Roath Police Station – A few memories and one big black mark (as far as historians are concerned).

Our guest blog this month is penned by John.F.Wake.  John is now an author, public speaker and guide but spent his working career as a policeman.  He joined the Cardiff City Police in 1965 and was posted to Bute Street (Tiger Bay) police station. He later became a Detective Inspector with the South Wales Police.

Working from Roath Police Station in Clifton Street in the 1960/70s was a evocative experience. Nothing seemed to have changed from the day it was built. (Except of course it had central heating – unlike Bute Street which had coal fires until its end in 1969).

Roath Police Station, Clifton Street, Cardiff

Time had stood still in much of the building.  Take for instance the Superintendent’s Accommodation. In the early years his main office, at the very end of the first floor corridor, was a cosy place.  If you walked into the police station today, and upstairs, to that very room there, still insitu, is the ‘bosses’ magnificent marble fireplace. If you stare from across the road, the Super’s private stairs from the street are still behind the single door on the far right hand side of the frontage.

Fireplace at Roath Police Station, Clifton Street, Cardiff

The Super’s office in the station’s later years, was the room on the right hand side of the ground floor main entrance.

The cell block in its later years was home to traffic cones, bicycles, ledgers and archive books.  Those cells had held thousands of men and women.  From the overnight drunk to the murderer.

Cells at Roath Police Station, Clifton Street, Cardiff

There was only, in my records, just one man who escaped from those cells, his name was Harry Heathfield.

If you are accused of something you have not done it goes deep into the psyche, especially if the police are involved.  After being accused, even if found innocent, there are still people who judge you and are willing to believe the worst.

Harry Heathfield

Take Harry for example. He was accused of stealing lead worth £5 from a schoolhouse roof.  He vehemently denied he had done it.

Harry escaped from Roath Police Station, Clifton Street in 1905.  The cells at that police station have hardly changed over the years.  Harry said he tore a piece of steel from the door and put it in the cell lock. He forced the door open.  He did the same with the main cell corridor door.

Back of Roath Police Station, Gold Street, Cardiff at the time of Harry Heathfield's escape
Photo from a newspaper report of Harry’s. (it looks to me as if a ladder can be seen leaning up against the inside wall)

He got over the outer wall via a fire escape.  He then slept in a haystack in the field of Pen-y-lan Convent.  He got to Newport.  Ship to Bristol.  Train to London.  Returned to Bristol.  Ship to France. Ship to Bristol.  He also undertook two return working trips to Buenos Aires, Argentina from Liverpool and returning on one occasion to Cardiff.  It was estimated he had travelled 30.000 miles in 5 months.

At that point he said he was at the end of his tether and nearly threw himself off the Clifton Suspension Bridge.  He then went back to Cardiff and attended the Horse Show Week. (Which was big in Cardiff at the time).

It was his young wife that drew Harry back to Cardiff and to give himself up to police.

Now for the black mark.  An 89 year old, ex Roath police sergeant, remembers being told by the Superintendent circa 1970s, to get the ‘C’ Divisional Van and park in the Gold Street station car park. The sergeant remembers two constables, going back and fore between the cells and the van.  Each time they bought numerous ledgers and occurrence books, dating right back to the opening of the station in 1895.  He remembers the van was full.  He was then instructed to go to the Incinerator (or furnace) at East Moors or Rover Way.  He can’t remember which.  Every book, ledger, document was fed into the furnace, except two. These were the original law statutes of Cardiff policing / town rules etc., dating from 1837 from the reign of William IV.  He ‘naughtily’ kept those back.  They in fact were the least of interest.  The major interest were the arrest books, the early photo records, the court records and the occurrence books. All gone, but at least those two 1837 statute books are safe. (with me!)

The Cells at Roath Police Station, Clifton Street, Cardiff

(Photos – except those from the newspapers, are copywrite John F Wake)