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


Houses in Dumfries Place, Cardiff

Dumfries Place is named after the Earl of Dumfries – a courtesy title used by the Marquess of Bute’s eldest son.  There is, though, a difference in pronunciation; the Earldom of Dumfries rhymes with peace, while Cardiffians rhyme the street name with peas.

Residential development was confined to the eastern side of the street, backing onto the Taff Vale Railway.  It comprised some 24 substantial houses, dating from the 1870s.  Most formed a single terrace running from Queen Street, with five pairs of semi-detached villas at the northern end.  Applications for building approval suggest that the properties were built on a speculative basis by a number of local builders, including James Purnell and Samuel Shepton (who actually lived with his family at 2 Dumfries Place in 1881).

Number 1 Dumfries Place appears never to have been a private house.  Initially, it was occupied by the Glamorgan Club.  Formed in 1874, the Club had about 150 members, principally professional men of the town.  However, it lasted only until 1895, when the building was taken over by the South Wales Art Society and the Cardiff Medical Society.  Later, it housed the Welsh Industries Association before becoming the office of an insurance company.  The remainder of the houses appear to have been family homes, though several were occupied by doctors or dentists who might also have used part of the premises for professional consultations.

d1093-2- 012 (Houses in Dumfries Place)_compressed


d1093-2- 013 (Houses in Dumfries Place)_compressed


Drawing D1093/2/8 depicts 3, 4 and 5 Dumfries Place while the properties appearing in drawing D1093/2/9 are numbers 14, 15 and 16, together with a small part of 13.  Contemporary records suggest that most houses changed hands every few years, but there is evidence of longer term occupation by some families.  One such example is George Prince Lipscombe – variously described as a commercial clerk, cashier, or accountant – who lived at number 3 with his wife, Emily, and their children.  He is listed there in an 1875 directory and was still there when the 1901 census was taken.  The 1881 census shows that Lipscombe’s neighbour, at number 4, was seventy-four year old Elizabeth Rundle, the widow of a local bookseller and stationer.  Elizabeth died in January 1889, but her daughter, Emma Rundle, still lived at the same address in 1911.

Although he was in Dumfries Place for a relatively short time, another resident is worthy of note because he figures in one of the odder occurrences of Cardiff’s history.  Number 16 in Mary Traynor’s second drawing has the shopfront of Saunders Lambert, Estate Agents.  In 1881, this was the home of Samuel Chivers, a vinegar brewer, who later expanded into the manufacture of pickles and jams – production continued at his Ely factory until about 1970.  In April 1883, one of Chivers’ legs was amputated following a road accident.  He had the leg buried in Cathays Cemetery, presumably intending to be re-united with it in due course – the burial register entry reads ‘Leg of Male’.  In the event, though, when he died in January 1917, Samuel Chivers’ body was interred in a family grave, elsewhere in the same cemetery.

When the 1901 and 1911 censuses were taken, no residents (or just caretakers) were listed at some Dumfries Place properties, suggesting that its transition to business premises had already begun, and this seems to have been largely complete by 1920.  The houses were demolished to accommodate the widening of Dumfries Place and construction of a multi-storey car park, in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

  • Mary Traynor Collection [D1093/2/8-9]
  • Cardiff Burial Board Records, burial register, 1859-1886 [BUBC/1/1/1, p.209]
  • Cardiff Burial Board Records, burial register, 1875-1922 [BUBC/1/4/1 p.67]
  • The Weekly Mail, 21 April 1883
  • 1851 – 1911 censuses
  • England and Wales National Probate Calendar, 1889
  • Webster & Co’s Postal and Commercial Directory of the City of Bristol and County of Glamorgan, 1865
  • Worrill’s Directory of South Wales and Newport Monmouthshire, 1875
  • Wright’s Cardiff Directory, 1893-94
  • Kelly’s Directory of Monmouthshire and South Wales, 1895
  • Western Mail Cardiff Directory, 1897
  • Various 20th century Cardiff directories
  • Friends of Cathays Cemetery, Cathays Cemetery Cardiff on its 150th Anniversary
  • Friends of Cathays Cemetery, Newsletter, June 2011


The Drill Hall, Dumfries Place, Cardiff

Funded by trustees of the third Marquess of Bute (who was then a minor), the Drill Hall in Dumfries Place, was erected in 1867, primarily as a base for the volunteer force (predecessor of the Territorial Army).

d1093-2- 011 (TA Headquarters, Dumfries Place)_compressed

Designed by London architect, Alexander Roos, who was also one of the Bute trustees, it was built of coloured bricks after the Byzantine style.  At 148 feet (45 metres) long and 66 feet (20 metres) wide, the central hall could accommodate a standing audience of more than 4,000.  Subject to the volunteers’ operational needs, it was made available for events such as concerts and public meetings, and served for many years as the home of the Working Men’s Flower Show.

Located alongside the Taff Vale Railway, the building was fronted by a parade ground and faced south along Dumfries Place.  Demolished in the 1970s to make way for dual carriageways in Stuttgarter Strasse and Dumfries Place, its approximate site is now represented by the office blocks known as Dumfries House and Marchmount House.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted: