Translocal Settling in Cardiff

This is a version of a paper I gave at the Warwick conference on World Victorians: full title ‘Translocal Settling: In search of the ‘local’ in the University Settlement Movement’. I am at the early stages of developing these ideas so I would love to have some comments & replies beyond the conference.

At a conference concerned with ‘Victorian Worlds’, it might seem odd to have a paper on translocal settling in Cardiff. After all, the term ‘Victorian world’ implies geographical expansion to America, Europe and the Empire. Yet in this paper I want to show how ‘worlds’ are not necessarily tied to the global sphere: I want to make a case that in moving beyond the national we also need to re-think local people, local things and local places. I want to consider how the settlement movement imagined and made real the localities they chose to inhabit. (Perhaps providing an example of Regenia Gagnier’s argument in her plenary paper at this conference that scholars can work from the local up).  

University and social settlements were founded in the late nineteenth century to reunite the working and middle classes together through a programme of social, educational and cultural activities. For my book I am investigating the lived, embodied experiences of settlers (namely students, graduates and social workers who came to live in poorer, working-class districts), while also considering the material and domestic arrangements of the movement. In choosing to investigate settlements in England, Scotland and Wales, I have been forced to think more about the ‘wheres’ of settling. A question that has perplexed me for a while is whether the university and social settlement was a national movement, or series of settlement house embedded in serveral localised spheres.

For the purposes of this paper I am going to consider the second part of this question by examining how Cardiff Settlement understood and engaged with their various local-local, local-national, and local-international spheres when they decided to settle in Splott, a working-class district of Cardiff. I will do this by considering the ‘translocal’ dimensions of settling.

Translocal is primarily a geography concept that initially examined the transnational and global lives of migrant groups. More recently, the idea of the translocal has been used to consider the micro processes of mobility and migration. Rather than taking a top down approach to understand the local, scholars like Katherine Brickell and Ayona Datta have argued that we need to consider the everyday experiences and mobilities of local people who might not necessarily be global migrants. Hence the local, according to them, includes home, street, neighbourhood, rural, urban, regional, national and imagined. Ma suggests that the ‘translocal’ invites us to consider local-local spatialities and dynamics, whilst simultaneously acknowledging the national and global sphere. As such people have more than one local identity, these can be fluid and overlapping.

I am attracted to these ideas because it allows me to consider how local places and spaces were important for settlers, in the words of McKay Smith, to be ‘in the world’. A point reiterated by Philip Harling in his 2010 Journal of Victorian Culture article that argued ‘our current obsession with imperial identity needs to be tempered by an appreciation for the enduring power of the local’ in this period (2010: 218). He noted that local governments and civic culture played an important role in the structure and organisational life of the city. Referring to Canon Barnett, arguably the founder of the settlement movement and warden of Toynbee Hall, Harling maintains that debates around national efficiency and social interconnectedness were intitally tied to the local arena. Similarly, Harling suggests that the lives of the working classes were intensely local and ‘bounded by the neighbourhood’ (2010: 229). These ideas are picked up by Tomaney who contends that it is within the local sphere that people seek to find a way of ‘being at home’ through ‘attachment, loyalty, solidarity and sense of affinity’ (2).

Consequently, both Harling and Tomaney imply that Victorian studies should think more about the local sphere. In many ways I agree with them but I think that this should be done within the prism of the translocal. This is partly because of the macro-and-micro spatial arenas of settling that can be accommodated under the term ‘translocal’. My study of translocal settling is therefore threefold: it turns, firstly, to an examination of place, secondly, examines the lived, subjective experiences of mobility and, thirdly, examines the imaginative function of settling at the time and in society’s (and through this universities’) interest in constructing localised pasts.

To examine these ideas further I will now examine Cardiff University Settlement, which opened 1901 in Splott. To begin with I would like to explore how the settlement intitally connected itself to specific localities outside of Cardiff. Cardiff settlement emerged from university discussions and growing interest in the movement. Discussions for a university settlement were however started by the Liberal MP, Tom Ellis, not in Cardiff but in Aberystwyth. The settlement was not even supposed to be in Wales. Rather his initial plans were to see a settlement open in the East End of London for the ‘Welsh poor’ who ‘were far from friends and home’ (University College Magazine: 1899, 223). Plans for Ellis’s London settlement were not fulfilled partly because of his premature death but also because supporters of the movement increasingly saw Cardiff as the ideal place in which to establish a settlement house.

Indeed Cardiff’s student magazine, together with the local press, were in particular, keen to position the settlement within a host of translocal assemblages that illustrated a number of national and international connections. This was done to, firstly, gain financial and organisational assistance and, secondly, make people aware of what a settlement was. They also positioned Cardiff, the university/ college and the future settlement within a specific sphere that highlighted the city and the college’s standing nationally and locally because as Barnett argued all great towns and cities needed a settlement.

Picture of Glasgow Student Settlement and page from University College Magazine
Thus Cardiff’s translocal connections enables us to consider the city to city exchanges that underpinned the settlement movement. For instance, the first article to be published in University College Magazine on the proposed Cardiff settlement positioned the settlement within the wider university movement. To do this they named specific settlements in the East End of London (Toynbee Hall and Oxford House) and South London (Mansfield House, Browning Hall and the Bermondsey Settlement). But it was student settlement in Glasgow that appears to have caught their attention. Founded in 1891, they reported how the settlement had 15 residents who gave up part of their leisure time to the movement by working with its various clubs, attending meetings or conducting medical visitations. Not only did they include a description of the movement, they also provided readers with a visual aid of the settlement shown here.

If readers of the college magazine were encouraged to link the settlement within a wider national settlement sphere then Cardiffians went global. The Cardiff Times published an article shortly after the student magazine piece that argued that ‘the settlement movement has spread to many of the largest towns in this country and the United States. Even Japan boasts a ‘Kingsley House’ in Tokyo and its ‘House of Neighbourly Love’ in Kyoto’ (15th July 1899).

Why then was the College and Cardiff keen to emphasis these translocal dimensions? I would like to argue that these exchanges do not simply occur to solely position Cardiff’s proposed settlement into transnational or global movement. Rather I would propose that by centralising the local we can see how the settlement was perceived to be a way for Cardiff to define and make itself an important centre in (South) Wales. The decision to build a settlement movement here reinforced Cardiff’s emerging status as city and a principal Welsh city at that because it reinforced the processes of urbanisation and industrialisation, together with demographical shifts, that were occurring.

The articles I have already mentioned for example invited their readers and potential supporters of the settlement incentive to reflect on changing urban and industrial of the East Moor’s region of the town. In doing so they were pulled into an imaginative translocal discussion of Splott. This area had been transformed by the foundation of steel, iron and works since the 1870s. East Moors had been turned from a small village on the outskirts of Cardiff into an industrial working-class district on the fringes of the city centre.

East Moors’ economic and social transformation has been profound. The same Cardiff Times article mentioned above was keen to note that, whilst there was no ‘submerged tenth’, work was needed in the ‘congested’ and ‘industrial’ areas of ‘great cities’ including Cardiff. The establishment of a settlement indicated Cardiff’s growth and civic status. But growth came at a cost: ‘By living together in a compressed modern town, the rich have been driven to the “West” and the poor to the “East” wrote S.J.C in the college magazine (June 1900: 204). These were, as S.J.C pointed out, the ‘two worlds’ of Disraeli’s novel Sybil. This image was an important discursive device that circulated within the settlement movement from the 1880s and was used by many settlements throughout this period when they sought to explain their cities and work. 

The settlement brought the university college into connection with a working-class district, whilst simultaneously enabling ‘town and gown’ to unite together under the banner of social unity (J.M: 1905, 96). This leads me to consider the second part of my argument about translocal settling namely that towns and cities consist of many micro-layers. Rather than focusing exclusively on migration into a city for understanding translocal diversity, historians could think more about networks of settling within a specific locality. Settling was in this period an embodied experience that meant settlers inhabited, walked and engaged with new local places and people that were arguably ‘on their doorstep’ but not apart of their local corridors. Nonetheless the establishment of Cardiff settlement relied on advocates of the movement positioning Splott within specific discursive narratives of poverty and class alienation. As such the settlements enabled students and staff to expand their local spheres by moving into and across Cardiff from the university in Cathays to Splott.

Map of Spott showing where Cardiff University Settlement was based from B. M. Bull, ‘The University Settlement in Cardiff’, (Cardiff; School of Printing, 1965)
It should be stated though that Cardiff settlement was not a residential settlement movement. Rather it invited settlers to come and live in Splott. University House and then the purpose built University Hall provided them with the space in which to meet Splott’s working class. Tracking where settlers lived does reveal that some settlement workers resided permanately in Splott. Ronald Burrows, the settlement’s first Warden and Professor of Greek at University College Cardiff, and his wife moved from The Lodge in the Cardiff Suburb Radyr to 131 Habershon Street as did Amy Lewis who rented a house with a follow female settler Bertha Lewis on the same street as the Burrows’s. In contrast, the settler Edward Lewis moved between north Cardiff, where he lived with his parents and Splott when he conducted settlement work illustrating how settling was a not an all-consuming experience. It was only when he married Amy Hughes that he made Splott his home moving to 2 University Place.

There was a tension with how supporters of the Cardiff settlement in Splott thought of their work namely their inability to fully appropriate the term ‘slum’. The verse

That deeds are worth cartloads of speeches

Our ’Varisty Settlement teaches;

Burrows lives in the slums,

And has gamins for chums,

And practices what he preaches.

implies a tension between the college vision’s of Splott and the actual settlers who lived there. Of course ‘slum’ and ‘chum’ are used because they rhyme but Splott was not always conceived to be a slum in settlement thought. It was a slum because the streets were dirty, they were used as playgrounds and dumping grounds for rubbish (June 1900, 204). The people, though seen to be poor, drunkards, and gamblers, were nonetheless ‘clean and not downhearted’ (Glasgow: 1924, 96). If they were not quite slum dwellers then census returns show that members of the boys club were either first generation or apart of migrant families who appear to have moved to Cardiff from South Wales and Gloucester when their fathers were looking for work.

