Moving of the Custom House Waterguard, Cardiff Bay

Formed in 1809, the Waterguard was the sea-based arm of UK revenue enforcement.  It fell under Admiralty control until 1822, when it was taken over by the Board of Customs, becoming a division of the Customs and Excise department in 1909.  With the 1972 reorganisation of HM Customs and Excise, the Waterguard name officially ceased to exist.


The crenellated building illustrated here is thought to have been erected at Roath Dock in the 1850s, where it served as the local Customs office.  It was preserved when the area’s regeneration began in the late-20th century.  In 1993, the entire building was jacked up onto a trailer and moved about 100 metres; subsequently it formed the frontage of a new public house, built in 2001 and named The Waterguard.  Mary Traynor’s drawing shows the removal underway.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:




Casablanca Club / Bethel Chapel, Mount Stuart Square, Cardiff


The origins of Bethel date back to 1840 when members of Bethany English Baptist Church, St Mary Street, established a Sunday School in West Bute Street.  A chapel was subsequently erected in James Street and, in 1855 a separate church was formed when fourteen members transferred from Bethany.

Larger premises were soon needed.  The James Street premises were sold and the Marquess of Bute granted a 99 year lease of land at the south west corner of Mount Stuart Square where a new chapel and schoolroom were built.  When the lease expired in 1955, Bethel moved to a former Welsh Congregational Church in nearby Pomeroy Street, eventually closing in 2000 because of falling numbers of mostly elderly members.

Following the church’s re-location, the building in Mount Stuart Square was initially used as a Bingo Hall, before the Casablanca night club was established in the late 1960s.  The club appears to have still been active in 1988, but had closed by 1991.  Following demolition, the site is currently used as a private car park.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

  • Mary Traynor Collection [D1093/2/48]
  • Bethel Baptist Church, Butetown, Cardiff Records, minutes, 1855-65 [D472/1/1]
  • Bethel Baptist Church, Butetown, Cardiff Records, a history of the church by Viv Purchase, Secretary, 2000 [D472/11]
  • Bethany English Baptist Church, Cardiff Records, report on Bethel chapel made to Bethany Baptist church, 1854 [DBAP/15/10/2]
  • Debenham Tewson Solicitors, Cardiff, Bute Estate Collection, lease of land and premises at Mountstuart Square, 1965 [DBDT/73/16]
  • Debenham Tewson Solicitors, Cardiff, Bute Estate Collection, lease of land and premises known as the Casablanca Club, Mount Stuart Square, 1971 [DBDT/73/19]
  • Jenkins, J Austin and James, R Edward, The History of Nonconformity in Cardiff

Cardiff Bay before the Barrage



Until the mid-nineteenth century, the whole of Cardiff’s foreshore comprised sea-washed moors and mudflats through which the Rivers Taff and Ely flowed into the Bristol Channel.  The town quay stood where Westgate Street now runs, but was accessible by sea-going vessels only at high tide.  Cardiff Bay did not exist in anything approaching its present form until the docks were developed in both Cardiff and Penarth.

Even then, for a century and a half, the Bay was tidal, with the river channels passing through large areas of mudflats at low tide.  It was only in 1999, following completion of the Barrage, that the waters of the Taff and Ely were impounded, making Cardiff Bay a fresh water lake.





This suite of drawings by Mary Traynor pre-dates the Barrage.  D1093/2/44 and D1093/2/45 depict scenes in the lower reaches of the Ely River, with St Augustine’s Church, on Penarth Head, clearly visible in the background.



D1093/2/49 is on the eastern side of the Bay, close to the former Roath Basin lock.



D1093/2/47 and D1093/2/46 are more general views, both of which vividly illustrate the low-tide mudflats.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

Demolishing Merton House, Cardiff

For more than two decades, the spiritual needs of seamen visiting Cardiff were met by a former warship, Thisbe, which was moored in the Bute East Dock during the 1860s, and converted by the Bristol Channel Mission.  As the port grew in importance, the need was recognized for larger and more permanent premises and the Marquess of Bute offered a site in Bute Crescent, alongside the West Dock Basin (now Roald Dahl Plass) for erecting a seamen’s church and institute.


Funded mainly by subscriptions from businesses linked to the Docks (most notably, the Marquess himself), and designed by E. W. M. Corbett, plans for the church and institute were approved on 28 August 1890.  Viewed from outside, the building looked very much like any other Victorian church.  Inside, though, the ground floor served a primarily secular role, as the institute and reading room while upstairs was the church, with seating for 454 people.

The seamen’s institute was formally opened on Thursday 19 November 1891 by Lady Lewis, wife of Sir William Thomas Lewis (later Lord Merthyr).  On the following Wednesday, the Bishop of Llandaff dedicated the church to All Souls.

The institute and church continued to serve Cardiff’s seafaring community for well over half a century.  In the 1950s, though, the building was renamed Merton House, and occupied by Treharne & Davies Ltd (now Minton, Treharne & Davies Ltd), analytical chemists who then worked closely with the coal and shipping industries based in Cardiff Docks.  Now operating internationally, Minton’s have retained a link with the former seamen’s institute by transferring the name Merton House to their new head office in Pontprennau.

