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City's final execution, fairs and pins in well; Cardiff Remembered.

Byline: ...with Brian Lee

MY THANKS to local historian John Sennett who has brought to my attention a Mr John Weaver's reminiscences which appeared in the Cardiff Times back in the 1920s.

They certainly make interesting reading and Mr Weaver, who witnessed the last public execution in Cardiff, writes: "When John Lewis was hanged for murdering his wife, this was in 1857, the meadows and fields then surrounded the gaol. "Lewis was stated to have pushed his wife downstairs causing her to break her neck and a great number of persons came from Merthyr and Aberdare, where he was well known, to witness his execution.

"I shall never forget the scene. Consumed with boyish curiosity - I was only 11 at the time - I had hardly slept the night before and had to get up very early indeed, much to the annoyance of my mother who did all in her power to prevent me going.

"The execution was timed for 8am and when I arrived at the gaol I found thousands of spectators lining the new embankment of the Rhymney Railway which was then in the course of construction, while some daring young sparks had even climbed to the top of the half-built prison wall.

"The crowd were very solemn and when it was all over everyone went quietly away. Calcraft was the executioner."

Mr Weaver spares us the gory details and on a lighter note writes: "The little town hall stood in the middle of High Street and fronting it was a statue of the Marquis of Bute, now at the foot of the Great Western Railway approach. There was a block of property in the middle of what is now St John's Square, with a very narrow street on each side and where the north porch of St John's Church now stands or almost on the ground there was the old vicarage looking northward.

"A similar block of property stood in the middle of Queen Street, near North Road, and at the end of Duke Street, where Castle Street now runs through to Canton Bridge there were a couple of streets one backing right against the castle wall."

Of the Cardiff fairs, he attended the last Penylan Fair held in a field at the bottom of Penylan Hill and opposite the market gardens kept by a Mr Oram on the site of the present playing fields of Roath Park. The fair, we are informed, was a popular annual event which attracted "all sorts and conditions of people including many of the tinker and gipsy class" and "boys, now venerable and respected city fathers" readily fell victims to the showmen. Three a penny-what you like and what you fancy. A noted stallkeeper was Fenny Daniels, of Pontcanna, an old-fashioned dame who sold delicious pasties and did a roaring trade.

"And in those days everybody going to Penylan always dropped a pin in the well as it was considered unlucky if you did not. One of the chief pleasures of the townspeople back then was to walk around the grounds of Cardiff Castle which were opened to the public on Sundays," he said.

However, we are told that when Sophia Gardens were opened in 1857, the grounds were permanently closed, together with the public walk through Coopers Fields to Blackweir.

"The entrance to Coopers Fields today, it is interesting to note, is indicated by the door in the castle wall facing the Angel Hotel.

"On this spot there stood at one time a lodge kept by a Scotsman named MacAndrew while within a short distance was the site of an old tan yard."

We also learn that "Westgate Street, wide and spacious today, was on the bed of the River Taff, in whose waters the fellmongers washed their sheepskins while close at the junction of Wood Street and Westgate Street stood a field on much lower level which was covered twice a day by the tide.

"The particular area became known as Temperance Town, the name given by Mr Jacob Matthews who purchased the land for building purposes and objected to the erection of any public house or drinking place upon it. To this day Mr Matthews' wishes have been ensured of respect by clauses in leases and Temperance Town is still metaphorically dry.

"Other portions of the township, however, were rich in famous taverns and inns where businessmen were accustomed to gather over bowls of steaming punch.

"The majority of these hostelries where flourished mine host and hostess in any atmosphere of Dickensian jovialty have now been removed.

"Amongst the more noteworthy were the Five Bells Hotel, situated in Broad Street, now Castle Street, kept by Phillip Williams, and the Cardiff Arms Hotel, kept by Mrs Wood, whose brother-inlaw was the governor of Cardiff Gaol and was in charge of the last public execution which took place in Cardiff."

The celebrated well that is mentioned in Penylan Road was known as Hen Ffynon. It was a spring rising up from a small basin scooped out of a large stone.

After the Easter Monday fair there the hollow was filled with bent pins, it being the belief of county folk that to drop a bent pin in the well would bring good luck.

In last week's column, the pub picture featured was of the The Greyhound Inn which used to be in Wellington Street and not the Bridge Street pub of the same name. We apologise for the mix-up.

You can send your letters/ pictures to Brian Lee, Cardiff Remembered, South Wales Echo, Six Park Street, Reception, Cardiff, CF10 1XR or e-mail Please include a home telephone number.


The old Cardiff Town Hall in High Street

Gough Street, Temperance Town looking down towards Central Bus Station
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Title Annotation:News; Opinion; Columns
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 8, 2016
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