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PLASNEWYDD

 

Population: 17,190

 

Roath Dogfield was the name given to the manor retained by the Lord of Glamorgan after the Norman Conquest and today most of that district is in the electoral division of Plasnewydd. The village of Roath grew around the manor house at Roath Court. This ancient site, where a circular mound is surrounded by a ditch, suggests that it may have been an administrative centre for the early Welsh rulers of Cibwr. The present building dates back to the 18th century but in 1578 Rice Merrick mentions an earlier manor house, fortified and moated “which is called The Court, but now in ruin”.

Dairy farming was the principal activity of the mediaeval manor. The land was originally worked by serfs who gave their labour at certain times of the year as rent for the land they held. By the early 14th century most of the tenants at the manor were free men and, after the carnage of the Black Death, feudal service was virtually eliminated.

 Not far from the manor house was the lord’s mill. It was powered by water from the stream which still flows through Waterloo Gardens and by 1316 was acting as a fulling mill for local weavers. Roath Mill was rebuilt in the 18th century and remained in use until 1897, when it was demolished to make way for new houses.

Though the Marquis of Bute was the Lord of Roath Manor, the Williams family became the owners of Roath Court in 1824 and lived there until 1952. The most notable resident in this period was Charles Croft Williams who was an alderman, several times Mayor of Cardiff and also Master of the Glamorgan Hunt. In 1952 the property became a funeral home when it was purchased by Morlais Summers.

            Lord Tredegar was another prominent landowner in Plasnewydd and, from the 1850s onwards, fine houses were built on his land. The district around The Parade, The Walk, East Grove and West Grove.became known as Tredegarville and of particular interest are two houses built by James Howell, the Cardiff store owner. Each of them became the offical residence of the Lord Mayor of Cardiff. Howell’s first home at The Walk has since been converted into flats, but the present Mansion House has a fine double-bay frontage and was originally intended to be two separate dwellings for his sons. They chose not to live there and, when their father died in 1909, the house was sold to the council. Its spacious, pleasant rooms make it an ideal setting for the Lord Mayor to receive distinguished visitors.

Not far away in Newport Road, Cardiff’s first infirmary was opened in 1837. Money was raised from a number of sources. Daniel Jones, a wealthy lawyer from Beaupre, donated £3,500, the Marquis of Bute gave a further £1,000 and all the money raised at the Cardiff Eisteddfod of 1834 was given to the cause. The Glamorgan and Monmouthshire Infirmary was able to accommodate about 30 patients and was extended in 1866. Even so, by 1880 its resources were strained to the limit and it was decided to build a new infirmary at Longcross.

The former hospital then became the first campus of the new University of Wales College at Cardiff which, in its first year, provided courses in the arts and sciences for 109 men and 42 women. The number of students grew rapidly and in 1909 the university moved to Cathays Park. The old premises remained in use and after World War One were greatly enlarged to house the Welsh School of Medicine. The original infirmary building was demolished in 1966 and five years later the school was transferred to the Heath Hospital. The site in Newport Road is now used by the Engineering Department of the University.

            Roath Castle, so called because of its crenellated battlements, was the home of the Richards family. Arabella was the posthumous daughter of Edward Richards who was tragically killed in 1858, when his horse collided with a cartload of manure in Newport Road. She inherited his estate and married Donald Mackintosh of Mackintosh, the wealthy leader of the Scottish clan. The development of their property in Roath began soon after their marriage and many of the new streets, such as Arabella, Donald, Diana, Angus, Alfred and Mackintosh, were named after the family. The association with Scotland is also commemorated by Keppoch Street, Inverness Place and Strathnairn Street. In 1890, ten years after their marriage, Arabella donated Roath Castle to her tenants. It was re-named the Mackintosh Institute and is still used as a community centre. Among its facilities is a beautiful bowling green on which the famous W.G. Grace once played. 

The splendid houses in Ninian Road, opposite Roath Park, were built on land owned by the Butes. The road is named after Lord Ninian Stuart, MP for Cardiff before World War One and son of the Third Marquis. A popular figure in Cardiff, he was killed by a sniper at the Battle of Loos in 1915. A statue stands to his memory in Cathays Park.

Castle Road became City Road in 1905 to celebrate Cardiff’s new status but, before urban development began in 1873, it was known as Plwcca Lane leading to Plwcca Halog, the Gallows Field. Two Roman Catholic priests were hung, drawn and quartered at this sinister spot where five roads now meet. Philip Evans and John Lloyd were caught up in the hysteria of the Popish Plot, a fantastic falsehood which alleged that the Pope was planning to invade England and replace Charles II with his Catholic brother, James. The death penalty was automatically applied to Jesuit priests and Philip Evans’s final words were: “If I had never so many lives, I would willingly give them all for so good a cause”. A stained glass window was later dedicated to the martyrs at St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church.

            In the mid-19th century, Merthyr Road was a country lane constructed after the Heath Enclosure Act. Its name was changed to Albany Road in 1884 in memory of the Duke of Albany. Building began that same year and 117 shops were established in the road by 1914. Plasnewydd has changed little since that time and in this densely populated suburb, City Road, Albany Road and Wellfield Road are among the busiest shopping centres in Cardiff.

 

Further Reading:

 

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