Mary Traynor’s drawing depicts the building’s demolition in 1990.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

  • Mary Traynor Collection [D1093/2/42]
  • Cardiff Borough, building regulation plans, plan for Church and Seaman’s Institute, Bute Crescent, 1890 [BC/S/1/7802]
  • Carradice, Phil, Thisbe – the Welsh Gospel Ship (online at
  • Western Mail, 20 Aug 1890; 26 Nov 1891
  • Evening Express, 25 Jun
  • Cardiff Times, 21 Nov 1891
  • South Wales Daily News, 14 Sep 1893
  • Various Cardiff directories, 1893-1967

Interior, Association of Artists and Designers in Wales Print Workshop, Collingdon Road, Cardiff

The Association of Artists and Designers in Wales (AADW) was formed in 1974 by six artists from south-east Wales, who sought to create a national organisation to represent artists of all disciplines.  The organisation aimed to promote serious criticism and discussion; to protect and advance standards; to advise and assist members and public bodies and to co-operate with other organisations who were similarly involved; to create more and better opportunities for practice and study; and, more specifically, to establish active branches of the Association throughout Wales.


By 1981 there were eleven AADW branches throughout Wales, with the central office situated in Cardiff.  Some branches had new gallery, studio and workshop buildings for the use of members, and several branches held regular series of talks, discussions and demonstrations throughout the year.

The Association was mainly funded by the Welsh Arts Council, and obtained further revenue from members’ subscriptions and rents from studio buildings.  Additional income was derived from the magazine ‘Link’, published by the Association to provide news, information, criticism, reviews and comment on art and design matters.  The decision-making role was taken by an elected National Executive Committee which, in effect, served as the voice of professional artists in Wales.


Full membership was open to any professional artist in Wales, with other categories of membership for students and for those who were not professional artists, but who nevertheless worked to support the aims of the Association.  By the mid-1980s there were several hundred members but by 1992, internal dissatisfaction with the way the affairs of the Association were being handled, together with under-funding and under-staffing, meant that the Association could not operate viably, and the decision was taken at the final AGM in March 1992 to wind down the AADW and form a new organisation for artists, named the Association of Visual Artists in Wales (AVAW).  However, the AVAW proved less influential than the earlier organisation, and to all extents and purposes it ceased to operate fully after 1994.  That Association was formally dissolved in 1998.


David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer


Sources consulted:

Pumping Station on the site of Ely Mill

It is believed that there was a corn mill in Ely since at least the 12th century.  Located on the banks of the River Ely alongside the footpath known as Birdies Lane, it was served by a weir slightly further up-river.  The censuses of 1851 and 1861 both list Griffith David as the miller; by 1871, the role had been taken over by his son, John David.  However, in March 1875, the David family sought compensation at Glamorgan Assizes for damage from excavations carried out by the Cardiff Water Works Company.  And when David Jones of Wallington sketched the building in 1888, he commented that it was ‘unoccupied and going to ruin’.


In about 1850, the Water Works Company had developed a pumping station adjacent to the mill.  It drew water from the river to supply the growing town of Cardiff, via a holding reservoir at Penhill.  Mary Traynor’s drawing depicts one of the buildings associated with this operation – one source describes it as a coal store with living accommodation above for the station superintendent and his family.

By the early-20th century, Cardiff was served by large reservoirs in the Brecon Beacons, and Ely had become a reserve source.  The pumping station appears to have ceased supplementing Cardiff’s water supply during the 1920s.  A private facility on the same site now supplies water to Aberthaw Power Station.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:


Islamic Centre, Maria Street, Cardiff

Butetown has one of the longest established Muslim communities in the UK, established primarily by Somali and Yemeni seafarers arriving in Cardiff Docks in the mid-1800s.

During the late 1930s, nos. 17, 18 and 19 Peel Street were adapted for use as an Islamic cultural and worship centre and, on 11 November 1938, building approval was granted to erect the first purpose-built mosque in Wales – designed by Cardiff architect, Osborne V. Webb – behind the three houses.  Some sources imply that Webb’s mosque was not actually built.  That might be so, but a contemporary newspaper report of the Cardiff Blitz clearly refers to ‘the mosque at the rear of the Islamic headquarters’.

The night of 2 January 1941 saw Cardiff’s worst aerial bombardment of the Second World War; 165 people were killed, 427 injured, and more than 300 homes were destroyed.  This was a raid which saw the devastation not only of Llandaff Cathedral but also of the Peel Street Mosque.  The South Wales Echo reported that some thirty people were praying in the mosque when it was hit.  Fortunately, they seem to have escaped serious injury.

On 18 March 1943, building approval was given for a temporary replacement structure on the same site.  The mosque itself was a wooden Tarran hut, while the adjacent cultural centre was housed in a prefabricated Maycrete hut.  Building was funded by donations from the Muslim community together with aid from the Colonial Office and British Council.  The new centre, now known as the Noor El Islam Mosque, was opened on 16 July 1943.


Building consent for the temporary structure was initially granted only for one year, though that was later extended.  However, on 20 November 1946, plans were approved for a permanent new Mosque – again designed by Osborne V. Webb.  This traditional building, with dome and minarets, forms the main part of Mary Traynor’s drawing and replaced the Tarran hut.  The Maycrete hut appears to have remained and a small part of its roof can also be seen in the picture.

One of the founders of the Noor Ul Islam Mosque was Sheikh Abdullah Ali al-Hakimi, leader of the Yemeni communities in Britain during the late 1930s and 1940s and, subsequently, a prime mover in the Free Yemeni Movement.

With the re-development of Butetown, Peel Street was swept away in the 1960s.  Only the Mosque and Islamic Centre remained, with access via a short spur of Maria Street.  It was finally demolished in 1997 and replaced by a two-storey brick building, which continues to serve the local Muslim community.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted: