The Secrets of a Cardiff House slowly revealed.

A few weeks ago I spotted a postcard of Cardiff for sale on eBay.  It wasn’t your traditional postcard with a picture of Cardiff Castle, the City Hall or Roath Park lake.  This was a picture of a house, a seemingly ordinary house with nobody posing in front of it. The postmark was 1908.

Cardiff postcard

Mystery Cardiff postcard

I tried to think about where in Cardiff the house could be but quickly realised it looked like so many houses in Cardiff suburbs built in the late Victorian period.  Let’s enlist some help I thought and posted it on the ‘Cardiff Now & Then’ Facebook page – it’s just the sort of thing they may like doing.  Suggestions of where the house could be flooded in.  Some of the streets mentioned are no longer in existence making checking problematic.   With the help of Google Street View however it was possible for me and others in the Facebook group to check most of them and discount many of the suggestions.

Cardiff postcard Miss Grant 26 Bonnington Square Lambeth

My eye was caught by one particular suggestion proposed by David Meek.  David was suggesting it could be 66 Albany Road, opposite his family-owned shoe business, itself of historical significance being one of the oldest businesses in Albany Road.  I examined the image closer.  It certainly looked a good match.  The ornate roof ridge tiles however didn’t match but that didn’t discourage me too much – ridge tiles are often replaced over time.

66 Albany Road, Roath, Cardiff 2019

66 Albany Road today, occupied by CPS Homes

The fact that Albany Road is very much in the heart of our area of interest in Roath Local History Society led me to led me to entering a bid on eBay for the postcard.  In the meantime I set about examining the writing on the back. The card was addressed to Miss Grant of 26 Bonnington Square, South Lambeth, London.  I managed to find the Grant family at that address in the 1911 census.  Miss Grant was probably Edith Alice Grant, a blouse maker.  A bit more research revealed that Edith also had a sister, Bertha Grant, who in 1911 was living with her aunt and uncle in Monmouth.  Bertha is another possibility for the postcard recipient.

Grant family 1911

The Grant family at 26 Bonnington Square, Lambeth in 1911. Miss Edith Grant, a blouse maker, was 27. In 1908, the date of the postcard, she would have been 24.

The final day of the eBay auction arrived and the minutes ticked down.  Lo and behold I won the bidding with my bid of £5.  To be honest I was the only bidder.  A picture of an anonymous house in Cardiff evidently didn’t pique people’s interest.

Whist waiting for the postcard to be delivered I looked again at the photo of the writing on the back of the card.  Working on David Meek’s suggestion that this was 66 Albany Road, I attempted to link it to the family living there in 1911.  In 1911 the house was occupied by the Phillips family headed up by Frederick Phillips, a dental mechanic, whatever one of those is!  Tantalisingly the family originated from London, though the three younger children had all been born in Cardiff.  Eliza, the mother-in-law, had even been born in Lambeth.  Try as I might though I couldn’t find any link between the Grant family and the Phillips family.

66 Albany Road 1911

The Phillips family in 66 Albany Road in 1911.  Was one of these the postcard author?  I had my doubts.

The postcard arrived.  I immediately rushed upstairs and found my magnifying glass.  Bingo!  The house was number 66.  The image posted on eBay hadn’t been good enough quality to see this but now having the original in front of me I could examine it much better and see the number 66 etched on the front door window.

66 Albany Road, Roath, Cardiff, front door

An enlarged view of the front door on the postcard

I still wanted further proof that I was looking at 66 Albany Road and not 66 in another street.  I set about examining the brickwork under the magnifying glass and comparing it to the enlarged Google Streetview image.  I discovered that in a few rows thicker bricks were used than in other rows.  And yes, those layers did match in both the postcard and the modern day.

Stonework comparison

A brick-by-brick comparison of today’s 66 Albany Road with the postcard picture.

That still left an obvious question.  Why make a postcard picture of a seemingly mundane house.  Almost out of desperation I conducted a newspaper search on “66 Albany Road” (Hint – if you haven’t used it yet, Welsh Newspapers Online is a great resource).  I struck gold and all was explained.  In 1908, 66 Albany Road was home to the St Alban’s School of Music run by Abraham N James.

Cymro a'r Celt Llundain 9th Mar 1907

Newspaper cutting from Cymro a’r Celt Llundain 9th Mar 1907

Abraham N James was not shy in his advertising.  He advertised in London newspapers targeted at the Welsh ex-pat community living there. I’m guessing the postcard was just part of his advertising material.  I’m left wondering whether his pupils from far away also boarded in the house.

I started researching the James family.  Abraham Nehemiah James was born in Neath and married Mary Ann Price from Merthyr in 1887 and moved to Aberdare.  They had two daughters, Vida Annie Patti James (b.1889) and Florence Novello James (b.1891) both born in Aberdare.  The name Patti seems to be a nod to Dame Adelina Patti, one of the world’s great opera singers of the time who made her home in Craig y Nos in the Swansea valley.  Florence’s middle name Novello was a nod not to Ivor Novello but his grandmother Clara Novello, an acclaimed soprano singer.

Patti and Novello

Dame Adelina Patti and Clara Novello (photos: Wiki), who the James girls were named after.

 

So let’s have a look at the message on the postcard again.  The handwriting isn’t easy to read but my best guess is:

Dear Miss Grant,

So sorry to hear that you have been laid up.  Dadda and Mamma are away now & Auntie is here with us.  V and I are busy in Coll now.  I will write again when Dadda and Mamma come home. Hoping your better. With love be (?).

Frustratingly there aren’t many clues there.  The V could be one of the daughters Vida.  Of course the writer of the postcard may have nothing to do with the James family.  The writer could be a pupil at the St Alban’s School of Music.  I even thought that Miss Grant could have been a former music teacher of the postcard writer.  Lots of possibilities there.

Plaques on 66 Albany Road

The house in the postcard has two plaques, frustratingly too unclear to read.

So what happened to the Abraham James and family?  In 1911 they had moved from 66 Albany Road to Waterloo Road in Penylan.  Abraham died later that year aged 62 leaving just £72 in his will suggesting that his music school may not have been a great money spinner.

Abraham family in 1911 in Waterloo Road, Cardiff

Abraham James and family living in Waterloo Road, Penylan, Cardiff in 1911

In 1939, Vida James the daughter, is living at Roath Court Road and described as incapacitated but lives until 1969 when she was living in Langland on the Gower peninsular.   Florence James, possibly the postcard writer, married Albert Lukey in 1915 and lived in Winchester Avenue, Penylan, Cardiff.  She unfortunately dies ten years later in 1925 aged just 35.  Albert Lukey remarries in 1938 and dies in 1960 in Winchester Avenue.  The world can seem quite a small place still sometimes.  My grandparents lived in Winchester Avenue and my mother was born there.  They would have no doubt have known Albert Lukey and his second wife Dorothy.

So finally, lets return to the picture postcard.  This is probably one of the best pictures that exists of an Albany Road house before it was converted into a shop and therefore of historical significance itself.  66 Albany Road has had many occupants over time.  From 1937-1958 it was Glynne Jones a ladies hairdressers.  In the 1980s it was the jewellers Gold, Gold, Gold.  Nowadays it is occupied by CPS Estate and Letting agents.  The stonework looks lot cleaner than it did in 1908.

66 Albany Road probably in the 1980s

66 Albany Road, far left, occupied by Gold, Gold, Gold, in the 1980s (Photo credit: Alec Kier, Roath Local History Society)

I wonder if you listen very very carefully when passing 66 Albany Road whether you can still hear the voices of budding operatic stars being put through their paces by Abraham Nehemiah James?



Appendix:

Too many bits and pieces were collected in researching Abraham James to include in the body of the article so I offer them here if you still have the staying power to read them.

John Thomas harpist Pencerdd Gwalia

The patron to Abraham James’s St Alban’s School of Music is advertised as being the Royal harpist John Thomas (Pencedd Gwalia)

 

Jan 3rd 1879

An early advertisement from Abraham James in 1879

Aberdare Times 1896

Aberdare Times 1896 – before the James family moved to Cardiff

 

Patent application

A patent application for educational dominoes filed by Abraham James in 1895

Aberdare Leader 23rd Dec 1905

Aberdare Leader, 23rd Dec 1905

Tarian Y Gweithiwr 5th Sep 1907

Tarian Y Gweithiwr 5th Sep 1907

Aberdare Leader 26th Dec 1908

Aberdare Leader 26th Dec 1908

The sad story of Harriett Fleming

wye velley youth hostel, welsh bicknor 2
Wye Valley Youth Hostel, Welsh Bicknor

 

It had been a splendid weekend. We had rented out Wye Valley Youth Hostel in Welsh Bicknor, near Goodrich.  It’s become somewhat of a tradition of mine to rent a youth hostel in January, something to look forward to after Christmas and a great opportunity to meet up with friends.  As the years pass it’s become less of a question of ‘Where can we put the cot?’ and more ‘Would you mind putting me down for a bottom bunk?’ Vacating a hostel by the midday deadline on a Sunday used to be a struggle as people recovered from a very late Saturday night.  This year however, after a day of walking or cycling in the Forest of Dean, people were clambering for their beds before midnight and up to experience the lovely Spring like day on Sunday.

st margaret's church, welsh bicknor 2
St Margaret’s Church and River Wye, Welsh Bicknor, from Wye Valley YHA

The Youth Hostel is the old rectory building adjacent to the idyllic St Margaret’s church on the banks of the River Wye.  It is part of the Courtfield estate, rich in history.  A young King Henry V even lived here for a while after the death of his mother.   It must have been one heck of a rectory.  The hostel is on three floors and sleeps 46 not including the staff.  How much space does a rector need?  It’s actually the ‘new rectory’ built in the 1800s.  The old rectory was adjacent to the church, which itself was also rebuilt in the 1858.  They had the sense to build the new rectory in an elevated position safe from any flooding.

harriett fleming grave

The grave of Harriett Fleming

I took a peaceful stroll in the Sunday morning sunshine down to the River Wye and St Margaret’s church. My eye was caught by one particular grave, not an ancient one and not a particularly attractive one.  It looks to be covered in concrete which has two holes in it as is the grave once had something on top of it.  The inscription is what interested me.  It reads:

In loving memory of HARRIETT, widow of John Fleming, Ninian Road, Cardiff

Died Dec 29th 1925, aged 60

Gravestones don’t often have an address on and I began to wonder why this one did and why Harriett was buried here in Welsh Bicknor.  The obvious reason seemed to me to be the idyllic setting but was there more to it?  In the week after I got home I started researching Harriett Fleming.

part of 1911 census of 3 ninian road cardiff
Part of 1911 Census of John & Harriett Fleming, 3 Ninian Road, Cardiff

In the 1911 census I found Harriett and John Fleming living at 3 Ninian Road, Cardiff with three children and a servant.  John, aged 52 was a marine surveyor and born in Maryport, Cumberland.  On the census however it stated that John and Harriett had only been married six years and the children were 21, 18 and 15, so pointed towards them being step-children of Harriett rather than her children.  Harriett’s birthplace was down as English Bicknor, just across the river from Welsh Bicknor.  There we are I though, mystery solved, she wished to be buried where she could look over to where she was born.  I almost left it there but felt pulled to do a bit more digging.

3 ninian road cardiff
3 Ninian Road, Cardiff, as it looks today.

In the 1901 census we find the John Fleming was living in Glossop Road, Cardiff with his first wife Jane, their three children, John’s father William, born Holywood, County Down,  and a brother, also called William.  Jane died two years later in 1903 aged 43.  The following year John marries Harriett in Ross on Wye.

31031_a100061-02252
Will of John Fleming

In 1909 John Fleming makes a will, witnessed by a Doctor living next door at 1 Ninian Road and a solicitor.  Maybe his neighbour suggested that making a will was a good idea for in February 1912 John dies and leaves his estate to Harriett, and then on to his children.  Some two years later in 1914 we find Harriett has seemingly moved from Ninian Road and living at nearby Shirley Road. Did her three step-children move with her or were they still at 3 Ninian Road?  And why if she had moved out of Ninian Road in 1914, was the address on her gravestone when she died in 1925?  Time for some more research.

I tried to find out a bit more about Harriett’s background.  I knew from the 1911 census that she had been born in the village of English Bicknor in around 1865.  I hadn’t at this stage been able to find her marriage so didn’t know her maiden name.  Luckily there was only one Harriett in the census records of the right age from English Bicknor and that was Harriett Keene, daughter of Roger Keene a farmer and another Harriet Keene and farming at Cowmeadow Farm.  in 1881 at the age of just 16 Harriett is a school teacher in English Bicknor.  Her parents, Roger and Harriet Keene, had many children and by 1891 had moved away from English Bicknor to another part of the Forest of Dean.  So it still left me wondering why she was buried across the river from her childhood home.

It was then that I found the probate record for Harriett which sadly stated that her body had been found in the River Wye at Welsh Bicknor six months after she had disappeared.   At the time of her disappearance she had been living in Cheltenham.  I’m not quite sure how you can tell the cause of death was drowning is a body has been in the water for six months.

probate of harriett fleming
Probate of Harriett Fleming

Curious to know if I could find out any more I visited a local library, immediately across the road from 3 Ninian Road, the address on her gravestone.  I learnt how to access the newspapers online and found three articles, two explaining her disappearance and one the inquest.

harriett fleming inquest
Inquest of Harriett Fleming nee Keene

The articles explain how Harriett was probably suffering from depression following the death of one of her sisters.  She had been living in Cheltenham but had decided to visit a brother, James Keene, the one closest in age to her and now running his own farm some eleven miles upstream from Welsh Bicknor.  She goes out for a walk but never returns.  A witness thinks he may have seen her on the bank of the flooded Wye and has a short conversation.  Her body is found tangled up in tree roots in the following June.  What a coincidence that her body should be found in the same place she was born some 60 years earlier.

will of harriett fleming
Will of Harriett Fleming

The inquest into her death was held in the Rectory in Welsh Bicknor, the very building in which we were staying that weekend.  She had written a will just a few days before she disappeared whilst staying with her brother at Wier End Farm.  Her will appears to overwrite that of her late husband in that it leaves the bulk of her estate to brother James and her other brothers and sisters but also some to her step-children.

harriett fleming accound of death
Harriett Fleming mystery solved

A sad but interesting bit of research.  I’m still sort of left wondering why she was buried here.  Was it the fact that the family thought it was meant to be as her body was discovered here, next to her childhood home?