One of the great Victorian entrepreneurs, the name of Solomon Andrews has now largely disappeared from public knowledge and view. Yet this amazing man, someone who literally rose from rags to riches, epitomises the Victorian ideal of 'self help'. He was a man who carved out for himself and his family one of the great financial success stories of the nineteenth century.
Born in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, in 1835, Solomon Andrews came to Cardiff equipped with just a wooden tray to sling around his neck and a stock of trinkets and sweets to sell in the street. This was in the year 1851 and Cardiff was just beginning to grow and develop. It was the ideal place for a young, ambitious individual and within 10 years Solomon Andrews was virtually a millionaire with interests in transport, draperies, coal mines and property.
The energy and drive of this dynamic man can only be imagined. Despite starting with almost nothing, by 1856 he had amassed enough capital (and nerve) to lease a shop and set himself up in the bakery and confectionery business. Eight years later he had expanded his interests and branched out into running cabs and horse brakes. By 1873 he was running 35 buses and coaches through the streets of Cardiff.
In 1872 Andrews bought a coach building works and began constructing his own vehicles. Within a few years he was operating buses in places as diverse as Portsmouth, Plymouth, Belfast and London. Something of a 'transport war' between him and the other owners of buses and trams in Cardiff soon erupted and there are stories of Andrews' buses deliberately driving along the lines of the tram cars in order to slow down the competition. Quite what the passengers thought of these tactics is not known but the tales seem to sum up the vibrant nature of Victorian society.
Eventually the 'war' came to an amicable conclusion and Solomon Andrews sold his transport interests, retaining only the routes between Cardiff, Penarth and Llandaff.
Andrews built houses and business premises all over the country. The Market Buildings in St Mary's Street, Cardiff, opened in 1884, were just one of his major concerns, as were the shopping arcade in Penarth and many of the grander buildings along Windsor Road in the town. He opened the David Evans Department Stores in Cardiff and Swansea and even had business concerns in Australia.
In the early twentieth century he was instrumental in developing the north Wales town of Pwllheli. On holiday in Llandudno Andrews heard of land available in the town on the south coast of the Llyn Peninsula, and immediately laid plans to create a holiday resort. His enterprises within the town included the Promenade, a public bandstand, a golf course and the West End Hotel.
He bought Glyn-y-Weddw house to the west of Pwllheli and then built a tramway along the sand dunes to run out to the place. The house was converted into an art gallery - in which guise it still runs - and a ballroom was created out of the old stable yard. Evening dances at Glyn-y-Weddw remained popular for many years.
Solomon Andrews remains the archetypal Victorian self-made man. His fingers reached into many different spheres and areas and he created a dynasty which remains to this day, perhaps not as obvious as old Solomon himself but one that is, in its own way, equally as successful.