It always saddens me when iconic buildings with historical significance are destroyed. That sadness is compounded, however, when said buildings also have a personal connection to either myself, or to somebody I know, or have known.
A case in point is the ongoing demolition of a Cardiff landmark, ‘The Rise’, situated north of the city in Pontcanna, of which a photograph which was sent to me recently, shows.
Penhill House, built in 1861, by Lewis Charles, before being sold to Edward Bevan some years later, and remained in private hands up until the late 1960s, when it was re-purposed as a Cardiff City Council ‘Assessment Centre’, accommodating boys, aged between 11 and 16, from Cardiff, Barry, Penarth and the Rhondda Valleys.
It’s first owner was an Apothecary (Pharmacist), and it’s attached one-acre gardens were known locally as ‘Erw-yr-Apothercary’, which reflected it’s original purpose.
After it’s usefulness as an Assessment Centre came to an end, it was used right up until it’s closure, by Cardiff City Council to house the offices of the Youth Offending Team.
Pontcanna residents have campaigned for the building to be preserved, but the City Council, declared The Rise, a ‘Financial Burden,’ and it’s Director of Economic Development, decided in 2017 to dispose of the building at an open auction.
Another reason given by the Council was that it needed to be disposed of, to save ‘Running Costs’.
A letter to the South Wales Echo, from local resident Pauline Grainger, Reads:
‘We are told that the Council is powerless to prevent it’s demolition. Have they considered listing the building? I would have thought that there was a very good case to be made to save one of Cardiff’s oldest distinctive buildings dating back to the 1860s. Not to mention the loss of the mature treason the site, which we are now told are conveniently diseased’.
A Pontcanna Councillor, Iona Gordon, has pretty much agreed with the Council’s plans, saying “It’s unfortunate that the building – just outside her ward – was not listed.’
But Cardiff Civic Society did actively work towards protecting this landmark from demolition, and even organised a protest prior to the bulldozers moving in, and have sent a letter to Cardiff Planning Department, outlining their concerns.
‘Cardiff Civic Society has noted the sale by auction of Pencil Rise on Penhill Road.
This is a landmark building on a prominent site in the local area. In response to representations by the local community, Cardiff Civic Society would like to urge Cardiff Council to preserve this interesting building, and the mature trees that provide a hughe local amenity, as well as absorbing pollution from the busy road.
Penhill Rise deserves to be sympathetically restored, and it’s tree-lined landscape to remain, as both elements add immeasurably to the character of the region. The property is adjacent to the Grade II listed park, Llandaff Fields, and any intrusive development would impact unfavourably on this well-loved green space. Furthermore, it is clear that any major development work on this site would inevitably cause traffic chaos and present a serious danger to pedestrians.
There is a precedent for preserving landmark buildings of character and history in the area. For example, the Vicarage Development on Severn Road, which was preserved thanks to the effort of the local community, and is now a hugely desirable residential property.
Cardiff has lost too many characterful, historic buildings for the city to be able to afford to lose any more.’
There is not much for Cardiff Council to argue against, in my opinion.
Despite the opposition to the Council’s plans , and the impassioned plea’s from locals, the sale of the building did go ahead, and the new owner, has I believe, made good on his plans to demolish the building.
The building attracted bids far and above the auction estimate of £595,000, and no doubt the City Council’s accountants were jumping for joy, when The Rise actually sold for £1.6 Million.
Interestingly enough, despite the local Councillor’s claim; “It’s unfortunate that the building was not listed”, a basic search on the BRITISH LISTED BUILDINGS website, would have shown her that Penhill House is (or was) certainly a Grade II listed Building, and has been since 1978.
If this Grade II listing is still in place, then it asks the question as to why the demolition of The Rise was allowed to proceed, and also why were both the Cardiff Civil Society and the local Councillors not aware of it, or did they simply not acknowledge it’s status, as after all, £1.6 Million is a serious sum of money.
Or was the listed status removed quietly, when the listing was amended in 2001?
As for my personal connection to this building?
I lived at The Rise intermittently, between the months of September and December 1978, while it was still an Assessment Centre, it was my very fist experience of local authority ‘care’.