Dusty’s First World War

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Dr Stephanie Ward working with year 8 pupils from Michaelston Community College at The Glamorgan Archive.

This is my first blog for CAER, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to introduce myself and our latest activities. I’m Steph Ward and am a lecturer in modern Welsh history at Cardiff University. I’m working with CAER Heritage’s Dave Wyatt and recent graduate Dan Jewson on a new CAER heritage project which is exploring the First World War history of Ely. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, ‘Dusty’s First World War’ is aiming to uncover the origins of the Ely housing estate and the history of the Dusty Forge. We are working closely with Michaelston Community College, Healthy Wealthy Wise, local artists, ACE and other community groups within Ely and Caerau throughout the summer and autumn. We plan to have a permanent exhibition at the Dusty of our findings and to remember the impact the Great War had upon the area.

The Ely estate was originally designed as a garden village in the 1920s. Originating with Ebenezer Howard in the late nineteenth century, garden cities or garden villages were designed to bring together the best of town and country living. The rapid development of Victorian industrial cities like Cardiff led to often appalling housing conditions rife with overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions. Howard called for housing to be placed outside of the city, surrounded by plenty of green spaces for family and community recreation. The first garden village was established in Letchworth, Hertfordshire and was a wonderful example of spacious housing, large gardens and green spaces all within commuting distance of a major city. In Cardiff, the City Council bought the land on which the Ely estate now stands from Green Farm and Red Farm, developing its own garden village in the west of the city following the end of the First World War. The Ely garden village was therefore established as a model housing estate providing ‘the homes for heroes’ in the aftermath of this deadly global conflict. This is the untold local story that we want to explore in our project.

To get things going, in May 2016, we took a group of Year 8 pupils from Michaelston Community College to the Glamorgan Archives for a day of workshops and research into Ely’s origins. We had a very successful day with them, discovering how the Ely estate was designed as a garden village and thinking about the utopian ideas behind its development. The pupils studied the original plans of the estate and the architect’s drawings of the earliest houses. They then designed their own garden villages as utopian versions of Ely in a workshop with me. With Dan, the pupils role played as 1920s housing officers allocating families to new homes after the war. They also all had an opportunity to animate their own films about their findings with CAER artist Paul Evans and film-maker Jon Harrison. You can check out their film HERE.

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Role playing as 1920s housing officers with Dan Jewson.

What was really interesting was how the pupils had a lot of ideas about how Ely has changed over time. They were keen to discuss whether they think the principles of the garden village have survived in Ely and also about how they think their area could be improved. It really was a great start to the project and we are looking forward to working with the same pupils again in the autumn, when they will carry out an oral history project.

Following our initial activities with the school, the Dusty’s First World War team’s next big initiative was to take a roadshow to this year’s Ely Festival and had a fabulous day there! We took along OS maps to show how the estate developed. We had loads of interest and input from local people who were willing to share their memories and who have lived, or whose families have lived, on the estate since the 1920s and 1930s– so if you visited us then THANKS!

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‘Dusty’s First World War’ at The Ely Festival.

The project still has lots to do, but one thing is already very clear: the people of Ely have a great sense of pride for the estate and feel very connected to their local history. We will be working to continue to uncover this hidden history of Ely over the summer, but we need YOUR HELP!

Dan has planned a whole range of activities and we are looking for volunteers with memories and artefacts of the Dusty and the early housing estate. If you would like more information about how to get involved please contact Dan Jewson JewsonD@cardiff.ac.uk.