Interior, The Exchange, Cardiff

In 1882, at the request of several gentlemen of influence and position connected with Cardiff, local solicitor Frederick De Courcey Hamilton formulated a scheme for the establishment of an Exchange, which would provide convenient offices and a meeting place for merchants, ship owners, brokers and other gentlemen connected with maritime pursuits.

Agents for the Marquis of Bute agreed to lease a site in Mountstuart Square and The Cardiff Exchange and Office Company Limited was established for the purpose of erecting the building, designed by local architects, James, Seward & Thomas.  A contract for the first phase was awarded to Mr C Burton at the end of 1883, the remainder of the building being constructed in stages over a number of years.  The Exchange opened for business in early 1886.

Coal owners, ship owners and their agents met daily in the trading hall where agreements were made by word of mouth and telephone.  During the peak trading hour of midday to one o’clock, the floor might have as many as 200 men gesticulating and shouting.  It is claimed that the world’s first million pound business deal was made here in 1901.  And, reflecting the international significance of the South Wales coalfield, this was once where the world price of coal was determined.

In 1911, the already grand trading hall was re-fitted with an oak balcony and rich wood panelling, as seen in Mary Traynor’s drawing.

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As Cardiff’s coal trade declined, the Coal Exchange ceased operations during the 1950s, though the building continued to serve as offices.  Harold Wilson’s government offered it a new lease of life as the home of a proposed National Assembly, but those hopes were dashed when the Welsh people voted against devolution in 1979.

In subsequent years, the building has been used as a concert venue and occasional film location, while tenants gradually vacated the office space.  In 2013, it was closed indefinitely for safety reasons and there were serious concerns about its future.  Now, though, the Exchange is being refurbished into a luxury hotel.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

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  1. Interior, The Exchange, Cardiff - Glamorgan Archives

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