It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

Success! I’ve been searching for Christmas for over 20 years and have recently found him.

Evan Christmas Thomas

Evan Christmas Thomas (1866-1936)

My great-grandfather, Evan Christmas Thomas, was what we call in family history research something of a ‘brick wall’.  I could trace him back to around 1900 but any further back was presenting a problem.

This year that brick wall came tumbling down and some interesting stories came to light.  How did the story of him possibly being Wales’s first hit and run victim not get passed down through the family?  There’s even an intriguing Roath connection – perhaps you can help solve that mystery.

The starting point to my research was information that had got passed down through the family.  I knew he was originally from West Wales and had lived in the village of Cwrt Newydd on the Carmarthenshire/Cardiganshire border. After coming to Cardiff I knew he and the family lived in Birchgrove and he worked as a commercial traveller for a paint company.

Evan Christmas Thomas and his wife

Evan Christmas Thomas with his wife Margaret

Twenty years ago the family historian tended to have to leave the house and visit places like libraries to further their research.  I was fortunate enough at the time to have a job which involved regular meetings in London onto which I could tag a visit to the old Family History Centre at Clerkenwell.  There droves of genealogists would move around silently examining the large weighty volumes of birth, deaths and marriages. There would be tutting, sighing and occasionally whoop of excitement to signify success but the sound was mainly the clatter of the metal reinforced volumes being re-shelved.

Obtaining the marriage certificate for Evan Christmas Thomas was straightforward enough. From that I could see he was a woollen manufacturer and did indeed live at Cwrt Newydd.  The wedding certificate gave his father’s name as James, a labourer. I also had a death certificate and the ages on both the death and the marriage certificates gave me a supposed year of birth.

Brick wall

Next job then to get the birth certificate.  With a year of birth and an unusual middle name of Christmas what could be difficult about that.  I searched and I searched but just couldn’t find him.  Letters were written to registry offices in West Wales and family history societies in the area but all came back negative.  There was no birth of an Evan Christmas Thomas registered.

When the 1901 census was released and up came Evan Christmas Thomas, owning his woollen mill in Cwrt Newydd giving his place of birth as Llandysiliogogo, Cardiganshire and speaking both Welsh and English.

I put the search for Christmas aside for a long time, concentrated on other strands of the family tree and then gave family history a rest all together for quite a few years.

When I picked it up again everything had changed.  It had all gone computerised.  I joined Glamorgan Family History Society and attended one of their ‘brick wall’ sessions at Cardiff Central Library – 10am to 2pm on the first Saturday of the month, non-members welcome, and free of charge! I went along armed with all I knew about Evan Christmas Thomas.

The wonderful Nick taught me so much and solved one mystery.  After also failing to find a birth of an Evan Christmas Thomas he pointed out of the library window at Tabernacle Church opposite and said my answer may well lie over there.  He explained that Christmas may well not have been my great-grandfather’s name at birth but one taken on later in life in adoration of Christmas Evans.

Christmas Evans

Christmas Evans (1766-1838) was a famous Welsh Baptist preacher, born near Llandysul, where my great grandfather also came from.  He was a giant of a man, blind in one eye and  much admired.  He worked around Wales and at one time was minister of Tabernacle Baptist in the Hayes Cardiff.

Christmas Evans at Tabernacle chapel, Cardiff

Christmas Evans from Llandyssil, minister at Tabernacle 1828-1832 (Portrait by William Roos, 1835. National Museum Cardiff )

That all sounded very plausible but now left the challenge me with the challenge of finding a birth for an Evan Thomas rather than an Evan Christmas Thomas.  Anyone with ancestry in the West Wales area will be familiar with such a challenge. There seemed to be a shortage of names, both first names and surnames, to go around.  You look at some census records and families living next door to each other all have virtually identical names.  Talk about keeping up with the Jones’s.

1911 Census

The other thing that had appeared in the intervening years was the 1911 Census.  Bizarrely this only served to confuse things rather than add clarity.  Evan Christmas Thomas was now calling himself something else!  Now he was Evan Ceridfryn Thomas. Yes, I’d never heard of the name Ceridfryn either.  In fact there’s only about three people ever been called Ceridfryn and one of them James Ceridfryn Thomas (1856-1932) lived in Roath and was also originated Cardiganshire with a mention in a book on the history of Llandyssil.

In 1911 James Ceridfryn Thomas BSc lived at 93 Ninian Road, opposite Roath Park Pleasure Gardens.  He was a retired headmaster having previously worked at Kingsholm School in Weston-Super-Mare.  He had a degree in science,  was also a minister and also an author, publishing books under a pen-name Keridon. He wrote in an erudite fashion on a wide range of matters much of it beyond my understanding.

Ceridfryn Thomas writting

Man – The Prodigy and Freak of Nature by ‘Keridon’  – James Ceridfryn Thomas

So why did my great grand-father suddenly take on the middle name of Ceridfryn? I think he probably would have known James Ceridfryn Thomas.  There was an active Cardiganshire Society meeting in the Cardiff at the time and maybe they knew each other through though Welsh chapel.  Was it an admiration of his preaching or his writing or did James Ceridfryn Thomas maybe help secure Evan Thomas a job when he came to Cardiff. I’ll probably never know.

Another thing I found this year was my great-grandfather’s grave.  It is in Pantmawr Cemetery in Whitchurch and on the headstone his middle name had reverted to Christmas once again.  It will be interesting to see what he entered his name as on the 1921 census which is released in a couple of years time.

Breaking the rules

This year it dawned on me that I had broken one of the first rules of conducing family history.  Whenever anyone starts looking at their family tree there are a few things to do prior to jumping online and immersing oneself in all the records.  The first is to talk to all living relatives (talking to the dead ones is a bit of a waste of time as they don’t have a lot to say for themselves).  Note down everything they say (apart from the bit where the offer you a cup of tea) .  It won’t all be true.  Some stories will have changed over time but there is usually an element of truth in each one.  The second thing to do is to go through all old photographs and documents and make sure as much information is recorded about them as possible; names, dates, plates etc.

F2 Evan Thomas 1894 bible inscription

Do I keep to the above rules?  No of course I don’t.  This year I re-discovered an old bible belonging to Evan Christmas Thomas hidden away on our bookshelves.  This wasn’t one of those large family bibles with the family history all neatly written out on the inside front cover.  This was a small Welsh bible with Evan’s addresses inside and dated 1894.  It wasn’t from his childhood either.  Evan would have been 28 at this time. I realised that it was telling me his ‘present address’ of Penybont, Velindre and what was probably his ‘home address’ of Bwlchyfadfa, Talgarreg.

