The Story of St. David’s Church: The first 75 years

By Harry Old (1946)

With the celebration of the 75th anniversary of St. David’s church, Ely, it may interest parishioners to have a short account of the history of the church and of the changes which have taken place since the church was built.   In writing the story told in these pages the fullest use has been made of church documents, but it has been necessary to a large extent to depend on  information gathered in conversation with  “older inhabitants”  and also to draw on personal recollections dating back from  1902.

Valued help has been given by  Mr. John H James, an old Ely resident now living in Llandaff, who was the architect of St. David’s church room, and some of the facts of old-time Ely are based on information supplied by the late Sir Illtyd Thomas (resident for many years on Ely farm) for the purpose of a note on the St. David’s church room written in 1937.

Ely until 1869 was a hamlet within the ecclesiastical parish of Llandaff  Cathedral  (which had recently undergone much restoration under Bishop Ollivant)  as their parish church, but every Thursday a service was held by the Reverend C B Bevan, one of the canons of the Cathedral, in the kitchen of a thatched cottage in Mill Road, Ely, situate where Grovers Terrace was subsequently built and on which now stand the dwelling-houses nos.70 to 80 (even numbers) in Mill Road

By an Order in Council, which appears to have been made in the year 1869, Ely was transferred from the ecclesiastical parish of  Llandaff and attached to the living of St. Mary’s Caerau.   The baptismal register shows the first baptism with a vicar  (the Reverend E. John) as the officiating minister to have taken place in November, 1869;  the entries for earlier baptisms, which numbered only a few each year, were made by an officiating minister styling himself  curate in charge of Caerau, and the births are all of children in the Caerau district.  Thereafter  births in Ely, quite a number in Mill Road, occur with frequency, and baptisms are entered against the signature of  E, John, vicar.

On the 23rd November, 1871, the St. David’s church was consecrated by Bishop Ollivant,   Archdeacon Blosse preached in the morning and the Reverend C B Bevan in the evening;  the offertories at the two services amounted to £23, according to the diary of one of the church wardens, Mr. George Thomas of Ely farm, the father of the late Alderman Sir Illtyd Thomas.

The original was a rectangular structure of simple Gothic design by J L Pearson, a London architect, who was also the architect of Truro Cathedral ( begun in 1880 ) the site was presented by Lady Windsor, and was valued at the time £100

The nave was built in 1871 at a cost of £1,000, and the chancel was added in 1881 at a cost of £400, the cost of the seating was £90, During the period while the chancel was under construction the altar was at the extreme east of the nave, and temporarily a screen separated the nave from the chancel.

The furnishings were of necessity plain at this stage, owing to lack of resources.  The font, of simple design in freestone was part of the original plan and was placed in the nave when the church was built.

The present pulpit, also in freestone of early English design, was placed in the church in 1897 in substitution for a wooden pulpit which was on the north side.

It is trefoil on plan and bears the early English dog-tooth ornament, both characteristic of the early English period and with the font of freestone is in keeping with the general style of the building.  This stone pulpit was previously in Bonvilston church, but was removed to make way for a new pulpit presented as a memorial gift to the church.

Mr. John H. James saw the pulpit lying discarded in Bonvilston  churchyard and arranged for its removal to St. David’s church.

A note of colour was introduced into the plain interior of the church in 1899 in the stained glass east window, depicting the ascension of our Lord, designed by the artist Sam Evans of West Smethwick. this window, which cost £135, was a gift by the late Mr. Lewis James Shirley, solicitor, of Red House Farm, Ely ( died 1923 ), in memory of Jessie Theodora his wife, who died in 1898, aged 28.  The design of the window was approved and  faculty granted by Bishop Lewis, and was unveiled at the morning service on Easter Sunday 1899 by Vincent the only son of the donor.

The licence to solemnize marriages in the St. David’s church was by faculty granted by Bishop Lewis on the 18th July, 1899,  and the first couple to be married in the church ( on the 10th August 1898 ) were Mr and Mrs. John H James.

Ely as a village

A new church in 1871 for the small hamlet of Ely must locally have been an event of no mean importance, for the habitations consisted only of a few farmsteads,  a cluster of houses and a few wayside inns near a narrow arched stone bridge crossing the meandering river Ely.  But no doubt those in authority could see that things were shaping for population expansion.

One can picture the village setting at the time, with its farms and market gardens supplying the food needs of rapidly growing Cardiff by transport along country roads in horse carts.

There was Red House farm,    Ely farm, the Ely Flour Mills of Mill road, and fields all around, with picturesque St. Fagans woods to the north and Leckwith woods to the south.

Ely Paper Mills (now the largest paper works in the United Kingdom for newsprint) had started to expand in 1865, and a malting house occupied the site where the Ely Brewery now stands.

Uninterrupted open space lay between the River Ely and Fairwater, for Chiver’s preserve factory and Crosswell’s brewery did not make their appearance until about 1900.

In the true sense Ely was a village.

Early in the twentieth century there was still a blacksmith shop opposite the present Isolation Hospital and another at the Dusty Forge Inn at Cyntwell.  Even as recently as 1920, before the Ely housing estate developed, there were some pleasant country walks over stiles and across fields from Ely to Caerau, Drope, St. Fagans, and Fairwater.

Moreover, less than seventy-five years ago both Ely and Llandaff  were more or less isolated from Cardiff,  which was then beginning to lose altogether its “market town”  characteristic under the pressure of commercial enterprise.

Ely was quite separate from Cardiff by Ely common, on which Victoria Park was opened in1897, and a map printed about 1852 shows the main road to Cardiff passing through “The Village of Canton”  to a turnpike gate at the spot where Cowbridge Road and Cathedral Road now intersect.

On the present site of the police station and cinema an enclosure is indicated marked “Farm Yard.”

The Canton village was largely fields with scattered dwellings, for most of the houses to the west of Canton bridge have been built in the last sixty years.  With no school other than Llandaff church school, limited transport and no ready-made entertainment, the village community life was in its very nature compelled to centre its recreative interests around activities associated with the church.

The Welsh language also had evidently a hold, though a dying one, on the inhabitants ;  George Thomas of Ely farm was proud of his native tongue, and it was only in 1874 that the Sunday school in the old Wesleyan chapel in Mill Road abandoned the Welsh language for English.

One must remember, also, that the number of parishes within the boundaries of Cardiff had increased as the population had grown;  for example,  St Luke’s parish, with its present church and the former corrugated iron building which it replaced, is a comparatively modern parish carved out of the parish of Canton.  The same is true of the parish of St. Catherine.

The parish of  Caerau-with Ely antedates both, and in its short history of seventy-five years can look back at some quite interesting changes in ecclesiastical divisions in the district.

St. Mary’s Church,  Caerau

St. David’s church was, and still is, a mission church, the parish church being the ancient church of St. Mary’s Caerau situated on Caerau Hill, almost on the brink of a Roman entrenchment.*  The name Caerau is spelt in some curiously different ways in old church records;  for instance there is one document entitled “Deed of Bargain and sale dated 20th September, 1762,” headed  “C.  Caire  Dio; Llandaff,”    In the nineteenth century the church  was allowed to get into a bad state of disrepair,  and extensive work of restoration became  necessary.   Lieut.-Col  E. S. Hill, c. b. ( later Sir  Edward Hill, m. p. ), of Rockwood, Llandaff,  who had extensive landed interests in Caerau,  generously undertook to meet the expenses of  restoration, which was carried out in 1885. it is believed that the cost was about £600.

* This was the case when the article was originally written in 1946. St. David’s has been the parish church since 1973.Today, all that remains of the 13th Century church that was used for worship until the early part of the 1970’s is ruins. The site was given to the local authority in the 1970’s so that it could be preserved as an ancient monument, but sadly nothing has been achieved. However, there exists a group known as the Friends of St. Mary’s who have been campaigning for the site to be preserved. The site has much older historical links with the presence of a Roman hill fort. As the church of St. Mary and its grounds are no longer the responsibility of the Church in Wales all comments and concerns should be addressed to Cardiff County Council. You can access a web page giving more details of the Friends by clicking the banner opposite.

Note from the webmaster – for more information on St Mary’s Church and the works being done to restore and maintain this historic site please visit www.stmaryscaerau.org.

The  Vicarage *

The Ely vicarage was built on a site comprising 2 roods 39 perches,  given by Lord Windsor and secured to the living by a conveyance dated the 5th January, 1881. The cost of parsonage was £1,555  (including architects fees £80 ),towards which the Ecclesiastical  Commissioners granted a capital sum of £800, which was secured by an instrument published in the London Gazette on the 8th December, 1871.  The balance was met as to £407, from the sale of  glebe land, £100, a gift from Lord Windsor, £220 from loans from  Queen  Anne’s Bounty, £28 from other sources.

* The original Vicarage is now 65 Cowbridge Road West, the Llandaff Diocesan Parent and Baby Home “Welcare.”

The St. David’s Church Room *

The Sunday school was held in the church until 1898, when more suitable accommodation became available in the newly erected church room in Clarke Street .  The site in Clarke Street, adjacent to the present Ely Council School built about the same time, was chosen as being more central, To us it may seem unfortunate that those who planned so wisely in providing such a spacious church hall at a time when Ely was a village did not see the advantage of a main road position; most of the land around the church (including the ground on which the Ely Wesleyan chapel was built in 1906) was market garden.

* This building was sold in the 1980’s and St. David’s no longer has a ‘church hall.’

The  Incumbents  of the  Parish

The Reverend  Ebenezer  John  died   “in harness”  on the 9th December, 1878, aged 43, and was buried in St. Mary’s churchyard , Caerau.

The Reverend William Johns, was an elderly man who retired in 1894. His ministry was not marked by any developments  in parochial life, and the congregation was small.

The  Reverend G. Griffiths  Williams came to Ely in his place from Abersychan, and took up duty on the 15th April 1894.

He was comparatively young, a good mixer with the people, an attractive preacher, he was a keen sportsman and loved his gun.  He deplored the advent of the motor car, and would pause in his sermons to express his feelings whenever  the noise of one of the new automobiles was heard outside.  His family was comfortably circumstanced, and he himself delighted in a carriage drawn by ponies in tandem, which in its frequent journeys to Cardiff would stop to give villagers a lift.

In 1906 he exchanged benefices with the Reverend D. H. Francis of Chaddesley- Corbett, and died at Kingham in 1906.

The Reverend D. H. Francis the vicar from 1906 to 1913, who was rather elderly and very absent-minded, once mislaid the keys of the chest in the vestry containing the holy vessels, and realised his loss only just before the Holy Communion service was about to commence.

After much search in the vicarage the trial of many keys he was finally obliged to force the lock with a poker –a proceeding very audible in the nave.

An entry of his register against Sunday, 15th September, 1907, reads: “No offertory, bags missing.”

These little incidents typified the man; Mr. Francis was one of the dear old country style of clergyman, dignified and of mild disposition without displaying any high scholastic attainments, and breathing the spirit of  benevolence wherever he went.

His wife was equally lovable, and together they made a Darby and Joan pair with Joan often showing herself as the predominant partner.

The Reverend David Lewis Marsden came to the parish just as the war of 1914—18 broke out, and one of the aftermaths was the rapid development of the Ely housing estate.  The remains of rural Ely then fast disappeared.  This urbanisation created its own peculiar problems in the provision required for the religious needs of a greatly increasing population, both in pastoral work and in enlarged church accommodation.  The strain of this responsibility told on the vicar’s health.

Never of a robust constitution, he died aged 66 and is buried in St. Mary’s churchyard, Caerau.*

* Since this article was published the incumbents of the parish have been:

The Reverend Redvers Evans (1933-1971)

The Reverend Canon John Buttimore (1971-1997)

The Venerable William Thomas, Vicar of Caerau with Ely & Archdeacon of Lllandaff (1998-2000)

The Reverend Robin Angel (2001-2003)

The Reverend Nigel Cahill (2003-2008)

The Reverend Jesse Smith (2008-present)

Improvements to the Interior of St. David’s

There have been several improvements to the interior of the church since the opening of the twentieth century, mainly in the chancel and sanctuary.  The effect has certainly added beauty and dignity to the form of service. The congregation are still using pews installed when cost was a factor in the church furnishing, but some consideration was given to the comfort of the worshipers in 1928 when the old gas fittings were replaced by the present electric lighting system.  The cost was £60

The Vestry & Boiler House

The church has remained structurally as originally planned except for the vestry, which was added n 1920, by faculty granted on the 13th August, 1919. The cost of the vestry itself was about £850, but a central heating system with the basement boiler house was installed at the same time and it is believed that the total overall expenses were in the neighbourhood of £2,000. The architect was Mr. T. Edmund Rees of Merthyr Tydfil.

The vestry had previously been in the west end of the church, in the space now occupied by the rear pews in the nave, and was screened off from the nave by  a partition. The bellringer took his stand in the vestry, and there were strict injunctions to the choir to observe silence before service.

The Churchyard Boundary

In 1922 an extension of the boundary of the county borough of Cardiff brought the village of Ely within the administrative area of the Cardiff City Council, and Ely was made a ward of  Cardiff.

Previously Ely was part of  the Rural District of  Llandaff and Dinas Powis (renamed the Cardiff Rural District in 1922 ).

Shortly afterwards, under a scheme for the widening of the main road, a portion of the churchyard and of the vicarage grounds passed into the hands of the Cardiff  Corporation.

The hedge bank which formed the boundary between the churchyard and the road was moved nearer the church, and in 1931 was replaced by a dwarf wall surmounted by iron railings (the latter being appropriated by the Government for metal salvage purposes during the war of  1939-45 ). The present lych gate entrance, which was part of the improvement, was a gift by the late Councillor E J Moore and his brother Cliff.

The Chancel and Sanctuary

There have been some substantial improvements to the furnishing of the chancel and sanctuary.  These have taken three forms : (1) the chancel screen, (2) the new choir stalls, and (3) a new alter and  reredos, with some sanctuary furnishing.

Mention may also here be made of the painting, “The Scourging of our Lord “, on the south wall in the nave.  This was a presentation painting by the artist, H. W. Shellard, and the grant of faculty is dated 14th May, 1929

The oak chancel screen was placed in the church in 1921, as a memorial to the men of the parish who made the supreme sacrifice in the war of 1914-18.  The names of the thirty-six men of the parish  who give their lives in that conflict are recorded on the screen.  The cost was £110, and the work  was executed by a craftsman resident near Victoria Park. The unveiling ceremony was performed by the late Earl of Plymouth.

The present oak choir stalls dare from 1935,and they are in memory of the late David Lewis Marsden, vicar from 1913 to 1933. The sum of £89 was raised to meet the cost and the service of dedication was performed by the late the Rev. Edward Davies (rural dean ).

Previously the seating accommodation in the chancel consisted of  benches of the same kind as still serve the congregation as pews in the nave. These stalls commemorate an incumbent who in a quiet and somewhat reserved way carried out the duties of a parish priest in the difficult era, which marked the transition of Ely from a village to a populous suburb of Cardiff.

During the incumbency of the  Reverend  D. H. Francis, the Vicar had been able to take his choir, and other parishioners interested in procession, through the fields and waysides along the boundaries of the parish to keep alive the ancient Rogation ceremony of “beating the bounds.”  Shortly after the Reverend Marsden came to the parish the war of 1914—18 broke out, and one of the aftermaths was the rapid development of the Ely housing estate.  The remains of rural Ely then fast disappeared.  This urbanisation created its own peculiar problems in the provision required for the religious needs of a greatly increasing population, both in pastoral work and in enlarged church accommodation.

The altar and reredos were placed in the church in 1936 in memory of Mrs. Annie M Old, who died in that year, aged 73. She had been closely associated with the church work since she came to reside in the parish in1902, being especially active as a Sunday School teacher for thirty-five years and in fostering the Mothers Union movement. The altar and altar rails were the gift of the parishioners and the reredos was given by her husband, Captain T. H. Old. The total cost was approximately £120.

Other  sanctuary furnishings presented as memorial gifts at the same time were a pair of  branched candlesticks and a silver bread box by Mr. &  Mrs. W. S. Mellings, standard lights by  Mr. and Mrs. A. Petrie, book markers by Mr. and Mrs P. J. Charles, an altar frontal by Mrs. J. Blick, and a sanctuary seat by Mr. W. R. Thorne. The altar, reredos, and furnishings were dedicated by the Rev. R.W. Jones (Archdeacon of Llandaff) on the 18th September, 1938

There are two articles of church plate given by the parishioners in memory of two brothers who died in the prime of life within a few years of each other.  The silver chalice is in memory of Jack Baker, who died in 1930 aged 46, and the alms dish commemorates his brother, churchwarden Andrew Baker, who died in 1934 aged 52.

The Church of Resurrection

In May, 1933, Bishop Timothy Rees informed the parochial church council that the Cardiff Corporation might be prepared, subject to the agreement of the parish, to purchase the St. David’s Church for use as a place for divine worship by residents of the Ely Lodge. In this event one new large church might be considered as more suitable to serve the needs of the whole of Ely.

In July, 1933, the Vicar placed before the council plans for a new church to seat 500 persons at an estimated cost of £5,000.  The Bishop, was at the same time in touch with Lord Glanely, and in September 1933 he was able to announce that Lord Glanely had generously offered to present the church as his gift to the people of Ely in memory of his wife Ada Mary, Lady Glanely,

Lord Glanely also gave to the parish in 1936 the Glanely Church Institute in memory of his son Thomas Shandon Tatem.

The foundation stone of the Church of the Resurrection was laid by Lord Glanely on the 24th January, 1934, and the consecration  ceremony was performed by Bishop Rees on the 9th October, 1934. It was Bishop Rees who chose the name “Church of the Resurrection.”  The contractors were Messrs. E Turner and Sons Ltd., of Cardiff, and the church was designed by Mr. T Roderick of Aberdare. The cost was £10,000.  The site was given by the Cardiff Corporation,  In design the building belongs to the Byzantine tradition.  The seating accommodation is for 600 persons. The exterior is of rustic brickwork, and the roof is of the same rich brownish colour. The interior walls and ceilings are covered with white cement.  Inset in the floor of the sanctuary of the high alter are the arms of Lord Glaneley and of the diocese, made of mosaic of precious stone and glass.  One notable feature of the interior is the position of the choir, which has been brought forward into the nave, thus linking the choir more closely with the people. The sanctuary  is of the same width and height as the nave, and its spacious character adds considerably to the beauty of the interior.

Lord Glanely

Lord Glanely, D. L., J. P., LL. D.  –  in his younger days Mr William J. Tatem, later becoming Sir William Tatem  –  had started life in Cardiff as a shipping clerk . He became a ship-owner, and his shipping concerns prospered exceedingly, especially during the war of 1914—18.

Some years earlier he had taken up residence at St. Fagans Court, although later he removed to make his principal home in England.  It was this local attachment when living close to the boundary of Ely which formed that interest with the parish which later prompted him to make his gifts.

He was a freeman of Cardiff and his munificence extended to many worthy objects in the city.  He was killed at Weston-Super–Mare in an air raid in June 1942. At the time of his death he was listed as living at 16 Malvern Street, Western-Super-Mare. (Updated 16/12/2015 – Many thanks to Pat Allen for the corrections to the text on Sir William Tatem)

His thoughtful regard for the parish for which he did so much in his lifetime is shown in the generous provision made under his will in the form of endowment bequests for the church and the institute. Lord Glanely’s practical interest in the church has been shared and kept alive by other members of the family.

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