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RUMNEY

 

Population: 8,970

 

The Welsh name for Rumney is “Tredelerch”, supposedly referring to a time when swans were found in great numbers near the River Rhymney. Roman pottery has been found on the foreshore near Newton Farm while Caer Castell, where Rumney High School and St Illtydd’s College are now sited, was probably a Roman fortification. Another local placename, “Lamby”, has a Scandinavian origin, suggesting that the Danes may have traded along the river.

Where Castle Heights now stands, the Normans built a motte and bailey castle and soon afterwards the manor of Rompney became established as a part of the mediaeval comitatus of Wentloog. Its owners have included Gilbert de Clare, Edmund, the Earl of Stafford and Thomas Cromwell, who received the estate as a gift from Henry VIII in 1532. He only held the manor for a short time, as he became a victim of Henry’s unreliable temper and was executed as a traitor. The manor later became a farm which ceased to exist when Ty Mawr Road and Ty Mawr Avenue were built in the 1930s. The manor house itself was situated at the junction of these two roads. The lord’s two water mills, which were constantly being repaired in the middle ages, have also disappeared. They may have been a prime target for Welsh raiders who caused widespread destruction in 1294 and 1316.  

It was the responsibility of the lord’s tenants to maintain the seawall and collect earth to support its gowts or stone gates. These gowts prevented the sea from flooding at high tide, while allowing surplus fresh water to disperse into the sea. When the feudal system came to an end, this duty was undertaken by the parish.

The 12th century church of St Augustine’s, with its vicarage and 40 acres of land, was awarded to the abbey of Bristol by William, Lord of Glamorgan. The original tower was rebuilt in the 15th century, though the doorway appears to be Norman. The mediaeval font still survives but perhaps the most interesting feature of the church are its six bells, the oldest dating back to 1709.

            A stone stile from the churchyard leads to a row of cottages known as Beili Bach, or the little bailey. Beili Bach is at least 300 years old and was originally a thatched, single storey farm house, where the family shared their accommodation with the animals. An additional storey was built later, using stone from the nearby quarry.

An Exchequer deposition of 1609 alleges that Rumney was the most unruly place in Monmouthshire. When Thomas Powell, an under sheriff, tried to arrest a group of criminals, his life was in danger when they were forcibly rescued by neighbours. Nearly 200 years later, in 1793, the people of Rumney acted as peacemakers. A band of sailors, thought to be mutineers and armed with cutlasses and bludgeons, were pursued by the press gang as they set out from Cardiff towards Newport. A pitched battle was fought at Rumney, where the outnumbered press gang were rescued by local people who pacified the sailors with a pint of ale at the Pear Tree Inn.

This tavern was reputedly a favourite haunt for smugglers, though there are legends that they used Beili Bach to hide their contraband and also met at the manor house, where there was a secret passage down to the river. The Pear Tree was purchased in the 19th century by the first American consul in Cardiff, who added a mock baronial hall and renamed it the Rompney Arms. Nowadays, it is a popular pub with an attractive Tudor style façade.  

A strong, one-arched bridge was built across the river when the Cardiff Turnpike Trust began the construction of a new road from Rumney Bridge to Bonvilston. Tolls were collected at a house which was demolished just before World War Two. This house stood next to the Rumney Pottery, one of the oldest buildings in the district. Owned by the Giles family since the early 19th century, high quality products are still being manufactured at Rumney Pottery, as they have been for the last 300 years. At one time clay was imported but now it is taken from the banks along the river. The bottle-shaped chimney of the kiln collapsed in World War Two after a bomb fell nearby, though part of the kiln can still be seen inside the pottery.

William Booth, writing in his “Rambles around Rumney”, observed that in 1892 Rumney was a straggling village, with houses built in threes and fours along lanes that ended in ditches. A few years later he observed that the village was waking up, as “the number of shops has doubled. There are now two”. In 1901 its population of 579 were mostly farmers. Some of them bred horses and cattle but the majority supplied Cardiff with flowers, vegetables and milk.        

At that time, the Rompney Arms, the Cross Inn and the Carpenter’s Arms had a powerful attraction for residents of Cardiff on a Sunday. As pubs in Wales were closed on the Sabbath, people crossed Rumney Bridge into Monmouthshire where the taverns were still open. A local resident made a tongue in cheek comment about, “the very powerful sermons preached at Rumney”. Crowds would flock into the village from Cardiff just before church on Sunday evening and later return in an excited state, “staggering all over the road. Could it be that the sober, religious Welsh go into England to avoid the Sunday Closing act”?

In 1887 Rumney was included in the county of Glamorgan for administrative affairs, though the parish remained in Monmouthshire. When Rumney Bridge needed widening and strengthening in 1910, the cost was borne jointly by the Cardiff and Monmouthshire councils. These closer ties paved the way for Rumney to become a suburb of Cardiff, a fact which was formally approved in 1938. At that time nearly 800 houses, mostly semi-detached, had been built south of Rumney Hill from New Road to Claremont Avenue.

After World War Two, Rumney’s remaining open spaces became part of a massive housing development which eventually spread into Llanrumney, Trowbridge and St Mellons. Large houses on Rumney Hill and along Newport Road were swallowed up by modern housing estates. One of these splendid villas was Witla Court which was built for the Heywoods, a wealthy Cardiff shipping firm. Colonel H.J. Heywood was a devout Roman Catholic who built a private chapel for his fellow worshippers alongside the house. Witla Court was used as a land army hostel in World War Two and, in the late 1960s, the estate was developed for housing.

Despite modern developments, Rumney remains a suburb of interesting contrasts. Not far from Lamby Industrial Park lie dwellings which are centuries old. One of them is Oakmeadow Cottage, a house which was used as a magistrate’s court and bore the threatening title of “Hangman’s Cottage”. A legend maintains that it was haunted by condemned prisoners. The larder was a cell where these wretches were held and chained to an iron ring. For many years the room had an obnoxious smell which a medium attributed to the stench of fear and, when the larder was knocked down, the smell disappeared.

The farms and fields which once dotted the landscape of Rumney are gone but pleasant open spaces can still be found. Tredelerch Park, near a landfill site in Lamby Way, has a 10 acre lake and was recently opened with the aim of emphasising the ecology and wildlife of the area. Rumney Gardens, built on the site of a former cemetery, overlooks pleasant woodland at the rear and offers a welcome respite from the busy traffic on Newport Road. The Quarry, which once supplied stone for the older buildings of the district, has also been converted into a pleasure garden, serving as a reminder of how past and present blend in this interesting suburb.

 

Further Reading:

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

North G.A. Rumney and the Wentlooge Level (Chalford Publishing Company 1997)