‘A most agreeable and enjoyable day’: The Cardiff Naturalists Society’s Field Trip to Tintern Abbey, June 1873

Any suggestion that the early meetings of the Cardiff Naturalists Society were all conducted behind closed doors in St Mary’s Street, while the society pored over their microscopes and listened to learned speakers, are quickly scotched by the Society’s records held at Glamorgan Archives. From the outset the Society organised a series of Field Trips each year across south Wales. The records contain summaries and plans of a number of such trips. The picture that emerges is of an enjoyable but a very full day for all concerned. The records for 6 June 1873 set out the arrangements for the First Field Meeting of 1873 on 17 June to Tintern Abbey, described as “One of the most romantic ruins in Britain.”

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The Members and Visitors will leave the Cardiff Station of the South Wales Railway by the 9.27am Train, to arrive at Chepstow at 11.17. Here carriages will be in waiting to convey the party to the top of Wyndcliffe.

The view from the summit of Wyndcliffe cannot be surpassed; it is nearly 900 feet above the level of the river, and from it may be viewed some of the most beautiful and extensive prospects in Great Britain, and a wonderful range over portions of nine counties.

The party will then pass down through the wood to the Moss Cottage, which will be thrown open to visitors presenting their tickets, and thence on to the new road, where the carriages will be waiting to convey the party on to the Abbey.

After dinner (at the Beaufort Arms) John Prichard, Esq., of Llandaff, Diocesan Architect, will deliver a Lecture on the Abbey, illustrated by Diagrams and an examination of the building will take place; after which Mr W Adams, the President, will read his paper on the Ancient Iron Works of the District.

The Party will leave Tintern Abbey at about 6.30pm per carriages for Chepstow Station, and arrive at Cardiff at 9.35 [Record of meeting, June 6 1873, DCNS/3/1].

At a cost of 6s 6d plus train fare it was a full day, given that the Society’s usual monthly business had to be dealt with over dinner, including consideration of 5 membership applications. However, such excursions had not always been a great success and the note stated that it was …absolutely necessary that members and their friends should intimate to the Hon Secretary … their intention to be present. The planned field trip to Aberthaw, the previous year in July, had been cancelled due to low take-up, having clashed with a meeting of the Royal Agricultural Society in Cardiff.

In the event it was a most successful trip. In the record for the day it was noted that John Prichard’s lecture had been delivered in the nave of the Abbey to …a large and appreciative audience. It was followed by a tour of the Abbey and …having spent a most agreeable and enjoyable day the party then commenced their return journey to Cardiff.

Details of several of the Society’s field trips in this period, including Tintern Abbey on 17 June 1873 and Llantrisant on 5 July 1870, can be found in the records of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society held at Glamorgan Archives [DCNS/3/1].

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

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Carry on up the Nile!’ The first public lecture programme launched by the Cardiff Naturalists Society, 27 November 1873

The Cardiff Naturalists Society was established in September 1867 and this autumn it celebrates its 150th anniversary. As just one element of the events planned by the Society, Iolo Williams will deliver a public lecture, at the National Museum of Wales, on Thursday 5 October. It is fitting that that the celebrations include such an event for the Society’s public lectures have always been seen as a valuable means of extending opportunities for the wider public to engage with and enjoy the natural sciences.

The early years of the Society can be traced through the records held at Glamorgan Archives. It is clear that, initially, the meetings of the society were seen as an opportunity for members to share their knowledge of various aspects of the natural sciences. For example, at the very first meeting, on 11 September 1867, one of the founding members, Philip Robinson, brought along his collection of British butterflies for display and examination by those attending. At the third meeting, on November 11 1867, another member, Professor Joseph Gagliardi, delivered a lecture on the different species of fish. By and large, this set the pattern for meetings in this period although, on occasions, the programme was supplemented by guest speakers.

Within a year the Society had held its first ‘Conversazione’. Using the Town Hall on St Mary’s Street, Cardiff, the Conversazione comprised of a series of exhibitions of aspects of the natural sciences drawing on collections owned by the Society and on loan from Museums. The exhibitions were supported on several occasions by public lectures delivered in the Assembly Rooms. By April 1873 this was so popular that three lectures delivered by a speaker engaged by the Society, Edmund Wheeler, FRAS, were repeated the following week. The local newspapers commended the Society and observed that the event had revived …the drooping Naturalists’ Society.

