Saturday, 12 November 2016

83 Killay House

83 Killay House

The famous engineer of the Great Western Railway, I.K. Brunel, purchased an estate in south Devon where he planned to build a mansion for his retirement.  But the property now called Brunel Manor was erected many years after Brunel had died aged 53 in 1859.  Similarly some years later a retired railway tycoon had a mansion built in Swansea, though this was through the railway boom in Russia rather than in Britain.

On the south side of Gower Road, where Sketty becomes Killay, there used to stand a mansion at what would be 365 Gower Road.  Often referred to as The Orphanage, it was named Killay House, and was for many years run by the National Children’s Home.

Although it is hard to imagine amid all the present-day housing, the mansion was built in open countryside near the village of Killay in 1878-80, by Morgan Bransby Williams.  Born in Stoke Newington in 1825, his family moved to Bridgend when he was aged eight, and he attended Cowbridge Grammar School.  A civil engineer, he pioneered railway construction in Russia, where he married in 1859 a widowed baroness of Swedish descent, and moved in highest circles of society, knowing the reforming Tsar Alexander II.

But after his wife had died from a heart attack, and the completion of his railway projects in Russia, Bransby Williams retired at the age of 45 and returned to South Wales.  He remarried in 1871 – spending the honeymoon in Russia - and became director of the Swansea Bank, which later became the Metropolitan Bank of England and Wales in Wind Street (and later again part of Midland, then HSBC).

After moving into Killay House, Bransby Williams’s railway expertise was utilised when he became Chairman of the Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway Company.  A supporter of the Liberal party, he was uncle of Eliot Crawshay-Williams, Lloyd George’s parliamentary private secretary and lifetime correspondent of soprano Morfydd Owen.  Guests at Killay House in 1896 included the Home Secretary and future Prime Minister Herbert Asquith.

Morgan Bransby Williams died aged 89 in 1914, and was buried in Penmaen churchyard.  Killay House was used during the First World War to house Belgian refugees, and convalescing Canadian servicemen.

After his widow died in 1922, Killay House’s upkeep became difficult following wartime losses and taxation.  For a few years the mansion was let before being sold in 1926 to the Swansea Orphan Home for Girls, which had been established in 1859 in St Helen’s Road, and later moved to Northampton Lane.  The purchase cost was aided by a bequest from Roger Beck, the steel magnate and philanthropist who had died in 1923.  With 14 acres of land – part of which was a cricket ground – and two large outbuildings, Killay House could accommodate 55 children and six staff, and opened as an orphanage in March 1930.  The YMCA cricket team rented the cricket ground. 

During the Second World War an Air Raid Precaution post was sited there.  After the cessation of hostilities, responsibility for Killay House was taken over by the National Children’s Home, with the 21 girls gradually being joined by boys to make three family groups of ten children each.  The fund-raising garden fĂȘtes were very popular occasions, and the children could use a camping site in Mary Twill Lane in Newton.

In 1985 the Children’s Home closed and the house was used for respite care for handicapped children, with the two-storey George Thomas House for the Stepping Stones Project for children under five.  But eventually Killay House became uneconomical to run and was put up for sale.  Local opposition thwarted plans for a supermarket, so the mansion was demolished in 2003, and the houses of Stephenson Road, Millwood Gardens and St Nicholas Court erected on the site. 

Bransby Williams’ mansion may be no more, but unlike Brunel in Devon he was able to enjoy his retirement home for over thirty years.                              


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