A New Hospital for Cardiff: ‘Let us all do what we can towards this great and benevolent object’

The Cardiff Royal Infirmary on Newport Road is a significant landmark on the local skyline, well known by residents and many visitors to the city. What is not so well known is that the Infirmary, opened on its present site in September 1883, is the second hospital to have been built on Newport Road.

This is the first in a series of articles on the building and opening of what was, in 1883, a ‘state of the art’ hospital. It draws on records, plans and photographs held at Glamorgan Archives to trace the early days of a hospital built to provide care for the thousands attracted to South Wales in the latter half of the 19th century by opportunities in the iron, coal and shipping industries.


Drawing of the proposed Infirmary, 1837 (DV74/8)


Plan of the proposed Infirmary, 1837 (DV74/7)

The first hospital, known as the Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire Infirmary and Dispensary, had opened in January 1837 on a site on Newport Road now occupied by the Cardiff University School of Engineering. It was built to provide “care for the deserving poor” at a time before public funding for hospitals. The hospital could call on the services of a physician and 2 surgeons. Salaried staff, however, were limited to a House Surgeon, Matron, one nurse, a porter and a housemaid. Along with facilities for outpatient care the new infirmary had 20 beds for those admitted for treatment. Nevertheless, although modest in size, the construction and maintenance of such a facility was an immense challenge as the hospital was completely reliant on annual donations and subscriptions.


Annual Report of the Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire Infirmary and Dispensary for the year ending December 1837 (DHC48)

Much was owed to one man, Daniel Jones, a solicitor, of Beaupre Castle. Jones provided £3,425, a phenomenal sum at the time, to fund the construction of the first infirmary. The portico above the main door acknowledged his contribution with the inscription ‘Infirmary erected at the sole expense of Daniel Jones of Beaupre’. While much of the money needed for both the maintenance and running of the hospital came from a number of well-known figures, including the Marquess of Bute, the people of South Wales also gave generously year after year for ‘their hospital’.

From the outset the new hospital was far from perfect. In 1843, only 6 years after its construction, the management committee complained that the building suffered from:

…damp walls, smoky chimneys, dry rot in the skirting boards, imperfect pipes … and inadequate drainage.

In 1873, although connections to the local sewers had been improved, an outbreak of erysipelas led to a temporary closure for cleaning, with patients housed in a tent at the rear of the building. Despite an increase in the numbers of beds to 60, by 1876 it was agreed that a new, larger and modern hospital was needed that could cater for a population that had increased in the Cardiff district alone from 8,000 in 1831 to 71,000 in 1871.

The campaign for the new hospital was launched by the Bishop of Llandaff, Alfred Oliphant, with the words Let us all do what we can towards this great and benevolent object. It was estimated that £26,000 would be needed for the building work alone. Given the reliance on donations and public subscription this was no easy task. By now the infirmary had over 500 annual subscribers, sometimes companies and well known families, but often people from across the two counties, many of whom could only afford a £1 a year and sometimes less. In addition, donations were received from collection boxes in local pubs, clubs and theatres, including the Rummer Tavern, the Maendu Working Men’s club and the Theatre Royal. Money also came from the proceeds from exhibitions and concerts plus gifts from grateful patients. However, perhaps the most striking aspect was that since 1873, once a year, on ‘Infirmary Sunday’, churches made a special collection for the hospital. In addition, businesses small and large made an annual work place collection on ‘Infirmary Saturday’.

Nevertheless, the records of the Building Sub Committee charged with raising the finance illustrate just what a herculean task it was to raise enough money to meet both annual running costs and build a new hospital. So much so that plans for a chapel in the initial proposals were soon dropped and the number of beds scaled back to 100, with the possibility of expansion at a later stage to 200. Yet the  committee still concluded, on 16 July 1878, two years after the campaign had begun, that there was:

…no prospect of success at present… and that …the project was becoming daily more unpopular with the townspeople.

Much was blamed on a trade depression that had reduced wages and donations. It appeared that all was lost and the committee was mothballed for two years until Christmas Eve 1880. The story of how the project was revived is told through the next article in this series.

