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"A wonderful online resource..a series of outstandingly good and carefully researched articles on the history of the area" - Who Do You Think You Are magazine?

Here are our pages on local Grangetown history. We hope to add more features and would welcome any stories, articles, memories or photographs. Please email

Here is Grangetown history from the early days to the area's growth in the Victorian age to the first few decades of the 20th century.

Thanks to Peter Ranson and the Grangetown Local History Society - www.grangetownhistory.co.uk - for their help, especially with photographs and also to those members and others at home and abroad who have added memories and stories. If there are any copyright issues we are unaware of, please let us know and we will gladly give a credit/amend etc.


Go to 1930s and Second World War

Post-war 1950s and schools memories

Sport and Transport and the history of Grange Gardens

Churches and schools and also Pubs and clubs and the history Of Grange Farm.

Grangetown industry - from iron, rope, gas to cigars

Early politics in Grangetown

Streets and Census (in progress)

Photos of Grangetown then and now

Grangetown finds its place on the political map

By the mid 1880s, Grangetown was a fast-growing district of Cardiff - but politically it was still joined to Canton.

The first three councillors in the new Grangetown ward were Samuel Brain, John Hogan Jenkins and Samuel Mildon

The town council only had five wards - and the rate-payers of Grangetown were lumped in with their neighhbours. Canton had six councillors, who also represented Grangetown. There was dissatisfaction locally, that it was time Grangetown had its own representatives.

In March 1886, Samuel Mildon - a Liberal and local builder, from Clive Street - presided over a public meeting at the Clive Hall. Residents heard that the area was growing at a pace "yet many of the streets are in a disgraceful state."

There were 1,136 homes and an estimated population of 19,000, with 200 more homes due to be built in the following year. A 400-signature petition was gathered and presented to the mayor and the council.

Cardiff realised as the town changed and grew, so the system had to. While Mildon, Conservative Samuel Brain (the brewery founder) and a Councillor Gibbs represented Grangetown - they were technically in Canton.

Change took time and involved the Local Government Board holding an inquiry. It resulted in Cardiff redrawing its boundaries. Not for the last time. Five wards became 10, and Canton and Grangetown would each get three councillors in 1890.

'Honest John' who became Grangetown's first elected councillor

The first election to the newly-created Grangetown ward saw a man who would later become mayor and one of the first Labour MPs win the popular vote.

Samuel Brain and Samuel Mildon were sitting councillors - and in 1890 not up for election - so simply switched to represent their new local ward. However, one councillor stood down which meant a run off.

Robert Upham, a joiner from Jubilee Terrace in Penarth Road, stood for the Conservatives, the protege of Brain. But his opponent - John Jenkins - would claim the backing of the working man.

In November 1890, the 38-year-old Jenkins was a union activist with Cardiff trades council and had an office in Bromsgrove Street. George Dobson, the owner of the Grange Alkaline Works, who came to Grangetown 12 years before, intended to stand for the Liberals but was persuaded to put his weight behind Jenkins's campaign. Jenkins was hailed as the "bona fide working man candidate".

It included an open-air meeting in The Square in Holmesdale Street. The poll was held on a Saturday - but as most men were working until the afternoon, it was late before most of the votes were cast at what is now Grangetown Primary School.

The result saw Jenkins win comfortably by 484 votes to 260.

Who was he and what happened to him?

John Hogan Jenkins was a native of Pembroke Dock - the son of a dockyard worker and part-time preacher. He started work at 14 in the shipyards there before his employer went bankrupt. He arrived in Cardiff as a 16-year-old, lodging at Oakley Street in Grangetown with a family from back home. He had little education but got an apprenticeship under shipbuilder and radical Liberal John Batchelor - "the friend of freedom,". Jenkins became a shipwright at Charles Hill and Sons at the Docks, who had taken over the Batchelor shipyards after they went into liquidation. After the end of his apprenticeship he formed a trades society (effectively a union branch) and became its president within a year.

