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GRANGETOWN

 

Population: 15,300

 

Grangetown 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 still employed.

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.

 

Further Reading:

 

Jones B. Grangetown (Chalford Publishing Company 1996)

Clarke I. Grangetown, The Second Selection (Chalford Publishimg Company1999)