Cardiff A-Z: Q is for Queen Street

Katie Hamer continues her A–Z series with revelations about Cardiff’s history. 

 

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Queen Street during a busy lunch hour

There’s more to Cardiff’s central thoroughfare than meets the eye. For instance, did you know that it only became known as Queen Street relatively recently? Perhaps you did –clever you – give yourself a pat on the back if you knew that already!

Well, it certainly came as a surprise to me, and so I decided to investigate further. I uncovered a fascinating history, of which I hope you will enjoy reading.

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A seagull enjoys a bird’s eye view of the street

The obvious question to ask is, if the main shopping street hasn’t always been called Queen Street, what did it used to be known as? In order to answer this question, I will pose another question that is apparently a well-known pub quiz question:

“What are the five towns of Cardiff?” The answer to this question is Butetown and Grangetown, which are still in existence, Temperance Town and Newtown, which disappeared during the first half of the twentieth century, and finally Crockherbtown, whose main road we now know as Queen Street.

Crockherbtown, often abbreviated to Crockerton, means simply “the town of the crock herbs”, a name that is thought to be Saxon in origin. The area gained its name from a 13th Century order of Franciscan Monks known as the Grey Friars, who would trade herbs from the town’s East Gate (now demolished this gate was situated where the Principality Building Society currently has its headquarters).

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The headquarters for Wales’ Principality Building Society

It is perhaps hardly surprising, when you think about it, that Queen Street gained its new name in honour of Queen Victoria. The change took place in anticipation of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Year of 1887. It heralded in a new era for the thoroughfare; one that saw domestic dwellings replaced by retail outlets.

All that remains of the original name for the place is the Wetherspoon’s pub, ‘The Crockerton’ on Greyfriars Street, and its back alley, Crockherbtown Lane, which has featured as a film set for television series Doctor Who.

The newly named street became the crowning feature of the Victorian era of high street commerce. Shoppers could arrive in their droves via the renamed Cardiff Queen Street rail station to enjoy a new feature of the industrial age: leisure time.

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An eye-catching window display

Standing in the middle of the now-pedestrianised shopping street, I can easily imagine the excitement and novelty that visitors would have experienced in that Victorian era. Even today, this street is an exciting and vibrant place to shop. Any day of the week you will find street artists and musicians, market stalls and fun fair machines to entertain the children.

Every day, many, many people pass along this main shopping street, yet despite this, there is undeniably a community spirit to the place. In order to explain what I mean, I will reiterate the challenge as set up by Dicmortimer’s blog:

“A [Cardiffian] standing on the same spot in Queen Street for 10 minutes is guaranteed to see someone they know from the chain of links that is Wales.  Try it.” Go on, I dare you, and if you do, feel free to post the results in the comments section below.

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A panoramic sweep of the West end of Queen street from Cardiff Castle

While you are still contemplating this challenge, I hope you will also enjoy looking at my gallery.

If I’ve made you curious and you want to know more about the history of this important street, you can find further information here:

Dicmortimer’s Blog

Cardiff History

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Time doesn’t stand still in Queen Street

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The street is tidy with flowers blooming all year round

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A dragon motif which is prevalent in Queen Street

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Queen Street at the heart of bilingual Wales

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The Lloyds Bank building displays ornate carvings

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Pedestrianisation has made way for many ‘seating islands’

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A statue of an un-named miner

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An outdoor cafe culture even during the winter

 

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An interesting mural that is worth stopping and admiring

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St John’s towers over the shops as seen from the top end of Queen Street

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Tourist information is readily available

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‘Green’ commuting such as cycling is encouraged

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Aneurin Bevan watches over as volunteers petition to secure the future of the NHS for which he is the founding father

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The view of Cardiff as seen from the Aneurin Bevan statue

 

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