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

I am still baffled 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.


 

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

Maurice Turnbull – Wales’ most complete all-round sportsman

Maurice Turnbull

Maurice_Turnbull – Wikipedia

The 5th of August will see the 75th anniversary of the death of Major Maurice Turnbull of the Welsh Guards in Normandy.  He was 38 years old and in the words of the eminent Cricket historian, author and friend of our society Andrew Hignell “remains the most complete all round sportsman Wales has ever produced”.  The evidence is compelling.

He is the only sportsman to play Test cricket for England and rugby union for Wales.  He represented Wales at hockey and squash and was Welsh Champion in the later. He played cricket for Glamorgan between 1924-39 and was the Captain and Secretary in a tumultuous decade for the club.  He was a Test Selector and captained Cambridge University.

He played hockey and rugby for Cambridge University.  His club rugby was primarily with Cardiff but he also appeared for St Peters and London Welsh.  He represented Glamorgan and Somerset at the oval ball game.

Penylan Road, Cardiff - home of Maurice Turnbull

Home of Maurice Turnbull at 110 Penylan Road, Cardiff

Maurice was born in March 1906 in East Grove, Tredegarville the third son of  Bernard and Marie.  His family moved to Penylan Road before his 1st birthday.  His was a large family with six of the boys eventually playing rugby for Cardiff.  The Turnbulls were a  prominent Cardiff family, leaders in the city’s business, civic, religious  and sporting life.

Maurice’s grandfather Philip and great uncle Lewis moved from Whitby in 1877 to expand their family’s shipping business into the growing port of Cardiff.  They formed “Turnbull Brothers, Steamships and Chartering Agents”.  The company prospered and the Turnbulls assumed leading roles in the city’s commercial and maritime life.  They were members of the Cardiff Chamber of Commerce, The Cardiff Railway Company and Seafarer’s charities.  Philip became chairman of the Cardiff and District Committee of the Shipping Federation in 1895.  Although the company ceased trading in 1930 the wider Turnbull family maintained shipping interests in Cardiff until 1943.  Maurice’s father moved from this sector to Currans Brothers, the iron founders, with Uncle Harold rising to become Managing director.

The Turnbull family provided two Lord Mayor’s of Cardiff.  Uncle Harold was in 1921 the city’s youngest Lord Mayor and was granted the Freedom of the City in 1940. Maurice’s younger brother Gerard held the office in the 1970s.

The family were devout Catholics and the brothers involved  themselves in the religious life of the city.  They were regular churchgoers at St Peters with grandfather Philip assisted in the establishment of the school.  Uncle Harold was honoured by the Pope in the 1920s for organising a Catholic conference in Cardiff and for upholding the Catholic faith in South Wales.

Maurice shared this allegiance. On his first overseas tour to Australasia he bemoaned the long train journeys stopping him attending mass and wrote home praising a couple of “good Catholic girls” who had caught his eye.  At the peak of his cricketing responsibilities in 1932 he left the field at close of play at the Arms Park on Saturday to lead the Archdiocese of Cardiff’s delegation to a Papal Mass in Dublin. This involved a return ferry from Fishguard to Rosslare.  He was back in Cardiff suitable refreshed to take up the reins as Glamorgan skipper on Monday morning.  He was a regular contributor to the “ Welsh Catholic Times” in which  he celebrated the achievements of Catholics in sport, none more so than his friend Jack Petersen the British heavyweight boxing champion.  He utilised a few spare days in the Spring of 1932 to visit the Vatican where he had a brief audience with the Pope.  Indeed the final entry in his wartime diary recorded he had taken Mass and Communion.  Clearly his faith was the guiding light in his life.

Maurice’s father and Uncle Bertie were talented sportsmen. Uncle Bertie played Minor County cricket for Glamorgan and first class  for Gloucestershire.  He was also a Glamorgan committee member for much of Maurice’s career.  Bertie played hockey alongside Maurice’s father Bernard for Wales. The brother’s won an Olympic Bronze medal at the 1908 London games for Wales. Yes Wales not Great Britain. The organisers allowed the four Home Nations to enter teams with random club players from France and Germany making up the numbers. Despite Wales losing to Ireland in their only game they picked up a medal. No doubt Maurice was reminded by his elders of their achievement however bizarrely won!

Maurice led a comfortable childhood life in Penylan Road. The household employed five domestic servants. A typical weekend would comprise of Friday tea and billiards with the priest from St Peters, Saturday afternoons cheering the ‘Blue and Blacks’ with his father and brothers at the Arms Park.  Sunday promenading around the Lake after church. The family would then gather around the piano for a sing along.  It is easy to contrast this idyllic childhood with many of his fellow worshipers down the hill at St Peters. However I do not think it unfair to suggest that Maurice’s later ability to socialise as comfortably in a humble fund raising function as a “black tie” event resulted from these formative years.

Downside School, Bath

Maurice Turnbull, Downside School, Bath – school website

Maurice’s education began briefly at Heathfield House in Richmond Road which had recently accepted boys as day scholars.  It was inevitable that he enrolled at Downside a Catholic public school in Bath in the spring of 1917 as the previous generation of Turnbull males had.  Although accompanied by his elder brothers it must have been a daunting prospect for a boy of just eleven.

Downend School hockey team

Maurice Turnbull playing hockey at Downend School

 

Daunting or not he reveled in school life.  Despite his small stature his leadership skills were quickly recognised.  He captained the colts teams and was a junior prefect.  As he physically matured he made first team debuts in his three sports in 1922.

 

He starred as centre forward in hockey.  He impressed so much as a ‘nippy’ scrum half that brother Lou was forced out the centre.  It was a profitable move as it set him on a path to a Cambridge Blue, Cardiff captaincy and 6 Welsh caps.  He opened the batting and finished second in the averages.  Observers enthused over his straight drives to the boundary, his ability to punish poor deliveries and his fearlessness to short pitch bowling from more mature opponents.  In the  holidays he played for a invitation club formed by Glamorgan to assess the talents of young  Welsh amateurs.

The 1923 season started a against a full strength Somerset team when he made a fluent 60.  He made his maiden century for the school.  Word travelled back over the Severn of a rare talent from Cardiff.  Uncle Bertie who was on the Glamorgan committee no doubt championed his nephews cause.

1924 was his breakthrough season. The season was termed “ Turnbull’s” year in the Wisden Cricket Annual as he averaged 85.  More importantly he made his Glamorgan debut.

Lancashire arrived at Swansea unbeaten in August 1924.  The wicket was spiteful and Maurice entered the fray at 21-4.  He dealt with an all star attack with confidence and top scored in the match with 40.  Glamorgan recorded a rare victory and a Lancastrian commented that “this lad will play for England”.

Maurice returned to Downend where he passed exams to study history at Trinity College Cambridge in October 1925.  He was head boy, chairman of the debating society and president of the literary society in his final year.  He captained the rugby and hockey team as well passing a thousand runs.  He also managed to win a school tennis championship and box for the school.  He earned sporting recognition in the adult world when Somerset rugby selected him.

Maurice would return to Downside for the Easter retreat for the rest of his peacetime life. He was the “Muscular Christian” beloved of public schools.

Maurice quickly immersed himself in university life especially the Welsh and Catholic societies.  He was a disciplined scholar but his ambitions were focused upon winning Blues in his chosen sports.  He was to suffer as much heartache as glory in this pursuit.

His path to a Rugby Blue was blocked by the established Wilf Sobey, a future England and British Lions scrum half.  He was unable to join brother Lou in the successful Cambridge team of 1925.  Ironically in his third year Sobey withdrew on the eve of the Twickenham fixture but Maurice was indisposed recovering from knee surgery.  Maurice decided to prolong his university career for a further year to study the poetry of the Great War.  Although his Uncle Illtyd falling at Gallipoli would have been influential in this decision it afforded him the final chance to win a Blue especially as Sobey had left university.  Again fate intervened with neck and shoulder problems ruling him out.

His hockey was also doomed to disappointment.  He was competing for selection against players focusing solely on hockey.  His rugby commitments and injuries meant he was unable to sustain a challenge for the big game.

The strength of Cambridge sports is indicated by the honours won by Maurice whilst at Cambridge despite his Varsity “Blues”.  He continued to play rugby for Somerset and his adopted rugby county achieved a rare victory at Kingsholm, Gloucester. He also won three Welsh hockey caps in 1929.

He scored the winning goal on debut against Scotland. He appeared on losing teams against Ireland and England.

In contrast to his winter vexations his university cricket was fulfilled.  His first appearance against Middlesex ended in an inauspicious abandonment courtesy of the General Strike.  Nonetheless he sealed his  Blues selection with a half century against the MCC at Lords and made 78 for the Light Blues in a victory in the big match.  He missed the 1927 season due to his knee problems.  He was back the following season but failed with the bat and Oxford escaped with a unlikely draw.