We happened to be holidaying in Cardiganshire this year so one day visited Bwlchyfadfa and the chapel and well-maintained graveyard.  I was particularly looking for a James Thomas that may have been Evan’s father.  There were lots of Thomas’s.  One James Thomas looked very promising though somewhat older than I expected.

Breakthrough

The next stage involved many hours pouring over census records, old maps and other various genealogy sources until yes, I eventually found Evan.  I could trace him back from 1901 as a woollen mill owner, to 1891 working as a woollen spinner to 1881 being a woollen spinner’s apprentice and in 1871 being in Bwlchyfadfa as a five year old grandson to James Thomas, aged 64, an agricultural labourer.   Also present in the house was an unmarried daughter Mary and an unmarried son David.  It was all beginning to make sense.

The next stage involved a leap of faith.  Spending the money and ordering what I thought was the correct birth certificate for Evan Thomas among all the Evan Thomas’s listed.  A tense week followed whilst I waited for the certificate to arrive.  Then bingo!   There he was, Evan Thomas, born to Mary Thomas, Bwlchyfadfa, an illegitimate birth, no father mentioned.  He was born on January 2nd 1866 so it was sort of a Christmas birth.

It was satisfying to find him eventually.  A number of things had obviously thrown me.  Christmas was not a name given from birth but one adopted later.  The James mentioned on his wedding certificate as his father was no doubt his grandfather that had helped bring him up in the absence of a father.  In fact Evan’s mother Mary dies when he was just nine after  long illness.  And the different birthplaces that kept being mentioned on census records i.e. Llandyssil and Llandysiliogogo, is explained by the fact that the parish boundary goes straight through the middle of the village of Bwlchyfadfa.

The old chapel at Bwlchyfadfa

The old chapel at Bwlchyfadfa, before the new one was built nearby in the 1890s.

Having pieced it all together I got in contact with Wyn Thomas, the minister at  Bwlchyfadfa Chapel to see if I could access any baptismal records etc.  I wasn’t necessarily expecting a positive response as such records are often missing or been transferred to record offices or the minister is just too busy.  Wyn however couldn’t have been more helpful and I paid another visit to the chapel to meet him.

Bwlchyfadfa is a Unitarian chapel.  Christening in such chapels weren’t as common as in other denominations or necessarily recorded and preserved.  Unitarianism was however big in the area with quite a lot of chapels and a magazine that went back to the 1800s.  One possibility was that there would be a mention in the magazine of the Thomas family.  The copies of the magazine stored at Bwlchyfadfa chapel didn’t go back far enough but Wyn had an idea, another chapel nearby may have the older copies of the magazine.

GelliAur Mill

Gelliaur Mill where Evan Thomas worked as a wool spinner

As we travelled though the lanes of rural Cardiganshire he pointed out the mill, Gelliaur, where Evan had been a woollen spinner in 1891, now converted into a house.  We arrived at the chapel and climbed up onto the balcony and there, sat in dusty piles, were copies of Ymofynydd magazines dating back 150 years.  A quick search and we found the obituary to my great-great-great-grandfather James Thomas.  It tells of a man strong in his faith but one so hard of hearing that he used to sit on the steps of the pulpit so he could hear the sermon.  So that’s where I get my hearing deficiency from!

James Thomas headstone and obit

Grave and obituary of James Thomas mentioning his respected grandson. Loose Google translation: February 28, Mr. James Thomas, Waunfach, Bwlch-y-Fadfa, aged 84 years. Our old brother was very zealous in Bwlch; and because of the hardness of his hearing he always sat in the pulpit. The old brother had the privilege of bringing his children up to a full age, and we understand that they, along with a respected Grandson, did their part for him. The following Monday his fatal death was buried at the Bwlch cemetery, when the Rev was preached in the chapel. W. J. Davies, the minister, to a large congregation. May all the relationships be comforted by the promises of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Elizabeth, Mary and David Thomas headstone.

The obituary of Evan’s mother Mary was also in the magazine and makes harrowing reading.  Wyn later found her grave, her brother David and mother Elizabeth at Pantydefaid Unitarian Chapel, Prengwyn.  The inscription on the tombstone was also incredibly sad and roughly translates to ‘We suffered very long with illness, looking for help but failing, until God the one who knew when released us from our suffering.’

We should never forget what a wonderful invention pain relief drugs are.

 

 

 

 

A slight mishap

There was another shock to come.  Back home I continued to search for any mention in the newspapers of Evan Christmas Thomas and I stumbled upon a story of him I’d never heard.  In 1907 it is reported he was cycling on the road from Merthyr to Brecon when he was knocked off his bike by a car travelling at 9mph on the wrong side of the road and he was rendered unconscious.  The chauffer-driven car didn’t stop.  After regaining consciousness it took him six hours to wheel his damaged bike to Brecon where he caught a train back to Cardiff.

F2 E C Thomas 19 Jun 1907 Evening Express and Evening Mail

19th June 1907 – Evening Express and Evening Mail

There are so many questions I have over these reports.  What was he doing there.  He was a commercial traveller for a paint and varnish company. Was he working or a just very keen early cyclist?  I can’t imagine the roads were very good back in 1907.  And the big question – was he Wales’s first cycling hit and run victim?

And so there we have it.  Some of the life of Evan Christmas Thomas has slowly revealed itself together with his sick mother Mary and hard of hearing grandfather James.  A lot more stays hidden away waiting to be discovered.



 

Postscript: some additional information-

James Ceridfryn Thomas from Ninian Road, Roath:

1930 June 12th Western Mail

South Wales Daily News Sept 1902

Man

Carmarthen Weekly Reporter 1913

Evan Christmas Thomas – more reports of his mishap with a chauffeured driven car:

F2 Evan Christmas Thomas 22 Jun 1907 Weekly Mail - Cycling accident

 

 

A470 just past Storey Arms near milestone

I was walking down off Pen-y-fan last week when I realised I was approaching the very spot where Evan got bowled over – the A470 just past Storey Arms near where a milestone used to be till recently.

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

Remembering Frank Gaccon

The only public war memorial in our ‘area of interest’, the ancient parish of Roath, is the one outside St Saviour’s church in Splott.  That leaves a lot of the people who lost their lives in WWI, WWII and other conflicts not remembered.  One way to rectify that would be to have a ‘virtual’ memorial, in some ways following the good example of Grangetown Local History Society in their work.  I have started to assemble a Roath virtual war memorial but it is early days yet.

One way to derive a list of the war casualties is to visit the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.  There you can search for specific casualties or search by keyword.  We are lucky in that the suburbs we are interested in have fairly unique names; Splott, Adamsdown, Roath, Penylan, Cathays, Cyncoed etc. I looked at the first name on the Cyncoed list and found Francis Wilberforce Gaccon.  As I began to research the person behind the name more deeply I began to uncover his interesting life story.

