Taming the ‘swamp’ – book charts how Victorian Grangetown was built

1 December 2015

Ray presents a copy of Victorian Grangetown.

Grangetown Local History Society secretary Ray Noyes has completed a big task – a book telling the story of how Victorian Grangetown was built.

Ray was particularly interested in the building and engineering involved in the huge development of the south of the suburb in the latter half of the 19th Century.

He has chronicled its origins from medieval times and the Victorian growth and put together details and images of many of the plans of some of the area’s most important buildings in the process.

“Most texts on the history of Grangetown deal with the 20th century; this one examines its origins from Norman times and follows its detailed design and construction up to the disappearance of the horse-drawn trams in 1903,” said Ray.

“Drawings and correspondence created during its construction are used to illustrate the text and follow the decisions made as the area grew.

“Using original archived sources, the project of ‘the town on the grange’ revealed some surprises. For example, Grangetown was not initially considered part of Cardiff at all, but was an integral part of the Baroness of Windsor’s grand project to build the Penarth Tidal Harbour, its docks and railways.

“Some facts were shocking – the area was the unhealthiest in the whole of Cardiff; its mortality rates for infants and the old were also the highest; it had the highest per capita number of paupers and destitute people in the town. Both cholera and typhoid visited the Grange. Exposed to continual flooding and more or less permanent marsh water, sewers and the foundations of many buildings simply sank. There was even a tsunami in 1607!

“Warnings about building the town on a marsh came true. It proved difficult and expensive to tame and gave rise to health problems for decades.”

The book also draws the important link and corresponding development of Penarth docks with Grangetown, across the River Ely, as Baroness Harriet Windsor looked to rival the Marquis of Bute.

Ray has concentrated his research on lower Grangetown – an area he is most familiar with. But although this might disappoint those with interest in upper Grangetown/Saltmead, this is only because his study in his chosen part of Grange is so detailed and there are such an interesting array of plans and illustrations.

At the society’s September meeting, he presented a copy of the 440-page volume for the archive.

It will prove to be a tremendously important and fascinating local history resource, as well as being beautifully produced. A few members have already ordered copies of Victorian Grangetown, which is self-published, and more can be ordered for a price of around £14 each.

Ray will be giving a talk to the society about the book at the December 4th meeting at the Glamorgan Archive at 2pm. The talk will follow other business. All welcome. www.grangetownhistory.co.uk


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