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
- 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