Growing Prosperity


Shrewd entrepreneurs, often starting a business venture with little capital, took advantage of the industrial and commercial opportunities in Victorian Cardiff to amass considerable fortunes. Some accumulated their wealth from manufacturing industries, while others exploited the consumer demand of a growing population for services such as new shops and hotels. In this flourishing economic environment, Cardiffdisplayed a civic pride and confidence which reached its climax in the Edwardian Age.

James Howell, a poor boy from Cwmcath near Fishguard, reflected the Victorian virtues of enthusiasm, hard work and ambition. After serving his apprenticeship to a penny-pinching employer, nick-named "Davies Tightskin', James worked as a draper's assistant in South Wales and London. He saved enough money to open his own shop in

Edgware Road
but this first venture nearly ended in bankruptcy. In 1865, at the age of 30, Howell returned to South Wales and rented a shop in The Hayes. He had a great flair for publicity, and advertised his shop as "Linen Draper to the million by Universal Appointment'. James Howell moved to
13 St. Mary Street
in 1867 and, as he extended his premises into
Trinity Street
Wharton Street
during the next quarter of a century, he became a leading figure in Cardiffbusiness circles.

James enjoyed a happy marriage to his wife, Fanny, who gave him practical help and encouragement while he was still striving to open his first shop. She bore him 11 children, 6 of them sons, and not surprisingly the family required a large residence. Interestingly, each of the houses they occupied in Westgrove became the Mansion House for the Mayor of Cardiff. James's first home at The Walk has recently been converted into flats by the Family Housing Association. The present Mansion House, with its fine double-bay frontage, was designed as two villas for Howell's sons but they chose not to live there. After their father's death it was sold to the Corporation, its spacious, pleasant rooms making it an ideal residence for the Lord Mayor.

James Howell adopted a paternal attitude towards his staff. When the normal shop closing hours were , with an extension to on Saturdays, he provided accommodation for his employees on the premises. Many happy marriages were made between members of staff at Howell's and, so rumour has it, each of them required the master's personal blessing. When James Howell died in 1909 at the age of 73, he would almost certainly have given his approval to the headline in the South Wales Echo - "The Great Draper Dead'.

David Morgan had a similar background to James Howell. A farmer's son from Breconshire, he became a successful draper at Abertillery and Pontlottyn, before he arrived at The Hayes in October 1879. David made a loss in his first year of trading, but after this setback his store prospered and grew until it occupied almost the entire western side of the street.

David Morgan had none of the flamboyance of James Howell. Thrift and economy were the watchwords of his business. He never "knocked off' the odd pence from an account, insisted that his staff carefully saved pins and string, and generally disapproved of waste in any form. He particularly mistrusted sales, a phobia which could be traced back to his youth, when he discovered that the sale price he had paid for a waistcoat was higher than the original cost. His rather austere attitude to life may have stemmed from personal sadness, since his wife died only three years after their marriage, leaving him with a young son. When Morgan died in 1919, at the age of 85, he left a fortune of £250,000 and a shop which is one of the few surviving family stores in Cardiff.

Keen rivalry always existed between David Morgan and James Howell, and on one occasion Morgan was negotiating to buy a property, only to find that Howell had already purchased it to block his expansion. Not to be outdone, Morgan retaliated by blocking an extension to Howell's until a compromise was reached. For all his frugality, David enjoyed a good reputation as an employer, and proved to be a public benefactor in clearing many of the slums between The Hayes and

St. Mary Street
. In the 1880's this area was a jumble of ugly courts, poor cottages, tiny shops and public houses. As new shops and arcades arose in their place, these blots on the landscape disappeared.

The Royal Arcade, which was first opened in 1856, was built by the Cardiff Arcade Company, but Morgan gained access into it when he rebuilt his premises in 1884. Later, while he was carrying out further improvements to his store in 1899, he provided the finance for the construction of the Morgan Arcade. During the later Victorian and Edwardian era, more of these pleasant passage-ways were built in High Street,

Duke Street
Queen Street
. When the Wyndham, Castle, Dominion and Andrews arcades opened in the early years of the twentieth century, Cardiffbecame famous as a "City of Arcades', where shoppers were able to stroll in comfort. Each of the arcades varies in character and many of the retailers, such as Lear's bookshop in the Royal Arcade, can trace their origins back to the nineteenth century. A recent example of splendid reconstruction can be seen in the Castle Arcade which displays a Victorian charm, with shop fronts and lanterns from the period, an attractive balcony of small businesses, and a nineteenth century staircase.


