Pieces of Llanishen's Past

2012 Society Programme

As the Society’s main website (http://www.llanishenhistory.btck.co.uk/) is currently out of action, we’re posting the current programme of talks on our blog here for interested parties.

Each talk takes place at 7:30pm at Coed Glas School (http://www.coedglasprm.cardiff.sch.uk/), Llanishen. Entrance cost is £1.50 to non-members, or you can become a member of the Society for just £7 a year.

2012 Programme

January 11th – “A Box of Old Photos…and the stories they told” by Margaret and Stan Jenkins and Ann Konsbruck

February 1st – “The History of Bute Park” by Rosie James

February 29th – The Annual General Meeting, followed by “A Celebration of Wales” by Walter Jones

March 14th – “Cardiff Hospitals” by Keith Moger

April 4th – “Nantgarw Pottery” by Gwen Griffiths

 

 
For any further enquiries about the Society, contact us at llanlochist@btinternet.com

An Apology

This is just a short post to apologise for not having updated this blog for so long and for those who have left comments – they have been passed onto the society. This long silence is due to the joys of marriage and house moving hitting the webmaster simultaneously.

More articles will be forthcoming, we have lots to share. Thanks to those who have read and enjoyed this, we’ll have more soon.

Finally, the society’s current website has been down since mid-2011 but we will have it running with the current programme and news as soon as possible.

We are asking you for help this month. Some recent visitors to Llanishen asked if we had any information about what they described as a hotel in the village called Stuart House where their relatives “had stayed during the war years to escape from the bombings in London”.

A little ferreting among our archives came up with some information but we are looking for more.

Stuart House was located on the present Everest Avenue, where a block of flats now stands, close to the entrance to Christ the King School. The rather fuzzy photograph below shows the narrow lane which led from Station Road up to Mill Farm before the construction of Everest Avenue in the 1950s.  The remains of the stone wall and gate of Stuart House can just be seen on the left and Station Road appears in the background. To the right of the tree was Norfolk House, then a private school, which is now Cartref.

The first occupant of Stuart House was a Mr Cory, a corn and hay merchant, who lived there at the beginning of the twentieth century. But although we have searched various directories and censuses we can find no official record of its existence. Is it feasible that, being a small isolated house situated off a narrow lane, it was missed by officialdom?  We have also failed to trace who lived there after Mr Cory. It is possible that he was there until the 1930s but we can’t be sure.

But we do know who was there later. They were Mr and Mrs Wall. Their daughter Gwen and her husband, Mr Wood,  kept a grocer’s shop on Fidlas Road, where the Old Joinery now stands, but on the death of Mr Wood all three moved to Stuart House where they ran a small guest house. By one of those fortunate coincidences which happen when you are undertaking historical research and think you have come to a dead end we had a stroke of luck. One of our members unearthed a ‘Coronation Cookery Book’ produced by Park End Presbyterian Church in October 1936 and there, among the recipes, was an advertisement for Stuart House!

Mrs Ward was a loyal member of the Church so it is no surprise that she supported the venture by advertising in the book. The advert suggests quite a substantial building since parties could be catered for and it was also a place where people could drop in for refreshment on their way to and from the nearby station. But that is the only real confirmation we have of the existence of Stuart House.

Advertisement for Stuart House

Someone who remembers the building describes it as a typical farmhouse, very old, but with what was for its time a modern extension, which was presumably what the owners used to take in their paying guests. It had a large garden area where children used to go to see the ‘gleenies’ (guinea-fowl) which roamed freely, but after the deaths of Mr and Mrs Wall it fell into disrepair and stayed empty for several years. But it remained a source of great fun for local children who loved playing in it and pretending it was haunted.

There is still much to learn about Stuart House. Why does it not appear on any official documentation? There is a mystery about the place; and the biggest mystery is – where did the name come from?

So, if you know the answer or can add to this rather sparse information we would love to hear from you.

 

The building of the Rhymney Railway in 1871 involved the construction of the Caerphilly tunnel, at over a mile and a half long, a remarkable feat of engineering.

On Friday March 8th the following year a collision took place in the tunnel which was significant enough for it to be reported in the national press. The two contrasting ways of reporting the same incident remind us of the different journalistic styles with which we are familiar today.

The London-based Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper restricted itself to the facts and described the incident in this way: “The nine o’clock passenger train from Cardiff on Friday morning, while passing through the Caerphilly tunnel, which is upwards of a mile long, and is situated on the Rhymney railway, between Rhymney and Cardiff, hit a mineral train. The force of the collision overthrew two of the mineral trucks, which blocked  up the down line. Immediately afterwards another mineral train came up, and dashed into the overturned trucks. A scene of frightful excitement ensued, which was aggravated by the darkness. The shrieking of the engines, one of which was upset, and the shouts and cries of the passengers, were terrible. One engine-driver was injured, but with that exception the officials state no one was seriously hurt. The line was blocked for half the day, during which period the traffic was totally suspended. The Rhymney railway, by means of a short loop line, joins the London and North Western, and affords direct access between South Wales and the North of England.”

