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.

The New Roath Mill

There hasn’t been a mill in Roath since 1897 when the last one was demolished.  The new one isn’t very big and looks exactly like the previous one.  That’s because it is a bronze model of the last mill on the site in Roath Mill Gardens.  I say the last one, as there was probably a long line of mills at this location stretching back all the way to the 1100’s.

Roath Mill Sculpture

Roath Mill Sculpture by Rubin Eynon

The new bronze sculpture is by Welsh artist Rubin Eynon and is one of the finishing touches added at the end of the work on the Roath Flood Defence scheme.  Look carefully along the river bank close to the new sculpture and you can still see the remains of the last working corn mill on this site.

Roath Mill c 1890

A busy scene outside Roath Mill in around 1890 (Cardiff Libraries)

Roath Mill can hold a fascination for local historians.  There are a number of photographs of the last building and the people that occupied it. There are also quite a few references in historical documents to mills in Roath.  The big question is, can we say with certainty that the mills quoted in earlier references were on the same site?

Roath Tithe map of 1840

The Tithe map of 1840 showing the mill circled in red and the mill pond upsteam from that. Note the stream overflow going around field 266 and down what is now Marlbourough Road, infront of St Margaret’s Church (174) before rejoining the stream.

The history of the mills of Roath are covered in a number of places.   Our own Project Newsletter back in 1985 summarised some of the history.  A much more comprehensive article by Diane Brook can however be found in the journal Morgannwg (Vol 57 pp77-102) published by Glamorgan History Society, available from the society for £5 or can be  viewed at either Glamorgan Archives or Cathays Library.

Roath Mill sculpture

The article in Morgannwg not only summaries the mill’s history but also describes the geophysical survey and small excavation carried out in 2012 by Cardiff Archaeological Society to look for evidence of earlier mills on the site.  The result of the geophysical survey is that ‘the last mill building was very thoroughly demolished’. Although no firm evidence of earlier mills was found during this work the article concludes that “The known mill site lies approximately at the same location as its twelfth-century predecessor and certainly there was only ever one main corn-mill in Roath”.  A summary of the survey itself is available online.

Roath Mill c 1870

The Mill building in around 1870 (Cardiff Libraries)

The earliest reference to the mill is from Norman times where it is referred to in around 1102 as ‘Molendinum de Raz’ (Roath Mill – Raz being the old name for Roath).  At that time the ownership of the mill was handed over to Tewkesbury Abbey.  You may think that strange but much of the Roath area was owned by Tewkesbury Abbey before the dissolution of the monasteries.

Rubin Eynon Roath Mill Sculpture

The new sculpture in place next to Roath Brook.

The history of mills in Roath becomes somewhat hard to unravel as some references mention Keysham Abbey, another landowner in the Roath area.  There are also references to a ‘fulling mill’.  Fulling is the process of removing oil and grease from cloth.  The later references seem to refer to another mill that may or may not have been on the Roath area.  Nobody said studying local history was straightforward.

Roath Mill painting by Hodkinson

Roath Mill 1878 – Watercolour by W B Hodkinson – Cardiff Libraries

Things would have looked very different around here in the days of the last mill.  The three-story mill building and its associated cottages was probably constructed in the seventeen century.  Records show that the building was renovated a number of times in the 1800s.  In 1801 for instance there is record of a new cast iron wheel and shaft being transported to the site.

Rubin Eynon working on Roath Mill

Rubin Eynon working on the sculpture of Roath Mill (Photo: Rubin Eynon website)

The area upstream had a pond, to hold back water to power the mill.  I’m also struck when looking at some old photos of the area how deep the stream’s channel appears.  The rubble from the mill demolished in 1897 would have later been used to infill the area when it was converted into the park as we now know it that that was opened to the public in October 1912.  That probably explains why trying to find evidence of earlier mill buildings was so difficult.

Roath Mill gardens

The remains of Roath Mill as seen in Roath Mill Park in the 1950s/1960s. Westville Road is in the background.

For much of the 1800s the Evans family were millers at Roath Mill.  Ownership and residents of the mill are much easier to trace during this period as the records still exist.

So next time you find yourself in the Pen-y-lan area, head for Sandringham Road (CF23 5BL) to visit Roath Mill Gardens, have a look at the bronze model of the last Roath mill, then walk around into the park itself and see if you can see the last remains of the mill along the riverbank.

Roath Brook and remains of Roath Mill

Roath Brook looking east downstream and remains of Roath Mill over the river.