Glamorgan Archives holds the records of the Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire Infirmary and Dispensary. For plans of the hospital opened in 1837 see DV/74/1-9. For the annual reports produced by the hospital management committee from 1837 onwards see DHC/48-50. For records of the New Infirmary Building Sub Committee see DHC/44.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Snapshots of Dyffryn Gardens: The Tropical Lily Pond at Ely Racecourse

In the year that the National Trust celebrates its 125th anniversary we are taking a look, through photographs and records held at Glamorgan Archives, at the Trust’s largest and probably best known property in South Wales, Dyffryn Gardens. The gardens at Dyffryn were laid out for the Cory family over 100 years ago by the famous garden designer and landscape architect Thomas Mawson. Over the years the gardens have been much admired and won many awards. The records held at Glamorgan Archives include three certificates awarded to the Cory family at local horticultural shows in the period 1925-31. The awards cannot possibly do justice to the range of plants and trees to be found at Dyffryn, many of which had been brought from abroad. However, they do provide an insight into the esteem with which Dyffryn Gardens was held at the time. They also tell us a little about some of the prize plants to be found in the gardens that were selected for display.


The three certificates are for the Ely and District Horticultural Society Show in August 1925, the Barry Horticultural Society Show in August 1931, and Barry and District Chrysanthemum Society Show in November 1931. For Reginald Cory and his head gardener at the time, J T Smith, both Fellows of the Royal Horticultural Society, this sounds like pretty small beer. However, it has to be remembered that the Cory family were not at the shows to compete. Rather, they were invited to provide an exhibit as the centre piece of the show. The aim was to promote the event to the public and to raise money for charities through sale of the exhibits afterwards. Dyffryn Gardens was one of the premier gardens in the South Wales and advertising frequently referred to the displays to be provided by Reginald Cory and his sister, Florence, as …a special feature of the show. The three awards held at Glamorgan Archives were, therefore, Certificates of Merit given to Reginald or Florence Cory to mark their contribution to the event. Unfortunately, the details of the exhibits added to the certificates in ink are badly faded. In one instance, the Ely and District show, the wording is no longer visible. A little detective work, however, using local newspaper accounts has helped to add a few details.

The exhibit at the Barry Chrysanthemum show was, to an extent, self-explanatory. In line with the style at the time it is likely this was a mixture of different species of chrysanthemum, possibly drawing on the extensive plant collection brought together by Reginald Cory from around the world. It would have been assembled under the careful eye of the Head Gardener, J T Smith. We also have a clue as to the display at the Barry Show in August 1931, with reference in the local newspapers to water lilies …being one of the principal features.  This was probably a well-known and much admired display that Reginald Cory and J T Smith had used in various forms at several shows.  Although Reginald had left Dyffryn by 1931, it is possible that J T Smith, working with Florence Cory, reused the design from earlier shows. In 1926 at the Ely Show, held at Ely Racecourse, it was described in the following terms:

One realised again the wonderful part that Mr Reginald Cory of Duffryn is playing, not merely in adding to the ornamentation of small shows, but of inculcating a wider knowledge and appreciation of rarer phases of floral culture. At Ely he exhibited a water flower scheme. Through his head gardener, Mr J T Smith, he depicted with amazing realism, a water lily pond such as found in tropical woods, surrounded by brilliant foliage plants indigenous to those climes. Mr Smith succeeded in combining a perfect naturalness of setting with a richly blended harmony of colours. The exhibit well deserved the diploma awarded to Mr Cory. [Western Mail, 3 August 1926]

The most ornate of the certificates, awarded at the Ely and District Horticultural Show in August 1925, is also the most difficult to pin down. The newspapers at the time simply recorded that:

the feature of the show was the collection of exhibits not for competition and Mr Reginald Cory, Duffryn, set a splendid example in this direction. His display was a really beautiful one. [Western Mail 4 August 1925]

But what was it? It was reported that the lily pond design with its tropical setting was used for the first time in 1926. It is tempting to guess that J T Smith opted for a display based on dahlias for which Dyffryn was internationally famous. If there is anyone with access to records or photographs who could help us with this one please get in contact. But it has to be remembered that Reginald was out to both impress and display unusual plants. He also had an extensive heated glass house at Dyffryn that held a variety of exotic species. So dahlias are not our first choice. It is more likely that the theme would have been a tropical setting drawing on what were termed ‘stove and greenhouse plants’.

