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RHIWBINA

 

Population: 11,210

 

A small, ancient earthwork, near the summit of the Wenallt, suggests that there was a settlement at Rhiwbina in the Iron Age. Roman relics, found on Rhiwbina Hill, indicate that they too may have had a camp, where it would command a wide view of the surrounding area

            The Twmpath is another site that has fascinated historians and archaeologists for many years. This mound, standing on a ridge 300 feet below the Wenallt, was thought by some to be the burial place of a Welsh chief, possibly Iestyn ap Gwrgant. A legend records that he fought a mighty battle against the Norman invaders near Nant Waedlyd, which means in English “the Bloody Brook”. The tale goes on to say that Iestyn was killed and buried with his wealth under this mound. A wizard then cursed anyone who disturbed the site, saying: “The first to put sword, spear or spade into this earth will be struck by lightning”. About 150 years ago some adventurous souls started digging in the hope of finding buried treasure. Thunder and lightning burst forth and the men fled in terror. Since then the site has beeen thoroughly excavated but nothing has been found. Probably the Twmpath was a Norman motte, acting as a small fort and observation point.

Before World War One, Rhiwbina was sparsely populated. Greenhill, the home of the Booker family, was a fine mansion and a few houses were scattered along Beulah Road, named after Beulah Congregational Chapel. Near the Masons’ Arms and Tyn-y-Parc Farm were a cluster of small cottages and two small flannel factories.

There were a number of large farms, such as the Deri, Pantmawr, Tyn-y-Cae, Pen-y-Groes and Tyn-y-Coed, all familiar placenames in Rhiwbina today. For many years, Rhiwbina Farm was owned by the Morgan family who were related to Lord Tredegar. The farm has gone and the reservoir, built by the Cardiff Corporation in 1884 to supplement the needs of a growing borough, is now covered over.

The Deri is named after an oak tree which, despite being blasted by lightning, is still standing today. The fertile soil of Rhiwbina lent itself to arable farming and the Deri Mill was used to grind corn. The landlord of the nearby Butcher’s Arms applied for his wine and spirit licence in 1861 on the basis that the mill was very busy and farmers travelling long distances needed sustenance. He added that visitors to Beulah Chapel for special services also needed liquid refreshment.

 In 1911 Professor Stanley Jevons resigned his position as Chair of Economics at University College in Cardiff to found the Housing Reform Company. He visualised a series of well planned, beautiful garden suburbs around Cardiff and early in 1912 the first society was registered. It became the Rhiwbina Garden Village Society and was run on co-operative lines.

The houses were intended for “skilled artisans, clerks, shop assistants and others of moderate incomes”. Each resident held shares and had a voice in the running of the society. The ultimate aim was a large suburb but initially 10 acres were purchased from the Pentwyn Estate near Rhiwbina Halt. A plaque, unveiled by the Earl of Plymouth, commemorates the completion of the first 34 houses in Lon Isa, Y Groes and Lon-y-Dail in 1913.

The Housing Reform Company was wound up in World War One but, after

hostilities had ceased, the Welsh Town Planning and Housing Trust covered liabilities and made funds available to build another 270 dwellings. In the end, only 189 were built, as many people preferred buying rather than renting their homes. The Depression also slowed progress in the early ‘30s.

            The houses built by the society were spaced at no more than 10 to an acre and varied in appearance. Some were semi- detached and others were in clusters of three or four. All houses from the outset had a bath, running water, electric light and a pleasant garden that tenants were expected to keep tidy.The society had rules which may have appeared fussy to some but were drawn up democratically and maintained standards. One of the benefits offered by the society was the employment of a maintenance staff, thus avoiding any shoddy workmanship.

            Shops, churches and a library were built to meet the needs of the growing village and a recreation club was opened in 1922. Six years later, Rhiwbina School was built and at that time it was the largest elementary school in Glamorgan. Opposite the school is the Memorial Hall which was opened by Lady Mountbatten in 1957 as a tribute to the fallen of two world wars.

Inevitably, other property developers decided to build houses in Rhiwbina and this trend gained fresh impetus in the 1960s, when Llanishen Fach Farm was sold to pave the way for a large estate. Not surprisingly Rhiwbina is a very popular place in which to live. Notable residents include Jack Jones, author of River out of Eden and off to Philadelphia in the Morning, and Iorwerth Peate, founder of the Museum of Welsh Life at St Fagans. The countryside is not far away and one of the great attractions, not just for local people but for others as well, is a ramble or picnic at the summit of the Wenallt. This tract of beautiful woodland and heath has been carefully preserved in its natural state with magnificent views over Cardiff and the Bristol Channel.  

            In 1962 the people of Rhiwbina celebrated the 50th anniversary of the garden city project in style, but six years later, the decision was taken to offer tenant-shareholders the leases on their properties at favourable terms. The original concept had run its course and in 1976 the Rhiwbina Garden City Society was dissolved with its surplus funds given to charity. The urban growth of Rhiwbina has been better planned than most other suburbs and much of the credit for this must go to those pioneers who showed such vision in 1912. When Rhiwbina became a suburb of Cardiff in 1974, their far-sightedness was recognised, as soon afterwards the area west of Lon-y-Deri was designated a conservation area.

 

Further Reading:

 

Chappell E.L. Old Whitchurch (Merton Priory Press 1994)

Davies W. Rhiwbina Garden Village (D. Brown & Son 1985)