SINCE c1950 Penarth has lost many, too many, of its historic buildings, reminders of the town’s unique history.
A plethora of large, grandiose mansions have gone, e.g. Dros-y-Mor built for Sir John Duncan co-founder of Reuters, Penarth House home to Philip Morel who, c1900, owned 33 steamships and charted up to 120 monthly, Redlands/Roxburgh home to S A Brain.
Smaller mansions have also gone e.g. Northcliff and Uppercliff homes to the man in the Hayes John Batchelor, Seaview home to John Cory who owned 22 steamships c1908. Earlier Cwrt-y-Vil/Raithwaite had been demolished, a large mansion that stood in extensive grounds with gardens designed by T H Manson. The mansion was built for Lascelles Carr who owned the Western Mail and News of the World.
Reminders of the town’s military past have gone, the large Drill Hall and quarters and the extensive Penarth Head Fort. Public houses in the 'Bowery' that reminded us of the town’s raison d'être, the building of the Dock have been demolished e.g. the Marine and Ship hotels, or converted into flats e.g. Dock, Plymouth, Royal hotels.
The town’s first school, the Church School, opened 1863 has recently been demolished, it was paid for by the Baroness Windsor. The Windsor Kinema of fond memories has gone. Built in the second decade of the 20th century, the kinema was very popular - during the immediate post Second World War period there were often queues up to Hickman Road (standing room only).
The first building built in Plassey Street was the English Calvinists Sardis opened in 1861. Sardis with the Welsh Calvinists Bethania, Hickman Road, were both wantonly demolished. Bethania was built with funds raised at concerts organised by Madame Clara Novello Davies. The concerts were held at the Jubilee Hall and Andrew's Large Hall, both stood in Albert Road.
A sad loss to the town was Christchurch. A large Gothic style church designed by Habershon and Fawckner, with an elegant landmark spire of 110 feet, built on land gifted by Solomon Andrews who also donated money to the building fund. The church opened in 1897.
Today another church is under threat, St Paul's. Although deconsecrated, the building has long served as a community hub and the local community wish it to remain as such. The building was for years home to a boxing club and a gymnastic centre that catered for disabled gymnasts. Both clubs have regularly produced champions.
Miss Morgan of East Barry House, at her own expense, hired a house in Penarth c1860 to hold Methodists’ services and again at her own expense paid for a town missionary, one Peter Bethel. A Methodist Church was built in Arcot Street 1863/4 enlarged in 1882, it was gutted by fire on March 10, 1905. The shell was bought and rebuilt by the Anglicans as St Paul's in 1906.
During the Methodist period Joseph Parry and his youngest son William Sterndale Parry, 1873-1892, regularly held sacred concerts and recitals at the Arcot Street Church. A prominent member of the church was W B Gibbs of the Penarth ship owning family. In a town still dominated by High Anglican, High Tories, he was a leading Liberal and non-conformist, he was a noted campaigner. During 1890 he stated publicly, “he was proud of his position identifying him as it did with the Liberal and Progressive Party of Penarth.”
Later in the same year, “he had asked himself why he was a Liberal and a radical; it was because he was discontented at there being one law for the rich and one for the poor.”
At a meeting in 1892 he admitted, “I am a faddist and his fads included the abolition of the House of Lords, and that taxes should only be paid by rich men, like him, and not the poor.”
In more modern times, dances were held at St Paul's especially during Second World War, they were much appreciated in those dark uncertain days, especially by the troops billeted in the town. These troops included young Americans, far from home and uncertain of their futures.
The local community want St Paul's saved - it should be saved. It appears that money had been allocated to save and restore the historic building, but the local authorities appear to be obfuscating. What are Penarth's councillors, Penarth's AM and Penarth's MP going to do about the building? Will they do anything?
Is there any chance they will honour their traditional pre-election mantra – “We only seek election, re-election to serve the community.”
A R Thorne