www.thecardiffmuseum.co.uk
cardiffmusuem2_8296.jpgbox2_6703.JPGbox4_2932.JPG

OLD ST MELLONS AND PONTPRENNAU

 

Population: 7,650

 

Old St Mellons and Pontprennau is an electoral division in the north-east of Cardiff. Prehistoric finds have been discovered near Druidstone House, where the Silures had an open air temple in the shape of a cromlech. Two of the original stones were broken up for road repairs in the 19thcentury but one survives as a mantelpiece in the house.

 Llaneurwg, as St Mellons is known in Welsh, is named after a Welsh chief of the second century. According to tradition, he requested the Pope to send missionaries to his domain and, after being baptised in the River Rhymney, Eurwg and his people built a wattle church. When the Normans conquered the region, they dedicated a new church to St Mellon, their patron saint. Mellon is buried at Rouen Cathedral, where the archives claim that he was born into a noble family at Cardiola, assumed by some to be Cardiff. After visiting Rome, where he was converted to Christianity, Mellon brought the Christian message to Rouen and became its bishop.

The Norman church at St Mellons was completely rebuilt and extended in the 14th century. Its size indicates that it was intended to reflect the glory of God, though the community at that time was quite small. The church still bears many of its mediaeval features, including the font, a stoup for holy water and evidence of a Rood loft.

For hundreds of years, Cefn Mably or Mabel’s Ridge was the home of the principal family in this part of South Wales. Mabel was the daughter of Robert Fitzhamon and she built a house or a hunting lodge on the site of a later mansion. The lords of Glamorgan held the estate until the early 13th century, when Cefn Mably passed into the possession of Stephen de Kemys, thus beginning an association with St Mellons and the surrounding parishes for the next 800 years. The Kemys family were not only the biggest landowners in the region but also its political leaders. Between 1576-1783 they provided nine sheriffs of Glamorgan and several MPs for Monmouthshire.       

Not surprisingly, Sir Nicholas Kemys and his son, Charles, fought for the King during the Civil War. In 1646 Charles joined other Royalists to attack the Roundhead garrison at Cardiff Castle and, as Parliament forces came to its relief, a running battle took place towards Cefn Mably which came under siege. When the war ended, Charles was fined £3,500 and sent into exile for two years. He was more fortunate than Nicholas who was killed while heroically defending Chepstow Castle for the King.

            Cefn Mably was a splendid house set in 6,000 acres of beautiful countryside, within which roamed a large herd of deer. When the house was rebuilt in the 16th century by Lewis Kemys, the dining room was beautifully panelled in oak and had a secret hiding place behind a large picture. In the Soldiers’ Gallery, probably given its name after a garrison was quartered there during the siege of 1646, there was a long refectory table, 52 feet in length. An eastern wing and a new chapel were added in the 18th century.

Cefn Mably was sold in 1920 and four years later it became a hospital for the treatment of tubercolosis. From 1948 until 1983 it continued to be used as a hospital within the National Health service. Cefn Mably then became vacant for 15 years and during this time it was gutted by fire. In recent years Meadgate Homes have tastefully restored the house and coverted it into luxury apartments. The development also includes mews cottages and houses in Cefn Mably Park.

            Quarry Hill was another fine property, built in the Georgian style for the Cope family. The altar oak screen in St Mellons Church was a family gift, erected by Matthew Cope in 1918 to the memory of his wife, Margaret. Local people had a great affection for her and she was looked upon as, “the good angel and lady bountiful of St Mellons for half a century”. Their son, Willie Cope, became MP for Llandaff and Barry and the glass in the east window of the church was given by him in memory of his parents. During World War One, Major Willie was the chairman of the recruiting committee as 181 men from St Mellons went to war. The memorial near the Fox and Hounds indicates that 23 did not return.

Before the Reformation, the annual St Mellons Fair was organised by the monks of the monastery at Llanrumney. The chief event was a race from the monastery to St Mellons Church. The winner was awarded the sanctus bell which he returned to the monks in time for the next service. According to a legend, the bell had a blue clapper and the inn near the finishing post is appropriately named the Bluebell. The fair was held on 22 October, St Mellon’s Day, and continued until 1859, when a disturbance involved rivals from Castleton who were holding their own fair at the same time. The fair was replaced by a ploughing match which evolved into the St Mellons Show. This was held at Llanrumney Park until the modern housing estate was built and is now a popular annual event at Tredegar House.

Another tradition was the Shrove Tuesday football match with Rumney. The goals were the respective churches of the two villages. The ball could be kicked or carried and anyone could take part if they were prepared to risk a few broken bones. In 1794 a Rumney player died when his skull was fractured and the fixture was discontinued for several years.The prize for the victors was a free sampling of the beaten village’s favourite tipple. In St Mellons they had a choice of pubs at either the White Hart, the Bluebell or the Fox and Hounds.

The local churches have always played an important role in the village life of St Mellons. By the early 19th century there were Baptist and Methodist chapels, while a Welsh Independent Chapel was later converted into an educational centre. It was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1921 and for many years it was a meeting place for youth activities and adult education. In 1854 the Poor House was purchased by the Church for the princely sum of 2/6d and converted into the village school. It served this purpose until the 1980s, when the school moved to modern premises in Llanrumney.

St Mellons became a suburb of Cardiff in 1974 and has recently been joined by Pontprennau which translates into English as: “the bridge of the trees”. Once just another farm in the parish of Llanedeyrn, it is now a rapidly growing housing estate. New houses have also been built in Old St Mellons near Eastern Avenue and many would argue that the village has been spoilt by so much urban encroachment. Yet the countryside is still not far away. The St Mellons County Club and Hotel, set in spacious grounds, is an eagerly sought venue for wedding receptions and social events, while members of the local golf club enjoy one of the most attractive courses in the Cardiff area.

 

Further Reading:

 

Bielski A. The Story of St Mellons (Alun Books 1985)