Archive for Cardiff

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!

Cardiff: City of the Unexpected

Posted in Literature with tags , , on September 18, 2016 by telescoper

It’s been an extraordinary weekend in Cardiff as the city indulged in huge celebrations of the centenary of the birth of writer Roald Dahl, who was born in Llandaff.

I’ve been too busy with other things to see many of the events organised under the banner of City of the Unexpected, but to give you an idea of the scale here’s a shot of the crowds in front of Cardiff Castle watching the James and the Giant Peach episode.


The picture was taken by a member of the South Wales Fire service who were assisting at the event.

This happens also to be the welcome weekend for new students at Cardiff University, and I suspect many were a bit bemused by the goings-on!

It’s also worth mentioning that, as well as being a prolific author of children’s books, Road Dahl was the son of Norwegian immigrants. He was also a fighter pilot in the RAF during World War 2 who served with great distinction in North Africa and Greece, despite being seriously injured when his plane crashed while attempting to land.

Anyway, we’ll done to the organisers of this remarkable event which has put a big smile on the face of this great city.

George’s Marvellous Medicine

Posted in History, Literature with tags , , , on September 13, 2016 by telescoper

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of author Roald Dahl, who was born in Llandaff, Cardiff, on 13th September 1916.  To celebrate this occasion, Cardiff University’s School of Chemistry has tried to recreate some of the phenomena described in one of Dahl’s children’s books, George’s Marvellous Medicine. Enjoy!



Cardiff Boundary Changes

Posted in Politics with tags , , , on September 13, 2016 by telescoper

There’s been a lot of discussion in the news about changes to electoral constituencies in the United Kingdom proposed by the Boundary Commissions for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. These proposals are intended to achieve two goals: (a) to reduce the total number of constituencies (and hence Members of Parliament) from 650 to 600; and (b) to ensure that the resulting constituencies contain roughly the same number of votes (within 5% either way of the mean number).

In a bit more detail: each constituency in the UK should contain roughly the same number of eligible voters, the so-called “electoral quota” which is reached by dividing the total electorate of the UK by the number of required constituencies, except for the Isle of Wight and two Scottish island constituencies. The quota is then 74,769, based on the electoral register as it stood on 1 December 2015.

The purported aim of (a) is to reduce the running cost of Parliament. I’d be more convinced of that if the previous Prime Minister hadn’t appointed no fewer than 260 Members to the House of Lords, at considerably greater expense than the saving incurred by losing 50 MPs from the House of Commons. The intention of (b) is more reasonable, but it does threaten the rationale of the constituency-based system as it creates some larger and less homogeneous constituencies.

The Boundary Commisssion for Wales has proposed that the Welsh MPs be reduced from 40 to 29, which means the loss of some historically important constituencies altogether and a significant rearrangement of many others.  In fact there isn’t a seat in Wales that isn’t changed in some way. Here’s what the proposals mean for Cardiff, with the existing constituencies on the left and the proposed boundaries on the right:


I reside in Cardiff West (marked 12 on the left). You will see that the proposal involves extending this constituency on the western side of the River Taff down towards Cardiff Bay. This splits the former constituency Cardiff South and Penarth (11) into two, the western part (mainly Penarth) being absorbed into a new constituency called Vale of Glamorgan East (20 on the right). The other big change is that Cardiff Central (9 on the left) is eliminated entirely, absorbed by an enlarged Cardiff North (18 on the right, formerly 10 on the left) and a new Cardiff South and East (19) on the right. The net change is the loss of one seat in the City of Cardiff, which is currently held by Labour MP Jo Stevens.

I’m sure there’ll be quite a strong reaction to these changes, not least because they are based on the electoral register as it was on December 1st 2015 because the switch to individual electoral registration meant that 770,000 names dropped off the list before this date. The list also does not reflect those who registered to vote ahead of the EU referendum in June.

Going back to Wales for a moment, I think it’s unfair that while Scotland excluded two island constituencies from the quota formula to reflect their specific character, the same did not happen for Ynys Môn (Anglesey), a constituency which has been around since 1536, but which is now to be enlarged into a new entity called Ynys Môn and Arfon.  I’m sure someone will comment on that!

Anyway, these are proposals and there is now a period of consultation. The final boundaries will not be determined until 2018.


Transitional Arrangements

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on August 17, 2016 by telescoper

I hope you will excuse a short personal message.

I’ve noticed that quite a few people are emailing me at my Sussex address and are getting a message that I have left (which I have).

I am in fact currently on a month’s (unpaid) leave so that I can deal with a number of personal things. After that, from 1st September, I’ll be rejoining the School of Physics and Astronomy at Cardiff University.

My new email and other contact information should be set up shortly. In the meantime I am reading my email at Sussex, but only replying to very urgent messages. I am, after all, on leave.

I hope this clarifies the situation.

Anyway, it seems I picked a good time for for a holiday, as the weather in Cardiff is lovely!

Here for no particular reason is a photograph I took of a heron on the battlements of Cardiff Castle.


Glamorgan versus Yorkshire

Posted in Cricket with tags , , , on August 11, 2016 by telescoper

Following the Natwest T20 Blast between Sussex and Glamorgan a couple of weeks ago, I decided tonight to follow Glamorgan’s progress in the competition in their Quarter-final match in Cardiff against Yorkshire.

The SWALEC Stadium – just down the road from my house – wasn’t quite full for the match, but there was a healthy crowd of about 10,000, including lots of families with kids. Part of the reason for that must be the fact that tickets were cheap: £10 for adults and a fiver for kids. Adult tickets for the match at Hove were £26 each…

Anyway, although it was cloudy and not particularly warm, at least it stayed dry.


Yorkshire won the toss and batted, getting off to an excellent start largely thanks to the positive batting of David Willey. They reached 101 for 1 of just 9 overs, suggesting the  real possibility of a score of over 200. However, they lost wickets in quick succession – including that of top scorer Willey for 79 (off just 38 balls) and their innings stuttered, eventually closing on 180 for 8. That’s a good score, but Glamorgan were probably pleased to have restricted Yorkshire to nine an over.

Having watched Glamorgan’s batsmen struggle against Sussex I wasn’t exactly filled with confidence that they would reach Yorkshire’s total. They got off to a calamitous start, with opener Lloyd playing on to his first ball from Bresnan. From then on they  never looked like coping with the Yorkshire bowling and were eventually bowled out in 13 overs for 90, just half of Yorkshire’s score. And it could have been worse: at one point they were 37 for 6.

Anyway this leaves only four teams in the competition: Durham, Northants, Notts and Yorkshire. All – you will notice – from the Midlands.