Larger hotels, equipped with the latest amenities, were built to meet the increased demand for accommodation in the town after 1860. Some of these Victorian hotels, such as the Queen's in

St. Mary Street
, now serve other purposes, but others have stood the test of time.

When the Royal Hotel opened its doors in April 1866, the Cardiff Times congratulated the Cardiff Hotel Company upon "a really first class hotel, one worthy of the metropolis of Wales'. Entered either from

St. Mary Street
Westgate Street
, the hotel was the most prominent building in the town, clearly visible for some miles to the west. Guests were accommodated in 50 bedrooms while the assembly room could seat 150 people. The Cardiff Times applauded such innovations as ventilators to remove the gas fumes; new press button service bells from France; the labour saving kitchen; and the fireproof rear staircase. In fact, the newspaper's only criticism concerned the naming of the hotel which, it argued,  might have been more closely identified with Cardiff had it been known as the "Lord Bute'. The Royal was enlarged in 1896 and refurbished in a Gothic style, but the original premises are still distinguishable. In June 1910, the Lord Mayor and leading citizens of Cardiffentertained Captain Scott and his fellow officers at the Royal Hotel, before they embarked on their ill-fated expedition to the South Pole.

After the demolition of the Cardiff Arms Hotel, the site lay vacant for a time until the development of the present Angel Hotel, which in 1883 offered luxurious accommodation in its 150 apartments, a banqueting room, a billiard room, and a "large handsome coffee room'. At the end of the Great War, the Angel was given the unusual name of U.S.S. Chatinouka, when it became a headquarters for the United States Navy.

The Park Hotel was the brainchild of James Howell who organised a consortium to build it and supplied half the capital himself. He also made it known that commercial travellers with business at his store would only be welcome if they stayed at the "Park'. Opened in 1885, the hotel was only one component of the complex which included a number of shops in

Queen Street
, the Park Hall Theatre, and a public house, the popular Park Vaults. Its graceful façade makes it one of the most beautiful buildings in Cardiff and it has been described as, "a watered down version of The Louvre'. In the 1890's the Park Hotel could boast 100 bedrooms, 2 billiard rooms, 3 coffee rooms, banqueting halls, and a variety of bars. When the New Theatre opened in 1906, the hotel soon became popular with actors and artistes performing at the theatre.

Several other fine hotels were constructed in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Architecturally, the Great Western in

St. Mary Street
is the most splendid. Built about 1879, its curved façade is a magnificent harmony of Gothic windows, steeply pointed gables and slender turrets, topped with conical spires. Less ornate, but nonetheless pleasing examples of Victorian architecture, are the Central Hotel, opposite the Great Western, and the Grand in
Westgate Street
. Cardiff's Victorian hotels seem to have met the requirements of its business community, for while all of them were renovated in due course, no further hotels were built until after the Second World War.


A further sign of Cardiff's growing importance is indicated in its proliferation of newspapers as the nineteenth century advanced. Until 1857 the only local newspapers were the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian and The Silurian. Published weekly, their circulation was relatively small but, for a number of reasons, the newspaper industry gained a new impetus in the 1860's. First of all, the stamp duty was abolished, so that the cost of a newspaper fell from fourpence to a halfpenny or a penny. Secondly, as primary education became universal, a literate mass readership was created. Most crucial of all, the Reform Act of 1867 gave working men the vote and political parties recognised the importance of newspapers as a means of influencing public opinion.

The Cardiff Times was introduced in 1857 as the voice of the Liberal Party. It also announced its intention, "to deliver the borough from the degrading position of being a mere appanage of the Bute Estate'. For some years the Conservatives made no response but, following their candidate's defeat in the election of 1868, the Bute trustees decided to launch the first daily paper in Wales. The Western Mail made its début on 1 May 1869. Its editor was an impulsive, eccentric Yorkshireman by the name of Lascelles Carr who, since Bute was never an enthusiastic newspaper owner, also became its proprietor in 1877.

Carr was a sincere Conservative but also a rebel. Lloyd George believed him to be, "the cleverest man I have met' and Cecil Rhodes said, "Give me Lascelles Carr in South Africaand I will rule that world'. The Western Mail expressed a radical form of Toryism, even to the extent of backing the miners' strike against the ironmasters in 1873. Carr urged arbitration to settle the dispute and organised a public fund to assist the strikers. Afterwards, the Western Mail was banned from the Dowlais Reading Room for twenty years.

Carr's rival was David Duncan, a Cardiff alderman who owned the Cardiff Times. To compete with the Western Mail, he introduced a morning paper, the South Wales Daily News, in 1872. Eventually, public demand was buoyant enough to justify the production of evening newspapers: the South Wales Echo in 1884 as a companion for the Daily News; and the South Wales Evening Express in 1887 to partner the Western Mail. When the Weekly Mail was established to compete with the Cardiff Times, the people of Cardiffhad an abundant choice of reading material from 4 daily and 2 weekly newspapers.

The primary purpose of these newspapers was to influence public opinion and sometimes their comments could be quite vicious. John Batchelor, Mayor of Cardiff in 1854, was a favourite target for Conservative abuse and it followed him to the grave. Batchelor was one of the first Nonconformist Liberals to oppose what he called "Castle domination' by the Bute faction. When he died in 1883 his statue on HayesIsland bore as its inscription, "The Friend of Freedom'. Batchelor's enemies searched for a different epitaph and a local solicitor, T.H. Ensor, wrote to the Western Mail, suggesting such phrases as, "Traitor to the Crown ... hater of the clergy ... sincerely mourned by unpaid creditors ... died a demagogue and a pauper' and so on. When Lascelles Carr published the letter, both he and Ensor were prosecuted for criminal libel. It became a famous case as the judge proclaimed, "the dead have no rights and suffer no wrongs'. He ordered the jury to find for the defendants since criminal libel, other than in exceptional circumstances, only applies to the living.

The newspapers of the day were all presented in a similar form. The front page was crammed with advertisements and the news was printed on the inside pages. Shipping intelligence and movements in the price of coal were always given prominence, but entertainment and sport received only the minimum of coverage until the Edwardian Age.

Both newspaper groups flourished until the First World War, but afterwards the popular London papers embarked upon a drive to increase their circulation in the provinces. They improved the speed of distribution and production, took a lighter approach to the news, and offered gifts or other inducements to new readers. Duncan's newspapers were unable to compete and in 1928 they were sold to the Western Mail as a part of the Allied Newspapers Group.


The industrial activity, which accompanied the development of the docks, soon became apparent in other parts of Cardiff. Foundries and engineering works, such as the College Ironworks at Whitchurch or the Eagle Foundry in Llandaff North, were able to benefit from economic growth in South Wales, while The Atlas Engineering Works in Canton produced railway and colliery equipment ranging from locomotives to steam hammers.

John Williams, who came from Swansea in 1844 to manage an ironmongery business in Duke Street, later bought the company, together with a nail and rivet factory alongside the canal in North Street. He continued to trade as an ironmonger but also made heating appliances, fireplaces and windows. In 1888 John Williams purchased the Globe Foundry at East Moors, where he produced the metal windows which were to give the firm a national reputation.

D. Morgan Rees transferred his wire ropes business from the Forest of Dean to Gabalfa in 1901. The Excelsior Works expanded to become the premises of the British Ropes Company, one of the major manufacturers of wire ropes in the United Kingdom. Production ceased in the 1990’s when the site at Western Avenue became incorporated into a business and retail park.

The Ely Paper Mill was founded in 1865 but its years of prosperity began after it was acquired by Thomas Owen twelve years later. It made a contribution to the local economy for more than a century, some of its employees coming from the third or fourth generation. Originally, wood pulp was imported from Canada and turned into newsprint for The Times and the Manchester Guardian. For many years the firm remained adaptable. In the 1930's it produced parchments and speciality paper, while in the 1980’s it manufactured carbonless paper. At that time 850 people were employed at the Ely Bridge Works, but sadly more than 130 years of activity came to an end in 2000 and the site at present awaits development.

Brewing was another profitable industry in Victorian Cardiff. William Hancock built up a thriving business by purchasing local breweries, among them the County Brewery in Crawshay Street which was the most complete plant of its kind in the region. This acquisition was made in 1894 and soon afterwards the Grangetown premises became the headquarters of the company. Hancock's ales enjoyed a great reputation in South Wales for more than seventy years and the famous drays, pulled by magnificent white horses, became a familiar sight as far away as Swansea. The firm is now a part of the Bass Worthington Group.

Hancock's great rival was founded by S.A. Brain and his uncle, J.F. Brain, in 1882. They bought the Old Brewery in St. Mary Street after its owner, John Giffen Thomas, sold it in a fit of pique following the introduction of the Welsh Sunday Closing Act. The company owns over 120 public houses though, of the original taverns, only the Albert in St. Mary Street and the Golden Cross in Hayes Bridge Road, remain. The Golden Cross has been refurbished and, in its elegant Victorian bar, superb murals of the castle and the town halls of Cardiff are displayed. Ironically, Brains’ recently departed from the Old Brewery and now occupy the premises in Grangetown once owned by Hancock’s.

Perhaps the most remarkable of all the Victorian entrepreneurs was Solomon Andrews, the son of a confectioner from Trowbridge. Solomon came to Cardiff about 1850 and at first followed his father's trade. He hawked sweets on a wooden tray in the local markets and soon won a high reputation as a baker and confectioner. Hardworking and resourceful, it was not long before Solomon became involved in several other business ventures.

In 1863 Andrews purchased his first hansom cab but, as Cardiff encroached on its future suburbs, the need for a properly organised public transport system became obvious. Solomon invested in omnibuses and by 1873 the Corporation had awarded him 5 of its 15 omnibus licences. The Cardiff Tramways Company, a component of a national firm, Provincial Tramways, provided transport on the other routes.

For some years, buses and trams worked in harmony to give a good public service. In 1878, however, the Tramways Company extended its lines to Roath and Canton, territory regarded by Andrews as rightfully his. A bitter conflict ensued, resulting in hair-raising journeys as bus drivers blocked tram lines, or set off a quarter of a minute ahead of their rivals in order to impede their progress and "steal' their passengers. Inevitably there were accusations, counter-accusations and prosecutions for "furious driving'. Eventually it was the Tram Company which was forced to compromise and Andrews sold them his buses at a handsome profit. The Tramways now had a monopoly and the public not only faced a rise in fares, but also several strikes, when the company attempted to recover its losses by reducing  staff.

In 1902 the Corporation became responsible for public transport. The tram service was converted to an electrically operated system which was to serve Cardiff for the next fifty years. In 1904 this service was carrying 18 million passengers a year on the Corporation's 131 electric trams, and from 1911-1941 it provided a useful local parcels service. Boys, hopping on and off the trams, delivered packages to all parts of Cardiff. The Hayes Island Snack Bar is the last survivor of the depots where parcels were once left for distribution.

Solomon Andrews would have approved of such enterprise. After selling his buses he developed other business interests as far afield as London and Pwllheli. In Cardiff he built and repaired omnibuses, registering a patent in 1882 for a bus which could be adapted to run on tram lines. From his works at Roath and later at East Moors, Andrews' buses were sold to companies throughout Britain and some were even exported to Australia.

It was about this time that Solomon entered the building trade. He provided houses in Penarth, Grangetown and Llandaff North, where Andrews Road bears his name. In St. Mary Street he constructed the Imperial Buildings in 1888 and, after the fire of 1885, he re-erected the Market Buildings, known locally as "Solomon's Temple'. The Andrews Building and the Andrews Arcade in Queen Street are further testimony to his activities in the construction industry.

Diversity was the keynote of Andrews' approach to business. His initiatives included furniture removal; a grocery and ironmongery store in City Road; coffee taverns to combat the evils of alcohol; and undertaking. Photographs show Solomon as a bearded Victorian patriarch who, through his initiative and use of his talents, became a millionaire. Though a religious man, a life-long Methodist, he was no hypocrite. Once, in church, he sat down pointedly and refused to sing, "On all the riches of the earth, with pity I look down'. When he died in 1908 at the age of 73, the Andrews' employees were promised a new suit or overcoat to attend the funeral, which might partially account for the large turn-out. The growth and varied nature of the Andrews' business empire is a clear manifestation of Cardiff's rapid transition from a modest mid-Victorian town to its position as one of the foremost cities of Britain.