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

Gloucester Chambers, Mount Stuart Square, Cardiff

In October 1888, County of Gloucester Bank Ltd opened its first Cardiff branch in St Mary Street.  Two years later, work began on the erection of a new Bute Docks branch at 15 Mount Stuart Square.  While construction was still underway, they purchased the adjoining premises at number 16, which were incorporated to provide a larger building.  The banking business occupied the ground floor while the upper parts, known as Gloucester Chambers, were used by coal and shipping companies.

County of Gloucester was taken over by Lloyds Bank in 1897 and the Mount Stuart Square branch did not survive for long afterwards.  From 1902 until the 1950s, Evan Roberts Ltd – better known in later years for their store at the corner of Queen Street and Kingsway – had a clothing shop in the former bank.  Gloucester Chambers continued to provide offices for a variety of business; by the 1930s, though, coal and shipping businesses had given way to firms of accountants and solicitors.


In the 1960s, reflecting the changing fortunes of Cardiff Docks, 15 & 16 Mount Stuart Square was tenanted by a filing systems company and a turf commission agent, but it seems to have been vacant by 1970 – several years before Mary Traynor’s 1982 drawing.  Following demolition, the site is now occupied by a modern brick-built office building and associated car parking spaces.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:


South Wales & West of England Standard Manufacturing Company Ltd., Bute Street & Herbert Street, Cardiff

The South Wales and West of England Standard Manufacturing Company Ltd appears to have established its Cardiff operation shortly before World War I.  No reference has been found prior to 1913, but that year’s Western Mail Directory lists the company at 43 Bute Street.  By 1915, they occupied substantial corner premises fronting onto both Bute Street and Herbert Street, where their business embraced the manufacture and wholesale supply of dungaree overalls, khaki & white drills, shirts, singlets, and oilskins.  During 1915, the company was contracted to manufacture several thousand kit bags for the Welsh Army Corps at a unit price of 1/11½d (slightly less than 10p).

D1093-2-21 to 44 021 (SWARE)

In 1940, the company received building approval to extend their factory and it is thought that Mary Traynor’s drawing depicts the Herbert Street frontage of this extension, for which plans were drawn up by Cardiff architect, T. Elvet Llewellyn.

By the 1950s, the company was marketing its products under the brand name Stamana (presumably a contraction of STAndard MANufActuring) and directories indicate that they were still operating from the same premises – by then known as Stamana House – into the 1970s.  The building has since been demolished; part of its site has been taken for road widening, while the remainder is now a grassed and landscaped area on the east side of Bute Street between Herbert Street and the pedestrian and cycle path passing under the Cardiff Bay railway.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

  • Mary Traynor Collection [D1093/2/21]
  • Cardiff Borough, building regulation plans, plan of extension to factory premises at 42 Bute Street, 1940 [BC/S/1/34142]
  • Western Mail Cardiff Directory, 1913
  • The City and Port of Cardiff – Official Handbook, 1955
  • Kelly’s Directory of Cardiff, 1972

Nonpareil Market, James Street, Cardiff

Over the next few weeks our blog will once again highlight a collection which helps to record the changing face of Cardiff and south Wales.  In June 2014 Glamorgan Archives received a very interesting and unique deposit from Mary Traynor, a Cardiff based artist who, since the late 1960s, has tried to capture buildings in Cardiff and the surrounding area which are at threat of demolition.  Her work has been displayed in various exhibitions over the years and highlights many buildings that have since been lost.  The collection contains her sketchbooks and loose works, some of which had previously been framed and on display.  These sketches and paintings complement many other series of records held in the archives, providing a valuable source to those researching the history of buildings in the area.

Glamorgan Archives volunteer David Webb has been using these records to undertake research into the histories of some of the buildings featured in Mary Traynor’s works of art.

The Nonpareil Market stood on the corner of James Street and Louisa Street, in Cardiff’s Butetown.  It was 48 & 49 James Street until about 1905 when the street was re-numbered and it became 27 & 29.

d1093-2- 025 Non Pareil Market, James Street_compressed

A carved stone plaque above the third storey of number 27 (formerly 49) reads ‘The Nonpareil Market 1889’ and this is something of a mystery.  The premises were already in existence prior to that year – approval to add the third storey was sought as early as 1871.  In 1889, Frederick Ward, a butcher, received building approval for alterations to both 48 and 49 so it may be assumed that the plaque was installed as part of this work.  However, the reason for doing so remains unclear.  Nonpareil is a word of French origin, meaning unequalled or unrivalled, but no record has been found of the name ‘Nonpareil Market’ being used either as an address or business name there.  Ward’s business was based at number 49, while 48 was a grocery shop operated by the well-known entrepreneur, Solomon Andrews.  Since Andrews was also engaged in the building trade, it is tempting to speculate that he might have been behind the erection of the plaque – but no evidence has been found to that effect.

