Charles Chaplin at the Theatre Royal, 11 February 1891

Glamorgan Archives holds an extensive collection of the original playbills from the Theatre Royal, Cardiff for the years 1885-1895.  Situated on the corner of Wood Street and St Mary Street, a site later occupied by the Prince of Wales Theatre, the Theatre Royal provided a wide variety of entertainment including pantomime, opera and plays.


One of the playbills that catches the eye is the bill for 11 February 1891 that includes Charles Chaplin singing ‘Duty Calls’. In fact this was Charles Chaplin senior, for young Charlie Chaplin was only 2 years old at the time. Charles Chaplin and his wife Hannah were both music hall entertainers and, in February 1891, Charles was appearing at the Empire in Cardiff. Such was his popularity that he was loaned ‘for one night only’ to appear at the Theatre Royal for a special and extended performance of the pantomime Sinbad the Sailor. Charles and Hannah’s marriage was not a success. Their music hall careers faded and sadly they did not live to see their son’s career blossom as an internationally acclaimed comic actor and film maker.

If you would like to see the Charles Chaplin playbill or others in the Theatre Royal collection they are held at Glamorgan Archives, reference D452.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer


The Day Aladdin played at Cardiff Arms Park

There was a was remarkable spectacle at Cardiff Arms Park almost 130 years ago, when on Thursday 23 January 1889, Aladdin’s XV took the field to play Dick Whittington’s XV. With the Chinese Professor of Magic, Abanazar, at full back and Widow Twankey and the Emperor Congou in the pack, Aladdin’s team, drawn from the pantomime cast at the Theatre Royal, was a formidable combination. Dick Whittington’s XV, representing the Grand Theatre, was led by Idle Jack and, allegedly, fielded 16 players – presumably 15 plus the cat. The South Wales Daily News reported that the teams were cheered on by a ‘tremendous crowd’ that included the full cast from both theatres. The star of the afternoon was Mr Luke Forster also known as Abanazar. The report does not reveal whether he used his powers of magic but, through his efforts, Aladdin’s XV triumphed …by a try and 4 minors to nil. Not to be outdone, Mr E W Colman, the Grand Theatre’s Idle Jack, was carried from the field on the shoulders of his supporters to celebrate …the run of match from his own 25 to the Royal 25 yard line.

Behind the gaiety this was serious business as the two theatres vied to capture the crowds that flooded into Cardiff each night to attend the pantomimes. Glamorgan Archives holds a collection of playbills used to promote the performances of the pantomime at the Theatre Royal.


Situated on the corner of Wood Street and St Mary Street, a site later occupied by the Prince of Wales Theatre, the Theatre Royal was built in 1878. In its pomp it held up to 2000 people in an opulent auditorium upholstered with red velvet. Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp was the eighth pantomime to be staged at the Theatre. Through the array of playbills produced for its run, from December 1888 to early February 1889, we can see that it was one of the biggest and most lavish productions of the year. In an effort to attract the crowds the playbills provided details of the cast and a summary of each scene with details of the settings and the acts on show. Every effort was made to fill the theatre night after night, with special trains laid on from Swansea, Merthyr and Rhymney with reduced fares for those purchasing theatre tickets at the station on boarding the train.


Billed as the …most splendid pantomime in Wales, Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp had twelve scenes, each with ornate scenery depicting streets and markets in China, Aladdin’s Cave, the Flying Palace and the Home of Sphinx. In the reviews published in the local newspapers the scene set in the Halls of the Alhambra, was described as the piece de resistance. Each scene had its lead act and in the Halls of Alhambra the lead was taken by the Sisters Wallace, Fannie, Emmie and Nellie and …their wonderful song and dance specialities. They were supported by the comedians Sawyer and Ellis (described as extraordinary double top boot dancers) as two policemen …who put the House in roars. If that was not enough, the scene closed with the ‘Beautiful Ballet of the Months’ performed by sixty dancers – one of three ballets staged during the performance. The stars of the pantomime were Miss Howe Carewe, described as …a most charming Aladdin and Miss Marie Clavering as the Princess. They were supported by Luke Forster and Frank Irish as Abanazar and Widow Twankey. The lead players were just the tip of the iceberg with the playbills identifying a cast of 30 actors plus an array of supporting roles and dancers.