Looking back at his working life he said: "It has not by any means been plain sailing for the shipwright's calling is particularly liable to ups and downs; but I inherited a thrifty and saving nature from my parents and so was always able to tide over the inevitable periods of unemployment."

Jenkins married Sarah Dallin Williams at the age of 22 and the couple lived for a time in Christina Street in the docks but moved to 110 Clive Street and later 165 Pentrebane Street. They had 11 children, nine of who survived.

His union activities locally can't be underestimated - not just with his own, the Associated Shipwright's Society, where he was president of the Cardiff branch for 10 years before it was amalgamated with others around the Bristol Channel. He also played a prominent role in the formation of several unions, representing labourers, seamen and firemen, dockers, bakers and shop assistants and waggon and carriage lifters. Jenkins became a JP in 1893 and continued as radical Liberal councillor and later Liberal and Labour councillor. The Wesleyan was also involved in roles on bodies such as the Ragged School Mission in the Docks.

Jenkins has been described as "fearlessly independent" and having a "contempt for self-serving cliques."

His crowning moment as a union activist was becoming president of the Trades Union Congress and to chair a difficult conference when it met in Cardiff in 1895. "Honest John" was praised for his work, particularly for docks workers. "Few men have done more solid and enduring services for the organisation of the skilled worker and especially the unskilled worker," wrote one Welsh newspaper.

The degree of his local popularity can be seen from the 1902 local election result in which he beat the Conservative candidate by more than 300 votes. A year later he was created an alderman and served as mayor - his year including entertaining wild west showman Buffalo Bill to lunch in the Mansion House. The shipyard workers - and managers - had a collection to present him with £100 and a gold watch to mark his accolade. But he was already having to divide his time because of wider political ambition.

John H Jenkins and 28 other Labour MPs pose for a photograph on the Commons terrace in 1906. It's not certain which is Jenkins! © National Portrait Gallery

Jenkins was elected to Parliament in 1906 - one of 29 MPs who would rename themselves Labour Party MPs under Keir Hardie. Jenkins was part of an independent Labour grouping and he said he saw Hardie as chairman but not his leader and he would vote as he saw fit. The election in a Conservative-held seat was only possible because of an anti-Tory pact with the Liberals which saw the Labour men free to fight 50 seats. Jenkins was elected in the port town of Chatham in Kent and must have felt at home. Despite his Westminster commitments, he continued to be involved as alderman with the council in Cardiff.

In his four years in the Commons he spoke mostly about the dockyards and the workers - and became known as "Admiral Jenkins" by colleagues. He campaigned for more accommodation for Dreadnought ships in the yards and his opposition to naval disarmament was evidence of his independent spirit and the commitment to the workers in his constituency. Jenkins said he advocated the nationalisation "of everything" providing work can be done better of more cheaply than by private enterprise. He had "unremitting agitation" for 30 years for trades union wages in all Government works, and was delighted it had finally been accepted by Parliament. He lost the seat in the 1910 election to the Conservatives and that was the end of his political career.

Jenkins and his wife moved to Canton. She died in 1919 and Jenkins - who became the oldest magistrate in Cardiff - resigned from the shipwright's association in his 70s. He lived to the grand age of 84, until his death in December 1936.

His personal motto he said was "whatever you do, do it with all your might, with the necessary qualification that this should apply to what is right." Although he's a slightly obscure figure now, perhaps he's more deserving of being remembered as one of Cardiff's unsung political personalities and a champion of the ordinary man in Grangetown and beyond?

When SA Brain meant books not just beer

The name "SA Brain" is well known in Cardiff as the name of a pint of beer, after the brewer of the same name.

The eponymous Samuel Arthur Brain, as well as being co-founder of the brewery in 1882, was also a Conservative councillor for Grangetown from 1885 and played a crucial role in founding the area's library.

