Guest article by Noel Upfold. This article was first published in the ‘Deri’ the newsletter of Rhiwbina Civic Society.
Rhiwbina is a suburb in North Cardiff, and the focus of Rhiwbina Civic Society’s characterisation or ‘Explore Rhiwbina’ project. Amongst other things, Noel is a member of Rhiwbina Civic Society ‘Explore Rhiwbina’ group.
Many recently built urban environments contain a number of historical references and Rhiwbina is no exception. By references I do not necessarily mean notable individual examples of architecture but rather stylistic references that are modeled on the dominant building styles of previous periods. Thus, within a few minutes walking distance from the centre of Rhiwbina, it is possible to recognise and be reminded of historical epochs some of which may have existed over a thousand years ago! The most obvious example would be the incorporation of columns into doorway entrances, especially when crowned with a triangular pediment; such details are a direct reference to classical Greek architecture epitomised in the Parthenon constructed in the 5th.century BC. A typical example of such architectural plagiarism is the pseudo Georgian classical columns in the entrance to the Butchers Arms. One of the most obvious and dominant architectural period references in Rhiwbina is to our Shakespearian and Tudor heritage. This was transformed by architects and speculative developers into what became known as ‘Mock Tudor’ and is found in almost all the suburbs of the United Kingdom during the 1920’s and 1930’s. The ‘beams’ on the facades of such buildings have no functional role. These decorative features are used to signify what, in retrospect, was recognised as an important period of our history and culture. The buildings thus reaffirm those British values in a society which sought reassurance. The shops on Beulah Road, built in the 1920’s, have mock, half timbered facades and are an excellent example of this practice and are clearly modeled on traditional Elizabethan 16th.century buildings in Stratford or Chester. Once the convention of the half timbered facade was accepted it was not difficult to extend it and invent what a Tudor garage might have looked like; Rhiwbina has its fair share of such fantasies.
The Arts and Crafts movement in the late 19th.century introduced another very influential
architectural style, later adaptations of which are well represented in Rhiwbina. It embraced the concept of the vernacular and was influenced by the use of local materials
in the building of domestic housing; it implicitly critiqued a mass produced and industrialised form of building and by extension questioned the nature of an industrialised
This Arts and Crafts style was appropriate for a suburb which was growing rapidly and literally distancing itself from the city centre and the key industrial processes of commerce, steel making and the docks. Interestingly one of the most prominent architects of this style, Charles Voysey, built a magnificent example of the Arts and Crafts house in Fairwater in 1903 and it is possible that the architect M.T. Seymour, who designed 57 Beulah Road, was influenced by it. The signifying features of this style, steeply pitched roofs, buttresses, pebble-dash exteriors, bands of windows can be seen in a
number of houses in Rhiwbina.
The Gothic revival style was one of the significant genres of architecture in the mid nineteenth century and numerous examples can be seen in Cardiff. Much of Rhiwbina was developed too late for this style to feature in the suburb, although an example of a Victorian facade with decorated brickwork can be seen at 32 Beulah Road.
Only one obvious example ( in Pen y Groes Road) of the late 1930’s art deco style of domestic architecture has so far been discovered in the current survey of Rhiwbina. Art Deco architects embra ced a modernist, stream line look, often borrowing motifs from new industrialised technology and forms of transport such as the large liners of the period. Some readers may remember the Monico cinema, now demolished, which was
an excellent example of commercial and large scale design in this idiom.
In this compressed survey of Rhiwbina as a repository of past and relatively recent architectural stylistic development there a few examples of what could be described as modern or even postmodern architectural forms. One could argue that the flat top houses of the early 1940’s which were built on Pen y Dre to house the workers at the Royal Ordnance Factory hint at the radical innovations of Corbusier and other pre-war modernist architects. One of the recently built houses on Beulah Road also incorporates some of the contemporary enthusiasms for opening up facades to light and introducing the extensive use of glass. A similar commitment is also evident in the configuration of the stairways and the exterior in the recent redevelopment of the Canolfan Beulah meeting place in Pantbach Road.