Cardiff Records: Volume 5. Originally published by Cardiff Records Committee, Cardiff, 1905.
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Reminiscences of Old Inhabitants.
ORAL testimony of aged natives is a most valuable aid in elucidating the history of a place. It may not be accurate in detail, but in the mass it holds a store of information unobtainable from the written records. A few years ago I was at some trouble to take the statements of certain old inhabitants, with reference to what they remembered of the Cardiff of their young days. Mr. Luke Evans kindly gave me, in his own handwriting, minute replies to my queries on various points; besides which he has often in conversation given me interesting anecdotes about Old Cardiff and its citizens. The fragmentary Godiva story which has come down from Mrs. Evans, is just enough to make the student of folk-lore regret the portion which has been lost, perhaps, for ever. The curious beliefs and practices connected with holy-wells, mentioned by various informants, are quite worthy of preservation; and Mr. George Thomas' tribanau ought not to descend into oblivion, coming as they do from the last farmer to employ plough-oxen in this neighbourhood.
Mr. WILLIAM LUKE EVANS, who is eighty-four years of age, was for many years in the service of the Corporation as Inspector of Weights and Measures. (fn. 1) He is noted for his long memory and for his intimate knowledge of Old Cardiff. He has obligingly supplied me with the following notes of his recollections, in response to enquiries made of him from time to time during the past ten years. Mr. Evans says:—
"I was a regular Juryman of Lord Bute's Court Leet. It had cognizance of matters affecting Weights and Measures, the Pounds and Roath Brook, and made Presentments thereon. It used to be held in May and November, but now in October, for the Manors of Llystalybont and Roath Dogfield. Mr. John Stuart Corbett is the Steward. The Pound and the Brook were presented down to quite recent years. The Jury of twelve were sworn in, and the names entered. A fine was payable to the Lord on the death of any freeholder of the manor being presented. There was an annual dinner for the Jury, at which punch was drunk.
"I remember the last Aletaster of Cardiff. His name was Edward Philpot, and his nickname 'Toby Philpot.' I well remember hearing him say to someone with whom he was talking in the street: 'Well, I must go and see what sort of ale they have got at the Glove and Shears.'
"The old gabled house in Saint Mary Street, at the north corner of Wharton Street, was called the Armoury. It was the residence of Capt. Jonathan Howells, Adjutant of the Royal Glamorganshire Militia, and a great friend of the late Lord Bute, (fn. 2) with whom he was constantly seen walking arm-in-arm. Lord Bute came up from London to attend his funeral. There were two steps up to the front door, and a railing along the front of the house. The headquarters of the regiment were kept there. I saw Capt. Howell's funeral, which was a very imposing one.
"In 1882, when making the alterations in the old gas testing room, for depositing the copies of the Imperial Standards, I forced open what I thought to be a similar door to the one in the present Weights and Measures Office, and found it was an arched compartment, containing some hundreds of old Acts of Parliament, and other documents. I at once communicated with the Town Clerk, and they were dried and overhauled. They were all covered with a very thick coating of mildew. They belonged to the old Town Hall. (fn. 3)
"I was at the opening of the Saint Mary Street Market in 1835, when the Church Street Arcade (or Old Arcade) was opened to the public, and I have never known it closed from the above date to the present time. (fn. 4) There were six cottages, three on each side of the avenue, from time to time occupied by many persons whom I knew; amongst others: Philip Jones, basket-maker, and his son of the same name, now (1882) a pensioner of the Post Office; William David, shoemaker; Samuel Marks, dyer; Julia Marks, tobacconist; Mary Rowlands and Jane Ellis, dressmakers.
"Thirty years ago the General Post Office was situate in Church Street, where Boyle & Co's, the bootmakers' now is; and a letter-box and entrance to the Sorting Department were inside the Arcade, about 20 feet from the front pavement, open to the public day and night without let or hindrance from anyone.
"This property originally belonged to the great-grandsire (fn. 5) of the owner (fn. 6) of Penllyne Castle, near Cowbridge. The family residence was the house now occupied by Mr. Dobbin, stationer, (fn. 7) and was connected by a long garden with Trinity Street. This house was called the Corner House. Its then occupant was always called 'the Squire,' and is so now by the few old inhabitants remaining.
"The mansion was in those days noted for having good port wine in wood, and the Squire no doubt had his share of it. His end fast approaching, his medical attendant, Dr. Reece (grandfather of our present Coroner) intimated to the old gentleman that he was afraid he should have to tap him, as dropsy had set in. The Squire replied: 'Well, Doctor, if you must, you must. But, you know, there never was a cask tapped in the Corner House that lasted very long.' In a few days all was over with the Squire.
"Shortly afterwards the old house was converted into a Bank by Messrs. Guest & Co., of London and Dowlais. Mr. Thomas Revel Guest, (fn. 8) the first Mayor of Cardiff, was the managing partner. He was a noted preacher amongst the Wesleyan Methodists, and occasionally held forth in the Wesley Chapel, Church Street, situate where Mr. John Hibbert's shop is now.
"Where the Town Hall stands I remember a 300 ton bring, called the "William Rugg," built and launched. She was owned by William Rugg, ironmonger, of Duke Street. The people on board of her were so excited, and rocked her to such an extent, that she turned on her side and the live cargo were precipitated into the tidal water. From the windows of the Council Chamber only one house could then have been seen right away to Leckwith and Cogan Pill, namely, the Grange Farm.
"The tidal harbour of Cardiff was situate where Westgate Street now stands. Quay Street was the entrance to the shipping, where passengers were taken on board the market-boats bound for Bristol. If these had started, the last place for shipment was the Golate, the lane between the Queen's Hotel and the South Wales Daily News offices. Hence its present name. (fn. 9)
"The Bonded Stores of the harbour were situate on the Quay Wall in Westgate Street, and still exist, being now occupied by Mr. Alderman Fulton. (fn. 10) Over them was the Cardiff Theatre. An amusing incident occurred one night when the play of "Pizarro" was being performed there. A death scene was enacted, including a Requiem Mass with all its attendant solemnity, pomp and music.
Suddenly the gallery gave way with a loud crash, causing great excitement. The corpse, with equal suddenness, jumped up in its sitting, (fn. 11) the face floured and cork-burnt, and exclaimed in a stentorian voice: 'I hope to God there is no danger !' On being assured that the danger was over, the body fell back into the horizontal position, awaiting burial, and the play proceeded.
"Where the Fire Engine House is now, there was a limekiln. The stones were brought in vessels from Aberthaw and burnt into lime—not for building purposes (as there was little or no building going on) but for agricultural use.
"The Custom House of the Port was in Saint Mary Street, near Councillor Jotham's shop. The Collector resided where the Central Coffee Tavern is , and the Comptroller near Alderman Dr. Jones' residence in Crockherbtown. (fn. 12)
"I remember two persons (whose names I must not repeat) being placed in the stocks, which were put up where High Street, Church Street, Saint Mary Street and Quay Street converge, and near where the old Russian gun (fn. 13) stood for many years. The stocks were in the custody of David Evans, Head Constable; who was also the landlord of the Cardiff Boat inn in Quay Street, adjacent to the then tidal port of Cardiff. When not in use, the stocks were kept in the Corn Market, under the old Town Hall. Whether they were burnt with the other old timber, when that building was pulled down in 1861, by the late Mr. Alderman Daniel Jones who purchased the materials for £100, I cannot say; but when looking under the new Town Hall, some years since, for the aforesaid instrument of punishment, we found the old Town Hall clock and bell. The latter was erected over the present Police Station as a fire-alarm; but becoming cracked, was replaced by a new one. (fn. 14) The stocks consisted of two planks of timber on edge, with semicircular holes in each, an iron hinge at one end, and a lock and key the other.
"Under the old Town Hall in High Street was the prison for small debtors. Its iron-barred window faced the house occupied by Dr. Reece—now the furniture shop, No. 14 High Street, tenanted by Messrs. Williams & Co. There was a well in the middle of High Street, opposite Lloyd's Bank (the old Brecon Bank). The pump was situate under one of the flights of steps which led up to the Assize Court in the Town Hall, and was exactly opposite the front door of Messrs. Coleman's, chemists.
"The Dobbin Pits Farm was situate at the extreme end of Park Place (Dobbinpits Road), near the Cathays Park. A stile led from the farmyard into the Park. This land, being so near the town, was convenient for the deposit of soil; there being, in years gone by, no sub-drainage in the Borough.
"Plwca Lane, or Plwca Alai, (fn. 15), is the thoroughfare now called Castle Road, which extends from Longcross to Crwys Bychan. Plwca means dirty, wet, uncultivated land. Rushes originally grew hard by the lane, and mats were made of them, and sold in the town for domestic purposes. Alai means an alley. (fn. 16) Sixty-five years ago (1830) the habitations in Plwca Lane consisted of Roath Castle and six small cottages in two fields now the site of James' Square. (fn. 17) Roath Castle belonged to Mr. John Mathews Richards, grandfather of Mrs. Mackintosh. Her father, Mr. Richards, on returning from Cardiff, was in the habit of galloping his horse all the way from Newport Road to Roath Castle. The last occasion of his so doing proved fatal, for he came into collision with a cart loaded with manure, and died on the spot. This was a sad loss to Cardiff and the neighbourhood. I was a Juryman on the Inquest. Mr. Richards had been to a ploughingmatch dinner. He was short-sighted, and wore an eyeglass. He walked with short steps and a curious little hop.
"The Longcross was in my time the name of a house which stood on the site of the Infirmary, and was one of only nine buildings from the Taff Vale Railway to Roath Court, including the Spital Barn and a blacksmith's shop. The barn was pulled down to make the Rhymney Railway. I think the name Longcross refers to the four cross-roads. (fn. 18) There was a very fine elm-tree on the corner of the Longcross Road, and it is said that suicides were buried under that tree.
"The County Gaol was situate where Messrs. Steddall the mantle-makers are in business, opposite the present Town Hall; and the entrance to the yard where the gallows (hence 'Gallhouse') was placed was in a building about 30 yards off Saint Mary Street, which had been a large pigeon-house. About 12 feet from the ground was a platform with iron ornamental work on the two sides and the front. Here was erected the wooden gallows on which Richard Lewis ('Dick Penderin') was hanged for participating in the Merthyr riots of 1831; whom I saw hanging but did not see hanged, being then at school at six o'clock in the morning. We were not allowed out until the breakfast hour. In the same year Joe Kayes, a Cardiff man, was hanged for his participation in the Bristol riots, and his body was brought to Cardiff for burial and deposited in a cottage at the back of Messrs. Morgan & Co.'s premises in the Hayes. I went with the late Dr. C. Redwood Vachell to see the body.
"I remember coracles being used at Cardiff, as long as I can remember anything. Old Mr. James Lucas, the fisherman, was drowned about 70 years ago (c. 1825) in endeavouring to land opposite the Black Friars, from his coracle, during an immense flood of the Taff, such as often occurred before the river was straightened. He was of an old Cardiff family of fishermen, and many of his descendants occupy good positions now. Forty years or more ago (c. 1854) Mr. J. Lucas could be seen drawing salmon from his coracle, at the site of the present Royal Hotel. He lost his life at sea, as a pilot of the Port of Cardiff. Salmon were exceedingly abundant here at the beginning of the present century, and were far from being esteemed a delicacy.
"The first theatre that is known about was opened by Williams' company in a loft over the extensive stabling belonging to Mr. John Bradley, contractor for conveying His Majesty's mails through South Wales. This gentleman was grandfather of our respected townsman Mr. W. B. Watkins (fn. 19) (late Alderman, and Registrar of Births &c.), and Mr. R. Reece Watkins, and great-grandfather of Mr. William Bradley, Solicitor. This theatre was in Quay Street. Here happened the amusing incident of the resuscitated corpse, above related.
"Soon after this the Theatre was removed to Trinity Street, with an entrance in Working Street. It was situate between the site of the present Free Library and the old Royal Hotel, on the property of Mr. (afterwards Sir) John Guest. Its stay here was short, and the building was subsequently used as an Infant School for the joint Parishes of Saint John and Saint Mary.
"In 1827 the old Theatre in Crockherbtown was built, by a company of gentlemen who did not care much about its being a paying concern—or if they did they were disappointed. Each subscriber to the undertaking enjoyed the privilege of a silver ticket giving free admission to the performances at all times. Soon after its first opening the pit of this theatre was flooded by water from the adjoining field, a nursery garden belonging to Messrs. Miller & Sweet, of Bristol. About 1836 the Feeder was cut for the West Bute Dock, by Messrs. Dalton & Wm. Dawson. That excavation passing near and below the Theatre, completely drained the pit, and the performances were regularly carried on until the building was burned down in 1877, under the management of Kate Kenealy.
WILLIAM MORGAN HIER EVANS, (fn. 20) Esq., M.B., whose maternal grandfather, Mr. Morgan, occupied Ty Gwyn (otherwise Pen-y-lan farm), the barn of which now forms the convent chapel, said that the well in the present grounds of Well-Field was formerly on the lands of Ty Gwyn. He could not remember that it bore any distinctive name. He wrote: "My mother tells me that the well at Penylan was a bowl of about six inches in diameter, with a lip that was supposed to be an impression of Jesus Christ's knee. The water emerged from the rock and was walled over. On Easter Monday a large number of people wended their way thither to drop bent pins into the well, but my mother does not remember that any curative value was attached to the well. My father put a stop to the annual pilgrimage when he became tenant of Ty Gwyn Farm.
"There was a spring (fn. 21) situate in Albany Road, opposite the end of Claude Road, which had the reputation of curing all kinds of eye disease."
The abovenamed Mrs. Evans used to relate a legend to the effect that a lady was compelled to ride on horseback naked around Waun Treoda, as far as Waun Ddyfal, where both horse and rider were weary. In folk-etymology Waun Treoda means "the horse trots"; Waun Ddyfal, "the horse is weary." (fn. 22)
About the year 1860, Dr. Evans often visited the house called Castle Field, near Llystalybont. In the field adjoining the house, after the plough had been through the soil, he and others occasionally found fragments of red (apparently Roman) pottery, and coins which he distinctly remembered were Roman. His uncle long preserved some of these coins.
The late Mr. GEORGE THOMAS, of Ely Farm, whose ancestors had lived there since the reign of Elizabeth, was a rare specimen of a Welsh yeoman of the old type. He was born in 1824, died 1828. (fn. 23) Mr. Thomas told me that he was the last person who used oxen for ploughing in the neighbourhood of Cardiff, and that he discontinued the custom in or about the year 1850. When driving the ox-teams in the plough, the men would sing rhymes, called tribanau, to the beasts. These songs were made up of disconnected verses, each containing some topical allusion—mostly satirical, on local personages. Some of the rhymes were very coarse. They were sung always to a particular refrain, of which Mr. Thomas gave me an example, singing it in the old traditional style. I am indebted to him for the following notes.
A great composer of tribanau. often impromptu, was James Turbervill, who was born 1751 on Ely Common, as recorded in the following triban (fn. 24) made against him by Twm Llewelyn, Llantrisant:—
Siemsyn Twrbil smala, A godwyd ar y Cimdda, Rwyt wedi dysgu iaith dy fam, A hono gan y gwydda. (fn. 25)
One day, when he was ploughing on Ely Farm, in the field adjoining the Cowbridge Road, a group of girls were gossiping at the well, which then existed hard by. One of them threw a clod of earth at Turbervill, who broke out into this triban:—
Mae merched gl?n yn Dwllgod, Ag yn Lland?f rhai hynod, Ag yn y Caerau aml rhai, Ond yn Drelai clec?od. (fn. 26)
Y tri lle oera yn Gymru, Yw mynydd bach y Rhydre, Trwyn y Garth a Chefn On, Lle buai bron a sythu. (fn. 27)
O Mali fwyn eleni Y forwyn fwya yn Gymru, A thwll ei ffwrch i guwch a'r to— Pwy fyniff dro gan Mali ? (fn. 28)
Mae'n bwrw glaw dinatur, Mae'n glychu dyn yn fudr; Thro'i ddim y mhen yn ol Oddyma i Groeswen Radyr. (fn. 31)
Mi ddala bunt mewn ceinog, Y caiff y meistres wybod Fod y meistr ar y Graig Yn cadw gwraig cymydog. (fn. 32)
Right opposite Pontcanna Cottages (fn. 33) was a stone in the road, marking the division between two parishes. The Cottages are in Saint John's, and the site of the corner shop opposite is in Llandaff parish.
Mr. WILLIAM LEWIS, corn merchant, Castle Street, said he visited very frequently the King's Castle. (fn. 34) Although it had undergone many alterations, it was an old-fashioned house. You went down at least one step to enter the house; and you could easily touch the ceiling with your hand.
The main stream from Llandaff Mill flowed into the Taff at Pontcanna; but there was a branch stream which flowed into the Taff lower down, just at the point where now the rails at the far end of the Sophia Gardens project across the path and into the river. The lower end of this branch stream formed the parish boundary, between Llandaff and Saint John's parishes. I remember seeing people beating the bounds there. On those occasions they walked right through the the river, up to their waists.
At the entrance to Queen Street there was a large ancient building in the centre of the street, dividing that part of Smith Street on the north side, and where the Three Cranes inn was, and the Running Camp on the south.
The Taff Vale Railway station in Queen Street in 1842, when I first passed through Cardiff to Trefforest, was a wooden structure. There was a bell fixed on two upright posts, which was rung the first time to warn intending passengers to prepare for the journey; rung the second time to come to the station; rung the third time to announce the train was going to start. The T.V.R. was then a single line. An open box truck was the second and third class passenger carriage, with an iron chain in the middle to divide the second and third class passengers. The second class had seats in rows, the third had only seats on the sides of the division.
There was a very interesting memento of the old T.V.R. days, in the possession of the late Philip Lucas, a carpenter formerly in the company's service. It was a panel with the T.V.R. arms beautifully painted, representing the red dragon with the motto "Y ddraig goch a ddyry gychwyn" (fn. 35) overhead, and "Cymru fu a Chymru fydd" (fn. 36) underneath.
These panels were designed for decorating the T.V.R. passenger carriages. When the carriages were made, a poor local Welshman was engaged by a Bristol firm to assist in their decoration, and in particular to paint this design. The Bristol workmen would not have him to work on the same side of the carriages as themselves, which was considered the front; but put him to paint the back of the carriages. The late Mr. Fisher, when he came to examine the work, found that the Welshman's work was far superior to the Bristolians; so the Welshman's side had to be the front, and the Englishmen's the back.
I found Mrs. Harris a hale and intelligent woman, aged 81 years. She was born at Rumney, but had livd at Roath nearly all her life. She spoke Welsh much more readily than English, having known no English till she was a full-grown woman. Her daughter, aged about fifty, also spoke Welsh, but less fluently than English. Mr. Richards was then a hearty, clear-headed man of about 70 years. He was born in the parish, at Ffynon Bren cottage. He spoke Welsh and English with equal fluency.
The long double cottage in Roath Court field, on the Albany Road, near the Claude Hotel, has no distinctive name. It and the other two old houses are called "Mr. Williams' old houses." The long cottage used to have a thatched roof. ("Ty to gwellt oedd o'r blaen.") The Roath village school was the smallest and easternmost of this group of houses, the one where the big ash-tree is ("Ile mae'r onen fawr.") It was kept by a Miss Lewis. The very old thatched cottage in the field opposite the Claude is called Ty'n-y-coly. (fn. 39) (H.)
Pont Lleici, (fn. 40) carrying the Cefn Coed lane across the Nant Mawr, at the foot of Pen-y-lan.
Pedair Erw Twc was the name of an old thatched house and land on the west side of Nant Mawr, south of Cyndda Bach. It would be just where the railings of the recreation ground now are, a little further north than the newest of the houses. (H.R.)
Llwyn Celyn was an old thatched house, pulled down years ago. It stood on the west side of the Nant Mawr, now the lake. There were several old thatched cottages, on both sides of the Nant, which have been demolished. (R.)
There were a couple of old thatched houses at the back of "Ty hên Ifans y Rhâth" (fn. 41) (the house of old Evans of Roath), by Roath church. The smaller of these was called "the old Clerk's house," and the clerk lived there. (H.R.)
Penylan Well was never spoken of otherwise than as "hen Ffynon Pen-y-lan." (fn. 42) It was a spring rising up from a small bason scooped out of a large stone. After the Easter Monday fair there, the hollow would be choke-full of bent pins. The fair was called "Ffair Pen-y-lan," and was frequented by crowds of people from the country round. (H.R.)
Ffynon Bren was a well situate in the garden of a thatched cottage, by the side of Albany Road, opposite the end of Claude Road. In this house Job Richards was born, and it belonged to his father. (fn. 43) Job often cleaned out the well himself. There was no masonry about it, but a hedge surrounded it, and approach to the well was over a stile. People came to the well from far and near, with bottles and tins, to carry home the water. They took it, both externally and internally, as a cure for bad eyes. They did not drop pins into the well. His father did all he could to prevent people going to the well, as they fouled it. It was the finest water he ever knew. You might stir up the mud as much as you liked, but in half an hour the well would be as clear as crystal. It never dried up, and never froze. Job has known people come there with pots and pans for water, when they couldn't get it anywhere else. The water of "yr hen Ffynon Bren" was like ice in the summer, and like milk in the winter. "You could drink so much as you'd like at it." (R.)
Job Richards has heard his father tell how, when the latter was a boy, he used to perambulate the bounds of Roath parish, with other boys. This was locally termed "Walking the feethe." To impress the bounds on their memory, the boys were sometimes pushed into the streams. A boy was once pushed into the Rhymney river; he stuck in the mud, and was rescued with difficulty. Job's father was pushed into the Long Dyke, near the house of that name which stood about where the Splot Schools now are. The boys' attention would be called to something, and then someone would push them into the water. When the bounds had been "beaten," the boys were invited to assemble in the evening, and were given a supper, with presents of money or other gifts.(R.)
Eccentric Characters of Old Cardiff.
Stibbs the barber was one of the best-known characters in the town, in the early part of the 19th century. Among others of the witty sayings of this Cardiffian Figaro, the following has been handed down by oral tradition. The vicar of St. John's, the Rev. Mr. Stacey, one day called upon Stibbs and reminded him that his tithes were very much in arrear. "But, Sir," said the barber, "I never go to your church." "I can't help that," replied Mr. Stacey, "there is the church for you, open every Sunday, if you chose to use it." This argument having no effect, the parson subsequently sent Stibbs a bill for the tithes due, amounting to a considerable sum. A few days later the vicar was amazed to receive a lengthy document purporting to be an account of moneys owing by him to Stibbs for shaving and hairdressing. Off to the barber's shop went the reverend gentleman, in great indignation. "Look here, Stibbs," said he, "what do you mean by sending me this bill; you have never shaved me or dressed my hair." "I can't help that, Sir, indeed," was the reply, "here is my shop open every day of the week for you, if you chose to use it." Stories of this kind are never spoilt with an anti-climax; but we may be permitted to conjecture that the barber's bill proved an effective set-off against that of the clergyman. Barber Stibbs came of an old Cardiff stock. The name of Lionel Stibbs, cooper, occurs frequently in the old Town Books. He was admitted a Burgess in 1784. His father bore the same Christian name, and their descendants are still among the inhabitants of the town.