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ADAMSDOWN

 

Population: 8,320

 

Mediaeval Adamsdown lay just outside the east walls of Cardiff and was owned by the lords of Glamorgan. Traditionally, they allowed the gatekeeper of Cardiff Castle to use the land and the district may take its name from Adam Kyngot, a porter at the castle in 1331.

On the Bute Estate map of 1824, most of the district was occupied by the 270 acres of Adamsdown Farm and the only other building of major significance was Adamsdown House. Set in attactive surroundings, this house was originally the private residence of Henry Hollier, agent to the Marquis of Bute. Later Whitlock Nicholl, a member of a well-known Glamorgan family, lived there and in the 1860s Miss Martha Vaughan purchased the premises to be used as a private girls’ school. About 1875 the house was demolished to make way for Adamsdown Square, by which time the entire suburb was feeling the impact of encroaching urbanisation.

In 1832 a new “gaol and house of correction” was opened in Adamsdown to replace the former prison in St Mary Street and its 30 cells for men and 25 for women were soon overcrowded. A treadmill, used for pumping water, was worked by male prisoners, while the women did the washing, mended prison clothing or picked oakum. Work on the present building began in 1854 and, as the idea of rehabilitation replaced that of punishment, other improvements have led to a more humane regime. However, the grim walls of Cardiff Prison remain the most depressing part of the suburb.

As the graveyard of St John’s Church in the centre of Cardiff became filled to capacity, the Marquis of Bute provided two acres of land in Adamsdown as a public cemetery in 1848. When an outbreak of cholera swept through the town a year later, the burial ground soon became full and in time degenerated into a public nuisance. The council wanted to convert the site into a recreation ground but, as responsibility lay with the ecclesiastical commissioners, negotiations were protracted and action was not taken until after World War Two. The old cemetery became a park in 1948 but the 19th century tombstones, many of them with interesting epitaphs, were preserved and re-erected against its stone walls.      

Longcross House was built on the site of Payne’s Cross, one of the mediaeval boundaries of Cardiff. Following the Chartist Riots, the house was replaced with an army barracks in 1844 which remained in use until 1880.

The land at Longcross was now available for a new hospital and in 1883 the South Wales and Monmouthshire Infirmary was completed at a cost of £23,000. The infirmary was a charity which drew widespread support. Wards were named after wealthy benefactors and Cardiff Corporation made a regular subscription. Workmen from the mines and factories of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire paid into a voluntary scheme at the rate of a penny a week. Contributions also came from the pennies of schoolchildren, the collection made on “Infirmary Sunday” by the churches and from sporting events or concerts. A sick person did not always find it easy to receive treatment, as he had to find a sponsor from the infirmary’s subscribers. Regulations refused admission to, “persons insane, suffering from an infectious disease or in an incurable state, and women in an advanced stage of pregnancy”. This led to sardonic comments that only the healthy need apply. In 1923 the hospital became the Cardiff Royal Infirmary and continued to give care and treatment to the people of South-east Wales until the end of the 20th century. The closure of the infirmary in 1999 provoked strong protest which has still not abated.

The first part of Adamsdown to be developed was Newtown, where many of the early Irish immigrants settled. By 1855 streets were being built on the meadows of Upper Splott Farm, some of them bearing names drawn from astronomy, such as Star, Planet, Constellation and Eclipse. Other streets are named after metals and precious stones such as Gold, Copper, Topaz, Diamond and Sapphire. Until 30 years ago the Roath Cattle Market and Slaughterhouse was sited near Constellation Street. Older residents of Adamsdown recall how they could not only buy cheaper meat at the slaughterhouse but, during World War Two, obtain cuts”off the ration”. Upper Splott Farmhouse itself was converted into the Great Eastern Hotel in Metal Street, presumably as a tribute to Isambard Kingdom Brunel, whose railway line from Cardiff to London passed through Adamsdown. As the population of the suburb increased, Broadway, known as Green Lane until 1875, and Clifton Street became the principal shopping centres of the district.

A number of fine churches were built in Victorian Adamsdown, though many of them have now been converted to other purposes. The Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Chapel at the corner of Clifton Street is an arts centre and Ebenezer Baptist Chapel in Pearl Street is a Sikh temple. The architecture of St German’s in Star Street has been described as “nothing short of a masterpiece”. This superb Decorated Gothic structure was erected in 1884, when its High Anglicanism represented the 19th century aspirations of the Oxford Movement to bring the “beauty of Holiness” to the poorer sections of society.

Cardiff’s first municipal secondary school was established at Howard Gardens in 1884. It soon became popular with parents, as it was well equipped and its first headmaster, James Waugh, set high standards. Howard Gardens went on to become one of Cardiff’s grammar schools but in March 1941 it suffered severe damage through enemy action and was re-located after the war. Howard Gardens, like Glossop Terrace and Fitzalan Place, takes its name from Lady Gwendoline Howard, the wife of the Third Marquis of Bute. The school was built on his land and he also presented the gardens as a recreational park for local people. The Art Department of UWIC now stands on the site of the former school amid fine Victorian Gothic houses.

Adamsdown has experienced an extensive facelift in recent years. Across the road from the brooding presence of the prison, the magistrates’ courts and a public house, appropriately named “Rumpole’s”, are both attractive examples of modern architecture. Imaginative housing initiatives at reasonable prices have replaced earlier industrial sites, including the former railway goods depot in Davis Street and the slaughter house in Constellation Street. Unfortunately, the splendid Victorian buildings, which once adorned Newport Road from the infirmary to the city centre, were demolished and replaced with tower blocks in the 1960s and 70s. The highest of these is Brunel House at the gareway to the city centre which, as John Newman has put it, “makes absolutely no concession to its surroundings”.

 

Further Reading:

 

Childs J. Roath, Splott and Adamsdown (Chalford Publishing Company 1999)