Tag Archives: butetown

The history of Clarence Bridge and William Harpur

My latest post for Caught By The River was published recently, for my Wandering the River Taff column. In it, I explored the history of Clarence Bridge, which connects the wards of Butetown and Grangetown. I always end up doing about ten thousand percent more research than I can fit in the columns, so get ready for all the interesting extra bits I couldn’t cram in.

The basic history of the bridge is documented in the piece:

A wooden swing bridge went over the Taff, about a hundred or so metres south of where the bridge is today, joining ‘Lower Grangetown’ to the Docks. This bridge connected the areas from 1861 to 1890 – the period when the docks started booming. Increasing numbers of people started using the bridge to get to work from Grangetown, but the Taff Vale Railway Co leased the bridge privately, and started charging for its use.

(Map: Glamorgan XLVII, surveyed: 1878 to 1879. Published: 1885)

Towards the top right of the picture, you’ll see James Street running horizontally across (it’s where you’ll find the police station today). If you stretch that line out directly to the left, you’ll find the current location of Clarence Bridge.

I did quote from the wonderful Grangetown Cardiff’s history section in my column, but I didn’t manage to get all the details in. On the day they introduced the toll, local residents rioted and threw the bridge’s gate off its hinges and threw it in the river.

The Times reported that 1,000 men took part in the protests each day against the railway company. There had been “upmost good humour” for the most part, as 200 police stood by, but then there was direct action. “They rushed at the newly-erected toll gate and tore it from its hinges, throwing the structure in the river.” The first gate was replaced the following day, as well as a sentry box for the toll-keeper. The toll house was also damaged. The paper later publishes court reports of three men who were arrested for causing the damage, costing £5 – Cornelius Dacey, William Smith and William Webb, all under 23. Police were also after another man called William Drew, who was heard to shout “Go it boys, that’s right, pull it off!” The court was told of “200 armed navvies with iron bars up their sleeves.” The three were found guilty and the judge expressed sorrow at having to sentence them to a month’s hard labour.

Eventually the Cardiff Corporation relented to the chaos and built two proper public access bridges – Clarence Bridge, which spanned the River Taff, and the James Street Bridge, which spanned the Glamorganshire Canal. You can see both these bridges appearing in maps from 1898 onwards. Also note the original wooden swing bridge has disappeared – been dismantled by this point, leaving Hamadryad Road cut off abruptly by the Taff.

(Map:Sheet 263 – Cardiff (Outline) Published: 1898)

If you want to see the location of the original wooden bridge, head to Hamadryad Road on the Butetown side. You can’t reach the Taff directly as there’s a big fence up, but if you face the water, you’ll be standing roughly where that original bridge was – well over 100 years ago. It had cost £60,000 when it was originally built.

Grace’s Guide shows the original plans for the bridge, which was designed by William Harpur. I’d never heard of him before, but turns out he’s a fairly important figure in Cardiff’s modern history.

Some more lovely photos that were posted in the Cardiff – Now and Then Facebook Group by David Lawson:

Clarence Bridge construction, 1898

 

The original Clarence Bridge, mid swing

William Harpur, the bridge’s engineer, is not really a household name, but modern Cardiff has his fingerprints all over it. He was appointed Borough Surveyor in 1883, and as such had final and ultimate say over all proposed street layouts and individual buildings that were going up through the city’s boom years.

If you’ve walked down Castle Street, visited Cardiff Indoor Market, or been to Roath or Victoria Parks, you’ll have first hand experience of his work. There’s also the civic centre at Cathays Park, the widening of the Hayes and Working Street. He built the city’s first municipal hospital (the Hospital for Infectious Diseases – later Landsdowne Hospital) and also the Pumping Station – now an antiques market.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BUEye7jlz2A/?taken-at=1034659895

Harpur was also engineer to the tramways department, and carried out the construction of the track for the electric cars. As his obituary so delicately puts it, his mark is left on the lay-out of every inch of modern Cardiff: all the plans of new roads, buildings, bridges etc having had to receive his approval.

William Harpur – 1853-1917, Cardiff city engineer and surveyor

Bit of a hero, William Harpur. Good beard too.

Read all of my entries about the Taff in my Caught By The River column

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Caught By The River – This is Rat Island

So, you guys. I’ve recently started a column for the wonderful Caught by the River website, based on my wanderings (and wonderings) around and about the lovely River Taff.

Read my first instalment here: Wandering the Taff: This is Rat Island

I know, can’t I write about anything other than Cardiff, amirite? Anyway, two weird things happened after the piece was published. Firstly, after living on the edge of south Cardiff on “Rat Island” for nearly seven years and having NEVER seen a rat down here, I saw TWO within the space of two days – one running across the car park in Morrisons and one scurrying around in the bushes on Dumballs Road.

Wait … there’s more … secondly, what I thought was just a little bit of basic desk research into what is essentially a fluff piece about the place I live got way more complex. It turned out to be the question that kept questioning, itself, other people, and me.

In the piece I wrote for Caught by the River, my conclusion was that no one really knows where Rat Island was exactly, but that we have a rough idea (based on all my research): it was the land that lay between the River Taff and the Glamorganshire Canal, to the south of where Clarence Road Bridge is now.

This is the conclusion I had come to from all the many things I’d read, personal accounts, articles on the BBC, Wales Online, modern history books, etc. Fine.

You can’t actually see Clarence Road Bridge in the map below – it hadn’t been built at this point (1879). But roughly halfway down the picture, you can see James Street on the right hand side – imagine that carrying on to the left (westwards) and going straight over the water into Grangetown. That’s the horizontal line we’re talking about, just above where it reads ‘Dumballs Marsh’.

rat-island-location

(Map: Glamorgan XLVII (includes: Cardiff; Penarth; St Andrews Major – surveyed: 1878 to 1879, published: 1885)

But no, not fine. Writer, poet, historian, all-round good guy Peter Finch has done all of the due diligence with respect to Cardiff history when researching for his Real Cardiff books (recommended reading, students), and he responded to an email I’d sent him asking if he knew where the spot was with this: the general area was right – it was between the Taff and the canal, but rather than being south of where Clarence Road would eventually be built, it was actually north (up towards where the centre of town is): in between that bridge and the timber ponds, on an actual island created by the Taff, oxbowing its way down to the Severn and the sea beyond.

Peter, wonderfully poetic even when answering inane questions from Cardiff bloggers, wrote me this:

The Taff has always moved about. Thrashed about perhaps, as it traverses its delta. Rat Island, as I understood it, was a section of Taff’s bank made an island by the river ox bowing itself. This was  upstream of Clarence Road Bridge near The Dumballs. It was formed, according to Mary Gillham, following one of the periodic floods that plagues the Taff. Gulls and other birds nested there. Rats invaded along a revealed at low tide causeway in order to steal their eggs. The land became rat infested. The name followed.

That was Peter’s first email. Isn’t he a gem? Being in a mad rush, as I always am, I misread the ‘upstream’ part and thought he meant downstream …

But there’s a reason for that. All of the folks I asked – people who used to live here, and had the story handed down from parents or grandparents – had heard the area was called Rat Island because of the rats that were disturbed either when the HMS Hamadryad first to the area (in 1866), or when she was finally dragged away to be destroyed in 1905.

Even once the initial piece was published, I had some tweets also corroborating this theory:

It makes sense, but the area being referred to is south of the Clarence Road Bridge: quite a lot further south … and adding to the confusion, I had read somewhere else the area was already called Rat Island, long before the ship came to Cardiff in 1866.

So how does it all fit together?

The discrepancy between the locations – north of the Clarence Road Bridge, versus south?

I raised the possibility of the name referring to an area north of the bridge with the Cardiff Docks Remembered Facebook (where people share memories of the area and discuss such matters) and it was pretty much universally poo-pooed. No way, said people who had grown up around here. Their truth was in the tales from their parents and grandparents, and they had been definitively told. Rat Island was south, the area next to the Sea Lock, that would eventually turn into Hamadryad Park.

We aren’t debating the European Convention of Human Rights or anything here guys. I am well aware this is a long gone name for an area that bears no resemblance to the marshy hinterland that inspired it – but that doesn’t stop me wanting to know WHY, does it??

There is, I think, anyway, a solution to this, that includes all of these seemingly conflicting perspectives and accounts: an ultimate answer that I – Helia Phoenix, non-historian, non-expert, super-nosey local person – will put forward as the only conclusion to this burning issue … this imperative question … that literally no-one – apart from me – is asking …

Where was Rat Island?

Here’s my theory. The entire area that fringes the main urbanised docklands – from the Bute Ironworks all the way to the south and east, where you can see the HMS Hamadryad hospital ship – would have been a muddy, marshy wasteland at that time – its only purpose really to keep people with infectious diseases away from the overcrowded docks and Tiger Bay. There was very little of interest on any of that land – either north of the future Clarence Road Bridge, or south of it.

So … it’s possible that the one spot was originally named ‘Rat Island’ – the small island next to the Ironworks, as pointed to by Peter Finch – but the name spread down (or was re-used) in the south, once the HMS Hamadryad showed up (or was hauled away), spreading its ratty citizens across the undergrowth that is now Hamadryad Park.

hamadryad_hospital_ship
HMS Hamadryad Hospital Ship on “Rat Island”, Cardiff. Photo from People’s Collection Wales

I won’t hold out for my Nobel Prize. But I did feel like I might have actually sort of solved something that’s been bugging me for ages.

I emailed Peter asking if he thought this might be possible. He agreed – that there were two things that were getting confused here …

Rat Island, the geographic island, i.e. a piece of land with water on all sides is the place you’ve spotted on your map. This is the one Mary Gillham suggests had birds nesting on it whose eggs were stolen by rats. Then there’s the local name for the whole district. Bill Barrett who died in 2013 and who was writing his piece on Rat Island for the Cardiff Book #3 (Stewart Williams Publishers)  in 1977 suggests that all the land between the canal and the Taff was known as Rat Island. He suggests that this went as far north as the Timber Ponds. These were where the Iron Works are shown on your map … it does seem to be probable that the whole slab of land took on the name of the island. 

So, Bill Barrett (RIP) might have got there before me. I wasn’t able to find a copy of his book anywhere (I’m on the lookout – please tell me if anyone finds one), but I’m happy enough with the result.

I did a lot of research for the initial piece (though it might remain inconclusive…), so if you’re interested in further reading:

Canal Park and Sea Lock Pond (Stuart Herbert)

The Hamadryad Hospital Ship (BBC Wales History Blogs / Phil Carradice)

#towerlives: Rise of towers and fall of Tiger Bay (BBC)

The Cardiff Coal Boom: The Chronicle Radio show (featuring Ian Hill from Save the Coal Exchange, author / historian Neil Sinclair, Juliet Lewis – Senior Lecturer at the Welsh School of Architecture), broadcast February 2017

Not really relevant for this piece, but lovely to follow if you’re on Twitter: @OldCardiffPics

Big thanks also to Peter Finch for indulging me. His latest book, The Roots Of Rock From Cardiff To Mississippi And Back, is available from Seren now, priced £9.99. View Peter Finch’s archive.

Images in this piece: both taken on the section of the Taff that runs through the now disappeared Rat Island: Instagram malayabbasi and heatherpatterson.

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#towerlives: a festival of storytelling and music in Butetown

#towerlives is a week-long festival of storytelling and music, on air and on the ground, around the council estate tower blocks of Butetown in Cardiff. How fabulous!

BBC Wales, 1XTRA, Radio 2 and News Online are collaborating all week with documentaries, news reports, features, comedy, spoken word and music.

#towerlives

Ceri Jackson has written this in-depth and beautiful piece about #towerlives: Rise of towers and fall of Tiger Bay (it’s a great long-read): “By the later 1800s Butetown had taken on its unofficial name as the legendary Tiger Bay, the source of tales once told by sailors around the world. “Local folklore has it that there was a woman who used to walk around Loudoun Square with two tigers but then seamen were known for their tall tales,” says Neil. “Portuguese sailors are believed to have come up with the name. The tides in the area are notoriously difficult. After successfully docking they would say that sailing into Cardiff was like sailing through a bay of tigers. And so it was – Tiger Bay stuck.” Another theory is that its reputation as a wild hotbed of hedonism, rough house boozers, crime, prostitution and illegal gambling earned it sole use of a once generic term long used by sailors for raucous ports everywhere. Some of the nicknames given to the area’s 97 pubs – House of Blazes, Bucket of Blood, Snakepit – infamous for brawling sailors and prostitutes could add some weight to that.”

Cardiff comedian Leroy Brito explores the curious dialect that is spoken there (watch the video on this page:#towerlives: Leroy Brito in Butetown ‘talking Butetown’

Chris Walsh-Heron’s blog – telling the story of life on a high-rise estate: “The old Tiger Bay had a fearsome reputation for danger and debauchery. But if you dared to venture into the dockland streets, you’d stumble across the whole world in just one square mile. The laughter from the late-night Maltese cafes would echo down lanes full of Chinese laundries, Arabian tea houses and Caribbean dancehalls, where sailors from Cyprus, Somalia and Sierra Leone would be trying their luck with the local Welsh girls.”

#towerlives

Looks great – and how awesome for this part of the city with such a diverse community to get this kind of coverage.

More please! #towerlives

Butetown History and Arts Centre

Butetown history

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Ode to Ely – Cath

Hoody

Ode to Ely

Hot summer days over Ely,

Smokin skunk getting touchy, touchy feely,

Cortina on bricks in the garden,

Wiv all my mates and their dogs,

Real ard ones.

Wha appen bruv, I godda rush to probation.

My officer got no fuckin patience,

We’es all ganged up outside,

Wiv our hands down our strides,

Til our names get called

We just fiddle wiv our balls,

They keep us waitin on the street

So we stroke our bits of meat finding comfort short and sweet,

I got aggro phobia see, anxiety and depression

I’m not allowed to work in case I kick the boss’s ed in

So now Ive been to my appointment and said Ive done no wrong,

I godda rush back to Ely to fix the fucking bong

Laters Bruv…safe.

 

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Cath – according to her friend, Lynne Hughes:
“My reclusive mate Cath is a very private person and far too modest to write about herself so (being her opposite!) I’m doing it for her. Cath lives in ‘New Butetown’ as the Old Butetown residents like to call it. New Butetown residents tend to call it Cardiff Bay (or just The Bay) but me and the Post Office still reckon it’s Butetown if you’re on the Police Station side of Clarence Bridge.

“Cath is a lady of paradoxes. Reclusive but an Alabama 3 groupie, private but very much engaged with the world and her family and friends. She has a sense of fairness which would probably make her deeply depressed if she didn’t have such a broad sense of humour (as her little poem demonstrates!).

“As she is my neighbour as well as my friend I get to share public and private moments with her and she’s a great conversationalist. Last weekend I got invited to help demolish a load of leftovers from a little soiree she’d had the night before – yom yom. We managed to discuss racism, sexism, suicide, homicide, psychopathology, gynaecology, oenology and haute cuisine and didn’t fall out once.

“Oh and she’s a really good amateur photographer too, which, allied to a healthy sense of curiosity, produces some amazing photos. Last year she spent a month alone driving around the furthest reaches of Scotland (personally I can’t think of a worse way of spending a holiday) and her digital photo record of the trip is wonderful.

“Cath is a Llantwit girl originally and still has deep roots there but she loves living in Cardiff and being close to good transport links and surrounded by entertainment, culture and events (not to mention fascinating neighbours like me……).

“She also dogsits for friends. The lovely Rita is a Scottish Terrier bitch and a bit like Cath really – reclusive, a bit private and a mind of her own. In fact, Rita is the reason Cath & I met. A few years ago I dogshared a Parson Jack Russell and Cath and I met in Hamadryad Park when walking the dogs. We exchanged admiring comments about the animals (as you do) and discovered we were neighbours. Dogs, like kids, are a great way to meet friends. And the rest is history.

“Cath loves that from Butetown she can walk to City Centre shops and events in one direction and around the Bay in the other direction and she is only 5 minutes walk from Mermaid Quay and Hamadryad Park.

“As Cath is a 9-5 working girl and I’m a retired 9-5 playing girl our encounters tend to be at weekends and Cath does like the occasional early doors drink in Mischief our local CafeBar, long walks around the barrage and a glass or two on Mermaid Quay in the summer. She will also confess to drinking far too much Prosecco with me one afternoon when we went to WMC to catch a poetry gig on the Tesco stage.

“I can’t say much more because she’s going to edit this and she’ll only cross out the most revealing and interesting bits but she’s a great mate and she looked after my cat once when I was away so I daren’t offend her! And she’s dead against any pics of herself so I’ve just put in pics of the animals..

“For a private recluse Cath has a very gregarious and social side, but then she is Welsh and at the moment anyway, she is Cardiff …”

 

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Stop the planning madness! Object to the proposed development at Hamadryad Hospital

There comes a time in every active citizen’s life when you live in a place you quite like, and then someone comes along and wants to build on some lovely green space near your house, vomiting up 70 new identikit flats, because everyone knows that what Cardiff Bay REALLY needs is MORE FLATS.

hamadrayd-objection

Okay, I’m a little biased – this proposed development is happening within a couple of hundred metres of my house, but still. If you’ve been to the old docks area within the past ten years, you’ll probably agree that the last thing this part of Cardiff needs is more flats, amirite?

Planning application 14/02077/DCI is proposing 75 new dwellings on an area that’s currently populated with trees that have preservation orders on them, and also would destroy an area currently used as foraging for the local bat population. The space is also an extra green belt between the A4232 and the local residential area.

STOP THE PLANNING MADNESS!

If you, like me, are getting to the end of their patience with applications like this, please support this cause!

Things you can do:

1. Write a letter saying you object to Planning Application 14/02077/DCI.

2. State in it WHY you object to the development: you could say any number of things, including the following:

(a) Development is out of scale with local area in terms of design and size
(b) Development would affect residential amenity of surrounding area including Hamadryad Park
(c) Development would have adverse affect on residents in terms of parking
(d) Development would entail felling of trees with a preservation order (and for more information about why urban trees in Wales are so important, read this article)
(e) Development would remove important foraging and commute area for local bat population
(f) The proposal is not supported by a current Ecological Survey
(g) The development does not make adequate provision for bicycle storage
(h) There was a development of 20 new flats only very recently completed on nearby Pomeroy Street and Clarence Road

3. Email it to developmentcontrol@cardiff.gov.uk

4. OR you can post it to:

Planning Development
Cardiff Council
County Hall
Atlantic Wharf
Cardiff CF10 4UW

The closing date for applications is THURSDAY 16 OCTOBER, so GET YOUR OBJECTIONS IN (please). It’s really important that AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE write in to the council to object to this proposal – without the voice of the community, this horrendous scheme could go ahead.

For any active citizens in the Butetown / Grangetown area (or even further away – please help your neighbours!) you can join the South Docks Facebook group, which has been set up to help fight this planning application.

There was a residents meeting last night, which was attended by Media Wales and BBC journalists, as well as local councillor Ali Ahmed and National Assembly for Wales Member Eluned Parrott (who pledged her support to the objection).

From the BBC: Residents unhappy at flats plan

From Wales Online: Angry residents pack into church hall to oppose controversial plan for 75 new homes

SUPPORT THE CAUSE! SEND IN YOUR OBJECTIONS BY OCTOBER 16! It only needs to be an email. COME ON FOLKS!

100 days in Cardiff – Butetown streets

We Are Cardiff contributor Jeremy Rees is recording his days in and around Cardiff with 100 photographs of local points of interest. We’ll be publishing some of them here on We Are Cardiff – and make sure you tune in to Jeremy as he presents the Saturday Soulful Breakfast on Radio Cardiff!

My Butetown street

butetown by jeremy rees

“I’ve always had an interest in the history of where I’ve lived and I much prefer living in places that have a sense of connection with the past than a new development. The street I now live in was built as homes for seafarers and people who worked in the Docks, my house dates from 1896 and has survived two World Wars and the rampaging bulldozers of Cardiff Corporation in the 60s. But things are fast changing, a chapel dating from 1902 was demolished just a few months ago to make room for new flats at one end, and this week planning permission was granted for yet another one at the other end at the former seaman’s hospital. I know things do have to change, the population is fast growing and people need places to live, but I can’t help thinking we are losing more than just the buildings when the wrecking balls move in, we risk losing part of our identity too.”

 

Thanks Jeremy! Catch you next time…

“Butetown is my hometown” – Beatrice

Gavin Porter Giving a tour of Butetown-by Angelo Gianpaolo Bucci

Butetown and me have never been more than acquaintances. As a journalism student at Cardiff University back in 2009, I used to walk down Bute Street only to head to the Bay, unaware of what laid behind the terraced houses that decorate the sidewalk: I would glance at the African shops and the colourful murales on the right hand side of the street and assume I knew something about the place.

I couldn’t be more wrong about it. I ignored that since the early 18th century Butetown has been the multicultural spot of the city, a place where people from different continents lived in the same Victorian house; nor I knew the first Yemeni and Somalis sailors making landfall to the Bay where also the founder of Britain’s first mosque in 2 Glynrhondda St, Cathays. I knew very few about Butetown up until March 2013 when I visited the Diff again after working in London. This time I was determined to learn more about the area for personal and professional reasons.

On the personal side I needed to know more about African culture and migration. Despite being in Italy from Congolese parents I haven’t lived in an African community and so my knowledge of the  continent and its cultures was limited to what I read, watched and was told. The hunger for information wedded so well with my professional soul as I started to work on a documentary on migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa.

Back in 2011 and throughout 2012 few trips brought me to Oslo, Brussels and Istanbul. And in these cities I couldn’t help but notice the urban isolation of African migrants. In Istanbul, tall, muscled men would appear during the day, selling goods on the Galata bridge over the Golden Horn and disappear when the sun sat down, like invisible presences. After doing some research and discovering how few has been written on these communities, I decided to work on a reportage called “Where we are”, with the aim of discovering and let emerge un(der)reported ethnic groups and cultures, baring two questions: are these groups isolating or isolated? How are people living there?

With these queries in mind and the will to avoid the same old representation of migrants, I began working with Gianpaolo Bucci, an Italian filmmaker who quitted his job at RAI, the equivalent of the BBC in Italy, to focus on social issues and human rights.

From a reportage confined to few European cities, the project became an ambitious multimedia documentary to be shot in 12 different cities of the world. It brings the name of (IN)VISIBLE CITIES.

Among those cities, Cardiff was the first stop and Butetown the main focus.

Butetown and me have always been acquaintances maybe because nobody properly introduced to each other. Our relationship status updated in March 2013 when the first episode of (IN)VISIBLE CITIES was shot and when I befriended with people who have lived in the area sometimes for their whole lives.

It was a long chain of people introducing us to other people that made everything possible. Never the “everyone knows everyone” expression was more adequate. Although Butetown might appear as a closed space, confined between a railway and the Taff river, it is a “town” where doors are literally always open. This works for historic institutions like the Butetown History and Arts Centre as well as for private houses. So shows the way Himmat welcomed us.

Himmat came to Butetown few years back after living in other areas of Cardiff and in Denmark. He’s originally from Sudan, but loves the idea of his two little girls growing up in an environment where children gather in the yard and don’t even notice whether they’re from Yemen or Somalia or Malta.

Race was never an issue for the Borge’s either, an eleven-people-family whose ethnical roots can be traced back to Malta, France, Somalia, India … just to name a few. So it’s entrenched their love for Butetown that one of the daughters, sitting in the loud and crowded kitchen a stone away from the Bay touristic restaurants, proudly told me she’ll never leave, because that’s her “hometown”.

Very few people told us about government benefits, how they have struggled to get where they are or crime, but those who did have diverse opinions on these issues. Some mentioned about how Butetown is considered or is a “tough area”, or has been isolated by the government or the place has been a safe haven for multicultural groups. But mostly we discovered intimate stories and African tradition we did not know about.

Like when we first met Maher, a single dad who lives near what was the historic Loudoun square. After recounting his tales of a former sailor coming from Sudan, he let us in his kitchen where we had a taste of Sudanese culture. Maher’s house was filled with a pungent and exotic perfume which he revealed being an incense women use before getting married. Back in the days, his mother might have used that too. He smiled when showing some pictures of his family and parents, especially his mom, who had two long excavation on her cheeks, apparently scarves resulting from a traditional mark made to differentiate tribes. He commented only by saying: “That’s what they do!” Like he wasn’t part of the Sudanese frame anymore.

This is something that happens to migrants and second generations: crisis and loss of identity. I experienced it myself when others were asking whether I feel Congolese or Italian. British actress Thandie Newton talked gorgeously about her identity crisis as a girl born from Zimbabwean mother and British father, in a TED Talk. But finding the same paths in people in Butetown just brought me closer and closer.

Hassan for example, was the youngest of the people we talked to. Born Somali in Denmark and now a happy resident of Butetown, he confessed he’s a bit confused about his cultural identity and hopes his children will have a clearer vision about this. Hassan is a poet, one of the group that together with producer Gavin Porter, created a two-day show on Somali culture in Butetown. The pièce, De Gabay, took place early in March and introduced to other people living in Cardiff a culture that is now embedded in the history of the capital.

I could go on and on talking about people met in Butetown and how they broaden the idea of (IN)VISIBLE CITIES, but it’s better not to spoil the contents of the documentary, that will soon be screened in Seoul in South Korea after being promoted in the U.S.

Not too long ago our chase for African migrants led us to Los Angeles and then continued as we crossed the US from coast to coast.

No question we’ll be back in Cardiff to show the documentary as well and catch up with what are now not only protagonists and makers of this adventure, but also friends.

Ngalula Beatrice Kabutakapua is an investigative journalist and photographer born in Italy but with Congolese roots. In her seven years spent working in the media she has collaborated with media companies such as The Guardian, L’Espresso, Radio France Internationale and the BBC. Focused on international development, migration and human rights issues, she has also been a staff member of the UN Department of Information and is currently an editorial trainer for the US-based NGO World Pulse. She is an active volunteer and works in Italian, English and French.

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“That neighbourly feeling is what I love about Cardiff” – Helia

helia_web

I’ve thought about writing a We Are Cardiff story since I set up the site back in 2010, but could never decide on an angle. What to write about? What to focus on? Cardiff has been so many things to me, been the backdrop to so many events and decisions and happenings and versions and re-versions of myself. How can I pick one, two, a dozen from the swirling pool? And yet that’s what I expected from other people – and everyone else who has written for the site so far has managed rather splendidly. So perhaps it’s high time I stopped whining and did the same.

What is the measure of a place? How can you distil that essence into a single piece of writing? Memories, tissue thin, layers of a skin laid over and over the streets and alleys and roads and the same cracks in the pavement you avoid, day after day, year after year. From a new-born to a toddler through to university student to working stiff. Cardiff has been a lot of things to me. It’s where I was born. My earliest memories are dark and fuzzy – my tiny hands, pulling at the thick velvet curtains in my room on Pen y Wain Road. Running a stick along the railings in Roath’s flower gardens. Carrying water in my hands from the fountains outside City Hall to a puddle nearby where some ill-navigating frogs had abandoned their spawn. I was worried the tadpoles would die in there without the extra liquid.

Cardiff housed me during my student years. It was the comforting bubble that enclosed me as I stayed up too late, spent too much time in pubs and clubs and at house parties. It was the wall I banged my head against, trying to work out ‘what I wanted to do when I grew up’. It gave me answers.  (Sort of.)

And surely this is the measure of a city – a place that can transform and mutate and mould itself around you, no matter what stage of life you are at. Nearly all my university friends have moved away, and I’m asked on a regular basis how I can stay in the same city I’ve been in for so long. I try and explain, but I never seem to nail the answer. It’s not the same city it was when I was a student, or even when I was in my mid or late twenties. There are enough opportunities and diversity and change here to accommodate you, no matter what stage of life you’re at. It’s a different place now. It looks after me differently. I’ve found different things in it, and it’s brought out different things in me.

One of my favourite things about the city is how connected everyone is. New people you meet have random connections with people that you already know. They are someone’s ex-housemate, friends with someone’s brother, or they worked in Fopp together years ago. Although there’s a lot on here, the offerings pale in comparison to a larger city – our neighbouring Bristol, or a little further afield to London. But because our scene is smaller, it’s friendlier. You see the same faces over and over again, whether you’re at a metal gig, a film festival, a circus performance, a street fair, a club night, or an organic food market. And I like that. I heard someone describe Cardiff as Britain’s biggest village, and it’s that neighbourly, close feeling that I love about it.

Cardiff’s an amazing place to come back to. Of course, I get frustrated with it and I get tired of it and sometimes the smallness annoys me and my favourite bands don’t gig here and I want to leave it and move somewhere more romantic or exciting like San Francisco or the moon, of course. But when I get back here, I’m always filled with that intense sensation of how nice it is to be back. To return home.

I thought I’d finish with a list of my favourite things to do in the city. Who knows how long it’ll be possible to do any of these for. But if you get the chance, you should.

–          Visit all of Cardiff’s parks. We have some amazing and diverse open public spaces (Cardiff Council – list of parks). I still haven’t been to them all. Roath Park is obviously lovely, but there are some undiscovered treasures just a little way out of the centre. Try Cefn Onn, or the Wenalt.

–          Wander around the indoor market. Get a cup of tea and bacon sandwich (or vegetarian equivalent) from the greasy spoon upstairs, watch the people bustling around below.

–          Fossil hunt. Wait for low tide then walk from the Custom House in Penarth around to the pier, looking for fossils. Once at the pier, consume ice cream.

–          Car booting. In the summer, visit Sully car boot sale (Sundays only).

–          More car booting. All year round – visit Splott market on a Saturday. Fruit, veg, baked goods, car booters. All of humanity are here.

–          Run. Do a 10k run to raise money for charity. There are a few races that take place throughout the year, most of them either taking in the lovely scenery around Cardiff Bay or Bute Park. (My favourite running route is the 10k Cardiff Bay trail, by the way).

–          Music. Buy records from Catapult and Spillers, ask the music junkies working in both places for recommendations. Ask about local bands and artists. Ask about what gigs are on. Buy music. Buy tickets for gigs.

–          Get cultured. Go to the museum and art gallery. Entry is free! My favourite room is the room in the museum with all the crystals and minerals and rock formations. Beautiful.

Helia Phoenix set up We Are Cardiff in 2010. In 2012 the site won Best Blog at the Wales Blog Awards, and in 2013 she produced a documentary based on the site called We Are Cardiff: Portrait of a City, premiering at Chapter Arts Centre on 7 July 2013. She’s written a biography about Lady Gaga and entertains notions of writing a novel one day. In her spare time she enjoys travelling, listening to music, and long walks in the rain. Twitter @phoenixlily tumblr an antisocial experiment web heliaphoenix.com instagram @_phoenixlily_. She currently lives in Butetown.

Helia was photographed in Hamadryad Park, underneath the A4232 by Simon Ayre

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