One last thought. Although the Cory family did not compete at local shows, the newspapers reported that, at the 1931 Chrysanthemum Show, the Silver Cup for ‘Lady Amateurs’ was won by Mrs F Smith, Duffryn Gardens. Could this have been the wife of the Head Gardener? If so, it is possible that other competitors might have seen the term, amateur, as a little generous. The three certificates can be seen at Glamorgan Archives, reference D1121.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Snapshots of Dyffryn Gardens: Reginald Cory, Thomas Mawson and the creation of a classic Edwardian garden

In the year that the National Trust celebrates its 125th anniversary we are taking a look, through photographs and records held at the Glamorgan Archives, at its biggest and probably best known property in the Cardiff area, Dyffryn Gardens. The first of a series of snapshots of Dyffryn Gardens looks at the original and celebrated gardens laid out in the first two decades of the twentieth century by Reginald Cory and Thomas Mawson.

Dyffryn Gardens passed into the management of the National Trust relatively recently in January 2013. The Dyffryn estate dates from the 16th century and possibly earlier. However, the house and gardens in their current form are largely the product of the Cory family, following John Cory’s acquisition of the Dyffryn estate in 1891. Owner, with his brother Richard, of Cory Brothers and Co, John Cory had made his money from coal and shipping. Dyffryn Gardens was acquired as the family home for John, his wife Anna Maria, their son Reginald and daughter Florence. Alongside the rebuilding of much of the house, John and Reginald Cory set work in motion work to transform the gardens. The key to this work lay in the appointment in 1903 of Thomas Mawson to design and oversee the redevelopment of the gardens. Mawson was a man at the top of his profession. A garden designer and landscape architect with an international reputation who went on to design parks and gardens across Europe and North America, it was Mawson working with Reginald Cory, a talented horticulturist and plant collector, who laid out the plans for the new gardens. The Cory family also appointed a number of exceptional Head Gardeners who supervised and directed much of the work. Much is owed, in particular, to Arthur J Cobb, who was Head Gardener during a significant part of the development period. Cobb, who later lectured at Reading University and wrote extensively on gardening, including his 3 volume ‘Modern Garden Craft’, played a significant role in the development of what is recognised as one of the finest examples of an Edwardian garden.

The series of 20 photographs held at Glamorgan Archives by the photographers Neame Roff of Walmer, Kent, provide a unique insight into Mawson’s garden design, with its impressive sweeping lawns and lily canal running from the south terrace complemented by an intricate series of ‘garden rooms’ to the west of the house and an arboretum to the east. Commissioned by Reginald Cory, the photographs illustrate how the gardens would have looked in their pomp in the 1910-1926 period. Those familiar with the gardens today will see how they have changed with the growth of trees and shrubbery over the years. The photographs also provide a template for the work being undertaken by the National Trust to restore parts of the gardens to how they would have looked when first laid out by Reginald Cory and Thomas Mawson. We have included just a short selection from the overall portfolio:


The gardens from the east side of the house (D15/1)


The Dahlia Gardens – the site of the international dahlia trials held at Dyffryn in 1913 and 1914 (D15/18)


The walled garden with its extensive glass house (D15/11)


The Pillar Garden with its bonsai trees (D15/13)

The eagle eyed amongst you may also have noticed that in three of the photographs a figure can be a seen in the background, examining the plants or just posing for the camera. We cannot be sure, but our theory is that it is the Head Gardener. Always smartly turned out it would seem that, even at this early stage in his career, Arthur J Cobb was a man out to make his mark and be noticed. The Neame Roff photographs of Dyffryn Gardens are held at the Glamorgan Archives, reference D15/1-20.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer