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My Memories of Caerau 1950-1970

By Rosemary Lewis

To the west of Canton, Cardiff are the large estates of Ely and Caerau. Most of the houses were Council housing although there were pockets of privately owned property in Caerau, “Old” Ely and along stretches of the Cowbridge Road.

The Council house estates sprang up after the two great wars. The estate to the north of the Cowbridge Road was built after the First World War and the estate to the south was built after the Second World War.

Ely and Caerau were very pleasant places to live during the 1950s and early 1960s. The people, although not well off, were hardworking and friendly. There were plenty of places for young people to roam – woodlands, parkland, lanes leading to St. Fagans and Wenvoe. One could catch a bus to Barry Island or to Porthcawl.

Delia and I spent many happy hours exploring the local countryside and I am sure that this was the same for many other young people.

We liked to stand on top of the medieval castle ringwork and look out across the whole of Cardiff and beyond or towards the Garth Mountain, the Taff Gap and the “fairytale castle” Castell Coch standing amongst the trees at Tongwynlais. These views are spectacular.

One of our favourite walks was to climb the hill (very often the short, steep way), go through the churchyard of St. Mary’s and along the footpath that led onto Spiller’s Hill and into Cwrt yr Ala Road. Another walk was to go about half-way along this footpath where there was a gap which we could get through and climb up into the farmer’s field. From the quarry-end of this field we could look across to St. Mary’s. This hillside ridge went from the Iron Age Hillfort upon which St. Mary’s stands to Leckwith. It would be hard for anyone today, who did not know the hill ridge as it was, being able to visualise what it would have looked like before the by-pass was built. This much-needed by-pass has unfortunately ruined the approach to St. Mary’s from Caerau. Instead of a peaceful, leafy lane with farmland on either side there is a small housing development at the bottom of the hill, opposite the quarry. As one ascends the hill one is confronted by the by-pass with traffic endlessly racing by. One is also aware of how steep the sides are where the earth and rock was gouged out.

On Sunday mornings we attended Holy Communion and on Sunday afternoon we attended Sunday School which was held in Caerau Infants School. The last class we were in was Joe Barry’s class and his lessons were very interesting. Olwen Curtis took the kindergarten class. She was an excellent Sunday School teacher and wonderful with the small children whom she held captivated by her cut-outs of characters and buildings (which had a rough surface on the back so that they would stick to the green felt as she related a story). Miss Harry the Parish Worker taught, but I do not remember who else did.

One memorable day, Sunday School was held at St. Mary’s because it was Mothering Sunday. The service was in the field adjacent to the church. All the children sat on the banks of the castle ringwork. I think that Father Harvey was the curate at the time. He was a tall man and I remember that he was wearing a long black cassock and a black hat that had three black bobbles on the top of it. At the end of the service we were given a small posy of flowers to take home to our mothers.

After Father Harvey moved to another parish, his place was taken by Father Victor Jones who was curate for about five years.

The new church-cum-hall in Heol Pennar was built. The dedication service was held on 2nd November 1957. The new church was much larger than St. Mary’s and many new people joined the congregation. Sadly, St. Mary’s was closed. An organist was required for the new church and someone volunteered my mother. Until I married and moved away I attended the 9.00 a.m. communion service and then took a Sunday School class in the afternoon.

In 1962 Father Jones and his family moved away as he had joined the Royal Navy to become a padre. His successors were Father Hawkins and, a few years later, Father Davies. Father Hawkins’ wife took over running the Sunday School. Father Hawkins officiated at my wedding in St. Mary’s Church. It was a very cold March day. It was trying to snow, but fortunately it was only a few flakes. Delia was one of my bridesmaids. I am always glad that I chose to be married at St. Mary’s in March 1964. It was a lovely service in a lovely old church.