Councillor Brain took a keen interest in the education of the area's population. He personally helped to support a reading room in Clive Street. As chairman of the town's branch library committee, in 1901 he oversaw the opening of a number of lending libraries in Cardiff. The second of six to open, on September 15th, was the one on the opposite side of the road to the old reading room.

Designed by EM Bruce-Vaughan, the red-brick building was noted for its natural light and ventilation and regarded as a model likely to be "widely adopted." It was built by contractors D Thomas and Sons for a cost of £3,501 including freehold.

It appears Brain helped pay for 3,000 of the 5,000 books in the library, chosen by the chief librarian John Ballinger (who himself did extraordinary work with the town's library service and schools, and was later the first head of the National Library of Wales and knighted). Previously, Brain had "privately subscribed heavily" to supplement the grant from the rates to maintain the reading room. But the Cardiff Weekly Times reported that he made clear that "the inhabitants of Grangetown were not to associate charity with the library, it was their own, bought out of the public purse." The six branches, which also included Splott, Canton, Roath, Docks and Cathays, were to "place sound literature within the reach of all."

Brain, in the absence of the mayor, opened the library by applying for membership and borrowing its first book. He then received a golden key in return and treated the guests to lunch.

He lived in Penarth with his wife Frances and three daughters. But he had no big political ambitions further than serving as a councillor, rejecting approaches to run for higher offices. He was known for his versatility, his grasp of finances - "attractively urbane, his style argumentative and delivery effective" as one profile put it.

He was a keen cricketer - two cousins played the game for Gloucestershire - musician and also a shot - serving as captain in the 2nd Glamorgan Volunteers Artillery.

He got into brewing in 1876 through his wife, whose father John Thomas ran a small concern, The Old Brewery in St Mary Street but had been ill for a numer of years after suffering a stroke. Thomas died in 1877 and Brain built up the business with his uncle. His greatest legacy is now the pint of beer which bears his name - but although Brain himself liked an occasional tot of whisky, he drank little.

He died suddenly in 1903 of a blood clot to the brain, aged only 53. He had been on his way to the south of France when he first started feeling unwell and returned home on doctor's orders. A crowd estimated at 15,000 people lined the streets at his funeral. Special trains had to be arranged. He left £140,000 in his will.

"No more popular representative of the public life of Cardiff ever lived than Alderman SA Brain," said his obituary in the Evening Express. It praised his affability and being able to appreciate the arguments of even those he disagreed with. Characteristics which enabled him to retain his seat as a councillor "in such a Radical ward as Grangetown."

Builder and councillor

A few years ago, Grangetown Local History Society had a visit from two gentlemen who were descended from Samuel Mildon.

They had been researching the details of the houses built in Grangetown by him and brought along maps for us to look at.

Since then, Steven Vile's dedication to researching his ancestor has resulted in even more information about the family being deposited in our archives. The Will of Samuel Mildon was featured in our book - Old Grangetown Memories 1 as were details of the houses built in Grangetown by him. Steven managed to arrange two meetings of Mildon descendents (see above next to photo of Samuel Mildon). Fittingly, this event took place in St. Fagan's the birthplace of Samuel Mildon. He was the son of a miller but became an apprentice builder in Cardif before eventually setting up his own business.

He was first elected in the Canton ward in 1886. Despite one defeat in 1892 he bounced back to regain his seat in Grangetown in 1895. He held it until retiring in 1907. The family discovered the reason why Samuel did not become mayor of Cardiff. He had been offered the post in 1899 but was forced to decline because he had typhoid fever.

There's an interesting snippet in the South Wales Evening Express, when he stood - and was re-elected - as a Liberal councillor for Grangetown in 1898: "Mr Mildon sitting in a chair in the sunshine in front of the schools, and wearing the reddest of chrysanthemums, and the serenest of smiles. He seems to be confident as to the result. {His opponent] Joseph Ames and his supporters, although, perhaps, less assertive, are equally confident. There are numerous conveyances on either side bringing up voters, and both candidates have supporters, all of whom are busily engaged. Mr Mildon has a super-abundance of conveyances. Apart from breaks and dog-carts, he has elegantly-appointed carriages lent by Mr Alfred Thomas MP and Mr D. A. Thomas MP, and Radical and Socialistic workmen look especially proud as they drive to fhe polling booth behind livered servants and prancing steeds. Another carriage and pair are expected shortly from Mr Richard Cory.

"When weak is the Socialistic nature when tempted! Mr. Ames, although he has no carriages and pair or liveried footmen, has a plentiful supply of good, useful conveyances, and these are very active just now Mr. Mildon is being assisted by a number of lady admirers. Among them are the two daughters of Councillor Jenkins and the wife of Mr Mildon's son. All three have a generous display of red, and are busy in fetching up voters. The election literature is as varied as it is profuse. Portraits of the respective candidates are scattered, and each man, according to his own description, is the one friend wanted by the working classes.

"If the electors want the Windsor Dock, reduced rates and taxes, public baths for Grangetown, better drainage and building inspection, they are invited to vote for Mr Ames. Mr Mildon promises practically the same thing—only more so.

There is the personal poster. One is advised to "vote for Ames, and no twaddle," and another moment he is recommended to pledge his support to "Mildon. Who knows what he talks about." "Mildon - and sound commonsense," and "Mildon of wire-proachable character." Another poster in glaring red runs: "Grangetown electors, is the rejected of the South Ward good enough for Grangetown?" and the answer is supplied for you in the very next line: "No, then vote for Mildon." There are posters praising the work Mr Mildon has already done on the council; there are other posters condemning it in unqualified terms."

He might not have become mayor but like his two Grangetown contemporaries - Brain and Jenkins - Mildon was made Alderman. Although his building experience made him an asset to the public works committee, Mildon was described as an "all round man, throughly acquainted with very department of municipal activity."

A 1905 article in a Grangetown Baptist Chapel magazine mentioned his "patience, tact and ability" with 45 years experience as a Sunday school teacher. He was a member of the Welsh Calvinist Methodist chapel in Pembroke Terrace. Mildon was also a prominent member in the town's Welsh-speaking community and chairman of the workhouse building committee.

He died at his home at 26 Paget Street in February 1909, aged 66 after being ill for some months. Fellow councillors said in tribute that he was held "in very great esteem, more indeed than the ex-alderman himself sometimes supposed."

He left 17 properties in Clive Street and Paget Street in his will to his widow and eight children, and an estate worth £6,445.

Another builder and fellow Liberal

Arthur Sessions (1850-1915) was part of a Gloucester builders' merchant family, with a branch of the business in Penarth Road from in 1857. He became a Liberal councillor in Grangetown in a by-election in 1903 and was credited with work to bring the trams along Penarth Road, a children's playground to the Marl and "a better supply of books for the library."

Sessions married into the ship-owning Cory family (Eliza was daughter of John Cory) and lived in Cathedral Road and later Penarth. A Quaker, "he combines shrewd business knowledge with kindliness and courtesy," wrote a local chapel magazine in 1905. He died aged 66 in 1915.

Doctor, councillor and youngest Lord Mayor

Dr Robert Smith with his twin sister

Another prominent local politician in the early part of the 20th century was the local GP.

Dr Robert Edward Smith was an Irishman from County Cork who came to set up a medical practice in Grangetown in 1898, aged 26.

As well as being a doctor, based in Corporation Road in what later became the Grange Surgery, he stood for the Conservatives, winning a seat in a by-election in 1903.

Described as a man "of unstinting activity," Smith was a prison chaplain's son, a Presbyterian, bachelor and a teetotaller.

He had particular interest in health and did much to work with the poorer people of his ward - of which there were many - with concerns over child care and maternity in particular. He and his twin sister Agnes were involved in good works in the area.

Smith became Cardiff's youngest Lord Mayor at the time in 1915 at the age of 43. He was praised for his "unfailing good humour" and "open, attractive personality."

He moved to live in Cathedral Road and died in October 1929.