Maurice Turnbull - in the Cambridge cricket team

Maurice Turnbull (centre) in the Cambridge University Cricket team.

The 1929 season was Maurice’s last as a student and he made it a memorable one.  He was elected captain and made over a 1000 runs averaging 50.  His 167 not out  against Yorkshire was “ quite brilliant”.  He leadership in the Cambridge victory in the Lords showpiece showed his “inner steel”.  He had endured severe criticism for his selection of JT Morgan as his wicketkeeper/batsman despite his poor form.  Trevil was from Cyncoed, a family member of the town department store and a long standing pal of Maurice.  They spent many hours together at the racetrack and restaurants.  There were dark mutterings of Maurice’s lack of objectivity but the Cyncoed boy’s 149 in another Cambridge triumph ended these.

With his student days behind him Maurice intended to finish the cricket season with Glamorgan and take a job in the City.  However two opportunities arose which shaped the rest of his peacetime life. Uncle Bertie feared that he would be lost to the county and alerted the committee.  Glamorgan had fielded 6 different captains in 1929 and needed stability.  Maurice’s leadership at Cambridge made him the obvious candidate.  They needed little persuasion in offering nor he in accepting the job. Secondly he was invited to tour Australasia with the MCC, i.e. England, in the northern winter of 1929/30 and to be the first Glamorgan player to win a Test cap.

Maurice Turnbull cigarette card

Maurice left Tilbury on SS Orford on the 28 September 1929.  The Australian leg of the tour consisted of five matches against the state sides.  Maurice struggled initially with the pace and bounce of the wickets but in the last game against New South Wales in Sydney he made the round hundred.  He  was honoured to be caught and bowled by Don Bradman.

Maurice feelings toward Australia were mixed.  He enjoyed the wine and the racetracks and moved in elevated company.  He did not appreciate the attitudes of some locals towards ‘Pommies’.  He thought money came too easy to them.  No doubt others would think differently as Australia suffered record unemployment in the worldwide depression.

New Zealand was more to his liking.  He described the beautiful scenery, friendliness and hospitality of the people.  He attended Mass at the Catholic cathedral in Christchurch stating it was the first time he had missed the Christmas service at St Peters.

Maurice made his debut in the first Test in Christchurch.  It was a low key England win in which he sacrificed his wicket going for quick runs at no 8.  Lumbago kept him out of the second test and he could not get his place back. He complained about poor umpiring affecting his chances.  Certainly there is anecdotal evidence to support this.  Some umpires were more interested in lighting their cigars than watching the game and one umpire asked a visiting batsman how many balls in an over!  Nonetheless it was a reluctant Maurice who left the country on the Rangitane to return home via the Pacific, Panama Canal and the Atlantic. They docked in Southampton on the 3rd April after six months away.

Cricket and Rugby pavillion at Cardiff Arms Park

The joint rugby/cricket pavilion at Cardiff Arms Park would have been a familiar sight to Turnbull till it was demolished in around 1934.

Maurice form with Glamorgan earned him selection for the MCC tour to South Africa in 1930/31.  En route he heard the sad news that his father had died suddenly.  He was unable to return back to Cardiff in time for the funeral and took comfort from the support of team members.  He showed his mettle by appearing in all five tests of the series.

He achieved his highest test score of 61 in the First test.  England were set 240 to win.  He shared a stand of 101 with Walter Hammond which was winning the game. He was punishing the spinners in particular when he was bowled down the legside.  He ‘walked’ despite a suspicion the wicket keeper rather than ball had done the damage.  England lost the Test and the series in this game.  He failed to make much of an impact  in later tests and that was his touring days with England over.

He made four home appearances for England against the West Indies in 1933 and India in 1936.  He finished his international career unbeaten on 37 at Lords.  He had come close to captaining in England in 1934.  He had led the Rest in the Test Trial and when the appointed Wyatt withdrew on the eve of the match, Cyril Walters was asked to lead in England not Maurice.  Cyril ironically being a former Glamorgan youngster from Neath.

 

Maurice Turnbull GCCC

Nonetheless despite his Test honours his cricketing legacy resides with Glamorgan as a player and as a leader both on and off the field.

The bare statistics of his batting contribution are over 14000 runs with 22 centuries in 504 innings.  JC Clay his great friend argued that Maurice made runs when they mattered and the game was in the balance.  Easy runs were too mundane for him. He always looked to attack with a full range of strokes.  He would delight spectators with a combination of ‘impudence and unorthodoxy’.

The evidence confirms the argument  that he made ‘hard runs’.  His highest score of 233 against Worcester at Swansea in June 1937 occurred when the openers had departed with the score in single figures.  He hooked and cut in masterfully to set up the victory.  At the same venue in 1932 Glamorgan had collapsed to 36-3 on a turning wicket chasing 310 against Gloucester.  He attacked the legendary spin duo of Goddard and Parker and departed on 119 with a victory few  team mates believed possible assured.  Nonetheless his signature innings was his 205 against Nottinghamshire at the Arms Park in August 1932.  He made an eloquent statement with his bat to the most controversial issue in cricket in the 1930s – Bodyline.

Visiting  bowlers Larwood and Voce had been selected for the winter’s Ashes tour.  The pair spoke of their intention to employ the tactic devised by the tour captain Douglas Jardine in the remaining fixtures of the season.  Turnbull shared a partnership with county stalwart Dai Davies of 220.  Maurice was the dominant partner and defiantly withstood body blows to fiercely hook and pull the ball to the legside boundary.  A youthful John Arlott was a spectator and later wrote “He punished those two bowlers as I believe no other batsman ever did”.  Maurice received a standing ovation at the close of play, undefeated on 160.  It was then the real fun began!

Maurice entertained the visiting captain to dinner at The Grand Hotel in Westgate Street.  Meanwhile the chastened Nottingham bowlers accompanied by the press drowned their sorrows in the town pubs.  They resolved to liven up the wicket as the beer flowed.  After closing time they climbed over the wall to the ground and watered the wicket in a inimitable manner.  The groundsman challenged them and was rough handled.  He managed to get a message to Maurice in the Grand as he was settling the bill.  Maurice sensing an embarrassing story strolled over to the Western Mail and stopped the story as the next day’s paper was about to run.  His renowned charm achieved the same outcome with Fleet Street in the morning.  Fortunately no ‘selfies’ were taken!  With the crisis averted Maurice was eventually dismissed for a double century.  As the game meandered to a draw he pointedly instructed his quick bowlers to give some Bodyline back. “Hoist by their own petard” as he put it.

Maurice was no fan of Bodyline.  He considered it dangerous, and unnecessary.  The next season he spoke out when Clay’s ribs were broken by Yorkshire’s Bowes another of Jardine’s disciples.  He stated that while Jardine had brought back the Ashes it rankled him he had introduced Bodyline.  These words won him favour in influential circles at Lords.  Nonetheless Maurice’s quick action in diffusing a potential controversy indicated his ‘people skills’ which he would deploy to Glamorgan’s huge benefit as Captain and Secretary.

Glamorgan’s playing record during the 1920s from the inaugural championship season of 1921 was abysmal.  They had won just 26 out of 216 games losing 125. Under Maurice’s captaincy in the 1930s indicated steady progress.  In 264 games they won 45 and perhaps as importantly lost just 86.

Maurice Turnbull captaining Glamorgan wearing his MCC sweater

Maurice Turnbull, sitting fourth from left, wearing his MCC sweater as he captains Glamorgan.

There is a catalogue of examples to illustrate the chaos surrounding the county in the 1920s.  Shortage of cash underpinned most of these.  Amateurs sometimes of inferior ability were called up.  The food was often provided by their wives and mothers.  They were so short of players for the final game of 1922 that they drafted in 4 players for their debuts. These included Rhys Gabe-Jones who at 15 years 9 months was the county’s youngest player in his only game.  A decade later he was a Cardiff outside partner for Maurice. Critics described Glamorgan as a ragbag of a team.

Maurice inherited this when he returned from touring with the MCC in the spring of 1930.  The Western Mail’s ‘Nomad’ argued it was vital the new captain won the respect of the professionals. This would be much harder than leading his Cambridge side of broadly similar age and social background.  The comments of two contrasting professionals verifies that he earned this respect.

