Real Cardiff

left off James Street and you're there

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Real Cardiff
Bute Street
Charles Street
City Road
Flat Holm
The Four Elms
The Garth
Gorsedd Gardens
Hadfield Road
Lloyd George Ave
Mount Stuart Square
Newport Road

The Parks of Roath
The Pearl


Womanby St.

Cardiff Poets Map
Cardiff, New York
Shots of the Bay
and the City

More Scenes

Cardiff Fictions and

Hamadryad Park
The Bay
St David's Hall
The Museum
The City
Check Your Accent
Ffynnon Denis

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Coming to this Square can be a disappointment. If you were expecting a large, spacious courtyard on the Edinburgh or Dublin model then forget it. Mount Stuart is not open. Its roadway describes a squat rectangle. At its midpoint is the creaky five storey stone pile of the Cardiff Coal Exchange. This place was once the centre of the city's commercial life. There's a blue plaque, unreadably high, above the main door to mark the fact. But there's not a gram of coal exchanged there now. The last sack left Cardiff in the sixties. We import now. Ahead of me are a group of shrieking Asians, headscarves, dangling gold, trainers, screaming bright socks. They're heading for the Dowlais arcade that leads past the massage parlour and @Yum, the upmarket sandwich bar to the flats of West Bute Street. We are in cosmopolitan country. I round the corner where the buildings have all gone for car parks or redevelopment and take in the spiky frame of the Millennium Stadium on the skyline beyond.

Mount Stuart Square, named after Lord Mountstuart, the Napoleonic period MP for Cardiff and heir to the Bute estate, was where Cardiff's wealth once circled. You can tell by the shape and weight of the buildings. Put up at the end of the nineteenth century when coal, iron and steel were making the city spin, they exude power - Cambrian Buildings, Empire House, Perch Buildings 1889, Beynon House, Crichton House - home of the Capital and Counties Bank, Baltic House, Phoenix Buildings. The centrepiece, the once-mighty Coal Exchange, which in 1886 had more than 1500 members running around in hats, spats and cigars, now moulders. A local promoter, Red Kite, puts on the occasional concert. Van Morrison, amazingly, played here recently with Linda Gail Lewis and a Welsh pick-up band, turning out the sort of bar room rock and roll that Cardiffians favour. Back in the eighties I saw the Five Blind Boys of Alabama bring the house down with contagious gospel sung to a mainly black audience of large women in their Sunday best. But for most of the time, until redevelopment takes hold, and smart office refurb and ready conference facility come back on stream, the building sleeps.The tired leviathan. Old newspapers blow across its frontage. Rain dirt collects on its window sills. The Cardiff Bay Development Corporation once faced here, head on from Baltic House. The wily planners there put back some of the old power using a form of autocratic osmosis. But they've been disbanded now, time done, their authority transferred to the City whose first action was to suggest renaming the whole area something like Cardiff South. Thank the Lord and Muddy Waters that idea got shot down.

carved in stone -
Power of the Past - Beynon House

Today the Square houses a mix of arts agencies, a few charities, media companies, design studios, and PR manipulators. Harry Holland, probably Cardiff's best-known painter, has a studio here and one of the pubs has become gourmet restaurant. The Square has changed its nature but it has not slid back.

The western edge once housed the chapel which later became the notorious Casablanca, the first and best of the city's stoned-sixties night clubs. You came here if you were strong. New appartments now. 2002 build. The Square, of course, is surrounded on all sides by mainstream, classic-mode Bute Town. This is pre-Bay development Cardiff dockland, or at least, what's left of it. To the north are the mesh of new streets they built to replace the mesh of old streets running up to Loudon Square. That, with its classic Victoriana, they pulled down. South is James Street and a further slice of local housing that separates Mount Stuart from Techniquest, Harry Ramsden's and the water beyond. The plan for Cardiff Bay is based, largely, on Baltimore. Fleets of councillors, developers and other local worthies were flown over year on year to see how it was done over there. "Urban renewal equals Negro removal", black American author James Baldwin was quoated at them, using heavy irony. But not in Caerdydd, brother. Not yet.

Walking out of the Square at the south end I pass the tiny White Hart and the empty shop from which, ten years back, the short-lived Bay FM, Cardiff's only rap station ran. I turn into the thin splinter of a recreation ground, built along the line of the old Glamorgan Canal, that runs from the Royal Hamadryad Hospital near the waterfront, skirting Loudon Square and central Butetown to the main London-Fishguard railway to the north. At the James Street intersection there are some planted shrubs and a this-wonderful-park-is-here-for-the-people-of-Butetown artist-carved entrance gates but after that it's worn grass, smashed divans, wrecked washing machines and litter. The blind backs of Mount Stuart's buildings have been elaborately spray painted. "Crime Pays, Yo!", "I wunder if Heaven got a ghetto". No question.

no longer broadcasting
Bay FM on James Street
(now the Somali Advice Centre)

When I get back to the real City (the Bay will forever be another country) I will have passed at least ten people I don't know, all of whom will have spoken or acknowledged me in some way. Coming up The Hayes it is again as if I don't exist. Inscrutable Cardiff. Good to be back.

Peter Finch

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Mt St Sq Potted Guide

St Stephen's Church
1902 replaces temp iron church. Art space.
Cambrian Buildings
(site of Bute Town National School)
Beynon House
(orig Baltic Buildings, Atlantic Buldings, Saint Line House) iron ore
Three-storey Houses
2nd stage house building
Empire House
Plain Two-Storey
Imperial House
scallop windows
Aberdare House
Marine House
scallop windows
Baltic House
(orig three houses & Welsh Independent Chapel) galleons
Coal and Shipping Exchange
(Guest glassworks sticky clay nine meters, then gardens)
Gloucester House
town houses German consulate, Brazilian vice-consulate
Imperial House
(orig Merthyr House) docks
Ship and Pilot
(orig two cottages)
Mount Stuart House
(orig two cottages) 1898 Cory now Academi