obituary of Norman Biggs:

“Leaving the Cardiff College he graduated at Cardiff and took up his residence at Trinity Hall.  Here one of his first accidents occurred.  In playing football he had a couple of ribs broken and the necessary rest robbed him of his blue. He however made a name in sprinting and it is on the record that he did the 100 yds in even time.  He had against him such fine flyers as Monypenny.  It was a remarkable thing that in the 100 yds Norman could beat Monypenny but in the 120 yds the latter could always reach the line first, the explanation being that Norman was the better starter.”

The Monypenny in the quote above was Charlton Monypenny.  Here’s what it says about him in Wikipedia: “While at Cambridge he achieved two running records, the World Record for the 150-yard dash (14.8 secs) and the Cambridge quarter of a mile track record (49.5 secs) which stood until 1931.  In 1891 Monypenny was recognised as the seconded fastest man in the world behind American Luther Cary, recording a time of 10.8 seconds in the 100-metre sprint on 22 July. The next year, although recording an identical time of 10.8 seconds, he was judged the joint fastest men in the world that year, along with American athlete Cecil Lee”

Put those two articles together, the fact that Biggs could beat Monypenny over 100 yds and the fact that Monypenny was judged one of the fastest men in the world, and it could be argued that Norman Biggs was possibly the world’s fastest.  An obituary and Wikipedia are hardly ‘primary sources’ for history researchers I admit but it makes you wonder. Add to it that he was only doing athletics because an injury prevented him playing rugby and those sprint times would have been made from a standing start rather than using blocks or spiked shoes and it is all pretty remarkable stuff.

International Success

Biggs plays again for Wales in 1892 against Ireland but again ends up on the losing side.  In 1893 however his fortunes change and he finds himself part of the first Wales team to win a Triple Crown. On January 7th at the Arms Park, Wales beat England 12-11 in what has become known as the ‘Devil’s match’ because fires were lit around the ground the previous night to keep the pitch frost-free and enable the game to go ahead. Biggs scored.  ‘After each of the three quarters had handled the ball, Norman Biggs having cleverly been given the ball by Conway Rees, sprinting away from Lockwood, got the better of Field, and scored a really fine try’.

Triple Crown medal belonging to Frank Hill in Cardiff Rugby Museum

Medal awarded to players of Wales’s first triple crown winning side. This one belonged to Frank Hill and is on display at Cardiff Rugby club Museum.

The following month Wales travel to Scotland and win 9-0 and again Norman Biggs scores a try. The 1893 away game against Scotland is described as Biggs’ best international match and ‘his speed and general play were the main factors in securing the first victory of the Principality over Scotland at Scotland’.

In March Wales play Ireland at Stradey Park, Llanelli.  Wales win 2-0 though a try from Gould.  Ireland fielded one more forward than Wales (it was a choice how many forwards and backs were playing at the time).  Quotes from the papers included: ‘Gould and Norman Biggs time after time stopped rushes, the later player saving his front rank by screw punting’, ‘the most uninteresting international contest for years past’.

Cricketing Skills

In the summer of 1893 Norman plays cricket for Glamorgan against a Cardiff team that includes his brother Selwyn, thereby becoming one of a select band of players to play both cricket for Glamorgan and rugby for Wales.  Selwyn in fact later goes on to play for Glamorgan and become their opening bowler for a number of years.

Club Loyalty

Club rugby was somewhat different in the 1890s. Players weren’t contractually bound to a club as they are now and sometimes turned out for other clubs if they found themselves in different parts of the country.  Norman Biggs played for London Welsh in matches against both Cardiff and Swansea in 1890.  He also plays a fair bit for Richmond over the years. At one time in 1893 he gets collared by a reporter on his return to Cardiff.  Norman explained ‘he was in London for a fortnight seeing a doctor every day, after he had an operation.  Playing for Richmond there was no need to exert himself and nobody cared who won’.

Conclusion of International Career

Norman Biggs plays two more matches for Wales.  In January 1894 against England at Birkenhead Park in front of a crown of 7,000 Wales suffered a heavy defeat, losing 24-3.  In a post-match interview Biggs was asked why he had failed to tackle Harry Bradshaw, who scored the first try; Biggs responded “Tackle him? It was as much as I could do to get out of his way!”

In March 1894 Wales beat Ireland 3-0 in a game where all the backs were from Cardiff.  The very next international saw Norman’s younger brother Selwyn selected for the first time, the brothers missing each other by just one match. Selwyn also goes on to have a very successful international career.

Norman Biggs George North comparison

Norman Biggs compared to today’s Wales winger George North – note the difference in weight!

Cardiff Captain

In the 1893-94 season Norman Biggs captains Cardiff.   During the season Biggs scored 58 conversions, 25 tries and two dropped goals bringing his points tally to 199 points, a record that remained till 1972–73 when it was surpassed by John Davies.

1893-4 Cardiff Rugby Club.  Norman Biggs captain with ball and Selwyn Biggs top right (picture credit: Cardiff Rugby Club Museum)

Biggs played for Cardiff from the 1886–87 season through to 1898–99.  He played in 166 matches for Cardiff, was one of the highest scoring players the club has produced. Biggs ended his Cardiff career with 107 tries, four less than another of his brothers Cecil. He scored five or more try conversions in a single match on seven occasions, six in the same season (1893-94), against Gloucester, Bristol, London Welsh, Penygraig, Exeter and Cardiff & D.R.U.

The last notable club Biggs represented was Bath.  He turned out in the 1886-89 seasons sometimes.  His decision to go to Bath was probably guided by the fact that his father’s brewery may have had an interest in the area. Some match reports also mention him and Selwyn promising to turn up but not and instead playing for Richmond.  Norman was said to be captaining the Bath senior team during the 1899–1900 season but did not appear in the match reports, instead diverted by the next stage in his life.

 

The Boer War

On 5th January 1900 he joined the Glamorgan Imperial Yeomanry, a volunteer force. In the British army at the time the officers were from the gentry and the professional middle classes and the recruits from the poorest sections of society. You wonder how much horse riding experience Norman Biggs had before joining the yeomanry.  It is true that the Biggs house Oldwell, Penylan, Cardiff did have stables so he had probably built up some experience.

Norman Biggs signs up

Norman Biggs signs up

His exploits in the Boer War are relatively well reported in the papers.  People were naturally keen to hear how one of their rugby stars was fairing.  In May 1900 he had arrived in South Africa and sends a drawing home to his brothers which was published in the Western Mail.  The letter included a picture of the cook and wood gatherers.  At this time his unit was still undergoing training near Cape Town.  The papers also report Biggs was keen for a photograph he’d sent to be forwarded to the Conservative Club in St Mary’s Street, so we learn of his political affiliation.

 

 

By December 1900 his unit is on the front line.  A letter from R S Jenkin the old Swansea football forward describes how Norman Biggs the ex-international three quarter was wounded.  He says “Six miles from Vrede, our left rear flankers were fired on by almost a dozen Boers.  We on the right flank heard the firing and saw the state of affairs and opened fire.  Shortly the rearguard came back and things got interesting.  Norman Biggs, G F Williams (late of Llandovery) and Sergeant Thomas were in the centre and as soon as they heard the firing on the right they concluded that the right flank was in trouble.  They came across and Norman, mad like, went galloping towards the Boer fire, in spite of orders to the contrary being shouted to him. He having got the idea into his head that I and the others were concerned, and he meant to find out.  Anyhow, he got within a hundred yards and found things getting hot, when he was wounded in the uppermost part of his thigh.  He turned about but had only got a few yards when his horse was shot dead.  He lay down behind it, and was about to aim, when he saw the Boers mounting and getting into position to cut off his retreat, so he picked himself up and ran off.  He was shortly picked up by one of our officers, who put him on a horse and caught hold of the stirrup himself.  The horse shield (sic), and Norman once more embraced mother earth.  Then Major Wyndham-Quin put him on a horse, and this time he was taken in safety to the hospital.  He is now much better as it is only a flesh wound.”

Biggs injured in 1900

map credit: Google

Norman was sent initially to the military hospital in Harrismith.   On December 19th 1900 he returns to UK on board the hospital ship Simla with 284 other men. It seems he was not home long.

Hospital ship Simla

Hospital ship Simla

In February it is announced he is to join ‘Paget’s Horse’, an elite horseback unit, as a Captain.  He returns to South Africa but in May we read he is in hospital in Winberg with fever.  In September he is discharged from hospital and in November fighting again. We don’t read much about him in the following year.  He arrives home in late 1902.

Paget's Horse Yeomenary

Paget’s Horse (picture credit: Look and Learn)

Extended military career

On returning home Norman appears to have made a decision to extend his military career rather than return to the family brewing business which by now was in its twilight years.  He joins the regular army.  He is initially stationed in Cardiff Barracks training recruits, then Aldershot, then Hythe where he takes a course in the School of Musketry.

He serves as the District Superintendent of the Northern Nigerian Constabulary. The papers say he returned to Nigeria in October 1907 having been on leave in England that summer, so must have been there previously at some stage.

Poisoned Arrow

He was killed 27 Feb 1908 at Chinuku, Northern Nigeria, after being hit by a poisoned arrow in a brush with natives whilst on patrol duty. Newspaper reports say he was trying to arrest some ‘Pagans’ who had been pillaging and were hiding in a village.  On approaching the village they were attacked.

Biggs did not reload but instead rode onto the next village to allay fears of the natives who would have seen the neighbouring village burning.  His intention was to warn them that their force had no quarrel with them and that they had nothing to fear.

The papers report that unfortunately his mission was misunderstood and before he could get close enough to explain his mission he was shot in the thigh by a poisoned arrow. Biggs pulled out the arrow and a fellow officer cauterised it with a red hot knife. Biggs was removed by horse to Sakaba, some 50 miles away but he died four days later. He was buried at Fort Sakaba with full military honours attended by 30 officers. It is theorised that his heart may have been weakened having had a couple of bouts of malaria.  The arrow was sent home for analysis, but I can’t find any record of the outcome of the analysis.

Nigeria and Norman Biggs place of death marked by red pin

Chinuku, Northern Nigeria (map credit: Google)

The poison used in poison darts varies throughout the world.  In South America it is often taken from a venomous frog, in southern Africa from a poisonous beetle and in Northern Nigeria from the plant Strophanthus.  Cardiac poisons tend to be fast-acting.  The fact that Biggs died four days after being hit by the arrow would seem to indicate to me he probably died of a resulting hemorrhage rather than the poison itself – but why spoil a good story.

Norman Biggs’s Grave

The grave of Norman Biggs is marked with a simple metal cross that is talked about in a YouTube video.  It looks in remarkable condition even after all this time.  The cross appears to read:  In loving memory of Norman W Biggs of Cardiff, Great Britain. Cpt 3rd Welch Rgt. DSG N Nigeria  Killed in action. Died 27 Feb 1908.

The cross on grave of Norman Biggs

The cross on grave of Norman Biggs

There is a fascinating YouTube video interviewing a local man who seems to be saying that it is thought they were missionaries but the locals thought they were cannibals. Click the CC button at the foot of the YouTube video to get the subtitles.

YouTube video stills

Cardiff honours Biggs

The news of the death of Norman Biggs was widely reported in the papers.  A large service was held in his honour on March 16th 1908 at St John’s church, Cardiff.  Mr W T Morgan and a large number of Cardiff Rugby Club assembled at the Drill Hall in Dumfries Place and marched along Queen Street to St John’s along with members of the Glamorgan Yeomanry and the Welch Regiment.  The members of the Wales rugby team were unfortunately delayed on the train on their return from Ireland so arrived 90 minutes after the service.

Norman Biggs Memorial Service

I always think it’s best to treat obituaries with a note of caution but they do make interesting reading.   One obituary says that at the age of 16 Norman Biggs was chosen to play for Wales but that his headmaster, Mr Birbeck Terry,  vetoed it on the grounds that he was not sufficiently well set to stand the gruelling game of twenty years ago. The obit says that he worked for his father initially at the Salisbury Road brewery and then at the Canton Cross Brewery.

Another obituary says Biggs had ‘a fund of humour yet could be caustic in his criticism of colleagues, but he was a good judge of character and seldom mistook his man, realising that an exaggerated compliment was the best way to bring out the best in some men and a whip of sarcasm the best for others’.

The Missing Memorial

A year later on March 27th 1909 the Weekly Mail reports of a meeting held at the Angel Hotel to discuss the idea of a memorial tablet to Norman Biggs and that St John’s or St Andrew’s church commended itself.  The meeting was attended by members of Cardiff Rugby and Cricket clubs, the Glamorgan Yeomanry and the Welch Regiment.  The vicar of St John’s was even on the committee.

I have visited both churches and never found a memorial tablet or memorial window.

Two years later another interesting snippet appears in The Clifton Society of May 16th  1912.  The idea now seems to be the idea is for a stained glass window at St John’s and it has been placed in the hands of Cardiff Football Club.

The Clifton Society May 16th 1912

It appears that this remarkable athlete is remembered by a simple metal cross in Nigeria but not in any way in his home city of Cardiff and am left wondering the reason for that.  Is it because the people of Cardiff were already beginning to question the actions that took place in Britain’s colonial past I wonder.


 

Many thanks to rugby and military historian Gwyn Prescott for his assistance, especially in the early days of my research into Norman Biggs.

I have a talk prepared on Norman Biggs and the Biggs family.  If you are a member of a group that may be interested in hearing the talk please don’t hesitate to get in contact.

Norman Biggs poster cropped

The Cardiff High School Headmaster who never was.

I thought I would start to take a look at the names on the Cardiff High WWI memorial plaque.  I’ve made a slow start.  The first name on the memorial is “J L Davies.  Essex Regt (Headmaster 1915)”.  It’s a sad story, as are all that lie behind war memorial names.

John Llewelyn Davies - Headmaster Cardiff High

Major John Llewelyn Davies (Photo credit: IWM)

 

The war memorial plaque was originally displayed at the old Cardiff High School on Newport Road but now sited at Cardiff High School on  Llandennis Road. It was dedicated in its original position on 22nd Nov 1922, relocated to the new Cardiff High School building in 1970 and rededicated on 30th June 2006 after being restored and remounted.

Cardiff High School War Memorial

J L Davies Cardiff High War Memorial

J L Davies was Major John Llewelyn Davies. He was born in the picturesque village of St Ishmael, near Ferryside in Carmarthenshire in 1879.  His father, David Davies, was a schoolmaster.  Sometime in the next ten years David Davies moved to Neath where he became headmaster of what is now called the Alderman Davies school, more famous these days for being where Katherine Jenkins started he education.

St Ishmael, Carmarthenshire

St Ishmael, Carmarthenshire, birthplace of John Llewelyn Davies

John Llewelyn Davies attended his father’s school in Neath as did probably his five siblings.  After school he then went on to study at Aberystwyth University and then Emmanuel College, Cambridge.  He graduated with First Class honours in Natural Science and went on to gain an M.A.

Emmanual College Cambridge

Emmanuel College, Cambridge (Photo credit – Wiki)

 

On leaving Cambridge, John went as lecturer to Carmarthen Training College (Trinity College) for a short period, and subsequently became science master at the Perse School, Cambridge.  As a  schoolmaster,  Major  Davies  was  thorough  and  successful, enjoying great popularity among his boys and colleagues.  His pupils gained  many open  scholarships at universities.

Carmarthen Training College

Trinity College Carmarthen

As well as having a passion for science, John Llewelyn Davies was dedicated to the military.  Whilst teaching in Cambridge he spent seven years as a Lieutenant in the Officers Training Corps.  When the war broke out he gave up his post at Perse School and joined the 11th Essex Regiment as Captain of A Company.

Perse School, Cambridge

Perse School, Cambridge in the late 1800s

In April 1915 he was promoted to the rank of Major.  In May he was appointed as Headmaster of Cardiff High School.  It was agreed that he would take up his post when the war was over.  On 17th August 1915 he was married to Isabel Christina Jessie Fraser B.A. in Wrexham.  Christina, a teacher,  worked at the Training College in Bingley, Yorkshire.  On 30 August 1915, just thirteen days after he was married,  John Llewelyn Davies and his battalion landed at Boulogne, and proceeded to positions at Loos.

On 25th September 1915, Major John Llewelyn Davies is killed on the first day of the battle of Loos in France, one of the bloodiest battles of WWI where 60,000 British soldiers perished.  He was aged 35. He has no known burial site.

Battle of Loos

photograph (Q 28986) Battle of Loos, 25th September, 1915. Ruined buildings in a street in Loos, 30th September, 1915. The famous Tower Bridge can be seen. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205092033

One of his fellow officers wrote “He was very much a fine soldier and all had such implicit confidence in him.  He was so capable and absolutely to be relied upon. The regiment feels very much his loss for he was one of the ablest officers”.

John Llewelyn Davies is remembered on a number of War Memorials.  As well as the Cardiff High School memorial his name also appears on memorials at Aberystwyth University, Trinity College Carmarthen and Perse School Cambridge as well as the Loos Memorial at Dud Corner Cemetery, France.

Aberystwyth University

Aberystwyth University – one of the places Major J L Davies is remembered

His wife of just one month, Christina, continued her teaching career and never did remarry, and lived into her eighties.  She passed away in Chirk, Denbighshire in 1964.

The probate of Major John Llewelyn Davies details that the executor was his bother  Richard Jones Davies.    The probate also states that  he died as Wesel in Germany.

John Llewellyn Davies probate announcment 2nd May 2016 Cambrian Leader

John Llewellyn Davies probate announcement 2nd May 2016 Cambrian Leader

One newspaper report states that the brother, Richard Jones Davies lived in Llanishen, so maybe there was a connection to Cardiff after all.  I tried to find Richard Davies in Cardiff in the 1911 Census but failed.  It turns out he was at the time in hospital in Pinewood, Wokingham, Berkshire.  Pinewood hospital was a place for those recovering from tuberculosis, a not uncommon disease at the time.

So Major John Llewelyn Davies never got to take up his post as Headmaster of Cardiff High School. Judging by his prior achievements I’m sure he would have been very successful in that role.  A sad loss to his family and to Cardiff High School.

