Archive for January 10, 2017

Collapse at Sophia Gardens

Posted in Cardiff, History with tags , , on January 10, 2017 by telescoper

If the title of this post attracted the attention of cricket fans then I apologize, because it’s not about goings-on at the SWALEC Stadium in Cardiff but at the Sophia Gardens Pavilion which no longer exists (for reasons which will become obvious) but was an entertainment and exhibition venue built in 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations. You can see a (rather hilarious) Pathé News item about a fashion show held there in 1952 here.  It was also the venue in 1958 for the Empire and Commonwealth Games, held between July 18 and 26th, for boxing and wrestling matches. Owing to post-war austerity, the supply of building materials was heavily controlled so it was necessary to adapt a war surplus aeroplane hangar to provide the framework for the Pavilion. The hangar was obtained from Stormy Down aerodrome near Pyle, Bridgend in late 1949. The cost of dismantling and transporting it was £3,400 and rebuilding it in Sophia Gardens was estimated to cost £40,000. The Pavilion when completed seated approximately 2,500 people, and the final cost of construction was £80,000. It was opened officially on Friday 27th April 1951.

I was about to leave the office just now when I was reminded – by Derek The Weather – that at this time of year in 1982 (i.e. 35 years ago) Cardiff was in the grip of exceptionally severe weather. In fact it started snowing heavily on 7th January and carried on for 48 hours without a pause. It snowed so heavily, in fact, that the weight of snow caused the roof of the Sophia Gardens Pavilion to collapse:

cardiff-sophia-gdns

Fortunately no-one was inside. After the roof collapsed the Pavilion was demolished and the land it stood on is now a car park (a little way South of the cricket ground). I don’t know precisely when this event occurred, but it had happened by 13th January 1982. I know this because he collapse of the building led to the cancellation of a concert due to take place there on 13th January 1982 by Black Sabbath, which is apparently a popular beat combo of some sort.

Anyway, it looks like we’re due for some snow in the UK over the next few days although perhaps not in Cardiff and perhaps not heavy as 1982. Strangely, I have no memory of 1982 being a particularly severe winter. I was living in Newcastle at the time, but the weather maps suggest the severe conditions covered most of the country.

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The “Pont” in Pontcanna

Posted in Cardiff, History with tags , on January 10, 2017 by telescoper

Regular readers of this blog (Sid and Doris Bonkers) will know that I currently reside in an area of Cardiff known as Pontcanna, which is part of the administrative district of the city known as Riverside.  Although Pontcanna does have a distinct identity as a community, there’s no precise definition that I can find of exactly where it is. Even Cardiff City Council doesn’t really recognize its existence: all my official mail has  “Riverside” in the address. Although I tell everyone I live in Pontcanna, I don’t have any official evidence that I do!

I’ve also often wondered about the origin of the name, as it definitely suggests a bridge of some sort (Pont is Welsh for bridge, cf  the French) and there are no bridges in the area. The name Canna is generally taken to refer to Saint Canna, whose name  is also associated with Canton, an area of modern Cardiff adjacent to Riverside but until the 19th Century a village in its own right. Since this is a very old name it’s logical to infer that the bridge is no more. However, the thing that always puzzled me is that the area of Pontcanna is actually quite small, and actually not all that close to the River Taff (the main river through Cardiff), which is even further from Canton, so there’s no obvious site for a bridge to have been, even if the bridge itself is long gone.

A chance conversation in a pub the other day however led me to a website that offers a solution to this conundrum., namely that the “Pont” in Pontcanna does not relate to a bridge over the River Taff, but over a small brook that used to run through the area shown on old maps and known (in English)  as the “White House Brook”.  This interpretation also casts doubt on the idea that “Canna” has anything to do with Saint Canna: it is possible that it derives instead from an old Welsh verb meaning “to whiten” although I’m by no means confident in that.

Here, according to my source, is the route of this brook:

cannamap

I’m sorry it’s low resolution, but it’s basically an annotated scan of a historical map. You can compare that with a modern map of the area around my house:

pontcanna

The River Taff can be seen to the upper right of the modern map. The White House Brook ran down what is now Cathedral Road before turning along the route of what is now Pontcanna Street. 

Construction of the  large houses on Cathedral Road, and others on surrounding streets, began around 1896, at a time when Cardiff’s population was expanding rapidly. Prior to that this area was mainly farmland, with a few cottages here and there. It is also part of the River Taff flood plain and was criss-crossed with ditches containing small streams, of which the White House Brook was the largest.

As the area became developed, water from these streams was diverted to form the sewer system for the new buildings and the White House Brook progressively dried up. What little remains of it now runs in a culvert, which eventually empties into the Taff.

The bridge presumably disappeared at the same as the brook went underground around 1896, but the most likely candidate for it is a small bridge that stood near a row of cottages that lay between a small church (at the site of the Presbyterian Chuch on Gileston Road, marked on the modern map) and the end of what is now Teilo Street. These can be seen on this map, which  Bryn Jones directed me to (see comment below):

pontcanna_1886

The “Pont-cana cottages” (sic) were also demolished to make way for the new houses on Cathedral road and new roads either side of it. The best guess for the site of the bridge is close to the junction between Teilo Street and Cathedral Road. Note that in the first  map, Pontcanna is marked to the River Taff side of Cathedral road which is probably where the bridge was situated, very close to the end of my street. I feel more justified than ever in saying that I live in Pontcanna!

P.S. This map also shows another location marked “Pont-cana” to the North, on what are now called Llandaff Fields. I think refers to Pontcanna Farm, presumably named after the bridge. Perhaps the Pontcanna cottages may have been homes for farm workers?

P.P.S. Incidentally, I learned from this site that until 1858, Cathedral Road was only accessible by paying a toll at a booth on Cowbridge Road! Even in the old days, Pontcanna was an exlusive area!