13 June 2016

Who’s been sleeping in my house?

The flat I’m currently renting in Cardiff is in Roath Park, an affluent suburb that was always intended to be a high-quality residential district – I certainly couldn’t afford to buy here nowadays! In 1887, the Marquess of Bute and other generous locals donated land for a public park to be established around Roath Brook and, in subsequent years, Roath Park Lake was constructed, and the Pleasure Gardens and recreation grounds were laid out. Residential development occurred between 1890 and 1914, with the houses where I am, on the south side of the Pleasure Gardens and recreation grounds, being built over a fifteen-year period starting around 1891.

Postcard of Roath Park, c.1896

The houses are substantial. Mine has three storeys; has been subdivided into four flats: a studio, two two-bedroom flats and mine, a one-bedroom; and eight people live comfortably within its red-brick walls. But it wasn’t always so crowded.

I’m not sure of its exact construction date but, as far as I can tell the first occupant, in 1905, was John Greatrex. He was a shipbroker and must’ve been in his fifties by then as a newspaper report in The Cardiff Times, 7 June 1884, says he was then a shipbroker of 22 years’ experience. At that time, he was manager of shipbroking company Messrs Morteo and Penco, though in a later newspaper report (South Wales Daily News, 2 February 1899) he was working for Messrs Cory Bros and Co. Later still, he went into partnership with a Gwilym Rees, trading as Greatrex and Rees, coal exporters, steamship brokers, and colliery agents, out of Swansea.

John Greatrex didn’t stay long in my house, as the 1906 directory shows the house was occupied by Martin D. Gargill, MD. Despite his unusual name, I haven’t been able to discover anything about the good doctor.

The next occupant has left more of a mark on history. Gilbert Norwood, born 23 November 1880 near Sheffield and with a double first in Classics from Cambridge University’s St John’s College, moved to Cardiff in July 1908 to take up his new appointment as Professor of Greek at the University College. He continued in that position for 20 years, after which time he moved to Canada, where he was appointed Professor of Classics and Director of Classical Studies at the University College in Toronto.

Gilbert Norwood, in 1908 and in 1944.
Norwood’s specialties were Ancient Greek tragedy (in particular, the works of Euripides) and comedy (with a focus on Aristophanes), and he published widely on these subjects, in essays and scholarly journals and in at least ten books. His work gained international recognition: he received a number of guest professorships at elite universities, and he was elected a member of the Royal Society of Canada in 1943. He died in Toronto in 1954.

Norwood didn’t stay in my house for all of his 20 years in Cardiff – perhaps he moved somewhere closer to the university – as the directories from 1914 to 1932 show one Alfred Carrell was resident here. Alfred has also proven a trifle elusive, though I think he may also have been a shipbroker. If I have the right man, then Alfred was born in Jersey, in the Channel Islands, around 1880, and was the son of Francis P. Carrell, who various newspaper reports also list as a shipbroker and shipowner in Cardiff from 1859 onwards. More than this I do not know.

The last name in my historical look at who’s been sleeping in my house is Harry Vye-Parminter, who appears to have moved in around 1937. Despite that very distinctive surname, Harry has also proven a little elusive. From some 1930s’ references to patents (for upholstery springs, of all things) I think his full name was Harry Harvey Vye-Parminter and, if so, he was born in March 1875 in Swansea. According to one Swansea directory, his father, James Chapman Vye-Parminter, was both ‘portrait painter [and] art photographer to H.M. the Queen’, though I can find no official verification of that. He was also a Justice of the Peace and a prominent man in Swansea society of the time, according to numerous contemporary newspaper reports and an obituary published in the Evening Express on 30 October 1896.

The house is on the end of a row of terrace houses.

Harry’s mother Agnes was also an artist, a painter of some repute, and I found images of two of her portrait paintings here. However, it seems Harry himself didn’t inherit their artistic talent or, at least, chose not to exercise it professionally. He’s listed in the 1891 census as a clerk to a metal broker, and his father’s 1896 obituary states that he was ‘engaged in the Swansea coal trade’, but he doesn’t appear in the 1901 or 1911 census documents (though it may be that his name has been mis-transcribed).

Harry reappears on 21 August 1920 when he married Jessie Maria Jones in St James Church in Swansea, and then again in 1921-22, when his partnership with John Torbock was dissolved. They had been carrying on business as manufacturers of Soleenite Belt Dressing and Black Swan Boot Polish and Soleen at 39 King Edward-road, Swansea, under the style of Parminter & Torbock. By June 1928, Harry had made the move to Cardiff, as he was living in Whitchurch when he was officially declared bankrupt.

Although Harry then appears in the local directory as living in my house in 1937, he wasn’t here long, as he passed away in 1938. His wife continued living in Cardiff – though, whether in my house or elsewhere is uncertain – until 1948, when she also passed away.

Harry’s passing marks the end of my look at who has lived in my house, as I didn’t want to invade the privacy of any past residents who might still be alive. It was a fascinating exercise to see who has lived here, and certainly one I will do again in my next abode.

23 May 2016

Walking with Mary: Cwm George woodland

At the start of May, SEWBReC, the South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre, issued a challenge. As part of the Heritage Lottery Funded project ‘A Dedicated Naturalist’, it asked the people of South Wales to take a walk with Dr Mary Gillham at one of the many sites Mary visited often and surveyed most thoroughly, Cwm George woodland at Dinas Powys. ‘Will you find as much as Mary? Has the species composition changed drastically? Can you add new species to the list?’, were the challenges they raised.

Always up for a challenge that involves a walk in a beautiful woodland, my friends and I went exploring. We were a great team: Emma, our fungi specialist (and her son, Callum, budding naturalist); Liam, our insect aficionado; Calum, the best plant-spotter I know; Cliff, our expert ears and bird whisperer; and me, knowing little about anything much but recording and photographing for posterity.

Emma soon disappeared into the deepest darkest areas of the woodland, emerging every now and then with a ‘Look what I found’. Liam scooped up beauties in his net and popped some into plastic tubes for closer examination – all got re-released unharmed. Calum pointed out wildflowers and nibbled at edibles, urging us to try a bit of this or that, and Cliff walked quietly ahead, listening acutely and watching intently. Little Callum beamed from ear to ear as he also caught specimens in his mini net, and, like the hoverflies that were prolific on the expanses of flowering Ramsons, I hovered here and there, trying to keep up with all that was happening.

Though we explored very little of its woodlands and meadows, Cwm George was glorious, and most generous with its offerings. And, though certainly not as extensive as Mary’s, we were very pleased with our final species list of 99 different types of insects, fungi, wildflowers, trees and birds.

Insects: Brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni), Orange-tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines), Small white butterfly (Pieris rapae), Peacock butterfly (Aglais io), Common carder bee Queen (Bombus pascuorum), Red-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius), Buff-tailed bumblebee Queen (Bombus terrestris), Tawny Mining Bee female (Andrena fulva), Ashy mining bee female (Andrena cineraria) (above, centre), Dark-edged bee fly (Bombylius major), Orange ladybird (Halyzia 16-guttata), Harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis), Hoverfly (Helophilus pendulus), Hoverfly (Rhingia campestris), Hoverfly (Eristalis pertinax), Nomad bee male (Nomada lathburiana), Bee Fly (Bombyliidae), unidentified Weevil, Oak marble gall, another type of oak gall, Hoverfly (Syrphus ribesii), Ramsons Hoverfly (Portevinia maculata), Beetle (Cantharis pellucida) (above, left), Beetle (Sphaeridium scarabaeoides) (above, right).

Fungi: King Alfred's cakes Daldinia concentrica), Unidentified woodwort, Artist's bracket (Ganoderma applanatum), Jelly ear (Auricularia auricula-judae), Beech mast ascomycetes, Candle snuff (Xylaria hypoxylon), Dead Moll's fingers (Xylaria longipes), Red elfcup (Sarcoscypha sp.), Glistening inkcap (Coprinella micaceus), Turkey tail (Trametes versicolour) (above), Arum rust (Puccinia sessilis), Bramble rust (Kuehneola uredinis).

Wildflowers: Yellow Archangel (Lamium galeobdolon), Red Campion (Silene dioica), Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica), Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris), Herb Paris (Paris quadrifolia) (above, left), Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum), Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) (above, right), Common Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium), Old Man's Beard (Clematis vitalba), Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis), Common dog violet (Viola riviniana), Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa), Primrose (Primula vulgaris), Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum), Wild garlic (Allium ursinum), Creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens), Meadow Cranesbill (Geranium pratense), Herb Bennett (Geum urbanum), Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum), Jack-by-the-hedge (Alliaria petiolata), Opposite-leaved golden saxifrage (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium), Common sorrel (Rumex acetosa), Forget-me-not (Myositis sp.), Wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca), Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale agg.), Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata), Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna), Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris), Cuckoo flower (Cardamine pratensis), Cleavers (Sticky Willy) (Galium aparine), Ground ivy (Hedera helix), Common vetch (Victa sativa), Wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides), Bramble (Rubus fruiticosus agg.), Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata).

Trees: Beech (Fagus sylvatica) (above), Oak (Quercus robur), Hazel (Corylus avellana), Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), Ash (Fraxinus excelsior), Willow (Salix sp.), Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), Elder (Sambucus nigra), Wild cherry (Prunus avium), Field maple (Acer campestre).

Birds: Buzzard (Buteo buteo), Blackbird (Turdus merula), Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus), Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula), Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs), Coal tit (Periparus ater), Dunnock (Prunella modularis), Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis), Great tit (Parus major), Green woodpecker (Picus viridis), Greenfinch (Chloris chloris), Robin (Erithacus rubecula), Song thrush (Turdus philomelos), Stock dove (Columba oenas), Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus), Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes).

09 May 2016

Llandaff Cathedral

I go often to Llandaff Cathedral, not because I’m religious but to admire its architecture, soak in its history, explore its fascinating cemetery, and because it’s at the end of a lovely woodland walk alongside the River Taff here in Cardiff. This is a place with something for everyone to enjoy.

The present cathedral sits on one of the oldest Christian sites in Britain, the place where Saint Dyfrig founded a Christian community in the early 6th century and where his successor Saint Teilo built the first church in the mid 6th century. The only remnant of those very early days is an ancient Celtic cross that now stands in the grounds near the Chapter House.

Construction of the present building began in 1120, when the conquering Normans occupied Glamorgan and appointed Urban as their local bishop, though little of that first cathedral remains – an arch behind the present High Altar and the doorway into the Welch Regimental Chapel are thought to be original. The very impressive west front of the present cathedral was built around 1220, and the cathedral was eventually finished around 1280.

During the subsequent 736 years, the building has, not surprisingly, suffered from the human history happening around it: there was significant damage during the 1400 rebellion led by Owain Glyndwr, it was desecrated by Parliamentarian troops during the English Civil War, and Mother Nature has also inflicted her share of damage, during the Great Storm of 1703 and during further traumatic weather events of the early 1720s, when the entire south-west tower collapsed.

Those architectural traumas were repaired using the gifts of the pilgrims who came to pay homage at the Saint Teilo – his tomb still stands in the Sanctuary – but, following Henry VIII’s restructuring of the church in Britain, pilgrimages were forbidden, maintenance on the cathedral could not be sustained and the building fell into a state of ruin.

Restoration work finally commenced in 1734, to the design of John Wood the Elder, an architect from Bath, though his new building, within the ruined outer walls of the existing cathedral, was never completely finished, and the original walls and pillars were left standing. A further phase of restoration took place during the 19th century, under the direction of J. P. Seddon and John Prichard, and much of their building remains today, though the cathedral was also severely damaged during the Cardiff Blitz of January 1941, when an exploding parachute mine blew the roof off the south aisle and the nave.

After the Second World War, the building’s restoration was managed by George Pace who is the man responsible for the enormous reinforced concrete arch that now dominates the cathedral’s interior. It was a bold decision to introduce such a modern element into such an ancient building but it works, primarily, I think, because of the magnificent aluminium statue of Christ in Majesty, the outstanding work by Sir Jacob Epstein that crowns the archway.

The cathedral continues to have its share of catastrophes: in February 2007 the organ was so severely damaged by a lightning strike that parishioners had to fundraise the enormous sum of £1.5 million for a replacement.

Llandaff Cathedral is the sum of its past, a reflection of the incredible range of historic events that have occurred in this part of Wales, a vital place of worship for the local Christian community, a mosaic of architectural styles and heritage, a place for the dead to rest and the living to ruminate.