Guide to living in Cardiff Bay
The Tiger that lost its stripes
Cardiff Bay has brought a whole new dimension to our enjoyment of the city
With fuzzy heads, we soaked up sunshine at a quayside café the morning after Wales’ Friday-night Six Nations triumph over France. As French conversation and laughter wafted on the breeze, it felt as though we were abroad.
View of Cardiff Bay and Millennium Centre “When the sun is out and the nights are long, there is no better place to be than sitting in the Bay with a cool breeze off the sea,” says Dr Rhys Jones, Cardiff University lecturer, BBC presenter and Bay resident. “It’s got a fantastic variety of restaurants, bars and some interesting niche shops. It reminds me of Lisbon, actually.”
These days, homes populate former wasteland and there are spaces for leisure where once was great commerce, industry and toil. It’s almost impossible to imagine the vast smoky docks, as rough and ready as the Bristol Channel’s currents – said to be reminiscent of raging tigers and the reason for the fierce, romantic name ‘Tiger Bay’.
“James Street, the one-time hub of dock life, pulsed with vitality,” wrote famed Tiger Bay poet Harry ‘Shipmate’ Cooke. “Tall buildings full of clacking typewriters, clerks, shipbrokers, agents and things maritime. At street level, shops of every degree, elbowing each other for attention.”
These days James Street is a shadow of its former self, and the evocative Tiger Bay all but extinct. But the splendour of the Nineteenth-Century façades still display the wealth and power that rose here thanks to the export of coal.
“Take a walk around Loudoun and Mount Stuart Squares and you soon get a grasp of the history,” says resident Martin M. Jones. “Historic photos in the Waterguard, Bute Street Post Office and events such as 2013’s De Gabay production all help to educate us newcomers of the area’s rich history.”
You don’t have to be eagle-eyed to notice Cardiff Bay’s industrial past in the public art and the rusting remnants littering the cityscape. “The Cardiff Bay Development Corporation must have wanted the history of the Bay to show through; there are anchors, mooring bollards, coal scoops, and a big old crane left around the place,” says Alex Martin, who commutes from Danescourt by bike to work at County Hall.
Cardiff Bay view from above Iconic buildings help to put Cardiff Bay on the map. “I’ve recently taken up photography,” adds Alex, “and the history of the Bay is one of the things I like to show. I like to walk past the Wales Millennium Centre, the Senedd, Pierhead Building and Norwegian Church to take photos on sunny days.”
Impossible to ignore, the gleaming, shell-like Wales Millennium Centre will have been open ten years this November. “The WMC is now the most visited indoor tourist attraction in Wales, and no picture of Cardiff’s skyline is complete without the silhouette of the famous ‘armadillo’,” says Christian Torkington, founder and director of Guy Christian hair salon.
“Being so close to the capital’s most iconic businesses and buildings bring lots of footfall,” says Christian, who recently chose the Bay to open his second branch. “I love the architecture and vibe of the Bay – there’s so many creative people mingling around, it’s a real hub of activity. It also gives Cardiff a very cosmopolitan feel that would be hard to achieve without its existence.”
Did you know?
• The world’s first £1 million cheque was signed in the once-mighty Coal Exchange, which in 1886 had more than 1,500 cigar-smoking, be-hatted members.
• “One of the things I love about the Bay is the extensive outside gym, free to all users. The parks join up so that park gym apparatus can form part of a circuit. You can jog around and stop off at a rowing machine, elliptical runner or bench press as the go. How many areas of Cardiff can say that?!” – Dr Rhys Jones
• In 1910, Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s British Antarctic Expedition embarked from Cardiff aboard the SS Terra Nova (though Scott was not aboard). Cardiff raised £2,500 for the expedition, more than any other city.
• Cardiff Bay is modelled on Baltimore’s successful Inner Harbour redevelopment scheme. Planners and councillors visited many times, and in 1994 they took along the BBC Welsh National Orchestra… perhaps in case they ran out of conversation?
• These days, St Cuthbert’s Primary School is located on Letton Road, named after Tommy Letton, or ‘Uncle Tom’. Born in 1901, Tommy ‘The Fish’, as he was also known, was one of the Docks’ famous characters – he spent more than 40 years selling fish from a barrow. How many streets have been named after fishmongers? But then, how many fishmongers have been instrumental in creating a park, as Tommy did? Hamadryad Park was named after the HMS Hamadryad, the old ship-hospital for seamen.
• The area south of Clarence Road, between the Taff and the old Glamorganshire Canal, was once called ‘Rat Island’. Delightful.