Tag Archives: cardiff docks

Cardiff in the Eighties – by Nick Sarebi

I recently spent a few hours lost in the internet when I came across Nick Sarebi’s wonderful photographs of Cardiff in the 1980s. I messaged Nick who kindly agreed to let us publish them, and even did a mini interview with me, which I present, here, for you. Do enjoy this wonderful dip into the archives, back into Cardiff in the late 1980s and very early 1990s. Over to Nick …

Nick: I originally came from London. I lived in between Grangetown 1988 – 95, although I was still working in London for much of that time. I always thought Cardiff was a lovely city.

I was doing a City and Guilds photography project at the time. I loved the sense of history that the Docks had, and obviously it was just on the cusp of change. I wish I took more photos back then, but it was before digital.

I lived in Pentrebane Street in Grangetown. I remember my neighbour saying that she knew Shirley Bassey and went on a works outing with her, where she sang, but then again everyone claimed to know her at that time! I think there were still close-knit families in Grangetown then, which was changing at that time. The neighbours were all very friendly. The house was covered inside with Artex when I bought it. It took ages to scrape off, I must have been mad!

The Docks

Cardiff docks, taken around 1990
Imperial House, which disappeared sometime in the 1990s
The dry dock, photographed in the 1980s. The dry dock is still there, but the shed has long since been demolished.
Cardiff Docks, taken in 1990

 

Nick: I loved wandering round the Docks at that time, before it was all developed. It was pretty much deserted at the time. I also remember visiting the Sea Lock and some other Docks pubs. I wanted to go into the clubs down there but was a bit wary as an outsider. The Sea Lock was definitely stepping into the past. The main bar was closed and they only had a tiny bar left open. They frowned on women going in there alone! It was demolished soon after, I think. The publicans were really friendly. I recommend Trezza Azzarardi’s The Hiding Place – it’s a brilliant take on Tiger Bay. It conjures up Tiger Bay so well for me I had to go back and take another look. It was criminal how the knocked the place down. It can still be seen in the classic film Tiger Bay, which you should watch if you haven’t seen already.

There’s a nice interview with Neil Sinclair here, talking about the story of the place that inspired the Tiger Bay musical that was out year  …

I remember meeting Neil Sinclair, who is at the start of Tiger Bay talking with Hayley Mills. We met at a nice pub which was on the Bay front and was very isolated, out on the way to Penarth. This was before they built that flyover. I forget its name, I think it must have gone now.

Butetown, Cardiff 1991. This building is now home to Octavo’s bookshop and cafe
The Dockland Mini-Market – which can still be seen on James Street today
This building was preserved in the Docks redevelopment – you can now see it as the entrance to the Waterguard pub
The famous clock from the famous Coal Exchange – which, after years in disrepair, is now the Exchange Hotel
The infamous Casablanca Club, long since demolished
Cardiff docks … taken in 1991
The Norwegian Church, 1990
Windsor Esplanade, early 1990s
Cardiff Bay redevelopment, early 1990s

Cardiff – the city

Nick: Why did I move to Cardiff in the first place? That’s a good question. I wanted to move out of London, as it was expensive to buy a house there (even then!) and it was so big. Of course, no one could imagine that house prices would rise to the crazy levels they are now…

I couldn’t decide on Bristol or Cardiff. My girlfriend at the time lived in Bristol, but we split up just before I moved, so I chose Cardiff. In retrospect, what was mad was not looking for work in Cardiff. So I just travelled thousands of miles up and down the M4!

Eventually after Cardiff I moved to Bristol and I worked there for a couple of years, but was offered a part-time job in London, which went from two to four days, so I started commuting again, from 1997 right through to 2013.

I now look back and wonder why I did that! I spent seven years in Cardiff, but somehow it doesn’t feel that long – it flew by. I arrived in Cardiff only a few months after Lynette White was murdered. Someone wrote a book on it called Bloody Valentine, but it had to be pulped for libel reasons.

Tremorfa, around 1991
Seriously – whatever happened to Mr Sandwich?

Nick: It was a bit ridiculous travelling backwards and forwards to London for all those years I lived in Cardiff. Cardiff was all changing at that time. I studied at the Arts Centre – I can’t remember what it was called now.

I have visited Cardiff a few times since I lived there, walking all round the barrage with my son, and have been to watch my team, Fulham, play Cardiff. It always brings back memories. I’m glad I lived there when I did, and saw the bay before it became “the Bay”.

