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 RADYR AND MORGANSTOWN

 

Population: 4,880

 

While the remains of an Iron Age cooking hearth in Radyr Wood indicate an earlier habitation, the first historical reference to Radyr comes in the 11th century, when a biographer of St Cadoc refers to “the hamlet of Aradur between Llandaff and the forest”. It appears that a small hospice or hermitage at this site was sometimes visited by those making a pilgrimage to the shrine of Teilo at Llandaff.

            The only two buildings of importance in the 13th century were St John’s Church and the manor house at Radyr Court. St John’s, which was built by Richard de Clare, retains some of its original features in the present structure, notably the chancel arch with its corbels originally intended to hold the Rood beam. Hugh Despenser, the favourite of Edward II, was the owner of the manor in 1321, when the Mortimer family, bitter enemies of Hugh and the King, launched a devastating attack in which buildings were gutted, crops were destroyed and animals driven off.

                In the 15th century Thomas Mathew acquired the manor of Radyr by marriage. He also enhanced his fortune through his position as Receiver of Ogmore and, after his death in 1470, his descendants carried on the family tradition of profitable matrimony. To reflect their riches, the old manor house on the west side of St John’s was replaced with a fine two storey building on a new site to the east of the church.

 The family’s wealth and influence in Radyr reached its peak under Sir George Mathew, who not only lived ostentatiously at Radyr Court, but also held the manor of Llandaff. He married twice and sired 24 children. His son, William, succeeded him in 1558 and he too had a large family. Ironically, their sexual prowess contributed to the family’s decline as between them they fathered 21 daughters, all of whom were in need of dowries.

This drain on the estate was compounded by extravagance. Sir George built an impressive deer park at Radyr Court in 1536 but his son replaced it with an even more expensive one 60 years later. While a deer park was a mark of prestige to the Tudor gentry, its creation ensured that there was no income from the tenants who had previously occupied the land. Radyr Wood, at the rear of the High School and Woodfield Avenue, is now part of the former deer park.

 By 1607 Edmund Mathew owed debts of £25,000. Among his creditors was his nephew, Sir Henry Billingsley, who issued a writ for the seizure of Radyr Court. Edmund resisted with armed force and the Sheriff withdrew, arguing that the house “is not to be won without ordnance to batter it and shedding of much blood”. Remarkably Edmund’s son, George, held on to Radyr Court for a few more years but in 1625 he sold it to Lewis of The Van and the Mathew interest in Radyr came to an end.

            The Plymouth Estate owned most of Radyr by the end of the 18th century and its policy was to favour large, efficient farms. In 1836 Evan David of Radyr Court was farming 700 acres in Radyr, Llandaff and Fairwater. The old manor house had been largely demolished and the surviving part turned into a farmhouse.

For most of the 19th century Radyr was little more than a hamlet of scattered cottages, relying on agriculture as the basis of its economy. In 1851 its population was only 417 but changes were beginning to take place. As the ironworks at Pentyrch increased its labour force, new housing was needed for the workers. In 1841 there were ten cottages at Pentre Poeth, the “village of fire”, and the number grew steadily until 1878. While there is some doubt about how Pentre Poeth became “Morganstown”, it was probably named after Morgan Williams who leased his land for the early development of the district.

            The arrival of the railway in 1859 heralded the emergence of fresh commercial activity in Radyr. Penarth Junction proved to be a convenient marshalling yard for the Taff Vale and Penarth Dock Railways, as an ever increasing volume of coal was transported from the mining valleys to the docks at Penarth and Cardiff. The sidings lay to the east of Radyr Wood and, at the same time, another siding was built for the use of the local quarry. Radyr stone had been used on a small scale for centuries but it was not until the 1850s that large scale commercial exploitation began, when the quarry to the south of Radyr Station was opened. It provided major employment for the next 60 years as the stone was used for building work in and around Cardiff.

When a passenger station was built in 1883, professional people began to seek homes in the peaceful surroundings of Radyr, while still having easy access to their offices in Cardiff. By 1901 fine houses had been built along Heol Isaf and Station Road. Among them were Dan-y-Bryn, now the Cheshire Home, and Bryn Teg, the residence of Radyr’s first doctor, which later became the Radyr Arms. St John’s Church was restored in 1869 and Christchurch in Heol Isaf, a splendid example of neo-Gothic architecture, was built in 1910. New chapels, a school and shops provided for the differing needs of a growing population. The cricket club, established in 1890, and a beautiful golf course, opened in 1902, added to the appeal of Radyr as a desirable place to live.

The splendid 18th century farmhouse at Ty Mynydd was transformed into a Gothic mansion by George Fisher, deputy chairman of the Taff Vale Railway. In 1918 Harald and Sofie Dahl with their six children, including Roald aged two, moved to Ty Mynydd with its acres of farmland and a very large staff. The family only lived there for two years, as Harald Dahl died in 1920 and Sofie moved to Llandaff. The house was demolished in 1967 after vandals had started a fire in the empty building.

Until World War Two, Radyr continued to grow steadily but in the 1960s an extensive housing programme began to the west of Heol Isaf. Later the Danescourt Estate, though it lies within the electoral division of Llandaff, was built on land surrounding Radyr Court. Under the nearby shopping centre and the garden of Radyr Court, which is now a public house, lie the foundations of the old manor. Radyr became a suburb of Cardiff in 1974 and, despite the urbanisation of the last 40 years, which is still continuing with a new housing development at Radyr Farm, it remains one of Cardiff’s most attractive suburbs.

 

Further Reading:

 

Radyr & Morganstown New Horizons History Group Twixt Chain and Gorge (Radyr & Morganstown New Horizons Group1991)

Radyr & Morganstown New Horizons History Group Memories of Radyr and Morganstown (Radyr & Morganstown New Horizons Group1993)