Francis ‘Frank’ Wilberforce Gaccon was born on 6th April 1888.  His father was Watkin Gaccon, originally from Aberdare and a marine engine engineer.  His mother was Alice Charlotte Morgan originally from Overton, Gloucestershire on the banks of the River Severn. Frank grows up in 96 Habershon Street, Splott where he attended Splottlands School and Cardiff University College (1904-11).

Evening Express 25th Jan 1908

An early picture of Frank Gaccon

He followed his father into engineering receiving his training with Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds.   After holding various positions with this firm he joined the staff of Nash’s Autocars, Cardiff, and after two years started his own business as a garage and engineering works company.  During WWI he worked for Bute Docks Engineers and Shipping Company under the Admiralty fitting engines to lifeboats of hospital ships.

After WWI he worked for a year for the Royal insurance Company before again starting up his own successful company Frank Gaccon & Co Consulting Engineer and Damage Assessors serving all the leading insurance companies for South Wales. In 1926 he was elected as a full member of the Institute of Automobile Engineers  His head office offices were based in Charles Street, Cardiff.

Frank had a very successful sporting career.  He started his career playing football then converted to rugby playing initially for Penylan and in January 1908 is talked about as a promising forward playing for Cardiff Reserves.  By December that year he is already in the Cardiff first team playing against Australia.

Frank Gaccon rugby player

Frank Gaccon in Cardiff Rugby Club shirt (photo credit: Cardiff Fire & Rescue, Gaccon family)

He played 105 times for Cardiff Rugby Club including against Australia in 1908 (Cardiff won 24-8)  and against South Africa in 1912 (Cardiff lost 6-7).  One later newspaper report indicates he may have played for Wales but that appears erroneous.  Frank was elected captain of Cardiff for the first official post-war season 1919-20 but he had to resign after a few games owing to injury.  He was captain Cardiff Rugby (Wartime Charities) XV against the New Zealand Army team in 1919.  The game was played in front of a crowd of 10,000 in Cardiff and ended up scoreless.  He was also Honorary Secretary of the Cardiff Rugby (Wartime Charities) XV charity that raised almost £2000 during the season, £100,000 in today’s money.

 

 

Cardiff Rugby (war charity) Football Team 1919

Frank Gaccon (with rugby ball) captaining Cardiff Rugby (war charity) Football Team 1919 (Photo Credit: Cardiff Rugby Museum)

After finishing his rugby playing career he went onto enjoy yachting and became commodore of Barry Yacht Club.

He married three times.  In 1917 he married Gertrude Alice Hamlin but sadly their marriage was short lived as she passed away a year later. At that time he was living in 8 Agincourt Road, Roath.   In 1920 he marries Lily Rodwell in Leicester and they have a daughter together. Lily passes away in 1939 and in 1940 Frank marries Lilian Plowman.

Daughter of Frank Gaccon visiting Cardiff Fire Brigade HQ 2017

Daughter of Frank Gaccon visiting Cardiff Fire Brigade HQ 2017 (Photo credit: Cardiff Fire and Rescue)

When WWII was declared Frank sacrificed his business and joined Cardiff Auxiliary Fire Service (A.F.S.) and became Divisional Commander of the Cardiff A.F.S.  He was killed in Newport Road whilst on duty on 3rd March, 1941.   That was a heavy night of fire bombing in Cardiff.  It was the night Roath Road Wesleyan church on Newport Road, at the junction of City Road, was destroyed.  There was also damage on Newport Road to the nurse’s hostel and further east along Newport Road  at the junction of Albany Road.  I had assumed he was killed in one of these events so it came as a shock when I later discovered he was killed when the car he was driving whilst on duty was damaged by a bomb. It is reported that after fighting five fires he was motoring to get more hose when the high explosive bomb killed him. He was 53 years of age at the time and living at 153 Cyncoed Road.  He is buried at Cathays Cemetery, Plot: M 948a.

Gravestone at Cathays Cemetery

Frank Gaccon Headstone (photo credit: Friends of Cathays Cemetery)

As a slight aside, he may also have been killed if he had still been living in Agincourt Road as it was on that night that residents of numbers 10 and 12 Agincourt Road were killed and the night that neighbouring Marborough Road School was damaged beyond repair.

 

Pen-y-lan Road blitz victims

I have a confession to make.  I enjoy researching the names on war memorials.  I enjoy unravelling the facts behind the life …. and death, of the named person, where they lived, their professions  and  their family.  At the same time I find it incredibly sad.   I periodically have to take a break when my eyes get a little watery, when I discover their fate; on the battlefield, being shot down from the air or lost at sea.  As a parent of boys myself I start to imagine what it must have been like for those parents to receive the harrowing news of the loss a son or in some cases two or three.  Then after a minutes reflection, its back to it.  Back to the immersive hobby of being a keyboard detective.

Penylan Road bomb damage

Where the Pen-y-lan Road victims died, 8, 10 and 12 Pen-y-lan Road.

 

My old school Marlborough Road Primary have embarked on a year-long project looking at WWII.  Not an easy topic to tackle though.  To teach children about the history and horrors of war whilst at the same time not in any way glorifying it or sending them home with nightmares.  I admire the way they are going about, travelling that delicate route.  The pictures I’ve seen so far look great.

CBS23 Marlbourough Road board school

The original Marlborough Road Board School opened in 1900, on the corner of Blenheim Road and Marlborough Road, damaged in an air raid and subsequently demolished.

I couldn’t help them personally when they put out a plea for people who had lived through the war to be interviewed by the children.  I’m too young for that category.  All I remember is ‘playing soldiers’ in the playground at playtime and the old air raid shelters used in my time for storing the pungent remains of school dinners.  Were they air raid shelters or just outbuildings?  Who knows.  Memories often play tricks

I thought however  I may be able to assist in looking at a local example of how the neighbourhood was impacted by WWII.  The school itself was bombed and badly damaged necessitating the main building to be demolished.  Fortunately the bombs fell at night and no lives were lost.  The same can’t be said however for the adjoining Agincourt Road.  There lives were lost.  Maybe that is too close to the school to pick as an example, plus I haven’t seen any pictures of that post-bombing damage or for that fact the school itself after the bombs fell.  Instead I have looked at nearby Pen-y-lan Road.

The Pen-y-lan Road bombs don’t always get a mention in articles about the Cardiff blitz.  Yes, the loss of life wasn’t as great as the horrific Hollyman’s Bakery in Grangetown where 32 people died  in January 1941.  But the Pen-y-lan Road bomb did kill eight people, five of them from the same family.

So where in Pen-y-lan Road are we talking about?  The lives were lost in numbers 8, 10 and 12 Pen-y-lan Road which is near where if joins Albany Road, near the Bottle Shop (no.4) and da Mara (no.2).  The bombs fell on 18th May 1943 in what has been described as the Final Blitz on Cardiff.

Widespread destruction was caused during the night raid involving no more than 50 German bombers which lasted only 83 minutes from 2.36am, dropping high explosives and parachute bombs and incendiary bombs.  Over 40 people were killed that night in total with 52 seriously wounded.

Following the railway line from Llanishen Reservoir through Whichurch, Rhiwbina and the Heath to Queen’s Street Station and the Docks.  Cathys Cemetery itself was hit.  Houses were damaged in Pantbach Road, Llwynfedw Gardens and Mynachdy estate.  A direct hit on houses in St Agnes Road killed six people.

The greatest loss of life in Pen-y-lan Road was in number 12.  Here five members of the same family were killed; Elizabeth Wing (aged 82), her daughters Lilian Wing (aged 49) and Olive Margrett (aged 47) and granddaughters Mavis Rees (aged 9) and Patricia Margrett (aged 19).  I first came across this family last year when researching the war memorial plaque in Albany Road Baptist church where Elizabeth and Lilian are remembered.

Register 12 Penylan Road - Copy

Occupants of 12 Pen-y-lan Road in 1939.  The victims of the bombing marked in red.  Patricia Margarett record likely to be the ‘closed’ record.

Elizabeth Wing was born in Leicester.  She married painter and decorator John Wing from Pembrokshire in 1887 and had eight children, three of whom it appears died young.  At the time of the 1911 census the family were living in nearby Moy Road and Elizabeth working as a dressmaker.  John, her husband, had died in 1916 aged 63.

Lilian Wing was a shop assistant in a confectionery shop, presumably downstairs from where they were living and which appears to have been owned by her sister Dora, described in the 1939 register as a confectioner and tobacconist.

Olive Margrett was married to Archibald Margrett, a steam raiser on the Great Western Railway who died in 1953. They had just the one daughter Patricia Margrett.  Archibald later remarried in 1945.

Mavis Rees, then aged 9, was the daughter of Dora and William J Rees who were married in 1925. Mavis also had a brother Colin J Rees aged 12, but I don’t know if he or the father William were in the house at the time it was bombed.   The following extract from the Roath Girl’s school log (presumably Roath Park?).  It seems to indicate Mavis as a pupil at Marlborough Road school.

The Head of Roath Girls’ reports Miss Hughes was unable to remain in school for she was suffering from shock after the early morning Raid, when her home was blitzed. Mavis Rees of 12 Penylan Road [a Marlborough girl and an evacuee] was seriously injured and taken to hospital. Later she died as the result of burns and shock. The pupils of her class sent a wreath and a letter of condolence was sent to the nearest relative, an aunt’.

Albany Road Baptist Church war memorial

Elizabeth Wing and Mavis Rees remembered on the memorial in nearby Albany Road Baptist Church

In number 10 Pen-y-lan Road Ivy Witts lost her life aged 45.  She was wife of Sidney Rowland Witts.  Ivy Dwynwen Morgan was born in 1896 in Cardiff and grew up on Broadway, Roath.  She married Sidney Witts at St Margaret’s church Roath in 1919 and had three children.   In 1939 Sidney is working as an official in the British Legion for ex-servicemen.

Ivy Witts

An early picture of Ivy Witts

Next door in number 8 Pen-y-lan Road husband and wife Edith Maud Davey and William Charles Davey were killed.  William Davey was a hairdresser had been a hairdresser all his life.  In the 1911 census we find him living in Harpur Street aged 17 and employed as a hairdresser.

Ivy Witts register - Copy

The occupants of 8 and 10 Pen-y-lan Road that died in the bombing of 18th May 1943.

Also living at 8 Pen-y-lan Road at the time of the raid was their son, 22 year old Trevor W C Davey, an apprentice electrical engineer.  Two months after the loss of his parents Trevor gets engaged to Sylvia Perkins from Ely.

Trevor Davey engagement 7 Jun 1943

In the book Cardiff – A City at War, Dennis Morgan recounts how another family in Pen-y-lan Road had a lucky escape:

Just across the road it was once again a Morrison shelter, which was under the stairs and protected with sandbags, that saved Mrs. Webber and her family.  The house had collapsed on them and, “the next thing we knew was that things were cascading down on to the shelter’’.  At first the rescue party saw little hope of finding them alive.  Eventually their shouts were heard and their morale was uplifted when their dog, Kim, scrambled into the shelter with them.  A flask of coffee was handed through a tiny hole but it was more than 6 hours before they were rescued.  Like many, who experienced the terror of the blitz and lived to tell the tale, Mrs. Webber commented, “None of us would ever grumble about anything again”.

1 Penylan Road bomb damage

All that remained where 1 Pen-y-lan Road where Mr & Mrs Webber and their dog  survived (photo: Cardiff Libraries)

I must admit I didn’t know what a Morrison shelter was.  It is not something purchased from your local supermarket.  It is a steel cage with a flat surface on top that often used to double up as a table.

Morrison shelter

Morrison shelter (photo Wiki)

The Webbers lived at 1 Pen-y-lan Road, almost opposite where the lives were lost at No’s 8, 10 & 12.  There is one blitz picture sometimes described as Albany Road and sometimes as Pen-y-lan Road that looks like it could well be No 1 Pen-y-lan Road, given the angle of the houses behind which would be Albany Road.  Amazing to think that anyone survived that damage.

The Webber’s had two children, William Webber and Anne Webber who would have been 11 and 9 at the time of the raid.  There is no mention of whether they too were also sheltering under the stairs at the time.

Looking at Pen-y-lan Road today it is easy to see where the houses involved in the raid were.  All have since been demolished and replaced with new housing, though judging by the architecture I would guess that the sites remained vacant for some time after the war before rebuilding took place, but I admit I am no architect.

Penylan Road today

The post-war houses that have replaced 8, 10 and 12 Pen-y-lan Road

1 Pen-y-lan Road today

The new building built on the site of 1 Pen-y-lan Road that was destroyed in the WWII blitz.

The other source of information available to researchers in addition to the traditional census records and birth, deaths and marriages is the Trade Directories.  These weren’t necessarily  issued every year so there are gaps.  The Cardiff Trade Directories can be viewed in Cathays Library.

 

 

 

The Friends of Cathays Cemetery have issued a booklet listing the casualties of the Cardiff Blitz.  As well as detailing their names and addresses it also lists where the casualties are buried in the cemetery.  Armed with this information I paid a visit to Cathays Cemetery to see if I could find the graves of the Pen-y-lan Road casualties.

plan oof new cemetery at Cathays Cemetery

Plan of the new cemetery at Cathays Cemetery

Finding the plots at Cathays Cemetery, even with a plot number isn’t easy.  Plot maps are available on FOCC website but even then trying to work out on the ground which row and column is which is confusing.  What I found helped a lot was the fact that Commonwealth War Graves are marked on the plot maps with a diamond shape.  Then referring to another list of the Commonwealth war graves at Cathays it is possible to calculate where in relation to those graves is the plot you are looking for.

War graves marked with diamond

A section of a plot map at Cathays Cemetery with Commonwealth War graves marked with a diamond

Unfortunately the plots I found of the people who died in the Pen-y-lan Road bombing, all except one,  had unmarked graves i.e. no headstone present.  The exception was the grave of Elizabeth Wing and her daughter Lilian.  Here there was a headstone but it had become too weathered to read. I don’t suppose the absence of headstones should come as a surprise considering the burials took place in wartime, but a sad discovery nevertheless.

Grave of Elizabeth and Lilian Wing

grave of Elizabeth and Lilian Wing  at Cathays Cemetery

So next time you are in the vicinity of Pen-y-lan Road, spare a thought for those killed by one of the last bombs to fall on Cardiff; Elizabeth the dressmaker, Lilian the shop assistant, Ivy Witts and William the hairdresser and their families, just like the man in the photograph is probably doing.   Then spare another thought for all those killed in WWII and indeed all other victims of war before and since.

Penylan Road bomb damage

Postscript

After publishing this blog I received quite a bit of feedback, including this very moving recollection from Pat Laing who has given me permission to include it here:

Mr and Mrs Rees and their son Colin and daughter Mavis came back from South Africa in 1938 and rented 116 Marlborough Rd. I lived at 120 and being only one year younger than Mavis we quickly became close friends. We went to different schools but took ballet lessons together every Saturday in Charles St and played together in the afternoons and in school holidays.  When the war started Mr Rees joined up and Mrs Rees and Colin and Mavis went to live at 12 Penylan Rd.  I was there playing the piano and doing block designs with Mavis on the evening of May 18th.  She was playing White Christmas as she had just got the sheet music.  I said goodbye at about 7pm and added “See you Saturday at the bus stop”, but of course I never saw her again.  By 1946 her father and mother were running a sweet shop in City Rd.  I met up with Colin about 1948 and we played tennis together for a few years in Roath Park. He went to Bristol University.  He a always bore burn marks on his legs.

The Cardiff High School Headmaster who never was.

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

John Llewelyn Davies - Headmaster Cardiff High

Major John Llewelyn Davies (Photo credit: IWM)

 

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

Cardiff High School War Memorial

J L Davies Cardiff High War Memorial

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

St Ishmael, Carmarthenshire

St Ishmael, Carmarthenshire, birthplace of John Llewelyn Davies

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

Emmanual College Cambridge

Emmanuel College, Cambridge (Photo credit – Wiki)

 

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

Carmarthen Training College

Trinity College Carmarthen

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

Perse School, Cambridge

Perse School, Cambridge in the late 1800s

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

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

Battle of Loos

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

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

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

Aberystwyth University

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

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

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

John Llewellyn Davies probate announcment 2nd May 2016 Cambrian Leader

John Llewellyn Davies probate announcement 2nd May 2016 Cambrian Leader

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

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

Trinity College War Memorial

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

Subsequent Information

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

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

 

RSC War Memorial Burlington HOuse

Royal Society of Chemistry memorial at Burlington House, London

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extra bits

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

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

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

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

John Llewelyn Davies

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

John Llewelyn Davies obit

Mid Glam Herald and Neath Gazette Dec 4th 1915 Obit

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

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

 

 

Uncovering the history of Wellfield Road

Wellfield Road, Cardiff history

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

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

Waterloo Tea, Wellfield Road, Cardiff

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

 

Tilley Shoe Shop, Wellfield Road, Cardiff

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

 

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

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

41 Wellfield Road, Cardiff - History

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

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

Wellfield Rad, Cardiff plan 2006

Wellfield ROad, Roath, Cardiff 1972

Wellfield Road 1972 Trade Directory

 

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

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

Sir William Crossman

William Crossman – the first Labour Knight 

(22 March 1854 – 23 January 1929)

As its Labour Day allow me to present to you the life William Crossman, probably one of Cardiff’s unsung heroes.  He was the first labour Lord Mayor of the city and the first labour person and trade unionist ever to be knighted in Great Britain.  That’s quite a claim.  I think its true.  It was certainly a headline in the Echo at the time.

William Crossman picture unknown date

William Crossman wasn’t a Cardiff man.  He was one of the thousands of people that came to Cardiff from the West Country in the late 1800s.  As an aside, I’ve often wondered if that’s the reason why the Cardiff accent is so different from the nearby valleys accent.

Crossman was born in 1854 in Tavistock, Devon, son of John Crossman, a ‘captain’ in a copper mine.  He married Mary Ann Moore on 29th Dec 1885 at the Roath parish church, St Margaret’s.  His address at the time is given as Myra Place.  I’ve not been able to find Myra Place and am left wondering if it is in fact a misspelling of Moira Place in Adamsdown.  After their marriage they lived at 31 Harriet Street, Cathays for the rest of their lives and never had children.

31 Harriet Street, Cathays, Cardiff, home of William Crossman

31 Harriet Street, Cathays

William was a mason by training.  He came to Cardiff to work as a foreman mason on the Roath Dock at Cardiff in 1884.  He became a labour leader in 1892, at the time of the great building trade dispute. As a member of the conciliation committee he did much to bring that strike to a satisfactory end.  He was said to have been a reasonable man, standing for his principle, but not spoiling for a fight. His sincerity and simplicity is said to have won him the respect and confidence of his opponents. For many years his life was devoted to labour representation, what we would now call trade unionism.

His conciliation skills must have been widely admired.  In the early 1900s be became Chief Magistrate and was appointed as Lord Mayor of Cardiff in 1906.   He was knighted whilst still in office by Edward VII on his visit to Cardiff on 13 July 1907, when the King came to open the Queen Alexandra Dock.  A crowd of some 50,000 people is said to have gathered in front of the City Hall to witness the ceremony.  The papers reported that he was the first labourer to have been knighted and probably also the first trade union leader.  At the civic ceremony that followed the ceremony, King Edward VII is said to have commented to William, “I quite understand my man” upon seeing him refuse an alcoholic drink. Sir William was a devoted church member and one of the two Sunday school superintendents in the Bible Christian Methodist Church in Miskin Street, Cathays, Cardiff.

Knighting of William Crossman by King Edward VII in Cardiff by William Hatherell

Painting of Knighting of William Crossman by King Edward VII in Cardiff by William Hatherell

In January 1910 Crossman was appointed President of the new Labour Exchange in Bridge Street, Cardiff  by Winston Churchill, then President of the Board of Trade. His appointment appears to have been welcomed by politicians of all shades in Cardiff at the time.

