Casablanca Club / Bethel Chapel, Mount Stuart Square, Cardiff

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The origins of Bethel date back to 1840 when members of Bethany English Baptist Church, St Mary Street, established a Sunday School in West Bute Street.  A chapel was subsequently erected in James Street and, in 1855 a separate church was formed when fourteen members transferred from Bethany.

Larger premises were soon needed.  The James Street premises were sold and the Marquess of Bute granted a 99 year lease of land at the south west corner of Mount Stuart Square where a new chapel and schoolroom were built.  When the lease expired in 1955, Bethel moved to a former Welsh Congregational Church in nearby Pomeroy Street, eventually closing in 2000 because of falling numbers of mostly elderly members.

Following the church’s re-location, the building in Mount Stuart Square was initially used as a Bingo Hall, before the Casablanca night club was established in the late 1960s.  The club appears to have still been active in 1988, but had closed by 1991.  Following demolition, the site is currently used as a private car park.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

  • Mary Traynor Collection [D1093/2/48]
  • Bethel Baptist Church, Butetown, Cardiff Records, minutes, 1855-65 [D472/1/1]
  • Bethel Baptist Church, Butetown, Cardiff Records, a history of the church by Viv Purchase, Secretary, 2000 [D472/11]
  • Bethany English Baptist Church, Cardiff Records, report on Bethel chapel made to Bethany Baptist church, 1854 [DBAP/15/10/2]
  • Debenham Tewson Solicitors, Cardiff, Bute Estate Collection, lease of land and premises at Mountstuart Square, 1965 [DBDT/73/16]
  • Debenham Tewson Solicitors, Cardiff, Bute Estate Collection, lease of land and premises known as the Casablanca Club, Mount Stuart Square, 1971 [DBDT/73/19]
  • Jenkins, J Austin and James, R Edward, The History of Nonconformity in Cardiff
  • http://www.coflein.gov.uk
  • https://www.facebook.com/rockcardiff/photos
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Cardiff Bay before the Barrage

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D1093/2/47

Until the mid-nineteenth century, the whole of Cardiff’s foreshore comprised sea-washed moors and mudflats through which the Rivers Taff and Ely flowed into the Bristol Channel.  The town quay stood where Westgate Street now runs, but was accessible by sea-going vessels only at high tide.  Cardiff Bay did not exist in anything approaching its present form until the docks were developed in both Cardiff and Penarth.

Even then, for a century and a half, the Bay was tidal, with the river channels passing through large areas of mudflats at low tide.  It was only in 1999, following completion of the Barrage, that the waters of the Taff and Ely were impounded, making Cardiff Bay a fresh water lake.

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D1093/2/44

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D1093/2/45

This suite of drawings by Mary Traynor pre-dates the Barrage.  D1093/2/44 and D1093/2/45 depict scenes in the lower reaches of the Ely River, with St Augustine’s Church, on Penarth Head, clearly visible in the background.

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D1093/2/49

D1093/2/49 is on the eastern side of the Bay, close to the former Roath Basin lock.

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D1093/2/46

D1093/2/47 and D1093/2/46 are more general views, both of which vividly illustrate the low-tide mudflats.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

Demolishing Merton House, Cardiff

For more than two decades, the spiritual needs of seamen visiting Cardiff were met by a former warship, Thisbe, which was moored in the Bute East Dock during the 1860s, and converted by the Bristol Channel Mission.  As the port grew in importance, the need was recognized for larger and more permanent premises and the Marquess of Bute offered a site in Bute Crescent, alongside the West Dock Basin (now Roald Dahl Plass) for erecting a seamen’s church and institute.

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Funded mainly by subscriptions from businesses linked to the Docks (most notably, the Marquess himself), and designed by E. W. M. Corbett, plans for the church and institute were approved on 28 August 1890.  Viewed from outside, the building looked very much like any other Victorian church.  Inside, though, the ground floor served a primarily secular role, as the institute and reading room while upstairs was the church, with seating for 454 people.

The seamen’s institute was formally opened on Thursday 19 November 1891 by Lady Lewis, wife of Sir William Thomas Lewis (later Lord Merthyr).  On the following Wednesday, the Bishop of Llandaff dedicated the church to All Souls.

The institute and church continued to serve Cardiff’s seafaring community for well over half a century.  In the 1950s, though, the building was renamed Merton House, and occupied by Treharne & Davies Ltd (now Minton, Treharne & Davies Ltd), analytical chemists who then worked closely with the coal and shipping industries based in Cardiff Docks.  Now operating internationally, Minton’s have retained a link with the former seamen’s institute by transferring the name Merton House to their new head office in Pontprennau.

Mary Traynor’s drawing depicts the building’s demolition in 1990.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

  • Mary Traynor Collection [D1093/2/42]
  • Cardiff Borough, building regulation plans, plan for Church and Seaman’s Institute, Bute Crescent, 1890 [BC/S/1/7802]
  • Carradice, Phil, Thisbe – the Welsh Gospel Ship (online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/wales/entries/7338f21d-b47e-3197-9b1c-89ea87a4e4b8)
  • Western Mail, 20 Aug 1890; 26 Nov 1891
  • Evening Express, 25 Jun
  • Cardiff Times, 21 Nov 1891
  • South Wales Daily News, 14 Sep 1893
  • minton.co.uk
  • companycheck.co.uk
  • Various Cardiff directories, 1893-1967

Warehouse, Bute East Dock (Destroyed By Fire)

Possibly built as part of the former Cardiff and Channel Mills, and subsequently extended upwards, the warehouse pictured by Mary Traynor stood on the eastern bank of Bute East Dock.

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On 12 January 1986, it was destroyed by an apparently accidental fire.  The following day’s South Wales Echo reported that fire fighters were hampered in their bid to control the flames because many of the disused building’s doors and windows had been bricked up.  While the fire hastened its demise, this warehouse would probably have been demolished within a short time anyway, to make way for the Central Link Road, which opened in 1989.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

Warehouse, Collingdon Road / Lloyd George Avenue, Cardiff

This drawing depicts a grain store which stood on the western side of the Bute West Dock.  During the 1980s and 90s, most of its surrounding buildings were demolished to make way for the Cardiff Bay redevelopment.  While not statutorily listed, the grain store was spared as it was considered to have some architectural merit.  The intention was that it should be refurbished and converted into flats.

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However, when work began, it was found that the structure was dangerously unstable.  In light of this, Cardiff County Council granted planning consent in 2005 for its demolition and the erection of a new-build apartment block with a design which resembled the original as closely as practicable.  Faced with natural stone and named The Granary, the completed building now stands about half-way along Lloyd George Avenue.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

  • Mary Traynor Collection [D1093/2/36]
  • Cardiff County Council: Planning Application 04/02950/C
  • Lee, Brian, Cardiff’s Vanished Docklands (especially image on p.53)

Norwegian Church, Bute West Dock

In the 19th century, Cardiff was one of Britain’s three major ports, along with London and Liverpool.  The Norwegian merchant fleet was the third largest in the world, and Cardiff became one of its major centres of operation.

From 1866, Sjømannskirken, part of the Lutheran Church of Norway, provided a pastor to serve the religious needs of Norwegians visiting or settled in Cardiff.  Meetings were initially held on board ship and in a redundant chapel but, in 1868, Sjømannskirken was able to build a church on land donated by the Marquess of Bute – where the Wales Millennium Centre now stands.

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The Harbour Master ruled that the church should be constructed so as to be easily dismantled and re-located if necessary.  It was therefore pre-fabricated in Norway and clad with iron sheets.  In the event, this form of construction provided a flexibility which allowed the building to be altered and extended several times over the subsequent thirty years.

With the decline in Cardiff’s importance as a port, there was less need for a dockland church to serve the Scandinavian community.  The Norwegian Seamen’s Mission withdrew in 1959, though a local congregation continued to use the church until it was de-consecrated in 1974, after which it fell into disrepair, but remained standing.

In 1987 the Norwegian Church Preservation Trust was established to rescue and re-build the Church.  Under the presidency of author, Roald Dahl – who, as a child of Norwegian expatriates, had been baptised in the church – funds were raised locally and from a support committee in Bergen, Norway.  This allowed the building to be carefully dismantled and rebuilt in its current location.  The reconstructed church was officially opened by Princess Märtha Louise of Norway on 8th April 1992.  It now serves as an arts centre and coffee shop, with function rooms which are used for exhibitions, concerts, weddings and other events.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

 

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.

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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)
  • http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/George_Angus_and_Co