Encouraged by the success of the April 1873 Conversazione the Society announced, in November 1873, its first series of public lectures. The lectures were to be staged in the Assembly Rooms every fortnight from November through to April and would feature a range of eminent speakers. It was clear that this was announced with some trepidation given the costs involved, both for use of the hall and the fees for guest speakers. Although it was planned that each lecture would be ticketed, with an admission charge of 6d for members and 1s for non-members, there was a concern that the Society would incur a significant loss. To date most guest speakers had not charged for their services and, to assuage the concerns of members, it was agreed that a special fund be established, almost certainly underwritten by a number of committee members, to meet any costs incurred from the lecture series.

Nevertheless the programme of public lectures was announced in November in glowing terms with advertisements placed in the local newspapers detailing the speakers and topics planned. The programme was varied and wide ranging, including lectures on ‘Spectrum Analysis’, ‘The Treasures of the Deep’ and even ‘Personal Reminiscences of Wellington’. As the Society minutes for 18 November 1873 confirm, no expense was to be spared.

The Committee have now completed their arrangements for the delivery of series of popular and scientific Lectures to be given fortnightly during the present session. The lectures are provided by the Society at some considerable expense and are intended for the intellectual enjoyment of all classes.

Many of the lectures will be illustrated by beautiful drawings and dissolving views, and by the performance of brilliant and costly experiments.

The Committee solicit the special attention of the Public to this Series of Lectures which is the first attempt to supply a want long felt in Cardiff, viz the Periodical Delivery of First Class Scientific Lectures, by thoroughly able Professional Men. It is proposed in the event of this experiment proving successful, to establish a continuous Winter Series, embracing the highest Scientific and Literary talent which can be obtained.

The first lecture will be delivered by Edward H Jones, Esq, FCS, Analytical Chemist, on ‘Egypt’ and 1000 miles up the Nile, being a tour amongst the ancient Temples and ruins of Egypt and Nubia, and illustrated by paintings and photographs, shown by the aid of lime light and dissolving views [Minutes of meeting held November 18 1873, DCNS/3/1]

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Much was at stake on the night of the first lecture on 27 November. The Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian reported the next day:

There was a large and fashionable audience, the room being crowded. The lectures … promise to prove as interesting as they will be intellectual and a rich treat is in store…. [Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian, 28 November 1873].

In the event the lecture was anything but ‘a treat’. The South Wales Daily News, in a lengthy report, summarised the lecture as:

…a disconnected, unintelligible descriptive outline of a number of places situated between Southampton and the second cataract of the Nile and back through the Suez Canal.

…the precipitate manner in which the audience left the room when the curtain was drawn across the views, without even thanking Mr Jones for his trouble, will perhaps convince him that a description of scenes that might have pleased the juveniles of a school would be ill- suited to the intelligence of the adult educated persons of both sexes present.

All in all, the lecture had …caused the greatest disappointment to the vast majority of the audience [South Wales Daily News, 28 November 1873].

It must have been a severe blow to the Society and they had only days to recover before the next lecture scheduled for 3 December. There was, yet again, a large turnout in the Assembly Rooms and there was little option but to apologise for the debacle on the 27th. The Chair on the night of the 3rd December, Mr Lukis, offered the audience in the Assembly Rooms his theory that:

…the Mr Jones they had was the wrong one and must have been an imposteur as he had not turned up since that evening – not even to call on Dr Taylor for his honorarium [South Wales Daily News, 4 December 1873]

Fortunately for the Society the lecture that night on ‘The Phenomena of Sound’ was to be delivered by Edmund Wheeler whose lecture series had been so well received in April. The newspaper report the next day confirmed that …the lecture was a very able one throughout and was highly appreciated by the audience.  The lecture series was back on track.

So, as the Cardiff Naturalists Society prepares for its public lecture on Thursday 5 October no doubt there is ‘a treat’ in store for those planning to attend at the National Museum. However, reflecting on the circumstances surrounding the Society’s first public lecture series in 1873, it might just be worth double checking that they have engaged ‘the right’ Iolo Williams.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Fossil ferns and reed…also an antique silver ring and a specimen of white rock: The Founding of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society in September 1867.

On the 11th September 2017 the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society celebrates its 150th anniversary. The society is the longest established wildlife organisation in the area and its anniversary is being marked with an exhibition at The Cardiff Story illustrating the Society’s rich history. The exhibition has a particular focus on the founding of the society, its role in the creation of the National Museum, scientific discoveries and prominent members.

Established, initially, to promote the study of natural history, geology and the physical sciences, the Society’s records, including its minute books, circulars and reports, are held at the Glamorgan Archives. The records provide a detailed account of both the creation of the society and its many and varied activities from 1867 to the present day.

The first reference to a ‘Society’ was in August 1867 with the note of …the preliminary meeting of the members of the projected ‘Naturalists’ Society’ held in the upper room of the Free Library… on 29 August 1867. Chaired by William Taylor, Esq, MD and attended by 11 in total, it was agreed that the Society be called the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society and that …a Committee be formed to prepare rules for the regulation of the Society. Four days later the group met again to agree the rules. Although later amended and extended the original regulations set out in the Minute book, on 2 September 1867, envisaged the object of the Society to be The practical study of Natural History, Geology and Physical Sciences and the formation of a Museum in connection with the Free Library.  The planning committee had already advertised in local newspapers for members and made a point of emphasising that …ladies be eligible for membership.

First meeting

With the agreement of the purpose and regulations the first full meeting was held on 11 September 1867. The meeting was chaired by William Adams, the first President of the Society, who was a civil and mining engineer from Rhymney. The minutes list the 24 members in attendance that day although, despite advertising for members and the commitment to open the doors to women, all were men.

Drane's gifts

What then of the Fossil ferns and reed … also an antique silver ring and specimen of white rock recorded in the minute book? The Society was established for its members to share and develop their knowledge of all aspects of the natural sciences. To this extent, while the Society had many eminent speakers and organised seminars and field trips, it was expected that members would share their knowledge, research and in some cases private collections. For example, at the first meeting several members brought, for display and examination collections of butterflies and mosses.

There was also a commitment, from the outset, to promote an interest in the natural sciences to the people of the rapidly expanding town of Cardiff. In particular, the Society aimed to develop an extensive and well stocked Museum. The early meetings of the Society used the Museum Room of the Free Library in St Mary Street, provided free of charge on the understanding that the Society would develop and expand the Museum’s collection.  The Society addressed this by using its funds to purchase books and exhibits for the Museum, and members were encouraged to add to the collection with exhibits …to be deposited in the Cardiff Museum and become the property of the Corporation of Cardiff.

The minutes for the 11 September meeting state that fossil ferns and reed, an antique silver ring and a specimen of white rock were the very first to objects to be donated to the Society’s collection and, therefore, to the Museum. Significantly they were provided by Robert Drane who, until his death in 1914, was probably the best known and remembered member of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society in this early period. Drane, who moved to Cardiff in 1855 at the age of 22, is commemorated by a brass plaque at the site of his pharmacy in Queen Street that states:

Here lived Robert Drane FLS naturalist, antiquary and connoisseur. This tablet was erected to his memory by the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society which was founded in these premises in the year 1867. 

As the records confirm, Drane was one of the 24 inducted into the Society on 11 September and he was elected at that meeting to the Society’s Committee. In addition, he was the first life member of the Society, being the only one to take up the option, at the first meeting, of purchasing a life membership for the fee of three guineas. It interesting to note that of the 24 present only 15 paid their fees that day and the Society soon introduced further regulations to confirm that All Members whose Subscriptions are one year in arrear shall forfeit their privileges of Membership. Those who are two years in arrear shall have their names erased.

On accepting the Presidency of the Society almost thirty years later, in 1896, Drane remarked:

This Society first opened its eyes in a little room behind a chemist’s shop in 1867 when there were but three persons present – Mr Phil Robinson, Mr R Rhys Jones and myself, and I alone of these am with you now. For these reasons, and because I am the original life member, I may, in some sort, claim to be its founder.

For Drane it was a typically elliptical and rather teasing statement. For whatever reasons, Robert Drane had not been at the planning meetings and was not one of the officers of the Society identified in the notices placed, in August 1867, in the local newspapers. Yet he was clearly identified as a key figure in the Museum Sub-committee of the Free Library established in 1864. In particular, he had taken the lead in improving and extending the range of exhibits held at the Museum. For example, the minutes record that, on 22 March 1864, Mr Drane be authorized to buy British Birds stuffed for the Museum at his direction – not exceeding £5 value.

As a key player in previous attempts to improve the Museum’s collection and, as someone with an active interest in just about all aspects of the natural sciences, Robert Drane would have been well known to those who gathered to set out the Society’s regulations, including Peter Price, a fellow member of the Museum sub-committee, and Philip Robinson of the Free Library. It is very likely, therefore, that plans for the creation of the Society were hatched at a meeting in Drane’s shop as claimed in the Queen Street plaque. There is just one fly in the pharmacist’s ointment; Drane did not move to the Queen Street premises until late in 1867 or more likely 1868. The meeting referred to was, therefore, almost certainly held at his first shop at 11 Bute Street. However, such a minor slip should not be allowed to detract from such a good story.

Within a year, membership of the Society stood at 76. The acceptance, in 1868, by the Marquess of Bute of an Honorary Membership was a particular feather in the Society’s cap and a sign of its growing influence and prestige.

Invitation to Bute

Bute's response

By 1905, when the Society was the driving force behind the recommendation to the Privy Council that the National Museum be located in Cardiff, it was the largest scientific society in Wales.

The Cardiff Naturalists’ Society, therefore, quite rightly, lays claim to having been a key agent in the promotion of the study of the natural sciences. As the Society celebrates its 150th anniversary, it would be interesting to know whether, somewhere within the collections held in Cardiff, there is still a place for the fossils, silver ring and rock donated by Robert Drane in 1867.

The story of the Society can be followed through the records held at Glamorgan Archives of both the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society, 1867-1991 (ref. DCNS) and the papers of Robert Drane (ref. DXIB).

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

The Miners’ Strike, 1984/5

As cataloguing continues on the Glamorgan’s Blood Project, the variety of material within the collection becomes more apparent, from fatal accident reports to records on the colliery closure programme. One of the latest set of records to be catalogued concerns the miners’ strike of 1984/5. The strike was a turning point in the history of the South Wales and UK Coalfields and the politics and ethics of the strike divided colleagues, friends and families.

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Front page of ‘The Miner’, Saturday 2 November 1929 showing a photograph of police escorting the only three men working at Blaengarw during a non-unionist dispute.  This photograph was used as a poster – ‘A Strike Breaker is a Traitor’ – by the NUM South Wales Area during the 1984-85 strike [DNCB/64/18]

The papers of the National Coal Board held at Glamorgan Archives can be used to demonstrate the impact of the strike on all parties: the National Coal Board itself, those on strike and those who chose to return to work before the strike ended.

The effects of the strike on the National Coal Board can be seen through papers such as memoranda concerning safety and maintenance of mines during the strike period and papers concerning financial losses during the strike. Papers relating to priorities that would need to be addressed on resumption of work, such as supply of work clothes, stocking of canteens and repair of boilers in the pithead baths, show the physical effect of the strike on individual collieries and the work needed to get back to full production levels. Circulars issued nationally and locally show the techniques that the National Coal Board were using to try to get people back to work, with circulars issued to the miners by Philip Weekes, Area Director and by individual colliery managers.

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Front page of Coal News, Mar 1985. Statistics on miners returning to work used to encourage those still on strike to return to work [DNCB/67/1/17/18]

The views of striking workers can be seen through copies of correspondence with the NUM concerning strike negotiations and the National Union of Mineworkers’ terms. Pamphlets within the collection give a vivid impression of the beliefs of the striking miners, with strong, emotive language being used to present the NUM’s viewpoint, in posters such as that titled ‘A Strike Breaker is a Traitor’.

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National Union of Mineworkers leaflet detailing reasons why the strike should be supported [DNCB/67/1/32]

Correspondence with the NUM also demonstrates their efforts to request amnesty for miners dismissed during the strike for strike related practices, with lists showing actions by strikers, numbers of cases that could have led to dismissal and numbers of re-instated and re-engaged miners.

The records also show the views of those not in favour of the strike, through letters sent to the NCB by individuals and colliery workers, and anti-strike pamphlets. For those who chose to return to work before the end of the strike, correspondence within the collection offers us an insight into the mental and physical abuse that some miners went through after returning to work. More than one miner describes being ‘sent to Coventry’ by his fellow workers and there are records of incidents of threats to individuals, their families and property. The treatment of these men prompted many to seek transfers to other collieries or to request voluntary redundancy.

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The Working Miners’ Newsletter, published by the Democratic Working Miners of the NUM [DNCB/67/1/17/1]

Overall these papers give an insight into a tough and pivotal time in the history of the South Wales Coalfield. Viewing these papers alongside other material in the Glamorgan Archives collection, such as (but not limited to) papers of the South Wales Women’s Support Groups (DWSG); papers of Councillor Ray T Davies, treasurer for the Miners’ Strike Support Group (D316); the 1984/5 diary of William Croad, a Senior Management Official, at Lady Windsor Colliery, Ynysybwl (D1174/1); Aberdare Miners’ Relief Fund Records (D1432), and press cuttings on the strike within the South Wales Police Constabulary Records (DSWP/49/7), will enable research to be undertaken into all aspects of the strike.

Louise Clarke, Glamorgan’s Blood Project Archivist

Adamsdown School

When Cardiff School Board was established in 1875, one of its priorities was the provision of a school for 800 children in the ecclesiastical district of All Saints.  To address this need, they quickly established Adamsdown Temporary School in the schoolroom under Mount Tabor Chapel (now the Jewish Reform Synagogue) in Moira Terrace.  The Board subsequently acquired, from the Marquess of Bute, a site on the north-western side of Adamsdown Square and a new school, designed by local architect W. D. Blessley, and built by Samuel Shepton, opened on 31 April 1879.

d1093-2- 024 Adamsdown School_compressed

Over the next twenty years or so, the school appears to have been extended more than once, and by 1901 it was reported to have accommodation for 888 scholars.

A replacement primary school opened in 1985, in nearby System Street.  The Adamsdown Square building then closed and was demolished in about 1988.  The site is now occupied by two blocks of flats – Windsor Mews and Ty’r Ysgol.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

  • Mary Traynor Collection [D1093/2/19]
  • Cardiff Borough, building regulation plans, plan of Adamsdown Board School, South Luton Place, 1878 [BC/S/1/1637]
  • Cardiff School Board Records, minute book of the Sites and Buildings Committee, 1875-1881 [ESB68/21]
  • City of Cardiff Education Week 1932
  • Childs, Jeff, Roath, Splott and Adamsdown – One Thousand Years of History
  • South Wales Daily News, 5 Jan 1899
  • Weekly Mail, 8 September 1900

Flyover, Junction of Tyndall Street and Central Link Road, Cardiff

With the construction of the M4 to the north of Cardiff, work began in the 1970s on developing good links from the motorway into southern and central parts of the city. Recently completed, the Peripheral Distributor Road (A4232) forms a loop, skirting the south of Cardiff between M4 junctions 30 (Cardiff Gate) and 33 (Capel Llanilltern).

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The Central Link Road (A4234) is a spur connecting the A4232 with the city centre.  Built at a cost of £8.5 million, it was opened on 16 February 1989.  Comprising just under a mile of dual carriageway, the road runs from Queensgate roundabout in Cardiff Bay, mainly alongside the former Bute East Dock, to Adam Street.  There is a grade-separated junction where it crosses Tyndall Street, and Mary Traynor’s drawing illustrates the supports carrying the flyover at this point.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

Interior, United Synagogue, Cathedral Road, Cardiff

Although there were Jews living in Cardiff in the 18th century, a Jewish community was not established until the first half of the 19th century.  The town’s first permanent synagogue opened at East Terrace, which now forms the southern end of Churchill Way, in 1858.  In the 1880s, part of the congregation seceded from East Street and established a separate synagogue at Edward Place, off North Edward Street, where the Capitol Centre and Churchill House now stand.  By 1894, the East Terrace congregation had outgrown its building and a site was purchased in Cathedral Road to erect a new synagogue.  The chosen location reflected, in part, the growing prosperity of many Jewish families, who had now moved from the Docks area to Canton and Riverside.

The new synagogue was opened on Wednesday 12 May 1897 in the presence of the United Kingdom Chief Rabbi, Dr Hermann Adler.  Designed by London architect, Delissa Joseph, it could accommodate 241 men on the ground floor and 158 women in the gallery, with provision for future expansion.

d1093-2- 019 Interior, United Synagogue, Cathedral Road_compressed

In 1941, the two Cardiff congregations agreed to merge as the Cardiff United Synagogue.  After the Second World War, many Jewish families moved to the Penylan and Cyncoed areas, which led to the foundation of a new synagogue off Ty Gwyn Road in 1955 (this re-located to Cyncoed Gardens in 2003).  The Cathedral Road synagogue continued to function until 1989, when it finally closed.  Now renamed Temple Court, the interior has been adapted for use as office space.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

  • Mary Traynor Collection [D1093/2/15]
  • Cardiff Jewish Community Records and Papers, commemorative booklet to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the opening of Cathedral Road Synagogue, 1957 [DJR/5/16]
  • http://www.cardiffshul.org/history2.htm
  • Cardiff Times and South Wales Weekly News, 15 May 1897