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         LISVANE

 

Population: 3,540

 

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.

            Near the 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 Lisvane.

                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.

            Between 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.

 

Further Reading:

 

Dowse L. Llanishen and Lisvane (Koda Press 1972)

Horton G. Llanishen from Village to Suburb (Llanishen Local History Society 1999)