Charlotte Square, Rhiwbina, Cardiff
This article was first published on The Civic Trust for Wales website in 2014.
Rhiwbina and District Civic Society is producing a character study of this large Cardiff suburb. This report on Charlotte Square illustrates the approach they have taken to the project. With thanks to Noel Upfold and Liz May of the ‘Explore Rhiwbina’ project.
The Cardiff suburb of Rhiwbina stretches north from Thornhill to Birchgrove in the south, and between Northern Avenue and Caerphilly Road from west to east. From a rural hamlet of just a few dwellings, it has grown substantially over a relatively short period of time, and today’s Rhiwbina includes a number of distinct developments of different ages.
Charlotte Square, a residential street, is built on land adjacent to the original rural hamlet of Rhiwbina. Nineteenth century mapmakers named the hamlet Rhydwaedlyd. This area, north of Beulah Road and bounded by the brook, consisted of a few houses near the ancient Deri Corn Mill. In 1861 the local butcher applied for a licence to sell alcohol to farmers bringing corn to be ground at the mill. Today, the Butcher’s Arms public house, although rebuilt in the 1950s, remains while the mill ceased to grind corn by the turn of the century.
The significant development of Rhiwbina began with the Garden Village in 1913 which was run as a cooperative. The next building phase occurred around 1925 on three fields originally part of Deri Farm, belonging to Lord Tredegar. This became known as the Brooklands Estate. A completed character report of the Brooklands Estate character report by Rhiwbina Civic Society can be found in the ‘Characterisation’ section of Civic Trust Cymru’s website.
The land on which Charlotte Square was built was sold in 1858 as part of ‘four messuages’ which included a beer house (currently The Butcher’s Arms), the Deri Mill, a shoemaker and a mason. In the early 1920’s the land was owned by the Murray Threipland family. Plans in the Glamorgan Archives show the proposal for a square and access road leading to it. Once constructed this was called Charlotte Square after Charlotte Eleanor Wyndham Lewis, the co-heiress of the 1858 purchasers. The land surrounding the square was then made available for development of houses by individual speculative builders and architects.
Charlotte Square today
Charlotte Square begins with a short residential road which leads into a fairly large, attractive, enclosed square. The overall impression is of a green, semi- rural enclave. This is created by the grass verge on the side of the street and the tall green hedges bordering the property boundaries and the pavements. As the street opens into the square it is the large expanse of grass, the trees and the hedges that dominate the view. The road up to the square, and the square itself, are bordered by semi-detached houses built during the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. All the houses have good sized front gardens and are all white (some have additional red brick decoration) which strengthens the semi-rural impression and provides links to Rhiwbina Garden Village.
The development is very self-contained in that there are no views of the surrounding landscape or hills. Privacy for many of the houses is maintained by a hedge or by the front garden. The area is solely residential and because it is not a through road, there is almost no traffic and consequently the area is quiet and peaceful at all times. In recent years a number of residents have retained and emulated the semi-rural atmosphere by adding a front door with a cottage character and a rustic design for a front gate. The rural/green feel is maintained in many of the front gardens by grass or in some places gravel. There are exceptions. A few houses have paved over their front garden with one house having particularly dominant paving.
In terms of its character the important features of this Square include : mature front and back gardens; the row of mature trees that still identify the former hedge and village boundaries; the semi-detached nature of the houses; white rendered facades and in some cases additional brick detailing and/or timber porch details; small first floor closet windows; the homogenous appearance of the square despite the differing designs of the houses; and, the well in the back garden of number 18. Charlotte Square shares some of the features found in other areas of Rhiwbina. That is to say it has a central green which the houses face onto, with one access road which leads the eye up to the central grassed square. The spaces have an insular but attractive quality which, although deprived of views of the surrounding countryside, engenders a close, community spirit. The semi-detached houses sit behind the circling road and front gardens. The use of white rendering echoes the houses in the Garden Village and earlier Brooklands Development.
Within the entry road and the square itself there are thirty five houses two of which (no.1 and no.16) are detached. With the exception of no.16 which was built in the 1990’s all the houses were built in the same period and, as indicated above, date from the late 1920’s to the early 1930’s. Many houses have the original facades and fenestration which frequently refer back to an Arts and Crafts’ motif. Only one has mock Tudor detailing in the form of half-timbered additions to the facade. Apart from the addition of small porches, some new windows and some brick work which had been painted over the house fronts are largely in their original state.
A particularly interesting feature of the square is that whilst the overall impression is of a homogenous style, colour (white) and development, almost every semi-detached unit is different from its neighbours. Thus, although the whole site has a pleasing unity, all the individual plots containing the semi-detached houses have unique facades. Research undertaken in the Glamorganshire Archives showed that a number of the plots were developed individually by people designated as ‘architect/builders’.
As can be seen from contemporary maps of the area (or Google/Bing maps), the houses on this side of the square have quite generous gardens in the rear. By today’s standards the original bathrooms and kitchens were quite small. As a consequence many of these had been enlarged and modernised over the years. This domestic arrangement plus the small garages which were a feature of a number of the houses suggested that the original purchasers of the leaseholds were part of the upwardly mobile classes of the late 1920’s.
The thin, elongated windows on the facades of numbers 20 to 27 (26 appear to have since replaced theirs with a larger window) were designed as a source of light for walk in wardrobeswhich in their day must have been a fairly original design feature. Some have been converted into bathrooms or bedrooms. One intriguing glimpse into the social and political history of the period in which Charlotte Square was being developed followed the information from one of the residents that the roof of number 25 was of Welsh slate whilst the roof of number 26 which was finished in 1926 was in Belgian slate. This was because the supply of Welsh slate had dried up as a result of a strike in the industry at that time.
Rhiwbina Civic Society are in the process of producing a characterisation study of all of Rhiwbina and are currently studying the area around the ancient Deri Corn Mill site and Beulah Road, which includes Charlotte Square. It is hoped that a characterisation report on the Beulah Road area will be produced in the next few months, after which the group will move onto survey another area of Rhiwbina.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the Rhiwbina project or about Characterisation in general please get in touch with us.