Archive for the History Category

Collapse at Sophia Gardens

Posted in 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:


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.

The “Pont” in Pontcanna

Posted in 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:


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:


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):


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!

The Trumpet Shall Sound

Posted in History with tags , , , , , , , on December 15, 2016 by telescoper

Following on from yesterday’s post about Handel’s Messiah I thought I’d include this very nice performance of The Trumpet Shall Sound, featuring the excellent bass voice of Alastair Miles with Crispian Steele-Perkins playing the solo trumpet part. One of the reasons for posting it – other than the obvious one (that it’s great) – is that I was thinking about it after Tuesday’s  concert.  The trumpet part at the performance I went to was played (superbly) by Dean Wright on a modern (valved) trumpet, but that wasn’t invented until many years after Handel’s time.

The historical development of the trumpet is a fascinating story but the most interesting technical developments actually happened long after Handel wrote Messiah (which was in 1741).  The keyed trumpet – a forerunner of the modern valved variety – wasn’t invented until the late 18th Century. In fact Joseph Haydn wrote his Trumpet Concerto specifically to demonstrate the capabilities of this instrument; that piece wasn’t first performed until 1800. The modern valved trumpet didn’t begin to appear until about 1818. Before that orchestras used the natural trumpet, which has no valves or other means of controlling the flow of air through the instrument and is therefore only really capable of playing harmonics (rather like a bugle).  Other notes can be generated, but only with some difficulty, using the lip. This kind trumpet is the sort of instrument that would have been played in Handel’s time. The so-called baroque trumpet  is actually a 20th century invention created for musicians who want the “period sound” of  a natural trumpet but with the additional flexibility that comes from having “vents” in the tube that can be covered with the fingers. This is the kind of instrument that Crispian Steele-Perkins is playing in the video. It is valveless but has two finger holes which the trumpeter can close and open with the thumb and little finger of the right hand for fine pitch control.



The Great Rewrite: Secularism and Nineteenth-Century Wales

Posted in History, Politics on November 27, 2016 by telescoper

Lengthy but fascinating piece about the rise of secularism in Wales. I’m a member of the National Secular Society, by the way.

History On The Dole

Charles Bradlaugh, Secularist and Republican. Charles Bradlaugh, Secularist and Republican.

When it comes to writing history, there are times when your thoughts no longer chime with anyone else’s. For students that can be quite an unsettling experience, as it remains for professionals, but breaking the bonds of someone else’s authority is a vital step in becoming a historian in one’s own right. Today’s blog is one of those times where I’m going to go out on a limb of my own. As regular readers of historyonthedole will know, there are lots of facets of late-nineteenth/early twentieth century Wales that I’ve been working on which have generally been neglected or glossed over. All of them, in the end, point towards a Wales that was far more complicated than the neat narrative of political and linguistic change tends to allow for. Ever since I first wrote my undergraduate dissertation, I’ve been struck by the clash between the…

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Campaigners pay tribute to Fidel Castro, ‘most iconic post-1945 beard wearer’

Posted in History on November 26, 2016 by telescoper

R.I.P. Fidel Castro. He had his faults, but there’s no denying the cultural significance of his beard..

Kmflett's Blog

Beard Liberation Front

Media Release

26TH November

Keith Flett 07803 167266

Campaigners pay tribute to Fidel Castro, ‘most iconic post-1945 beard wearer’


The Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers, has paid tribute to Fidel Castro, who has died at 90, as the most iconic post-1945 beard wearer.

Castro, like Che Guevara, did not always have facial hair but grew a beard as his politics moved to the left in the 1950s.

Subsequently his beard came to be seen as a symbol, worldwide, of opposition to US foreign policies in the 1960s

A 1975 US Senate Intelligence Committee heard that in the 1960s the CIA believed that if Castro’s beard fell out this would undermine his standing with the Cuban people. Plots were hatched to put thallium salt in Castro’s cigar or his shoes which would have caused his beard hairs to fall out.

The plots were…

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November 18th 1916: The End of the Somme Offensive

Posted in History with tags , , , on November 18, 2016 by telescoper

If you think a lot has happened between this summer and now, it is perhaps worth reflecting on the fact that the Battle of the Somme, which started on July 1st 1916, only came to an end on November 18th 1916, i.e. one hundred years ago today. The last phase of the Somme Offensive was the Battle of the Ancre which lasted from November 13th until November 18th. Though the key objective (of eliminating a German salient) was not met, and casualties were heavy, this battle is considered a qualified success for the British Army, who secured the key position of Beaumont Hamel, though the village itself was almost completely destroyed during the fighting:



The battlefield at Beaumont-Hamel, taken in November 1916

Incidentally, Beaumont-Hamel had seen fighting since the very first day of the Battle of the Somme. On July 1st 1916, 700 men of the Newfoundland Regiment gave their lives there as they went “over the top” and were promptly mown down by machine guns. There is an important memorial to their sacrifice there.

The statistics of the Somme Offensive are truly horrific. In total well over a million men were killed or seriously wounded during the 141 day campaign. By the time it finished the British, French and Commonwealth armies had advanced a maximum of about 6 miles. Most historians describe the outcome as “inconclusive”, largely on the grounds equal numbers of soldiers were slaughtered on each side.  It was a stalemate, but the price paid in blood was appalling.

The carnage didn’t end with the Somme. As the “Great War” stumbled on, battle after battle degenerated into bloody fiasco. Just a year later the Third Battle of Ypres saw another 310,000 dead on the British side as another major assault on the German defences faltered in the mud of Passchendaele. By the end of the War on 11th November 1918, losses on both sides were counted in millions.




A Question of Morality

Posted in History, Politics with tags , , on November 14, 2016 by telescoper

I floated the following hypothetical question on Twitter yesterday and was quite surprised at the response, so I thought I’d repeat it here and see what the reaction is.

Please make your choice before reading my opinion below the line.

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