Ward & Co, Shipping Butchers were still listed here in Kelly’s 1972 Directory – having, by then, expanded into Solomon Andrews’ former shop, but Mary Traynor’s drawing shows that the premises were bricked up by 1980.  The building was subsequently demolished as part of a larger-scale redevelopment. Some of the site was taken for road widening, while the remainder is now occupied by modern flats fronting onto Louisa Place.  The ‘Nonpareil Market’ plaque has been re-installed close to its original location, in an archway over a footpath into the new development.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

  • Mary Traynor Collection [D1093/2/20]
  • Cardiff Borough, building regulation plans, plan of alterations to 49 James Street, 1871 [BC/S/1/90569]
  • Cardiff Borough, building regulation plans, plan of alterations to 48 & 49 James Street, 1889 alterations [BC/S/1/7416]
  • Butcher’s Cardiff District Directory, 1882-83
  • Kelly’s Directory of Cardiff, 1972
  • Williams, Stewart, Cardiff Yesterday, vol. 31, image 69

Imperial Buildings, Mount Stuart Square, Cardiff

In the late-19th century, the Imperial Hotel stood in the north-west corner of Mount Stuart Square.  No picture has been found of the building but it was probably not a large establishment.  The 1871 census records that the licensee, Thomas Nixon, had six boarders.  Ten years later, Nixon was still in charge with nine boarders.  By 1901, the proprietress was Emily Jolly, who had just four boarders.

In 1911, the Alliance Buildings Company sought approval to rebuild on the site.  It then embraced two plots at 43 and 44 Mount Stuart Square, though the architect’s drawings show that the company already had ambitions to add future extensions at both ends.  Two years later, a revised plan was submitted, this time incorporating properties at 39, 40, 41 and 42 Mount Stuart Square, and by 1920 the new building was complete.

Faced with glazed white tiles and incorporating fluted columns into its design, the five-storey structure was palatial in appearance.  Imperial Buildings, as it was now called, appears to have been divided into small suites of offices.  Cardiff Directories for the 1920s and 1930s show that it was occupied by a range of businesses, predominantly in the fields of shipping, railways, coal, oil, paint and insurance.  Initially, the ground floor in the northwest angle of the Square was a bar and restaurant, still called Imperial Hotel, but this seems to have gone by the mid-1920s.

In the 1940s, the offices were occupied by government departments, including the Valuation Office, Immigration Service, Ministry of Supply, Welsh Board for Industry, Admiralty, and Board of Trade.  During the Second World War, Imperial Buildings appears to have housed the Naval Flag Officer responsible for defending south Wales ports; it has also been suggested that planning for the 1944 D-Day landings may have been done here – though that cannot be verified.

d1093-2- 015 (Imperial Buildings)_compressed

By 1955, Imperial Buildings was no longer listed in Cardiff directories.  It seems to have remained unused for more than twenty years before demolition in the late 1970s.  Mary Traynor’s drawing dates from this period of decay and depicts the angle between the west and north sides of the Square – where the original hotel stood.  An apartment block was erected on the site in about 2001.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

Mary Traynor Collection [D1093/2/11]

Cardiff Borough Building Regulation Plans, plans for alterations to the Imperial Hotel, 1886 [BC/S/1/5607]

Cardiff Borough Building Regulation Plans,  plans of the Imperial Hotel, 1911 [BC/S/1/17740]

Cardiff Borough Building Regulation Plans, rejected plans for the Imperial Hotel, 1913 [BC/S/1/18796]

Cardiff Borough Building Regulation Plans, plans for rebuilding the Imperial Hotel, 1913 [BC/S/1/18890]

Cardiff Borough Building Regulation Plans, plans of the Imperial Hotel, 1914 [BC/S/1/18937]

Cardiff Borough Building Regulation Plans, plans of Imperial Buildings, 1914 [BC/S/1/19193]

Cardiff Borough Building Regulation Plans, plans of Imperial Buildings, 1916 [BC/S/1/19596]

Cardiff Borough Building Regulation Plans, plans for propoed rebuilding of 45 Mount Stuart Square, 1923 [BC/S/1/22189]

1871, 1881 and 1901 censuses

Davies, J D, Britannia’s Dragon: A Naval History of Wales

Square peg

Photograph taken in 1974 by David Webb

Various Cardiff directories, 1908 – 1972

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.

d1093-2- 023_compressed

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: