Posted by Stuart Herbert on May 27th, 2007 in Bute Dock Feeder, Bute Docks, Cardiff, Coal, Glamorganshire Canal, Historical, Iron & Steel, Junction Canal, Shoot, Taff Vale Railway (Modern-day Valley Lines).
The success of the Glamorganshire Canal was always going to bring with it rival means of shipping the goods of the industrial South Wales Valleys out to a world eager for the iron, coal, patent fuel, and stone that were the currency of the Welsh industrialists. The canal was never going to have the capacity required to meet ever-growing demand, and so within 120 years of the canal opening, the marsh land south of Cardiff disappeared under no less than four separate docks, all competing with the Canal for trade. The invention of railway led to five separate railway companies all doing their best to keep up with the rate at which coal was being mined, and their iron tendrils snuck out past the congested Cardiff Docks to Barry, Newport and Swansea too.
Inevitably, it all came to an end.
Although the Glamorganshire Canal finally closed in 1951, it has taken more than fifty years to regenerate the parts of Cardiff touched by the former iron and coal trades. (The situation up in the valleys is bleaker, where full regeneration and recovery from the loss of coal mining may not happen in our lifetimes). It’s the Cardiff Docks that have taken longest to recover, and the recovery has come at what some consider a steep price (the Cardiff Barrage scheme, central to the redevelopment of the waterfront area, led to the loss of mud flats important to wildlife).
As part of the regeneration, the first dock to compete with the Glamorganshire Canal’s Sea Lock Pond has been almost completely erased from the landscape. Originally known as the Bute Ship Canal, all that is left of the Bute West Dock today is the Roald Dahl Basin down on the shore (a popular venue for events such as food fairs), and the Bute Dock Feeder that used to take water from the River Taff beside Cardiff Weir to help regulate the water level in the dock. With no dock left to flow into, the Bute Feeder has instead been diverted down to the old Junction Canal which once linked Bute West Dock and Bute East Dock.
What appears to be an entirely new waterway now flows south off of Junction Canal. Around it has sprung up the housing development known as Atlantic Wharf, transforming what was once a busy industrial dockland into a sort of Cardiff’s own Little Venice.
Thoughts On The Day
Daft as it sounds, I actually stumbled upon the Atlantic Wharf redevelopment by accident. I found myself with lunch hour to kill, and I decided to follow the Bute Dock Feeder as best I could to see where it goes today. I’m very glad that I did.
The path that leads south beside the Bute Dock Feeder from Herbert Street gives no inkling of the new waterway hidden beyond. Indeed, the Feeder quickly disappears into the overgrowth. My initial reaction was one of ‘Oh, well.’ Appearing and disappearing stretches of water are the hallmark of the remains of the Glamorganshire Canal and its associated waterways.
However, rounding the corner reveals the Junction Canal, which could never have looked as pleasant as it does today. Built to link Bute’s original Dock (the Bute West Dock) to his bigger deeper Bute East Dock, the only old photo I’ve seen of Junction Canal shows it to have been a miserable industrial landscape crossed by the remains of a ruined railway viaduct. Bute West Dock may be gone, but Junction Canal has not only survived – it has flourished.
There are two stone footbridges across Junction Canal. They are in sharp contrast to the other bridges over the new waterway that runs south through Atlantic Wharf, which are unmistakably modern in design and construction. At the time I thought that they might be original bridges across the Canal, but now I believe that they stand at the spots where the two railway viaducts – one for the TVR to the west, and the Bute Viaduct to the east – would have crossed the Junction Canal as they brought coal down from the Taff and Rhymney valleys to the Bute West Dock and Bute East Dock respectively.
The new waterway that runs south off of Junction Canal is what makes this such a pleasant place to take a lunch time walk. I don’t know what was here originally, but I’ve found no mention of Junction Canal ever being anything other than a straight forward stretch of canal flowing west to east and back again. There are houses here now on both sides, where the trains would have emptied their loads of coal to be transferred onto ships in both docks.
I found the place so charming that, if I ever move into Cardiff, this will be one of the areas that I’d look to buy a house in.
Favourite Photograph From The Shoot
I love this shot of the Bute Dock Feeder running south above Herbert Street so much that I went back there later on with the Nikon D200 to take another, more detailed version of the same shot. I’m planning on uploading that shot soon as a HDR shot. I think that this is the best angle to take a shot of that apartment building (built on the site of a former school); it really brings out the angular nature of its design.
I also love the contrast between the Bute Dock Feeder (a relic of the 19th century), the old industrial units from the 20th century on the right, and the apartment block from the 21st century.
I had to go back for a second visit to take some additional shots. Unfortunately, after only three years my Canon Digital IXUS has started to become unreliable. It’s starting to look like it’s time to replace it with a newer model. (Anyone remember the days when we didn’t throw things away, but had them repaired instead?)
After the last two epic photo shoots, I was hoping to get this one published quickly – and then I started trying to find out more about the two stone bridges over Junction Canal 🙂
I’ve also switched back to publishing the photos – complete with their write-ups – and the blog entry simultaneously. With my last article, once it and the photos were published, I found myself frustrated by the need to go back and continue working on it. I wanted to look forward to the next piece instead.
Found On Flickr
The term ‘Junction Canal’ is one that has arguably been overused over the centuries, but even so Flickr couldn’t find a single photo that had been tagged with Junction Canal in Cardiff 🙁 The map of geotagged photos is also pretty sparse, but I did find a couple of good photos on there.
- P2170082, a colour photo of the new waterway through Atlantic Wharf, by Aaron A. Aardvark.
- Fishing in the canal, a old shot showing two boys fishing in the Junction Canal, uploaded by Ben Salter. The bridge in the background of the photo is the Bute Street road bridge.