Llysfaen, the Welsh name for Lisvane, translates into
English as the “stone court”, suggesting that there was once a court house in
the district which may have been used for collecting taxes. If this was the
case, no trace of it remains and the earliest document relating to Lisvane is a
charter of Bishop Nicholas in 1153, confirming that the tithes of St Denys’s
Church should be paid to Tewkesbury Abbey. A sizeable portion of land in
Lisvane was also granted by the Norman conquerors to the abbey of Keynsham.
Traveller’s Rest at Thornhill, the gaunt ruins of Castell Morgraig are an
impressive reminder of one man’s rebellion against injustice. It is uncertain
whether the partially completed castle was the work of the Normans or the Welsh
but this was where Llywelyn Bren made a defiant stand in 1316. The insurrection
arose after the death of Gilbert de Clare at the Battle of Bannockburn. As he
had no male heir, the lordship of Glamorgan passed temporarily to the King and
the nobles he chose to administer the estate proved to be a disastrous choice.
They imposed heavy taxes at a time of famine and great hardship, showed
hostility to traditional Welsh customs and accused Llywelyn Bren, the much
respected bailiff previously appointed by de Clare, of creating unrest.
Unable to obtain satisfaction,
Llywelyn raised his standard at Whitchurch in January 1316 and, with an army
perhaps 10,000 strong, he wrought havoc with fire and sword throughout
Glamorgan. From Neath to the Wye, castles, villages and mills were attacked and
razed to the ground. The mill at Whitchurch was destroyed and even mighty
Caerphilly Castle came under siege.
On 12 March 1316 a powerful
royal army set out from Cardiff Castle to bring the rebels to heel and, though
Llywelyn fought bravely at Castell Morgraig, the end was never in doubt.
Greatly outnumbered, Llywelyn withdrew and retreated to Ystradfellte where he
surrendered. For two years he languished in prison. The King was prepared to
pardon him but Hugh Despenser, the new Lord of Glamorgan, persuaded him
otherwise and Llywelyn was brought back to Cardiff Castle, where he was cruelly
executed as a traitor. Justice was done some years later when his lands and
privileges were returned to his sons. They became the forefathers of the Lewis
family who were to play an important part in the affairs of Llanishen and
After the Dissolution of the
Monasteries, Edward Lewis of The Van purchased the Keynsham lands in Lisvane,
while the Tewkesbury property was acquired by Sir Roger Kemys. The Lewis’s were
generous benefactors and in 1728 a grant of £23 from Mary Lewis of New House
was provided for the “teaching and apprenticing of poor children in the
parishes of Llanishen and Lisvane”.The charity is still active though now
applied in a wider context. Another legacy from Mary provided money for the
relief of the poor which is still distributed just before Christmas.
For centuries the rich, fertile
soil of Lisvane yielded a bountiful harvest of grain which was processed in the
local mills. There were several large, prosperous farms but at the heart of the
tiny hamlet, which in 1841 had a population of 207, there was only a blacksmith,
the Black Griffin Inn and half a dozen cottages grouped around the church. A
shed at the rear of the church served as a small school but when the
teacher,George Matthews, died in 1845 the school was closed. After 1867 Lisvane
children attended the church school at Llanishen and a new primary school was
not opened in the village until the early 20th century. Following its closure
in the 1960s, it is now a community centre and the site of the local library.
Close ties have always existed
between the churches of Lisvane and Llanishen and until recently they shared
the same vicar or curate. One of the more eccentric characters was Benjamin
Jones who became vicar in 1814 and was known as the “Old Parson”. He was a keen
sportsman, fond of his gin and tobacco, but he showed little interest in St
Denys’s Church which was decaying into a roofless ruin with birds and animals
sheltering in its walls. On wet Sundays Benjamin would pull the bell for matins
and if only two or three turned up for the service, he suggested they ought to
adjourn to the Griffin Inn as it was not worth continuing. Eventually, repairs
and restoration of the church were carried out at a cost of £500 in 1878, but
little remains of its Norman origins apart from the walls of the tower and the
south doorway with its holy water stoup.
In 1869, to meet the increasing
demand for water in Cardiff, 19 acres of land in Lisvane were used to build a
reservoir. It drew its water from local streams and was owned by a private
company but in 1878 it was purchased by the Cardiff Corporation for £300,000.
The reservoir did nothing to spoil the charm of the district and the council
again showed vision in 1944, when it purchased the 200 acre Cefn Onn Estate
from Edwin Prosser. Lying to the east of Llanishen Golf Club, it was turned
into one of Cardiff’s most beautiful parks.
the two world wars, only 50 new properties were built in Lisvane and the map of
1940 shows how the village had kept its rural atmosphere. The houses that were
built, mainly along Ty-Llwyd road, now Lisvane Road, were luxurious and set in
spacious grounds. Major building programmes did not intrude on the countryside
until the 1950s. The land around the church was the first to be utilised,
followed by the development of the Cherry Orchard Estate. With the emphasis
always on private housing, property values in this prosperous district are
among the highest in Cardiff. Lisvane became a suburb of the city in 1974 and
in the next 20 years its population was to double. Despite the intrusion of the
M4 motorway, the district has so far retained the atmosphere of a village
community. Unfortunately, a scheme to build 4,000 houses from Pontprennau to
Lisvane poses a threat to this peaceful tranquillity.
Dowse L. Llanishen
and Lisvane (Koda Press 1972)
Horton G. Llanishen
from Village to Suburb (Llanishen Local History Society 1999)