Saturday, 19 February 2011

Heol-y-Plwcca & City Road: Growing Up Where Two Welsh Martyrs Were Killed

St Philip Evans
I still remember to this day coming across a small plaque on a wall at the very bottom end of Crwys Road, where it met Mackintosh Place, Albany Road, City Road and Richmond Road, quite a thoroughfare in Roath, Cardiff.

I believe it was on the wall of a branch of Nat West Bank which stood on the corner between Crwys and Richmond Road - but I might be wrong there (lap it up, it may be the last time ;-) ).

Anyhow, this plaque struck me because it told me that I was standing on the spot where two Catholic Saints were martyred for their Faith.

It seemed weird to read that in the middle of urban Cardiff with cars whizzing by in all manner of directions (a five way junction is a startling place by anyone's reckoning).

Here was the place where St John Lloyd and St Philip Evans met their fate on the scaffold, merely for being Catholic priests in Wales. That is how terrible (in its real sense) those penal times were, when men could be killed for offering the Mass to those who were practising the religion that their forefathers had, for many generations.

You might even say that Welshmen had witnessed the Sacrifice of the Mass since the time of the Roman Empire, since circa the third Century A.D.

Maybe I was crass in my ignorance not to have hitherto known this historical reality, but to discover that two Saints had died on that spot really made an impression on me as a teenager (yes, I have a good memory, before anyone quips in!)..

The B4261 is City Road, the A469 is Albany Road
So it was the other day on researching some part of Cardiff's history I fell upon a reference to the Saints being martyred at a place called Pwllhalog.

This struck me as strange, as I quite literally grew up just around the corner from the spot where the martyrs were hung. Yet I had never heard of Pwllhalog as a place.

I know enough schoolboy Welsh to know that Pwll means Pool, but more than that? Just lake Manuel in Fawlty Towers I had to state "I know nothing."

On researching this further, it seems that the place name may well be Pwll Halog and translates as Unhallowed Pool.

According to the Real Cardiff site, City Road used to be called Heol-y-Plwcca:

Up until the middle of last century it was known as Heol-y-Plwcca after the gallows field at its northern end. Here, in a plot known as 'the Cut Throats', more or less where the Road has its junction with Albany, stood the town gibbet. Nearby were plots called Cae Budr (the defiled field), Plwcca Halog (the unhallowed plot), and Pwll Halog (the unhallowed pool). Today they've got side streets built across them and are happily called Strathnairn, Glenroy and Keppoch. The grimness has been vanquished, buried under backgarden clay and foundation, forgotten.
 According to the site/page Walk Down City Road:
City Road used to be called Plwcca Lane.
Plwcca means reeds or rushes. Before the houses were built this part of Roath was rough scrub land. People used to come to collect the rushes to make baskets.
In 1829, the building that is now the Mackintosh Institute was a mansion out in the countryside. It was called Roath Castle because the tops of its walls looked like the turrets on a castle.
In those days, City Road was called Castle Road because it led to Roath Castle.
In 1905, Cardiff was granted the status of city rather than simply a town and Castle Road became City Road.

So we are left to wonder did Heol-y-Plwcca gain its name from the rushes that people gathered there, or from the gallows where the Saints met their end? Plwcca seems to mean plot and/or scrubland, with Halog (unhallowed) seeming to be the part of the name(s) from the area linked to the death of the guilty and possibly the burial-site on unconsecrated ground of 'criminals.'

I wonder if the 'unhallowed plot' refers to a burial plot where the Saints may well have ended up, discarded as common criminals by the government officials that oversaw their martyrdom?

If so (and I realise I am taking a little poetic licence here) might the fact that "today they've got side streets built across them and are happily called Strathnairn...." mean that the street I spent most of my youngest years on (the same Strathnairn near the City Road end), be at least near the place of their martyrdom, if not even closer to the site of their burial?

I have found one reference to their being hung, drawn and quartered (a particularly brutal manner of death - the fate of William Wallace in the film Braveheart), but other information seems scanty, so I simply do not know if they ended up being scattered around Britain as a warning, or put in unmarked graves locally.

But how fascinating to find out more of the background of Heol-y-Plwcca, which would become City Road.

When I was up my Nan's, Anne Huzzey's house in Pentwyn a few years before she passed away, she told me about when she was young, growing up on Strathnairn Street and her Uncle Walter would come home from working on the railways and send her around to City Road to buy fish and chips.

It's funny that two Welsh priests found martyrdom at the end of City Road, where my Nan bought fish and chips, where I spent my very earliest, formative years and later would return to drink in the Roath Park - a pub which made it into one of the tabloid papers for being in the top ten "worst pubs in Britain." I still remember starting a tour of Cardiff's pubs on my 18th birthday at that very establishment.

As a youngster in the late 70s I remember City Road being full of car dealerships (seems weird now) and someone once told me it was in the Guinness Book of Records for having the world's greatest concentration of car dealers in a road. I still don't know if that was an urban myth.

Isn't it weird how one single road can change so much and encapsulate so much?

From Heol-y-Plwcca and the Martyrdom of two Saints to City Road, take-aways and allegedly one of the worst pubs in Britain.

Life rolls on...

1 comment:

  1. Hello Gareth

    I really enjoyed this post. I am very interested in the Welsh Martyrs and especially David Lewis, Philip Evans and John Lloyd. John Kemble is also of particular interest to me as those four martyrs ministered in what is now our Archdiocese. Anyway, thanks for this very interesting post. God bless you.


No foul language please