Interior, Tubal Cain Foundry, Tyndall Street, Cardiff

William Catleugh, a millwright and engineer of 4 The Hayes, Cardiff, died on 19 December 1851.  His initial successor in the business was Mr H. Scale but it was later taken over by George Parfitt and Edward Jenkins.  In July 1857, Parfitt and Jenkins advertised that ‘they have the foundry now in working order, and all orders entrusted to their care will be executed promptly and in a superior manner’.

Despite its town centre location – which also served as the proprietors’ home – the plant must have been quite substantial since, in 1862, it was able to produce a locomotive to work the mineral traffic of a colliery in the neighbourhood of Swansea.  However, on 1 April 1864, the Cardiff Times reported that Parfitt and Jenkins had leased upwards of an acre of land at the top of the East Dock, facing Tyndall Street.  A construction tender had been let and foundations for their new foundry and engineering works were already being excavated.

While no specific evidence has been found of the thinking behind the name of the new works, Tubal Cain, a great-great-great-great-great grandson of Adam and Eve, is described in the King James Bible as ‘an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron’.  It therefore seems an appropriate name for what Parfitt and Jenkins would have viewed as a major expansion of their business.  The casting house was a single storey, rectangular brick building with thirteen semi-circular headed windows to the west wall.  The roof was supported on a series of wrought-iron trusses, providing an unusual example of an open tie-bar trussed roof.

At first, Parfitt and Jenkins seem to have operated both the Hayes and Tubal Cain works but, by 1875, the Hayes Foundry appears to have closed.  George Parfitt died in 1886 and Edward Jenkins in 1888 but their business continued to thrive.

While initially serving the shipping and railway industries which were then growing up around the Bristol Channel, the variety of its products gave the company considerable flexibility.  In more recent years, as part of Penarth Industrial Services Ltd, Tubal Cain is said to have been the only jobbing foundry in South Wales capable of producing one-off pieces of work, rather than being limited to production runs.

As the redevelopment of Cardiff Bay progressed in the 1980s, a compulsory purchase order was served on the works.  During a subsequent public enquiry, the Victorian Society argued forcefully for its preservation.  However, in light of the emissions of smoke, dirt and sulphur dioxide fumes, it was concluded that the plant should not continue to operate on the Tyndall Street site and, in due course, it was demolished.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer


Sources consulted:

  • Mary Traynor Collection [D1093/2/34]
  • Holy Bible – Genesis, chapter 4, verse 22
  • Scammell & Co’s City of Bristol and South Wales Directory, 1852
  • Wakeford’s Cardiff Directory, 1855
  • The Cardiff Directory and Handbook, 1858
  • Webster’s Directory of Bristol and Glamorgan, 1865
  • The Post Office Directory of Monmouthshire and the Principal Towns and Places in South Wales, 1871
  • Worrell’s Directory of South Wales and Newport, Monmouthshire, 1875
  • 1851 and 1861 censuses
  • The City and Port of Cardiff – Official Handbook, 1955
  • The Monmouthshire Merlin, 26 December 1851
  • Cardiff Times, 21 March 1862
  • South Wales Echo, 12 Oct 1886
  • Cardiff Times, 20 Oct 1888

Coliseum Cinema, Cowbridge Road, Cardiff

The Canton Coliseum Cinema was designed by local architect, Edwin J. Jones and built by the Canton Cinema Company in 1912.  The approved building plans imply that it would seat 899 downstairs with a further 192 in the gallery, but comments on the Cinema Treasures website suggest that the seating capacity might have been significantly less than this.  Located at 139-143 Cowbridge Road East, on the corner of North Morgan Street, it opened on 6th January 1913, with The Panther’s Prey as its principal feature film.  Around 1930 it was equipped with a RCA sound system and was re-named Coliseum Cinema.


Like many other cinemas, it became a bingo hall in the 1960s.  In the late 1980s it was demolished and the site was subsequently re-developed by Castle Leisure Ltd (part of the business empire established by Solomon Andrews, and still owned by his descendents), who claim that it was ‘the very first purpose-built bingo club in the UK’.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

The Students Union, Dumfries Place, Cardiff

Designed by Manchester architect, Alfred Armstrong, this building on the western side of Dumfries Place originally housed the Cardiff Proprietary School – also known as Cardiff College.   Established in 1875 and accommodating 300 scholars, it offered ‘a sound and liberal education at a moderate cost’, aiming to prepare boys for university, the naval, military & civil services, and also for scientific, professional and commercial pursuits.


The school seems to have run into financial difficulties at a relatively early stage.  By 1886, the governors sought to transfer it to a local educational charity while, in 1891, parents were advised that, ‘owing to the want of support’, the school would close on 31 July that year.  Following an extraordinary general meeting in October 1892, the company was wound up and the building sold to the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire.

Initially, the University appears to have used the premises for art classes but, by 1895, it was a Technical School, continuing in this role until the First World War.  From 1916 until about 1950, it housed government offices, including the National Health Insurance Commission, Welsh Board of Health, and Ministry of Pensions.

During the 1950s, the Students Union moved here from 51 Park Place, and remained in occupation until their Senghennydd Road building was erected in the 1970s.  Following demolition, the Dumfries Place site is now occupied by a modern office building known as Haywood House.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

  • Mary Traynor Collection [D1093/2/5]
  • Cardiff Borough Building Regulation Plans, plan of Proprietary School, Dumfries Place, 1875 [BC/S/1/901021]
  • Cardiff Borough Building Regulation Plans, plans of Cardiff Technical College, Dumfries Place, 1895 [BC/S/1/10923.2; BC/S/1/10923.1]
  • Cardiff Times, 30 May 1874
  • South Wales Echo, 18 November 1886
  • Kelly’s Directory of Monmouthshire and South Wales, 1891
  • Western Mail, 11 May 1891
  • The London Gazette, 25 November 1892, p. 6937
  • Wright’s Cardiff Directory, 1893-94
  • Various Cardiff directories, 1908 – 1964
  • Stewart Williams, Cardiff Yesterday, vol. 11, image 156


Victoria Buildings, Bute Street, Cardiff

At the 1861 census, Peter Steffano, a 51 year old ship chandler was living with his family at 56, 57 and 58 Bute Street, Cardiff.  The household also included Austrian-born Joseph Brailli, aged 23, a clerk in the chandlery who was married to Steffano’s daughter, Sophia.  By 1871, the business, now operating as Stefano and Brailli, was at 63 Bute Street; the Brailli family lived at no. 65 and the Steffanos at 66.

Peter Steffano died in 1874 and, by 1881, the Brailli family had moved their home to Crockherbtown (now Queen Street).  They appear, though, to have retained the business premises since, in April 1887, Joseph received local authority approval to rebuild 64-67 Bute Street.


The new building was designed by E M Bruce Vaughan and given the name Victoria Buildings.  It included ground floor shop premises with warehouse space in the basement and at the rear of the first floor.  The remainder of the first floor, and all of the second, provided office space.  There was no longer any residential accommodation.

An 1884 directory still lists Joseph Brailli as a ship chandler at the Bute Street premises but, by 1891, the chandlery was run by Thomas Harper and Sons.  Also listed at Victoria Buildings in that year’s directory were Jacobs & Co, outfitters, Foster Hain & Co, ship brokers and James Evans & Co Limited, colliery proprietors.  The Thomas Harper company was still there in 1955, by which time the right hand shop unit housed the local branch of George Angus, manufacturers of industrial belting and a range of other products including oil seals.  The offices continued to be occupied by shipping companies, along with HM Immigration Service.  By 1972, the listed occupants were Reg Oldfield, photographer, Ken Jones, turf accountant, and J. F. Griffiths, builders’ merchant.  Signage in Mary Traynor’s drawing suggests that the latter two companies remained until the building’s demise.

The approximate site of Victoria Buildings now comprises the outdoor areas behind nos 5, 6, 7 & 8 Bute Crescent (Jolyon’s Hotel, Duchess of Delhi restaurant, and the Eli Jenkins public house).

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

  • Mary Traynor Collection [D1093/2/32]
  • Cardiff Borough, building regulation plans, plans for rebuilding of 64-67 Bute Street, 1887 [BC/S/1/6250]
  • 1861-1891 censuses
  • Various Cardiff directories
  • England & Wales National Probate Calendar 1874
  • Williams, Stewart, The Cardiff Book, vol. 2 (p.185)

Merthyr House, James Street & Evelyn Street, Cardiff

Merthyr House was erected in 1918 on the corner of James Street and Evelyn Street, Cardiff.  The building ran back as far as Adelaide Place and presented Bath stone frontages to each of the three streets.  Designed by local architect Henry Budgen, it was built by the renowned Cardiff firm of E. Turner & Sons Ltd.  A Turner brochure referred to it as the ‘western end’ of the building, which suggests there might have been ambitions to extend it over the whole block with an additional facia to Adelaide Street, but this appears never to have come to fruition.  From the outset, Merthyr House was occupied as offices.  Its tenants included some of the most prominent South Wales coal and shipping companies.


In the early hours of Sunday 17 March 1946, a fire broke out in the second floor offices of the Reardon-Smith shipping line.  The fire seems to have taken hold very quickly.  Firefighters rescued the caretaker and his family who were trapped on the top floor and there was no loss of life or appreciable damage to surrounding buildings.  A considerable part of the south side of the building was saved but the northern (James Street) end was destroyed.  In addition to losing their operating base, several companies lost records detailing their histories.

A few days after the incident, Sir James Wilson, Chief Constable of Cardiff, voiced criticism of the speed with which the National Fire Service had responded, and also the manner in which they fought the fire.  The Home Secretary appointed John Flowers KC to inquire into the issues Sir James had raised, and his report was published in July of the same year.  In the event, not only did Flowers find none of the complaints to have been justified, but he specifically commended the manner in which one fire officer had handled the rescue of the top floor occupants.

In 1950, approval was sought by the owners, J Cory & Sons Ltd, to renovate Merthyr House.  Their plans clearly show that the James Street end of the building had now been wholly removed; its site being used for car parking.  In fact, the northern section was never rebuilt, though a rather incongruous single-storey concrete entrance block was added, at some point, on that side of the building.

Merthyr House never regained its pre-fire status as one of Butetown’s principal office buildings.  In the early 1960s, it was occupied by a distributor of motor cars; later it housed the Works Department of the University of Wales Press.  And at some point, it was re-named Imperial House.  After several years of neglect, it was demolished and the site currently stands empty.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

  • Mary Traynor Collection [D1093/2/31]
  • Cardiff Borough, building regulation plans, plan for renovations at Merthyr House, James Street, 1950 [BC/S/1/39995]
  • Flowers, John KC, Inquiry into the Fire at Merthyr House, James Street, Cardiff on the 17th March 1946 (Cmd. 6877)
  • Superb Buildings erected by E. Turner & Sons Ltd (1929)
  • Lee, Brian, Cardiff’s Vanished Docklands
  • Lee, Brian & Butetown History and Arts Centre, Butetown and Cardiff Docks (Images of Wales series)
  • Various Cardiff directories

South Wales Echo, 18 March 1946; 21 March 1946; 3 August 1946

Wesleyan Methodist Church, Charles Street, Cardiff

Wesleyan Methodist Central Hall stood at the corner of Charles Street and Bridge Street, Cardiff.  The foundation stone was laid on 16 July 1849 by Alderman David Lewis, Mayor of Cardiff, who was also a church member.  Designed by James Wilson of Bath, its Gothic style was, at the time, unusual for a nonconformist building in Wales.  The chapel opened on 25 September 1850.

On 12 April 1895, the building was destroyed by a fire which broke out shortly after the end of that day’s Good Friday devotions.  Just over three months later, on 24 July, building plans were approved for a new church designed by Jones, Richards and Budgen of Cardiff, and reconstruction went ahead, largely on the same footprint as the original building.

D1093-2-21 to 44 029 Wesleyan Charles Street levelled

The chapel continued to serve Cardiff’s Methodists during the first four decades of the twentieth century.  The last marriage to be registered there was on 5 June 1937 and it seems likely that the chapel closed shortly afterwards.  Local directories suggest that the building was used, in the late 1940s, by the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Women’s Department).  During the 1950s, it housed the Supplies Department of the Welsh Regional Hospital Board and also a Clothing Depot for the Women’s Voluntary Service.  By the 1960s, though, it appears to have been unoccupied.  Later, it was used for a time by Welsh National Opera before demolition in the mid-1980s.

The site is now occupied by a modern building which serves as the Cardiff Jobcentre.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:


Warehouses at former Bute West Dock Head (Edward England Wharf)

John Humphrey England, a Londoner, came to Cardiff around 1840 and set up in business.  When, in 1841, he married Ann Rees at St John’s Church, he described himself as a dealer in provisions.  At the 1851 census, he was a hay dealer.  By 1861, though, the census records him as a potato merchant, and it is that commodity with which the England family came to be most closely associated for more than a century afterwards.

John and Ann had a large family – at least 8 sons and 7 daughters – and several of the sons took up their father’s trade.  By the 1880s, Richard England (born 1851) and Edward England (born 1859) had separate potato importing businesses at the Head of Bute West Dock.  Following Richard’s death in 1907, and Edward’s in 1917, the businesses passed to their respective children.  Richard England Ltd appears to have ceased operating around 1960, while Edward England Ltd remained in family ownership until 2003, when the company was sold to Mason Potatoes Ltd.


The warehouse on the left of this picture was designed for Richard England in 1884, by local architect, E M Bruce Vaughan.  Photographs taken in 1955 show this building still displaying the name ‘Richard England Ltd’ along its parapet.  Latterly, though, it appears to have housed Edward England Ltd.

Records are less helpful in identifying the building to the right, though it does pre-date Richard England’s warehouse.  It might have been a bonded store, which successive Cardiff directories list as standing at the West Dock Head.  From about 1929, the bonded warehouse formed part of the business of Frazer & Company, who also operated as ship store merchants in Bute Street.  Frazers remained in occupation until at least the 1970s.

All the buildings depicted here were converted into residential apartments around the turn of the millennium; the complex is now known as Edward England Wharf.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

 Sources consulted:

  • Mary Traynor Collection [D1093/2/28]
  • Cardiff Borough, building regulation plans, plan for a warehouse, West Dock, for Richard England, 1884 [BC/S/1/4609]
  • Cardiff Borough, building regulation plans, plan for (plan for additions to a warehouse, West Bute Dock, for Edward England, 1895 [BC/S/1/10775]
  • Debenham Tewson Solicitors, Cardiff, Bute Estate Collection, assignment of lease from Richard Travell England to Richard England Ltd, 9 Feb 1915 [DBDT/110/3]
  • South Wales Echo, 27 Aug 1887
  • Evening Express, 12 Oct 1907
  • 1851 and 1861 censuses
  • Registrar General’s indexes of Births and Deaths
  • Marriage register of St John’s Church, Cardiff
  • Various Cardiff directories
  • Williams, Stewart, Cardiff Yesterday, vol. 10, images 41-42