Two years ago, we celebrated the 175th anniversary of the opening of the present day St Mary’s Church, deep in December in the heart of winter. Our celebratory dinner planned for the following month was postponed thanks to the “Beast from the East!”
Having opened in 1873, it was two years later on November 6th, 1875 that St Mary’s Church was actually consecrated, a sign of eagerness, perhaps, to open as soon as possible!
Before this, for over a hundred years, the Parish of St Mary’s had been without its own church building, the former Priory Church having fallen into disrepair, damaged (amongst other things) by flood, the whims of the weather. Parish life continued.
The congregation continued to worship at St John’s Church but retained its own wardens, financial accounts and identity. Since Medieval times, when St John’s Church was built, the town’s attention and population had shifted towards the Castle but, in the nineteenth century, with the expanse of the docks and the rapid rise in population in the parish of St Mary’s, a new church building was needed.
The first Vicar of the new church retained the dual Incumbency with St John’s but when the second Vicar was appointed St Mary’s continued its separate identity, with a fresh calling.
Planting in the Parish
The population continued to rise. How did the church respond and grow in the parish? One way was to open satellite places of worship, with clergy and others given responsibility for the mission and ministry of that part of the parish. After time, these ‘rented rooms’ were replaced by consecrated church buildings, and separate parishes were eventually carved out, often pastored by the priests who planted them. ‘Church planting’ is nothing new.
The Patterns of Life
Today, the city continues to change shape and years, after the development of Cardiff Bay, the city centre is moving slowly but surely towards the sea, linking the two identifiable areas of Cardiff, and nudging St Mary’s along the way. Meanwhile, in between, the Butetown community retains its separate identity, stubborn to shift, despite decades of external forces which threatened its life, overlooked its values and tried to bury its hidden treasures now being brought out into the shining sun.
Over the last ten years, since the census of 2011, the population of the parish has grown by 40% and is predicted to press on further. More apartments and planning for homes continue at a rapid pace. We’ve seen this before.
Parish Life has served the city, which was simply a town when St Mary’s was built. It kept pace with the patterns of life, lived through change, effected change, and enabled growth. Still does.
Some of those churches born of St Mary’s in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century have now closed, a result of the changing shape of a city, merciless in its development. Others, however, have continued their role, retained a presence, picked up the presenting needs, continued to minister to all.
Years ago, St Stephen’s Church, a chapel of ease from St Mary’s at Mount Stuart Square, was closed down, sold off. Perhaps, if decision makers had known how the Docks would be redeveloped and rebranded as ‘The Bay’ and how Cardiff would redefine itself, there may have been some stubbornness to retain it, standing as it does in an area prime for Mission.
Dry but cloudy
Today, St Mary’s Church continues to be a solid presence in a changing city. There is nothing new under the sun, and whilst we must attend to the present moment with an eye and ear on future opportunities and changes, we can also learn from the past and how parish life can serve the needs of even the quickest growing city in Europe, with its diverse and fascinating communities.
In a newspaper report of the Consecration ceremony much was made of the weather which “during the early period of the forenoon was dry, but cloudy; and continued so until about twelve o’ clock, when it commenced raining.” However, it didn’t prevent a large gathering of people who processed “to the building to be consecrated.”
At many times in its history, the Parish of St Mary’s has looked at the whole picture and, whilst scanning the scene, has looked ‘small’ at times. It picked out those pockets of population which showed such potential, which presented needs, and which needed priests, and a place for people to gather. By doing this, it enabled the parish to grow in number, to grow in faith, to grow outwards.
It played to the strengths of Parish Life which means, 175 years after its consecration and 177 years since it was first opened, St Mary’s Church on Bute Street remains both a home to a vibrant congregation, and a sign and symbol to the wider community that we are here for them, whatever the weather.
Dry but cloudy: from a report of the Consecration Service in the The Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian Glamorgan Monmouth and Brecon Gazette, 8th November 1875
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.”
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.
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!”
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!
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
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!
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.
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…!
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.