The Students Union, Dumfries Place, Cardiff

Designed by Manchester architect, Alfred Armstrong, this building on the western side of Dumfries Place originally housed the Cardiff Proprietary School – also known as Cardiff College.   Established in 1875 and accommodating 300 scholars, it offered ‘a sound and liberal education at a moderate cost’, aiming to prepare boys for university, the naval, military & civil services, and also for scientific, professional and commercial pursuits.


The school seems to have run into financial difficulties at a relatively early stage.  By 1886, the governors sought to transfer it to a local educational charity while, in 1891, parents were advised that, ‘owing to the want of support’, the school would close on 31 July that year.  Following an extraordinary general meeting in October 1892, the company was wound up and the building sold to the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire.

Initially, the University appears to have used the premises for art classes but, by 1895, it was a Technical School, continuing in this role until the First World War.  From 1916 until about 1950, it housed government offices, including the National Health Insurance Commission, Welsh Board of Health, and Ministry of Pensions.

During the 1950s, the Students Union moved here from 51 Park Place, and remained in occupation until their Senghennydd Road building was erected in the 1970s.  Following demolition, the Dumfries Place site is now occupied by a modern office building known as Haywood House.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

  • Mary Traynor Collection [D1093/2/5]
  • Cardiff Borough Building Regulation Plans, plan of Proprietary School, Dumfries Place, 1875 [BC/S/1/901021]
  • Cardiff Borough Building Regulation Plans, plans of Cardiff Technical College, Dumfries Place, 1895 [BC/S/1/10923.2; BC/S/1/10923.1]
  • Cardiff Times, 30 May 1874
  • South Wales Echo, 18 November 1886
  • Kelly’s Directory of Monmouthshire and South Wales, 1891
  • Western Mail, 11 May 1891
  • The London Gazette, 25 November 1892, p. 6937
  • Wright’s Cardiff Directory, 1893-94
  • Various Cardiff directories, 1908 – 1964
  • Stewart Williams, Cardiff Yesterday, vol. 11, image 156


St David’s Day 1915, Buckingham Palace

In March 1915, Guardsman David ‘Dai’ Luker sent a letter to Edward and Amy Lewis, a married couple who at the time were working tirelessly at Cardiff University Settlement. Written on Y.M.C.A stationary, Luker began by sending his ‘thanks for [the] letter which I received this morning’. In a chirpy and lively tone, he went on to inform the Lewises that he had just moved regiments. He told them what he had got up to on St. David’s Day and about life in the Army more generally. He closed in a formal tone, ‘I remain Dai Luker’, and added a postscript: ‘Remember me to all of the Club members’. Why did Luker write to the Lewises? The postscript offers us the vital clues. Luker had attended the Lads’ Club at Cardiff University Settlement.1

The university settlement movement was founded in the 1880s to reconnect rich university graduates with the urban poor. In Cardiff, there was a desire for the University of Wales to turn its attention to the needs of East Moors, an area recently transformed by rapid urbanisation and industrialisation and with a high density of poor residents. The relative success of Cardiff University Settlement rested not only with University of Wales graduates, but also with ordinary middle-class Cardiffians prepared to give up their time to work for the settlement’s various social and educational endeavours.2

Edward and Amy Lewis both played an instrument role at Cardiff University Settlement. Edward was the settlement’s arithmetic tutor and summer camp worker. Amy was the leader of the Girls’ and the Lads’ Clubs. Edward was a Cardiff solicitor in his thirties and had moved to Splott when he married Amy (née Hughes) in 1913. It is likely that they met and fell in love at the settlement. Luker’s envelope shows that as a married couple, the Lewises chose to reside with their baby daughter Amelia not only in Splott, but at 2 University Place, a stone’s throw from Settlement Hall which backed onto this cul-de-sac.

Luker, a working-class Splott lad, initially enlisted in the King’s Guards, but subsequently transferred to the Welsh Guard when it was formed at the end of February 1915. He would spend the rest of the war in this regiment, eventually winning a military medal. At the time Luker wrote the aforementioned letter to the Lewises, he had yet to experience active combat in France. Earlier correspondence suggests that he was enjoying military life, boasting to the Lewises that his had won his swimming badge, was keeping himself clean, and that he was about to take his rifle certificate.3 In his March 1915 letter he reported to the Lewises that ‘We are getting looked after alright here[.] plenty of food (but) I don’t know how long it will last, its just like a new sweeping brush’. He also reported to the Lewises that he had recently returned back from a visit to Hastings with two fellow former Cardiff Settlement Lads’ Club members.

DCE-1-20 p1

DCE-1-20 p2

The real excitement of the March 1915 letter, however, lies in his first-hand account of St. David’s Day. Written almost 100 years to the day, it described to the Lewises his experience of being on parade for his new regiment. After niceties, Luker quickly reported that ‘I was one of the first Kings Guards at Buckingham Palace on Saint David’s Day for the new Reg’. By referring to 1st March as ‘Saint David’s Day’, Luker acknowledged the relationship he had with his readers. The Cardiff University Settlement appears to have celebrated St. David’s Day not so much as an exclusively Welsh festival but as one that incorporated Wales into a four nations vision.4 St David’s Day celebrations included Welsh and English songs. There was also Morris dancing. Ronald Burrows, the Scottish Settlement warden and Cardiff College Professor of Greek, would give a speech that sought to incorporate the Welshman, Englishman, Scotsman and Irishman together.5

Celebrating St. David’s Day clearly helped Luker to feel at home in London. He wrote:

their was Thousands of people their most of them wore the Leek they were taking our Photos all the time[.] Lloyd George was their the King watched us mount through the window[.] we had a nice dinner sent to us and a nice tea…all those who mounted guard on Saint David’s Day are to belong to the Prince of Wales Company.

It was not unusual for Luker to write without full stops. But in neat handwriting, he conveyed the centrality of his St. David’s Day experience to the transition he was making between Settlement House life and army life. He was proud that the parade was watched by the King and that Lloyd George joined them in marking the foundation of the Welsh Guard. This pride was evidently shared by the crowd, who wore St David’s personal symbol, the leek. Alternatively, the crowd could have been expressing its support for the new Prince of Wales’s company. Sadly, Luker’s letter does not mention if his nice dinner or tea consisted of eating a raw leek. In nodding to the leek in his letter, though, he revealed how St. David’s Day was not confined to Wales in 1915, but was also to be found behind the gilded railings and gates of Buckingham Palace.6

Lucinda Matthews-Jones is a lecturer based at Liverpool John Moores University. She is currently writing a book on the British university settlement movement. It was over the summer that she discovered and read letters sent from a group of Splott soldiers to Edwards and Amy Lewis. This post emerges from this research.


1. For a brief introduction to these letters please see Philip Gale, ‘The University Settlement, Cardiff’, Annual Report of the Glamorgan Archivist (1987), pp.17-19

2. For a history of Cardiff University Settlement see B. M. Bull, The University Settlement in Cardiff, (Cardiff; Cardiff College of Art, 1965). The early years of the settlement are also covered in George Glasgow’s Ronald Burrows: A Memoir (London; Nisbet & Co. Ltd, 1924)

3. David Luker to Mr and Mrs Lewis, 26 January 1915, GA, DCE1/18

4. For a discussion of Victorian St. David’s Day see Mike Benbough-Jackson, ‘Victorians Meet St. David’, Journal of Victorian Culture Online, [accessed 23/02/2015]

5. See, for instance, ‘Speech by Professor Burrows’, (May; 1906), Cap and Gown, pp.111-112

6. For a broader discussion to the leek significance on St. David’s Day see Mike Benbough-Jackson, ‘Celebrating a Saint on His Home Ground: St. David’s Day in St. David’s diocese during the nineteenth century’, in Bill Gibson and John Morgan-Guy (eds), Religion and Society in the Diocese of St. David’s 1485-2011 (Ashgate; 2015), pp. 157-178

Christmas Greetings from the Front Line

Amongst the documents held at Glamorgan Archives detailing the experiences of Glamorgan soldiers at the front are several letters sending Christmas greetings to family and friends at home.

Many are to be found within the Cardiff University Settlement Records. The University Settlement was established in 1901 by a group of academic staff at the University College Cardiff. They were seeking to improve social conditions in the more deprived areas of Cardiff by engaging in active social work with these communities, and they set up a base in Splott.

The University Settlement was divided into four separate clubs: the Lads’; Girls’; Womens’ and Mens’ clubs. On the declaration of war in 1914, many of the lads enlisted and were sent to fight at the front, in France and Belgium. Several kept in contact with Mr and Mrs Lewis, a couple closely associated with the University Settlement.

Mr and Mrs Lewis corresponded with members of the University Settlement Lads’ Club serving in the armed forces throughout the conflict, sending letters and parcels and receiving letters in return. The Lewis’ sent Christmas parcels to the boys each year, and many wrote to thank them for their generosity.

John Childs writes ‘I received the parsel alright and was very please with it. I hope that all the members enjoyed their Christmas as I am please to say I enjoyed mine… Remember me to all the members wishing them a happy New Year and may the war soon be over’.

On 15th December 1915, Mr Lewis received a letter from James Hawkey, stationed at the Front. Again, he thanks them for their kindness in sending a Christmas parcel, and assures them it has arrived safely, commenting ‘…I am in the pink and quite comfortable considering the circumstances’. He wishes everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, finishing with ‘P.S. If I get a chance I will send at least one Christmas card…’.

Driver A. Morgan made the effort of writing a thank you note for his Christmas parcel on 20 January 1917, despite the fact that ‘…I cannot write a letter to save my life. It is not in my line’.

James Reece also wrote to thank Mr Lewis and the members of the Club for his parcel; ‘…the contents were just what I required and please thank the members of the club on my behalf for what they have done for us chaps out here’; and Gunner C. Upcott writes, ‘I do not know how much to thank you for your kindest’. The Christmas parcels from the Settlement were obviously very much appreciated and valued by the boys, not only for their contents but for the kind thoughts and good wishes they represented.

One of the Christmas communications stands out more than the others: a postcard from D. McDonald, a member of the Lads’ club who was serving in the Army during the war.

The postcard depicts the flags of the allied nations of the First World War – Belgium, France, the UK and Russia – beautifully interwoven with a thistle and the words Merry Christmas. It is hand embroidered on a piece of silk mesh. These embroidered postcards were mostly produced by French and Belgium women refugees working in refugee camps and temporary homes. The finished embroidery was sent to factories to be cut and mounted on card. Embroidered postcards were extremely popular with British servicemen on duty on France as they made such a lovely memento for their recipient. The central portion of the embroidery is cut as a flap and contains a tiny printed greetings card with the message ‘I’m thinking of you’.

The back of the postcard bears the message, ‘From D MacDonald to Mr and Mrs Lewis and wishing you a prosperous New Year’. There is no stamp on the card as it would have been sent via the military mail at no charge to the sender.

At the end of the war it proved impossible to resume the University Settlement activities as so many of the members had dispersed. The University Settlement Company was formally wound up in 1924.

Glamorgan Archives holds no further correspondence from the University Settlement lads after the war years. We do not know if they survived, or if they ever returned to Cardiff.