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
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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.

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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

Wesleyan Methodist Church, Charles Street, Cardiff

Wesleyan Methodist Central Hall stood at the corner of Charles Street and Bridge Street, Cardiff.  The foundation stone was laid on 16 July 1849 by Alderman David Lewis, Mayor of Cardiff, who was also a church member.  Designed by James Wilson of Bath, its Gothic style was, at the time, unusual for a nonconformist building in Wales.  The chapel opened on 25 September 1850.

On 12 April 1895, the building was destroyed by a fire which broke out shortly after the end of that day’s Good Friday devotions.  Just over three months later, on 24 July, building plans were approved for a new church designed by Jones, Richards and Budgen of Cardiff, and reconstruction went ahead, largely on the same footprint as the original building.

D1093-2-21 to 44 029 Wesleyan Charles Street levelled

The chapel continued to serve Cardiff’s Methodists during the first four decades of the twentieth century.  The last marriage to be registered there was on 5 June 1937 and it seems likely that the chapel closed shortly afterwards.  Local directories suggest that the building was used, in the late 1940s, by the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Women’s Department).  During the 1950s, it housed the Supplies Department of the Welsh Regional Hospital Board and also a Clothing Depot for the Women’s Voluntary Service.  By the 1960s, though, it appears to have been unoccupied.  Later, it was used for a time by Welsh National Opera before demolition in the mid-1980s.

The site is now occupied by a modern building which serves as the Cardiff Jobcentre.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

 

Warehouses at former Bute West Dock Head (Edward England Wharf)

John Humphrey England, a Londoner, came to Cardiff around 1840 and set up in business.  When, in 1841, he married Ann Rees at St John’s Church, he described himself as a dealer in provisions.  At the 1851 census, he was a hay dealer.  By 1861, though, the census records him as a potato merchant, and it is that commodity with which the England family came to be most closely associated for more than a century afterwards.

John and Ann had a large family – at least 8 sons and 7 daughters – and several of the sons took up their father’s trade.  By the 1880s, Richard England (born 1851) and Edward England (born 1859) had separate potato importing businesses at the Head of Bute West Dock.  Following Richard’s death in 1907, and Edward’s in 1917, the businesses passed to their respective children.  Richard England Ltd appears to have ceased operating around 1960, while Edward England Ltd remained in family ownership until 2003, when the company was sold to Mason Potatoes Ltd.

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The warehouse on the left of this picture was designed for Richard England in 1884, by local architect, E M Bruce Vaughan.  Photographs taken in 1955 show this building still displaying the name ‘Richard England Ltd’ along its parapet.  Latterly, though, it appears to have housed Edward England Ltd.

Records are less helpful in identifying the building to the right, though it does pre-date Richard England’s warehouse.  It might have been a bonded store, which successive Cardiff directories list as standing at the West Dock Head.  From about 1929, the bonded warehouse formed part of the business of Frazer & Company, who also operated as ship store merchants in Bute Street.  Frazers remained in occupation until at least the 1970s.

All the buildings depicted here were converted into residential apartments around the turn of the millennium; the complex is now known as Edward England Wharf.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

 Sources consulted:

  • Mary Traynor Collection [D1093/2/28]
  • Cardiff Borough, building regulation plans, plan for a warehouse, West Dock, for Richard England, 1884 [BC/S/1/4609]
  • Cardiff Borough, building regulation plans, plan for (plan for additions to a warehouse, West Bute Dock, for Edward England, 1895 [BC/S/1/10775]
  • Debenham Tewson Solicitors, Cardiff, Bute Estate Collection, assignment of lease from Richard Travell England to Richard England Ltd, 9 Feb 1915 [DBDT/110/3]
  • South Wales Echo, 27 Aug 1887
  • Evening Express, 12 Oct 1907
  • 1851 and 1861 censuses
  • Registrar General’s indexes of Births and Deaths
  • Marriage register of St John’s Church, Cardiff
  • Various Cardiff directories
  • http://www.masonpotatoes.co.uk/history.html
  • https://www.companycheck.co.uk/
  • Williams, Stewart, Cardiff Yesterday, vol. 10, images 41-42

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.

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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:

 

Penarth Baths

On 3 October 1881, the Penarth Local Board of Health resolved to construct a sea water swimming bath or baths to serve the town.  Initially, it was intended to be unroofed but plans which developed over the next few years led to the building whose external appearance is largely unchanged to this day.  James Cory was appointed manager in June 1884.  However it appears that the Baths may not have opened publicly until the following year.

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The building contained two swimming baths, together with dressing rooms and facilities for private bathing.  Sea water was pumped from under the Pier into two reservoirs in the field (subsequently Alexandra Gardens) above and behind the Baths before passing through a filtration system into the pools.  During the early part of the 20th century, the larger pool was boarded over in the winter months and used as a gymnasium.

The Baths became redundant following the opening of Penarth Leisure Centre in the 1980s.  For a time, the building was used as a bar and restaurant known as ‘Inn At The Deep End’, but it later became derelict until conversion into four houses at the start of the 21st century.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted:

 

Spillers and Bakers Ltd, Cardiff

The Spillers business originated in Bridgwater, Somerset, where Joel Spiller established his first flour mill in 1829.  Within a few years, he had expanded into other areas of England and Wales.  He and his business partner, Samuel Browne, opened their first Cardiff mill at the West Dock in 1854.

In 1889 the Cardiff milling business was merged with William Baker and Sons of Bristol to form Spillers and Bakers Ltd and, by the early 1890s, the company was operating from several separate premises – mainly in Collingdon Road.  After several further name changes, the Spillers milling business was acquired in 1979 by Dalgety who later sold it on to the Kerry Group.  By then, though, the Cardiff operation had ceased.

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D1093/2/23

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D1093/2/30

The large building depicted in both D1093/2/23 and D1093/2/30 proudly displays the company name on its roof parapet, along with the date, 1893.  Still known as ‘Spillers and Bakers’, it was converted into apartments during the late twentieth century redevelopment of Cardiff Bay.  The smaller building in the foreground of D1093/2/23 is British Railways’ Tyndall Street Goods Depot.  Originally built around 1877 for the London and North Western Railway Company, in the late twentieth century it was incorporated into a hotel.

Their location close to the docks provided opportunities for the company to source grain from overseas as well as British outlets and, for some time, Spillers and Bakers had its own fleet of ships.

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D1093/2/24

D1093/2/24 depicts a new mill designed by Oscar Faber and erected in the 1930s at the north eastern end of Roath Dock.  It was constructed of reinforced concrete, partly to minimise the fire risk and had silos into which grain could be discharged directly from vessels moored at the dockside.  This mill was demolished in the 1990s.

David Webb, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Sources consulted: