“The greatest generation.” It was a phrase coined in 1988 by American broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw to describe the generation who grew up during the Great Depression and the deprivation that resulted, and then went on to fight and win the second world war. That generation, the greatest, were the first people to populate the modern Llanrumney estate in the 1950s. My maternal grandparents were a couple with two young children that would turn a page in Llanrumney’s history.
At the start of the 1950s Llanrumney Hall and its parkland was sold by compulsory purchase to Cardiff City Council due to the need for new houses to accommodate the rapidly expanding population. In a historic moment that spoke eloquently of the changing nature of Britain, the last lord of the manor at Llanrumney Hall, C.C. Williams, known popularly as Squire Williams, saw his estate turned into the dream of a new age with extensive streets of council housing built where once the Tredegar Hunt chased foxes for their pleasure. The aristocracy in Llanrumney had given way to the proletariat.
My grandparents Henry James and Winifred Elizabeth Coombs moved into their house at 23 Cheddar Crescent, Llanrumney in 1954. Harry was 44 and Winnie was 36. My grandfather’s family lived in Canton and like many of the new Llanrumney families they gladly embraced the opportunity that the spacious homes and gardens offered on the Llanrumney estate in direct contrast to the two up and two downs that they had experienced in older areas of Cardiff. Their eldest child, Mary my mother, was 10 and her brother Melvyn was 6 as they began their new life.
The Llanrumney estate came to life incrementally throughout the 1950s as the building work progressed. As a result my mother, Mary, had no secondary school to attend in Llanrumney as the Llanrumney school was still being built. It would finally open its doors in 1958. Llanrumney County Secondary School was officially opened by Councillor C.A. Horwood J.P., Chairman of the Sites and Buildings Committee on Wednesday 12th March 1958. The plot of land that the school sits on, renamed later Llanrumney High School, was originally given to the University of Wales for student accommodation next to the 33 acres of land given to the university for playing fields. Once the university declined the land it would become free for the Sites and Building Committee to acquire for the community’s new school. With deference to Llanrumney’s past as an agricultural community the school’s emblem would be a stag’s head.
Harry and Winnie were industrious and brought up their children with love on an estate populated by like-minded people. Harry had served in the RAF during the war whilst Winnie had served in the Women’s Land Army. They continued to live in Cheddar Crescent until 1971 when my grandmother wanted to move nearer to her daughter. My Mum had moved into a new property a short distance away on the estate but such was their bond that the distance seemed too far. Those were the days where cars were far less prevalent. It was only odd members of the extended family that drove and owning a car counted as a real luxury.
Winnie’s diaries still exist from the 1970s and her entry for leaving Cheddar Crescent reads “15 July 1971 – Said goodbye to 23 Cheddar Crescent after 17 years, bit sad at leaving house where all the family had known happy times as well as sad times. Time goes on and we are moving on to a new life just the two of us.” There might have been only Harry and Winnie in 7 Ilchester Road but their proximity to Mary’s house meant that they were rarely left to enjoy a new life just the two of them.
Harry and Winnie were rich in love but poor financially. They enjoyed their first holiday in 1973 when they joined my Mum and the gang in Burnham-on-Sea. They had reached the ages of 63 and 55, respectively, before they enjoyed their first proper holiday. Today we take last-minute getaways to the farthest flung places for granted. The dawning of new opportunities on that historic holiday are found in Winnie’s diary where she states on the second day “1st July 1973 – Saw colour television at the site.” It wasn’t until the F.A. Cup Final of 1974 that my family would enjoy watching colour television in Llanrumney.
Every fortunate child idolises their grandparents. I am one such lucky child. I remember Harry and Winnie with such love and fondness. Harry died in 1985 and Winnie died in 2006. They were very proud of Llanrumney where they spent most of their lives together. They enjoyed the green spaces, the warmth of the neighbours and the love of their family. They were part of the Greatest Generation and were Llanrumney’s Greatest Generation. They began the Llanrumney story that is still being written today where opportunity is for all and where everybody receives education and health provision irrespective of personal wealth.