Fifty Years in the East End

A personal memoir of the Church of St Edward the Confessor in the Parish of Roath
by Robert W. Riddett, organist
First published on the occasion of the Consecration of the completed Church by the Bishop of Llandaff on Saturday 12th October 1968

Now that St Edward’s has been completed it may be of interest to recall memories.  For the past fifty years I have spent most of my time in the east end of the church.  Although too young to be in the choir in the original church, I nevertheless began my church life in the east end because of the misorientation of the church (the altar at that time was in the west).  The memories Iam writing about are my own, and from this viewpoint; perhaps someone from the west end will fill in the gaps I have left and so complete the picture.  From the time the church was opened, my father kept a list of services at which the choir sang, along with details of hymns, psalms, anthems, names of officiating clergy and of incidental events as they happened.  This record I have continued to compile, and it is from this source that I have obtained my facts.Founded on the religious zeal engendered by the with courage and vision.

In March 1915 the first St Edward’s was opened - the need for a church, on the spot chosen, having been created by the many new houses being built to the north of the Roath brook.

My father was appointed organist on 1st October 1917, and played his first Sunday services at the church on 7th October.  Previously he had for many years been at St Martin’s and St Cyprian’s.  A few weeks later my brother and I were taken to Sunday School by one of the choirboys - Michael Rees - who later became the husband of one of our present congregation, Mrs Betty Rees.
 
My first teacher was Miss Petrie, sister in law to our Curate, the Rev.L.J.Wellington.  We sat in the same chairs used today - many were saved from the fire.  The original church faced west, and the organ was in the northwest corner, or I should say, it would have been, for it was during extensions to the church, in order to house the organ, that the church was destroyed by fire on September 11th, 1919.  I still remember going to school in the afternoon and seeing the fire engines at the church and hoses stretching across Sandringham and Blenheim Roads, and the chancel a smoking ruin.  Many of the chairs, furniture and effects were saved and lodged in various places for safe keeping.
 
The congregation decided to continue as a church, and services were held from the following Sunday at Roath Church House.  The choir occupied the stage and appeared from the wings at each service.
 
The new St Edward’s was to be a Memorial Church to the men of the Parish who gave their lives in the 1914-18 war and plans were soon being prepared.  The ruins of the church were demolished in October 1919 and the site prepared for the new church.  When insurances had been settled a re-building fund was started.  The Vicar, Canon Beck resigned on 28th October and the Rev.D.J.Jones became vicar.  On June 4th 1921 the foundation stone was laid, not by Mr Coward as recorded on the stone, but by Mr Walter Thomas.  Pictures of the old church, the fire and the ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone may be seen in the vestry.  I remember visiting the partly built church and seeing the chancel filled with scaffolding and the ceiling being decorated.  As a choir-boy we often noticed that one square was unfinished.  Maybe when it is repainted (and the time is coming when this will be necessary) this omission will be put right.
 
In the middle of November 1921 a Bazaar was held at the City Hall, by the whole Parish, in aid of the re-building fund.  At this Bazaar a profit of over £2500 was made.  In the Handbook to the Bazaar, in the preface, we read, "Because of the difficult times in which we live, the building was to be limited to a permanent Chancel and a temporary nave."  I have often wondered if greater faith would have given us a completed church many years ago.  It is interesting to compare a sketch of the proposed complete church in the handbook with the present building to see how similar the two designs of the architect, Mr E.Willmott are.
 
This Bazaar was a great success and helped towards the £11000 needed to pay for the church.  The whole Parish had stalls with helpers from the four churches; only a few of the helpers named in the handbook are still in the parish today.
 
On Wednesday 30th November 1921, St Edward’s new church was first used.  St Andrew’s Day was celebrated with Holy Communion at 7.30 a.m. with a dedication service, followed at 11 a.m. by Sung Eucharist with procession; Festal Evensong was sung at 7.30 p.m.
 
The Sunday School too had survived our period of exile and with an empty organ loft available, a large Bible class was soon established there, taught by Mr F.Arthur.  The first choir outing took place on 2nd September 1922, a day’s outing to Llantwit Major.  Lunch and tea were taken at the Cross Keys.  During a visit to the ancient church, the old person who showed us round, challenged the young choirboys, with their keen eyesight, to find any cobwebs in the roof - not because of the efficiency of the cleaners, but that the roof was made of bog-oak, which spiders abhor.
 