Sir William Smith Crossman died on January 23rd 1929 aged 74 years.  He is buried at Cathays cemetery.

William Crossman Gravestone at Cathays Cemetery

Inscription: In loving memory of WILLIAM SMITH CROSSMAN Kt. JP. Lord Mayor of this city 1906-7, who died January 23rd 1929 age 74 years. “Until the day break and the shadows flee away” Also of Dame Mary Ann CROSSMAN the dearly beloved wife of the above who died April 29th 1935 aged 91 years. “In peace they lived together and peacefully they passed away”

The best insight into William Crossman’s life I’ve been able to find is, from of all places, the New Zealand Herald.  From the first part of the interview Crossman comes over as a very humble man.  Just as the interview is about to conclude he gets the opportunity to express his religious views and importance of abstinence. I wonder if the garden in Harriet Street still looks good!

 

New Zealand Herald.  September 7th 1907

FROM STONEMASON TO KNIGHT.

STORY OF SIR W. CROSSMAN’S LIFE.

Working, rather than talking, is the strong point in the character of Sir William Crossman, Lord Mayor of Cardiff, the Labour representative whom the King has just honoured with a knighthood.

There is certainly squareness and massiveness about Sir William’s appearance suggestive of speech—few words and weighty —and himself or his doings form above all others the subject he is most reluctant to speak about.

After some persuasion, however, he consented to give some account of his life and bringing up, telling the tale of quiet, steady work in the simplest possible language.

“I was born in Devonshire,” said Sir William Crossman, though, perhaps, I can hardly be called a Devonshire man, as I was ‘raised’ in Cornwall.  I was born at Tavistock in 1864.  My father was then the captain of the copper ore mine.

“I have not had a great deal of schooling.  All the education I ever had was at the Tavistock national school.  I remained there till I was fourteen, and then I set out to earn my own living.

“That was what took me to Cornwall.  I became apprenticed as a stonemason in the Gunnisiake Granite Quarries and served the usual term of five years.  Then I worked for a while as journeyman at the same quarries.

“After that I went to work at Bristol, and since then I have been engaged in my trade there and elsewhere, but generally working on public works.’’

Nearly half Sir William’s life has, however, been spent in the capital of South Wales; and it is his splendid record of public work in that city which has led to the dramatic contrasts in his life; so that the man who worked as a foreman mason on the building of one dock represented his city in the reception of the Sovereign at the opening of the next.

“It was more twenty years ago that I came to Cardiff,” said Sir William; “indeed, it was 1884.  The new Roath Dock was then being built, and I came as foreman-mason under the contractors, and held the position till the contract was completed.”

“‘Afterwards I was engaged on a good many other important building works in the town—the castle wall in the North Road, and I was foreman mason again at the erection of some big warehouses at the West Dock.”

LEADER OF LAROUR.

What first brought Sir William Crossman into prominence in the public life of Cardiff was a dispute in the building trade between employers and employed.

This led to a strike of a somewhat obstinate character which lasted several months, and was accompanied, as is usual by a considerable amount of embittered controversy.  Into this controversy Sir William Crossman entered as a cordial advocate of the claims of Labour, but at the same time the position he took up was so reasonable, and the manner in which he defended, it was so tactful, that he was successful in gaining not only the support of his fellow workmen but the respect and confidence of the employers.

William Crossman

On this aspect of the subject, Sir William Crossman had, however, nothing to say, only remarking that it was in the year marked by this dispute -1902- that was first elected a member of the Cardiff Corporation.

“I was put up for Cathays Ward,”  he said, ‘by Cardiff Labour Progressive League and I was returned for the ward by a good majority, “I have kept my seat ever since. though I have had to fight for it twice.  I have always contested the ward as Labour and Liberal.

“It is the same district – the Cathays Ward- that I represent on the Board of Guardians.  I have been on the board for some eight or nine years.  “But I not know,”’ said Sir William, smiling. “that if I were to enumerate all the different positions I do hold or have held it would be interesting.”

THE SIMPLE LIFE.

Though, since his public duties have absorbed so much of his time, Sir William Crossman has ceased to wield the hammer and chisel himself, he still leads the simple life of a working man.  His little home in the Cathays Ward of Cardiff, over which Lady Crossman presides with pleasant and kindly hospitality, is only rented, at £20 a year.

The garden is but a little oblong patch usually attached to such villas, but the most is made of it.  It is overflowing with flowers, and the little conservatory, which opens out of Sir William’s tiny study, displays a wonderful variety of blossom and colour.  Gardening is Sir William’s hobby in his leisure moments, which, however, especially since his accession to the Mayoral duties, are not very numerous.

Lord Mayor William Crossman portrait by Parker Hagarty

Lord Mayor William Crossman portrait by Parker Hagarty

“I have always found great pleasure in gardening,” he said. ‘‘After the busy life of the day I find working among my flowers restful.  I think, especially in towns, you can tell a great deal about the character of people by the way they keep their gardens.  Perhaps you see one a squalid wilderness and the next one ablaze with flowers.

“I do not think I have anything more to say,” said Sir William in conclusion.

“If you ask me to what I think I owe most in my life I would like to say I had the great advantage of being brought up by Christian parents and of knowing the benefit of total abstinence from my youth.  My father was a very strong temperance advocate”.

Miskin Street Bible Christian Chapel

“Then I was fortunate in choosing as a friend and companion when I left my home a man who was steady in habits and a good friend to have. That was when I left Cornwall for Bristol. “It is  in the choice of their friends and companions that I always feel young men should be so careful. I am sure their future often greatly depends on their companions in early life.  I have so often known young men who had good parents, but when they left home they allowed themselves to be led away by careless companions.  It is often simply for want of a little consideration on their own part, they forget the teaching of the old home life and cast it all aside.

Young men by the time they have passed through their apprenticeship, are launching out in their life on their own account, have generally picked up a friend.

The two start out together, and their characters influence each other a good deal.  A good friend then may make a lot of difference in a young man’s life.

“Since I have grown to manhood and taken part for some years now in Sunday-school work, I have always tried my best to instil into young people an idea of their responsibility in future.  I have tried to make them see how important it is for them, when they launch out into life for themselves to carry with them the influence of a good home as the best means to help them to grow up and useful citizens.

“For, of course, if a young man his character and grit, and can resist temptation, it is a great advantage for him when he has finished his apprenticeship  not to stay all the time at the same works, but to travel a bit, to ‘spread about the country’ as we say.  He needs to see other methods; to find out what other firms are doing, and the ways of other districts.

“That is generally how the best men are made, the men who become foremen of large worker. They have generally travelled and seen of variety of work.’

—————————————————————————————————————————–

 

William Crossman being knighted by King Edward 1906

William Crossman being knighted by King Edward 1906

 

Family History

William Crossman had six siblings though three of them died in infancy.  There also appears to have been quite a lot of child mortality in the offspring of the three remaining siblings so the Crossman family history isn’t spread very wide it seems.  There may be some living offspring living in Canada.

Mary Ann Moore, Lady Crossman

Mary Ann Moore, Lady Crossman

William Crossman’s wife, Mary Ann Moore, as from the Isle of Man.  ‘Annie’ as she was known was baptized on 21st March 1844 at St. Barnabas Church, Douglas, Isle of Man . She went into service as a cook working for an upper class family in England where Henry Bingham Mildmay was the man of the house. There she  met her future husband, William Crossman, who was a guest of her employer one evening. After dinner, Crossman asked his host whether he could meet the cook who had prepared such a wonderful meal. And the rest as they say is history.

They didn’t have any children, but Charlotte Moore, a niece, and her two young daughters, Dora and Rita (Marguerite), lived in Cardiff with the Crossmans for a couple of years following the death of Charlotte’s young husband, Mr Bond. Lord Crossman was known to send a regular supply of good quality second hand clothing to his brother-in-law, William Preston Moore, for him to distribute to the needy and destitute in Liverpool.

Mary Ann and her spinster sister Catherine Ellen were very close and they lived their final years together in Cardiff. Ellen had worked as a Ladies Companion to a member of the aristocracy. She was an expert in etiquette and mixed with high society. When her sister, Mary Ann was widowed, Ellen came to Cardiff to look after Mary Ann until she passed away. They are buried together along with William Crossman in the grave in Cathays Cemetery.

Mary Ann came from a maritime family.  Her father Peter Moore (1813-1880) was a sailmaker,  is listed in  Slater’s Directory in 1846 and 1852 as living at 5 James St., Douglas, Isle of Man. He is also listed as being a joint ship owner of the vessels “Dolphin” and “”Laburnum”. Peter is buried in the Old Kirk Braddan Cemetery in Douglas. Mary Ann’s mother was Anne Preston (1816-1857) also from Douglas, Isle of Man.  She had eight children the last of which was born in 1856, just a year before she died.

 

Pg 6 Glamorgan Gazette 19 July 1907

Glamorgan Gazette 19 July 1907 p6

Addendum

This piece of research into the life William Crossman originates from a U3A (University of the Third Age) Family History Group.  We wanted to learn together about tracing someone’s family history and someone suggested choosing someone not connected with any of our families and why not look at the life of a Cardiff Mayor.  As the fruit of that research didn’t seem to have a natural home and as William Crossman does have Roath ties, I thought why not post it here.  Thank you to the members of that U3A group for their efforts.

 

Ernest Willows – Airship Pioneer

 

Ernest Willows – the aviator

Ernest Willows constructed a number of airships, the naming of which probably didn’t take up too much of his time.  Willows 1, powered by a motorbike engine, was constructed in his workshop in East Moors Cardiff in 1905 when he was just 19 years old.

Willows I in 1905

Willows I in 1905

In 1910, in Willows 2, he succeeded in flying it to the city centre and landing near the City Hall netting him a £50 prize for the first aerial voyage in Wales.   Buoyed by his success and now with a bit of publicity behind him, he did the same three days later, this time in front of a crowd of 40,000. 

Willows II landing outside the City Hall Cardiff 1910

Willows II landing outside the City Hall Cardiff 1910

A new local hero was born.  Ernest advanced airship design in that he made his steerable, something that is no doubt a great advantage if you are trying to get somewhere in particular.

His next notable achievement was to fly from Cardiff to London in Willows 3 and become the first person to fly an airship over the Bristol Channel, something he could hardly avoid doing as it was on the way.

Willows II in the air

Willows II in the air

 

Channel hopping became all the rage and in November 1910 he was the first person to fly an airship from London to Paris and the first to fly an airship over the English Channel at night (and no I don’t know who the first person to do it in daylight was but it probably made for a better spectator sport).  The flight wasn’t without mishap and he had to put down soon after reaching France for repairs.

Ernest Willows arrives in France

French magazine depiction of Willows landing in France – being charged customs duty for the gas he is carrying

You would have thought by now that fame and financial success would no doubt follow but I’m afraid not.  A number of things happened which stopped this, most notably the outbreak of WWI and the invention of the aeroplane.   Ernest did however play a role designing the tethered barrage balloons which prevented enemy planes getting too low over London to seek out their targets.  He spent much of WWI managing the building of barrage balloons in Westgate Street, Cardiff.

The technical achievements of Ernest Willows and his airships  are well covered in Alec McKinty’s biography entitled ‘The Father of British Airships’. and also in a number of other blogs such as Then and Now. and Phil Carradice.  What interests me maybe more is his family history.

Ernest Willows – Family History

 

Ernest Willows was born on 11th July 1886 at No.11 Newport Road in a row of houses known as Brighton Terrace. The houses became part of Cardiff University and were eventually demolished to allow for the expansion of the university.  It seems fitting that the Cardiff University School of Engineering  now occupy the space where Ernest Willows was born.

Ernest Willows birthplace

 

 

Young Ernest Willows

Young Ernest Willows

His father, Joseph Willows, was a dentist who originated from Hull and his mother Evaline Willows, nee Garrett, was born in Bath.  By the age of four Ernest and the family had moved to Queen Street in Cardiff.  Young Ernest started school in Richmond Road and may even have gone to Cardiff High for a short period of time but most of his education was in Clifton College, Bristol where he lived with an aunt.  He was all set to follow his father’s career and started training to be a dentist but evidently didn’t take to it and soon working on airships became his passion, one his parents it seems fully supported.

In 1908 Ernest marries sixteen year old Irene Davies from Haverfordwest in Lambeth, London.  Their first two children Evelyn and Clifford are born back in Cardiff.  Evelyn dies on the eve of her first birthday in Deri Road, Penylan, Cardiff in 1910.  Poor Clifford was to die in 1932 aged 22 in a motorcycle accident on his way to work as a draughtsman in Whitley aerodrome, Coventry.  They have two more children; Dorothy who was born in West Bromwich in 1912 and died in 1980 and Ernest Joseph Denman Willows born in Hendon, London in 1914 and died in 1989, neither of whom married.  So unfortunately it appears there are no living decedents of our hero Ernest Willows.  Ernest did have two sisters, Daisy who died in infancy and Doris.  It is from this line where it gets interesting from a local history point of view where one of Doris’s daughters marries into the Crouch family, the famous Cardiff jewellers.

