The Colour of Black

Coinciding with Black History Wales’ activities launched at the beginning of October, we look at one of the few representations of black people in the holy art at St Mary’s, and the place played by a North African family in the growth of Christianity in the first few decades.

Three black people stand next to and under and near the cross of Jesus.  This is a painting at St Mary’s Church by local artist Kenneth Smitham of the fifth Station of the Cross.  It’s a glimpse from the gospel which sets Simon of Cyrene on the stage, compelled as he is to carry the cross of Jesus.

We know, too, the names of the two younger people who colour the canvas.  They are Alexander and Rufus, the sons of Simon, and named as such by Mark in his gospel account.  It’s an important mention, for it means that, at the time the gospel was written, Simon and his family were known to the wider church.

These are not three passing encounters.  They aren’t people who just walked on and off the stage never to be seen or known again.  This chance encounter between Jesus and a (possibly) Jewish pilgrim from North Africa (present day eastern Libya) had deeper repercussions – for Simon and his family become believers.

There is no indication that Simon, at first, is moved by pity or compelled by compassion.  Rather the Roman soldiers force him from the crowd and place the crossbeam on his shoulders.  And yet, in a word, Mark reminds us that Simon carries the cross behind Jesus, calling to mind the words of Jesus that “Whoever wants to be a disciple of mine must take up his cross and follow me.” Simon, in a very particular and precious way, has been drawn into the passion (the suffering) of Jesus, and his life is changed for ever.

We may assume that Simon was a Jew, since he had come to Jerusalem at Passover time – and Cyrene, at the time, was a centre for dispersed Jews, 100,000 of whom had been forced to settle there during the reign of Ptolemy Soter, 300 years before the birth of Christ.

Fly forward, fifty days or so from Simon’s maiden appearance, and it’s Pentecost Sunday.  The festival has drawn pilgrims from across the known world, and the Apostles are about to hit the streets after receiving the gift of the Hoy Spirit.

The Acts of the Apostles (2:9) delivers a cacophony of countries from where these travellers hailed, to create a bubbling mix of cultures and traditions: Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians.” All of these, so the Acts of the Apostles tell us, can hear, in their own language, the teaching of the apostles. We are told that, from among these widely drawn pilgrims, 3,000 believe in Peter’s message, and are baptized.  Perhaps Simon and his family were amongst these. (Acts 2:41)

Likewise, too, later in the Acts of the Apostles (11:19-20) we read of people from Cyrene who preached to the Greeks.  “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen travelled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to none except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus.”  We can only conjecture that Simon may have been among these!

And the mention, again in Acts, that in the church at Antioch, “there were prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul” can only again lead us to conjecture and what tradition tells us: Lucius became the first Bishop of Cyrene but there is no actual proof that “Simeon (Simon) who was called Niger” can be identified with Simon of Cyrene.  But perhaps we can be forgiven some fanciful thinking which places him there in Antioch!

And yet this isn’t the last we hear of Simon’s family.  It is thought by some scholars that one of his sons is the Rufus mentioned by St Paul in his letter to the Romans, along with his mother who, says St Paul, has been like a mother to him too.  “ Greet Rufus, eminent in the Lord, also his mother and mine.” (Romans 16:13)

The gospel of Mark, which initially names Rufus, was written to the church of Rome, perhaps some time after Peter’s death, around AD 64-6.  Perhaps, then, there is some credence to identifying Mark’s ‘Rufus’ to the one who settled in Rome with his mother!

Although there is no proof of the colour of their skin, tradition and art more often than not portrays them as black skinned, and in so many churches where there are Stations of the Cross, their representation may be the only artistic and architectural portrayal of a black person.

As Black History Month continues, Simon and his family continue to stand tall in the part they play in the history of Christianity from its very beginning. Perhaps we need a little more black representation in our holy art here at St Mary’s.  But, for now, Simon and his boys sit quite happily here, guiding us through the Stations of the Cross, shedding light on what it means to be a disciple of Christ, and how being drawn into the passion and death of Jesus transforms us.

For more information about Black History Wales visit:

Who would live in a house like this?

Tent of Meeting

It was a memorable moment, this week, to see the Shrine Church in Walsingham able to open its doors for private prayer, and the smiles of the Priest Administrator as he turned the key says it all.  I know that many people have loved to take part in the live streaming of Shrine Prayers at 6pm every day, although this year we shall miss out on our annual pilgrimage from South Wales.  At the heart of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham is the Holy House of Nazareth, a replica of that home where Mary lived, and in which she was greeted by the angel as highly favoured, and shown to be a loving servant of God as she embraced his plans for her and the world.

Shrine OLW reopening
Fr Kevin Smith, the Priest Administrator, opens the doors of the shrine church in Walsingham  Photograph: Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham – Facebook page

Many of us have enjoyed being able to open up our church buildings over the last few weeks, and throughout the months of lockdown there has been much discussion about the purpose of church buildings – after all, you don’t need to go to a church building to pray, do you?  Of course, you don’t!

I’m often uncomfortable by the term ‘going to church’ (although I have used and do use it myself) and the fact that the word ‘church’ has been used and confused for both the people and a stone structure doesn’t help.  Perhaps, we need to think more of our buildings as being ‘the house of the church’, a place where the church gathers, a shared space, a meeting point with one another and with God – as together we celebrate the Eucharist and other celebrations, physically present to one another.

St Mary’s Church with its temporary layout  for private prayer to maintain social distancing and safety.

Who would live in a house live this?

Like any house or home, the building is almost an extension of who dwells there, and so when we peruse particular church buildings it can tell us so much about the community which gathers there, and that’s no different for St Mary’s.  Wander through St Mary’s Church and you’ll find the clues of what kind of people live in a house like this.

At the heart of many a ‘house of the church’ is the Tabernacle, where the abiding presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament dwells.  Just as the Shrine Church at Walsingham is home to another house, the Holy House of Nazareth, so too our church buildings are home to another house – the Tabernacle – in which is placed the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.

Since we have been allowed to open for private prayer, here at St Mary’s we have opened not just the doors of the church but the doors of the tabernacle.  Even though we cannot share in the Eucharist of the Lord we are drawn into his Eucharistic presence, and the ‘house of the church’ becomes, once again, a meeting point with the Divine.

The Lady Chapel at St Mary’s in which is found both the Tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament and imagery of Mary, including the image of Our Lady of Walsingham to the right of the altar

The Tent of  Meeting

 I love the litanies of the church, and the litanies of Mary are particularly beautiful as we move to the gentle rhythm of their beating prayer.  One of Mary’s titles, tripped off the tongue in these litanies, is ‘Tabernacle of the Lord.’  Her own body becomes a Shrine for Jesus, a dwelling place of the Lord, a tent of meeting, a tabernacle.

We can only delve into the depths of what ‘Tabernacle’ means through our Jewish heritage and the life of the Old Testament.  As the liberated People of Israel dawdled in the desert for four decades, they stopped along the way to pitch camp and erect their tents.  At the heart of their camp and the most important tent was the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, in which was placed the Ark of the Covenant, the assurance of God’s presence, the place where he dwelt among them within the Holy of Holies. (Exodus 25–31 and 35–40)

Perhaps it’s no accident that the chapels in our churches known as the Lady Chapel often, too, serve as our Blessed Sacrament Chapels.  In fact, on the front of the Tabernacle here at St Mary’s is a beautiful painting of the Annunciation, that moment of Mary’s Yes, the moment of the Incarnation, when Jesus takes flesh of the Virgin Mary, becomes present within her, creating a Tabernacle of the Lord.

The Tabernacle at St Mary’s Church illustrating the scene of the Annunciation

And so, during these times of restrictions, the doors of ‘the house of the church’ and the doors of the Tabernacle are opened wide.  We are drawn into the presence of God and one another, discovering that God is before and above us, around and within us, praying that we too may be a worthy dwelling place for the Lord, a Tent of Meeting, a Tabernacle,  that place of encounter with Jesus who has come to live among us.

Each day, the Tabernacle Door is opened and the Blessed Sacrament is placed upon the nave altar

At the moment, we are open each day: Sunday at 11am, Monday to Friday at 6pm, Saturday at 11am for private prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.

Within the walls and windows

St Mary’s has a rich past and present.  Home to a vibrant community of faith, we also have stories to tell and share, and we want to offer more and more of our resources to local schools and others.  So, here’s the first of many resources to come which we hope may be of benefit in teaching and learning!

A PDF version of the document is available so do get in touch if you would like a copy!




Rejoicing as a Pilgrim People

Whilst we may feel a little like we’re standing still at the moment, it may be difficult to get to grips with being a Pilgrim People! Pilgrimage, though, is as much about stopping as it is about moving on – after all, most long journeys require at least a refreshment stop!  So, whilst some things have stopped or taken on a different form, here’s time to look back on what happened last year with our Annual Report for 2019!


Financial Report for the year ending December 2019

Articles of Faith 10: Memorial Plaque

Our tenth article of faith is a small stone plaque in the north-west corner of St Mary’s Church in memory of ‘Henry James Thatcher’, a plaque which unfolds the story of a man of enthusiastic faith, committed friendship and an eye for precision!

A fallen grave stone

We found it quite by accident, the grave of Henry James Thatcher. We were in Cathays Cemetery to clean the gravestone of Fr Griffith Arthur Jones in preparation for prayer on the anniversary of his death during the 175th anniversary of St Mary’s Church.

There, beyond his grave, was a fallen stone and, inscribed upon it, a name familiar to those of us who had read the biography of Fr Jones, or who had taken note of the plaques fixed to the walls of the church.

We knew Mr Thatcher to be a longstanding Churchwarden, thirty years in all, an office he held through difficult divisive years of reform in the parish in the late nineteenth century. We knew him, too, to be a friend of Fr Jones.

Likewise, the scant script of the memorial tablet in St Mary’s informed us that he was an Altar Server, Secretary to the Llandaff Diocesan Lay Readers Association and a member of the Cardiff Church Committee, whatever that meant.

