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PENYLAN

 

Population: 12,570

 

Penylan, meaning “the summit”, lies within the parish of Roath which became a part of Cardiff in 1875. The oldest indication of man’s presence in South Wales was discovered at an allotment site on Penylan Hill in 1953. It was a quartzite handaxe, estimated to be between 75,000 and 250,000 years old. A Palaeolithic nomad, of whom there were probably no more than 50 in the whole of Wales at that time, probably mislaid it while he was out hunting for game.

After the Norman Conquest, Keynsham Abbey became the principal beneficiary in Penylan, when it was granted an estate north of Roath Brook between Penylan Hill and the River Rhymney. Until the 20th century Penylan Hill, or “Welshman’s Hill” as it was better known, was no more than a track leading to Cyncoed. Along the way were a number of wells, visited by people on church feast days. These visitors would take the water home, believing in its healing qualities. Some left coins or religious medallions in the wells as an offering.

St Margaret’s, the parish church of Roath, is first mentioned in the 12th century when it was a chapel of Tewkesbury Abbey. This simple, whitewashed building, with its single bell turret, became the parish church after the Reformation and served the small community of Roath for 700 years. The First Marquis of Bute purchased the living of St Margaret’s in 1793 and seven years later, at the time of his first wife’s death, he built a family vault to the north of the chancel.

When the church was demolished in 1868, the vault was reconstructed as an ornate mausoleum, dominated by seven sarcophagi in red granite, not unlike those containing the Tsars in St Petersburg. Among the members of the Bute family buried in the vault are the First Marquis, his two wives and his eldest son. The mausoleum was incorporated into a new St Margaret’s Church, designed by John Prichard and opened in July 1870. He employed a variety of building materials in his work which was praised by The Architect for, “the rich effect produced by the harmonising contrasts of coloured stone which distinguish the church as one of the most beautifully-finished in the principality”.

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Keynsham lands in Penylan passed into the possession of the Morgan family of Tredegar House. For the next 350 years the district remained agricultural with farms such as Ty-Gwyn, Deri, Ty-Mawr and Roath Court concentrating mainly on pastoral farming.

            When Roath became a suburb of Cardiff, these farms began to disappear, as the growing population of the borough sought new homes. In the late 19th century, magnificent houses were built on the site of Penylan Farm in Ty-Gwyn Road and Penylan Road, though most of them no longer exist. Bronwydd was a large villa built for Daniel Thomas, a successful public works engineer. It survived until 1970, when it was bulldozed to make way for Eastern Avenue. William Young, a wealthy potato merchant, lived at Oldwell and in the 1960s it became an old people’s home. In 1987 it was demolished to make way for the housing association flats at Redwell Court. Penylan Farm House became part of the Convent of the Good Shepherd, built by the Third Marquis of Bute in 1872 for “fallen women”. St David’s Sixth Form College now stands on this site. One house which still survives is Birchwood Grange. It  was once the residence of Sir Charles Jackson but now serves as a University Hall of Residence.

By 1914, well-built town houses lined Penylan Hill, Waterloo Road and many of the streets linking them. Some of these roads bear the names of battles such as Kimberley, Mafeking, Blenheim and Trafalgar. Balaclava Road and Alma Road recall the famous events in which Godfrey Morgan, the Second Viscount Tredegar, was involved. During the Crimean War, he served with the 17th Lancers and took part in the terrifying Charge of the Light Brigade, immortalised by Lord Tennyson. Of the 673 lancers who charged the Russian guns, less than a third survived. Tredegar later described how his horse, Sir Briggs, despite being wounded by a sabre, safely carried him back to the British lines.

Lord Tredegar was renowned for his generosity. He offered five acres of land towards the creation of Roath park, but his most attractive legacy in Penylan is Waterloo Gardens and Mill Gardens, which resulted in a beautiful stretch of greenery from Penylan Road to St Margaret’s Church. The Harlequins Recreation Ground near Newport Road, which is still in use today, was also sited on Tredegar land.

The Roath Power Station in Newport Road began supplying electricity in 1902, the same year in which electric trams, the foundation of Cardiff’s transport system until 1950, were delivered to a depot next door. These landmarks and others have gone, including the cooling towers in Colchester Avenue which dominated the skyline until their demolition in 1972. Their place has been taken by workshops and small factories on the Colchester Trading Estate, while Newport Road is now lined with garages, depots and superstores.

The earliest houses in Colchester Avenue were built in 1912, when open fields separated them from the industrial development of Newport Road. After World War Two a new housing estate sprang up in this part of Penylan. About the same time, the Howardian and Lady Margaret high schools were built in Colchester Avenue to replace the school in Adamsdown which had been damaged in the Blitz. When these schools closed in 1990, this site too was allocated to housing and many of the roads are named after former teachers.

The Lady Mary Estate of solid well-built houses was created in the 1950s on land once occupied by Fairoak Farm. Within this residential area, the synagogue in Arnside Road became the principal place of worship for the Jewish community in Cardiff. Recently the number of Jews in Cardiff has declined and a smaller synagogue, together with new homes, is being constructed in Cyncoed Road at the former Penylan Gardens.

 

Further Reading:

 

Childs J. Roath, Splott and Adamsdown (Chalford Publishing Company 1995)