Ernest Willows 1911

Ernest Willows 1911

Anyway, I digress.  What of Ernest himself I hear you ask.  Unfortunately he doesn’t have a lot of luck either.  He never seems to make a lot of money from his airship business.  In 1921 he loses all his worldly belongings overboard from a ship off the Isle of Wight and ends up living, with his family, in a schooner moored up in Chiswick on the Thames.  His post-war career appears to be based on giving people joy rides in balloons.  One night in 1925, his balloon escapes from its mooring in the Wembley Exhibition and crashes into the house of Sir Hector Rason, a former Premier of Western Australia, wrecking the porch, knocking off the chimney pots and filling the house with hydrogen gas.

Ernest Willows sets off from Cardiff to London

Ernest Willows sets off from Cardiff to London

Ernest Willows life is cut short at the age of just 40 when he died in a ballooning accident in Bedford when taking two others for a ride in the balloon.  The basket gets detached from the balloon and plummets to the ground.  He is buried in Cathays cemetery in Cardiff along with his parents and infant child Evelyn.

Ernest Willows headstone Cathays

Ernest Willows headstone Cathays Cemetery.

 

The Ernest Willows Pub

The name of Willows is remembered in a number of places around Cardiff including Willows school and the Ernest Willows pub on City Road.  Here the walls of the pub are lined with pictures of famous Cardiffians, including of course our hero after which this pub is named.

Ernest Willows Wetherspoons

 

The Ernest Willows City Road Cardiff

A Wetherspoons pub never is never small and cosy with a real fire burning in the corner.  Many are in large old buildings of notable architecture.  I wouldn’t describe the Ernest Willows  in City Road, Cardiff as being of notable architecture.  Art deco would even be stretching it.  The building apparently used to be a garage and also a bicycle shop.  It is however friendly, spacious and has an outside area with its own mini-Gorsedd Circle feature around the side.

What the pub lacks in charm is more than made up for by its fabulous award-winning toilets.  Before you men get too excited, I’m mainly here talking about the ladies toilets, not that I’ve seen them firsthand of course.

The opulent ladies toilets are full of marble and mosaic tiles with a central feature that wouldn’t be out of place in the middle of an Italian town. I’m not sure of the history of the ladies toilets but I imagine the builder was told ‘If you do a good job for us here then we’ve a 1000 more for you to have a go at’.

Ernest WIllows Ladies Toilets

Ernest Willows Ladies Toilets

Albany Road and the 1911 census Suffragette protest

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

Cardiff and District Women's Suffrage Society banner, 1908

Cardiff and District Women’s Suffrage Society banner, 1908

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

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

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

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

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

 

1911 Census for 34 Albany Road

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

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

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

 

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

34 Albany ROad, Roath, Cardiff, Postcard.

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

Flavour Vapour, Albany Road, Cardiff

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

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

 

Suffragette Protest for the 1911 Census – WESTERN MAIL

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

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

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

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

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

Votes for Women 1911 poster

Newspaper “Beds”

HOW THE LADIES SPENT THE NIGHT

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

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

Cardiff libraties

Photo: Cardiff Libraries

VISIT BY THE POLICE

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

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

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

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

“SCHEME A COMPLETE SUCCESS”

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

Early Morning Call

REGISTRAR’S FRUITLESS VISIT TO ALBANY ROAD

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

 

“GONE TO CARDIFF TO EVADE THE CENSUS.”

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

Women's_Suffrage_Pilgrimage_in_Cathays_Park,_Cardiff_1913

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

A Voice From The Inside.

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

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

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

End

 

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

 

 

Cycling in City Road

Nextbike City Road 2018

The appearance of a City of Cardiff bicycle hire rack in City Road inspired me to have visions of the past – velocipedes (boneshakers) and ordinaries (penny farthing bicycles) hurtling up and down Heol y Plwca or Castle Road (as it later became known in the 1870’s), on a road surface that was little more than a dirt track with ruts.  Most of these cyclists would have been members of the middle class and very few of them women.  To ride a Penny Farthing one needed to be fit, active and male and not encumbered by long heavy skirts and layers of petticoats.  The middle aged rode tricycles and quadricycles and from 1881 to 1886 more tricycles were built in the United Kingdom than bicycles.  They were more expensive, perceived as more genteel and were thought to be more suitable for women from middle class families.  With the emergence of the safety bicycle more women began to participate in cycling.  It was seen as part of the struggle for their social independence and critics were concerned by the risqué clothing they wore, such as divided skirts or bloomers.  Cycling was not embraced by the working class until after World War 1 when it was a means of travel to work (to the docks?) and an alternative to public transport.

City ROad Bicycle 2018

Cycling still popular today in the busy City Road.

The earliest known cycle dealers in Castle Road (now City Road) were Wheeler and Company trading at 10 Castle Road in 1889.  By now James Starley’s Rover safety bicycle had evolved to the extent that it had the appearance of a modern bicycle and was no doubt available from Wheelers’ cycle depot, complete with such refinements as Dunlop’s pneumatic tyres (1889) and the Silver King oil cycle lamp produced by Joseph Lucas of Birmingham (1879).  Electric batteries appeared after 1890.

Tandem cycles made their appearance in 1886 and the Cyclists Touring Club announced that ‘ladies, like luggage are wisely consigned to the rear’.  The Kennard Cycle Company followed in 1894 at 20 City Road at least until 1924.  By 1937 they had moved to 195 – 201 Richmond Road where they advertised themselves as agents for Raleigh bicycles.  The Raleigh Bicycle Company of Nottingham had been founded in 1888 and became the largest cycle manufacturer in the United Kingdom.  They probably also sold bicycles manufactured by the Hercules Cycle and Motor Cycle Company, founded in 1910.  The business prospered and by 1935 the company produced 40% of the total output of the United Kingdom, largely due to the adoption of mass production methods.

Worrell Cowbidge Road

Worrell & Co – not in City Road this one but on Cowbridge Road, but the City Road branch may well have looked similar.

By the decade beginning in 1910 there were three cycle dealers including the Worrell brothers who took over the former Wheeler premises at no. 10.  Expansion really came in the 1920’s, when there were 10 outlets in what was by now City Road.  This included a branch of the Halfords Cycle Co. Ltd. founded in Birmingham in 1892.  The City Road branch opened in 1929 at 210 City Road and closed in 1972.  They were of course agents for Raleigh bicycles including the Raleigh Chopper in 1970’s.  The Moulton folding bicycle had been developed in 1960 and the patent rights were sold to Raleigh in 1967.

Halfords was the last recorded cycle shop in City Road.

Halfords City ROad Wales Online

Halfords on City Road just on the left of the picture (Pic: Wales Online)

 

211 City Road in 2017 uncovers an old sign

Refurbishment work on 211 City Road in 2017 temporarily uncovers this old cycle shop sign (Cardiff Now and Then FB page)

 

Malcolm Ranson

16 Oct,2018