But it’s time now, perhaps, to discover more about this man whose fallen grave stone marks the place of his rest, next to that of his dear friend and priest.


A friend of Father Jones

 The first familiar words we have from Henry Thatcher are from the biography mentioned above, words he shared with another friend and churchwarden, Edwin Dobbins, written on behalf of the congregation of St Mary’s Jubilee Year and the 21st anniversary of Fr Jones’ Incumbency.

“We desire in presenting the address to express our great love and esteem for you, our admiration of your personal character, and our hearty appreciation of the services you have rendered to the Catholic Church especially in our parish. We trust you may be long spared under God’s blessing to be our Pastor, and assuring you of our continued love and duty.”

Fr Jones valued many close friendships, two of whom were those longstanding churchwardens, and for many years it was their custom to enjoy an annual outing together. “These little excursions were greatly enjoyed by all three, and much looked forward to by the churchwardens. They both appreciated the Vicar’s joyous spirits, and recognized how at the same time he was always anxious to say his Mass every Sunday when he was away on these holidays.”

Living as he did in 3, Glossop Terrace, just around the corner from Fr Jones’ retirement home in Longcross Street, Adamsdown, he was there right to the end of his friend’s life in this world, and “spent all his spare time in the sick room.”

Thatcher, Heaton, Fr Noel picture2
A photograph from the Weekly Mail 25 June 1910 with Henry James Thatcher (left) standing next to the vicar at the time, Fr Heaton. The priest on far right right is Fr Noel from St Barnabas, Oxford who had retired to live in Longcross Street, Adamsdown with his old friend Fr Jones who died four years before this photograph was taken.

A clear vision

He must have had a steady hand, an eye for detail, a mind acquainted with the scientific art of precision. From his “commodious premises” and “well-appointed shop” at 107, Bute Street, Thatcher measured time as a watchmaker and chronometer, and helped steer ships through stormy seas as ‘An adjuster of Iron Ships’ Compasses.”

 A jeweller, too, there are several newspaper reports of burglaries and thefts from his shop. On one occasion, two young lads received a fourteen day prison sentence for stealing a couple of watches and trying to sell them in Neath! His craft extended, too, to making spectacles, an Optician’s trade up his sleeve, helping people to see a little clearer.

Perhaps then, with all this craft, he was well suited to life at St Mary’s, helping to steer things through a changing scene, riding the storm, having a clear vision.

A thoroughly practical master

In 1880, there were around 26 watchmakers and only 8 Chronometer Makers in Cardiff. The business run by Mr Thatcher then had actually been established in 1819 by Samuel Marks, with Thatcher trading a little higher up the street from a smaller premises since 1869.

Incidentally, Samuel Marks along with his brother, Mark, were sons of Michael Marks who was one of the first Jewish arrivals in Cardiff from Neath.  He established a premises first in Angel Street (now Westgate Street) and finally registered as Marks and Co at 11 Bute Road.  He became well known in the Docks. and signed a petition against the rival Barry Dock scheme.  He died at the age of 83, and it was to Samuel, Mark and Solomon Marks to whom the Marquess of Bute donated land at Highfield for a Jewish cemetery.  There is a memorial in the cemetery to Samuel in gratitude for his services to the Jewish Community.

Thatcher bought the business from Solomon Marks in 1876 and “conducted it with great ability and success, fully maintaining the high reputation it has so long enjoyed.”  In 1893, it was believed to be “the oldest of its kind in Cardiff . . . patronised by the Portuguese Government, and by a large and important nautical connection.” (The Ports of the Bristol Channel, Wales and the West, London Printing and Engraving Co. 1893)

His shop had “a large and valuable stock of chronometers, watches, clocks, opera and field glasses, marine glasses, compasses, and all manner of nautical instruments, charts, and stationery.”

He was described as “a thoroughly practical master of his scientific trade, and employs an efficient staff of skilled hands, all work being done on the premises under his own careful personal supervision.”

“Everything supplied at this establishment is of first-class quality, and besides selling his own reliable and approved chronometers, Mr. Thatcher is agent for all the principal chronometer-makers, so that any well-known make can be at once obtained through him.”

At some point he had also worked alongside his brother, the wonderfully named Cornelius Octavius Thatcher. The ‘Thatcher Brothers” Partnership was dissolved by them in October 1872, with Cornelius continuing to work as a ‘Music and Musical Instrument Seller’ and as a ‘Teacher of Music’ trading from 4, Montgomery Terrace, Roath.

Thatcher sit vacant
An Advert from Mr Thatcher seeking an apprentice at his business. (South Wales Daily News: 5, July 1884)

 The supreme gift

For someone like me who, at 16 years old, received a School Report comment from his Biology teacher that he “tends to be over opinionated at times,” I rather like the reports of Mr Thatcher.

“Every character has the defects of its qualities,” wrote Canon Beck (Vicar of Roath and Rural Dean) in an obituary of Thatcher after his death in January 16, 1916. “A critic can easily find occasions when zeal outruns discretion. And quite certainly Mr. Thatcher’s utterances were not always as balanced as might have been.”

“Still, for me,” continued Beck, “all defects were obliterated by that supreme gift: enthusiasm. It is surely a gift which Churchmen specially need to-day.”

‘A splendid adventure’

We can only wonder how many children and young people he enthused as a long standing Superintendent of the Sunday School at St Michael’s, a Mission church of St Mary’s at Mount Stuart Square. In 1907, the Bible Classes treated him and his assistant Superintendent (Mr E.W. Edwards) to a complimentary dinner to thank them for their work They responded to their gratitude and generosity in a thank you speech when they “expressed their pleasure they felt in meeting so many Docks boys.”

“For most parishes at the moment do not require a series of quiet days nearly as much as a series of religious earthquakes. We have to make the present generation realise that Christianity is after all a most splendid adventure, and that the Christian religion can bring into men’s lives the highest satisfaction and joy,” wrote Canon Beck.

“And I’m sure that we never accomplish this, till we have caught something of that flame of enthusiasm which was the marked feature the character him whom many of us will never forget.”

Once, when Dean Vaughan’s “refined sensitiveness had been shocked by some excited speech” of Thatcher, he remarked .“What a sweet voice Mr. Thatcher has!”

Thatcher Dinner
Evening Express – 1 January, 1907

The political world

“The political world of the city knew something of his ardour and energy, he was a keen educationalist, and a regular attendant at the meetings of the Church Schools Grouped Committee,” wrote Canon Beck.

A chairman of Adamsdown Conservative Club, Thatcher was also a Councillor and, in one of the anti-church newspaper reports, he is doubly described as “The Ritualist and Tory Candidate.”

“But behind and beneath all these other interests was his consuming interest in things directly spiritual and religious,” said Beck. “And I should say without any hesitation that his most effective work was done as churchwarden at St. Mary’s and Secretary from their foundation, I think, of the Llandaff Lay Readers’ Association and the Cardiff Church Committee.”

Waifs and Strays

“He was an exceptionally good reader of the lessons in church,” his obituary reads, “and many a cleric might have learned much from him in this. It would be no easy task to enumerate the meetings he has addressed or the demonstrations he has organised.!

When he died, a fund for the Spiritual Training of Lay Readers was established by his friends and colleagues.

Thatcher served as Honorary Local Secretary of the Waifs and Strays Society (which eventually became, many years later, The Children’ Society and which, in 1900, had over 2,800 children under its care.

As a member of the ‘Cottage Homes Committee’ he was caught up in the charge of Proselytism, when certain young people living in the Taff Embankment (Church of England) Houses and who had been attending St Paul’s Sunday school in Grangetown were now, so it seemed, attending one of the Mission church of St Mary’s.

In the course of the newspaper report, Thatcher said he was in favour of St Mary’s Mission room upon the ground that the children lived in the parish, and insisted they be sent to the National rather than the Board School. Although defeated by vote, Thatcher we are told “did not yield from the stand he had taken.”

Members objected to him “introducing questions of creed and denominational teaching” but Thatcher was a strong advocate of the National Schools – run by the church and where religion could be freely taught – rather than the Board Schools, and he was able to contribute to this as a member of the Cardiff Church Committee.

As a member of the ‘Cardiff Workhouse Visiting Committee,’ a group which both highlighted conditions in the workhouse and showed care and compassion for the wellbeing of its “inmates.” During one meeting to plan for the Christmas celebrations, he stood firm, and insisted that, amongst all the fare of the table, beer should also be offered! The motion was passed, as was another to provide lemonade too!

Thatcher waifs and strays
Evening Express – 27 October 1900

Family Ties

Henry Thatcher married Clara, the daughter of Cardiff Shipbuilder, Thomas W.H. Plain who traded under the company name of Davis and Plain. Plain lived at 30 Park Place where he also died at the age of 80 years on 12 January 1908. Born in Pembrokeshire, Plain moved to Cardiff at around 20 years old, starting in business in the ship repairing trade but eventually became a shipowner, specialising in Channel Cutters – rigged small sailing craft which doubled up as both fishing and pilot boats.

A Conservative in politics and a staunch Churchman, for more than two decades he was a member and chairman of the Cardiff Board of Guardians which administered the Poor Law,

Yet after 20 years “he was rejected by the electorate. There was no reason for this, no good cause, but the excuse given was that he was too just in the matter of giving relief. He believed in investigating every case thoroughly,” reported the Cardiff Times, 18 January 1908

The Grave of Fr Jones of Cardiff – with the fallen stone of his friend Henry James Thatcher to the right.

Grave concern

It is touching, perhaps, that the grave of Henry James Thatcher sits so close to that of his friend, and somewhat sad to see the stone cross lying broken on its back, stitched almost into the grass.

He had been of immense benefit to the transformations brought by Fr Jones, and is a reminder to us of how important friendship is, especially in the service of the gospel – and, in that service, to have something of the enthusiasm exhibited by Mr Thatcher!



Room for Prayer

Our prayer resource booklet to accompany us through the Novena time from Ascension to Pentecost  You can download a pdf version here:

Stay at Home!

At his Ascension into Heaven, Jesus gives a simple instruction to his apostles: to stay in   Jerusalem and wait for the Power from on High which he had promised.

And so they return to that Upper Room in which they have already experienced so much. It was the room in which they gathered on that fragile night, when Jesus broke bread, when he stooped to wash their feet, and when they were struck to the heart by the thought of betrayal.

From that room, they moved to Gethsemane’s olive garden, where Jesus prays so intensely, and where he is taken from them, betrayed by a kiss. They return to the room after Jesus is crucified, and lock themselves away in fear. And it is in that room, gathered on the first day of the week, that Jesus appears to them and, where a week later, they are joined by Thomas who declares in the presence of Jesus, ‘My Lord and my God!’

Ands so they return again, after they have witnessed him raised to the heights of heaven, to dedicate themselves to prayer, to wait—not in fear, not with doubts – but to wait upon the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost Sunday, when Jerusalem is packed with people, drawn from all over the world, they feel the earth move, their lives move. They leave that room, filled with faith, confident in Christ, a new creation, to proclaim to all that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Nine days of prayer

From Ascension to Pentecost we are invited to do the same. Many of us have no choice but to , figuratively speaking, ‘stay in Jerusalem.’ And so, during these nine days we are invited to dedicate ourselves more intently to prayer, so that Spirit-filled, we may proclaim by word and deed, that Jesus is our Lord and our God.

The church’s daily prayer continues as it always does—wherever that may be—and, despite not being able to gather for Mass, we continue to be enriched and sustained by its offering, for it is through the Eucharist that we plead to God and trust only in the Death and Resurrection of the Lord. And we can and do pray in many other different ways too.

As Mary and the Apostles stayed in Jerusalem to pray together for nine days, so we can do something of the same. During those nine days, in addition to Mass and the usual prayer of the Church, the rosary will be prayed here each day. If you would like to share some prayer intentions then please forward them by telephone, text or email (my contact details are on the back page).

Perhaps you will be ale to commit yourself to the same, whether or not it’s the rosary, or to some moment of prayer, perhaps using some of the prayers and resources in these pages? Whether or not we are physically together, we continue to be united in Christ, and pray for a fresh and vivid experience of Power from on High.


You can download our Booklet, ‘Praying at Home with Mary and the Apostles’ at our website [at] home page 

And here’s the direct link to the pdf document:


The Boxers of Tiger Bay

Like many industrialised towns of South Wales, boxing was a popular sport and pastime, and the 19th and 20th century allowed renowned figures such as ‘Peerless’ Jim Driscoll and Joe Erskine to emerge from the docks area of Cardiff just as they did from other parts of Cardiff and the South Wales valleys.

One of those champions was Pat Thomas, a winner of multiple titles in two different weights during the 1970s and 1980s. Later, he worked as a trainer, and established Tiger Bay Amateur Boxing Club in 1984.

In 2018, Thomas suggested that the Club be re-established and it’s now run by Wasim Said, a mixed martial artist from Butetown.

Quite apart from creating sporting greats, activities like boxing does much to engage young people, nurtures discipline, improves health and well-being, strengthens community, and guides young people away from less positive activities, particularly in a society where drugs and knife crime is a very real threat.

People like Pat Thomas and Wasim Said have a great heritage behind them. A hundred years before Thomas first established Tiger Bay Boxing Club, others had done the same. And just as boxing in Butetown is made possible today by a Community of Faith – the Club is based at the South Wales Islamic Centre – so this was the case in the distant past, a past we’re about to unfold…!

Tiger Bay Boxing Wales Online
Tiger Bay Amateur Boxing Club with Wasim Said, centre.  Photograph: Wales Online

A club on Canal Parade

On the evening of Friday 24th April 1885, Fr Griffith Arthur Jones, the Vicar of St Mary’s, along with his curate, the Rev H.B. Wilkinson and others gathered in the rooms of a new Club for Young Men on Canal Parade.

The premises had recently been made available by the relocation of Timber Merchants, Alexanders and Co.  Fr Jones stated that “it had for some time been their intention to start an institution of the kind, but they had not been able to find suitable premises before,” wrote the Weekly Mail (25th April 1885)

When he discovered that the company was relocating “he at once hit upon that as the right sort of place, and it having been agreed on all hands that it would serve their purpose they negotiated with Messrs. Alexanders and Co.”  The rooms were subsequently offered at a reduced rent.

There were four rooms. One on the ground floor was devoted to boxing and single- stick (a martial art that uses a wooden stick as a weapon) and the other accommodated by the caretaker. The rooms upstairs were used for chess and bagatelle.

‘Pure and noble’

“The Vicar stated that the club was in connection with St. Mary’s Church,” reported The Weekly Mail, “and was a very necessary institution for the amusement of their young people and to give them a meeting-place for social intercourse.”

 “For his own part, he did not attach much importance to the religion of those who drew long faces and went about the place groaning and grunting. (Laughter.) He liked to see young people cheerful, merry, and joyous, as they ought to be.”

“One of the evil results of the example of such people as those he had alluded to was that young people got to look upon all amusements as equally bad or equally good. If that club succeeded in nothing else, it would show their young people that there was a recreation which was religious, justifiable, and pure; honest and noble. (Applause.)”

The Club was opened by Fr Jones with a prayer asking God to bless it “that it might be a useful institution in the parish.”

Paying their way

The club was to be supported, in the main, by subscriptions (2d a week) with all the games free apart from bagatelle (for which a half-penny would be charged) although the Curate hoped that people would also become honorary members, with a minimum fee of 5 shillings.

They had only been in the rooms for three days, he said, and already 25 members had been enrolled, and he hoped the number would soon be doubled in a very short time.

Although the rooms had been obtained at a reduced rent there was some concern that this would be a drain on resources. Fr Jones “hoped that some of their friends would come forward and relieve them of it, so that they could apply their funds to the improvement of the club.”

The club, said the Rev H.B. Wilkinson, “would be open two nights a week during the summer, and, they hoped, every night, and perhaps every day, during the winter.”

The club would also benefit St Mary’s Cricket Club (which had been in existence since at least 1878) the members of which would hold their meetings there, as well as by the Bible Classes, and it was suggested that a Savings’ Bank should also be started.

Yesterday and today

Life, of course, a century ago was very different from what it is today. And yet many similar problems occur even if in a slightly different guise.

At St Mary’s Church, we have watched with admiration the work of Tiger Bay Amateur Boxing Club, and are pleased to support it, have been able to provide some financial donations, and continue to follow its progress with admiration and a sense of local pride for what is being achieved amongst the young people of Butetown and beyond.

For more information about Tiger Bay Amateur Boxing Club, please visit their website:

When they sneeze, we cough

Sifting through various pieces of writing, I found this article which was intended to follow  a previous blog post: Standing around at the Station.  It was written last year as one of a series of articles exploring the place that religion has played in the growth and life of Cardiff, both yesterday and today.

This article begins at the junction of St Mary Street and Wood Street as we take a journey towards the castle and, whilst we only get as far as Cardiff Market we’re able to take a wider look at the world through the clues still scattered around us.

Monkey Business

Three metal monkeys chime each hour from the glazed clock-tower at the junction of Wood Street and St Mary Street.[1] It’s time to move on. The mischievous monkeys are copies of those carved in wood in Cardiff Castle where they cavort around the Tree of Knowledge. William Burges, their creator, gives a dig at Darwin’s Beagle adventures, and carves into his work the controversies and discoveries of the day. Darwin returned home in 1836 with ground breaking ideas. A small number of Christians still cling to some anti-Darwin doctrines but they are few and far between. People have moved on. Baptised and schooled in the Church of England, Darwin died an agnostic.

On the corner of the street, the belly of the Royal Hotel[2] has been carved up between bars, surrounded by many others, all of whom give a wry smile to the memory of Temperance Town. Here, in the hotel, Sir Robert Scott[3] took his final grand dinner before he pushed out into choppier waters, never to return.

St Mary's Clock
John Lord / The clock, St Mary St, Cardiff

Party animals

Cardiff is a city which pulls in weekend party people. The fancy-dressed groups of stags and hens with bespoke T-shirts is a familiar sight on Fridays as they spill out from the train station. Brains Brewery Quarter, long vacated as an actual brewery, gapes open mouthed at Wood Street.[4]

A few years ago, at an Interfaith event with young people at the Wales Millennium Centre, we asked if Cardiff was a good place to be a young person of faith. For them, it was. They enjoyed living in a city which is diverse and multicultural. One of the things, though, that sometimes raised difficulty for some was the alcohol driven entertainment which is often at the heart of city life, and so often part of the life of many of their friends. It’s one of the industries of any city, and Cardiff is no different.

‘Street Pastors’ is an initiative of trained volunteers from local churches in towns and cities across the country, including Cardiff. Each weekend, they are out and about until the early hours to care for people on the streets, some of whom have partied hard.

Opposite, the oldest Arcade in town, the Royal Arcade of 1858[5]. Above here the first Cardiff Free Library was opened before its grander premises next to St John’s Church


Cardiff Street Pastors at work.  Photograph:

Red wine and Jewish friends

In the busy St Mary Street, I almost pass a familiar face.

‘Stanley, how are you?’

We shake hands, tell him I saw him on the Television two days ago, a news item about Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.

He raises his eyebrows apologetically, as though to say, ‘I know, again,’ conscious perhaps that he is one of the few representatives of the Jewish community commonly called upon for comment. He does it well.

‘I don’t often walk through the city centre with a bottle of red wine,’ he says, raising the bottle, ‘but I’ve been to the Mansion House for a coffee morning. I won a raffle prize.’

I first met Stanley through his wife when the Jewish Community of the Reformed Synagogue in Adamsdown joined us at St German’s Church for ‘The Day of the Soup’, a community food event, during which we shared who we were through the simmering warmth of soup. Christians, Jews and Muslims gathered together in what was a freezing few weeks in January.

Over the years, I have seen much of him, either on the steps of the Senedd for the bi-annual Merchant Seafarers Memorial Service but more regularly at the South Cardiff Interfaith Network, and so many other things besides, sharing a table with him at various meetings and gatherings.

In 2011, there were 2,064 Jews in Wales, a third of whom live in Cardiff, with two places of worship. At one point, as Industry grew in the nineteenth century, there were dozens of Jewish businesses and people who populated the town with synagogues.

In 1896, when the cornerstone of the new Cathedral Road Synagogue was laid, the Vicar of St Stephen’s Church, Revd A.G. Russell, was present, causing a curt backlash by The Church Times who questioned his presence at such an event. Albert Goldsmid, president of the Synagogue Site Committee, penned a reply in The Western Mail. He saw nothing wrong with Christians assisting at the foundation of a synagogue, in which their Master had been wont to worship and preach. He himself, he said, had lent his hand for Christian denominational purposes without being the less staunch to his race and faith.[6]

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Cardiff Reformed Synagogue during the public lighting of the Menorah

Politics and Religion

I say farewell to Stanley and pass Guildhall Place[7], the site of the fourth Town Hall. It is here, in 1905, that Alderman Robert Hughes opens the letter from the King giving Cardiff city status. Hughes was a parishioner of St Mary’s Church on Bute Street, and a life-long friend of Fr Griffith Arthur Jones who had retired just a year or so before, and a sponsor for many boys baptised and confirmed.

Letter in hand, he is congratulated by the gathered crowd, elevated now as he is to be the first Lord Mayor of Cardiff. His portrait hangs beyond the Castle in County Hall, built the following year. After applause and celebratory speeches, they take to the balcony to share the news, and then there is a torchlight procession to St Mary’s back in Tiger Bay to celebrate the centenary of Lord Nelson’s death.

Pushed, as it often is, outside of public life we can often forget the faith which nurtures the lives of some of our leaders, or overlook the beliefs of those who turn their lives to the service of others. Despite being multicultural, Cardiff had to wait some years before Councillors of other religions emerged. Much has changed, and local politicians now represent more realistically the people they represent.

In 1993, Jaz Singh became the first Sikh Cardiff Councillor, and was Deputy Mayor in 2008, the first Gurdwara in Cardiff having its humble beginnings in a terraced house at Ninian Park in 1956. When eyeing up land for a purpose built Gurdwara years later in the 1980s, he notes with gratitude the help given by Mohammad Javid, who was chairman of the Pakistan Welfare Association and a Member of Woodville Mosque, although there was some criticism by some members, reminiscent of the Jewish-Christian comments of the Church Times a century before.

Back in Butetown, one of Citizens Cymru’s campaign is for dignity in Burial for the Muslim Community. Citizens is a collaboration of organisations uniting for the common good, it provides a means through which many different communities, regardless of creed or colour, can work together on issues which affect them, and build power to change society for the good,

On the site of the former Victorian Town Hall is Julian Hodge House, built in 1915 for the Co-operative Wholesale Society in a style reminiscent of the Edwardian buildings of Regent Street, London. Julian Hodge was one of Wales’ most famous financiers.[8] Two ambitions dominated his life: to found a bank and to build a cathedral.[9] The boy from a poor background became a merchant banker and established the Commercial Bank of Wales but failed to convince the Roman Catholic hierarchy to accept his £3m offer for the building of a new Metropolitan Cathedral in Cardiff.

Christopher Hilton / Cardiff: market entrance, St Mary Street / Heol Eglwys Fair

‘Oh Lord, here is iniquity’

Here, in the street, many people were publicly hanged from the gallows for Cardiff Market was once the site of the 16th century Gaol, expanded in 1770, and continuing as a town gaol until 1877 years after the County Gaol moved across the city in 1832. It remains there still, served by a multi faith chaplaincy.

One of the most famously executed was Dic Penderyn caught up in the political and social unrest which washed through industrial Wales. Working conditions and wage cuts, redundancy and debts led to riots in Merthyr Tydfil where buildings were ransacked to destroy debt records held by the courts. One of the Highland Regiments stationed at Brecon was sent in. Soldiers fired into the crowds. Sixteen people were slaughtered.

One solider, Donald Black, was stabbed in the leg by a soldier’s bayonet. Uncertain of his attacker, a young man called Richard Lewis, known as Dic Penderyn, was arrested. He was charged and imprisoned in Cardiff Gaol, taken to the gallows at 8am on 13 August 1831 at the age of 23 years.   His final words were: ‘O Arglwydd, dyma gamwedd, Oh Lord, here is iniquity.’ He is buried in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church, Aberavon.

The valleys have their own stories to tell but they are inextricably linked to the growth of Cardiff. In a novel retelling of the story of Jim Driscoll, the catholic and Cardiff born, Irish boxer from the long gone Newtown area of Cardiff, Alexander Cordell writes with Driscoll’s voice in the winter of his seventh year: ‘A strike of coal miners was going on in a place called Tonypandy, and when they sneeze we cough, said Gran.’ 1.6 million people live within a 45 minute drive to Cardiff, and thousands from the valleys join the Cardiff work force each day.

The Glamorganshire Canal, constructed in 1790, escalated the conveyance of iron and coal from the valleys to Cardiff, swiftly followed by the Taff Valley Railway in 1840 which further enabled the growth of what was once a small town which, at one time, had been described as being “near Llantrisant.”

Here, in St Mary Street, in 1852, the YMCA began in Cardiff, established at first at 100 St Mary Street, eight years after George Williams and Co of London formed the Drapers Evangelistic Association, changing it name to Young Men’s Christian Association. The largest and oldest youth charity in the world, they support more than 250 young carers (aged 7-16) and their families in South East Wales and provide sexual health outreach programmes to young people throughout the city. They also offer childcare, youth clubs, and health and wellbeing opportunities every day of the week and provide accommodation for nearly 120 homeless people in Cardiff, supporting them into independent living. The YMCA moved from St Mary Street to purpose built premises to sit snugly next to Cory’s Temperance Hall opposite Queen Street, but both buildings have long been demolished.[10]

St Mary Street, looking towards the castle.  Picture by Jon Candy

Let the fire be lit

On the right is James Howells’ department store which swallows up what’s left of Bethany Church within, where the walls still hold the memorial to Rawlins White, burned at the stake in the street outside, and who wept when he saw his family as the crowds called for fire and flame. “Burn him, let the fire be lit.” It is 30 March 1555 and Queen Mary I is on the throne.

White gives no resistance to the soldiers who escort him, carefully arranges the wood and straw around his own body hoping that the flames will burn quickly.

As a fisherman, he had lived off the Taff, pulling salmon from the river upstream. Unable to read and speaking only Welsh, he became familiar with Scriptures through the help of his son who read to him each night. Inspired by itinerant preachers who regularly called at Cardiff during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VII, he passed on the preaching to others willing to hear.

Despite resistance, White’s silence cannot not be won until he is confined to Cardiff Castle and, more recently, the dark, damp, disgusting cell of the Cockmarel Prison from which he is led to death. Chained to the stake, the fire is lit, his legs burn quickly, his body slumps forward. On the same day in Carmarthen another Martyr, Robert Farrar, the Bishop of St David’s, breathes his last.

The Gallows Field

A hundred years later, in 1679, during the reign of Charles II, two catholic martyrs are marched to the gallows, marking another chapter in the twists of faith and the cost of clinging to ones belief in the face of another, and a reminder of the disturbing deeds of human beings, of rulers and governments, when confronted by difference and dissention.   But these were different times. Surely, not today, not in this world, not in our world?

The site of the Gallows Field or Plwcca Halog (Plwcca meaning dirty, wet, uncultivated land) is now a busy junction in Cardiff’s cosmopolitan Roath where City Road and Crwys Road cross and meet three others in a place known these days as ‘Death Junction.’   One day, when walking nearby, a fellow priest told me how he had encountered someone from another Cardiff parish where my appointment as Vicar had recently been announced, and met with mixed reception.

‘We had expected more, really,’ they said. ‘He’s from the valleys.’

I coughed.




[1] The clock’s face and mechanism came from the Pierhead Building in Cardiff Bay, retrieved from America, and installed here in November 2011

[2] The Royal Hotel, built 1866

[3] Sir Robert Scott left Cardiff on 15 June 1910. His ship, the Terra Nova, was returned to Cardiff in 1913

[4] Brains Brewery occupied the site in 1914

[5] There are 797 metres of Arcades in Cardiff

[6] The Jews of South Wales, Ursula R.Q. Henriques 2013, page 30

[7] Opened in 1853, demolished 1913. Constructed by W.P. James to the design of Horace Jones (the same architect responsible for Tower Bridge in London). It accommodated the courts, police station, fire brigade and post office. The building was expanded in in 1880 , and the Post Office was relocated in 1886 to a new seven-storey building on the corner of Westgate Street and Park Street.

[8] Julian Stephen Alfred Hodge, financier, born October 15 1904; died July 18 2004


[10] Designed by local architects J.P. Jones, Richards & Budgen, the building had five storeys and a basement.   As well as living and boarding accommodation, it provided a gymnasium, lecture theatre, classrooms, a library and reading room.  The ground-floor frontage included two shops – one of which was originally designed as a restaurant.  Its foundation stone was laid in 1899 by Sir George Williams and it opened the following year. The Cory Memorial Temperance Hall was built at a cost of £5,000 and presented to the temperance societies of Cardiff by John Cory (1828 – 1910), as a memorial to his late father, Richard.  Richard Cory (1799 -1882) had founded the family’s shipping and coal mining businesses.  He was a leader of the Methodist movement in Cardiff and supported various social, educational, moral and Christian activities in the area.  As the temperance movement developed in Cardiff, he is reputed to have been the first to sign ‘the pledge’. The YMCA also moved from Station Terrace.  In 1974, they purchased a former convent school in The Walk, to continue their youth and community work and, subsequently, to develop a hostel for students and young workers.