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: