THE HISTORY OF CARDIFF'S SUBURBS
RIVERSIDE AND PONTCANNA
Farms and Workhouse
Little is known about Riverside's early history, and until the 1800's the only buildings were a few cottages near a farm called Plas Turton (Turton's Mansion).
This ancient farm house was constructed in late 16th Century, and was located on the west side of the River Taff.
The Union Workhouse, opened 1836 on Cowbridge Road, was by far the most important building in the area. It was built to help care and provide work for those who were desperate for support.
Whole families would live there and the conditions at first were harsh. An infirmary was added in 1872, and the main workhouse was rebuilt in 1880. In later years, the building was reburbished and converted into St David's Hospital.
Many of Cardiff's residents today were born there, until the Victorian wards were closed for good in 1990. The original front of the building was preserved when new flats were built around it, and Charlotte Church once owned one of these prestigious properties.
Until 1858 access to Riverside and Canton from Cardiff was made through a toll gate, erected at the junction of Cowbridge Road and the lane that later became Cathedral Road.
Plas Turton farmhouse was demolished in 1895 to make way for Plasturton Avenue and by 1875, Riverside had become part of Cardiff.
Pontcanna (Welsh for Canna Bridge) was named after a farm and cottages nearby. It was slowly beginning to develop and began to take on an identity of its own, although at the time it was still part of the overall Riverside area.
Pont Canna farm was probably named after a bridge over the Whitehouse Brook. The bridge was removed, and the brook covered over in 1896 leaving no trace of this ancient crossing.
Sophia Gardens, laid out on land provided by the Marchioness of Bute and named after her, was opened in 1857.
The Marchioness also paid for the installation of a fountain to be erected in the lake at the northern end of the park.
In 1951, the Sophia Gardens Pavilion was erected and used for dances, public meetings and exhibitions, until it collapsed under a heavy fall of snow in 1982.
Much of Sophia Gardens today is occupied by Glamorgan County Cricket Club and Sport Wales National Centre.
By 1870, a small housing estate had been built in the area around Wellington Street and Ninian Park and in 1898 the council purchased Llandaff fields from the Thompson family.
Charles and Herbert Thompson sold the land on the condition that the fields will left undeveloped. A park in Canton commemorates this family and their insightfulness.
Soon afterwards the Bute family donated yet more land to the Riverside area, resulting in nearly two miles of open countryside, bordering the river from Sophia Gardens to Western Avenue.
This beautiful environment encouraged developers to build splendid houses on Cathedral Road and the surrounding district of Pontcanna.
Most of these are now used as pubs, offices or hotels. They include the former Cardiff United Synagogue which was opened in 1897 and Novello House, named after the famous actor and composer.
War and Flooding
On January 2nd, 1941, many houses in Riverside were damaged or destroyed during the worst air raid of the war; the whole of Blackstone Street was completely destroyed. Pontcanna on the other hand, escaped the raid with very little damage.
In the 1970s, the ramshackle and war-torn houses in Riverside were eventually replaced. New properties were built in the vicinity of Neville Street, De Burgh Street, Clare Street and Despenser Street. It's worth noting that all these roads took their names from the mediaeval lords of Glamorgan.
Flooding has also been a problem for the people of Riverside whenever the River Taff burst its banks. The council attempted to solve the problem in 1849, when the course of the river was altered (the Millennium Stadium is located where the river once flowed).
Regular dredging prevents the most serious floods from occurring, but parts of Pontcanna and Llandaff fields still suffer badly when there is an extended amount of rainfall, most recently in the winter of 2009.
In the 21st Century, very little of Pontcanna and Riverside has changed. Cowbridge Road acts as a boundary between the areas, effectively splitting them in half.
The fine houses, fashionable shops, and open fields of the north, constrast heavily with the characterless properties, and somewhat lacking convenience stores in the south, with barely half a mile between them.
Page Updated: 01 December 2014