Rhiwbina’s Garden Village movement began in the 1890s in response to the industrial revolution’s side-effects of slums and poor living conditions. Its rhetoric championed better living conditions for the working class as well as the middle class and by the turn of the century, several Garden Villages existed in Britain. Its principle of co-operative ownership appealed to many and in 1911, a group of Cardiffians met to consider the idea of their own Garden Village.
The main objective of the Rhiwbina Garden Village Ltd. was the provision of modern houses located in pleasant and healthy surroundings in the Rhiwbina area. They bought 110 acres of land from the Pentwyn Estate, at £200 per acre, and by Christmas 1913, 34 houses had been built.
Each house was fitted with running water and gas for lighting and cooking – a boiler, a water storage tank and even a dustbin. Hedges and fences were put up and paths were laid. The village continued to grow and by 1920, tenders were accepted to build 83 more houses.
Business during the 1930s eventually recovered from a mixture of a sluggish economy and flooding. Events took an unexpected turn in 1939 with the outbreak of war. The Wendy Hut suddenly became an Air Warden’s post and the village also accepted a lot of evacuees – the village considered a safe place to be. Story has it that the children considered the air raid sirens as welcome breaks to school lessons. Their ignorance seemed totally justified as no bombs ever fell on Rhiwbina. For the Garden Village Ltd though, their position was strengthened by the fact that all of their houses were intact.
Post-war, the Garden Village found themselves with increasing costs. By 1947, production costs had risen to four times the level they were pre-war, and as a result, maintenance works were kept to a bare minimum.
Rhiwbina Village though was no longer in a position to develop. In fact, by 1952, the only way that the village could keep up with maintenance was to sell some of their houses.
By the 1960s, the Welsh Town Planning was urging the Rhiwbina Village company to pay back the capital that had been borrowed to pay of the construction. Since the company was a non-profit making organisation, they had cleared their debts and held substantial assets in the form of the property they had built.
A special AGM was called in September 1968 where the chairman announced to the unsuspecting tenant holders that they could buy the leasehold to their properties on very favourable terms. His words were met with stunned silence before a rapturous round of applause. Tenant holders were seen running to the office the following day to take up the company’s excellent offer.
By 1978, it was decided to dissolve the company since it had served its purpose. In 1981, the committee announced that all assets had been disposed of that the company had a surplus of £6,742. Under the rules of the company, no one person was allowed to profit and so the surplus money was distributed to local charities.
Following the Council’s decision towards the end of the 1970’s by the local council, Rhiwbina had now come under the designation of a ‘Conservation Area’ having been deemed of sufficient architectural and historic merit. Since then, the upkeep of the village has been carefully looked after by the residents and as such, the village has become one of the most desirable places to live in South Wales. The original vision of hundreds of houses, public buildings and shops did not perhaps materialise as was hoped. Considering that the village was built with no help from the Government, and lived through two world wars and economic depression, Rhiwbina’s Garden Village is testament to sound investing and a firm sense of optimism and purpose.
Those who laid the foundations for the village would be proud of the efforts. Its co-operative ownership paved the way for a great sense of community which still thrives today and will do into the future.