There are eight playbills at Glamorgan Archives for Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp and they show how the pantomime was adapted and changed during its two month run. The aim was to appeal to all ages and refresh the acts, songs and dances so that people would come back over and over again. For example, by the end of January a set of acrobats and a comic football match had been incorporated into the performance. It was also the practice for the lead actors to be given a benefit night and there are playbills to advertise the nights identified in January for Miss Howe Carewe and others. However, there were signs that all was not well. By January, the playbills confirmed that Marie Clavering had been replaced by Miss Florence Bankhardt, who had arrived …direct from the New Opera House, Chicago, to take the part of the Princess. There were also signs that the comedians were under pressure to improve their act – with mixed results. Commenting on the new material introduced by Frank Irish as Widow Twankey, the South Wales Daily News welcomed the comic account of the Swansea and Cardiff football match but was more circumspect about references to ‘Adam and the fig leaves’.

The fact of the matter was that, although Aladdin was hailed as the finest pantomime staged at the Theatre Royal, there was now a new rival for the pantomime audience in the form of The Grand Theatre of Varieties on Westgate Street. Opened in the previous year, The Grand was staging its first pantomime and its owners were intent on impressing. The Grand was a bigger and more lavish theatre than the Royal and described as one of the most beautiful of its kind. It had also committed an enormous budget to finance its first pantomime, Dick Whittington and His Cat. In late January 1889 the Western Mail reported that there were still thousands flocking each night to The Grand, with many unable to gain admission. The newspaper concluded:

The success is due without a shadow of a doubt, to the all-round excellence of everything that goes to make up the pantomime.

It seems that Aladdin’s XV may have won the game at Cardiff Arms Park. However, the Theatre Royal, despite heroic efforts, came second in the battle of pantomimes 130 years ago in Christmas 1888.  Did someone say ‘Oh no they didn’t’? I’m afraid that the evidence suggests ‘Oh yes they did’!

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

The playbills for the productions at the Theatre Royal between 1885 and 1895, including ‘Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp’, can be seen at Glamorgan Archives, reference D452. The newspaper reports can be found on the Welsh Newspapers Online website. The report for the Cardiff Arms Park match is in the South Wales Daily News for 24 January 1889.

Celebrating the Peace in ‘a right worthy fashion’, 11 November 1918

As we commemorate Armistice Day and the centenary of the end of the Great War, records held at Glamorgan Archives throw light on celebrations in South Wales in November 1918 and, in particular, the joy and relief that marked the end of a bloody and brutal war. Headteachers in schools across Wales were required to keep a regular record of events. Summaries of the school log books for 1914-18 can be accessed on the Glamorgan Archives website. They provide an insight into the tumultuous celebrations that erupted across South Wales on 11 November 1918, none more so than as recorded by Mr W S Jones at Whitchurch Boys’ School. William Jones had been Headmaster at the school for over 4 years. On 11 November he made the following entry in the school log book:

Log book 1

Log book 2

Great excitement prevailed at school this morning. The Church bells chimed and the boys soon came to the conclusion that the Armistice had been signed by the German representatives. As we had been misled by a false report of the signature of the Armistice on Thursday evening – 7th I sent a message to the local postmaster who confirmed the signing of the Armistice as official.  

The boys were informed of the good news which brings the actual fighting of the Great European War to a close and great enthusiasm was shown. We did not try to restrain their energies for the last half hour and about 5 minutes to 12 the whole school was assembled in the yard when the Doxology and the National Anthem were sung. Cheer after cheer was given for such glorious news and the boys dispersed.

School reassembled after dinner. The Chief Education Official was telephoned to, but no holiday could be granted. The matter would be referred to the Education Committee which was expected to meet on the morrow (Tuesday). The boys were reassembled on the yard in the afternoon and led by a scout with a small drum marched around the yard waving flags and singing various popular songs. The significance of the act of the signature of the Armistice was explained to the boys [Whitchurch Boys’ School, log book, ESE64/1/4]

The log book draws a veil over what happened next but no doubt many of the boys, with their families, joined the crowds that flooded into central Cardiff. The signing of the Armistice was announced across the city by the sounding of the ‘Western Mail’ siren soon followed by hooters and horns from factories across the city and ships in the docks. A ‘wildly enthusiastic’ crowd gathered in Cathays Park with the newspapers reporting that:

Everybody felt that the hour had come for the abandonment of restraint and for the expression of a long pent up enthusiasm….others arrived with the announcement that the Docks was on stop. Everyone there had downed tools, and there was not a murmur of dissent. All the workshops and yards, schools and business premises let loose their jubilant occupants and after a riot of abandonment they gradually gravitated to the City Hall, where the flags of the Allies proudly fly.

Many dock workers marched directly into City Hall and could be seen waving to the crowds from the windows on the upper floor. By midday a semblance of order had been restored with the Lord Mayor, standing on the roof of the porte cochere over the doorway to the City Hall, reading a message from the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, confirming the signing of the Armistice. This was met with ‘thunderous applause’ and was followed by a march past by the Welsh Regiment and the singing of the national anthems of the allied nations including the Marseillaise and the Star Spangled Banner. Sensing the mood of the crowd the Lord Mayor …appealed to the citizens to celebrate the day with joy and thanks but also with restraint and dignity. It was a plea echoed by Sir William Seager – In this hour of victory let us be sober. Perhaps it is not surprising that this was met …with loud cries of no, no and laughter.

By early afternoon the city centre was awash with cheering crowds including St Mary Street and High Street, where people were crammed at windows in the buildings along the street to gain a view of the crowds and join in the celebrations. Whenever they were spotted there was a special cheer for members of the Armed Forces including a number of American servicemen. The cheers, however, were not just for the ‘boys back from the Front’. Recognising that the war had seen major changes in roles and responsibilities the newspapers reported that:

A brewery wagon carried not supplies of Government beer but something incredibly livelier a bevy of land girls in uniform who sang all the popular ditties with great gusto.

In addition, during the war years the male conductors on the city’s tram service had been replaced by women and the newspapers reported that:

The tramway girls got off the cars, they must, they said, join in the processions.

The following day the Western Mail concluded:

South Wales came perilously near the Mafficking type of jubilation. In most places there was an absolute stoppage of work. Shortly after the dinner-hour shops were closed – the staffs would not brook restraint and the employers readily relaxed the rules and regulations [Western Mail, 12 November 1918].

Many schools, including Gabalfa, Hawthorne and Maindy, had been closed for all or part of October and the first week of November as a result of the influenza epidemic that had swept south Wales. Whitchurch Boys’ School, however, had escaped relatively lightly with 15-20 cases of influenza at any one time out of a school complement of just over 200 pupils. The Whitchurch boys were very likely to have been amongst the bevy of small boys reported as adding to the clamour in Cathays Park with improvised ‘tom-toms’ made from old kettles, pans and sheets of tin. They would also have cheered the Lord Mayor’s announcement of a seven day holiday for all schools.

The war years had been a difficult time for schools with shortages of basic supplies and food. In addition, shortages of coal had meant that schools had found it difficult to heat the classrooms during the winter months. The school had ‘done its bit’ with the establishment of a garden of some 20 perches cultivated by the boys two days a week to grow vegetables as part of the national campaign to increase food production. The school had also been in the forefront of campaigns to raise money for the War Savings Association and with some success, being rewarded with an extra day of holiday for their efforts.

Like many schools Whitchurch had seen several of its teachers enlist in the armed forces. Of the three male staff at Whitchurch who had joined up, two came though unscathed but sadly one, Ivor Drinkwater, had been killed on active service with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, in France, in the last week of November 1917.  As in many other areas of employment women had come forward to fill the gaps and a school staffed by male teachers in 1914 had, by November 1918, three female teachers. In many instances male teachers leaving the armed forces returned to their posts. However, the barriers to women working in boys’ schools had been broken down and the Whitchurch school log book confirms that, from that point onwards, the school always had a number of women teachers.

Monday 11 November 1918 was, however, a day to celebrate and the following day the Western Mail reported:

It was great day of rejoicing and abandon, and most people went to sleep at a late hour, satisfied that they had done the celebration of peace in a right worthy fashion.

It must have been an unpleasant surprise for the Whitchurch boys the next morning to find that the holiday only applied to schools in the Cardiff Education authority area. Whitchurch Boy’s school was open on Tuesday 12 November and on the morning of Wednesday 13th before it was announced that the rest of the week could be taken as a holiday.


The Headmaster, William Jones, simply noted in the school log that …the school was dismissed after assembling on yard. Perhaps diplomatically, he made no comment on the attendance.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

The Norwegian Church, Cardiff

Cardiff’s multicultural population is by no means a recent phenomenon. The town’s rapid growth during the 19th century as a port serving Glamorgan’s industrial hinterland attracted workers from Britain and around the world. Many settled; in 1911 the foreign male population of Cardiff was second only to London in Britain. Many more were transient visitors, particularly the sailors on foreign-registered vessels calling at the docks. Among them were a substantial group of Norwegians, Swedes and Danes, and it was to these men that Pastor Lars Oftedal of the Norwegian Seamen’s Mission addressed his ministry from 1866.

After initially meeting on board ship and in a redundant chapel, the Sjømannskirken was soon erected.


Plan showing proposed alterations to the Norwegian Church, 1939

Prefabricated in Norway and shipped to Cardiff, it was in typical Norwegian style, although made of corrugated iron sheets. The port authorities had insisted that it should be easily dismantled and re-located if necessary. The church, which Cardiff trade directories describe as:

…the Norwegian iron Church, south-east corner of West Bute Dock for Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and Finnish sailors and residents

was consecrated on 16 December 1869, and remained in its original position until its eventual removal in 1987.


Plan showing the original location of the Norwegian Church

The Norwegian Seamen’s Mission’s 25th Annual Report highly commended the location which:

could not be improved upon, as it is situated between the two docks, at the point where they converge towards the inlets. The church is thus positioned in amongst the ships, so that it is at only a short walk’s distance from many of them, and easy to find for all those who would like to visit it.’

The absence of possibly more enticing attractions on the dockside was a major point in its favour, as the seamen …do not need to go into the town and expose themselves to its temptations, only for the sake of a visit to the reading room.

The church developed with the increase in Scandinavian, and particularly Norwegian, shipping in the Bristol Channel ports. Missions were established at Newport, Swansea and Barry Dock, served by Assistant Missionaries under the Pastor at Cardiff. By 1920 the Pastor lived in the Norwegian vicarage, ‘Prestegaarden’, at 181 Cathedral Road. The number of Scandinavian ships using the area’s ports rose from 227 in 1867 to 3,611 in 1915, and annual statistics for communicants and visitors rose correspondingly from 7,572 in 1867 to 73,580 in 1915. The industrial and economic problems of the 1920s and 1930s affected the Norwegian churches. By 1931 the Mission was reduced to its churches in Cardiff and Swansea only.

During the Second World War Cardiff’s resident Norwegian community increased and many more Norwegians passed through the port as seamen or refugees. The Iron Church and its staff worked with the local branch of the Norwegian Seamen’s Union and other organisations to provide for its people during these difficult years. The Norwegian merchant navy played a significant role in the Allied war effort, but many ships and many lives were lost. The bombing raids on Cardiff made even shore leave unsafe. A number of men were killed when the Scandinavian Seamen’s Home on Bute Road was hit and destroyed.

At the end of the war Cardiff’s Scandinavian communities joined together to celebrate the peace. From that time on, however, activity in the Seamen’s Mission declined, staff was reduced, and the Norwegian community itself dispersed as Cardiff ceased to be a major port. The Iron Church closed in 1959, the last service taking place on 17 May, Norway’s national festival, Grunnlovsdagen, Constitution Day.

