23 February 2020

Penarth : hinges

I’ve been known to admire a hinge or two. In fact, I have a rather impressive collection of photos of hinges, but not just any hinges – these are the ironwork masterpieces found on doors, mostly church doors, but also the doors of elegant public buildings, large manor houses, castles even. I’ve recently been trawling around the public buildings in Penarth – mostly churches, or former churches now converted to apartments – and have found these divine examples of the blacksmiths’ art. 

St Augustine’s Church: These are three of the doors into St Augustine’s Church – there are a couple of others, less imposing. Completed in 1866, St Augustine’s is a Grade I listed building, so you would expect its doors, its hinges to be grand, and they don’t disappoint.

Holy Nativity Church: The front door of this late-nineteenth church is sheltered within a porch, which is not accessible due to a locked full-height gate, so I nabbed this plain hinge from the back door – still interesting.

Plassey Street Gospel Hall: This Plymouth Brethren Chapel was built in the Arts and Crafts style in 1877. Perhaps that’s why the ends of these hinges look floral.

St Joseph’s Catholic Church: The current St Joseph’s, completed in 1915, is not the first of that name in Penarth – a combined school and chapel were completed in 1877, but that earlier building is currently a construction site. The hinges on this later building are magnificent.

Trinity Methodist Church: Several doors give access to the church, though these, perhaps the oldest, are the only ones with nice ironwork. Opened in 1901, this Victorian Gothic church replaced an earlier iron church. Once again, we have superb examples of the blacksmiths' art.

Stanwell Road Baptist Church: The church itself has a very impressive frontage with two large doors, but neither has ironwork hinges. However, around the corner, the church hall does have hinged doors, though the hinges are quite modest.

As has frequently happened since church attendance began to decline, some Penarth churches have been deconsecrated and converted into living accommodation. One is currently in the middle of that process, though only its fa├žade has been retained and it is not currently visible.

Albert Road Methodist Church is still housed in a small area at the back of the former church building but its door is nondescript. The original church’s doors now open into large, exclusive apartments.

19 February 2020

Cardiff : more drinking fountains

Historic drinking fountains are one of my many fascinations and I’ve blogged previously about others I’ve found in Cardiff (October 2016), a couple in Penarth (March 2017), one in a park in Barry (May 2019) and a couple of chance discoveries in London (November 2019). Here are a couple more I’ve found in Cardiff.

Thompson’s Park
The Cardiff Parks website notes that the drinking fountain in Thompson’s Park

was shown on Ordnance Survey maps from 1901 until the 1950s, immediately to the west of the path running west of the miniature lake. It was moved between 1950 and 1980 to its present position, near the Romilly Road entrance, and it is not operational. The inscription states that it was presented by Mr C. Thompson.

I have not been able to discover precisely when this drinking fountain was first commissioned, though the need for such public watering places was recognised in the mid 1850s and Mr Charles Thompson, the man who gifted both this fountain and the park itself to the people of Cardiff, was present at one of the first meetings to discuss the need for drinking fountains. This report on the monthly meeting of the Cardiff Board of Health was filed in The Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian Glamorgan Monmouth and Brecon Gazette, 4 December 1858:

The Mayor said he had received a letter from a gentleman, named Lewis, suggesting water fountains in the town. He brought this subject forward six months ago, but it was then thought to be premature. Mr. R. Williams said, Mr. C. Thompson was very anxious to do something in the matter, and he asked him to second any proposition which the Mayor might bring before the board. The Mayor was of opinion that the Surveyor should recommend the trial of two or three places where fountains might be put up at the expense of the town, private parties supplying the water.
Mr. Batchelor: Mr. Thompson had been in correspondence with Mr. Melby, of Liverpool, and had asked Mr. Paul to produce some designs. That gentleman had produced the two designs which were on the table, and were accompanied by the following:— The material proposed to be used throughout is the very hard and clean limestone from the Pennant quarries near Bristol. The arch above in design No. 1 to be of red and white bricks. In both cases the stone would be inserted in an existing wall, or incorporated with a new wall in course of erection; and the whole would thus be solid and firm, and not liable to displacement by rough usage. Design No. 2 would be applicable only to a thick wall—such as the Castle wall, but design No. 1 could be inserted in a brick wall nine inches only in thickness.
The character of the design is unique, and free from objections, which may be justly taken to a protruding head or spout for the flow of water. In either design it is intended to arrange the drips so that nothing larger than a small can or jug may be used in obtaining water.
The general idea is taken from the accompanying paper published by Mr. Melly on the drinking fountains recently erected in Liverpool and the suggestions there given as to supply and overflow are equally applicable here. The estimated cost of one complete fountain according to design No. 1 is £7 10s. Design No. 2 would cost about £9.
The Mayor moved that the surveyor be requested to name three places as best fitted for the purpose, and then advertise for the tenders, provided the water be supplied. Mr. Reece hoped that the Board would be more liberal than that. He thought that a public body should not only find the fountains but the water. Mr. Batchelor moved that the surveyor report upon the most eligible spots, and the number required for the entire town, and put himself in communication with the Water Works Company, to ascertain the cost per annum at which they will supply the fountains. A very small stream would be required. The motion was carried.

It would appear that the Thompson’s Park drinking fountain was not one of the initial three suggested by the Mayor at that 1858 meeting. Indeed, it may have been another 35 years before it was installed, as I discovered from a report in the South Wales Echo, 10 August 1893

... A letter was read from Mr C. Thompson, Penhill Close, near Llandaff, asking that the water might be laid on to Cae Syr Dafydd [St David’s Field was the original name for Thompson’s Park]. The water would be required for watering the flowers and grass, as well as the supply of a small fountain.— The committee granted the application subject to such restrictions as would be required by the engineer.

Corner of Llandaff and Romilly Roads
I thought the Thompson’s Park fountain was looking a little sad and neglected but that was nothing compared to the remains of another drinking fountain, just along the road, on the corner of Llandaff and Romilly Roads. This fountain is perhaps 25 years older, having been officially inaugurated in April 1877.

Here’s the report from the South Wales Daily News, 17 April 1877

Yesterday the fountain erected at the junction of the Llandaff-road and Romilly-crescent was opened for public use by Alderman Joseph Elliott, Mayor of Cardiff. Among those present were the Rev Mr Saulez, rector of Canton, Mrs Saulez, and other ladies; Mr T. V. Yorath, Mr G. F. Webb, Mr Benjamin Wright, Mr Alex. Melville, Mr G. Salmon, Mr J. A. B. Williams, Mr Geo. Robinson, the architect; and Mr F. S. Lock, the builder. The proceedings commenced by the Rev Mr Saulez offering up an appropriate prayer, followed by the reading of a psalm and the singing of a hymn by the Canton school children. The Mayor, after a few pertinent remarks, declared the fountain opened. Mr G. F. Webb, Mr B. Wright, and Mr A. Melville severally expressed their satisfaction in the event, and the proceedings concluded by a vote of thanks to the Mayor, and a benediction from the Rev J. W. Saulez. The fountain was prettily decorated with flowers.

It’s wonderful to see that this drinking fountain has been preserved from demolition but how much nicer it would be to see it respected and valued as an important part of Cardiff’s heritage.

13 February 2020

Under my feet : walk markers

I’ve been looking down again, and this time I’ve been seeing the markers that are set in city pavements to guide people through various walking routes. I saw the first of these when I was in London last October, which alerted me to keep an eye out for others. I’ve since found two more and I’m sure there will be others in my future.

The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Walk
I spotted this walk marker just outside the boundary fence of Buckingham Palace, one of ‘three palaces and two mansions which figured in the life of the Princess’ (the others being Kensington Palace, St James’s Palace, Clarence House and Spencer House), according to the information about the walk on the Royal Parks website.

The website explains that ‘The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk is a seven-mile-long walk, charted by 90 plaques set in the ground, that takes you within sight of famous buildings and locations associated with the Princess during her life.’ To be honest, the concept doesn’t particularly appeal to me, though I do like the idea that the walk takes you through ‘four of the eight Royal Parks ... St James's Park, Green Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens’ and, if you were a tourist short on time to explore London, the walk is a nice mix of splendid architecture and refreshing green spaces.

The website also explains that ‘The plaques are the work of sculptor Alec Peever. They have a rose emblem at the centre and are etched in aluminium, which appears like a precious metal. The rose is heraldic in design, and while symbolising the Princess's enduring image, also symbolises Britain's traditions and heritage.’

2005 Cardiff Centenary Walk
Despite having pounded many a pavement in my four and a half years in south Wales (especially in Cardiff), I hadn’t noticed any of these walk markers until a few days ago (though I have seen/visited/walked past all the sites on the walk’s route).

The walk, covering an impressive 41 landmarks and sites of historic interest, was established 15 years ago in recognition of Cardiff’s 100 years as a city. 

Despite that long list of places to see, the walk is only 2.2 miles (3.6 kilometres) long, so it’s easily do-able for any visitor to the Welsh capital.

You can download a route map and a guide book from the Outdoor Cardiff website here.

Wales Coastal Path
You would expect the signage for a coastal path walk to be on wooden posts along the route, marking junctions perhaps or pointing the way forward – and it usually is – but, where that coastal path passes through built-up areas, markers can sometimes be found set into the concrete under your feet. Such is the case here in south Wales, in towns and cities like Penarth and Cardiff, where the markers can be found along the promenade and the barrage respectively.

I’ve only walked an infinitesimal part of the 870-mile-long Wales Coastal path and have no ambition to walk all of it, even if I had the time, energy and money – judging by the route through Cardiff, some sections are pretty dire – but the true coastal sections, which make up the majority of this trail, take in some spectacular, breath-taking scenery that rivals anything you might enjoy and experience anywhere in the world. You can see what I mean and check out the full details on the dedicated website here

09 February 2020

Penarth : the old public baths

On a wet and blustery winter’s day, the idea of a swim in the sea doesn’t appeal much but how about a swim in a pool filled with heated sea water? If you had visited the south Wales seaside town of Penarth from the late nineteenth through to the mid-twentieth century, you could have indulged in just such a luxury.

The concept of public swimming baths was much discussed in Penarth in the 1870s, and took its first step to become a reality in October 1881 when the local Board of Health made the decision to proceed. Initial ideas for an open-air pool developed into something much more grand so that, when the Public Baths were opened to the public in 1884, the extensive facilities were housed within the rather magnificent building shown below.

The Western Mail of 21 July 1884 takes up the story:

The new Bath-house at Penarth, which boldly rears its front on the, as yet, unfinished esplanade and commands an uninterrupted view of the sea, forms one of the many works of improvement which have been carried out in that thriving town within the past few years. The history of the structure is worth telling.
About two years and a half ago the agent of the Windsor Estate (Mr. Robert Forrest), who ever since his appointment has manifested a laudable anxiety to make a popular watering-place of Penarth, turned his attention to the task of providing sea-water baths for the town, “dipping” in the open sea being decidedly unpopular in consequence of the roughness of the beach and the muddiness of the water. He began by instructing the Atkin’s Water Softening and Purifying Company to experiment as to the possibility of clearing the Channel water of mud without, at the same time, taking away its saline property. The experiments, which were carried out at the sole expense of Lord Windsor, proved entirely successful.

Sketch, Western Mail, 21 July 1884

About this time the Penarth Local Board, being moved thereto by Mr. T. R. Thompson, one of its members, took the matter up in the interests of the public and resolved to construct a bath. With this object they obtained from Lord Windsor a lease of a piece of land on the corner of Bridgman-road, fronting the beach and running some distance up the hill behind. Designs for a swimming bath 50 feet long were then prepared and the board applied to the Local Government Board for permission to borrow the money necessary to carry out the work. Mr. J. Thornhill Harrison, a Government inspector, was thereupon sent to Penarth to hold an inquiry into the matter. The project was opposed by some of the ratepayers, but the inspector decided to report in its favour, and at the same time to recommend the addition of a second swimming bath.
This recommendation led to a re-consideration of the whole scheme, and the board subsequently instructed Mr. H. C. Harris, A.I.B.A., their surveyor, and Mr. Harry Snell, the architect and surveyor to the Windsor Estate, to prepare a joint design for a first and second class swimming baths – Lord Windsor having generously consented to defray the cost of the former – and a number of slipper baths. From these plans the baths were built by Mr. John Jones, of Arcot-street, Penarth, who has carried out his contract on the most efficient and satisfactory manner. The total cost has been £7,500, the amount paid by Lord Windsor being about £3,000.

The article continues with a description of the exterior of the building, which, unfortunately, now lacks some of its distinguishing features:

The exterior is designed in the Renaissance style, the elevation being decidedly handsome. The structure is composed of blue lias stone, with Bath stone and white brick dressings. From the south-west corner rises a rather imposing octagonal tower, surmounted by a cupola. This tower is in reality nothing more than a glorified chimney stack, for its sole use is to carry away the smoke ascending from the boiler fires. The architects are to be congratulated on the success of their expedient for preserving the ornate appearance of the building, which would have been sadly marred by such an unsightly object as an ordinary chimney stack.
The upper stage of the masonry portion of the tower is enriched by sgraffito work, an effective kind of decoration, of which this is said to be the only example in South Wales. The subject of the design in each of the eight panels is the same – a boy driving a pair of dolphins – but the details are varied in every instance. The sgraffito work was executed by Mr. H. Wormleighton, of Lower Cathedral-road, Cardiff, who also sculpted an elaborate nautical design on the tympanum over the large front window.

Sadly, the boys and dolphins have now disappeared from their panels, though the nautical design on the main front tympanum still exists and is quite splendid. There are also sculptural designs in the tympanums over the side entrance to the building and above two front windows, though these have all been much eroded by the weather in the 125-plus years since they were carved.

Now for the Western Mail’s description of the interior of the building:

After mounting the flight of broad stone steps which leads up to the entrance the visitor finds himself standing in a lobby, and before him a pair of swinging doors with stained-glass panels, made by Messrs. Bell, of College Green, Bristol. Passing through these doors he enters the hall. The ticket-office will then be directly in front of him, while the first-class slipper and swimming baths will be on his right hand and the second-class baths on his left. The roof of this hall and the woodwork of the ticket-office, as well as the partitions and doors of the slipper baths, which stand on either side, are of varnished pitch pine. There are three hot and cold water (or slipper) baths of the first-class, fitted with lavatories and other conveniences, and four of the second class. All these baths are made of Stourbridge ware, and can be kept scrupulously clean without any trouble. The basement underneath the entrance-hall contains the engine and boiler room, the well containing the pumps and a chamber for washing and drying towels. The manager’s residence is on the south side of the building.

Sketch, Western Mail, 21 July 1884

Unfortunately, I have not been inside the building so have no personal photographs to share but there is a delightful series of watercolours by artist Mary Traynor in the collection of Glamorgan Archives, some of which you can view in a blog on their website

The plug was finally pulled on Penarth’s old Public Baths in the 1980s when a modern leisure centre, with swimming pool, was built in neighbouring Cogan. For a few years, the old baths became a pub and restaurant, the nattily named ‘Inn at the Deep End’ but, when that closed, the building fell gradually into disrepair until it was converted into four separate apartments sometime in the early 21st century. Fortunately, many of the original interior features were retained during the conversion, as you can see in the gallery of images that accompanies this WalesOnline article from March 2013.

02 February 2020

Cogan : Water Reservoir

Prior to the rapid increase in trade that came from the opening of the West Bute Dock in 1839 and the construction of the Taff Valley Railway which feed that dock, Cardiff was small enough still to rely on getting its water from wells, springs and the River Taff. However, with the booming trade and ever-increasing population, it soon became clear that something more concrete had to be done about Cardiff’s water supply. 

The Cardiff Waterworks Act of 1850 was a good start but quickly proved inadequate. A second Act in June 1853 improved the local water situation, but it was a further Act, in 1860, that provided for the most extensive programme of works to service Cardiff’s water requirements. And it was that 1860 Act that led to the construction of the service reservoir at Cogan, the ruins of which I passed on my walk today.

As the 1905 article 'The Corporation Waterworks undertaking'* explains,

The scheme propounded by the Act of 1860, included a storeage reservoir and filter beds at Lisvane with a catchment area of 2,200 acres, including the waters of the Llanishen, Nant Mawr, Nant Draw, Nant Felin and Nant Dulas. Intakes were constructed on these streams and the water conveyed therefrom in lines of conduit to the storage reservoir.

The following additional works were constructed, viz:— A low level service reservoir at Cogan, and a high level service reservoir at Llandough, situate 170 feet above the level of Cogan Reservoir, with pumping engines at the latter place for forcing the water up to Llandough Reservoir, from whence it could flow by gravitation to and for the supply of Penarth.

That same article states that, in 1904, the Cogan reservoir had a top water area of 1 rood 32 perches and a capacity of 2 million gallons. That’s a lot of water! And it seems the water was high quality, as I discovered in a news report, entitled ‘The Corporation and the Waterworks’, in the South Wales Echo of 13 August 1881:

When I say that the Corporation held their annual outing in connection with the Cardiff Waterworks on Tuesday, I do not mean to say that they did so solely for their own pleasure, or for their own private profit. The object of the vehicular and processional journey from the Town Hall to the various reservoirs in the Cardiff system of waterworks, was to enable the Councillors to make inquiries at every point, and to taste the water and if they tasted anything else on the road, why that was purely incidental, and nothing to nobody.
I must say that although the weather was fine, and the social qualities of the members of the Corporation from the Mayor downwards, rendered the day exceedingly agreeable, the ratepayers' representatives had a keen eye to business, and the way in which the machinery at the reservoirs was examined, showed that some of them were sound practical men.
It is true that if they looked into the reservoirs for mud or fish, they found none, and it is quite true that the assistant engineer made a perpendicular descent into the Cogan reservoir, to produce a glass of sparkling water. It is quite true that the Mayor tasted this sample and said it was good. It is quite true also several gentlemen were near who boldly affirmed that it would not be improved upon, even if whiskey was added. Well, if opinions were divided in regard to this question that did not matter. The meeting affected a teetotal subject, solely – water.

When I passed the overgrown fence and dilapidated building shown in my photos during today’s walk, I was intrigued to find out more. It turns out that the building is the former caretaker’s cottage and, further down the sloping site, there is another stone building, the disused pump house. I haven’t been able to discover when the reservoir went out of use but the entire site – of just under 2 acres (that includes the empty reservoir) – was put out to tender, for a potential housing development, at an estimated asking price of £500,000, in June 2017. Obviously, no development has yet taken place but I would not be at all surprised if it was still on the cards.  

* 'The Corporation Waterworks undertaking', in Cardiff Records: Volume 5, ed. John Hobson Matthews (Cardiff, 1905), pp. 457-469. British History Online, https://www.british-history.ac.uk/cardiff-records/vol5/pp457-469 [accessed 2 February 2020].