Real Cardiff

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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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A pin-eyed zoom-head in a check shirt driving a McNiff van takes the polish from the back of my left shoe. I'm turning off Tyndall Street towards the new Lloyd George Avenue. It's sheeting rain, a grey slash coming up the boulevard from the south. The wind is slamming the velcro of my anorak collar into my reddening face. Cardiff weather. I round the corner by Edward England Ltd - 1842 Potato Merchants for 150 years - flogging bagged maris piper from their stone built warehouse. Their car park is marked out in new white stripes to be sold to city centre day shoppers. The site is placed well enough. It's at the interface between the bay and the town, the barrier the planners want to see dissolve like a set of A&E stitches. Nothing is completely finished when I visit. Dug up tarmac, patched pavement, loose brick, sand, JCBs doing 40 down the dual carriage way, guys in hard hats. But when it's done it'll flow like an airport runway directly to Pier Head Building, that Big Ben symbol of Wales' parliament, red brick focus of the nation - clock, history, weather vane, future - all in one.

The Avenue runs parallel to the site of the former Bute West Dock - the first great break for maritime fortune made by the second Marquis of Bute in around 1839. This is where Cardiff first began to stretch its economic muscle. Exporting Dowlais iron from the town quay in Westgate Street wasn't enough. How could it be? King coal was arriving. Like a nineteenth century Bill Gates the Marquis made his early move, established the operating system, and took over the city. Docks and the land they're dug into. Own both and you control the world.

When the second Marquis got to it, the land here - the great East Moors - was nothing but salt marsh, fog and sinking mud. "A direful swamp over which the spring tides flowed, leaving dangerous dykes, swamps and gullies" (Wm Rees - Cardiff - A History of the City) . Everything south of the end of present day St Mary Street was open field. Cows grazed and were brought to be milked roughly where the Mill Lane sex shop currently stands. Land drains went in, a sea wall was erected, a deep cut made out to the Bristol Channel through the silky, clinging mud. The godwit, the sandpiper, the plover moved south. Give them another 160 years and they'd be moved again.

As the industrial revolution roared through the western world Cardiff's time arrived. On the back of iron and steel coal exports rose exponentially. New docks went in - bigger, better, deeper - Bute East Dock, Roath Dock, Roath Basin, Queen Alexandra. Shipowners set up shop. By 1880 the city was host to more than 90 companies including Blue Jacket, White Jacket, Evan-Thomas Radcliffe, the Cardiff Steam Navigation Company and John Cory. Local population exploded. Cheap workers terraced housing spread out from the city centre like a glowing stain.

But revolutions fade, and in Cardiff today, as far as heavy industry goes, the paleness is palpable. The Bute West Dock is filled-in and covered with brick and glass apartments. No gardens, no sheds, no place to store your muddy boots. £250,000 for three rooms of ash, chrome, multi-sink and panoramic view. Rigarossa, Atlantic Wharf, Mallards Reach, Hightower, Adventurers Quay, Millennium Waterfront, Scott Harbour. Wonderfully pronounceable names, saleable as addresses to the never-Welsh, non-Welsh and the anti-Welsh and with hardly a lexical connection to the land they occupy between them. The dock feeder goes through here. Like a canal through a wet Venice. Beautiful, impractical, its original purpose gone forever.

the apartments beyond the rock

When the idea for the great link between the Bay development and the city was first mooted by Cardiff Bay Development Corporation the connecting highway was to be called Bute Avenue. It would have a hi-tech tramway running parallel to it. The old Taff Vale rail link between Queen Street Station and Bute Road was to be no more. But money and politics intervened. The rail link - frequent, cheap and usually empty - terminates at the renamed Cardiff Bay station. It's separated from Lloyd George Avenue by heavy urban planting and a barbed wire intruder fence. On the far side is the real Bute Town. Does the fence protect the residents there from death by diesel two-car? Or does it just keep them out? The City and County of Cardiff - CBDC's successors - gave the Avenue its new name. Lloyd George - Welsh, proud, redolent of high point history and achievement. At the opening ceremony the Labour council failed to invite a single Liberal. This was politics. Lloyd George would have understood.

Through the unending rain I go down it. Leaves. Hoardings painted by local schools, you have to keep the community happy. Graffiti already on the Letton underpass. No Macdonald's wrappers. Lots of street furniture. Bunch of joggers in streaming kit. At the bottom is a chrome tower and fountain telling us that this really is the future. Water cascades across its surface. This is Wales, after all. There's a gull parked on top.

no dock reaches here now
Edward England's Potato Warehouse


Peter Finch

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