Rookwood: Meet the Family – ‘A Fashionable Wedding at Llandaff’, October 1897

From the records at Glamorgan Archives we know that the owners of Rookwood in Llandaff put the house and estate up for sale in 1917. But who were the owners and why did they decide to leave Cardiff? Light is thrown on both questions by records held at Glamorgan Archives, including a set of family scrapbooks compiled by the Hill family over almost a 40 year period (ref. D1372).

What better opportunity to meet the owners of Rookwood than at the first major wedding held at the house when Constance Hill, the second daughter of Sir Edward Stock Hill, married Walter Robertson Hoare. The Hill family scrapbook captures the event in a series of photographs and newspaper reports for October 1897.

The Father of the Bride


Sir Edward Stock Hill

At the time Sir Edward Stock Hill, the owner of Rookwood, was one of the best known figures in south Wales and the west of England. A partner, with his brother, in Charles Hill and Sons, shipbuilders and ship owners of Bristol, Edward had come to Cardiff to supervise the acquisition and improvement of a graving dock and shipbuilding yard on the west side of the east Bute Docks. He built Rookwood in 1866, the year that he married Fanny Ellen Tickle. Although they kept an estate in Somerset, Edward, Fanny and their 7 children lived primarily at Rookwood. In 1897 Sir Edward had numerous strings to his bow. Alongside a successful business career he was the Member of Parliament for Bristol South, Lieutenant Colonel of the Glamorgan Artillery Volunteer Corps and High Sheriff of Glamorgan.

Constance was the first of his three daughters to marry and it was a lavish affair. The ceremony took place on Thursday 28 October 1897, but the festivities started two days before when the family threw open the house and grounds of Rookwood to the people of Llandaff for a grand tea party hosted in the conservatory. The following night a party of 50 family and friends dined and were entertained by the Hills at the house. It is just possible that the ten servants employed in the house at Rookwood were able to cope with the arrangements for the tea party and dinner. However, the staffing must have been significantly augmented on the day of the wedding when two hundred and fifty guests were invited to the service at Llandaff Cathedral and the reception that followed at Rookwood.

The Guest List

Pride of place on the guest list was given to Lord Halsbury, the Lord Chancellor and his wife. The list of those attending read like an A to Z of who’s who in south Wales with family names such as Bruce, Cory, Brain, Crawshay, Insole, Lindsay, Mackintosh, Vachell, Windsor and Turbervill. Although they did not attend on the day the powerful and influential Bute family sent presents.

The Bride


The Hill siblings

Constance was no shy retiring young woman when she married at the age of 29. She played an active role alongside her parents in local politics, building up the membership of the Primrose League in Cardiff, an offshoot of the Conservative Party. In addition, she was a key figure and organiser in south Wales for several major charities and, in particular, the NSPCC. She had also travelled widely both in Europe and north Africa and had been presented to Queen Victoria at Court.

Like her sisters, Constance was a talented musician and an actress. Newspapers carried reviews of her performances in amateur productions in theatres in England and Ireland. Her father and four brothers were well known cricketers. Not to be outdone, Constance, who was talented with bat and ball, had captained both the Fairwater and Glamorganshire ladies cricket teams, on one occasion top scoring for the county with 56 runs in a match against East Gloucestershire.

The Dress


The bride and her bridesmaids

On the day, however, we see her in more traditional attire. The newspapers described the bride’s dress as:

White satin with long brocaded train. Down one side of the skirt and across the front was draped a handsome flounce of Honiton lace (the gift of the bride’s mother) some more of which formed a fichu on the bodice, edging the pouched front of chiffon.

There were 12 bridesmaids, including Constance’s sisters Mabel and Gladys. The bridesmaids wore:

white striped silk, Eton blue sashes and chiffon fichus held in place by pink heath and carnations and wore blue enamel and pearl hearts, the gift of the bridegroom.

The Mother of the Bride

Lady Hill was the daughter of Lieutenant General Richard Tickell. Like her husband she was a well-known figure in Cardiff, frequently in the news for her work with local charities and the Primrose League. As the mother of the bride she was out to shine and the newspapers reported that she wore:

…a handsome gown of pale mauve brocade with white moire stripes. The bodice was trimmed with straps of mauve velvet and cream lace fell in soft cascades on either side of the embroidered moire full fronted. The bonnet was of mauve velvet and orchids and had a pale heliotrope poplin osprey in front.

The Service in Llandaff Cathedral

The best man and Constance’s brothers, Eustace, Vernon, Roderick and Percy, were fully employed in directing the guests to their places in the cathedral. Nothing had been left to chance. In case of rain covered arcades had been erected from the road to the church doorway, each decorated with evergreens and white flowers. The bride and her father arrived at the west door of the cathedral ‘punctually’ at half past two and processed down the main aisle on a crimson carpet laid for the occasion. The service was conducted by the Lord Bishop of Llandaff supported by the Rev Arthur Hoare, the bridegroom’s father. It would have been an impressive sight, with the cathedral decorated with lilies of the valley, white heather, ferns and palms. In addition, a large section of the cathedral had been set aside for the public and every seat and standing space had been taken an hour before the ceremony, while hundreds of well-wishers stood outside at the west door.

The Newlyweds drive back to Rookwood in an open carriage


Triumphal arch

As Constance and Walter drove back to Rookwood the streets from the cathedral were decorated with flags and bunting. At intervals along the route, ‘triumphal arches’ had been erected across the road, each woven with evergreens and flowers and dressed with streamers. Each arch carried a motto, including ‘Happy May They Be’ and ‘God Bless You Both’. To add to the effect and, as befitted a military family, cannon were fired at intervals, no doubt by the Glamorgan Artillery Volunteer Corps.

The Reception at Rookwood

The couple entered Rookwood estate through an arch erected at the gate house on Fairwater Road embroidered with two hearts with the initials C and W. Their first duty was to receive their guests and for this the couple stood in the Drawing Room under an artificial floral bell, emblematic of luck, and composed of white chrysanthemums and lined with white silk. There are no records of the fare served that day but Rookwood was well known for holding lavish garden and dinner parties. There are details, however, of the wedding cake. It was made by a Messrs Stevens of the Dorothy, Cardiff and was similar to a cake that the company had provided for her Highness Princess Henry of Pless.


Sketch of the wedding cake

A sketch in the Western Mail confirmed that it was an ornate affair decorated with natural flowers and with panels representing Llandaff Cathedral and Sir Edward’s estates at Rookwood and Hazel Manor. There is little doubt that nothing was spared in catering for the guests at Rookwood on the wedding day.


The wedding guests

There is a photograph of many of those attending standing carefully posed by the doorway to the house. It features around 100 people and may, therefore, have been limited to family and honoured guests. Sir Edward Stock Hill is seated next to the groom and his wife is four seats to the right of the groom. Lord and Lady Halsbury, as might be expected, are in the foreground seated between Sir Edward and Lady Hill. Although the gowns worn by the women were reported in detail in the press, little was said about the men. From the photograph we can see that long frock coats were very much the order of the day for men at affairs such as this.

The Honeymoon

The reception was probably over far too soon for many, with Walter and Constance Hoare leaving Rookwood at 4.30 to catch the evening express from Cardiff to Cornwall. By now Constance had changed and was reported as wearing a green cloth skirt, Russian blouse, pink and green broche and green velvet toque trimmed with pink velvet.

The Wedding Presents

As was the custom at the time the newspapers carried a full list of the wedding presents. Pride of place probably went to the diamond necklace and gold watch given by Sir Edward and Lady Hill to the bride and groom. It is a fascinating list that contains many items unlikely to figure on wedding lists these days, including a letter weighing machine, an embroidered blotter and two sets of muffineers. Let’s hope that the couple were keen ornithologists for they received three sets of books on the Birds of Britain. Finally, no one was excused from the list and it was reported that the servants of Rookwood had presented the couple with a silver salver and toast rack.

What happened next?

Now we know a little bit more about the Hills, the family that built and lived at Rookwood. However, the scrapbooks tell us so much more! To be continued…

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

This is one of a series of articles about events at Rookwood from when it was built in 1866 through to modern times drawing on records held at Glamorgan Archives. The scrapbooks compiled by the Hill family of Rookwood can be found at the Glamorgan Archives, reference number D1372.

‘A most charming and unique property’: Rookwood through the keyhole, July 1917

Rookwood Hospital in Llandaff is well known to residents of Cardiff and in 2018 it celebrates 100 years since the property was first used as a hospital. Less is known, however, about the house as a grand and opulent family home prior to its conversion to a hospital. Several sets of records at Glamorgan Archives help to fill in the gaps prior to 1918 and provide an insight into the house and the family that built and lived at Rookwood from 1866.


The records of Stephenson and Alexander, Auctioneers and Chartered Surveyors of High Street, Cardiff provide a useful starting point in looking at the history of Rookwood. They include papers that provide a fascinating glimpse into what would have been one of the grand houses of Cardiff at the turn of the 19th century. In 1917 Rookwood, then still a family home, was put up for sale. Stephenson and Alexander were charged with handling the sale and they produced a prospectus for potential buyers with full details of the house and the estate along with a number of photographs. The records also contain background information, not used in the brochure, with additional photographs and details of key items of furniture. In all, the material compiled by Stephenson and Alexander helps to paint a detailed picture of the house in the summer of 1917.

From the outset it is clear that Rookwood, although only two miles from the centre of Cardiff, was a substantial house and estate. As might be expected the auctioneers went to great lengths to underline its desirability:

The property is an exceptional one in any other respects. It is situated close to, in fact almost adjoining the City of Cardiff, and yet in such a secluded and beautifully sheltered position, that once within its precincts it is difficult to realise that an industrial City is only a few miles distant.

The magnificent views obtainable over the whole of Llanishen, Lisvane and surrounding districts are particularly beautiful. The mildness of the climate at Llandaff is apparent by the extraordinary luxuriant growth of all kinds of flowering shrubs – including Camellias which bloom luxuriantly and regularly out of doors – Rhododendrons, Azaleas and the like, and also the collection of Japanese Maples, which is considered to be one of the finest in the Kingdom.

Set in 26 acres of land, the estate occupied an area between Fairwater and Llantrisant Roads. By 1917 much of the outer rim of the estate had been turned over to pasture but, at the centre of the estate, there was still 9 acres of woodland and gardens.

The Gardens and Grounds are singularly attractive and have for many years been prominent on account of the generous manner in which the owners have on many occasions thrown them open to the public, and numerous exhibits and the number of prizes won for fruit and vegetables at the local Flower Shows. The delightful walled Gardens, with the broad herbaceous borders, the Rookery, the Rose Gardens and Woodland Walks, small items in themselves when added to the many other attractions, make this Property a particularly desirable one from a residential points of view.


The house, however, was the jewel in the crown. It was one of the better examples of the grand mansions erected by families that had prospered from the economic boom in South Wales in the latter half of the 19th century:

Rookwood was built in the year 1866 and is of the early 13th century English Gothic design. It was considerably added to in the year 1881 by Mr John Prichard well-known as the Architect employed in the restoration of Llandaff Cathedral and the erection of many important Gothic Houses in the locality. The North Lodge was designed by him and is a very fine example of half timber work, built regardless of cost and also the very beautiful Porte Cochere which is one of the features of the residence.

The internal decorations and painted ceilings were carried out under the direction of Mr J D Crace FSA, the renowned artist and designer of the great staircase in the National Gallery and other important building in London; this internal painting has never been touched since its completion, is still in perfect order and represents some of the finest of its kind.

The Camelia House built entirely of Teak with panels of mosaic forms a most handsome addition to the House. There is an interesting Summer House overlooking the lawns that was brought from the outskirts of Cardiff, and appears in an old view of the City dating from the eighteenth Century.


Having set the scene we are then provided with a room by room tour of the house and estate buildings. The estate could be approached by carriage drives from either Fairwater or Llantrisant Roads with, in each case, a substantial ‘artistic lodge’ built at the entrance to the estate. On arrival guests would have drawn up outside the imposing arched entrance to the south front of the house provided by a Port Cochere that can be seen in the first of the photographs in the folder. The front of the house with its turret and stone bay windows was designed to impress and almost certainly hit its mark with visitors.

The Mansion House which is built of Radyr stone with Bath stone facings and red tile roof, stands in a beautiful sheltered and mild position clad with well-grown specimens of Magnolia, Wisteria and Myrtle.

Photographs of the entrance hall with its teak doors and the drawing room provide an invaluable record of how the interior of the house would have looked in 1917.


It was no coincidence that the entrance hall had its own fireplace. For some that may be as far as they were allowed to venture but, even then, with its painted walls and ceiling there was no mistaking that you were in grand house. There were some 35 pegs on the teak cloak stand and they would have been fully used given that the owners frequently threw large garden parties and evening musical soirees.

For those invited past the threshold, the drawing room, with its heavily patterned wall paper and carpet, was the focal point of the house. It was a room to be admired and also a room that had to passed through in accessing many other areas of the house.

BEAUTIFUL DRAWING ROOM (38’ X 17’ 6”) with two large double bay windows, oak parquet floor, teak mantel piece and over mantelpiece, beamed and painted ceiling, with door leading to Dining Room and large sliding doors leading to the heated Conservatory….


From the photographs in the prospectus we can see that, in accordance with the style of the day, the Drawing Room had an array of ornamentation including ceramics above the highly decorated fireplace, with an iron and brass grate, along with photographs and paintings on the wall. Interestingly, just to the left of the fireplace there is a frame with 9 portrait style photographs almost certainly of the owners and their seven children. But more of the family later.

The background notes compiled by the auctioneers confirm that all of the rooms had electricity and the drawing room was lit by a highly ornate Venetian glass chandelier, referred to an ‘Electolier’.


Purchased at the famous glass makers, Salviati of Venice, it would have provided an imposing centrepiece to the room alongside the brass mirrors on the walls and the marble figure of ‘Clytie’, a water nymph from Greek mythology. In addition, one of the two Broadwood pianos owned by the family, probably the grand piano, would have been in this room. The owners were a musical family and the drawing room would have been used frequently for evening entertainment with both family and professional performers.

So the tour continues on the ground floor through the dining room, the billiard room, the library with its walnut book shelves, the small smoke room and Camellia House …built of teak with panels of Mosaic, glass and tile roof and two doors leading to the Garden and verandah. Finally, as part of the ‘back premises and domestic offices’, there was a large kitchen, scullery and servants hall.  Separate from the house there were two stables, two coach houses and a saddle room. Although the coach houses had been converted to hold motor vehicles by 1917, the records confirm that they still held a four wheeled Landau, a reminder of how the family would have travelled though Cardiff by carriage not so long ago.

The house saw many eminent guests including a Lord Chancellor and Field Marshal Earl Roberts, hero of the Afghan campaigns and the Boer War. Those staying with the family would have been swept up the imposing central teak staircase to the first floor where they would have found, for family and guests, five double bedrooms, including four with adjoining dressing rooms, a nursery and seven single bedrooms.

A house such as this required a significant number of staff. Records for 1891 confirm that at least 10 staff were employed in the house alone. On the second floor six staff bedrooms were provided, in addition to the accommodation for the butler and housekeeper on the ground floor adjoining the kitchen. The butler was charged with the security of many valuable items and his pantry was equipped with a Cartwright safe over 5ft high with 3 shelves and 3 drawers.

Even so, there would not have been enough space for the house staff, and there were further bedrooms for a maid and footman on the ground and first floors. The two estate lodges would have been reserved for the more senior staff, with one allocated almost certainly for the Head Gardener. The prospectus confirms that the lodges, at least from the exterior, were significant and ornate buildings. Stephenson and Alexander described the Lodge on Llantrisant Road as …an artistic half-timbered House with red tiled roof and leaded casement windows …contains five rooms and pantry, has water laid on and good kitchen garden adjoining.

The role of Head Gardener carried a great deal of responsibility leading a team of gardeners, probably drawn from the local area rather than living on the estate. The gardens were used frequently by the family for parties and events and would have been familiar to many of the local families including the Insoles, Brains, Crawshays, Corys, Courtis and Mackintosh.

Again the photographs help to provide an impression of the estate, with views of the tennis and croquet lawns, summer house and a garden walk.


The detail in the prospectus, however, underlines just what a formidable task this must have been. The gardens consisted of three distinct elements including two extensive kitchen gardens. The prospectus describes just one of the kitchen gardens as having …a long centre board walk, Summer House and arbour spanned by rose arches, flanked by deep herbaceous borders and planted with wall and standard fruit trees of all descriptions in full bearing. The bush trees are enclosed in a wire netting fruit cage on iron supports. In addition to a second Kitchen Garden, there were also two orchid houses, a tomato house and two greenhouses. Beyond the kitchen gardens a second area of land was styled as …the Pleasure Grounds. This included a large rose garden, lawn areas, rose and tulip gardens with boxed edge paths and a woodland area with …remarkable specimens of conifer and other trees including Wellingtonias, Cedars, Lime Beech and Elm. The third area, the park land, had been largely let as pasture by 1917, bringing some relief to the Head Gardener’s role. All in all, maintaining the estate would have been a considerable undertaking.

As a sign of the times much play was made in the prospectus that Rookwood was … fitted with modern conveniences, including its own Electric light, modern Drainage, Cardiff Water and Gas. Indeed the prospectus went into detail on the National Gas Engine and Compton Dynamo fitted in the purpose made Electric Light Power and Storage House. However, the prospectus also carefully identified areas of estate that could be sold off while maintaining a core of the house and its ornamental and kitchen gardens. It is likely that the hardships resulting from the war were making estates, such as Rookwood, increasingly financially unviable.

The purchase, therefore, represents not only a charming and most unique property as a Residence, but also a very valuable investment bound to very materially increase in value in course of time. If desired, a portion of the land could be developed without detriment to the House and Grounds. 

It is clear that owners were a wealthy and influential family that enjoyed throwing the home and grounds open for grand events.  However, who were they and what prompted the family to put their home up for sale? Furthermore, what happened next and how did such a splendid family home come, within 12 months, to be converted into a hospital? Fortunately, the records held at Glamorgan Archives help to unravel both questions. To be continued…

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Many thanks to Keith Edwards for his invaluable assistance in identifying the documents used in this article from within the Stephenson and Alexander collection.

‘God Bless the Prince of Wales: The Closing Ceremony of the Empire and Commonwealth Games, 26 July 1958

Much of the material held at Glamorgan Archives tells a story well beyond initial impressions of the item in question.  Take catalogue reference D1045/7/2 – a card, 12cm by 8cm, with the words ‘Admit bearer to Band Enclosure Cardiff Arms Park’ and stamped 26 July 1958. Closer inspection reveals that ‘bearer’ has been crossed out and replaced with ‘NCO and 10 Guardsmen’ and, in the top left hand corner, there is a heading ‘VIth British Empire and Commonwealth Games, Cardiff, 1958, Wales’.


A little investigation reveals that this was a ticket to the biggest event in town – the athletics finals and the closing ceremony of the Empire and Commonwealth Games. While a capacity crowd of 34,000 had crammed into Cardiff Arms Park for the opening ceremony earlier in the month, it was estimated that up to 43,000 had been shoe-horned into the ground on the last day. The guardsmen were members of the Welsh Guards and, along with their instruments, they would have been carrying the music scheduled for the ceremony including ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and ‘We’ll keep a welcome in the hillsides’. In addition, they were due to play the national anthem, given that the Queen was the guest of honour.

There was disappointment during the afternoon when medal hopes for the Welsh women’s 4x100yd relay team were dashed after they were disqualified in the semi-final for a faulty baton change. However, by the end of the afternoon spirits were high as the crowd had witnessed a wonderful battle for the Gold medal in the mile, won eventually by the legendary Australian runner Herb Elliott.

Late afternoon, after the last medal presentation, it was time for the Band of the Welsh Guards to take centre stage as it led the teams into the Arms Park. In no time at all the stadium was a riot of colour and noise as the teams and their flag bearers filled the ground and aircraft from the RAF flew overhead. There was some disappointment when it was announced that the Queen was not well enough to attend and had, instead, sent a recorded message to be relayed over the stadium’s tannoy system. However, the speech contained a closely guarded secret with the Queen’s announcement that, to mark the success of the Games, her son, Charles, was to be made Prince of Wales. The papers the next day reported that the news was greeted with …a mighty roar of pleasure that lasted nearly two minutes. Although, no doubt, the bandsmen were prepared for most things they may well have been surprised by what happened next, as the crowd broke into a spontaneous rendition of ‘God Bless the Prince of Wales’.

In comparison to the formality of the opening ceremony, spirits were high and one team member Bill Young, an Australian coach, had broken ranks to shake hands with the Duke of Edinburgh as he moved through the competitors. The hero of the week for Wales in the athletics had been John Merriman who had won the silver medal in the 6 mile race. Now, as the teams left the stadium, many linking arms as they sang ‘Auld Land Syne’, it was John who ran to the north stand and threw his Panama hat into the crowd. This started a wave of hat throwing reciprocated by several brown trilbies travelling in the opposite direction. All too soon the ceremony was over and with it a week that had also seen Cardiff host a festival of music, song, drama and dance. It had not been golden week for the Welsh team, although a respectable haul of 11 medals had been won. Yet there was no doubt that the Games had been a major success, with the national papers referring to Cardiff as a ‘Mississippi of pleasant sound and colour’ and labelling the Games ‘a festival of sport and more – a community of good fellowship’.

For Cardiff Arms Park, the scene of much of the action, it was back to business with workmen moving in immediately after the closing ceremony to prepare the ground for the next set of rugby fixtures. Their target was the red ash running track on which so many records had been created during the course of the Games, and within 24 hours it had been ripped up and removed. In addition, soldiers from the Royal Engineers were busy dismantling the temporary bridge built across the Taff to the carry the thousands of visitors to the Arms Park. The Games, though, did leave an immediate legacy with the inauguration, the following year, of the Welsh Games designed to provide the platform for an annual festival of sport.

As for the Bandsmen of the Welsh Guards, they had acquitted themselves well amongst all of the excitement of the day. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they were ready for the rendition of ‘God Bless the Prince of Wales’. But how would you have fared? For future reference, here are the words.


Among our ancient mountains

And from our lovely vales

Oh, let the pray’r re-echo

God Bless the Prince of Wales


The ticket for the closing ceremony used by the NCO and the 10 bandsmen of the Welsh Guards can be found at Glamorgan Archives (ref.: D1045/7/2), along with other material relating to the Sixth British Empire and Commonwealth Games held in Wales in July 1958.


Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer


Glamorgan’s Blood: Colliery Disasters

In October 1913, 439 miners and one rescuer died at Universal Colliery, Senghennydd following an explosion at the colliery. The disaster took place on 14 October 1913 and it remains the worst mining accident in the UK with regard to loss of life. Material within the Glamorgan Archives collection can be consulted to find out more about the responsibilities of the mine’s owners, Lewis Merthyr Consolidated Collieries, following the disaster.

Image 1 compressed

Statement showing compensation and funeral expenses paid for each individual killed in the Senghenydd disaster, DPD/4/11/2/4.

The papers of Lewis Merthyr Consolidated Collieries are nestled within the Powell Duffryn Collection (DPD). Documents relating to the Senghennydd disaster within the Lewis Merthyr papers include the proceedings of the Home Office Enquiry into the Senghennydd disaster and a transcript of the proceedings at the inquest on the bodies of the men who lost their lives in the disaster. Alongside this printed report is a handwritten statement of money paid to the families of the victims by Lewis Merthyr Consolidated Collieries Limited. This document records the names of all the individuals killed and how much money was provided by Lewis Merthyr to the families of each victim, including details of money provided for funeral expenses and compensation

Image 2 compressed

Summary statement of compensation and funeral expenses paid by Lewis Merthyr Consolidated Collieries Limited following the Senghenydd disaster, DPD/4/11/2/4.

Another colliery explosion represented within the archives is the Cambrian Explosion which occurred on 17 May 1965. Material under reference DNCB/11/2/1 contains correspondence concerning the Cambrian Disaster Fund, a log of events in the immediate aftermath of the incident, a draft of a letter sent by the chairman of the National Coal Board to the next of kin of those killed in the disaster and funeral arrangements of those who died in the Cambrian Explosion. The official report into the causes and circumstances of the disaster is also held in the archive (DNCB/6/1/4/10).

Image 3 compressed

Statement Made by Alderman D Murphy, Mayor Elect, launching a disaster fund appeal for the families of the victims of the Cambrian Colliery Explosion, 18 May 1965, DNCB/11/2/1.

Photographs give us an insight into being a rescue man, with images from the National Coal Board glass plate negative collection showing demonstrations of rescue apparatus and group photographs of the team.

Image 4. DNCB-14-1-3-1

Ynysfeio Colliery No1 Rescue Team at Dinas Rescue Station, DNCB/14/1/3/1

Training like this can be seen in a certificate issued to Thomas John Jones by Brynmenyn Rescue for completing his rescue apparatus training in 1920 (DNCB/67/13/11).

Image 5 compressed

Certificate issued to Thomas John Jones by Brynmenyn Rescue Station for completing his rescue apparatus training in 1920, DNCB/67/13/11.

The negative collection shows us that a large number of men were also involved in general first aid, through images of Regional First Aid Competitions in the 1950s-1960s.

Image 6. DNCB-48-Box 4 - 177

Coedely Plant being judged at a First Aid competition in 1968, DNCB/48/4/177.

Another photograph, showing Mr Glenn Thomas, a member of the Mines Rescue Service, with a canary perched on him, reminds us of the vital role of canaries in ensuring the safety of those working underground (D1061/1/43).

Image 7 compressed

Mr Glenn Thomas, member of the Mines Rescue Service with a canary perched on him, Jan 1981, D1061/1/43

Through the official reports and paperwork we find out about the facts and causes of colliery disasters, but these types of documents do not show the pain the disasters caused the families of the victims. However, other material, such as these words written by Ap Lewis about the Great Western Colliery Disaster in 1893 (D253/2/37) can be used to demonstrate the personal tragedy experienced by loved ones following the news of a colliery disaster:

And like a furious howling gale

The dreaded news went through the vale,

Of the sad strange calamity,

Which took the lives of sixty three.

And rushing thither from all parts,

With gushing tears and heavy hearts

Came wives and mothers seeking they

Who long ere then had passed away


The ‘Konrad Kids’ hit the headlines at the Wales Empire Pool, July 1958

Although the crowds flocked in great numbers to Cardiff Arms Park to watch the athletics, the star attraction of the Sixth Empire and Commonwealth Games held in July 1958 was the newly opened Wales Empire Pool. Built at a cost of over £650,000 the Wales Empire Pool had been constructed specifically for the Games. There are photographs in Glamorgan Archives of Princess Margaret visiting the Wales Empire Pool while still under construction on 2 February 1958.

Princess Margaret

It must have been a worrying time with a building timescale that was incredibly tight. There would, therefore, have much relief when the new pool, with its distinctive ‘modernist’ brick façade and barrel roof, was opened, on schedule, on 18th April 1958 by the Lord Mayor of Cardiff, Alderman J H Morgan JP – just 12 weeks before the first day of the Games. Material held at Glamorgan Archives, including the programme for the opening event, provide details of a building that went far beyond the popular image of a swimming pool.

As might be expected, centre stage was given to the international size swimming pool 55 metres in length, with six lanes and up to 16 foot in depth to accommodate the highest of the three diving boards that towered over the pool some 10 metres above the water level. It would have been an extraordinary experience for those who used the pool in its early days in terms of both the scale of the building and also the use of ‘new technology’, including an ‘infra-red ray’ system to control the overhead showers that bathers had to pass through to enter the pool.

From the outset there were ambitions to use the new pool to its full capacity and the programme announced that it was equipped with glass panels that could be lit with different colours for ‘aqua shows’.  However, it was the additional amenities that caught the eye. They included a Jewish ‘Mikvah’ bath on the ground floor, therapeutic baths and a suite of stainless steel aeratone baths for hydraulic massage. There was also a Turkish bath complete with hot room, massage slabs and a plunge pool.  To complete the experience a small kitchen provided light meals to those using the Turkish and the Aeratone baths. To cater for international events there was seating for 1700 spectators with access to a restaurant that could hold up to 150 diners at one time.  Finally, the whole arena was air conditioned with the promise that the air was ‘completely changed four times every hour’.

Empire Pool opening programme cover


The opening was marked by an international swimming competition with Great Britain competing against Germany over two days.

Empire Pool opening programme interior

Although the outcome was a crushing win for the British team, the newspapers the following day were highly critical of the organisation of the event with one national paper calling it ‘A Shambles’. It is difficult to determine whether this was a fair assessment. However, it is clear that, by the time the Empire and Commonwealth Games opened on 19 July, lessons had been learnt.

Programme cover

The battle for medals during the 6 days of swimming and diving hosted at the pool from 19th to 25th July 1958 can be followed through materials held at Glamorgan Archives, including details of the swimming and diving finals held on 25 July. Hopes were high that the 24 strong Welsh team of 16 men and 8 women could win a clutch a medals.

Wales Team

In particular, many had high expectations of the team captain, John Brockway, who had competed for Great Britain in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics. John had also represented Wales at the last two Empire Games, winning a silver in the 110 yds backstroke in Auckland in 1950 and a gold medal at Vancouver in 1954.  In the programme held at the Archives for the finals at the Empire Pool on the evening of 25 July 1958 John’s name figures in both the backstroke final and the four man medley relay team. In all, 6 Welsh swimmers and divers competed for medals that night at an event watched by the Duke of Edinburgh alongside a capacity crowd. The results have been pencilled into the programme and they confirm that, sadly, it was not a successful night for the Welsh swimmers and divers.

Yet again the honours in the Wales Empire Pool went, primarily, to the all-conquering Australian team.

Australian Team

The stars of the night and the week were two swimmers referred to in the press as the ‘Konrad Kids’. Sixteen year old John Konrad and his 14 year old sister, Ilsa, had been born in Latvia during the Second World War. They had emigrated with their parents to Australia after the war and were taught to swim by their father while living at a camp for migrants in New South Wales. It was a rags to riches story that captured the imagination, with the Konrads winning four gold medals in the Wales Empire Pool. Only the heroics of the Scots swimmer Ian Black in winning a gold and 2 silver medals and the world record breaking performance by the English women’s medley relay team, including Anita Lonsbrough, briefly snatched the headlines from the Konrads.

Yet the Welsh public was to have its day during the course of the Games when Howard Winstone won a Gold medal in the boxing held at the Sophia Gardens Pavilion, in the bantamweight competition. It may not have been much by way of consolation after the events in the Wales Empire Pool, but his opponent in the final on that memorable night was Oliver ‘Frankie’ Taylor – an Australian.

If this article has whetted your interest a copy of the official programme for the diving and swimming finals held on 25 July 1958 in the Wales Empire Pool is held at Glamorgan Archives (ref.: D209/4), along with the programme referred to above for the opening ceremony in April 1958 (ref.: D45/3/5).  In addition, we also hold a range of material and photographs associated with the construction of the Wales Empire Pool that can be accessed at Glamorgan Archives.

Incidentally, although the Wales Empire pool was demolished in 1998 to make way for the Millennium Stadium, the plaque unveiled by J H Morgan on 18 April 1958 can still be seen as part of the structure of the Cardiff International Pool at Cardiff Bay.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer