Boston Buildings, 68-72 James Street, Cardiff

On 21 March 1900, local authority approval was granted for a building on the northern side of James Street, at its junction with the pathway which ran alongside the Glamorganshire Canal.  It comprised two shops on the ground floor, each with a basement, while a central doorway gave access to offices on the first and second floors.  With re-numbering a few years later, the shops became 68 and 72 James Street, while the offices were number 70.

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Designed by Cardiff architect Edgar Down, the premises were erected for Rose & Co., Engineers, who were based at Royal Stuart Buildings on the opposite side of James Street.  The proprietor, Joseph Rose, was born in Leake, near Boston, Lincolnshire, so it is perhaps reasonable to presume that this is the origin of the name Boston Buildings, which still appears in wrought ironwork above the roofline.  The arms of the pre-1974 Borough of Boston are carved into the stonework at one corner.

Earliest occupants of the office space were shipowners and brokers, but with the gradual decline in Cardiff’s importance as a port, later tenants ranged more widely to include printing, stockbroking and insurance businesses, along with professionals such as solicitors, accountants and consulting engineers.

Throughout the first quarter of the 20th century, the shop at 68 James Street was occupied by a butcher, Thomas Morgan (later T Morgan & Sons).  But by 1929 the unit had been taken over by Kristensen & Due, ships’ chandlers, who remained until at least the 1970s; during much of this time, Mr Kristensen also served as the Danish Consul in Cardiff.  It is less easy to trace occupancy of the second shop; during the 1950s to 1970s, though, the tenant was a tobacconist, Anthony Nethercott.  While Mary Traynor’s 1986 sketch identifies it as a general store and snack bar, a well-known cigarette brand is still prominently advertised.

In more recent years, number 68 served as the Somali Advice and Information Centre, while 72 was an office of the Flying Start family support programme.  Today the shop units are occupied by an estate agent and a property management company.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

  • Mary Traynor Collection (ref.: D1093/1/4)
  • Cardiff Borough Records, plans for new premises, James Street, 1900 (ref.: BC/S/1/14110)
  • Cardiff Borough Records, Glamorganshire Canal Navigation, Memorandum of Agreement, 1904 (ref.: BC/GCA/4/162)
  • Various Cardiff Directories
  • 1881 – 1901 Censuses
  • Google Streetview
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Baltic House, Mount Stuart Square, Cardiff

Baltic House dates from about 1915, when it replaced 17, 18 and 19 Mount Stuart Square, in a prominent position directly opposite the main entrance of the Coal Exchange.  The architects were Teather & Wilson and their client was Claude P Hailey, a local accountant who later donated the land for Hailey Park in Llandaff North.

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Having five storeys plus a basement, the building is oddly asymmetric in appearance, with a more ornate bay at the eastern end.  The approved building plan shows that it was originally intended to balance this with a western extension which has clearly never been executed.

The earliest occupants included Mr Hailey’s accountancy partnership with Sir Joseph Davies, and Mount Stuart Square Office Co Ltd, which appears to have been the building’s management company.  Business Statistics Publishing Co Ltd and the Incorporated South Wales and Monmouthshire Coal Freighters Association – both closely associated with Davies and Hailey – were also based there.  Other tenants were generally coal exporters or shipping companies.  From the outset until at least the mid-1950s, there was a café on the lower ground floor.  While developing patterns of business saw changes in occupancy over the years, Baltic House continued to house a number of shipping and travel companies well into the 1960s.

During the 1990s, Baltic House was the principal office of Cardiff Bay Development Corporation as it masterminded the regeneration of the city’s rundown docklands and waterfront.  More recently, it has housed the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, along with a number of other third sector organisations.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

  • Mary Traynor Collection (ref.: D1093/1/6)
  • Cardiff Borough Records, plans for offices, Mount Stuart Square, 1913 (ref.: BC/S/1/18776)
  • Evan Thomas, Radcliffe and Company, Shipowners, Cardiff Records, lease (counterpart) for term of 21 years, 1916 (ref.: DETR/92/1-3)
  • Various Cardiff Directories
  • Cardiff Year Book 1921
  • Wales Yearbook 2000
  • http://www.friendsofhaileypark.org.uk/claude-hailey.html
  • http://www.wcva.org.uk/

Avondale Hotel, Clarence Road and Clarence House, Hunter Street, Cardiff

Opened in July 1894, the Avondale Hotel was a venture of local hotelier and caterer, Richard Palethorpe Culley, who already ran the restaurant in the nearby Exchange building, as well as several other businesses in Cardiff and beyond.  Designed by E W M Corbett, it was built by W Thomas & Co.  The hotel was later acquired by Crosswell’s Brewery, which ultimately became part of the Whitbread group.  Subsequently demolished, the site is now occupied by a block of flats named Avondale Court.