The church remained standing, in an increasing state of dilapidation, for almost thirty years. In the 1980s South Glamorgan County Council sponsored the establishment of the Norwegian Church Preservation Trust to save the church and integrate it into the re-developed docks. Roald Dahl, the author, was the Trust’s first President, as a Cardiff-Norwegian himself. In 1987 the old church was dismantled and stored for re-assembly. However, the church which was eventually opened in a splendid new location overlooking Cardiff Bay in 1992 was almost entirely a new creation. As much of the original building as was useable was incorporated into the new church, but most of the materials were new, donated by companies in Norway and in Cardiff, or purchased with the donations raised by public subscription in the Bergen area. Many companies gave their services free to complete the church, which is now built of wood, except for the roof of sheet steel, especially produced by a local firm to fit the building.

The church was officially opened by Princess Märtha Louise on 8 April 1992 as a cultural centre. Although it is not consecrated as a church, art exhibitions and concerts are held in the building and a café serves food and drink.

Susan Edwards, Glamorgan Archivist

This article has drawn on an unpublished lecture by Professor John Greve and on ‘Med Norsk Siømannsmision I hundre år’ [100 years of the Norwegian Mission to Seamen], by Gunnar Christie Wasberg

Subordination and Devastation: Two Sea Voyages from the Port of Cardiff

Glamorgan Archives holds crew agreements and log books for ships registered at the Port of Cardiff for the years 1863-1913 (ref.: DCA).  The following incidents illustrate two extraordinary occurrences recorded in these logs.

The master of the Talca (official number 50438), Charles Woollacott, a Devonshire man, aged 41, must have wondered at the events which dogged his ship during a voyage carrying coal from Cardiff to Australia, which began in July 1869 and ended in December 1870. The cook was the main cause of trouble, as Woollacott recorded in January 1870:

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…we find that the man Thom[as] Roelph engaged as cook and steward at £5 per month, does not know anything about Cooking. He cannot Boil a Potatoe…It is intended to reduce his Wages in proportion to his Incompetency.

On a long voyage food was of great importance and a cook’s inability to provide good food was a threat to the health of the crew and hence their ability to work. The problem was even more serious because the Talca was a sailing ship and the work, therefore, even more strenuous. The problems on the Talca continued, and in February an entry in the log stated:

All hands came aft to say they could not do their work if they could not get their victules better cooked.

Mercifully five days later in Freemantle, Australia, Charles Woollacott noted:

This day Thomas Raulph [sic] deserted the ship.

The story did not end here. In Freemantle another man, Richard Evans, was engaged as replacement cook. As the document among the ship’s papers proves, Evans had been a criminal transported to Australia, and, having completed his sentence he was working his passage back to England (although he deserted in Dunkirk). The crew list gives his age as 32, and his place of birth as Liverpool. It is likely that Captain Woollacott would have preferred Richard Evans to have stayed in Australia. The new cook proved insolent, insubordinate and incompetent, refusing to obey orders, until the master was forced to enter in the Log:

I did not know when I shipped him that he had been a convict. Upon the next occasion I intend to put him in confinement for the sake of Subordination of the Ship, called him aft and read this entry to him. Received a insullent reply and a threat of-what he-would do when he got home.

Transportation does not appear to have reformed Richard Evans.

In contrast, the master’s entry for the S.S. Afonwen (official number 105191) for December 1908 records an event of a different kind. Whilst the ship was docked in Messina, Sicily, on a voyage carrying coal, the area was struck by a severe earthquake. The crew members acted with great bravery, two of them being awarded the Albert medal and a third was decorated by the King of Italy for attempts to rescue local people from the disaster, risking their own lives. The ship was used to bring the injured to safety in Naples. The master, William Owen, shows professional restraint in his entry in the official log for 28 December 1908 and mentions only the physical effects of the earthquake on his ship:

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At 5.15 all hands disturbed by heavy earthquake shock causing great confusion on board, rushing on deck but being pitched dark and the air full of dust was unable to see anything; same time tidal wave came over quay which raised the ship bodily tearing adrift all moorings… unknown steamer which was adrift collided with our starboard bow damaging same… the water now receded and ship grounded… At 7 a.m. sky cleared when we found out the quay had collapsed and town destroyed…

One member of the crew, Ali Hassan, was reported as being ashore at the time and the entry against his name in the crew list gives him as …supposed killed in earthquake.

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An article in the Western Mail for 15 December 1965, using letters and recollections of the crew, tells a more vivid tale. Captain Owen, by then in retirement in his native Amlwch, Anglesey, recalled:

a great wall of water sprang up with appalling violence; it was a miracle we came through it. The wind howled around us and waves continually swamped us as though a squall had come on. Vast eddying clouds of dust settled on the ship like a fog.

Many people fleeing the earthquake tried to swim for the ships in the harbour.  Nineteen such people are said to have reached the Afonwen including by a strange coincidence, a man from Cardiff. The next morning Captain Owen took a party of three men ashore to seek instructions at the British Consulate, but they found it had been destroyed. He wrote in the Log for 29 December 1908:

At 8 a.m. this day-I went on shore but unable to find any means of communication and no one to give instructions I returned on board and decided to proceed to Naples, sailing from Messina 10 a.m.

One of the crew who went ashore with him was Eric Possart, given in the crew list as an 18 year old apprentice from Cardiff. He wrote of the incident in a letter home to his father:

The people were all cut and bleeding… As fast as we could we were taking them aboard ships. We could only find one doctor alive. Little girls and boys saw their own hair turning white as snow

Over 100,000 people were reported to have been killed.

The majority of voyages recorded in the Cardiff crew agreements were less eventful, but the records are no less interesting as they give valuable insight into trade from Glamorgan ports, life on board a ship, as well as information on the crew and on the conditions under which they served.


The Llandaff Knuts: The first hospital at Rookwood, 1918

Previous material on the history of Rookwood dealt with the preparations for the sale of the house in July 1917 using the prospectus prepared by Stephenson and Alexander, Auctioneers and Chartered Surveyors of High Street, Cardiff. In this article we pick up the threads of what happened next and celebrate the establishment of the first hospital at Rookwood in 1918, 100 years ago.


The records for Stephenson and Alexander held at Glamorgan Archives confirm that strenuous efforts were made to sell the house and the estate in the summer of 1917. On two occasions a sale was close, with well-known figures in the local business world showing interest. However, in each case, they were deterred by the valuation of £20,000 placed on the house and the estate by the Hill family. The sale may not have been helped by the fact that Rookwood had been unoccupied for some time. Sir Edward Stock Hill had died in 1902 and, by 1917, Lady Hill and her eldest daughter Mabel were living in Charlton Kings, Gloucestershire. Mabel’s siblings were mostly married and also living in England with the sale being handled, primarily, by her brothers Eustace and Vernon, both living in the Bristol area.  The Rookwood estate had, therefore, been mothballed, with much of the furniture moved to family homes in England. Records suggest that two members of staff were employed to care for the house. In addition, the gardens were tended by the head gardener, Duncan McIntyre, with one assistant. It may have been a ruse to beat down the price, but several interested parties complained that the house and gardens needed attention and that the price did not take account of …the outlay which would have to be made in improving the residence.

It was at this point that Maud Purnell first appeared in the records. In the latter months of 1917 Stephenson and Alexander were commissioned by the Hill family to begin to sell the remaining contents of the house. After the sale, Lady Hill wrote to the auctioneers expressing her disappointment with the £355 raised and the ongoing failure to find a buyer. It must have been a relief to all concerned when, in February 1918, a letter was received from Maud Purnell of Weybridge, Surrey enquiring whether the house could be leased for use as a hospital for the duration of the War.

Maud Alice Purnell was a force to be reckoned with. Although living in Surrey with her husband, Ivor Purnell, an architect, she was the eldest daughter of Philip Morel. With his brother, Thomas, and brother in law, John Gibbs, Philip Morel was the founder of the Morel shipping line, one the biggest and most valuable fleets operating from Cardiff in the latter half of the 1800s. The Morel family lived primarily in the Penarth area and, with her first husband, Francis Hibbert, a Corn Merchant, Maud was a well-known figure in south Wales. She figured regularly in local newspaper reports in connection with her church and charity work, including the provision of £1000 in 1908 for a bed at the Royal Hamadryad Seamen’s Hospital in memory of her father who had died that year.

Maud had married Ivor Purnell in 1913 after the death of her first husband and, on the outbreak of war, she had thrown herself into work for the Red Cross. With the siting of the 3rd Western General Hospital in Howard Gardens, Cardiff was a major centre for the receipt of wounded brought by boat and rail from France and Belgium. As a result there was a need for satellite auxiliary hospitals where those discharged from the military hospitals could be cared for while they convalesced. This was a role taken on board by the Red Cross using local volunteers referred to as VADs (Voluntary Aid Detachments). In Glamorgan alone during the course of the war there were 48 Red Cross Hospitals.

On marrying Ivor Purnell, Maud had given her address as Lavernock House, Penarth. Many of the auxiliary hospitals were large houses loaned or rented to the Red Cross and Maud Purnell was certainly involved with, and probably ran, the Red Cross hospital at Lavernock House that catered for non-commissioned officers and other ranks. However, by 1918 Lavernock House was required by the authorities to provide extra beds for patients at the King Edward VII Hospital in Cardiff. Mrs Purnell, therefore, was looking for suitable premises to establish a new hospital. In a letter to Stephenson and Alexander, dated 15 February 1918, she demanded a quick decision on her application for a lease. She also side stepped the usual conventions by asking that a second letter be passed direct to Lady Hill setting out her request.

Of course I am leaving it to Mr Alexander to arrange any reasonable rent but I am writing this to assure you that in the event of our coming to terms I should be living in the house in entire charge myself and am bearing all the expenses, except the Army grant per Officer. I will be responsible that no damage shall be done at all to your very beautiful property [letter of 15 February, ref.: DSA/12/2933].

The letter was signed Maud A Purnell, Hon Commandant. The very first Hospital at Rookwood was, therefore, to be a Red Cross hospital but reserved exclusively for the care of officers. Although the Hill family hoped for a sale, when told that Mrs Purnell would not buy ‘at any price’ they relented. By 8 April the terms were concluded with Mrs Purnell securing the lease for her hospital for £500 a year for an initial 12 month period, and with an agreement that the lease would end 6 months after the end of the war.

As the tenant, Mrs Purnell took responsibility for the maintenance of the interior of the house and also for the surrounding grounds, kitchen gardens, stables and lodges. She also inherited the services of Duncan MacIntyre, the head gardener, who lived on the estate at Rookwood Lodge. This was probably something of a coup, for Duncan, originally from Kilmartin in Argyle, and his wife Lizzie had worked for the Hill family for nearly 20 years. As Head Gardener at Rookwood he was a respected local figure who often acted as a judge at horticultural shows in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan. Although stripped of many of the staff that Rookwood would have employed to tend the gardens in their prime, no one was better placed to maintain the estate.

Mrs Purnell’s plans for Rookwood were announced in the local papers in April 1918:

Mrs Ivor Purnell of Penarth has rented Rookwood, Llandaff formerly the residence of Lady Hill for the period of the war and it will shortly be opened as a hospital for officers….Rookwood contains something like twenty bedrooms and if all the accommodation that it provides be utilised it will afford room for not far short of 100 beds [Western Mail, 30 April 1918].

It has to be remembered that, until the autumn of 1918, the war was still very much in the balance. The German assault in France and Belgium in March and April had thrown the Allied forces back in disarray and casualties were high on both sides. The wounded, therefore, were still streaming into Cardiff. As to the decision to set up a hospital exclusively for officers, it was accepted practice to care for officers separately and, no doubt, the arrangement helped to smooth the negotiations with the Hill family. In addition, the extra weekly premium paid for the care of officers would have helped to balance the books.

The Red Cross Society Museum and Archive in London does not hold specific records for Rookwood. However, the Stephenson and Alexander records come to the rescue, in that work on the house had to be agreed with the Hill family. The house was evidently in a poor state of repair. In a letter to Stephenson and Alexander, Ivor Purnell noted …a considerable amount of the wall papering is in very bad condition… and it was proposed …to strip or distemper over where necessary for cleanliness. In addition, changes were made to the first floor with new bathroom accommodation put in place and additional toilets added on the ground floor [Letter from Ivor Purnell to Stephenson and Alexander, 30 March 1918, ref.: DSA/12/2933]. Beyond this, the house remained essentially intact with boarding put over a number of items of value, including the mantelpiece in the drawing room. In addition, the electric chandelier, the brass framed mirrors, the marble statue of Clytie and the brass fire curb in the drawing room remained, at the owner’s risk, until they could be sold or removed.


Mrs Purnell’s lease ran from 8 April 1918 and it is likely that the hospital was up and running by late April. Anyone visiting would have been confronted with the formidable figure of Mrs Purnell in her red Commandant’s uniform supported by a quartermaster, matron and cook. The hospital would have been staffed, primarily, by volunteer Red Cross Nurses trained in first aid and home nursing. Beneath their starched white aprons, marked with the Red Cross, they would have worn blue dresses with starched white collars and linen oversleeves. By 1918 styles were changing and it was agreed that the hem of the skirt could be as much as 6 inches above the ground. Many would have been recent recruits from the locality but those with previous experience in military or naval hospitals would have been recognised by stripes worn on their right sleeve. Transport and stretcher work was generally carried out by male volunteers again dressed in blue military style uniforms.

Not everything, however, went smoothly. On 16 May 1918 the Western Mail reported that Mrs Purnell and Ruth Hibbert …were summoned at Cardiff on Wednesday for using a car in Cardiff in contravention of the Petrol Restriction Order. In her defence, Mrs Purnell claimed that she was on official business taking one her nurses, Miss Ruth Hibbert, home. However, Ruth was no ordinary nurse. She was Mrs Purnell’s daughter by her first marriage. The authorities were not convinced by her story and Maud Purnell was fined £10 while Ruth Hibbert was cautioned [Western Mail, 16 May 1918].

What then of the ‘Llandaff Knuts’ mentioned earlier? There is a photograph held at the Glamorgan Archives that may well be the only photographic record of the Rookwood Red Cross Hospital. It shows five servicemen facing the camera and the picture is captioned the ‘Llandaff Knuts, April 1918’ [ref.: DX308/2].


The five men are in the standard issue uniforms worn by soldiers when in hospital – blue jackets with white lapels and lining, white shirt, red tie and regimental caps. Only one of the men is identified, John Swallow, sitting on the left at the front. The evidence is not conclusive but it is likely that the five were part of the first batch of officers cared for at Rookwood. The term ‘knut’ came from a well-known song at the time ‘Gilbert the Filbert’. It had been ‘amended’ and adopted by soldiers as a marching song and the term ‘knut’ was used for ‘young men about town’ – dandies.  It sounds, therefore, that the men were in good spirits as they took up residence at Rookwood.

There were, however, others taking an interest in acquiring Rookwood and the Commandant was clearly aware of this. On 1st September 1918 Maud Purnell wrote to Stephenson and Alexander:

Will you kindly remember that I am tenant of this property.

By mid-October Rookwood had been sold for a price close to the Hill family’s initial valuation. The sale, however, was required to take account of Maud Purnell’s lease. We have to assume, therefore, that the Rookwood Red Cross Hospital for Officers remained in place until April 1919.  This may have suited all parties for, following the signing of the Armistice on 11 November 1918, the need for auxiliary hospitals was reduced. However, while the Red Cross Hospital was being wound down, the next phase of Rookwood’s life, also as a hospital, was already in the planning with the sale of the Rookwood estate to Sir Laurence Philipps.

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 using records held at the Glamorgan Archives. The information used for the Rookwood Red Cross Hospital draws primarily on the records of Stephenson and Alexander, Auctioneers and Chartered Surveyors, ref.: DSA/12/2933.

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.