Post War Reconstruction


Fears of a  depression similar to that after the First World War proved to be  groundless but the docks, so important in wartime, resumed the decline which had begun a quarter of a century earlier. The flow of military traffic ceased within a year or two and ships, which had used Cardiff during the war, now returned to their home ports. More significantly, coal exports barely reached a million tons in 1946 and ended altogether in 1964. Soon afterwards came the final touch of irony when coal, needed for the East Moors Works, was actually imported into Cardiff. Since 1983 Associated British Ports have been responsible for the docks. In 1989 the port handled 2(1/2) million tons of cargo and the number of dockers had fallen to 160, a far cry from the frenetic activity of those days before the Great War. Nowadays, only the Queen Alexandra and the Roath Docks are needed to deal with the ships using the port of Cardiff, though the East Dock and the Roath Basin still survive, giving pleasure to present and future generations as Cardiff Bay is developed.

The Glamorganshire Canal has virtually passed into oblivion. After a landslip at Nantgarw in 1942, the City Council assumed responsibility for the canal and, apart from the sea lock, it was closed to traffic. After the war a decision was taken to fill in the canal. Perhaps this was a sensible choice at the time but, with the advantage of hindsight, what a priceless asset the waterway might have been in linking Cardiff Bay with the city centre.The sea lock remained in use until December 1951 when a dredger, Catherine Ethel collided with the inner lock gates, wrecking them beyond repair.

North of Cardiff, the A470 to Pontypridd and Abercynon is largely built on the old canal. Its route near the Cow and Snuffers at Llandaff North, and alongside Mountstuart school in Butetown, is clothed with a layer of turf. The Moat car park covers the canal where it approached the castle and in the city centre, Queens West, St. David's Shopping Centre and the Marriott Hotel are all partially built on the site of the Glamorganshire Canal. The nature reserve at Velindre and the underpass at Kingsway are the only tangible remains in the city of this once vital artery between Merthyr and Cardiff. Elsewhere, only place names such as Tunnel Court, East and West Canal Wharfs, or the New Sealock Hotel recall the passage of the canal through Cardiff.

Since 1945 Cardiff has been faced with the problems of retaining or replacing its manufacturing industries. At Llanishen, the R.O.F. continued to produce weapons and in 1947 over a thousand people were employed in the factory. Engineering firms, such as John Curran and John Williams, also provided a foundation for heavy industry, and a successful industrial future appeared to be beckoning when the Rover Factory was established at Tremorfa in 1963. Unfortunately, the Rover plant never lived up to its expectations. No more than an eighth of the anticipated jobs materialised and these were lost in the 1980's, when the works closed following the reorganisation of the company.

The closure of the East Moors Steelworks in 1978, with a loss of 3,000 jobs, was the biggest blow to manufacturing in Cardiff. As its plant became obsolete, losses rose to £15 million a year and East Moors suffered the fate of Merthyr a generation earlier. Steel making continues at the Allied Steelworks near the East Dock, but the closure of East Moors had serious repercussions for local services, contractors, and the docks.

The Buchanan Report noted in 1965 that 40,000 people in Cardiff were working in manufacturing industry, compared with 95,000 in the service sector. Since that time the gap has widened considerably. As the 1970's drew to a close, employment prospects in Cardiff were far from healthy and few would have foreseen the transformation that was to occur in the next decade.


For some years after the war, the construction industry was kept fully occupied in repairing the ravages of the conflict. It was true that Cardiff had escaped lightly compared with many cities, but over 600 buildings had been completely destroyed and nearly 30,000 needed repairs. Priority was given to the rebuilding of houses, though it was not always possible to match the original materials. In many districts of Cardiff there are new brick houses, contrasting with earlier dwellings of pennant sandstone, to evoke memories of the Blitz.

Nearly fifteen years were to pass before Llandaff Cathedral was raised to its former glory but in 1960 a Thanksgiving Service for its restoration was held in the presence of the Queen and Prince Philip. The reconstruction was largely based on Prichard's work in the nineteenth century but, outside the North Door, the opportunity was taken to build a processional way and a Memorial Chapel, dedicated to the Welsh Regiment. A more controversial innovation was Epstein's statue of Christ in Majesty, looking down on the Nave from a new cylindrical organ case.

