The History of Llanishen

Llanishen has a rich history stretching back over 1,000 years. In A.D. 535 two monks set out eastwards from the then-small settlement of Llandaff, aiming to establish new settlements, or "llans", in the wild terrain below Caerphilly mountain. One of these monks, Isan, established his "llan" on the present-day site of the Oval Park, an ideal location offering a ready fresh-water supply at a natural spring and the nearby Nant Fawr stream.

 

"Llan-isan" remained a peaceful place until the arrival of the Normans. In 1089, a large and bloody battle, the Battle of the Heath, was fought to the north of the settlement. Crushing the Welsh resistance at this battle and gradually securing their hold on Wales as a whole, the Normans began to expand Llanishen, commencing work on a church at a site on higher and drier ground to the north of the old settlement. This church was completed sometime in the 12th century, and was dedicated to the now St Isan.


The Oval Park, site of St Isan's first settlement. 

 

Despite the many upheavals in Britain in the following centuries, "Llan-isan", which gradually became corrupted to Llanishen, stayed a quiet rural village whose principal occupation was agriculture. This only changed significantly in the mid-nineteenth century when the area came under the gaze of the Rhymney Railway Company. Seeking to build an alternative route to Cardiff Docks to rival that of the mighty Taff Vale Railway, the company was granted parliamentary permission to create a new line running from Caerphilly, through Llanishen, to its Crockherbtown Junction. In order to do this, the company first had to blast its way through Caerphilly Mountain, creating a tunnel some one and a half miles in length. Unsurprisingly, in an age before health and safety of any kind, accidents were common, and a large incident inside the tunnel cost the lives of several of the railway "navvies", some of whom were buried in St Isan's churchyard. The line gradually marched through the village along a large embankment, work being completed around 1871.


Llanishen Station in the 1960s.

 

The advent of the railway had a marked effect on Llanishen. Wealthy residents of Cardiff could now move out into the "country" and live in the pleasant surroundings of the village, while still being able to commute into the then-town from Llanishen station. In the twenty years between 1851 and 1871, the village's population rose by over 20,000. It was a trend that was set to continue. In 1887, after a long period of negotiation, two reservoirs were built in the village to support the rapidly growing population of Cardiff. By 1922, after continued expansion, Llanishen became a suburb of Cardiff.


Llanishen Reservoir in the 1990s - a happier time before the arrival of the infamous fence! 

 

As with so many towns and villages throughout the country, the outbreak of war in 1914 was to leave its grim mark on Llanishen. The war memorial inside St Isan's church testifies to this with a long list of men who did not return. Among these was Lt. Col. Frank Hill Gaskell, who after being wounded in 1914, returned to Cardiff to help raise the 16th Cardiff City Battalion. Leading it back to France in May 1916, he was killed when a German bullet struck his ammunition pouches, causing an explosion that left him mortally wounded.

 

The coming of the Second World War was, however, to have a far more overt effect on Llanishen. In 1939 the government established a Royal Ordnance Factory along Ty Glas Road. The factory produced tank and anti-tank guns with a largely female workforce, and was highly productive. In the nearby fields, anti-invasion defences were erected to try and ward off the feared German paratroopers. When the threat of airborne invasion gradually began to decrease in 1941, the RAF established itself on the site, clearing the defences to use the wide open spaces to train Air Cadets in the rudiments of flying in rickety training gliders. This is where the area's modern name of "Glider Field" stems from (and also the unnecessarily Welsh-ified title of the former Tax Office complex, "Gleider House"). The gliders made way for Piper Cubs in 1943 when the Americans arrived in Llanishen, as preparations for the invasion of France began to gather apace. Aside from the artillery observation unit that made its home on the glider field, many American troops, possibly from the US 90th Infantry Division, were billeted around the village and made welcome. Almost all of them "disappeared" in June 1944 when the Allies finally landed in Normandy on D-Day and the liberation of Europe began.


Llanishen's "Dad's Army" - the Llanishen and Lisvane Home Guard Platoon, 1940


In the years since V-E Day, Llanishen has continued to change. Agriculture gradually made way for business, technology and housing, with many of the suburb's residents continuing to commute into the new capital city for work. The old glider field became the home of Llanishen Leisure Centre, while the surrounding farmland and market gardens were replaced with industrial and buildings. The majority of these have since been replaced, particularly the ROF complex, and the area is now occupied by the Llanishen Business Park and a large area of housing. Development continues throughout the village, most of it residential in nature, such as the new Rhydes Court apartment block, as well as the controversial plans for the redevelopment of the reservoirs. In spite of all this change however, Llanishen has retained its village feel, with its bustling heart being focused around the old village centre and St Isan's Church.

 

 

SOURCES:

Horton, Graham, Llanishen: From Village To Suburb

Morgan, Dennis, The Cardiff Story

 

© Llanishen Local History Society. Do not reproduce.