24 July 2016

Llandaff Cathedral: ‘Off with their heads’

Back in May I blogged about the history of LlandaffCathedral but today I want to expand on that blog a little to show you one of its oddities, a row of sculpted heads of the kings and queens of England and Wales that sit like gargoyles along the side of the cathedral.

They are meant to depict all the British monarchs since William the Conqueror, though I don’t seem to have enough images for that (perhaps I missed a few when I was taking the photographs). Many of the heads are easy to identify (the forceful jaw and square face of Henry VIII; Elizabeth I with her trademark ruff; Edward VIII without a crown), but I’m having trouble working out some of them, not least because a couple have been badly affected by weather erosion over the years.

The idea for their design came from John Prichard, who, along with J. P. Seddon, supervised the restoration of Llandaff Cathedral in the 19th century, but the sculptures themselves are the work of various members of the Clarke family, ecclesiastical sculptors in Llandaff for five generations. 

The first of the Clarkes was Edward (1821-78), who set up the masonry business and was actively sculpting from 1835 to 1878. His son William (1853-1923, and active as a mason and sculptor from 1871 to 1915), came next, and was in turn followed by his two sons, Wyndham Jenkins Clarke (c.1881-1943) and Thomas Guy Clarke (1882-1942). The fourth generation to run the business was another William Clarke and the fifth, and current owner, is William Michael Clarke, a civil engineer.

Image from ebay
E. W. Williamson, author of the 1921 book The Story of Llandaff Cathedral, attributes the sculptures to Edward Clarke’s son William, though at least one head – that of Edward VIII – was completed by another member of the family, as this 1937 press photo shows. The caption reads ‘Wynham [stet] J. Clarke, whose father and grandfather executed the other busts of the kings and queens of Great Britain on the exterior of Llandaff Cathedral, puts the finishing touches on that of Edward VIII, the present Duke of Windsor.’

I’m not sure who sculpted the head of Queen Elizabeth II – perhaps it was the second William Clarke. Like her great-great-grandmother Victoria, she does not look amused. I wonder, too, what will happen when they run out of space for the heads of future sovereigns – but that’s a problem for future generations to solve.

17 July 2016

Cardiff: pubs and their signs 1

It’s almost a year since I moved to Cardiff and I haven’t yet written a local pub signs blog – how can that be? There is certainly no shortage of old pubs or wonderful old pub signs, so without further ado, let’s have a cold one!

The Romilly, Canton
The pub sign shows the coat of arms of the Romilly family, their motto ‘Persevere’, and the note at the bottom reads: ‘Arms of Baron Romilly 1866-1905’. 

The Baron was the son of Sir Samuel Romilly, who bought most of the land where the south Wales coastal town of Barry now sits in 1812 and, in 1818, was granted the Manor of Llandaff by the contemporary Earl of Llandaff, Francis James Mathew. That Manor encompassed a large chunk of central Cardiff, including the area where the pub now sits, on Romilly Road.

Samuel’s son Sir John, who had served as Solicitor General and Attorney General of Britain, was created a baron in 1866, hence the date on the sign.

The pub, built in 1898, was initially a coach house. I haven’t been able to find out when it was transformed into a public house.

Black Lion, Llandaff
From Wikimedia Commons
Appropriately enough for a building that sits slap bang in the middle of the Cardiff suburb of Llandaff, this pub also has a connection to Francis James Mathew, who was Earl of Llandaff in the early 19th century. The pub’s name and the black lion shown on the pub’s sign – in heraldry-speak ‘Or, a lion rampant sable’ – are both taken from the Earl’s coat of arms. The image of the coat of arms shown at right is a memorial tablet in Llandaff Cathedral where there are effigies, dating from the 15th and 16th centuries, of three earlier members of the Mathews family. 

Though it looks old, the pub itself is not a listed building and probably only dates from around 1910. It originally had a shop operating next door, which later became an off-licence, before being incorporated into the public house itself. The Black Lion has had several name changes over the years, having been known as the Glamorgan Arms for a short period, and also, in the nineteenth century, when Sir Samuel Romilly was granted the Manor Llandaff (as mentioned above), it was called The Romilly in his honour. When Sir Sam sold the manor in 1852, the pub’s name was changed back to the Black Lion.

Butcher’s Arms, Llandaff
Just up the road from the Black Lion is the Butcher’s Arms. The building only became a pub in 1880. Before that, as you might suspect from the name, it was a butcher shop, with a slaughterhouse out the back. The sign shows the arms of The Worshipful Company of Butchers, one of the ancient trade guilds that was first granted its licence by James I back in 1605. The motto, ‘Omnia subjecisti sub pedibus oves et boves’ is theirs too, and translates as ‘Thou hast put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen’. Many of the mottos of the early guilds were taken from the Bible and this is no exception; it comes from Psalm 8 ‘A Psalm of David’, verses 6 and 7. The Arms of the Company were first granted by the College of Heralds in 1540 and show items representative of the butchery trade.

04 July 2016

Grave matters: Death of a Cardiff “Giantess”

This was the sensational headline on the front page of The Cardiff Times on 13 March 1909:

The ‘giantess’ was obviously a woman of gigantic proportions but she was, in fact, not a giantess – at least not in the commonly accepted definition of a giant as an exceptionally tall person. Mrs J. H. Laubender was just very very fat. In the days when obesity wasn’t as prevalent as it is today, a woman like Mrs Laubender was most unusual, and The Times reporter is almost glowing in his description of her amplitude:

“The Birmingham giantess" was a lady of wonderful proportions, weighing in her prime just over 32 stone. She measured 2 feet 6 inches across the chest, while her waist circumference was close on three yards. Her right arm biceps were 28 inches across, forearm 24 inches, and the calf of the right leg spanned exactly 30 inches.

Such generous measurements meant Mrs Laubender was a novelty, such a novelty that she could earn her living from being a ‘freak’ – and that’s exactly what this ‘giantess’ did.

From wikimedia commons
But let’s backtrack a little.… My tale of Mrs Laubender begins on 15 July 1860 when she was christened at Rowley-Regis in Stafford. Her name was Mary Ann Green and she was the daughter of Emanuel Green and Elizabeth Green, née Bannister, both of whom haled from Brades Village. Nine months later, at the time of the 1861 census, Mary Ann was living with her parents in Bath Row, in Oldbury. Not unexpectedly, given their location in the heart of the Black Country, Emanuel Green was listed as a sheet mill shearer, so would have worked in a local ironworks, cutting sheets of metal to size for various manufacturing processes.

By the time of the 1881 census, the family had both expanded and moved. The Greens were then living at Dudley Port in Tipton, Staffordshire, and Mary Ann, then 21, was the oldest of five children (Joseph aged 15, Harry aged 13, Catherine aged 5, and Samuel aged 4). Also living with the family was 27-year-old Henry Royal, a friend from Birmingham. In fact, he was to become rather more than a friend as he and Mary Ann were married some time between 1881 and 1891, though I haven’t located a marriage record. A daughter, also named Mary Ann, was born in mid 1887.

Mary Ann’s father Emanuel died towards the end of 1887 and her mother remarried at the end of 1889, to John Briggs, a market gardener. The Briggs family, with young Samuel Green, lived in the appropriately named Celery Cottage in Clarborough, in Nottinghamshire.

M0015543 Show Bill, Barnum and Bailey's show.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London

By the time of the 1891 census Mary Ann had joined the circus. It’s impossible to tell whether she was always a large person or whether she simply increased in size as she grew older. In 1891, she is listed as Mary Ann Royal, she is married, aged 40, and her occupation is showwoman. Her husband (Harry Royal, married, 48, showman) and a daughter (Mary Ann Royal, single, 15, showgirl) are also listed. The Royals were living in a caravan at the fair ground in Deptford High Street, in London, with a group of other showground performers, headed by 69-year-old Henrietta Wilson, a showground proprietor and one of a famous fairground family.