Portmanmoor Road
Inside CT
Settlement Hall based on the corner of Walker Road and Splott Road. ‘University Settlement: New Hall Opened at Cardiff’, ‘Cardiff Times’, 17th December 1904.
Nevertheless by building its own settlement house, Cardiff settlement was attempting to settle in Splott. But this could be unsettling. For instance Burrows’s wife was surprised at how the profile of the settlement
users shifted when they moved into their purpose built settlement house University Hall. They were given the land by the Lord Tredegar and the sum of £2000 by Henry Woolcott Thompson. The building was designed by the arts and craft architect R. S. Weir. They struggled to attract the poorer segments of Splott because they had moved from what was considered more homely and cozy settlement house to a materially expansive settlement building with high ceilings and specific club rooms. Although this does not appear to have an effect on their numbers, it should not be assumed that they were necessarily seen as

Splott locals as this example illustrates:

The high episcopal connections of both Mr. and Mrs Burrows were never-ending source of suspicion to the more emotionally minded of the Welsh Nonconformists, and those who ran the Settlement had always to keep their weather eye open to avoid giving offence when no offence was intended….On one occasion an excitable Welsh Nonconformist put a notice in his window, accusing Mr Burrows of religious propaganda under the cloak of the Settlement. Mr Burrows promptly extracted an apology from the man on the grounds that the charge was untrue, but did not let the matter rest there. He himself wrote a notice, which the offending critic had to put in his window to take the place of the former notice. (Glasgow: 1924, 105).

Despite these local divisions, Burrows sought to align Cardiff Settlement with a national vision that was not British but Welsh. Here lies one of the reasons why I am attracted to the idea of translocalism because by examining how people articulated a sense of local identity I am also able to think more about national identities beyond the English/ British paradigm. For example, in a speech made by Burrows to mark St. David’s Day in 1906 he illustrated the local-national tensions that emerged by Splott’s migrant workforce. He presents Cardiff as a ‘city pulsing with varied life, busy, prosperous, progressive’. He notes that ‘we are indeed proud to be its citizens’. But for him Cardiff was too detached from its Welsh identity because English and Scottish migrants were not adopting Welsh traditions and attitudes. For Burrows, Wales’s university settlement in Cardiff united a Welsh university and Welsh city with its Welsh citizens.

Finally, I would like to conclude this paper by considering how Victorian worlds are not only tied to the nineteenth century: they inhabit the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Increasingly I’ve been keen to think about the settlement pasts are used in understanding the local today. According to Bricknell and Datta an investigation into translocalism enables scholars to explore ‘shared social relations of local histories and relations’ and how these are a part of ‘wider geographical histories and process’ (p.1).

However, for Victorian worlds to exist they at least need to be inhabited and remembered. Cardiff settlement closed after the First World War never recovering the impetus it had prior to the war and before University Hall was turned into a hospital for the war wounded. By the 1960s this university endeavour had all been forgotten; the connection between ‘slum’ and ‘gown’ severed. As Miss B. M. Bull noted there was a real chance that this piece of the college’s history would be overlooked because ‘very little has been written about it, and the people who remember it are becoming very few’ (1966: 4). Her introduction to the settlement had been purely accidental: a letter intended for ‘University Place’ was wrongly delivered to University College, two miles away. It left her ‘wondering why the street was named so’. She was not the only person puzzled as to why Splott, a working-class district, had a small street named University Place. Her 31 page pamphlet charts the history of this local movement.

More recently, the story of Splott Settlement has attracted more attention as the building of the former settlement is demolished for flats. Here the architectural value of the building is understood to be of ‘overwhelming historical importance’ (Wales Online: 10/01/2016). Despite a campaign to have the building listed, it seems that it will be pulled down. Nonetheless, the campaign to save the building demonstrates how translocal synergises are being used to show historical significance especially with the claim that the settlement is the Welsh equivalent of the more famous settlement Toynbee Hall.

Once again the settlement is being used to make local identity albeit through histories and traditions. But little appears to have been made of its immediate translocal connections revealing how translocal histories are not stable and dependent on past connections. As Doreen Massey has argued local pasts are not only multi-vocal but also ‘temporary, (and) uncertain’ (1995, 190). While local residents fight to save the building, Cardiff University’s President and Vice-chancellor, Professor Colin Riordan, has used the settlement as a way of illustrating the university’s civic connection: ‘Cardiff (university) was developed to meet the needs of the city and the surrounding area. In 1901, the Cardiff University Settlement saw the provision of educational and recreational activities in Splott for people who would not have access to these types of facilities’. For the current university, translocal connections have moved beyond the Victorian world of settling that was attracted to Splott to focus on more economically and socially stringent places such as Merthyr Tydfil, Butetown Grangetown areas of Cardiff.


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