A Process of Gradual Change
the latter years of the eighteenth century, a mediaeval visitor would have been
surprised how little Cardiffhad changed since the Middle Ages. Only as the century drew towards its close,
were there signs that a new era was beginning to emerge, both in the town and
in the surrounding countryside.
At the end of the sixteenth
century, a number of improvements had been made to CardiffCastleby Henry Herbert, the Second Earl of Pembroke. The HerbertTower,
approximately the same size as the BeauchampTower but more square,
was erected at this time. In addition, a new wing was joined to the northern
end of the domestic apartments which the Earl of Warwick had built 150 years
In view of the goodwill shown by
Philip Herbert towards the Parliamentary cause, the castle was spared the
ravages of deliberate slighting and destruction after the Civil War. When he
died, barely a year after the Battle of St. Fagans, Herbert's son, also named
Philip, displayed little interest in his Welsh inheritance. He took up
residence at Wilton House and allowed CardiffCastleto fall into a decline which was not halted until the Butefamily inherited the estate in 1766.
The First Marquess intended to make
the castle into a residence for his son who died at the age of 27 in 1794.
After his sad bereavement, the Marquess saw little point in restoring the
castle, and work virtually came to a halt. However, before reaching this
conclusion, the beautiful trees and lawns of the Castle Green and Bute Park had
been landscaped by the famous gardener and architect, "Capability' Brown.
Unfortunately, in carrying out this landscaping, the Knights' Lodgings, the
Shire Hall, and the mediaeval wall which linked the keep to the BlackTower,
were all demolished. The task of making alterations to the residential
accommodation was given to Brown's son-in-law, Henry Holland. He divided the
mediaeval Great Hall into an entrance hall, a library and a dining room, while
the bedrooms above it were all modernised. A more grandiose idea to convert the
keep into a ballroom, complete with a copper roof, was never developed.
gates and walls of Cardiffwere left undisturbed until 1781, when the East and West Gates were dismantled
to ease traffic congestion. At the East Gate, the arches stood for some time
afterwards and were known locally as "The Pillars', a name which lives on
at a restaurant nearby. Within the next five years the North Gate and Blount's
Gate were also demolished. The South
Gate remained intact until 1802, when the parishioners
of St. Mary's requested the construction of a new road across the moors to
Penarth. So, in an interval of twenty years, all the ancient mediaeval gates
vanished and no-one seems to have mourned their passing, or made any effort to
preserve them. The destruction of the town walls continued throughout the
nineteenth century and stones which had seen so much history were reduced to
In the mid-eighteenth century, the
failure to remove sediment from the Taff was causing serious problems to
shipping. At low tide the river channel was just a series of mud banks and
access was denied to all vessels. Smaller craft were able to approach the quay
at high tide, but larger ships were forced to berth on the mudflats in the
harbour. Consequently, there was a substantial loss of revenue in customs and
tolls which compelled the Corporation to appoint water-bailiffs in 1762. Their
duties were to collect and levy charges for the repair and maintenance of the
As a result of their endeavours,
the quay remained in service until the nineteenth century. Two vessels of 60
tons, the Cardiff Castle and the Merthyr
Trader, regularly sailed to the Welsh Back at Bristol. However, despite Cardiff's status as
a head port, the registered tonnage of shipping in 1796 reveals that its volume
of trade was lagging behind Swansea, Llanelli and the Pembrokeshire ports. The
reason for increased maritime activity in West Wales arose from the metal and
mining industries developing around Swansea.
Likewise, when the iron industry of
Merthyr Tydfil began to gather momentum, Cardiff shared in its
prosperity. During the wars of the American and French Revolutions, cannon were
shipped from the Golate, as a plaque nearby reminds us. Alongside the wharf,
the guns were bored and tested before loading. Another quay for iron goods was
established outside the South Gate,
and the route of the GlamorganshireCanal was directed to
give easy access to all these busy wharves along the river bank.
One far-sighted visitor to South Wales at this time was the antiquarian, B.H.
Malkin. He saw the potential of the future Port of Cardiffwhen he wrote in 1803, "it is difficult to ascribe a limit to the
commercial capabilities of this place'. Malkin prophesied that there was
sufficient space in the harbour for hundreds of ships, carrying exports to
every part of the world.