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Thank you so much Nick! He has a couple of really great albums of 1980s photography. We particularly love these albums:

Miners strike 1984 (photographs of mining families on holiday in London during the strike)

St Pancras Station 1980-1 (some great portraits of rail workers as well as general shots from around the station)

London Docks (images from the 1980s to now)

And of course, his Cardiff in the Eighties album in full.

To see more of his photography, visit Nick’s Flickr page.

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A trip up Asbo Hill (aka Asda Hill, aka Grangemoor Park)

For the past year, I’ve been writing a column for Caught By The River, exploring the River Taff. My latest piece veers off course from the Taff and heads for the land in between the Taff and the River Ely, a place known as Penarth Moors – unassuming marshland before being turned into a municipal dump in the 1970s.

Here’s the piece in full – Wandering the River Taff: A Detour

But as usual, there was loads of stuff I couldn’t fit in the shorter piece, so I thought I’d sketch out all my research here. This is the area I’m talking about.

This was taken on a sunny day in late autumn 2017 …

At the end of their river flows, both the Ely and the Taff dump their waters into the same large basin (formerly the estuary – now the grander container that has given its name to the area surrounding it: into Cardiff Bay).

As well as ending in the same place, the Ely and the Taff have other parallels. Both have suffered the same extreme pollution problems: declared “dead rivers”, flowing black with sewage, coal dust and industrial waste they had picked up from the heavy industry of the valleys they flow through. Thanks to regulation and a lot of effort, both are in better shape than they were, and are now home to a variety of flora and fauna.

Both rivers have also had their natural courses altered by man: each straightened in sections to better fit our urban plans. The Taff was straightened by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in the 19th century to build Cardiff Central Station, while the Ely was straightened over a century later – less glamorously, to create more space for the Ferry Road landfill site.

Here’s a map of the same place from 1956 (From this NLS Map: ST17 (includes: Cardiff / Caerdydd; Penarth), published 1956). Note the mad wiggling of the River Ely as it heads out towards the Severn and compare with the map above.

The Ferry Road landfill was created in 1969 when the Ely was straightened by cutting off one of its bends. The empty river channel became a hole for Cardiff to throw all its crap into. The city  soon outgrew this hole, and we started dumping our waste across the salt marsh. By the time the tip was closed in 1994, it was one of the biggest in Britain.

At the height of its seafaring power, Cardiff was the biggest port in the world. But the city’s decline in fortunes over the 20th century was so severe, the topic was debated in Parliament repeatedly. After years of discussion, eventually, in 1987, the UK Government created the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation, whose job was to improve or upgrade south Cardiff’s infrastructure and develop a plan for its future use. The Ferry Road and Ely Fields redevelopment was part of the much bigger project of building the Cardiff Bay Barrage, creating an artificial freshwater lake around the city’s waterfront area, covering 490-acres formed from the impounded waters of the Rivers Taff and Ely. It was a hugely controversial project, contested throughout its life. It still draws mixed reviews from residents.

The Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill only just squeaked through Parliament – you can read some of the debate (including discussion about what would happen to the Ferry Road tip) in the Hansard from 25 November, 1991.

Reading through the debate, you get a sense of the enormous complexity of the project. Regeneration of the area is of key importance … but much of the land is taken up by SSSI (sites of special scientific interest because of the flora or fauna). But for me, a key point is from Barry Jones MP (Alyn and Deeside):

There can be no doubt about the need for urban regeneration in the Cardiff docklands. The docks of Cardiff were at the centre of the coal-based prosperity of south Wales. Coal from the valleys of south Wales made Cardiff the world’s leading coal-exporting port. The decline of the docks has mirrored the decline of the south Wales coal industry. Now, with fewer than 2,000 workers in our pits, Cardiff docklands must find a new identity and a new prosperity. 

As part of the plans to improve the area, the Corporation proposed a new A road to link south and west Cardiff with the M4. The plan for this road – which is now the A4232, a road I drive on nearly every day – plotted its route straight through the middle of the tip. Once earthworks began, tipping was restricted just to the area to the north of the A4232. By the mid 1990s, this area towered almost 20 metres above the surrounding area.

If you’re interested in really getting into the detail of the area, this image is a 1960s aerial photograph of the area. It’s taken from a PhD submitted by a Cardiff University student in 2006: Development of Geoelectrical Techniques for Investigation and Monitoring of Landfills, by Andrew George.

Fast forward through time to 1988, and you can see how the river was shortened through diversion, and filled with rubbish. This next image is taken from the same publication …

This 1988 air photograph of the Ferry Road area shows how far the landfill extended from the initial river channel. It also shows the proposed development route for the A4232 – right through the centre of the site.

This view is from inside Grangemoor Park today, underneath the A4232 flyover. It’s fairly quiet, apart from the cars tearing along overhead.

The A4232 neatly splits the site into its two locations: Ferry Road landfill to the north, and Ely Fields to the south. The land of Ely Fields used to be brickworks, rope works, storage depots and scrapyards. A different kind of ‘Elysian’ – a distinctly south Walian, industrial one. Memories of our industrial history – industries we can no longer support, now Cardiff’s not the port it used to be. So a tip was what it became: shovelling endless tonnes of rubbish onto our heritage: burying it deep, deep underneath the consumerism of the 1970s and 80s.

As I mentioned in my Caught By The River post, during its lifetime, the Ferry Road municipal tip amassed four million cubic metres of household and commercial refuse. The initial plan to move all this crap to Bedford by rail was poo-pooed in the end, and the Cardiff Bay Corporation instead decided to pile all the rubbish up in one place, add an impermeable layer on top (which is why the park turns into a bog whenever it rains), and create a city park.

The following image shows you the detail around the layout of Grangemoor Park, including the extent of the old landfill site. This was taken from The Reactivation and Remediation of the Landfill Site at Ferry Road by A. Phillips and H. Cherrill, in Geoenvironmental Engineering: Contaminated Ground: Fate of Pollutants and Remediation.

Whatever you think about out-of-town shopping complexes, I don’t think anyone would complain about having a park replacing a landfill. Would you?? Go on. Just try it. Urban wildlife flourishes here. There are butterflies, endless insects, skylarks and other birds. I’ve read that the pond at the bottom of the site has various species of newts, dragonfly and damselfly (although everytime I wander past the only thing floating around in the water is empty McDonald’s wrappers).

As well as the birds and squirrels I see on the site (and the rats and foxes my dog goes mad sniffing after when we walk), the site is also now being used for refugee animals being turfed off their homelands. In 2006, 850 slow worms were moved to the park from a local housing development (the new houses and flats you can see on the other side of Ferry Road). The slow worms have not only survived but babies have been found – apparently the mix of tall grass and small bushes is an ideal habitat for the worms. They like mosaics – of shaded areas where they can hide and rest, and areas which are exposed to the sun where they can bask and increase their body temperature.

Stand on the link artwork at the top of the hill. Look south. See rising lands ahead of you: this marks the edge of Cardiff and the start of the Vale of Glamorgan. Leckwith behind all the hills. And then the River Ely, gently winding around you.

The peaked building in the centre of this shot above is the charmingly named “Outfall Sewer Cardiff (Western District)” (known today as the Pumping Station or the Pump House). It was built in 1907 by engineer William Harper, who’s been mentioned in this column before (he designed and built much of modern Cardiff, specifically the Clarence Road Bridge, which I wrote about last time). This Edwardian Sewage pumping station is formed of a single storey yellow brick building with slate roof and six round headed bay windows with red brick arches. If you visit it today, your experience is a far more sanitary one: there’s a nice little cafe, and vendors dealing in antiques and collectibles in the 32,000 square feet of the place.

Back to the chain link sculpture at the top of the hill. Look down, right there, by your feet: the flatpack mixture of the same out-of-town shopping offerings you’ll find in any of these man-made hubs. It’s where you’ll find our Ikea – on weekdays, full of confused students whose parents are trying to help them kit up and grow up, as if adulthood comes flatpacked, accompanied by a set of tumblers and some candles.

But look beyond, to the north, beyond Ikea, to the maritime-inspired spikes of the Millennium Stadium. You see the city spread around you, like a glossy plastic puzzle that you could reach out to and move pieces around in. Closer to the lens, you see Cardiff, the buildings like tiny toys – for so long, the city kept from building upwards to “preserve the skyline of the city” (what skyline, you might well ask). Integrity now forgotten, they’re bollocking high rise up everywhere they can. The Millennium Stadium, the BT Tower. It looks like one of those pop up cards that show you the city you live in as a weird, 3D-2D image. The mountains that invite you to the Welsh valleys to the north; the Garth, Machen Quarry. Even Castle Coch is visible on a clear day, if you’ve got eyes like a shithouse rat.

