12 June 2016

Who’s been sleeping in my house?

The flat I’m currently renting in Cardiff is in Roath Park, an affluent suburb that was always intended to be a high-quality residential district – I certainly couldn’t afford to buy here nowadays! In 1887, the Marquess of Bute and other generous locals donated land for a public park to be established around Roath Brook and, in subsequent years, Roath Park Lake was constructed, and the Pleasure Gardens and recreation grounds were laid out. Residential development occurred between 1890 and 1914, with the houses where I am, on the south side of the Pleasure Gardens and recreation grounds, being built over a fifteen-year period starting around 1891.

Postcard of Roath Park, c.1896

The houses are substantial. Mine has three storeys; has been subdivided into four flats: a studio, two two-bedroom flats and mine, a one-bedroom; and eight people live comfortably within its red-brick walls. But it wasn’t always so crowded.

I’m not sure of its exact construction date but, as far as I can tell the first occupant, in 1905, was John Greatrex. He was a shipbroker and must’ve been in his fifties by then as a newspaper report in The Cardiff Times, 7 June 1884, says he was then a shipbroker of 22 years’ experience. At that time, he was manager of shipbroking company Messrs Morteo and Penco, though in a later newspaper report (South Wales Daily News, 2 February 1899) he was working for Messrs Cory Bros and Co. Later still, he went into partnership with a Gwilym Rees, trading as Greatrex and Rees, coal exporters, steamship brokers, and colliery agents, out of Swansea.

John Greatrex didn’t stay long in my house, as the 1906 directory shows the house was occupied by Martin D. Gargill, MD. Despite his unusual name, I haven’t been able to discover anything about the good doctor.

The next occupant has left more of a mark on history. Gilbert Norwood, born 23 November 1880 near Sheffield and with a double first in Classics from Cambridge University’s St John’s College, moved to Cardiff in July 1908 to take up his new appointment as Professor of Greek at the University College. He continued in that position for 20 years, after which time he moved to Canada, where he was appointed Professor of Classics and Director of Classical Studies at the University College in Toronto.

Gilbert Norwood, in 1908 and in 1944.
Norwood’s specialties were Ancient Greek tragedy (in particular, the works of Euripides) and comedy (with a focus on Aristophanes), and he published widely on these subjects, in essays and scholarly journals and in at least ten books. His work gained international recognition: he received a number of guest professorships at elite universities, and he was elected a member of the Royal Society of Canada in 1943. He died in Toronto in 1954.

Norwood didn’t stay in my house for all of his 20 years in Cardiff – perhaps he moved somewhere closer to the university – as the directories from 1914 to 1932 show one Alfred Carrell was resident here. Alfred has also proven a trifle elusive, though I think he may also have been a shipbroker. If I have the right man, then Alfred was born in Jersey, in the Channel Islands, around 1880, and was the son of Francis P. Carrell, who various newspaper reports also list as a shipbroker and shipowner in Cardiff from 1859 onwards. More than this I do not know.

The last name in my historical look at who’s been sleeping in my house is Harry Vye-Parminter, who appears to have moved in around 1937. Despite that very distinctive surname, Harry has also proven a little elusive. From some 1930s’ references to patents (for upholstery springs, of all things) I think his full name was Harry Harvey Vye-Parminter and, if so, he was born in March 1875 in Swansea. According to one Swansea directory, his father, James Chapman Vye-Parminter, was both ‘portrait painter [and] art photographer to H.M. the Queen’, though I can find no official verification of that. He was also a Justice of the Peace and a prominent man in Swansea society of the time, according to numerous contemporary newspaper reports and an obituary published in the Evening Express on 30 October 1896.

The house is on the end of a row of terrace houses.

Harry’s mother Agnes was also an artist, a painter of some repute, and I found images of two of her portrait paintings here. However, it seems Harry himself didn’t inherit their artistic talent or, at least, chose not to exercise it professionally. He’s listed in the 1891 census as a clerk to a metal broker, and his father’s 1896 obituary states that he was ‘engaged in the Swansea coal trade’, but he doesn’t appear in the 1901 or 1911 census documents (though it may be that his name has been mis-transcribed).

Harry reappears on 21 August 1920 when he married Jessie Maria Jones in St James Church in Swansea, and then again in 1921-22, when his partnership with John Torbock was dissolved. They had been carrying on business as manufacturers of Soleenite Belt Dressing and Black Swan Boot Polish and Soleen at 39 King Edward-road, Swansea, under the style of Parminter & Torbock. By June 1928, Harry had made the move to Cardiff, as he was living in Whitchurch when he was officially declared bankrupt.

Although Harry then appears in the local directory as living in my house in 1937, he wasn’t here long, as he passed away in 1938. His wife continued living in Cardiff – though, whether in my house or elsewhere is uncertain – until 1948, when she also passed away.

Harry’s passing marks the end of my look at who has lived in my house, as I didn’t want to invade the privacy of any past residents who might still be alive. It was a fascinating exercise to see who has lived here, and certainly one I will do again in my next abode.