Trinity College War Memorial

Loos War Memorial, France (Photo Credit: Gwyn Prescott)

Subsequent Information

After publishing this blog post Gwyn Prescott (rugby and military historian) was kind enough to share with me his bio on Major J L Davies.  It contained some interesting additional information:

  • The Red Cross reported that Major John Llewelyn Davies had died of wounds in German hands at Wesel, Germany. A fellow officer wrote: “He was such a fine soldier, and [all his men] had such implicit confidence in him. He was so capable and absolutely to be relied on. The regiment feels very much his loss, for he was one of the ablest officers.”  His official date of death is given as 25th September 1915, the day on which the Battle of Loos opened. However, it appears that he may have been mortally wounded on the 26th and, as he died in Germany as a prisoner of war, his death must have occurred later. He was 36. His grave was subsequently lost so he is commemorated on the Loos Memorial to the Missing, Dud Corner, France. He is also commemorated on war memorials in Aberystwyth University; Emmanuel College Cambridge; Perse School Cambridge; and the Royal Society of Chemistry, Burlington House, London.

 

RSC War Memorial Burlington HOuse

Royal Society of Chemistry memorial at Burlington House, London

Gwyn Prescott also made me aware that J L Davies was a Chemist.  When I had read that he graduated with degrees in natural science I had assumed he was a biologist or alike, forgetting that Cambridge University natural science degrees cover a breadth of scientific topics.  Being a chemist myself I realised when I read his name is remembered on the memorial at Royal Society of Chemistry offices in Burlington House that I would have walked past his name on a number of occasions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extra bits

I’m a great believer in not only sharing the findings from research but also the methods of how to go about conducting that research.  I’m by no means an expert and there are others far more expert than me out there in Cardiff.

Researching names on war memorials isn’t always straightforward.  In Wales there are a lot of common surnames making things tricky.  On war memorials it is often only the initials and surname quoted.  And beware, sometimes errors are made even in spelling a name etc.

At least in the case of the Cardiff High war memorial plaque the regiment names are quoted which can help.  In the case therefore of ‘J L Davies.  Essex Regt’, the first thing I did was to see if he was listed on the Commonwealth War Graves.  There were a number of matches J L Davies’s but only one in WWI in the Essex Regiment and he was Major John Llewelyn Davies.  I’m still not convinced however at this stage that I have the right person.

I then spent quite a long time looking for a John Llewelyn Davies in Cardiff on the census records.  A census is carried out once ever ten years in England and Wales but the information kept secret for a hundred years.  The last census therefore available for us to study is the 1911 census. A sort of census was carried out in September 1939 but detailing a lot less information but is also available and called the 1939 Register.  Let me clarify by what I mean when I say ‘available’.  Census records are most easily searched and accessed using the two main family history websites Ancestry and Find my Past.  Unfortunately, both these are subscription websites.  Don’t get despondent, there’s good news.  Both can be accessed free of charge in Cardiff libraries.

John Llewelyn Davies

So I search for John Llewelyn Davies in Cardiff in the census information and find nothing.  This is where I made a mistake.  I should have probably just done and internet search for ‘John Llewelyn Davies’ and ‘Cardiff High School’ where I would probably have discovered that others had carried out similar research.  Instead I just kept looking for a John Llewelyn Davies on census records but without a date of birth things were proving tricky.  Eventually I found one born in Ferryside and had a father who was a schoolmaster. Then I found him in the 1911 census as a schoolmaster in Cambridge which would explain him being a member of the Essex Regiment.  Things were beginning to fit together.  A couple more bits were obtained from Wales Newspapers Online and then back to some more general searching using Google (other internet search engines are available!).

John Llewelyn Davies obit

Mid Glam Herald and Neath Gazette Dec 4th 1915 Obit

I won’t bore you with every avenue I took during my search but I did enjoy doing it.  If you are interested in starting off or honing your skills I can recommend the Glamorgan Family History Society.  They periodically run courses for beginners and have a session on the first Saturday of the month at Cardiff Central Library for more experienced researchers who may have hit a brick wall in their particular project.  A number of Cardiff libraries also run sessions for beginners such as Cathays and Rhydypennau and maybe some others.

My final recommendation is a train trip to Ferryside and St Ishmael, the birthplace of Major John Llewelyn Davies.  I went there earlier this year and the views across the estuary to Llansteffan and Laugharne were something else.  Don’t forget to tell the train conductor you want to get off however as Ferryside is a request stop.  More about that trip on my own blog Cardiff Capers.

 

 

Uncovering the history of Wellfield Road

Wellfield Road, Cardiff history

I must admit that Wellfield Road holds a special draw for me.  It’s where as a child I was taken to get my hair cut in Sam’s, where I was occasionally treated to a Thayer’s ice-cream, where I was taken into the china ornament shop under strict instructions to keep my hands by my side and not knock anything over or else I would have to pay for it, where Mr Clarke, the greengrocer, used to give me stamps to put in my stamp collection, and where I was allowed to spend my pocket money in Billy’s or Baker’s.  Ten years later as a teenager I would be spending hours in Ferrari’s bakery making a coffee and choux bun last for hours discussing world affairs or enjoying a late night chicken tikka masala in the Himalaya after an Allbright or two.

Some of Wellfield Road’s past has literally been uncovered this month.  Waterloo Tea are busy preparing their latest outlet at No.41.  It was most recently Ushi’s gift shop.  When the painter took away some of the old shop front and stripped away the paint what should be uncovered but the name H A Tilley, the name of the old shoe shop.  The signs are Waterloo Tea is going to preserve the old H A Tilley name.

Waterloo Tea, Wellfield Road, Cardiff

June 2019 – uncovering the past. Shop being prepared for Waterloo Tea.

 

Tilley Shoe Shop, Wellfield Road, Cardiff

I’ve done a bit of research and found Herbert Arthur Tilley was born on June 29th 1911 in Newport, son of John Tilley, a gardener, and Alice Hannah Tilley (née Underwood).  In 1939 we find Herbert living on Sherbourne Avenue, Cyncoed together with his elder married sister Alice Doreen Lewis (b.1906).  Herbert describes himself as a boot and shoe retailer whilst Alice is a manageress of a shoe shop.  I’m guessing therefore that they may well have run the Wellfield Road shop together.  Alice passes away in 1984 in Cyncoed and Herbert died on May 28th 1993 in Bournemouth.  I can’t find any record of Herbert ever having married.

