Preswylfa, Clive Road, Cardiff

Preswylfa stood in Clive Road, Canton, on the northern side of its junction with Romilly Road.  It is unclear when the house was built but it was probably quite new in 1861 when the census records its occupants as Robert Rees and his family.  Forty-four year old Rees, a Wesleyan Methodist Minister, was Superintendent of fourteen chapels in the Cardiff District.  The house, then, would have been surrounded mainly by fields and open countryside.  It has been suggested that Preswylfa was built by Lewis Davis, a Rhondda coal-owner – who does seem to have lived there in the late 1860s; this is not inconsistent with the 1861 record since Davis is known to have contributed significantly to Wesleyan funds.

By 1871, the property had been acquired by Charles Thompson, a major partner in the Docks-based Spillers milling business.  Although Preswylfa passed out of the Thompson family after Charles’s death on 1 June 1889, it is pertinent to note that at least three of his sons made significant contributions to the cultural and leisure assets of Cardiff and its environs.  James Pyke Thompson (1846-1897) built the Turner House gallery in Penarth, which later became an outpost of the National Museum of Wales, of which he was also an important benefactor.  Charles Thompson (1852-1938) gifted the gardens now known as Thompson’s Park while Herbert Metford Thompson (1856-1939) served as a city councillor and alderman and, with his brother Charles, was instrumental in enabling the city to buy Llandaff Fields as an open space.  Herbert wrote books on various subjects; ‘An Amateur’s Study of Llandaff Cathedral’ was printed for private circulation in 1924, while his history of Cardiff was published in 1930.  Charles (junior) and Herbert were both created Honorary Freemen of Cardiff, while James Pyke Thompson is commemorated in the name of a gallery at the National Museum in Cathays Park.

Directories of the 1890s list the Scottish ship-owning brothers John (later Sir John) and Marcus Gunn at Preswylfa.  By 1901 though, their place had been taken by John Mullins, a corn merchant, who appears still to have been there in 1908.  At the 1911 census, Henry Thomas Box, a solicitor, lived at Preswylfa with his wife, two sons, and a household of four servants.  Cardiff directories continue to list Box until 1915, after which Preswylfa disappears from available directories until 1924, when the occupant was Henry Woodley, founder of the South Wales butchery business which bore his name.  He remained there until his death on 17 March 1950.


By 1952, Preswylfa had become a public health clinic and it continued to serve various Health Service roles until at least the 1970s.  Mary Traynor drew Preswylfa in October 1996 and it was subsequently demolished.  The site is now occupied by Maes yr Annedd, a development of around thirty modern houses.  Since the Welsh words preswylfa and annedd both translate into English as dwelling or abode, the new name retains a tenuous link with the former house.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

Moving of the Custom House Waterguard, Cardiff Bay

Formed in 1809, the Waterguard was the sea-based arm of UK revenue enforcement.  It fell under Admiralty control until 1822, when it was taken over by the Board of Customs, becoming a division of the Customs and Excise department in 1909.  With the 1972 reorganisation of HM Customs and Excise, the Waterguard name officially ceased to exist.


The crenellated building illustrated here is thought to have been erected at Roath Dock in the 1850s, where it served as the local Customs office.  It was preserved when the area’s regeneration began in the late-20th century.  In 1993, the entire building was jacked up onto a trailer and moved about 100 metres; subsequently it formed the frontage of a new public house, built in 2001 and named The Waterguard.  Mary Traynor’s drawing shows the removal underway.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:



Casablanca Club / Bethel Chapel, Mount Stuart Square, Cardiff


The origins of Bethel date back to 1840 when members of Bethany English Baptist Church, St Mary Street, established a Sunday School in West Bute Street.  A chapel was subsequently erected in James Street and, in 1855 a separate church was formed when fourteen members transferred from Bethany.

Larger premises were soon needed.  The James Street premises were sold and the Marquess of Bute granted a 99 year lease of land at the south west corner of Mount Stuart Square where a new chapel and schoolroom were built.  When the lease expired in 1955, Bethel moved to a former Welsh Congregational Church in nearby Pomeroy Street, eventually closing in 2000 because of falling numbers of mostly elderly members.

Following the church’s re-location, the building in Mount Stuart Square was initially used as a Bingo Hall, before the Casablanca night club was established in the late 1960s.  The club appears to have still been active in 1988, but had closed by 1991.  Following demolition, the site is currently used as a private car park.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

  • Mary Traynor Collection [D1093/2/48]
  • Bethel Baptist Church, Butetown, Cardiff Records, minutes, 1855-65 [D472/1/1]
  • Bethel Baptist Church, Butetown, Cardiff Records, a history of the church by Viv Purchase, Secretary, 2000 [D472/11]
  • Bethany English Baptist Church, Cardiff Records, report on Bethel chapel made to Bethany Baptist church, 1854 [DBAP/15/10/2]
  • Debenham Tewson Solicitors, Cardiff, Bute Estate Collection, lease of land and premises at Mountstuart Square, 1965 [DBDT/73/16]
  • Debenham Tewson Solicitors, Cardiff, Bute Estate Collection, lease of land and premises known as the Casablanca Club, Mount Stuart Square, 1971 [DBDT/73/19]
  • Jenkins, J Austin and James, R Edward, The History of Nonconformity in Cardiff

Cardiff Bay before the Barrage



Until the mid-nineteenth century, the whole of Cardiff’s foreshore comprised sea-washed moors and mudflats through which the Rivers Taff and Ely flowed into the Bristol Channel.  The town quay stood where Westgate Street now runs, but was accessible by sea-going vessels only at high tide.  Cardiff Bay did not exist in anything approaching its present form until the docks were developed in both Cardiff and Penarth.

Even then, for a century and a half, the Bay was tidal, with the river channels passing through large areas of mudflats at low tide.  It was only in 1999, following completion of the Barrage, that the waters of the Taff and Ely were impounded, making Cardiff Bay a fresh water lake.





This suite of drawings by Mary Traynor pre-dates the Barrage.  D1093/2/44 and D1093/2/45 depict scenes in the lower reaches of the Ely River, with St Augustine’s Church, on Penarth Head, clearly visible in the background.



D1093/2/49 is on the eastern side of the Bay, close to the former Roath Basin lock.



D1093/2/47 and D1093/2/46 are more general views, both of which vividly illustrate the low-tide mudflats.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

Demolishing Merton House, Cardiff

For more than two decades, the spiritual needs of seamen visiting Cardiff were met by a former warship, Thisbe, which was moored in the Bute East Dock during the 1860s, and converted by the Bristol Channel Mission.  As the port grew in importance, the need was recognized for larger and more permanent premises and the Marquess of Bute offered a site in Bute Crescent, alongside the West Dock Basin (now Roald Dahl Plass) for erecting a seamen’s church and institute.


Funded mainly by subscriptions from businesses linked to the Docks (most notably, the Marquess himself), and designed by E. W. M. Corbett, plans for the church and institute were approved on 28 August 1890.  Viewed from outside, the building looked very much like any other Victorian church.  Inside, though, the ground floor served a primarily secular role, as the institute and reading room while upstairs was the church, with seating for 454 people.

The seamen’s institute was formally opened on Thursday 19 November 1891 by Lady Lewis, wife of Sir William Thomas Lewis (later Lord Merthyr).  On the following Wednesday, the Bishop of Llandaff dedicated the church to All Souls.

The institute and church continued to serve Cardiff’s seafaring community for well over half a century.  In the 1950s, though, the building was renamed Merton House, and occupied by Treharne & Davies Ltd (now Minton, Treharne & Davies Ltd), analytical chemists who then worked closely with the coal and shipping industries based in Cardiff Docks.  Now operating internationally, Minton’s have retained a link with the former seamen’s institute by transferring the name Merton House to their new head office in Pontprennau.

Mary Traynor’s drawing depicts the building’s demolition in 1990.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

  • Mary Traynor Collection [D1093/2/42]
  • Cardiff Borough, building regulation plans, plan for Church and Seaman’s Institute, Bute Crescent, 1890 [BC/S/1/7802]
  • Carradice, Phil, Thisbe – the Welsh Gospel Ship (online at
  • Western Mail, 20 Aug 1890; 26 Nov 1891
  • Evening Express, 25 Jun
  • Cardiff Times, 21 Nov 1891
  • South Wales Daily News, 14 Sep 1893
  • Various Cardiff directories, 1893-1967

Interior, Association of Artists and Designers in Wales Print Workshop, Collingdon Road, Cardiff

The Association of Artists and Designers in Wales (AADW) was formed in 1974 by six artists from south-east Wales, who sought to create a national organisation to represent artists of all disciplines.  The organisation aimed to promote serious criticism and discussion; to protect and advance standards; to advise and assist members and public bodies and to co-operate with other organisations who were similarly involved; to create more and better opportunities for practice and study; and, more specifically, to establish active branches of the Association throughout Wales.


By 1981 there were eleven AADW branches throughout Wales, with the central office situated in Cardiff.  Some branches had new gallery, studio and workshop buildings for the use of members, and several branches held regular series of talks, discussions and demonstrations throughout the year.

The Association was mainly funded by the Welsh Arts Council, and obtained further revenue from members’ subscriptions and rents from studio buildings.  Additional income was derived from the magazine ‘Link’, published by the Association to provide news, information, criticism, reviews and comment on art and design matters.  The decision-making role was taken by an elected National Executive Committee which, in effect, served as the voice of professional artists in Wales.


Full membership was open to any professional artist in Wales, with other categories of membership for students and for those who were not professional artists, but who nevertheless worked to support the aims of the Association.  By the mid-1980s there were several hundred members but by 1992, internal dissatisfaction with the way the affairs of the Association were being handled, together with under-funding and under-staffing, meant that the Association could not operate viably, and the decision was taken at the final AGM in March 1992 to wind down the AADW and form a new organisation for artists, named the Association of Visual Artists in Wales (AVAW).  However, the AVAW proved less influential than the earlier organisation, and to all extents and purposes it ceased to operate fully after 1994.  That Association was formally dissolved in 1998.


David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer


Sources consulted:

Pumping Station on the site of Ely Mill

It is believed that there was a corn mill in Ely since at least the 12th century.  Located on the banks of the River Ely alongside the footpath known as Birdies Lane, it was served by a weir slightly further up-river.  The censuses of 1851 and 1861 both list Griffith David as the miller; by 1871, the role had been taken over by his son, John David.  However, in March 1875, the David family sought compensation at Glamorgan Assizes for damage from excavations carried out by the Cardiff Water Works Company.  And when David Jones of Wallington sketched the building in 1888, he commented that it was ‘unoccupied and going to ruin’.


In about 1850, the Water Works Company had developed a pumping station adjacent to the mill.  It drew water from the river to supply the growing town of Cardiff, via a holding reservoir at Penhill.  Mary Traynor’s drawing depicts one of the buildings associated with this operation – one source describes it as a coal store with living accommodation above for the station superintendent and his family.

By the early-20th century, Cardiff was served by large reservoirs in the Brecon Beacons, and Ely had become a reserve source.  The pumping station appears to have ceased supplementing Cardiff’s water supply during the 1920s.  A private facility on the same site now supplies water to Aberthaw Power Station.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted: