owes its name to the Moor Grange, a stretch of land between the Taff and Ely
rivers. The Grange was granted to Margam Abbey by the Bishop of Llandaff in the
early 13th century and was a rather bleak environment at that time. It has even
been said that the Abbot sent disobedient monks to live and work there as a
punishment. Remarkably, the Grange Farmhouse, now more than 800 years old,
still stands among Victorian houses in Clive Street. After the suppression of
the monasteries, the Grange was sold to Edward Lewis of the Van. The property
was leased to various tenants until it passed to the Plymouth Estate in 1730.
Farming in the district continued into the early 20th century but by that time
the surrounding area had dramatically changed.
In 1850 the isolation of the Grange
ended when the Bute and Windsor estates shared the cost of constructing Penarth
Road, together with its bridges across the Taff and Ely. Seven years later,
plans were laid to build what Lady Windsor called, “the new town we may now
expect to see spring up on the Grange”. Progress was slow at first but, when
Grangetown became a suburb of Cardiff in 1875, the entire area was rapidly
urbanised. In 1901 a local newspaper referred to Grangetown as, “a vast suburb
of the Welsh Metropolis with a population of 17,000 souls”. Most of these
people were working at the busy docks in Penarth and Cardiff.
Communications with Butetown were improved in 1890
when a meccano-style bridge, named after the Duke of Clarence, provided a means
of crossing the Taff. At that time the bridge was considered an engineering
wonder and served the area until it was replaced with the present structure in
1976. The opening of the new Clarence Road Bridge attracted national coverage
on television as James Callaghan, in his capacity as MP for Cardiff South, cut
the tape while making his first public appearance as Prime Minister.
In the late
19th and early 20th centuries, there were several thriving businesses in
Grangetown. Some early enterprises such as an ironworks had failed but the
Cardiff Gas and Coke Company concentrated its production near Ferry Road.
Hancock’s Brewery in Crawshay Street was famous throughout South Wales for many
years, though S.A. Brain, once the great rivals of Hancock’s, are now the
owners of the brewery. In 1908 J.R. Freeman opened their cigar factory in North
Clive Street before later moving to Penarth Road, where nearly 400 people are
Of all the businesses in Grangetown, none
contributed more to the development of Cardiff than the building firm of
Ephraim Turner in Havelock Place. When he came to Grangetown in 1885, Ephraim
already had a fine reputation as a builder of bridges but in the 1890s his
company constructed no less than 1,000 houses, 500 shops, 47 churches and 20
schools in the city. Turner also built some of Cardiff’s most outstanding
buildings. The extension of the Old Library and the former post office in
Westgate Street were his creations but nothing surpasses his work in Cathays
Park. The magnificent City Hall and the adjoining Law Courts were completed in
1905 at a total cost of £226,000.
St Paul’s Church in Paget Street was
a Turner building. The earliest Anglican church in Grangetown was the “Iron
Room”, a temporary structure provided by Lady Windsor-Clive in 1879. It was
erected with the minimum of cost, as the Baroness intended to provide a
permanent building as soon as possible. Unfortunately, her sudden death led to
a delay of ten years before St Paul’s was consecrated. Grangetown was sited on a saltmarsh and was always liable
to be flooded from the sea. On 17 October 1883 everyone’s worst fears were
realised, when a high tide burst through the dyke at Kent Street and flooded
the streets to a depth of five feet. There was no loss of life but people
hastily took refuge upstairs or, if they were trapped out of doors, awaited
boats to rescue them.
Despite the intensity of building in Grangetown,
space was found for recreation grounds. Grange Gardens, created from land
donated by Lord Bute and Lord Windsor, is an attractive park and there is also
a playing field at Sevenoaks Park in Sloper Road. The most famous recreational
area in Grangetown is The Marl, built on the former marl pits. Close to the
River Taff, it sports a bowling green and tennis courts but local people
remember it for the prowess of its football and baseball teams, especially
Grange Albion. Baseball has long been a popular sport in Cardiff and for years
no team could match the Albion. One of their greatest triumphs came in World
War Two, when the crew of an American warship challenged them to a game and
were well beaten.
The Marl attracted the displeasure of the Temperance
Movement in the 1880s, following the passing of the Welsh Sunday Closing Act. In
an attempt to frustrate the act, up to 2,000 thirsty working men met at the
“Hotel de Marl” on Sunday morning. The drinks were free but customers were
persuaded to make voluntary donations by two burly dockers. The churches,
especially the Salvation Army, mounted a fierce campaign which eventually led
to the termination of this ingenious experiment.
Grangetown suffered severely in the Blitz.
Holmesdale Street, Ferry Road and the Saltmead district all had their
casualties but the worst single incident occurred on 2 January 1941. The cellar
of Hollyman’s Bakery, at the junction of Stockland Street and Corporation Road,
had been converted into an air raid shelter and, when the siren wailed, 32
people trooped into the shelter. Soon afterwards the bakery was struck by a
high explosive bomb and all 32 were killed, including the Hollyman family.
In many respects Grangetown does not appear to have
changed a great deal in the last hundred years. Few people now work in the
docks and Penarth Road has gradually been filled with garages, warehouses and
light industry. The principal changes in recent times have taken place around
Ferry Road and Windsor Quay. Only 30 years ago Ferry Road was home to scrap
metal merchants, motor vehicle dismantlers, a sausage skin manufacturer and a
licensed horse slaughterer. Since then Windsor Quay has been re-developed with
attractive homes and a prosperous retail park. The area around Ferry Road is
being landscaped and the prestige of the suburb will rise further if the much
heralded sports village is finally built.
B. Grangetown (Chalford Publishing
Clarke I. Grangetown,
The Second Selection (Chalford Publishimg Company1999)