23 November 2015

Grave matters: 'No way to run a laundry'

In a room above a laundry in Lower Cathedral Road
A lurid story of sex and drugs is ready to unfold.

Shock, horror, scandal – four found in a bed.
Three women are alive but the Chinaman is dead!

Had they smoked opium? Speculation raced!
Is that why the women are so yellow faced?

Three English lasses, brassy and bold,
And a Chinaman from Birmingham, or so we are told.

Western Mail photo, 22 November 1922: ‘The laundry in Lower Cathedral-road’

If they had smoked opium, where is the pipe?
Or is this yet another case of newspaper hype?

Now the story changes: they drank it in their tea.
But where is the opium? That’s the mystery!

Western Mail photo, 22 November 1922: ‘Removing the girl victims from the laundry in the ambulance’

The women have been drugged, of that, there is no doubt.
Now we need to wake them up to get the story out.

“First, take them outside. Lay them on the ground.
Next, strip them naked, walk them all around.

Pummel them, push them. Don’t let them rest.”
Are they up to questioning? That will be the test.

Western Mail, photo: Arthur E. Smith, 23 November 1922: ‘Rosetta Paul and Florence Paul, two of the three girls who were found unconscious at the Chinese Laundry in Lower Cathedral-road, Cardiff.’

Treatment continues; all is touch and go,
And even when they’re better, their brains are very slow.

Doctors and policemen try communication
But the girls can’t – or won’t! – explain the situation.

And what of the Chinaman? Little Yee Sing.
Was he really part of an opium ring?

His friends say “No.” A policeman does too.
“He said he was afraid.” But of what? Of who?

Western Mail photo, 23 November 1922: ‘Yee Sing’

A search reveals four bottles full of Chinese swill
Tests show opium but not enough to kill.

An inquest is held: it shows disease in Yee Sing’s heart.
Was it that or opium that caused him to depart?

Western Mail photos, 28 November 1922: [left] ‘Our photograph shows Chinese and a white girl mourner (on the right) at the graveside.’ [right] ‘The Rev. W. Harris, of Clive-street Baptist Church, conducted the short service at the graveside.’

We will never really know what happened in that room,
Neither how three women were so drugged, nor Yee Sing met his doom.

The Chinaman is buried in the cemetery at Cathays
To lie in peace beneath the trees the rest of his days.

Yee Sing's grave at Cathays Cemetery

21 November 2015

Gather ye waxcaps while ye may

Okay, that’s not really how the 17th-century poem (‘To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time’, by English Cavalier poet Robert Herrick) begins but, when it comes to gathering waxcaps, you really do need to seize the day because

Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same [fungi] that smiles today
To-morrow will be dying.

This blog was supposed to be full of deliciously luscious photographs of waxcap fungi taken somewhere up a hill in the wilds of the Welsh valleys after an outing with my new friends from the Glamorgan Fungi Group. Then Storm Abigail decided to sweep across Britain, with her whistling winds, hail showers and torrential rain. Though some of the dedicated – some might say mad! – followers of fungi still braved the hill, I chose to remain indoors.

Luckily, I have a magnificent and very abundant source of waxcaps much closer to home, at Cathays Cemetery. The fact that its 110-acre grounds have remained largely undisturbed since the cemetery closed to new burials about 35 years ago means the grassy spaces between and around the graves are ideal for waxcaps, as the hygrocybe species are sensitive both to pollution and to agricultural chemicals.

I am still very much a novice when it comes to identifying fungi – if you’ve ever tried it, you will know what a difficult process it can be. Is the fungus slimy or dry? Where is it growing? Is it alone or in a cluster? What is the texture of the cap? How are the gills attached to the stem? What colour are the spores? These are just a few of the myriad questions you must answer. It is at once frustrating, entrancing, infuriating, captivating … and highly addictive!

I think I know the identities of all the waxcaps in these photographs but, just in case I’m wrong, let’s just focus on how beautiful they are and not bother about what they’re called. Enjoy!

For more facts and an identification guide to waxcaps in particular and fungi in general, check out the First Nature website. 

16 November 2015

Going the extra mile … post

Before the days of odometers, satnav, GPS and TomTom, travellers could only measure distances travelled by looking at the numbers marked on signposts along the way. (In fact, the less gadget-obsessed amongst us – like me! – still do.)

Here in Britain, the original mileposts were milestones – actual stones, laid by the Romans to mark every one thousandth double-step, which was their way of calculating distance. The Latin for thousand was mille, hence the word ‘milestone’. Though one thousand Roman double steps equated roughly to 1618 yards, the eventual British standard measurement for a mile was 1760 yards. Maybe the British had longer strides!

According to the Mile Stone Society, there are around 9000 waymarkers still surviving around Britain, though many thousands more have been lost to thieves, collisions with cars, destruction by hedge-cutters, or removal during the Second World War, when the intention was to confuse the Germans if they invaded. The notion of reaching a significant point along the road has, of course, led to our more modern idea of a milestone as an important event or stage in life, progress or development.

Since moving to Cardiff, I’ve been gratified to see that many of the old mileposts still exist and that most are listed structures, so protected from destruction, though some have been moved in the course of road widening and motorway building. Because of their status I’ve managed to locate several posts by searching the British Listed Buildings (BLB) website and have walked many a mile to photograph them. These are they … and more may follow in the future as I continue to roam the roads and trails of my newly adopted country.

We start first near the centre of Cardiff, with one in a series of mileposts that mark points along the route of what is now the A48, a road that was once the principal route between the south-west of England and south Wales (the construction of the Severn Bridge in 1966 changed the course of that link somewhat).

Made of moulded cast iron in a rather ornate style, this milepost has survived remarkably well when you consider it is 180 years old and located near the centre of a busy city.

One mile down the road we come to the second in this series along the western section of the A48. The style is the same as the previous milepost but, as you can see, in that short distance we have moved from Cardiff town to ‘Landaff Parish’ (now known by its Welsh spelling, Llandaff), and further away from London.

Next we cross town, and the River Taff, to find a milepost that now sits adjacent to the Gabalfa interchange on a slip road that gives access to the eastern section of the A48, here called Eastern Avenue. According to the BLB website, this post is ‘shown on the Ordnance Survey [map] of 1880’ and ‘was located at the junction of two important routes out of Cardiff, Merthyr Road and Caerphilly Road.’

What a wonderful find these two stones were at the end of quite a long walk! Though differing in design from the previous mileposts, the newer one (on the left above) almost certainly dates from around the same time, the early 1830s, and was erected when improvements were made to the road that ran from Cardiff through Caerphilly to Merthyr.

The stone – literally, a stone – (shown in close up here to the left) probably dates from the late 1700s and, though I couldn’t read the inscription, it appears to mark the same route as its more modern neighbour. 

The BLB website notes that both stones have been re-sited, as they appeared in a more northerly position on an 1898 OS map.

How marvellous that both have survived.

We return now to Cowbridge Road East, in Canton, as this milepost (in the photograph at right) is located between numbers one and two above. (Don’t be mislead by the street number; they are simply more numerous on this side of the road.) 

This milepost is not one of the A48 series, however. It has been moved from its original position and is one of a series that mark the Cardiff-Llantrisant turnpike. Though it is undated, it was probably erected in the early to mid nineteenth century.

The milepost shown below is the second in the Cardiff-Llantrisant series and is located near the entrance to Llandaff village, the historic ‘city within a city’ as the locals say. The BLB website provides some interesting additional information for this entry:

The turnpike toll-house stood at the junction of the Llantrisant Road with Bridge Road in Llandaff, about 500m north. The toll-house was demolished in the late C19. The milepost was sited in its present position when Cardiff Road was widened at the junction with Western Avenue in 1976.

7) Albany Road, Roath
This last milepost was a bonus find when I was out walking one day, as it isn’t included on the BLB website. Yet, just like several of those above, it is a cast-iron milepost with a flat back, canted faces and top, so probably also dates from the 1830s. It has suffered a little damage over the years, with either a four or a two missing from the mileage shown on the top.

As you can see, the sizes and shapes of these old mileposts vary quite considerably but their functions are the same. And I’m sure that in the days of hot dusty journeys in bum-numbing horse-drawn coaches along bumpy pot-holed roads, both the coachmen and their passengers would have been very glad indeed to see that final post that read ‘Cardiff 1'!