Hopson & Son tobacconists, Albany Road

One of the businesses synonymous with Albany Road and no doubt still in the memory of many people who grew up in the Roath area would have been the tobacconists Hopson’s.  It was a lot more than just the tobacconist shop ‘House of Hopson’. It was the headquarters of a wholesale tobacco and confectionary business, Hopson and Son Ltd, the largest wholesale tobacconists in Wales.  Hidden behind the shop frontage of 27 Albany Road was a cigarette warehouse where orders were packed for delivery all over Wales and the West of England area to shops, pubs and clubs.

Albany Road had been a residential street called Merthyr Road when first constructed.  Slowly over the years the houses were converted to shop fronts.  The stretch between Inverness Place and Arabella Street was one of the first to see such a transformation.

Albany Road, Roath, Cardiff in early 1900s

Albany Road, early 1900s. H A Hopson, tobacconists, is the awning, just to the right of the lampost, where the man with the cart is standing. On the left is the bootmaker Stead and Simpson, on the corner of Inverness Place.  On the right is the original St Martin’s Church.

The business began in 1899 as a hairdressing and tobacconists shop. The profit at the end of the first year trading was 16s 1d.  In the 1913 Cardiff Trade Directory the business is described as ‘Hopson H.A – hairdresser, confectioner, newsagent and tobacconist’.   When the company first diversified into supplying cigarettes and tobacco to pubs, clubs and other shops the orders were delivered by bicycle and horse-drawn cart.

H A Hopson shop display

H A Hopson window display with Exmoor Hunt, Biggs cigarettes and De Reszke cigarettes named after Jean de Reszke (1850-1925), a famous Polish opera singer.

The shop had a touch of class about it, fitted out with walnut panelling that had been salvaged from the British Ocean liner RMS Olympic and had wall to wall red carpeting.   The shop also had a kiosk facing onto Albany Road to cater for the smoker in a hurry. In 1967 the shop used to stock almost 200 brands of cigarettes and 300 blends of tobacco.  The warehouse operation turned over 6 million cigarettes a week and had 110 employees.

Hopson, Albany Road, Roath, Cardiff, Hairdressing salon

The interior of the tobacconists shop with the entrance to the gentleman’s hairdresser at the rear.

What better way to get an insight into the history of the business than to look at the family history:

William John Hopson

The entrepreneurial spirit of the Hopson family can be traced back to William John Hopson.  In the 1871 census we find William, then aged just 16, living independently in Hereford and working as a gentleman’s hairdresser.  He was son of William Hopson, a trunkmaker, originally from Sedgeley, Staffordshire. William John Hopson marries Sarah Davis in Hereford when he is 19 and by 1881 has his own hairdressing business in Bedminster, Bristol. Ten years later, in the 1891 census we find he has decided to move to Wales and owns a gentleman’s hairdresser business in Treorchy in the Rhondda Valley.  They have five children, one of whom is Henry Albert Hopson b.1874 in Hereford.

Henry Albert Hopson

Henry Albert Hopson originally worked as a hairdresser in his father’s business in Treorchy.  He marries Katherine Saddler in 1898 in Cardiff.  In August 1899 he opens the gentleman’s hairdresser and tobacconist business at 27 Albany Road, no doubt with his father’s support.  In the 1901 and the 1911 census we find the Hopson family living at the Albany Road address. By 1934, when the business of Hopson & Son Ltd is registered, Henry is living at 13 Southcourt Road.  Henry Hopson passes away in 1936 and the business is passed onto his son Clifford Allison Hopson.

Wood lined Hopson and Son Ltd

The wood-lined Hopson tobacconist shop

Clifford Allison Hopson

Clifford Hopson was born in 1904 at 27 Albany Road.  He trained as a ship’s engineer and worked on vessels in Cardiff docks but gave it up when he was 32 and took over the family business when his father died young.  He expanded the business significantly, both via growth and acquisition.  Like many businesses of the time there were annual staff outings to places of interest such as Torquay, Windsor and Bude.  As well as the outings there was the legendary Christmas Dinner, traditionally held at the Angel Hotel, as a way of saying thank you to the staff.   He died in 1961 aged 57.

House of Hopson

 

Alan Clifford Hopson

Alan Clifford Hopson was born in 1938 and takes over the reins of the business when he was just 22 years old. After leaving Cardiff High School at 16 his father had trained him up to run the business, sending him around different parts of the organisation and having him work in the packing warehouse. He was sent on courses and even over to Cuba to learn the fineries of cigar making etc. Alan’s father had already been diagnosed with the leukaemia hence the need and urgency to learn the business as his father’s health deteriorated.  When Alan took over the business continued to prosper but eventually in the 1980s external forces such as supermarkets being able to source cigarettes at discount prices from suppliers and the public’s growing awareness of the health issues began to impact trade.  The business went into voluntary liquidation in Nov 1986. The Albany Road shops and warehouse were sold and are now occupied by the Iceland supermarket.

Alan Hopson conducting an interview

A young Alan Hopson being interviewed in the office area

So what went on in that warehouse behind the tobacconist shop?  Early every morning a fleet of Hopson & Son white vans with their gold leaf lettering would load up in the yard before heading up to the valleys and further afield to make their deliveries.  Once they had departed it left room in the yard for the wagons from the cigarette companies to edge their way in through the arched entrance on Arabella Street, testing the driver’s manoeuvring skill to the maximum.  Whilst they went for a celebratory cup of tea an army of employees would speedily unload the wagon with the aid of rollers and neatly stack the boxes.  It’s hard to believe these days that some suppliers transported their cigarettes on flat bed wagons with just tarpaulin tied over the top of their valuable loads.

Back of 27 Albany Road being prepared for Hopson & Son

The yard behind the Albany Road premises being prepared including and entrance in via Arabella Street.

Later in the day the reps would arrive back from their rounds, clutching the orders that needed to be typed up by the office staff upstairs before being sent down to the warehouse for assembly.

Hopson fleet in Cathays Park

The Hopson & Son fleet lined up early one morning in Cathays Park

The Albany Road premises were just one of a number in the Hopson business  There were shops as well as smaller warehouses throughout Wales and nearby areas, including Chester, Haverfordwest, Newtown, Merthyr and Swansea.  Just off Newport Road in Cardiff  was the confectionary warehouse.

Publicity shot outside Hopson & Son, Albany Road, Cardiff

Rothman’s publicity shot with Alan Hopson in the white shirt.

And how do I know all this?  Well, I was fortunate enough to have a holiday job there for many years. It was there that I earned my first wage, £9.47 for a week’s work back in the 1970s, handed to me in a buff coloured packet and tiny wage slip and a national insurance number that has stayed with me all my life. Before I learnt to drive I worked in the warehouse assembling orders, unloading the wagons and running up and down stairs with the orders. After passing my test I was trusted with delivering the orders and filling in for drivers when they were away on their holidays.  It taught me a lot, not just the geography of South Wales.  You may go to school and college to learn the academic stuff but it was doing jobs like this that you learnt your life skills.

The packing room staff at Hopson & Son Albany Road, Cardiff

the packing room staff at Hopson’s on Albany Road

The business at the time was run by Alan Hopson, the third generation of the Hopson family to manage the business. He wasn’t one of those managers to hide away in an office. He would turn his hand to anything that needed doing and lead by example.  Outside work he was just as energised whether it be with youth work at Albany Road Baptist Church,  roadie for the local Unit 4 pop group or charity work with the Cardiff East Rotary Club where among other things he led an initiative to support disabled sports. As if his life wasn’t busy enough already you can add to that being a Director of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society. He lived by the motto of ‘Service before Self’.  Alan sadly passed away in 2011, also from leukaemia.  Thank you Alan for teaching me so much.

Hopson deliveris being made

Deliveries being made to Cardiff pubs in the 1980s.

Hopson & Son up for sale, Albany Road, Cardiff

End of an era.  The Albany Road premises up for sale.

The Globe

It’s another one of those Roath buildings that tends to evoke lots of memories for people of a certain age.  Get into a conversation with another Roatharian about the Globe and soon you’ll be comparing what films you saw there and who with, whether you were a circle or a stalls person and what you bought from the usherette in the interval.    I think seeing The Graduate stands out for me.  Ahh, here’s to you Mrs Robinson.

Globe Cinema Albany Road with globe on top.

Back in around 1913 someone had the foresight to look at the burgeoning population of Roath and the enthusiasm for silent movies and commission local architects Willmott and Smith too design a cinema building.

The Globe stood on the corner of Albany Road and Wellfield Road, where the Pear Tree pub now is.  It used to be called the Penylan Cinema, had a seating capacity of 542 and dated back to 1914.  In fact there is a reference to there being a cinema there as early as 1910 and called the Albany Cinema. The name the Globe derives from the fact the building used to have a globe sculpture on the roof. Look carefully at the old picture of the Penylan Cinema and not only will you spot the globe on the roof but also the two caryatids; Greek-like female sculpted figures acting as columns supporting the first floor.  These figures were later hidden behind boards advertising the programmes. It probably had a Wurlitzer organ too to accompany the silent movies.

The interior was attractively decorated in classical style with eagles and the initials ‘PC’ (Penylan Cinema) near the domed roof.  Windows in the roof could be opened for ventilation to allow out the billowing cigarette smoke

Globe Cinema interior

Globe Cinema interior – taken after the cinema had closed down (photo credit: Steve Allison)

The cinema was renamed the Globe around the time it was rewired so that talkies could be shown in 1931. It was then owned by Rex Willis and operated with the Coliseum on Cowbridge Road and the Rialto in Whitchurch, often showing the same programme as one of these.

Globe cinema, Roath, Cardiff stalls and circle

Globe cinema, Roath, Cardiff stalls and circle (photo credit: Steve Allison)

In the 1950s the Globe specialised in showing foreign language films, usually subtitled, the only cinema in Wales specialising in such films.  The cinema was even called La Continentale at one stage. The papers of the time throw up some interesting stories. In Feb 1953 there was a private showing of the film Les Jeux Interdits for the Lord Mayor and the French and Spanish consuls.  In 1955 there was another private showing to the Watch Committee, this time of the film ‘The Stain in the Snow’. Only two members of the Watch Committee turned up, the Lord Mayor being one of them, and awarded it an X Certificate.

1955 Oct 26 western Mail X certificate

 

The Globe - La Continental

The Globe. Note how it appears to have been re-branded as La Continental at this time

In the early 1960s the cinema became a bingo hall for a short while but when that didn’t succeed it reverted to being a cinema sowing more mainstream films, often as double bills at reasonable prices.  In its final decades, the time many of us remember going there, it was a well-managed cinema owned by Mr & Mrs Wardle. Too much noise or sniggering and a torch light would highlight the offenders and order soon restored.

The curtains closed for a final time and the last choc-ice sold in the Globe cinema in 1985.  Sometime after it closed Steve Allison gained permission to take photographs of the interior of the building which he published in a nicely presented book ‘The Globe Cinema, Cardiff’ (ISBN-13: 978-0992989804), (available in Cardiff Libraries).

The Globe in later years

The Globe in later years

The building was demolished in 1987 even though it had had Grade 2 listed building status at some stage, subsequently revoked.  It was replaced by the Globe Centre, a collection of shops, a pub on the corner, originally called 42nd Street, then the Billabong and now the Pear Tree. The complex also would you believe contained a cinema, called the Monroe, which was later run by the Chapter Arts Centre and then became a Bollywood venture for a while before closing in 2001.  Today it is a successful music venue called, yes, The Globe.

Monroe

The Monroe – the last cinema on the site

So I’ll leave you reminiscing about your visit to the Globe, whether it be to see Blazing Saddles or something more refined like the Sound of Music.



A few extra pictures to bring back memories:

The Globe - the waiting area (photo credit: Steve Allison)

The couch in the waiting area where you would meet your fiends before the film began.

 

The Globe entrance prices

The Globe entrance prices (photo credit: Steve Allison)

David Hurn – The man who shot James Bond

David Hurn Photo - Buzz Feed

I first came across the work of David Hurn when reading the book ‘Cardiff – Rebirth of a Capital’.  The book contains many wonderful black and white photographs taken by Hurn but the one that caught my eye was one of a man on a tricycle and with a child in hand taken from outside Pen-y-lan library taken probably in the 1960s.  The church in the background is St Andrew’s URC church, where we hold our monthly meetings.

I was keen to see if we could use that photograph on our website and luckily in doing so managed to meet up with David.  He is both charming and forthright at the same time; there are few wasted words.

Penylan Road David Hurn 1973

 

I saw David Hurn again recently when he opened an exhibition of his photographs at the Workers Gallery in Ynyshir.  There’s just time to catch it if you hurry.

EJKde2IXkAIAC6t

 

Hurn wasn’t born in Roath but he did grow up here.  He was born in Surrey on 21st July 1934 but shortly afterwards the family relocated to Cardiff.  In the 1939 Register he was at school and living at 3 Newminster Road but the house David remembers most vividly is 104 Marlborough Road.   He attended De la Salle School but his dyslexia made education challenging.  His father was in the military and David himself joined the military and attended Sandhurst where he first discovered a love of  photography.

Choosing photography over a military career he headed for London to doggedly pursue a photographic career.  It took time, he initially got other jobs to make ends meet but his big break came when he hitchhiked over to Hungary in 1956 to take photos of the uprising against the Communist regime.

David Hurn Hungary

 

Having got his photographs widely published he was much in demand, though not necessarily as a war photographer.  In the 1960 much time was spent snapping what we would now call celebrities; film stars, pop musicians and alike including the Beatles and Jane Fonda. He quickly worked out that when sent on an assignment there were four important shots to get that may end up differentiating you from your competition, a portrait, a close-up, a wide-angle and a shot in context.

 

Beatles - BBC Doc

 

One day when Sean Connery arrived at the studio for a shoot the publicist forgot to bring one important prop – a gun.  Fortunately David Hurn was keen on air pistol target-shooting and so they were able to use David’s pistols in the photographs.  The plan was to edit the photos afterwards to make it look more like a real gun before they were used on the bill-boards but that somehow got forgotten.

James Bond 1963

 

David Hurn is also known for his photographs of the Aberfan disaster in 1966.  He was one of the first photographers on the scene, and of course not necessarily that welcome.  Local miners were busy digging the bodies of the village children out of the suffocating coal slurry.  The photographs however acted as evidence of the tragedy and were shown in Parliament and played a small part in helping bring about change and preventing another similar disaster.

Aberfan

 

In 1967 he joined the prestigious Magnum photographic cooperative, a top accolade for a photojournalist.

Later in life however he left the world of photography journalism behind he returned to live in Wales where he set about recording the landscape and people of Wales. His collection must be the largest on record totalling over 50,000 shots of the nation and its people. Many of these have now been donated to the National Museum of Wales together with others that he swapped with fellow professional photographers over the years.

Walkers in Roath Area of Cardiff 1973

‘Walkers in Roath Area of Cardiff’ 1973 – (but which street is it?   )

Also on return to Wales he ended up in 1972 setting up a course on documentary photography at Gwent College in Newport which was to become highly regarded.

He is a self-taught photographer. He very much believes in talking photographs of the world as he sees it rather than posed shots. He takes candid shots of life as it happens. His subjects are not asked if they want to be photographed.  He tends to concentrate on scenes he knows will not be there in another 20 years, capturing history as it happens as it were, always attempting to get the definitive picture of the time and place. He is however much more interested in tomorrow than he is in the past and his thirst for life is evident when he talks.

Snowdon

On top of Snowdon

Asked what are the secrets of being a good photographer David will talk about hard work, lots of time spent doing research, tenacity and a good pair of shoes.  The photographer needs to be driven by curiosity and have a lot of patience. A lot is about positioning, working out when you arrive at a place the perfect place to stand and then waiting.   Very rarely would he spend less than 30 minutes at a place just waiting for that perfect shot.  His work ethic is ruthless.  He’s of the belief that anyone who spends less than 7.5 hours a day at it is just playing, but that time is not all about shooting; there is the researching and looking at the work of other skilled photographers.

So what makes a good shot of the community? Well, having a dog somewhere in the picture can add a lot of context he explains.  People making gestures too are very important.

Roath Park 1973 - Magnum Photos

Roath Park 1973

His shots are never edited, they are just life as it happened to be at the time.  Even today in his eighties, David Hurn is taking 4000 photographs a year.  That gets followed by some ruthless selection procedure after which he would end up with just twenty or so to display at an exhibition.

He still has good things to say about his hometown of Cardiff, about its sense of community and the place itself though maybe like many feels there have been wasted opportunities in the architecture chosen for the centrepiece buildings along the waterfront in Cardiff Bay.

Playtime in Mount Stuart School

Playtime in Mount Stuart School 2005

In 2001 he was diagnosed with colon cancer but has made a full recovery.  He now sees radiographers as a most important branch of photography and encourages youngsters with an enthusiasm in photography to consider this as a profession.

Today, David lives in Tintern and still spends time photographing the community in which he lives.  He often works closely with poets and his next project is to ask ten poets to write something about one of his pictures expecting it to demonstrate that we all see different things in the same picture.


Cardiff - Rebirth of a Capital

Cardiff – Rebirth of a Capital

PS.  With the help of the members of the Cardiff Days Gone By Facebook group, the scene of the ‘Walkers in Roath’ photo has actually been identified as Atlas Road in Canton at the junction with Denton Street.  The house which could be seen as bricked up in the photo has been demolished.

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.