 

By all accounts Mr Tilley was a very nice man and a capable tennis player playing in a club in Rhiwbina.  He lived for some time on Llanederyn Road in one of those houses that had its own tennis court.

According to the Cardiff Trade Directories, the occupants prior to H A Tilley was a confectioners Brelaz & Williams.  Information on these occupants was somewhat harder to tease out.  Luckily in the past year, being part of our Society’s Research group, I have picked up some very useful tips.  And so with Pat’s help we have found the following:

41 Wellfield Road, Cardiff - History

Maud Brelaz, nee Williams, was born in Cardiff and marries Charles Louis Brelaz in Dundee in 1923.  In 1925  we find she is advertising herself in the Dundee Courier as Madame Brelaz, Revue Actress and Welsh Singer, open to take on pupils for dancing and singing lessons.  By 1928 they have moved to Wellfield Road and opened a confectionery shop. In January that year the Western Daily Press reports they purchase two Princip steam ovens, manufactured just around the corner in Albany Road. In 1930 however Charles dies in Lusanne, Switzerland.  In 1933 Maud sets up a new company, Penylan Confectioners, with her brother Arthur and family.  We may even have found Maud staring in the 1916 silent film Grim Justice, but haven’t been able to prove that was the same Maud Williams as yet.

So how do we know all this.  Well for shopping streets in particular the very useful resource is Trade Directories.  Some of these are now appearing on-line but the easiest way to access them locally is in Cathays Library.  They tend to cover the period up to 1972.  There is another useful resource in recent years called the Goad maps.  They name every shop on a road in a given year.  The earliest I have found for Wellfield Road is 2006, again in Cathays library.

Wellfield Rad, Cardiff plan 2006

Wellfield ROad, Roath, Cardiff 1972

Wellfield Road 1972 Trade Directory

 

We do however have a 30 year gap between the mid-1970s and 2006 where information is harder to find.  This is where we would like your help.  Can you help us list the shops that were there in that period?  Any help much appreciated!  Many thanks.

Our Research group is looking to spend some time concentrating on Wellfield Road history.  It seems to make sense given that our Society meetings are held at St Andrew’s URC church hall.   I have started a web page on the History of Wellfield Road.  Hopefully, with your help, that will grow and begin to capture some more of the history of this fascinating street.

Albany Road and the 1911 census Suffragette protest

Who would have thought it that an e-cigarette shop in Albany Road was the centre of a Suffragette protest in 1911.  I’m certainly thinking this is going to be a candidate for one of our virtual Roath History plaques.

Cardiff and District Women's Suffrage Society banner, 1908

Cardiff and District Women’s Suffrage Society banner, 1908

Earlier this year I saw an exhibition at Cardiff Story Museum that explained the following:

In 1911 the Woman’s Freedom League (WFL) called for its members to ‘Boycott the Census’.  Their motto was ‘No votes for women, no information from women’.

 They declared ‘Any government that refuses to recognise women must be met by woman’s refusal to recognise the Government ……. we intend to do our best to make it [the census] unreliable and inaccurate

 Boycotters in Cardiff spent the night at 34 Albany Road, Roath. The census record for the premises reads ‘this is the shop where the local suffragettes spent the night of Sunday April 3rd 1911 in order to evade the census & on the authority of Mr R J Watkins, Superintendent Registrar, the estimated number was: Males 2, Females 15, Total 17’.

 The Western Mail reported that ‘it is definitely known that the number exceeded fifty’.

 

1911 Census for 34 Albany Road

Extract from 1911 census of 34 Albany Road, Roath, Cardiff.

Whilst the census boycott didn’t nullify the census results, it did focus the public’s attention on the suffragette movement and its campaign for ‘Votes for Women’.  The outbreak of war however somewhat slowed advancement of the suffragettes’ cause.

Eventually, after the First World War, Parliament passed the 1918 Qualification of Women Act which enabled women over the age of 30 who were either householders or married to a householder, or who held a university degree, to vote  It was not until the 1928 Representation of the People Act that women were granted the right to vote on the same terms as men.

 

Then last month Bernice Maynard posted on the ‘Cardiff Now & Then’ Facebook page a postcard of Edwards & Co Drapers in Albany Road and wondered if anybody knew where in Albany Road this shop used to be.  A number of people rose to the challenge and identified it as being  number 34 Albany Road, the very address where the suffragette protest had taken place.

34 Albany ROad, Roath, Cardiff, Postcard.

Edwards & Co Drapers had closed prior to 1911 and at the time of the census was lying vacant,  but the postcard probably still gives a good impression of what the premises looked like at the time. Today it is the Flavour Vapour e-cigarette shop.

Flavour Vapour, Albany Road, Cardiff

There were many responses to  Bernice’s post.  Someone shared a Western Mail newspaper article relating to the protest and someone pointed towards a copy of the 1911 census return for the premises. Many thanks to Bernice Maynard , Pat Allen, Jackie Lewis and others for sharing their research and to the ‘Cardiff Now & Then’ Facebook page.

The interesting newspaper article, supplemented with some pictures found elsewhere, follows below.

 

Suffragette Protest for the 1911 Census – WESTERN MAIL

Password of the Ladies
“ESCAPE FROM THE CENSUS IN CARDIFF.”
HOW A SECRET WAS WELL KEPT.
NIGHT IN UNTENANTED HOUSING.
EARLY MORNING CALL BY REGISTRAR.

None of the suffragettes who were successful in evading the census was prepared on Monday to give any hint as to the number who spent the night in the untenanted house in Albany Road, Cardiff. Reticence on this point was only to be expected for it was hardly likely that they would give any information which would nullify their all-night vigil.  It is definitely known however that the number exceeded fifty, and while the majority of them belonged to the Social and Political Union, some of the members of the Women’s Freedom League and the Cardiff and District Suffrage Society joined in the scheme. Those concerned displayed unrestrained delight that they had kept their plans a secret and had thus been able to “diddle the enumerators” and cheat the Registrar-General.

