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Origins of the Name

Around 1136, Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote a book called 'History of the Kings of Britain', which was supposedly translated from various manuscripts from the 6th to 10th centuries.

One of the manuscripts translated was called 'Historia Brittonum' and written in the 9th century.

[Click / tap image to enlarge]
Map of St. Fagans in 1886.
Source: OS

In it, there was a record of Roman missionaries called Saint Fagan and Saint Darnian (who were responsible for bringing the Catholic faith to South Wales in around 175 AD), who may have built a church where the Manor House now stands.  There does not seem to be any remaining evidence of the original building.

Early Fortification

The Norman Lord Sir Peter Le Sore built a fortress on the site of where the church is thought to have stood.

The imposing 13th century walls and a filled in moat are still clearly visible throughout the estate. The nearby village of Peterston is named after Le Sore, which was given to him by Robert Fitzhamon.

St Fagans' fort would have been the first thing people were confronted with as they tried to cross the River Ely.

By 1475, the castle was beginning to degrade and crumble when it had been acquired through marriage, by the powerful Mathew family.

By the 16th century there was hardly anything left of the original fort with the exception of the walls, and a Holy well. The water was said to have cured the ailments of those who drank from it.

Dr John Gibbon bought the remains of the castle and its lands in 1560, and began to build a fortified manor house, possibly re-using the stone ruins.

However; due to a lack of funds to complete the building, the Gibbon family sold it to Sir Edward Lewis of Van, Senghenydd in 1616 and it was completed soon after.

The Second Civil War

In 1645 the first of Britain's three Civil Wars between the Parliamentarians and Royalists had begun.

In just two years it was over, but left many areas in the country without leadership.

The War flared up again as Charles I plotted to regain his power. By April 1648, Charles I had been defeated and Colonel Thomas Horton was marching on to Cardiff, with the intention of taking the town.

Once camp had been set up, he would have waited for reinforcement from Oliver Cromwell's troops.  The Royalists, led by Major-General Rowland Laugharne, planned to seize Cardiff Castle before Horton.

On 8th May 1648, Laugharne launched his attack, but was driven back by Parliamentarian cavalry.  The 3,000 roundhead soldiers were better trained and better equipped than the 8,000 strong Royalists army.

Laugharne was injured and his troops were eventually forced to make a hasty retreat.  Nearly 700 people were killed on that day, with 65 people of those from St. Fagans.

Horton took thousands of prisoners and thus ended the most important battle in Wales of the Civil Wars between the Crown and Parliament (1642 - 51).

It is said that a nearby brook (Nant Dowlais) that ran through the estate into the River Ely, turned red with blood.

The Welsh Folk Museum

Through marriage, Windsor 3rd Earl of Plymouth acquired St Fagan's Manor House.  The family neglected to maintain the property and by the early 19th century it was being used as a farmhouse.

An extensive restoration was carried out in 1868, and in 1946 the Plymouth family gave the property and land to the National Museum of Wales.

By 1948, the grounds and manor were developed for public use and the Welsh Folk Museum was opened.  The name changed to the Museum of Welsh Life, and then finally to the St Fagans National History Museum.

Regardless of what its called - the museum is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Wales today.

Just a short walk from the museum is the Grade II listed Plymouth Arms, which was built in 1859.

There has been a public house on this site since the 14th century, but the original building burnt down.  The inn has retained the look of a tradition country pub, and still commands an excellent view over the River Ely.

St. Fagans Today

During the early 20th century, most of the people in the village were employed on the estate and at the Manor.

In the early 1920s, Baron Glanely, otherwise known as William James Tatem, was one of the foremost shipping magnates in Cardiff.   He ordered the construction of a fine mansion house on Michaelston Road, and called it 'The Court'.

The Tatem family lived at The Court at least until the 1950s.  Today, the building has been extended, and is now a luxurious looking home for elderly residents.

The Earl of Plymouth gave an additional 45 acres of land, known as Plymouth Great Woods, to the people of Cardiff in 1922.  Ramblers and cyclists can still enjoy this largely undeveloped piece of land to the north of Ely, particularly now Sustrans Cymru developed a tarmacked cycle trail along the route.

St Fagans village has hardly changed since it became a part of Cardiff in 1974. Very little housing development has taken place, and many of the ancient fields surrounding Cardiff's most picturesque estate are in private ownership.

In the 21st century, St. Fagans has the smallest population of any of the suburbs. In conjunction with the fabulous museum, it is easy to spend an entire day exploring the area.

Whether you finish your day with an ale in the Plymouth Arms, or prefer a picnic in one of the many tranquil fields, St. Fagans is somewhere you'll want to visit more than once; hence the high prices of the very desirable properties.

Page Created: 01 December 2014   Updated: 09 August 2015