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SPLOTT AND TREMORFA

 

Population: 12,550

 

Prior to the Norman Conquest, Splott was an episcopal estate owned by the Bishop of Llandaff. Its unusual name has often aroused curiosity and is possibly an abbreviated term for “God’s Plot”. For centuries, the manor of Splott was little more than open moorland which was acquired by Thomas Bawdripp of Penmark in the 16th century. It was later sold to Edward Lewis of The Van before eventually becoming a part of the Tredegar Estate in 1676.

A map of Splott and Tremorfa in 1789 shows little else but the three farms of Pengam and Upper and Lower Splott. The Splott farms were worked as one unit and in 1840 covered 378 acres, most of it moorland. This remained the situation until Cardiff began its rapid growth in the 19th century. By 1891 several industrial and commercial enterprises were established at East Moors and, during that year, the opening of the Dowlais Steelworks transformed the area.

The company had begun its existence in Merthyr but, as it became necessary to import iron ore from abroad, its production costs rose considerably. A decision was taken to build a modern furnace at East Moors on land owned by Lord Bute who performed the opening ceremony on 4 February 1891. Amalgamations with other steel makers before World War One created the industrial giant of Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds with a capital of £3 million. The parent company at Merthyr was now dwarfed by its offspring and in 1934 a further investment resulted in a large integrated plant, capable of manufacturing half a million tons of steel a year. For nearly 90 years the great furnaces and chimney stacks of the East Moors Works, casting their red glow at night, were a familiar part of the skyline in Splott and Tremorfa.

At first the building of houses in Splott proceeded slowly and a street directory for 1891 shows most of them clustered around Sanquar Street, Splott Road and Habershon Street. To provide homes for the thousands of workers employed by the new steel works, the pace of building accelerated towards Portmanmoor Road and Moorland Road. By World War One, the rail link to Roath Dock was the dividing line between a built-up Splott to the west and the open fields of Tremorfa to the east.

Lord Tredegar presented Splott Park to the Corporation in 1901 and it was soon one of the best equipped in Cardiff. It had cricket pitches and nets, when these were a rarity on public parks, a bowling green and a bandstand. The park also provided playing facilities for local clubs and schools.

The earliest school to be built in the area was Splottlands which had 1,500 pupils when it opened in 1882. Since its demolition in 1971, the Star Sports and Recreation Centre has occupied the site. Moorland Road School became renowned for its sporting reputation and can count Welsh football internationals, Billy James and Ron Stitfall, among its scholars. Shirley Bassey also went to school at Moorland Road when, at the age of two, her family moved to Portmanmoor Road. The Splott University Settlement, established in Courtenay Road with the aim of promoting education and recreation among the poor, was famous for its baseball team which drew crowds of up to 20,000. In 1924 the premises were acquired by St Illtyd’s College, the first Catholic grammar school in Wales.

Ernest Willows once said: “As a boy I remember jumping off a bank with an open umbrella in my hand, just to make believe I was flying”. His love of flying led to experiments with airships in a large shed, built on the open spaces of East Moors. Willows successfully manoeuvred his first invention 120 feet above the ground on 5 September 1905 and, five years later, he won a prize of £50 when he became the first man to fly over Cardiff. He navigated his craft from East Moors to the City Hall, landing near the statue of Lord Tredegar. Further adventures followed but the airships developed by Willows were never commercially viable. He failed to see that the future lay with fixed wing aircraft and suffered a succession of business failures. In 1926 he was tragically killed when the basket broke away from the balloon in which he was flying. However, it is a fitting tribute to Willows’ spirit of adventure that the school, later built on land where he began his experiments, bears his name.

Though Pengam ceased to be a working farm in 1936, a major housing programme in Tremorfa was delayed until after World War Two. In 1930 Cardiff’s new municipal airport was opened on Pengam Moors near the farm. An early visitor was the Prince of Wales who arrived at the airport wearing a flying helmet and goggles. Later that day, he opened the Chemistry and Physics Laboratory at University College. In the 1930s the Great Western Railway offered domestic flights to Torquay at a single fare of £3 and by 1938 there was a regular service to Weston every hour. The ten minute journey cost 9/6d for a return ticket. The airport was an RAF maintenance unit during the war and its principal role was to act as a packing depot for aircraft destined for overseas service. Its short runway, lack of night flying facilities and proximity to residential areas led to the closure of Cardiff Municipal Airport in 1954 but many of its former hangars in Seawall Road are still used as workshops and factories. 

After World War Two, Cardiff found difficulty in retaining its manufacturing industries, many of which were based in Splott and Tremorfa. The Rover Car Company set up a factory at Tremorfa in 1963 but only an eighth of the anticipated jobs materialised, and these were lost when the works closed in the 1980s. Even more disastrous was the loss of 3,000 jobs at the East Moors Steelworks. By 1978 its equipment had become obsolete and, with annual losses of £15 million, the decision was taken to close the plant.

These were body blows to Splott and Tremorfa, where many of these workers lived but in recent years an attempt has been made to rejuvenate the district. Houses in and around Portmanmoor Road were demolished in the 1970s and replaced with an industrial estate. Similar estates and a business park were later built on land once occupied by the steelworks. If the necessary finance can be found, a proposal to construct the East Bay Road, hugging the foreshore of Splott and Tremorfa, would give access to a large area of land capable of further development.

 

Further Reading:

 

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