The story of the scheme was related in Monday’s Western Mail, but it was not known until the early morning where it was being carried out.  It transpires that Miss Barratt of Newport, acting on behalf of the Social and Political Union, had secured the use of commodious premises, part of which is a shop in Albany Road no 34.  The ladies turned up singly or in two’s during the evening and, in order not to create suspicion, they made their way to the premises through the back lane.  None was admitted until she had given the appropriate password “Escape.”
The night was spent in the sitting-rooms of the houses, where fires had been lit early in the evening. A large number of chairs had been secretly conveyed into the building, but those were nothing like sufficient for those who turned up, and many had to lay on the floors. They had, fortunately, taken the precaution of having a good supply of rugs, cushions and pillows.

During the night the ladies were visited by police officers, and one of the census enumerators handed two census forms to one of the ladies. These were however refused and the enumerator then threw the forms on the floor requesting that they should be properly filled up. The only reply he received was that they would not be touched and that they should have been delivered on Saturday.  The request of the enumerator was not complied with, and when the ladies left, between seven and eight o’clock in the morning- they did so in small batches – they had what satisfaction is afforded in believing that they had prevented a complete census of Cardiff’s citizens. They did not however return to their homes until late afternoon, and after having breakfast at various restaurants, they either took long walks in the country or spent their time in the Free Library.

One of the party told our reporter that the night was pleasantly spent, and none of them had the slightest cause to regret their attempt to “spoil the census.” Everybody she said, “brought a stock of refreshments. and, after our supper party we talked for hours, and when this morning was well advanced we played cards. It was certainly an interesting experience, and if it served to show the ludicrousness of shutting out of the Parliamentary franchise all of the women of the country well -we are satisfied.”

Votes for Women 1911 poster

Newspaper “Beds”

HOW THE LADIES SPENT THE NIGHT

Mrs Keating Hill, interviewed by a Western Mail reporter, described the scheme as “thoroughly interesting and more successful than we at first thought it would be.”

Asked how many turned up, Mrs Hill replied, “We were a large family of about – well, how many do you think? I really didn’t count them.”
Mrs Hill went on to relate how the night was spent. “Although we had before us the prospect of a night’s ‘dossing,’” she said, “everybody was in gay spirits, and the proceedings opened with a ‘reception.’  Then we had to divide forces, because we all could not possibly spend the night in the same room. Things were exceedingly comfortable. There were bright fires in the grates, and we had a plentiful supply of refreshments.  We had to be cautious in regard to light, as we knew police would be keeping a sharp look-out for us, but we had treated the window with whiting, and were able to burn candles with some amount of safety.  After midnight some of the party wrapped themselves up in their rugs and went to sleep, their ‘bed’ consisting of a newspaper spread on the floor.  Others preferred to do some crochet work.  In our room we were fortunate enough to have a clever fortune teller, and she provided an interesting entertainment and of course we talked for hours.”
“There were certainly some diverting incidents during the night.  We soon discovered that we were being ‘looked for,’ and occasionally men peered in through the front window.  Then of course we spoke in whispered tones, so as not to give the game up.  We could hear and thoroughly enjoyed the heated argument between a police officer and a gentleman who had been peeping into the shop, and who turned out to be a Western Mail man.  He was certainly well on the scent at that time, but had he continued knocking we should probably not have answered the door just then.”

Cardiff libraties

Photo: Cardiff Libraries

VISIT BY THE POLICE

“Later a couple of policemen came and hammered at the door, and demanded to know what we were doing on the premises.  ‘The occupier’ was adamant, and a policeman might just as well have endeavoured to get a tramcar to discuss philosophy as to question her.  Fancy, the police wanted to go through the door, but we would not allow them: and them came two more officers and a lady inspector, but it was all of no avail, and the census man who followed was met with no greater measure of success.”

“We all remained at the house until about seven o’clock, and as there were still some of the police about, and we did not want to give them the chance to count us, we had to watch our opportunity to get away.  We left in small batches and scattered in all directions.  We had a jolly picnic, and we believe we have done a service to the cause we advocate.  Some of the party had their first experience of hard suffragetting, and we are pleased to know that they are not in the least bit daunted.  They expressed themselves as being ready for greater hardships than that, so that the Government will experience more trouble than they have had before.”

a group of Welsh suffragettes departing from Cardiff to volunteer as nurses with the Serbian Army, sometime in 1

A group of Welsh suffragettes departing from Cardiff to volunteer as nurses with the Serbian Army, sometime in 1914 (Photo: Glamorgan Archives)

“SCHEME A COMPLETE SUCCESS”

The census dodging party included Miss Barratt of Newport, who is the organising secretary of the Women’s Social and Political Union for South Wales.  Seen by one of our reporters on Monday Miss Barratt remarked that the scheme had been a complete success, and that they had all spent a thoroughly enjoyable night.
“We certainly hadn’t a dull moment in the room I was in,” Miss Barratt went on, “and if we were not listening to entertaining discussions on the situation and the cause, we were able to watch some of the ladies playing their best trump cards in whist.  Of course we did not play cards on Sunday night- we waited for that until the early hours of Monday morning.”
Referring to the visits of the police, Miss Barratt said they appeared to be under the impressions that they had a right of entry to the house and would not credit that the building had been rented for two nights.  “They had no search warrant,” added Miss Barratt, “and of course they could not come in, especially as the person in charge explained that she was responsible for the conduct of the house.”
Miss Barratt stated in reply to a further query that the majority of the census evaders were educated women, and ranging in age from sixteen to 60. The number also included several married ladies.