We’re a city that’s poor, iconically, which is perhaps why we’ve struggled to market ourselves effectively. We have no Clifton Suspension Bridge, no Museums of Science and Industry. No huge glass structures, or sculptures standing on the tides. Without a visual soundbite that works in silhouette, a visual catchphrase, what are we?

I’ve always thought that Cardiff was more of a feeling than anything that’s easy to explain through leaflets or website copy. Maybe that’s why so many first time visitors come here expecting little, but leave with an inexplicably warm glow about them. 

Further reading:

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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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Cardiff Bay, the docks, the barrage, through a vintage lens…

Hi. Helia here. So here’s the thing. I’ve got a Nikon D3100 DSLR, for which I am roundly (and loudly) mocked by all my pals who are into photography. I wouldn’t consider myself an expert enough to even know the difference between this and any other DSLR, so I’ve never been bothered about upgrading.

red brick toothy fish, cardiff bay

Stuff upgrading. In fact I’m downgrading … I’ve abandoned the original auto-focus lens that came with the camera in favour of this old Nikkor 28 lens that I found for pretty cheap on ebay (other ecommerce sites are available).

There is a plethora of information for DSLR photographers wanting to use old lenses on newer cameras … the only bummer is that there is nothing automated about this process (more advanced camera than mine will do some automated processes), but that’s meant speedy learning about aperture sizes, shutter speeds, and ISO. So MATHS …

Anyway, despite all the difficulties, I am sold on this lens! Things look lovely through it. Here’s a peak of Cardiff Bay on wintery days in November (there was no editing of these photos after I’d taken – apart from straightening some of them up, because apparently I am living perpetually on the diagonal).

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Royal Hamadryad General and Seaman's Hospital sign

Women chatting, Hamadryad Park

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Cardiff Bay Trail sign

One of the old docks, Cardiff Bay

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Telescope, view over Cardiff Bay water

One of the old docks, Cardiff Bay

Crane in One of the old docks, Cardiff Bay

Over exposed, Havannah Street Butetown

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Victorian lamp post, Cardiff Bay

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Over exposed crane in One of the old docks, Cardiff Bay

More of my vintage photography journey to come! And if you’re an avid photographer who’d like to share some of your pictures with us, please get in touch –  wearecardiff@gmail.com

Til next time …

Peas!

Helia x

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Check out what’s going on with We Are Cardiff Press

New venue klaxon: check out Portland House!

Who thinks a Grade II listed Banking Hall down Cardiff docks would make a good venue? I mean, it’s 4000 square feet, featuring a large glass atrium ceiling and ornate marble pillars … but apparently, the place has got amazing acoustics. Meet Portland House!

Don’t take our word for it though … Jack Feeney decided to test the place with a drum kit, synthesizer, and one camera. The following shows the results!

Portland House recently welcomed dub reggae legend, Lee Scratch Perry. Not a bad opening gig, eh?

Lee Scratch Perry - Portland House

Lee Scratch Perry - Portland House

Lee Scratch Perry - Portland House

Lee Scratch Perry - Portland House

Lee Scratch Perry - Portland House

Lee Scratch Perry - Portland House

 

Their next live show is OWEN PALLETT from Arcade Fire (little bit exciting!) on Wednesday 3 June 2015. For tickets and to subscribe for information about their forthcoming shows, visit Portland House: Tickets

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WATCH: Cardiff, a stroll through Tiger Bay

Gotta love these old films!

Published by Cardiffians on YouTube: ‘Author of the Tiger Bay Story and The Cardiff Bay Experience, Neil Sinclair brings to the screen his very popular seafront history walk. Now in the pleasure of your easy chair you can venture down the old Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian streets of Tiger Bay and The Docks as they were.

‘Hear also interesting anecdotes of the larger than life characters who once walked those no longer existent streets and see how Cardiff, a mere village with less than 2,000 dwellers, grew into the city we recognise today.

‘Neil, who also does lectures, presentations, exhibitions and bus tours for the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation, is a well known personality in the Bay where he still lives. In collaboration with Director Fran Boyer of Moaning Minnie Productions and underscored with original music composed by local musician and artist John Lenney, Neil has produced a most exciting and interesting video.

‘Contrasting wonderful views of Cardiff’s newly transformed seafront with historical film footage and archive photographs, this video revives the historic beginnings of Cardiff’s turn of the century rise from obscurity, inspired by the foresight and auspices of the Second Marquis of Bute, to become the world’s most famous seaport.’

Cardiff docks, image from urban75.org
Cardiff docks, image from urban75.org

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…