Jack Mercer led the bowling attack from the mid-1920s until 1939.  He was a deep thinker on and off the field and a talented linguist who spent time at Bletchley Park during the Second World War.  He praised his new captain’s willingness to seek his and his fellow professionals ideas.  Frank Ryan was a talented left arm spinner with a drink habit.  He would blow his cash especially on away games.  Maurice would hold back part of his wages and give him the money as the train pulled into Cardiff often with a bonus from his captain’s pocket.  Ryan rewarded him with127 wickets in 1930, double his return the previous season.  Ryan wrote a touching letter to the Western Mail in 1944 praising Maurice’s “tolerance and restraint, intuition……and a honour and a pleasure to play under him”.  Clay considered that the professionals “thought the world of him” especially his bravery in fielding at short leg.  Not usual for the amateur captain.

Maurice also understood that to ensure a ‘sustainable’ future Glamorgan needed to produce its own first class players that supporters could identity with thereby maximising its Welsh identity.  To this end he negotiated with local Carmarthenshire dignitaries to award a Championship fixture to Llanelli in 1933 and assisted with the merging of Monmouthshire then a minor county with Glamorgan in 1935.  This paid dividends in widening the playing  pool and support.

The captain quietly encouraged these new young players.  He never shouted and assured them they were doing well even if the scoreboard suggested otherwise.  He got the most out of what was then a team of modest ability.  It is pertinent that of the squad that won the 1948 championship, seven were Welshmen who had played under Turnbull, five of whom had made their debuts.

Maurice did have his critics.  He was described as a “martinent“ towards his professionals ordering them to wait at the amateurs changing rooms before the start of play.  Phil Clift, a future coach, spoke of his interview as an aspiring professional that now appears more akin to a headmaster talking to a pupil than to a young man. Undeniable the responsibility of office had eroded his earlier carefree spirit.  Maurice’s ire was not borne solely by the paid employees.  Earnie Harris a young amateur from St Fagans was admonished for playing cards in 2nd class with the professionals rather than sitting in 1st class with his social equals.  However the world is a different place ninety years later.  Socal distinctions were more sharply defined.  Cricket did not have a professional captain at either county or England level until the 1950s. The division between amateurs and paid remained until 1962. Maurice was a man of his time reflecting its values.

Glamorgan steady progress was confirmed in the 1937 season. They finished seventh, their best position in the Championship and completed the double over the New Zealanders. This advance was despite financial uncertainty that threatened the county’s existence.

Glamorgan joined the Championship carrying a financial deficit.  This increased during the 1920s.  The county were caught in a vicious spiral where they could not afford to field sufficient professionals and filled the side with club cricketers.  The side suffered poor results so the gate receipts dwindled.

Uncle Bertie, the club chairman, made a public statement in July 1932 that the season would be the last as a first class county.  The only way to avoid this drastic measure was a £1500 cash injection during the winter.  A ‘Save Glamorgan Cricket Campaign’ was launched and his nephew and Johnny Clay played leading roles.  The media and the great and the good of South Wales such as the Cory’s and the Homfray’s made pledges.  Football and rugby matches were played and grand dinners organised.  Equally as important raffles and dances were held across the towns and villages in which Maurice was to the fore.  A wag suggested he danced as many yards during the winter as runs in his career.  The sum was reached and Glamorgan’s immediate future secured.  The generous response showed much Glamorgan meant to the people and the wisdom of Maurice in championing its Welsh identity

The crisis produced a further benefit to the club and Maurice.  The incumbent secretary resigned.  There were objections from Swansea that the appointment of Maurice as secretary would confirm a Cardiff “mafia” but his offer to play a game further game west allayed these.  The job offer also eased Maurice’s money fears as the family shipping interests were suffering in the bleak financial climate.

Glamorgan’s finances remained concerning throughout  the 1930s. The 2nd eleven withdrew from the Minor Counties championship and the professionals pay was cut. Nonetheless the county under Maurice ceased  their ‘cinderella’ tag and became respectable providing three players for the Test team during the decade.  Maurice’s was integral to this rise and was rewarded with his nomination as a Test selector in 1938.

By this time Maurice’s rugby career was over.  After his university days it had been put on hold due to his MCC tours in the winter. For once he profited from the misfortune of others when the first choice Cardiff scrum half was injured and he made his debut against Gloucester in October 1931.  He impressed despite not playing a serious game for three years.  He was in familiar company with fellow Cambridge man Harry Bowcott and brother Lou captaining the side outside him.  He retained his position in the brave defeat 13-5 to the Springboks.  The Welsh selectors noted his sharp accurate ‘dive pass’ to his outside half and he featured in a Welsh trial before his season ended early with a broken wrist.  He had put down his marker.

Maurice Turnbull playing scrum half

Turnbull showing off his prowess at scrum-half

The 1932/33 would be Maurice’s finest rugby season in which he achieved the distinction of a Welsh rugby cap to go alongside his England cricket sweater. He was in the words of Danny Davies Cardiff rugby historian “a crafty and resourceful scrum half”.  The selectors had decided to select a new exciting backline for the opener game of the championship against England which included Wilf  Wooller and Viv Jenkins future Glamorgan cricketers under Maurice.  They considered Turnbull and Bowcott the best options to unleash them. The Welsh fans travelled in hope rather than anticipation considering that  Wales had not won at Twickenham since the ground had opened in 1909.

Wales recorded a famous victory 7-3 with the backline excelling.  Maurice sustained injuries to the jaw and neck from a robust English pack as was unable to eat solids at the post match dinner.  Nonetheless as he slurped his soup he no doubt reflected that despite the pain he was glad to be playing rugby rather than cricket this winter. Across the world Jardine was winning the Ashes for England but threatening the stability of the Empire in The Bodyline series.

Wales-v-England-1933

Turnbull (bottom right) in the first Wales team to defeat England at Twickenham

Maurice’s injuries prevented him playing in the home defeat to Scotland.  He was recalled for the Irish game in Belfast. It did not go well. The Irish pack dominated making Maurice and his backs redundant.  Wales lost 10-5.  That was the end of Maurice’s international career.

The 1933/34 season was Maurice’s last.  He suffered continual wrist injuries and lost form.  The medical advice was blunt.  He would not be able to hold a bat if he suffered any further damage.  Maurice retired from the game.  Although saddened with the abrupt ending it may have come as a relief.  His newspaper column suggested he had become disillusioned with the tribal nature of the game.  He wrote of being the victim of foul play in Llanelli and of being barracked by spectators in Swansea.  He previewed a Cardiff-Newport clash by stating he “would rather go nut gathering”.  Maurice played 62 games for Cardiff and the Turnbull brothers played over 480 for the ‘Blue and Blacks’ between 1923 and 1937.

He flirted with a return to hockey, playing for a Cambridge former student team against Glamorgan at the Harlequins Ground – now of course St Peters rugby headquarters.  He was selected for a Welsh trial but he declined acknowledging that his cricketing responsibilities were now too onerous.

His secondary sporting interest from the mid-1930s was squash rackets.  He was a keen player at school and university.  He had become frustrated with the shortage of courts in Cardiff.  He led a consortium of businessmen and sportsmen that built the Cardiff Squash Rackets club in Pontcanna.  Maurice proved his ability representing Wales and winning a Welsh title in 1938.

Maurice turns the turf as the foundations are laid in 1936 for the Cardiff Squash Club. He is watched by, from left to right Gerald Turnball

Maurice Turnbull cutting the turf at Cardiff Squash Club in 1936

The club became an integral part of the Cardiff scene where local and visiting sportsmen and women mingled.  One of the later was Elizabeth Brooke of Lincolnshire who was visiting to meet a friend.  Maurice was immediately smitten. Elizabeth not so.  She  considered him “the most conceited man she had ever met”. Ouch!  Maurice persisted and she must have softened her attitude as the couple were engaged on the eve of the 1939 season.

Maurice’s bachelor days had not been carefree.  As the senior single man of the family he bore the responsibility for his younger brothers’ education.  He was fortunate that his Glamorgan income was augmented by shrewd investments in the stock market, the sale of his interests in the family shipping business and an insurance business.

1939 was of course not only a momentous year for Maurice.  In August Glamorgan returned home by steamer from Weston after victories against Gloucester and Somerset.  There was no celebrations on board as the newspapers were scanned anxiously for the latest news on the ‘gathering storm’.  War was declared as the side travelled to Leicester for their final game of the season.  Maurice in his last game for the county top scored, as he had in his first appearance 15 years previously, with 156.  Rain ruined any chance of a win  and his serious Glamorgan days ended in the anticlimax of 0 not out in his last knock.

elizabeth Brooks

Elizabeth Brooke

Elizabeth and Maurice were married in Scunthorpe in September 1939.  He joined the Welsh Guards as a 2nd lieutenant in November.  The Welsh Guards were part of the British Expeditionary Force in France.  Maurice was moved to a transit camp near Dover ready to cross the Channel.  However the Germans pushed the BEF back to the ports and evacuation. Maurice was then stationed at Colchester for sea defence and for clearing the damage caused by stray bombs.

 

 

 

 

Turnbull-1350

He returned occasionally to Cardiff to help organise Glamorgan friendly games.  He was the Army representative on the MCC committee and was a member of a working group to improve the post-war game.  He was destined for a role in cricket’s future administration.  He made a ‘duck’ captaining  the Army in his final  Lords appearance at Lords in June 1942.

Sadly he had to return to Cardiff for Uncle Harold and Bertie’s funeral’s.  He helped organise his mother’s at St Peter’s in April 1942.  On a happier note Maurice used his leave to visit his wartime ‘home’ in Yorkshire where he doted on his children Sara and Simon.  Poignantly his third child Georgina was born a couple of before her father’s death and the priorities of war meant they were destined to never meet.

He attended promotion courses one of which allowed him to visit Downside for a last time.  From early 1944 the battalion started specific training for their role in Operation Overlord and they moved to Eastbourne in readiness for the invasion.  Maurice watched the D-Day flotilla assemble from his hotel room.

He crossed the Channel to Normandy on 18 June. The battalion moved inland towards Caen passing scenes of devastation.  Maurice’s company were directed to provide support to the Americans in the Bocage, an area of small fields and narrow lanes.

On the evening of 5 August tanks and foot soldiers of the SS tank division were spotted advancing south of the village of Montchamp.  Unfortunately the anti-tank equipment and the bulk of British troops were situated north of the village and Maurice was isolated and had lost radio communication with HQ.  Maurice believed the best chance of repelling the counter attack was take out the leading tank, stalling the advance in the confined lanes.  He led his men alongside the hedge and was about to order the attack when the Germans troops opened fire and the tank’s gun pushed through the hedge to join them.  Maurice was killed instantly.  Other of the company were either killed or injured and a hasty retreat ordered.

A few days before the tragic events, JH Morgan the Western Mail’s cricket reporter who was a war correspondent, had bumped into Maurice.  He wrote later that he had charted Maurice from a shy handsome boy of 17 making his debut till that final meeting with Maurice.  He was the same alert upright figure dressed in Military uniform as he had in flannels. He finished by stating he had died as he had played courageous, gallant and a great leader.

Maurice Trunbull wartime shot - another image with another officer

Wartime photo of Major Maurice Turnbull (photographer unknown)

The grim telegram was conveyed back to Elizabeth.  She gathered her children around her and sobbed.  Glamorgan were playing a fundraising friendly when the notice was posted and the crowd rose as one for a minute’s silence.  Maurice’s body was laid to rest at the military cemetery in Bayeux.

Maurice Turnbull death telegram

Telegram bringing news of the death of Maurice Turnbull

 

JC Clay wrote in his obituary that Maurice would have welcomed Glamorgan carrying on playing but in 1948 they did more than just that.  They reached the summit and won the championship.  Wisden, in marking this achievement, stated that it was tragic that he did not see their ultimate triumph as he had given Glamorgan a new meaning.  It was apt the final wicket of the championship was taken by his closest pal Johnny Clay.  The side was captained by Wilf Wooller, who had made his debut under Maurice and had shared the Twickenham victory together in 1933.  The standing umpire was Dai Davies his partner in his epic innings against Nottingham at the Arms Park in 1932.

Grave of Major Maurice Turnbull in Bayeux War Cemetery France

Grave of Major Maurice Turnbull in Bayeux War Cemetery, France (photo:Wikipedia –  Antitheistic )

Whilst his unique distinction of playing cricket for England and rugby for Wales is the stuff of pub quizzes, his greatest sporting legacy was his contribution to Glamorgan. Without his energy and wisdom it is doubtful that the county would have survived its early years. There would have been no Sophia Gardens Stadium or Ashes Tests without his intervention.

Maurice Turnbull Cathays Cemetery Plot C 1853

Maurice Turnbull is also remembered on the grave of his parents in Cathays Cemetery, Cardiff, plot C1853 (photo: Ted Richards)

It is right that as the Roath Local History Society we acknowledge the story of this remarkable character from up the hill in Penylan Road.

Turnbull - A Welsh Sporting Hero - Andrew Hignell

 

My apologies for any errors or omissions.  I strongly  recommend Andrew Hignell’s  “Turnbull: A Welsh Sporting Hero” as further reading and I acknowledge the book as the main secondary source for this article.

Graeme Brown – July 2019

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.