Early Morning Call

REGISTRAR’S FRUITLESS VISIT TO ALBANY ROAD

On Monday afternoon one of our reporters interviewed Mr. Jack Taylor, registrar for East Cardiff, who has control of more than 30 enumerators.  Mr. Taylor was familiar with the hiding-place of the suffragettes.  It was he said, the shop and house, 34 Albany road, formerly in the occupation of a draper, and now vacant and to let.
“This morning,” he went on, “at two o’clock, I had some unexpected visitors in the person of Police-sergeant Wootton and Police constable Jack Hudson. They woke me up as registrar and reported that certain females were evading the census.  I got out of bed, and foreseeing certain difficulties, I prevailed upon my wife (who acts as my deputy) to accompany me in the hope that she might be able to identify at least some of the ladies.  We went together, and immediately I rang the bell three ladies came to the door. They carried ‘candle dips’. I asked one of them ‘Who is the head of the house?’ and she said ‘I am,’ but as it was past twelve, she in answer to my inquiries, refused any information.
“Were the police with you?”
“they were outside listening. I asked the ladies for their names, but as the schedules had not been served upon them before twelve they declined to give their Christian or surnames. I did not know them, and I should not know them again, neither do I know how many were in the house, but those I saw were well dressed.  One of the three retired.  I served each of the two remaining with a schedule, but they still declined information. I read to them the section under which they are liable to a forfeiture of £5 each.  All they said was that they were advised not to give their names or addresses because the enumerator had not served them with schedules before twelve.”
“That being so , will they be able to escape the penalty?”
“Certainly not,” answered Mr. Taylor, with emphasis. He added that at half past eleven on Sunday night some ladies were seen to enter the house in Albany Road and at twenty minutes past twelve the police reported the admission of three others.  The officers rang the bell.  The trio made a move towards the door but did not open it.  Mr Taylor will report the facts to the Registrar general.

 

“GONE TO CARDIFF TO EVADE THE CENSUS.”

A prominent gentleman in the neighbourhood of Cardiff has a daughter who is an enthusiastic supporter of the cause, and this young lady was one of those- chiefly school mistresses and assistant teachers – who passed Sunday night in the house in Albany Road. Her name and all the required details had been included in the schedule at home but immediately her father learned of the cause of her absence he put the pen through the name and wrote: ”Gone to Cardiff to evade the census.” The gentleman informs us that a good scolding awaited the young lady on her return on Monday morning.
One person only was found by the police wandering aimlessly about Cardiff streets on Sunday night and was enumerated as one of the homeless.

Women's_Suffrage_Pilgrimage_in_Cathays_Park,_Cardiff_1913

Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage in Cathays Park Cardiff in 1913 (Cardiff Libraries)

A Voice From The Inside.

HOW THE NIGHT WAS SPENT IN ALBANY ROAD
(By one who was present)

Late on the eventful night, along a convenient and little known back street, we approached the House of secret Abode. from the other end of the street’s dimness three forms approached, grotesque shapes gradually becoming outlined into the figures of three women, rugs and bundles, panier-like at their sides.
“Can they be some of us and don’t know the way to it? Shall I ask?”
“Better not,” my companion cautioned. “Perhaps it’s a trap.”
With furtive glances we passed them by. With equally furtive glances they passed us by; when “It must be,” said I, and turning after them called, “Are you a _?”
“ Yes we are!” came the prompt rejoinder, chorused in unmistakable relief. “Oh where is it? We don’t know where to go, and we are afraid to go anywhere.”
“Come along; it’s quite close now. But we must divide.”

So in twos, we dived through the little door, that opened noiselessly and readily at our approach into the garden, and then, with many stumbles and “Hushes,” into the House of Secret Abode, giving vent to a sigh of relief that at last we were safely inside.
Already there was a good crowd of us. From the ”reception-rooms,” sumptuous with a fire, one table and a clean floor, we overflowed into the “bedrooms,” to deposit our rugs in their bareness and select our planks for the night. In many rooms were already stretched on the planks they had chosen prostrate forms, occasioning – for “No Lights” was the order of the House – much stumbling stifled “Oh’s,” and suppressed laughter.
“What’s that? Hush! Oh,” with relief, “It’s only gravel thrown at a window. It’s one of us – she can’t find the way in, Quick; fetch her in or she’ll give us away.”
Gradually all were got safely in, the stealthy tramping to the bedrooms ceased and all sounds died down.
Thunder, thunder, bang –crash!
“Good heavens!” and with the shock of it the floor seemed to depart from our shoulders, and like marionettes on strings we sat up with a jerk.
“Will you open the door?” Bang, bang, “Open the door, I say,” and the impatient hammering began again.
“It’s the police. They’ve found us. Oh!”
Then footsteps were heard hurrying down: the door opened, the voice of She Who Resisted for Us raised in altercation, alternately heard and drowned in the two angry voices of someone who must surely be two huge, angry policemen. Doors were stealthily opened, and from each issued a bold spirit, to hang in darkness over banisters and report in hurried whispers what she heard.
“They want to come in. They want to search the house … They say they will come in … She won’t let them. No, she won’t – protests they have not the right. Oh,” with a gasp that made us all lie back with one accord – flop. “They are coming, I do believe.” And our particular bolder spirit hounded back into our room and fell over all of us in turn in her hurry to hide herself in her rug.
“What will they do?” was asked.
“They can’t do anything,” we all stoutly agreed.
A footstep on the stairs. Coward hearts thumped wildly. “Oh, it’s only one,” And then the re-assuring vision, behind a shaded candle, of Her Who Resisted.
“They have gone to get a warrant to search the house. Mind, answer no questions: give no names: just say you are my guests.”
With a shriek of inextinguishable laughter at the thought of the luxurious accommodation we “guests” had had provided for us, we buried our heads in our rugs till the excitement subsided into harmless gurgles and gasps.
Two hours of suspense. Every creak an alarm: every step in that uncarpeted house the loud step of what we feared. But gradually fear and wakefulness faded, and all rested, save the cricket down in the garden that chirped the night cheerfully away.
W-h-i-r-r-r-r-r, and a bell like twenty alarums for suddenness and violence rang and rang.
“Sh-sh-sh, keep perfectly quiet,” floated up the word from below. Then voices again, not angry, but – argumentative. Snatches were audible:
“Well, I admire you for ——“
“Oh, girls, it’s all right,” came a stifled voice: “he admires us.”
“Well, they won’t, if they come up and see us looking like this.”
Then again silence till the word came up –
“It’s all right. We’re safe.”
Then that House of Stealthy Steps and Stifled Voices became the House of Babel . Doors were flung open, and we trooped out and down the bare stairs to hear what She Who Resisted had to tell.
“Three policemen, a woman, and the enumerator. Yes, positively. But I refused to take the papers in, and, look, they have had to drop them on the floor. And they are gone. They haven’t the right to search.”
“Who wants to give three cheers?” sang out a voice. “No, no, the neighbours. Hush! Now to sleep, and then in the morning we must be up and out before they come for the papers.”
So it was done. Soon after dawn a hasty toilet, assembly downstairs, outer door opened, and we filed silently over the dropped census papers out into the street. And, hey, pronto! We are gone: nameless ones, melted away, no one knows where.
Along my way later dashed a taxi, windows full of fares smiling at me, of hands waving at me, the last batch of the comrades of that unforgettable night – “The rummiest night I’ve ever spent,” as one had quaintly remarked.
And what, after all, is behind it? Not fun, not laughter, not rumminess. Ah, no. It is the spirit of rebellion that is abroad, in growing earnestness and passionate desire for justice and freedom: it is the awakening in women of a new feeling of collective consciousness, of high responsibility for others. And he who reads aright the signs of the time sees therein a tremendous force for good making a higher civilisation, wherein the womanly qualities shall have direct sway in the molding of the nobler race of the future.

End

 

More information on the protests in Cardiff at the time is detailed here

 

 

Victorian Pillar Boxes of Roath, Splott and Adamsdown.

I find Victorian pillar boxes strangely fascinating.  I think it’s their rugged steadfast look, their apparent determined attitude that the world around them can change as much as it likes but they’re not going anywhere.

Cardiff Victorian Post Boxes 1

Beresford Road / Spring Gardens Place – CF24 1RA (left) and Connaught Road CF24 3PT (right)

I’ve discovered fourteen Victorian pillar boxes in the Roath/Splott/Adamsdown areas and one Victorian post box.  May be there are a few more hidden away?

Roath Victorian Pillar Boxes map

Positions of Victorian Pillar boxes in Roath, Splott and Adamsdown Cardiff marked in red.

I think we should have a minutes silence for the one I think we lost last year when the Splott Road railway bridge was raised for the electrification scheme.

Cardiff Victorian Post Boxes 12

I think this one on Splott Road / Pearl Street has gone (Photo: Google Streetview 2016)

A pillar box can be dated by the royal motif on the front.  The Victorian pillar boxes have a nice VR (Victoria Regina) ensignia.

The history of pillar boxes go back to the 1850s.  For the first twenty years they weren’t red but green.  There also were not cylindrical but hexagonal.  The oldest pillar box in Cardiff is probably the one at St Fagan’s Museum.

Cardiff Victorian Post Boxes 2

Cyfarthfa Street / City Road – CF24 3DR (left) and Habershon Street / Convey Street – CF24 2JZ (right)

All our pillar boxes have the words POST and OFFICE either side of the opening.  This dates them to between 1883 and 1901, the year Queen Victoria died.  That makes sense as that’s when a lot of the streets in the area were constructed.  Look at the bottom of the pillar boxes and you will see who made them.  I think all ours were made at by A Handyside Foundry & Co of Derby & London.

Cardiff Victorian Post Boxes 3

Hinton Street / Singleton Road – CF24 2EU (left & right) with the old Splott library behind.

Just think for a moment what’s been posted in those pillar boxes over the years.  The letters to relatives, those working away or at war, invitations, love letters, job applications and the Victorian postcards – yesterday’s equivalent to social media.   In the days before the telephone the letter was the main form of communication.  Letters dropped into these old pillar boxes over a hundred years ago were beginning a long journey sometimes over land and sea to faraway places.

Cardiff Victorian Post Boxes 4

Howard Gardens / Moira Terrace CF24 0EF (left) and Orbit Street / Newport Road CF24 0YG (right)

One of our Victorian pillar boxes on Ninian Road hit the news earlier this year when it was taken out of commission, apparently for safety concerns as it is being engulfed by a tree.  My photograph from a five years earlier however also shows it out of commission but in the five intervening years the tree certainly appears to have made progress.

Cardiff Victorian Post Boxes 8

Ninian Road / Morlais Street – CF23 5EP (2013 – left & 2018 – right)

1982 photo by PealandLucy on twitter

And this is what the Ninian Road Pillar Box looked like in 1982 before they started getting amorous. (photo by @PealandLucy on twitter)

 

Every time I pass the Victorian pillar box on Ty Gwyn Road I have a little smile to myself.  Close to there was an large house called Oldwell, built for John Biggs who owned the South Wales Brewery.  One of John’s six sons, Cecil, married a lady called Edith Box, and guess what they christened their daughter;  Pilar.  She was of course Pilar Biggs rather than Pilar Box but I’m sure the novelty of the Victorian pillar box being placed next to their Cecil’s house must have been an influence.  This is where John the brewer would also have posted letters off to his son Norman, the rugby international, when he was serving in the Boer War.

Cardiff Victorian Post Boxes 5

Priest Road / Newport Road – CF24 1YQ (left) and Ty Gwyn Road / Pen-y-lan Road- CF23 5HT (right)

A tour of the area’s Victorian pillar boxes will also take you to some grand buildings.  One box overlooks the Mansion House and another the old Splott library.

Cardiff Victorian Post Boxes 11

West Grove with the Mansion House behind – would make a nice photo if the tree wasn’t there!

But what of the future?  Another generation or two and the need for post boxes may have disappeared all together as we transfer to electronic communication.  If there is ever one going spare I wouldn’t mind one in my garden.  Then again the Post Office might have something to say about that.  The Ordnance Survey weren’t too happy when I tired to get a redundant trig point installed in the garden.

Cardiff Victorian Post Boxes 9

Oakfield Street – CF24 3RF in 2013 (left) and after the pranksters visited in 2018 (right)

Cardiff Victorian Post Boxes 6

Ty’n-y-Coed Place / Inverness Place – CF24 4SP looking sorry for itself (left) and Walker Road / Splott Road- CF24 2DB (right)

Cardiff Victorian Post Boxes 7

Clifton Street Post Office – CF24 1LY

Cardiff Victorian Post Boxes 10

Not quite in our area but worth including or the backdrop:  Senghennydd Road / Llanbleddian Gardens – – CF24 4YE with the Sherman Theatre behind