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Clarence House, at the junction of Hunter Street and Harrowby Lane, clearly dates from 1896.  Still standing today, it appears to have undergone significant reconstruction since this 1983 sketch.  Most notably, it has lost the ornate pediment which so strikingly identifies it in Mary Traynor’s picture.  In more recent years, the name Clarence House has been adopted for the former Salvage Association building in Clarence Road.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

The Norwegian Church, Cardiff

Cardiff’s multicultural population is by no means a recent phenomenon. The town’s rapid growth during the 19th century as a port serving Glamorgan’s industrial hinterland attracted workers from Britain and around the world. Many settled; in 1911 the foreign male population of Cardiff was second only to London in Britain. Many more were transient visitors, particularly the sailors on foreign-registered vessels calling at the docks. Among them were a substantial group of Norwegians, Swedes and Danes, and it was to these men that Pastor Lars Oftedal of the Norwegian Seamen’s Mission addressed his ministry from 1866.

After initially meeting on board ship and in a redundant chapel, the Sjømannskirken was soon erected.

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Plan showing proposed alterations to the Norwegian Church, 1939

Prefabricated in Norway and shipped to Cardiff, it was in typical Norwegian style, although made of corrugated iron sheets. The port authorities had insisted that it should be easily dismantled and re-located if necessary. The church, which Cardiff trade directories describe as:

…the Norwegian iron Church, south-east corner of West Bute Dock for Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and Finnish sailors and residents

was consecrated on 16 December 1869, and remained in its original position until its eventual removal in 1987.

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Plan showing the original location of the Norwegian Church

The Norwegian Seamen’s Mission’s 25th Annual Report highly commended the location which:

could not be improved upon, as it is situated between the two docks, at the point where they converge towards the inlets. The church is thus positioned in amongst the ships, so that it is at only a short walk’s distance from many of them, and easy to find for all those who would like to visit it.’

The absence of possibly more enticing attractions on the dockside was a major point in its favour, as the seamen …do not need to go into the town and expose themselves to its temptations, only for the sake of a visit to the reading room.

The church developed with the increase in Scandinavian, and particularly Norwegian, shipping in the Bristol Channel ports. Missions were established at Newport, Swansea and Barry Dock, served by Assistant Missionaries under the Pastor at Cardiff. By 1920 the Pastor lived in the Norwegian vicarage, ‘Prestegaarden’, at 181 Cathedral Road. The number of Scandinavian ships using the area’s ports rose from 227 in 1867 to 3,611 in 1915, and annual statistics for communicants and visitors rose correspondingly from 7,572 in 1867 to 73,580 in 1915. The industrial and economic problems of the 1920s and 1930s affected the Norwegian churches. By 1931 the Mission was reduced to its churches in Cardiff and Swansea only.

During the Second World War Cardiff’s resident Norwegian community increased and many more Norwegians passed through the port as seamen or refugees. The Iron Church and its staff worked with the local branch of the Norwegian Seamen’s Union and other organisations to provide for its people during these difficult years. The Norwegian merchant navy played a significant role in the Allied war effort, but many ships and many lives were lost. The bombing raids on Cardiff made even shore leave unsafe. A number of men were killed when the Scandinavian Seamen’s Home on Bute Road was hit and destroyed.

At the end of the war Cardiff’s Scandinavian communities joined together to celebrate the peace. From that time on, however, activity in the Seamen’s Mission declined, staff was reduced, and the Norwegian community itself dispersed as Cardiff ceased to be a major port. The Iron Church closed in 1959, the last service taking place on 17 May, Norway’s national festival, Grunnlovsdagen, Constitution Day.

The church remained standing, in an increasing state of dilapidation, for almost thirty years. In the 1980s South Glamorgan County Council sponsored the establishment of the Norwegian Church Preservation Trust to save the church and integrate it into the re-developed docks. Roald Dahl, the author, was the Trust’s first President, as a Cardiff-Norwegian himself. In 1987 the old church was dismantled and stored for re-assembly. However, the church which was eventually opened in a splendid new location overlooking Cardiff Bay in 1992 was almost entirely a new creation. As much of the original building as was useable was incorporated into the new church, but most of the materials were new, donated by companies in Norway and in Cardiff, or purchased with the donations raised by public subscription in the Bergen area. Many companies gave their services free to complete the church, which is now built of wood, except for the roof of sheet steel, especially produced by a local firm to fit the building.

The church was officially opened by Princess Märtha Louise on 8 April 1992 as a cultural centre. Although it is not consecrated as a church, art exhibitions and concerts are held in the building and a café serves food and drink.

Susan Edwards, Glamorgan Archivist

This article has drawn on an unpublished lecture by Professor John Greve and on ‘Med Norsk Siømannsmision I hundre år’ [100 years of the Norwegian Mission to Seamen], by Gunnar Christie Wasberg

The Cardiff Society of Sailmakers

The Cardiff Society of Sailmakers was founded in 1855.  It survived the shipping industry’s transition from sail to steam, and was finally disbanded in 1938.  Records of the Society, covering the period 1893 to its close, are held at Glamorgan Archives (ref.: CL/MS 4.1166).

In the period documented the Society met monthly at the Bute Street Coffee Tavern and, from 1904, at the Adelphi Hotel, also in Bute Street.  The collection includes minute books, financial records, contribution books and pre-First World War rule books which list the officers’ duties and salaries, working practices to protect members’ employment, fines for rule breaking and the method of appeal against such fines.  Hours of work, meal breaks and rates of pay for day work and overtime are detailed.  Members refusing to work on wet sails were to be supported and a separate rule governed conduct at Society meetings, at which members were to stand when addressing the President, and refrain from interrupting speakers.  Swearing and insulting language carried the penalty of a sixpenny fine or expulsion from the meeting if the offender persisted.

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Bundles of correspondence have also survived relating to negotiations with employers, membership applications and the Federation of Sailmakers of Great Britain and Ireland.  The Federation was formed in October 1889, combining existing sailmakers’ friendly societies in various ports.  Monthly reports from the Federation’s head office at Hull are included in the Cardiff Society’s archive.  These give the state of trade at various British ports with annotations and remarks by the General Secretary on matters of particular significance.  The Cardiff Sailmakers broke away from the Federation in 1903, and did not rejoin until 1914.  Records of the national Federation from 1889, held at the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick Library, reflect the concerns of a declining trade, in particular, the introduction of machinery and the employment of untrained workers, including women.

The Cardiff Sailmakers had to deal with the same problems.  The first resolution recorded in the minute book on 9 July 1901 is ‘that we finish no work that is commenced by machein while their is men out of work’.  In January 1914, before rejoining the Federation, the Society’s negotiators accepted the employers’ terms for wages and hours, on condition that no machines were introduced in any sail loft for one year.  The Society’s first act on rejoining the Federation was to forward a resolution to the annual conference opposing the manufacture of canvas articles aboard steamers by officers and seamen, whose legitimate duties were ‘more than sufficient, without undertaking duties pertaining to a separate trade’.  It may be significant, in light of its years outside the Federation, that when the Cardiff Society’s rules were revised in 1914 for its readmission, the clause stating that any member working on machine-sewn sail ‘shall be expelled from all benefits of this Society’ was dropped.

The First World War accelerated the pace of change.  Untrained labour was introduced in many trades to replace men needed for the armed forces.  In sail lofts machines became more widely used and were often operated by women.  The minutes of the 1920s record complaints against employers for not keeping to agreements about female labour, and an undated letter to J. S. Frazer of Frazer & Co., with whom the Society was normally on cordial terms, sets out the sailmakers’ opposition to the ‘unnecessary number of young girls and women’ employed in Cardiff and Newport lofts.

Athough the great days of the Sailmakers Society were over before the surviving records begin, up to the 1920s the minutes and accounts record lively debates and social events, an annual dinner, a smoking concert, and, in July 1904, a picnic.  Agreements with employers were negotiated, conferences attended and contributions made to the strike funds of other branches, the Life Boat Donation Fund and the Labour Party Committee; J. R. MacDonald was sent 2s. 6d. in 1904, although the minutes note that the proposed 5s. contribution in 1908 was not sent.  No explanation is given.  When the Society joined the Federation in 1914 its membership stood at 19 (the Grimsby branch had 30 members at that date).  During the period documented the highest membership was 27 in 1921 and 1922.  Thereafter the records show a steady decline.  The minutes of the meetings became briefer until they record merely that the meeting opened at 7pm and closed at 9pm.  The Society survived the Federation which disbanded in about 1927, but by the 1930s the membership was hardly sufficient to provide the necessary officers, and in November 1938 the Cardiff Sailmakers Club was closed ‘owing to lack of members’.  Its remaining funds of £2 1s. 1d. were divided between the five final members.

Cardiff Yacht Club and Dock Gate

Cardiff Yacht Club was founded in 1900, originally meeting in the Avondale Hotel, Clarence Road, on the site now occupied by Avondale Court.  The Marquess of Bute presented silver cups to the winners of the races held at annual reviews and regattas.

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The clubhouse illustrated by Mary Traynor stood south of the now closed access lock to Roath Basin.  It was built by members from a prefabricated building in 1958 and extended in 1981.

With the redevelopment of Cardiff Bay, the Yacht Club moved in 2001 to new premises at the western end of Windsor Esplanade.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

Moving of the Custom House Waterguard, Cardiff Bay

Formed in 1809, the Waterguard was the sea-based arm of UK revenue enforcement.  It fell under Admiralty control until 1822, when it was taken over by the Board of Customs, becoming a division of the Customs and Excise department in 1909.  With the 1972 reorganisation of HM Customs and Excise, the Waterguard name officially ceased to exist.

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The crenellated building illustrated here is thought to have been erected at Roath Dock in the 1850s, where it served as the local Customs office.  It was preserved when the area’s regeneration began in the late-20th century.  In 1993, the entire building was jacked up onto a trailer and moved about 100 metres; subsequently it formed the frontage of a new public house, built in 2001 and named The Waterguard.  Mary Traynor’s drawing shows the removal underway.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted: