church of St Margaret of Antioch, the parish church of Roath, Cardiff,
is an interesting one.
was a chapel here – ‘the Chapel of Raht’ – soon
after 1100, founded by the Norman Lord Robert Fitzhamon, as a Chapel
of Ease to his Priory Church of St Mary in Cardiff. A little whitewashed
building, thick-walled and low, served the needs of this ancient hamlet,
inhabited since Roman times, and now, for the Normans, the home farm
for the castle, its pastures supplying meat, fish, butter and cheese.
Mary’s and its chapels were given by Fitzhamon to his monastic
foundation of Tewkesbury Abbey, which provided clergy, wine and wax
to the chapel of Roath until the Reformation, and in return received
its tithes. The ghost of a long-dead Benedictine chaplain is said to
haunt the church to this day!
1766, John Stuart, son of former Prime Minister the Earl of Bute, married
Charlotte Jane Windsor, the heiress to the Welsh lands of the Herbert
family. Through this marriage he acquired Cardiff Castle and vast tracts
of land throughout Glamorgan. In 1792, he bought a parcel of land called
the Friars Estate, which included the living of the Parish of Roath,
and when his wife Charlotte died in 1800, he built a family burial chapel
or mausoleum here, adjoining the chancel of the church, and with space
for 48 coffins. This was intended to be the resting place of his family
for generations to come.
1839, the second Marquess of Bute, his grandson, opened Cardiff’s
first dock, and this, together with the canal and the railway, led to
Cardiff’s becoming a major port, the iron and coal of the Glamorgan
valleys exported all over the world. The local population boomed as
a result of this industrial growth, and the little church in Roath was
by then too small to cater for the needs of the people.
1868, the old church was demolished and the third Marquess, now aged
21 and a Roman Catholic, brought in local architect John Prichard, restorer
of Llandaff Cathedral, to build a state-of-the-art Gothic church. The
new church opened, to great acclaim, in 1870, though without Prichard’s
planned tower and spire.
years later, the Marquess rebuilt the Mausoleum, incorporating it into
the body of the church. Because of the family’s Catholicism, no
further burials took place.
In the later years
of the 19th century, Roath was a flagship parish in the Anglican Communion,
staffed by young energetic clergy inspired by the Oxford Movement, and
taking Word and Sacrament to the people of this corner of Cardiff, ‘more
like a colonial town than anywhere else in Britain’!
Fr FW Puller brought
in leading architect GF Bodley to build the beautiful daughter church
of St German’s, and its school and clergy house. His successor,
Charles Smythies, a great favourite with the working men, went on to
become Bishop of East Africa, where he died labouring in the mission
field. Schools and churches sprang up in Roath at this time, some of
which have now closed. But St Margaret’s is still the mother church
of the parish, with, today, St Anne’s (1887) and St Edward’s
(1915) as its daughter churches.
of the Church
From outside the
church looks rather plain, its dark grey Pennant sandstone topped by
a stumpy tower, raised as a War Memorial in 1926. The surrounding churchyard,
though full to capacity, has lost most of its gravestones, in a 1969
attempt to ‘tidy it up’! But the churchyard wall survives,
parts of it dating from medieval times, much older than the building
A capacious south
porch leads into the nave, ‘a glorious polychromatic interior’
said John Betjeman, in the Victorian fashion of many colours within
the brick and stonework. The massive crossing has four different types
of stone, including much pink Penarth alabaster, also used for the pulpit
and chancel screen.
The chancel, though
with modern choir stalls, shows much of Prichard’s work, in the
south arcade, sedilia and mysterious carved heads. A great east window
from 1952 [the original stained glass was destroyed by bomb blast damage
in WW2] depicts the Ascension in white and gold, flanked by the patron
saints of the daughter churches of that time. It was commissioned post
war through the energetic efforts of Revd. Gwynno James, the Vicar.
Below the window
is the carved and gilded Reredos, by the famous Ninian Comper, showing
the Risen Christ and his 12 Apostles. To the north, arches with lavishly
carved capitals lead into the church’s unique feature, the Bute
Rebuilt in the 1880’s,
this chapel is a deluxe version of the style of the church, with profuse
foliage carving, a brick vault and a beautiful mosaic of Christ in Majesty
high on the west wall.
Beneath, lie nine
members of the Bute family, including the first Marquess and his two
wives, buried in triple coffins, pitch-sealed, within massive red Peterhead
polished granite tombs, their style similar to that of the tombs of
the Tzars in St Petersburg. This unique Victorian funerary chapel is
the only Bute burial site in Wales.
The BBC has done a short video on St. Margaret's Church and the Bute family to view it click here.
has enjoyed a long fine musical tradition, and in the mid 50s was the
first Parish Choir (i.e. non Cathedral ) ever to sing ‘Choral
Evensong’ on BBC Radio 3 (then called the Third Programme) with
phone lines temporarily installed for the Outside Broadcast.
The fine pipe organ
was originally a 3-manual built by Bevington & Sons, but was raised
into an organ loft to create the space below for a choir vestry by Hill
Norman & Beard and re-built as a 2-manual in the early 1950s. In
2008 it was further updated by conversion to digital logic and switching.
To be ready to celebrate
the Millennium, in 1999 St Margaret’s installed floodlighting
as part of a national scheme to floodlight churches, and received partial
sponsorship of the capital cost from the Millennium Commission. The
running costs are met by church members donating each week in celebration
or memory of family events or loved ones.
Today, St Margaret’s
has a growing, all-age congregation, a lively Sunday School and choir,
and groups catering for all ages. The church with its adjacent gardens
has always been, and still is, very popular for weddings. (Indeed it
could sometimes reach as many as 9 weddings per Saturday: a nice pocket-money
earner for the boy Sopranos of earlier choirs!)
The church is open to visitors on Wednesday mornings between 10 and 12 noon.
Every year on Heritage Weekend, crowds of people come, for a warm welcome,
for a guided tour of the church, to climb the tower with panoramic views
as far as the Severn bridges, and to sample delicious homemade refreshments.
Heritage Weekend dates are Saturday 18th September from 1 pm, and Sunday
19th, from 2pm. Do come and see!