The Royals are missing from the 1901 census but it appears Mary Ann’s husband, Henry, died in the final months of 1903, and just two years later Mary Ann was married for a second time, in the register office in Portsmouth, to John Henry Laubender, a 28-year-old bachelor and professional tattooist. Mary Ann was then aged 45, so there was a significant age difference. Perhaps her new husband was also in the circus profession – men and women with extensive tattooing were also considered performers and freaks in those days.

The Laubenders were not married long as Mary Ann passed away on 9 March 1909 in Cardiff, reportedly after suffering a long and painful illness. The funeral of such a noteworthy woman caught the attention of the local press and, through their reports, we can learn a little more about Mary Ann’s ‘giant’ life:

From The Cardiff Times, 13 March 1909, p.1:

The death took place on Tuesday at 3, Caroline-street, Cardiff, of “Madamoiselle Royal," who was known in private life as Mrs J. H. Laubender. The deceased was born in Birmingham about 48 years ago, and for about 14 years was on exhibition as a giantess with the leading showmen in the kingdom, and she had not only travelled throughout Great Britain, but had toured America and visited leading Continental cities.
In 1900-1 the “Birmingham Giantess," as she was professionally known, was one of the most interesting side shows connected with the famous Barnum and Bailey's “Greatest on Earth."
In the course of an interesting testimonial given the giantess when she left the show the manager wrote:-- “There are Stout Ladies and Stout Ladies, but you surpass anything I have shown before in your line. --Signed) Charles Seymour Bailey." …
Some few months ago the giantess took up her residence at Cardiff with her husband, Mr J. H. Laubender, a skilful tattooist, to whose pretty artistic designs the famous “giantess” bore tribute, having been tattooed practically all over the body.

From the Evening Express, 12 March 1909, p.4

Mary Ann Laubender, Evening Express, 12 March 1909
Remarkable Funeral in Cardiff
The funeral of the lady professionally known as "Mademoiselle Royal," described as the biggest woman in the world, weighing upwards of 32 stone, whose death occurred on Tuesday, and whose remarkable career was described in our columns on Wednesday, took place on Thursday afternoon, thousands of townspeople and others witnessing the procession as it left the residence of the deceased, No. 3, Caroline-street, and wended its way to the New Cemetery, where the interment took place. The coffin was of extraordinary dimensions, probably the largest ever seen in Cardiff. It was six and a half feet in length, three feet in breadth, and nearly two feet in depth, and the weight of the coffin and body – which were carried out of the house to the funeral car by fully a dozen employees of Messrs. Bostock and Wombwell and Mr. John Lloyd, who acted as bearers – was nearly 6cwt.

The chief mourners were Mr. J. H. Laubender (husband of the deceased), Mr and Mrs. J. Priest, Mr. J. Lloyd, Mrs Cousins, Mrs Gass, and Mr. and Mrs. Scott, and amongst those who followed the remains to their last resting-place were a number of show-people from Bostock and Wombwell's Circus and other exhibitions in the town. The lid of the coffin was covered with handsome floral wreaths, placed thereon amongst others, by Mr Laubender, Mr. and Mrs Grimple, Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd, Mrs. Cousins. Mrs. Scott, Mrs. and Miss Gass, Mr. and Mrs. J. Priest, and Mrs. Cohen.

The officiating clergyman at the cemetery was the Rev. Gilbert Heaton, M.A., vicar of St. Mary's. To receive the coffin, which was lowered into its last resting-place by means of eight pairs of strong webs, the grave had to be made practically double its usual size. The deceased, who was a native of Birmingham, was about 48 years of age, and was described by Messrs. Barnum and Bailey, of whose great show she was one of the chief attractions for a considerable time, as the stoutest lady they had ever seen.

I have searched the grounds of Cathays Cemetery but, unfortunately, Mary Ann’s grave has no headstone. Let’s hope Cardiff Council will rectify that when they realise what a celebrity they have in their cemetery.