‘These men died for their country’: The Penarth War Memorial, November 1924

Amongst the records held at Glamorgan Archives is a programme printed for a ceremony held on 11 November 1924 to unveil the War Memorial in Alexandra Gardens, Penarth.

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The memorial can be seen on the front page of the programme with the inscription, ‘In grateful memory of the men of Penarth who died for their country in the Great War 1914-18’. The date chosen for the ceremony was symbolic in that it marked the sixth anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that had ended the fighting in the Great War – the First World War.

For recent generations, Remembrance Day, on 11 November, has become a feature of life in just about every village and town across the country. It commemorates the signing of the Armistice that ended the Great War in 1918 and those who died in two World Wars and subsequent campaigns. In 1924, however, it was, to some extent, a new development being marked for only the sixth time. Over 700,000 British service men and women had lost their lives in the Great War and the majority were buried overseas, from Flanders to Gallipoli to Palestine. In comparison to previous wars, the losses were immense and led to a demand for a national day of Remembrance. Such was the strength of feeling that in 1924, six years after the end of the fighting, newspapers reported that individuals in several towns and cities had been arrested and taken into protective custody for not observing the two minutes silence on November 11th.

While previous campaigns, including the Crimean and Boer Wars, had been commemorated through the erection of a small number of memorials, the Great War differed in that it had touched just about every community across the land. Each community, therefore, wanted to find an appropriate way to mark the contributions made by local men and women. If you look at the sketch on the front page of the programme you will see, in the background, a military tank. In the years following the Armistice many towns and cities had acquired items of military equipment, often tanks or field guns. They were displayed in public places to both celebrate the victory and as a reminder of those that had died in the conflict.  However, the construction of the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London was symbolic of a campaign to provide a more permanent memorial to the dead. The events in Penarth in November 1924 were, therefore, part of a movement to remember and commemorate the dead that swept across the country. In the Cardiff area alone that day, two new memorials were being unveiled, at the Cardiff Barracks and the Cardiff Royal Infirmary.

It would have been a very emotional day. Two men from Penarth, Richard Wain and Samuel Pearse, had been awarded the Victoria Cross. Wain was born in Penarth and educated at Llandaff Cathedral School and Penarth Grammar. He was a 20 year old acting captain in the Tank Corps when he died in 1917 at the Battle of Cambrai, one of the first engagements where the British Army unleashed its potentially devastating new weapon. Samuel Pearse had left Penarth and emigrated to Australia at the age of 14. He fought with the Australian forces at Gallipoli and later in Egypt and France. After the signing of the Armistice he married in Durham and delayed returning home while his wife was pregnant. He chose to enlist with a number of Australians in the British Army forces being sent to support the White Armies in Russia, and was killed in action, in north Russia, in August 1919.

The scale of the losses was underlined by the number of names inscribed on the Penarth Memorial, some 307. They demonstrated that no section of society was left untouched. Archer Windsor-Clive was the third son of the Earl of Plymouth and had played cricket for Glamorgan and Cambridge. As an officer in the Coldstream Guards, he was one of the first local men to be sent to France and also one of the first to die. He was just 23 years of age when he was killed during the battle of Mons in August 1914, the first month of the War.

The Penarth memorial includes the name of a woman, Emily Ada Pickford. Emily was a local music teacher from Penarth and the conductor of the Penarth Ladies Choir. She was related by marriage to the Pickford family who were local printers and producers of the Penarth Times.  In February 1919 she was in France with a concert party providing entertainment for the troops. She died when, traveling back to Abbeville after an evening concert, her car skidded off the road into the River Somme. By 1924 the Penarth Urban District Council was chaired by Constance Maillard, the first woman to be elected to the Council and the Council’s first woman chair. As the first Secretary of the Penarth Suffragist Society it just possible that Constance was instrumental in ensuring that Emily’s name was included on the Memorial.

While the programme at Glamorgan Archives sets out the details of the unveiling ceremony in 1924, the records of the Penarth Urban District Council tell the story of the decision to commission and erect the monument. The planning for the memorial has been in hand for some time, with the establishment of a sub-committee of the Council in 1923. As a result, the Council had invited Sir William Goscombe John to submit a design for a suitable memorial. Originally from Canton in Cardiff, William Goscombe John was a well-known sculptor who had completed many public monuments across the country, including the John Cory statue in front of City Hall. His skills were in particular demand for the design of War Memorials and, in the same year as the Penarth Memorial was unveiled, he also designed memorials for Llandaff, Carmarthen and the Royal Welch Fusiliers at Wrexham. It was an indication of how important the memorial was that a fee of £2,000 was agreed by the Council which, at current prices, would equate to over £80,000. This was double the initial budget earmarked for the memorial. The original plan was to position the memorial on land opposite Penarth House, but it was eventually agreed that a site in Alexandra Park, overlooking the sea, would be more suitable. The only modification to Sir William’s original design was to add, at the base of the monument, the words ‘These men died for their country. Do ye live for it’.

The unveiling ceremony was no easy matter to arrange. It was originally planned for September 1924 but later revised to 11 November.  It has to be remembered that similar ceremonies were taking place across the country and hopes that prominent figures, including Admiral Earl Beatty, would attend were soon dashed. In the event troops from the Welch Regiment, based at the Cardiff Barracks, provided the guard of honour. The ceremony was led by the local MP, Capt Arthur Evans, and the Rev Hassal Hanmer, both of whom had served in the war, supported by the Penarth Ex Servicemen’s’ Choir.

The task of unveiling the memorial was given to Mrs F Bartlett, Mrs P Fitzgerald and Mr G Hoult. Standing amongst the MPs and ranking soldiers there was one factor that bound the three together. They had each lost three sons in War. The memorial was of white granite with a bronze winged figure of victory, holding a wreath and a sword, standing in the prow of a boat. The programme for the ceremony on 11 November 1924 can be seen at Glamorgan Archives, ref. DXOV3/11. It was retained by Constance Maillard and passed with her papers to the Archives. If you are wondering what happened to Constance, she lived to celebrate her 100th birthday and an invitation to her birthday party is also held at the Archives (ref.: DXFX/8).  The records of the Penarth Urban District Council can also be accessed at Glamorgan Archives, ref. UDPE/C/1/5, with the papers of the Memorial Sub-committee at UDPE/C/1/21. Silent black and white footage of the ceremony has recently been made available by British Film Foundation.

As a postscript, significant restoration work was completed on the Penarth War Memorial as part of the centenary events. It can be seen in Alexandra Gardens, Penarth.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

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Penarth Captain Rescues Vanderbilts off South America

Acts of heroism at home and abroad are chronicled in a small collection of papers relating to William Henry Bevan, a Penarth merchant navy Captain in the first half of the 20th century. Episodes in his colourful career are described in personal papers, photographs and newspapers (ref. DX741).

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Born in 1881 at Berriew, near Montgomery, William Henry Bevan first appeared in Penarth as an apprentice on a sailing ship. He was awarded the Royal Humane Society medal for saving the life of a man who had fallen into the dock; a rescue accomplished after jumping fifteen feet from his ship into thirty to forty feet of water. This incident was recalled by Samuel Thomas, speaking on behalf of the Town Council, at the opening ceremony of Captain Bevan’s Washington Hotel.

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These premises (nos. 9 & 11 Stanwell Road), formerly occupied by the Penarth Tutorial School, were converted by Captain Bevan and opened as a private hotel in October 1922. The name ‘Washington’ he believed would attract American visitors:

for whom the name might have special appeal being the name of their first president and also their seat of government.

Captain Bevan’s particular association with America began on 27 January 1914 when his vessel, the Almirante of the United Fruit Line, lying at Santa Marta off the Columbian coast, received a distress call from the yacht Warrior, aground in heavy seas off Cape Augusta. Aboard the Warrior were Mr and Mrs Frederick W. Vanderbilt, their guests the Duke and Duchess of Manchester and Lord Arthur Falconer, and their crew. Bound from Curaçao to Colón and nearing the end of its cruise the yacht was swept on to a sand spit at Cape Augusta, thirty-five miles from Santa Marta, at the mouth of the Magdalena river. When the call was received, the Almirante was unable to leave port as her cargo was only partly stowed and most of her passengers were ashore. Her sister ship the Frutera was therefore despatched ahead and ordered to stand by. When the Almirante arrived on the scene, the Warrior was found to be lying, bow ashore, in such a position that the strong current of the river washed her port quarter, while heavy seas lashed the starboard. Small boats were put out from both ships but the seas proved too heavy to effect a rescue that day.

Immediately after breakfast on the following day (the 28th) the chief officer of the Almirante, N.H. Edward, took his small boat out again and managed to board the Warrior, the seas having slightly abated. He found the yacht resting on her upright keel in a shoal of mud and sand, her passengers in remarkably good spirits after their terrifying ordeal. The Vanderbilts and their guests were transferred uneventfully to The Almirante and apparently suffered little ill-effect from the experience. The crew members of the Almirante, as the rescuing vessel, were rewarded immediately with gifts of fifty dollars each, whilst Captain Bevan and Mr. Edward were informed by Mrs. Vanderbilt that they would each receive a specially designed token of the family’s grateful appreciation, which would be made on their return to New York.

Captain Bevan maintained contact with the Vanderbilt family, not only advising members on seafaring and the purchase of further yachts, but also briefly commanding one of them. The Washington Hotel was but a short interlude in Captain Bevan’s seafaring career for five years later, and three years after the birth there of his daughter Josephine, he sold the hotel and returned to the merchant service as a Captain with the Blue Star Line. He renewed his acquaintance with Jamaica where the local newspaper in Kingston celebrated his return by chronicling his past heroic acts on the island during the ‘Great Earthquake’. On 14 February 1940 his ship the Sultan Star was torpedoed and for his bravery he was recommended for the OBE.

Cardiff Bay before the Barrage

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D1093/2/47

Until the mid-nineteenth century, the whole of Cardiff’s foreshore comprised sea-washed moors and mudflats through which the Rivers Taff and Ely flowed into the Bristol Channel.  The town quay stood where Westgate Street now runs, but was accessible by sea-going vessels only at high tide.  Cardiff Bay did not exist in anything approaching its present form until the docks were developed in both Cardiff and Penarth.

Even then, for a century and a half, the Bay was tidal, with the river channels passing through large areas of mudflats at low tide.  It was only in 1999, following completion of the Barrage, that the waters of the Taff and Ely were impounded, making Cardiff Bay a fresh water lake.

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D1093/2/44

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D1093/2/45

This suite of drawings by Mary Traynor pre-dates the Barrage.  D1093/2/44 and D1093/2/45 depict scenes in the lower reaches of the Ely River, with St Augustine’s Church, on Penarth Head, clearly visible in the background.

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D1093/2/49

D1093/2/49 is on the eastern side of the Bay, close to the former Roath Basin lock.

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D1093/2/46

D1093/2/47 and D1093/2/46 are more general views, both of which vividly illustrate the low-tide mudflats.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

Penarth Baths

On 3 October 1881, the Penarth Local Board of Health resolved to construct a sea water swimming bath or baths to serve the town.  Initially, it was intended to be unroofed but plans which developed over the next few years led to the building whose external appearance is largely unchanged to this day.  James Cory was appointed manager in June 1884.  However it appears that the Baths may not have opened publicly until the following year.

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The building contained two swimming baths, together with dressing rooms and facilities for private bathing.  Sea water was pumped from under the Pier into two reservoirs in the field (subsequently Alexandra Gardens) above and behind the Baths before passing through a filtration system into the pools.  During the early part of the 20th century, the larger pool was boarded over in the winter months and used as a gymnasium.

The Baths became redundant following the opening of Penarth Leisure Centre in the 1980s.  For a time, the building was used as a bar and restaurant known as ‘Inn At The Deep End’, but it later became derelict until conversion into four houses at the start of the 21st century.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

 

The Penarth Library Committee

The 75th accession in 1968 (DXPD 7-10) forms part of the Penarth Library Collection and includes minute books of the Penarth Library Committee (1941-57), a copy of the Bill to Amend the Library Acts and correspondence and memoranda relating to Penarth Free Library and the establishment of Penarth Public Library (1895-1927). These are records of Penarth Urban District Council and you can find out more about the history of the council and its predecessors and successors in the catalogue entry here: (UDPE http://calmview.cardiff.gov.uk/CalmView/Record.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&id=UDPE&pos=1).

You may wonder what you could find out from these records! There is a lot of information to whet the appetite of those interested in employment practices, the development of library services, the role of the professional librarian, the impact of the Second World War, the history of Penarth, the role of women and local Penarth businesses. If you had a family member who sat on the Committee or who worked at the library (as a librarian, assistant, caretaker or cleaner) there is also a lot to add to the detail of your own family history.

There is the day-to-day detail you might expect from a minute book of the Public Library Committee; this includes annual estimates of income and expenditure, decisions on opening times and closures for public holidays, appointments and salaries, repairs and cleaning, books purchased and donations received. The council also received a complaint from a local resident that the weather vane on the Library was not functioning properly (its repair was not considered a priority for funding by the Committee). And if you live in Penarth, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to see that the repair of the clock is also discussed!

The first entry in the minute book (DXPD7) from March 1941 sets out the Committee’s gratitude to ‘the gallant efforts of Lance Corporal Peter Roberts and Gunner H. Warner in the Library on the night of Tuesday 4. Resolved to write to the Officer Commanding of the latter to express such appreciation as his efforts undoubtedly saved the Library.’ The war years focus on the efforts to keep the library open as (female) staff enrolled in the service, the struggle for coal to heat the building, ensuring that military personnel based locally (British and American) have access to the library and the use of the library to store ARP materials.

From 1948, the Committee is looking at the creation of a Children’s Library in the basement (with its own separate entrance). A Special General Committee agreed to the provision of a Children’s Library on 4 February 1949 and it opened on 15 March 1950. The Librarian went to London to select books (worth a total of £250), short story hours for younger children on Saturday mornings started not long after opening and the Committee agreed to the purchase of Eagle Magazine in May 1950. A big change from the minutes of 1944 when ‘It was resolved that the Reading Room should be used by children only at the discretion of the Librarian and staff.’

Penarth Library correspondence

Penarth Library correspondence

The correspondence (DXPD10) includes a series of estimates and invoices from local traders in Penarth for work for the Penarth Free Library and the Penarth Public Library. The documents provide an insight into the cost of materials and labour at the time, the range of local tradesmen in operation, and are written on decorative headed paper. A very different ‘feel’ to the electronic invoice the Archives will be preserving in the future.

Penarth Library correspondence

Penarth Library correspondence

The records also include a list of staff for the new library and their salaries from 1895 onwards. Additional notes are written on the back of a printed letter for the ‘Penarth Santa Claus Fund, 1922’. These items, together with the others listed above, provide an interesting insight into life in Penarth ninety years ago.