The bridge over the Taff, shown on
Speed's plan, had been damaged during the Civil War. It was rebuilt in 1671,
but not apparently with great success and thirty years later the Corporation
was petitioning Parliament for permission to construct a new bridge. Consent
was withheld and somehow, with constant repairs and underpinning, the structure
was able to survive for most of the eighteenth century.
Despite the erection of defensive
walls to withstand the sea, the people of Cardiffwere still at the mercy of serious flooding, especially during the spring
tides. On 2 April 1792,
heavy rain and flood-water caused the first pier of the bridge to collapse on
the Cantonside. The result was a grave disruption of traffic, including the diversion of
the mail coach through Llandaff.
The justices at the Quarter
Sessions sanctioned the building of a new bridge at a cost of £3000, less £300
for the materials of the old bridge. The work was completed in 1796 on the site
of the present CardiffBridge, the approach
through the West Gate being replaced by a route which crossed the yard of the
Cardiff Arms Hotel. This bridge was severely damaged during a flood of 1827,
but continued to be used until the existing CardiffBridgewas completed in 1859. Twice, in 1877 and 1931, it has been widened to cope
with an increase in traffic, and so far it has stood the test of time.
The mediaeval Town Hall had also fallen into a
dilapidated condition and in 1741 the Corporation decided to demolish it.
Surprisingly, in view of the traffic congestion in High Street, it was rebuilt
on the same location and wealthy citizens were invited to contribute to the
costs of rebuilding. The work was not completed until 1747 which suggests that
donations were only made with some reluctance.
Unlike the first Town Hall, there
are several prints of the Georgian building, one of which has been reproduced
as a beautiful mural in the Golden Cross public house. It portrays a structure
similar in design and purpose to the earlier Town Hall, with a flight of steps,
flanked with attractive wrought iron railings, leading to the assembly room on
the upper floor. The market and prison below were joined at the southern end by
a shop and the Shoulder of Mutton Inn. In less than fifty years there were
complaints that the building was both inconveniently placed and lapsing into
decay, but not until 1853 was the Town Hall moved from its historic site in the
middle of High Street.
The guilds succeeded in preserving
their privileges for a surprisingly long period of time but a changing mood,
opposing all restrictions on trade, was curtailing their influence by the early
nineteenth century. When 100 persons were summoned in 1810 for ignoring the
edict that only freemen of the borough could practise a trade, only 11 of them
were fined. The ruinous condition of the Cordwainers' Hall in Shoemaker Street
emphasised the decline of the guild. The hall was leased to John Wood in 1798
and, though the Cordwainers continued to meet for a few more years, he was able
to purchase this valuable property
outright in 1806 for a mere £28.
As St. John's became Cardiff's
principal church, its proper maintenance became a matter of pride to the
townspeople. The council provided money, not only for repairs, but also for
numerous other improvements, including a new organ, new bells and the
refurbishment of the churchyard.
The Georgian era saw the advance of
Nonconformity in Cardiff and John Bird refers to a Presbyterian meeting house
in his directory for 1796. This chapel in Womanby Street was built in 1696 on
land donated by a Cardiff alderman, John Archer. John Wesley first journeyed to
Cardiff in 1740, and two years later the Society of Methodists was formed,
bringing "a haven of peace and rest to the town'. John and his brother,
Charles, became regular visitors to the town, preaching at different times from
the steps of the castle keep, the Shire Hall and St. John's Church. John Wesley's
final visit to the borough was made in August 1788, when he preached at the
Town Hall "to the very greatest congregation'.
A mile away from Cardiff, the
trials of Llandaff Cathedral continued. In 1696 the great bell toppled from its
moorings, and seven years later a severe storm damaged the battlements of the
Jasper Tower. Another violent storm led to a much worse disaster in 1723,
when the South-west Tower collapsed
completely, destroying 50 feet of the
Nave in the process and exposing the cathedral to the elements.
The possibility of transferring the
see to Cardiff was discussed, but in 1734 John Wood, the famous architect of
Bath, was requested to restore the cathedral. The result, to say the least, was
bizarre even after allowing for the inadequacy of available funds. Wood
introduced a peculiar mixture of architectural styles, designing a neo-classical Italian temple
inside the ruins of the cathedral. Malkin summed up the effect in 1803,
"as an outrageously incongruous appendage of modern finery. To whom they
were indebted for the design I know not: whoever he was, he played on their
unarchitectural incredulity, but altogether at the expense of his own
reputation'. John Wood was able to redeem himself with his work at Bath, but
the resurrection of Llandaff Cathedral was delayed for another hundred years.
In the countryside, north of
Cardiff, the common land on which the townsfolk had traditionally grazed their
animals was enclosed at an ever accelerating pace. The Enclosure Act of 1802
allocated land on the Little Heath and the Great Heath to the Corporation and
anyone else who could establish a claim to rights on the common. The Little
Heath covered most of Cathays and much of Roath to the north of Cathays Park,
while the Great Heath extended towards Cefn Onn.
The number of people, who exercised
their customary grazing rights, had decreased, but sometimes force was required
to evict squatters. John Bird, when he was confronted by a crowd of angry women
who "acted the part of Amazonians, having armed themselves with pitchforks
etc.', needed the cavalry in 1799. The Enclosure Act favoured rich and powerful
families such as the Butes whose interests Bird was representing on this
The Corporation emerges with little
credit from its dealings in enclosed land, which was often sold to the Butes at
bargain rates in repayment for relatively small debts. Some of the proceedings
seem to have been of a dubious nature and it is far from clear how the
Corporation disposed of the money it received. John Wood used his position as
town clerk to aid the Bute interest and later, after resigning his
office, he acquired a substantial estate
for himself on the Little Heath. Whether the Councillors were corrupt or merely
inefficient will never be known, but the transactions underlined the need for
municipal reform which duly took place in 1835.
were numerous hazards to health in eighteenth century Cardiff. The fate of poor
Christine Lewis, who was drowned in 1750 when she fell into a privy, only
serves to emphasise the primitive sanitary arrangements of the town. Frequently
there were complaints about the accumulation of dunghills and rubbish tips at
the South Gate, the Tennis Courts and even near the Cross in St. Mary Street. A
strip of land was provided outside the North Gate for the disposal of household
waste and refuse but not everyone was prepared to use it. Stray animals,
especially pigs, were a nuisance as their owners allowed them to scavenge among
the rubbish and attempts to fine the culprits met with only limited success.
In an effort to improve sanitation
and hygiene, a private Act of Parliament was passed in 1774, "for the
paving, cleansing and lighting of the streets of Cardiff'. Special
commissioners were given the responsibility for enforcing the act. The main
roads were resurfaced and repaved so that Francis Grose, travelling through
Cardiff in 1775, found, "a neat, pleasant town, just now paved according
to the London fashion'.
were lit. Oil lamps were used initially but
the site of the gasworks, which introduced gas lighting to Cardiff in 1821, is
remembered in a plaque at St. David's Hall. On 20 November 1828 the contractor
was excused from his duty of lighting the streets, so that he could supply gas
to Charles Green for a balloon flight from Cardiff. Sadly, while the balloon
was later recovered in Somerset, Mr. Green lost his life over the Bristol
The Improvement Act specified that
residents should play their part in cleansing the town. Projecting water-spouts
and signs were to be removed, pavements were to be swept, and refuse was to be
taken to the scavenger's cart when he sounded his bell. Action was to be taken
against burgesses who deposited ashes and dunghills in the street, or allowed
their pigs to wander. Unfortunately these sensible measures were not easily
enforced, and repetitive exhortations to heed the regulations clearly indicate
that people were failing to co-operate. Incidents of vandalism and hooliganism
show a contempt for the law. Street lamps were often broken and, when 5 special
constables were appointed in 1819 to uphold order, their hut was destroyed.
The town markets too had become a
hazard to health. They were now so dispersed that the cattle market was in Crockerton, the pig market was near the Golate, while the corn
and meat markets were at the Town Hall. The Shambles had become a disgrace as
fragile temporary stalls frequently collapsed and the meat fell in the dirt. A
covered purpose-built market was eventually erected in 1835 on gardens
alongside the County Gaol. Access was provided from St. Mary Streetand through
the Old Arcade in Church Street. The Town Hall continued to serve as a corn and
grain market until its demolition in 1861.
Georgian Cardiff differed very
little from other places of a comparable size in Wales. Its shops stocked a
reasonable range of merchandise which was supplemented by regular visits from
the "Scotchmen' or pedlars. In 1803 Malkin reflected that Cardiff was
"a neat and agreeable place', but he added, "if the rest of Wales was
similar to its towns, there would be very slight attraction to induce the visit
of a stranger'.