Our repertoire of anthems and settings was limited (all the music had been destroyed in the fire) but gradually grew.  Maunder and Agutter (which we still sing today) were soon added to, until we can now lay our hands, if not our voices, on some sixteen settings and even more anthems today.
 
If we take a look at the registers of the choir we see the same names repeated over the years; sons, grandsons and grand-daughters of those listed in the first register; names such as Rees, Fickling, Morgan and of course Riddett. The Curate in charge and the vicar were the priests who usually took our services, but many special visitors came on special occasions.  Six different bishops have taken services and preached at St Edward’s - the Bishops of Australia, Swansea, Monmouth, St David’s and two Bishops of our own Diocese.
 
The Church Committee soon realized that the harmonium, still used for practice and in emergency, was an inadequate instrument to accompany the services, and decided that a pipe organ should be installed in the organ loft.  Many second-hand instruments were examined and reported on, and one would have been purchased, but it was sold before a decision could be reached.  After much consultation, many specifications studied, and instruments inspected, including organs growing popular in some cinemas, Mr C.J.Gill was appointed to design and build an organ suitable for the church.  He said at the time that he would build an organ which he would be proud to show to anyone as an example of his work; once again lack of money prevented the complete instrument being made, and the organ, designed as a three manual organ has only two in use.
 
On Monday 21st January 1924 the organ was dedicated by the Lord Bishop of Llandaff.  The wisdom of the choice of Mr Gill can be seen when I say that the organ has only needed two overhauls in 44 years and is always ready to lead the singing.
 
A few weeks later the Red Cross Memorial was unveiled by the Countess of Plymouth, and dedicated on Saturday 16th February, and on 7th May the bronze plaque, bearing the names of the men of the parish who gave their lives in the Great War, was unveiled and dedicated.  At the end of the service, trumpeters standing in the organ loft, played the Last Post and Reveille - the most impressive sound I have ever heard in St Edward’s.
 
Later in the year on October 5th the Rev.L.J.Wellington left St Edward’s; only those who were at the Harvest Evensong can say they have seen the church full - every chair in the building was pressed into use, children were moved from their parents’ sides to make room for grown-ups and were given kindergarten chairs in front of the choirstalls; no procession was possible as the aisles were full of chairs.
 
For the next fourteen years starting on 16th November the Rev. Henry Wellington was to be our priest.  Throughout his ministry he encouraged anything that would add to the beauty of the church and service - carols were a special joy to him, new anthems and settings appreciated.  With the younger people he was always popular and few escaped his influence.  Many of those in his Sunday School class remained until promoted to teach.
 
The Girl Guides’ colours were dedicated at the 11 a.m. Eucharist during the time of the General Strike; the choir was given extra outings in 1925 and the following years, by an anonymous well-wisher; a visit each Christmas to the Olympia, and tea at the Dormie Cafe or to the pantomime.  In passing we note that the Tower of St Margaret’s Church was dedicated on 27th January 1927.
 
All of Father Wellington’s teaching was centred round the Communion Service, and at our Patronal Festival, on Ascension Day, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Epiphany and on other occasions we sang the early morning service.  During Lent in 1927 a Sung Eucharist was begun at 9.30 a.m. at which children were taught the importance of the service and joined their parents, taking part in the Sacrament.  In 1928 a Mission to Cardiff gave us special services, hymns and preachers, and as an outcome of this mission the 9.30 a.m. Communion was from that time celebrated each Sunday.  In May the choir had an opportunity to visit the Mellin Griffith Tin works.
 
Until 1929 for processions we had always borrowed a cope, but on Easter Day our own beautiful cope was worn for the first time.  An appeal for the necessary money to pay for this vestment, already ordered came in quicker than the work could be executed, and the church had been enriched by this added decoration.
 
At Whitsuntide the Margaret Long Bequest was presented for the first time.  Mrs E.Long was one of the most faithful members of the church for many years; she donated a sum of money to be invested, and the interest given each year on Whitsunday to the choirboy, who fulfilled certain conditions laid down in the deed of gift; one of these was attendance at all services at which the choir was required to attend.  The special book in which the names of winners are recorded gives an idea of the faithful service given by members of the choir throughout the years, if it is remembered that although one boy wins the prize there are generally a number of other boys almost as regular, making more than 150 attendances a year.  In the same year special services were ordered to give thanksgiving for the Restoration to Health of H.M.King George V.
 
The church was redecorated in May 1930 and the dull green and red paint was replaced (except on the organ screen) by the warmer brown.  The church was further enriched by the gift of an ornate brass Lectern given by a family in memory of their father, and took the place of the plain austere oak lectern. It was dedicated by the vicar on Whitsunday.  In October the congregation was shocked by the announcement during service of the crash of the airship R.101.
 
One of the few occasions on which the organ let us down was at Evensong on the 1st Sunday after Trinity in 1931.  Several of the choirmen volunteered to blow the organ by hand, and when asked, after being revived, they all said they had never done such a hard hour’s work.  In May, torrential rain led to flooding of the district.  Walls in Cressy and Alma Roads were flattened and the gardens flooded.  Deri Road and Stallcourt Avenue were several feet deep in water as was the Church House.  The basement of the church too was full of water and had to be pumped out and dried before the organ could be used.  On 24th July the Rev. D.J.Jones was appointed Dean of Llandaff, and was installed in 21st September.
 
A faithful servant of the church passed away on 22nd February 1932.  The Rev. W.Southern had after his retirement given many years service to the church. Top choirboys of that time will remember how he always preached sitting on a chair on the chancel steps - their job was to place and remove the chair.  Many others too, of the older worshippers had died during these eleven years, to mention some, at whose funerals the choir sang, we recall Mr F.C.Arthur, Mr H.C.Stephens and Mr H.Wadmore.  The choir in those days, was called on more often than today.  Each week the choir was present on Sundays at 9.30, 11 a.m. and 6.30 p.m.  Evensong was sung at 7.30 p.m. and practice was on Friday at 6.30 p.m.  Attendance at the midweek service was affected by the weather; on one occasion the Vicar took the service on a very cold, wet evening.  Full evensong was sung by a very small choir, and included the psalm for the 15th Evening (73 verses), State prayers and sermon, to a congregation of one - Miss Phillips, for many years the caretaker, cleaner, boilerman and verger.  Another evening the Rev. H.Wellington, after a rather longer sermon than usual, asked one of the choirboys the number of the next hymn.  He said, "Five two eight, isn’t it?"  The choirboy took a quick look at his watch, and thinking of homework still to be done, replied, with some feeling, "Nearer twenty past!"
 
Palms were distributed on Palm Sunday, and on Easter Day we changed to the New Psalter, in 1932.  Early in January 1936 the choirs of St Margaret’s and St Edward’s sang Evensong at the Cathedral.  The choir outing to Aberystwyth in 1936 will never be forgotten.  When the time came to start the return journey, the bus would not go, and it was necessary to bring up a new magneto from Cardiff.  The taxi with the replacement arrived at 11 p.m. and the homeward journey was made more difficult by a terrific thunderstorm which raged all night.  We arrived at the church at 7 a.m.  Cottas took the place of surplices in October.
 
On November 6th Mrs Long died.  From as far back as I can remember she had always occupied the same seat near the pulpit and was rarely absent.  In December I assisted in the playing of the services and played the organ at the 9.30 Communion.
 
An important date in the Parish was Saturday 20th March 1937.  St Philip’s Church, Tremorfa was dedicated by the Lord Bishop, and St Edward’s choir sang the service.
 
By 1938 the organ was showing signs of wear - coal dust from the basement had been drawn up with air from the blower and was clogging the action.  An overhaul was recommended by Mr Gill.  The appeal for £30, made by the priest was soon answered, and when thanking the congregation for their generosity, the Rev. H.Wellington told us that he had been offered the living at Tongwynlais. Saturday 9th July was the date of the induction service, attended by our choir and many of our congregation, at St Michael’s.  It was typical of him that one of the first actions of the new vicar of Tongwynlais was to restore the Angels to the title of his church.  The Rev. R.Bevan took his first service as our priest on the Eve of St Edward’s Festival; he was no stranger to us as he had been in the parish for some time.
 
The nave was redecorated in May 1939.  As morning service began on September 1st war was declared; choir and congregation were depleted due to the call for A.R.P.duties.  The war news throughout the year was a succession of retreats and defeats; days were set aside as national days of prayer.  Owing to air raids the evening service was brought forward to 6 p.m. and then held during the afternoon.  I am sure many sermons were missed by people, whose rest had been broken the previous night, and who could not overcome their habit of an afternoon nap.
 
On April 3rd 1941 my father died, and I was asked to take over his duties as organist on Palm Sunday, April 6th.  A month later the Rev. R.Bevan left us for the Parish of Llanishen and his place was taken by the Rev. E.D.Hutchings. During the following winter another part of the church showed signs of wear and for several weeks during a very cold spell the church was without heat owing to a leak in the boiler.  The Rev. E.D.Hutchings left us for missionary work on February 21st 1943 and after a short time the Rev. Trevor Bevan became our priest.  In January 1944, the Vicar, Chancellor S.T.Phillips died and the living was accepted by our former curate the Rev. Henry Wellington.  In March, Mr Sidney Jones, the treasurer of the re-building fund died.
 
During 1944 starting after Easter alternate Sunday services at 9.30 a.m. were given up and replaced by an army church parade; occasionally owing to major feasts the two services were combined and the church was filled with the soldiers and our own congregation.  With the surrender of Germany and Italy, thanksgiving services were sung on 18th August and the following Sunday. Further thanksgiving marked the Japanese surrender, and the end of the war.
 
Youth services were inaugurated in March 1946 at evensong on the first Sunday of the month.  On the Eve of St Margaret’s day, the choirs of the parish combined to sing Parish Evensong.
 
Christmas 1946 was the first year that Midnight Mass was sung at St Edward’s, and was also the first time that we used the service of Nine Lessons and Carols.  During a cold spell in February 1947 disaster nearly struck our church a second time.  A fire in the basement destroyed the electric wiring and left the church without heat, light and power.  Evensong was said the next Sunday without heat and power; light was supplied by individual torches and candles, until the following week, when the light circuit was repaired.  The organ could not be used for a month.
 
When my wife and I were married on 7th August 1948, St Edward’s choir was given permission to sing the service at St Margaret’s.  Christmas day was saddened by news of the death of our Vicar.  His place was taken on April 26th by the Rev. J.G.James.  Mr H.Fickling, for many years a chorister, deputy organist and sideman, died on 1st November the following year.  On March 12th 1950 the Rev. M.G.Prosser began his nine years of service to us, following the departure of the Rev. Trevor Bevan to St Nicholas.
 
The first Public Baptism was held at St Edward’s on July 8th 1951.  As a result of the Rev. Prosser’s teaching, our daughter Jacqueline was baptised at Evensong.  Later the same year the Rev. R.Cox returned to dedicate the beautiful East window, given in memory of his father and mother; his father was for many years the church secretary.  Two other gifts to the church in memory of faithful departed were dedicated the next year.  On the 6th July, the pulpit, a gift of Mr P.M.Martin (our Treasurer) in memory of his wife, and the riddell posts and curtains, in memory of Mr I.John, given by his wife were dedicated.
 
In October 1952 the mission to Cardiff was led at St Edward’s by the Rev.Edwin Le Grice.  The emphasis on the 9.30 family Eucharist had resulted in the loss of the choir at the 11 a.m. service, so the Rev. M.G.Prosser gathered a choir of girls and trained them to sing this service.
 
When the Venerable J.Gwynno James left us at the end of 1955, his place as Vicar of Roath was taken by the Rev. Eric M.Roberts.  Some confusion was caused at this time in church as the choir changed to the new A&M hymnbooks, in which numbers and words of some of the hymns were different.  In 1957 the nave was re-decorated and the organ once again required attention.  This work was carried out in October.  The Rev. M.G.Prosser officiated and was godfather at the public Baptism of our son Robert on 16th February 1958, at which the revised form of the service of Holy Baptism was used.
 
The newly decorated nave showed up the shabby state of the vestry which bore the marks of over thirty years of occupation by choirboys and others, so the Rev. M.G.Prosser and a few helpers undertook the task during March.  With the use of much paint and many pounds of plaster, the cracks were made good and the decorating completed.
 
On the eve of the Patronal Festival we bade farewell to the Rev. M.G.Prosser; as a tribute of our esteem for him, the combined choirs and servers attended the final evensong.  He left us to become Vicar of Trealaw.  Within the octave the Rev. R.Protheroe started his ministry with us which ended when he left us to become an assistant chaplain at my old college at Culham.
 
Of all the priests who have served at St Edward’s the Rev. Eric Miles probably received the coldest ever welcome.  He came on the 2nd of October 1960 and spent most of his first week in the basement where the boiler had finally packed up and was declared to be beyond repair.  Oil fires and electric fires were pressed into use, but these caused the lights to fuse and the service together with procession had to be accompanied on the harmonium by candlelight. We soon found we could either have light or heat until such time as the coal furnace could be replaced by an oil-burning appliance.
 
Early in the new year the Rev. Miles asked for girls to form a choir to sing the 11 a.m. service and Mrs F.Morgan was asked to train them.  To begin with the girls wore head veils, but were soon robed in gowns, collars and caps; some of these were dedicated at the 11 a.m. service on Christmas Eve 1961.
 
In 1962 at Easter the service of Nine Lessons and Carols was sung by the combined choirs.  The Rev. E.Miles left us in May 1962 to join the work of the U.M.C.A.  Again St Edward’s day was the date of the beginning of a new ministry.  The Rev. G.Horwood came to us from a neighbouring parish.  At Christmas the Sunday School acted the Mime of the Nativity after Evensong.  An oak prayer desk was given to the church in memory of Miss V.John (a teacher at Marlborough Junior School).  It was made and given by her father and was dedicated on June 21st 1964.
 
In January 1965 the Rev. Ralph Holtam was inducted as Vicar of Roath, and at the induction service, the Bishop spoke about the necessity of considering the future of St Edward’s.
 
One of the oldest and most faithful servants of the church died on 23rd July. Mr Harry Westcott was for many years our Verger, and was seldom absent from his seat at the West door.  He was often first to arrive for the service and generally one of the last to leave.  In 1966 we said farewell to the Rev. G.Horwood who became Vicar of Clydach Vale, and to our Treasurer, Mr Percy Martin, who moved away from Cardiff, on April 3rd.
 
On March 27th we welcomed the Rev. G.L.Nicholas.  The vestments of the church are all showing signs of the long years of use they have had, and the gift of a complete set of purple vestments, made and embroidered by Miss Ronicle replaces a well worn set.  They add to the beauty of the service and were dedicated on 19th March.
 
After evidence had been gathered that a church service was needed and would be welcomed in the new Llanedeyrn area, the 9.30 a.m. Sung Eucharist was transferred to the new St Teilo’s Church in Wales High School on April 16th. Many families have formed a strong Communion and Sunday School in that district.  On the same day the Family Eucharist was sung at 11 a.m. at St Edward’s with the two choirs combined to form a single choir responsible for all the choral worship at the church.  The Revised Rite was used at that service.  Very few criticisms of the Rite have been voiced, but it is hoped that comments and suggested amendments will be collected, to be discussed at the appropriate time before the experimental period elapses.
 
At a well attended meeting of the congregation and P.C.C. members held on 12th July in the nave it was agreed that it was desirable to complete the building of the church.  Plans had already been prepared by Mr E.Willmott and with the Bishop’s permission granted, work could be put in hand.  After Evensong on 22nd of September, the furniture was re-arranged to enable the services to be carried on in the Chancel.  The arch was blanked off on October 2nd 1967.  The building of the new nave within the shelter of the old structure enabled the work to be carried on throughout the winter and every Sunday some members of the church could be seen, having a look to see how the building was getting on. Not much to be seen for several months, but as the window shapes grew the old part was gradually demolished.  On April 17th the crane lifted the roof girders into place and the final shape of the church could be seen.
 
In the Chancel conditions were cramped and draughty but the closeness of priest, choir and congregation has led to a feeling of oneness and has kept the church together during this time.  At Christmas the Carol Service was sung and read by all the different organisations of the church.  The Midnight Mass was sung at St Teilo’s owing to the lack of accommodation in St Edward’s.  The vestry was completely re-decorated by the ladies of the Sewing Party in July, and the Chancel too has been decorated to match the nave, and the church is now complete.