In retrospect, the Luftwaffe did less to spoil Cardiff's landscape than some of the postwar development, especially during that barren period of the 1960's and early 1970's. Apart from the obliteration of the Greyfriars' site, the greatest acts of planning madness were reserved for Newport Road and the city end of Cathedral Road, where superb Victorian buildings were demolished to make way for ugly tower blocks.

 Recently, planners and developers have shown much better taste. In the 1980's a genuine attempt to preserve the best of the past has been made at Jones Court, the Custom House, and in the restoration of properties in Charles Street and Park Place. Modern buildings, such as the Capitol and Queensway shopping centres or the Magistrates' Courts, are also an improvement on those of the 1960’s. 

The boundaries of Cardiff have been extended on a number of occasions since the war, partly for administrative convenience, but also to provide the land for new housing programmes. Llanrumney was incorporated into Cardiff in 1951 and an estate, mainly comprising council houses, grew up around the parkland of the Llanrumney Hall.

In 1967 Llanedeyrn and Whitchurch, together with parts of Radyr and Llysfaen, came under the autonomy of the City Council. The most important result of this enlargement was the release of land on which the giant housing estates of Llanedeyrn and Pentwyn were built. Another consequence of the 1967 boundary changes brought Rhiwbina into Cardiff. Planned as a garden village in 1912, Rhiwbina now became one of the most beautiful suburbs of Cardiff, with the unspoilt countryside of Rhiwbina Hill and the Wenallt on its doorstep.

 The most recent adjustments to the limits of Cardiff, apart from a few minor alterations in 1982, took place at the time of local government reorganisation in 1974. Tongwynlais, St. Mellons, St. Fagans and the remnants of Radyr and Llysfaen became integrated within the city's borders. Despite the intensive development which has accompanied these acquisitions of land, the population of Cardiff has seen no dramatic alteration since the Second World War. In 1974 it stood at 275,000 and it is currently estimated at 315,000.

An inevitable consequence of the city's encroachment on the countryside has been the erosion of the green belt around Cardiff. Fortunately, there have been some  compensations, such as the purchase of the delightful Cefn Onn Park by the Corporation in 1944. Generous gifts have also redressed the balance of urban sprawl.

In 1947 the Earl of Plymouth presented St. Fagans Castle, together with its extensive grounds, to the National Museum of Wales. The estate became the home of the Welsh Folk Museum, one of the finest in the world. Its splendid seventeenth century mansion, three museums and, most interesting of all, its restored buildings of infinite variety from every part of Wales, are set in attractive parkland. The museum is now a major tourist attraction in the Principality, visited by more than 250,000 people every year.

 The beauty of Cardiff is further enhanced by its unspoilt greenery in the heart of the city. The foresight of the Butes, in preserving so much of the countryside in the centre of Cardiff, was never more apparent than in September 1947. As a parting gift, the Fifth marquess granted to the people of Cardiffhis castle and 146 acres of land in ButePark. Despite the austerity of the times, thousands of Cardiffians assembled to join in the celebrations on this last great "Buteoccasion'. Views about the family had been divided over the years but, on this day, few disagreed with the Lord Mayor that here was a "gesture of truly royal nature'.


In 1958, three years after becoming the Welsh capital, Cardiff was able to advertise itself to the world when it staged the Empire and Commonwealth Games. Existing facilities were used to keep the costs within bounds and, unlike some of the lavish spectacles of recent times, the games yielded a profit of £30,000.

Only the Wales Empire Pool, now sadly demolished, was built as an entirely new project. Maindy Stadium, converted from a flooded claypit between the wars, was the venue for cycling events. The boxing programme, in which Howard Winstone won Wales's only gold medal, was held at Sophia Gardens Pavilion. Since the war this former aeroplane hangar had been used for ballroom dancing, exhibitions and public meetings. Despite a somewhat utilitarian appearance, the pavilion continued to serve a practical function until it collapsed in 1982 after a heavy snowfall.

The athletics were staged at the CardiffArmsPark. It was here that the closing ceremony of the games produced an outburst of rejoicing to end a great festival of sport. The Queen, unable to attend because of illness, recorded a message, announcing that Prince Charles was now to be known as the "Prince of Wales' and in due course would be presented to his people at Caernarfon. The crowd of over 50,000 burst spontaneously into the singing of "God Bless the Prince of Wales', while the rows of competitors broke ranks to enjoy one great carnival, a custom since imitated at the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games. It was a fitting climax to a memorable occasion.