The following day a report appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette, a newspaper which tended to dramatise and sensationalise new stories. Relying heavily on quotations from the earlier account, it embellished the story, resorting to flowery language and a warped sense of humour which we would today regard as highly inappropriate, treating somewhat lightly what could have been a disaster of major proportions:

“One of the most popular attractions of the old transpontine melodrama was the “terrific combat of three”, a deadly encounter carried on in a triangle, the apex of which was formed generally by the “British tar succouring female virtue in distress”, while the first and second villains occupied respectively the angles at the base. The latest “novelty” of the railway companies is apparently founded on a similar numerical principle, with the addition of this further element of interest, that the scene of the encounter has been transferred to the subterranean regions. The “terrific combat of three” to which we refer took place in the Caerphilly tunnel, which is situated on the Rhymney Railway, between Rhymney and Cardiff, and the combatants consisted of a “mineral” train travelling over the up line of the Rhymney Railway, another mineral train travelling over the down line on the same railway, and the nine o’clock up passenger train from Cardiff. The latter, while passing through the Caerphilly tunnel, caught up with the mineral train, ran into it, and knocked over two of its trucks on to the down line. Immediately afterwards the down mineral train arrived and dashed into the overturned trucks. A scene of frightful excitement ensued, which was aggravated by the darkness. The shrieking of the engines, one of which was upset, and the shouts and cries of the passengers were terrible. One engine-driver was injured, but with that exception the officials state no one was seriously hurt. The scene must have been a highly effective one, and fully equal to the best “sensations” of modern melodrama. The passengers’ dissatisfaction with it, which would seem to be indicated by their “shouts and cries”, was no doubt due to a feeling that they were unfavourably placed for witnessing the spectacle. Perhaps this defect in the arrangements might be remedied in future by giving the occupants of trains an “invitation to alight” and select for themselves a position from which to observe these magnificent encounters.”

 

There is only one fact definitely known of him: he would never have heard of the name Isan. His name was Isien (pronounced “eeshen”).  The rest is conjecture. So what can we surmise of this patron of Llanisien and Llysfaen?

He was probably a monk, either a priest or lay brother, based at Llandaf or more probably at St. Illtud’s European famous monastery at Llanilltud Fawr (Llantwit Major). Was he the monk, Yssen, who sat beside the dying Illtud in 500AD? Legend tells us that Isien lived at the end of the fifth and early sixth centuries dying possibly in 527 or 537. His feast day is 9th October.

Where was his first chapel in this area? Typically, early Celtic chapels lay on the lower edge of a mountain ridge close to running water. The present church’s location is a standard example, and it’s also on a possible route from western Gwent to the lowest ford of the Taf at Llandaf. However, Isien is also associated with Llandennis (The Oval) where there is an abundance of running water in a marshy area, a still active holy well and another possible east-west route to the ford of Llandaf. Well do I remember my parents encouraging my brothers and me to bathe our eyes and faces in the spring renowned for healing eye and skin diseases. We frequently took kettle-loads of water for family use. In fact I regularly stopped to drink the deliciously fresh, cool water until recent years.

And what about that prominent mound north-west of the well? Is it really hiding the remains of an ancient church or just a clump of agricultural waste? One thing is certain – it makes a great ramp for teenage cyclists! In the 1890s the new road linking the recently built lake with Fid Las deliberately skirted the well after much public agitation.

So which came first; the present site or Llandennis? How did Isien become associated with the Latin name Dionysius, and the Norman French Dennis? Did the Normans change his name? Or was it Bishop Bledri of Llandaf who encouraged Latin in his diocese a century before the conquest and so called him Dionysius? Much more likely it was Isien himself. Pilgrimages to Rome were very common at this time. Welsh, and especially Irish,  monks voyaged from Llanilltud Fawr to Padstow in north Cornwall, thence down the Camel and Fowey valleys and on to Brittany. Legend says Isien Latinised his name in Rome. Many other local monks did the same. Eirwg became Melonius: both his names survive in Cardiff East. (St Mellons and Llaneirwg).

There are other mysteries too. Why did Llandennis and the church at Lisvane have the Latin Norman name but the village and church in Llanishen the Welsh name? Why was the church dedication Anglicised in a predominantly Welsh speaking area?

So who was Isien? Undoubtedly he was a humble monk most of whose life was spent praying and working in his monastery. On a regular basis he visited our area to preach and, if he was priest, to offer Mass in a wooden chapel long since vanished.

 

We cannot let the centenary of the foundation of the Girl Guides pass without some mention of the early activities of the movement in Llanishen.

Glamorgan Archives holds three bound volumes containing Llanishen Guides Gazette from November 1916 to July 1918 which gives a delightful picture of the guides and brownies in the parish at the start of the century.

In her introduction to the first issue the Captain, Dorothy P Lewis, of Elsinore, Lisvane Road, writes:

“This is a new venture, this magazine of ours, and I want it to be a great success. If it is to be one, each one of you must help and not leave a few leading spirits to write the articles and stories. We have made a rule that only the Girl Guides are to read it and so you need not be afraid of “grown up” criticism. Try, all of you, to put your thoughts and ideas down on paper, and you will be surprised what splendid articles, stories and poetry you will write”.

She is writing two years after the outbreak of war and reminds her readers that they have an important part to play “ in these dark days when the fate of nations hangs in the balance”.

“From among our immediate circle many have gone to be nurses, munition workers, or are taking the place of men in office and shop. We are proud of them, and would gladly follow their example, but to many of us this is not possible. But there is work for all and though perhaps there is more glory attached to nursing and munition making, the smaller service you can all do is just as valuable if done thoroughly and with a willing heart. So go on with your waste paper collecting, your knitting, your vegetable growing and in all your work remember Guide Law No. 8 ‘A guide smiles and sings under all circumstances for work done cheerfully is twice as acceptable as work done with a long face.’ Throw yourselves heart and soul into whatever you are doing, whether it be learning to tie a reef knot or filling a sack with paper, ironing a petticoat or training a recruit. Give of your best, for we want the best only, and 1st Llanishen Company will have no place for half-hearted girls this year”.

There was still time for fun and in July 1917 a tea party for the Brownies was held at The Hollies on Station Road which was enjoyed by all, as this report shows: “This tea was a lovely one, and we enjoyed it awfully. We had a lovely tea and when we had all finished, we had our photo taken …Then we had some very jolly games. First we had Nuts and May, then Oranges, then Rebeckah where art thou?, then Twos and Threes, then English and French, which really ought to be English and German, because of the war. We had beautiful weather and the sun shone brightly all the time, and it was beautifully hot as there was not much breeze, and all was quiet and still. We were very lucky to have so many Saturdays fine. The Brownies are very grateful to their kind host and hostess Mr. and Mrs. Botsford, and three cheers were given for them and their kindness”.

The photograph shows Officers and Patrol Leaders with their colours in 1917.

The magazines give a fascinating picture of the lives of the young people during the war, with the emphasis of their articles and drawings on nature and country life, some of them exquisitely done, as the water colours of butterflies  by Miss Bots ford show, all of which reminds us how rural Llanishen was a hundred years ago.

But war was never far from their minds as this poem by their Captain reminds them:

“I cannot draw, I cannot paint,

I cannot sing or play;

But I can help in growing food,

And keep the Hun away.”

 

In this 70th anniversary year of the Battle of Britain, the RAF’s Memorial Flight will be extremely busy. Those of you lucky enough to see them might spot the iconic Avro Lancaster bomber as part of the group of aircraft. This majestic plane, of which there are now so few left, was the airborne fist of the Royal Air Force, taking part in the major missions during the bomber offensives.

We knew that Llanishen already had some members of Bomber Command, but a chance letter written to us alerted us to another Llanishen member of this elite force. Sergeant Donald Edward Croft, who lived in Wyndham Terrace, was a Sergeant/Air Gunner in 97 Squadron, Royal Air Force. He was one the unfortunate “tail-end charlies” who had to operate the four .303-inch Browning machine guns in the Lancaster’s rear turret. 97 Squadron was part of Bomber Command and during Sergeant Croft’s time was part of its elite “pathfinder” force.

A Lancaster of 97 Squadron being "bombed up" at the Squadron's base at RAF Bourn in Cambridgeshire in the summer of 1943

Sergeant Croft’s first operation was a raid over the town of Krefeld in the Ruhr region. On this first raid he flew with the crew that would, for the most part, stay together until they met their fate a little over a month later. The pilot of Sergeant Croft’s aircraft was Pilot Officer Clifford Shnier, a Canadian attached to the Royal Air Force. For most of Sergeant Croft’s missions the navigator was Flight Sergeant F.S. Pratt. He disappears rather mysteriously from the Flight Ops books in July – possibly he’d been transferred or become “flak happy”. There is no mention of him being wounded in action but that is also a possibility. His replacement was Flying Officer Geoffrey Homersham. The crew’s wireless operator on all missions was Sergeant Peter Evans, a Coventry man; their bomb aimer was Flying Officer Paul De Villiers from Rhodesia; their flight engineer was Sergeant Alfred Gibbons from Bilston in Staffordshire, and their mid-upper gunner was Pilot Officer Benjamin Knoesen, another Rhodesian.

Between June 21st and July 30th 1943, this crew flew a total of nine missions, mainly over industrial towns like Krefeld and Gelsenkirchen. However, they also undertook one extraordinary mission on the night of 12th/13th July to attack the Italian town of Turin, presumably to increase the shock effect of the recent Allied invasion of Sicily. Their final missions took place between the 24th and 30th July when 97 Squadron took part in Operation Gomorrah. This was the infamous five-night bombing of Hamburg which razed the city to the ground and created horrendous firestorms that incinerated the populace. The wrecked city would have been one of the last things that Sergeant Croft and his crew saw as they took part in one of the final raids on the night of 30th/31st July. During their run, their Lancaster was attacked by a German night-fighter and crashed several miles outside the city, killing the entire crew.

Sergeant Croft and his crew now rest peacefully at Becklingen War Cemetery in Germany, overlooking Luneburg Heath where peace finally came to Europe, a peace which they fought and died for.

 

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