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.
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
- 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
- Various Cardiff directories, 1893-1967