(I’ve only just come across this – I hope John will forgive me for being remiss at moderating the backlog of comments awaiting approval. I get a lot of spam, mostly because of how heavily read my blog was back when I worked on Gentoo Linux).

If I could have one wish, it would be to take my MacBook Pro, my Nikon D200 and the whole GPS satellite system back in time to visit the places I write about back when they were more than the mostly-lost memories that they’ve become today. I’d love to be able to see what the docks were like before the Glamorganshire Canal was emptied by an unfortunate accident in 1951. I’d loved to have walked under the Walnut Tree Viaduct before it was dismantled in 1969. Heck, I’d have even loved to have seen the old power stations that have completely disappeared from Taff Vale.

But I can’t. All these things were gone before I was born, and several decades before I settled in Wales in 2000 (yup, I’m one of those ‘orrible invading English from across the border ๐Ÿ™‚ )

Fortunately, there are folks on Flickr who are sharing their photos from these times. It’s an act of generosity that I really appreciate. I just hope the generation that follows us all one day learns to understand and respect the history of South Wales that we’re all trying to preserve before it’s gone forever.

John Briggs is one of those people kindly sharing their photos on Flickr. John’s photos, from his book Before The Deluge: Cardiff Docklands 1970’s, provide an excellent snapshot of life in the docks some twenty years after the Glamorganshire Canal had finally closed, and after the Bute West Dock too had closed.

Two photos in particular caught my eye this evening whilst taking a first look through John’s work, because they provide more information about the Junction Canal that still survives today.

Junction Canal to West is a great shot of the Junction Canal that used to link the Bute East Dock, the Bute West Dock, and Sea Lock Pond on the Glamorganshire Canal. The railway viaduct in the foreground is the Bute Viaduct, which carried trains across the Junction Canal to the western ank of the Bute East Dock.

This is the TVR Viaduct, which carried trains over Junction Canal and down to the eastern bank of the Bute West Dock (originally called the Bute Shipping Canal). From the curve, I’m guessing that this photo is looking west along Junction Canal, but I could be wrong ๐Ÿ™‚

You can see more of John’s photos up on Flickr, or pick up a copy of his book Before The Deluge: Photographs of Cardiff’s Docklands in the Seventies.

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Bridge Over The Cardiff Railway

View the photos from A Walk Along The Cardiff Railway as part of my Merthyr Road collection on Flickr.

In 1885, the Marquis of Bute finally succeeded in assuming ownership of the Glamorganshire and Aberdare Canals. It was his intention to close both canals and re-use the land for a railway to compete with the Taff Vale Railway. However, he was unable to do so, and instead was forced to build his Cardiff Railway as a new route north to Treforest. The route ran from Heath Junction, through Coryton, across the Glamorganshire Canal at Middle Lock, and north from there through Taffs Well, Nantgarw, the modern-day Treforest Industrial Estate, and behind the Treforest Tin Plate Works at Rhydyfelin.

However, even the powerful Marquis had finally met his match. The Taff Vale Railway purchased strategically-placed land just south of Treforest, and so were able to prevent the Cardiff Railway from being connected to Treforest Junction. The Marquis was forced to consider merger talks, but when these broke down in 1909, it sealed Cardiff Railway’s fate. With no connection at Treforest, Cardiff Railway was a railway that went nowhere. Passenger services up to Rhydyfelin Halt began in 1911, but in 1931 they were cut back to go no further than Coryton.

The colliery opened at Nantgarw in the 1938 finally gave the railway the freight it was built to carry. However, with the war over, the Taff Vale Railway was able to divert even this traffic by laying a branch line to the colliery in 1952, and in 1953 the line north of Coryton finally closed for good.

The Photos

Longwood Drive

The walk along the route of the Cardiff Railway starts here, at Longwood Drive. Right beside the entrance to Asda at Coryton Roundabout, there’s this track heading off into the trees. The track takes you into the Glamorganshire Canal Local Nature Reserve, and over a 3-span bridge that was built over the Cardiff Railway.

In this photo, Longwood Drive disappears off into the distance on the right. Just out of frame on the right is another track that takes you down to the remains of the bridge that carried Cardiff Railway over the Glamorganshire Canal at Middle Lock.

(Thanks to the Friends of Forest Farm, there’s an old photo of the Cardiff Railway bridge over Middle Lock online, if you’re interested in seeing what this area looked like before both the Glamorganshire Canal and Cardiff Railway closed).

Bridge Over The Cardiff Railway

The track from beside Asda brings you to this bridge. The Cardiff Railway trackbed is below the bridge.

Grass Growing On The Bridge

This is a macro shot of what I think is grass growing in the gaps between the masonry on the bridge over the old Cardiff Railway.

Bridge Over The Cardiff Railway

This is the western end of the bridge over the Cardiff Railway. To date, I’ve been unable to discover who built this bridge, when, or why.

From here, there are steps down to the old trackbed.

Steps Down To Cardiff Railway

From the western end of the bridge, these steps lead down to the trackbed below the bridge.

Bridge Over The Cardiff Railway

The bridge over the Cardiff Railway consists of these three spans. The bridge appears to be built from brick rather than stone.

This photo is taken looking north along the old trackbed.

In The Shadow Of The Bridge

This is a shot of the Cardiff Railway trackbed as it goes underneath the bridge near Longwood Drive.

This photo is looking south towards Coryton. Behind me, Cardiff Railway would have crossed the Glamorganshire Canal at Middle Lock over a now-lost bridge.

Along The Trackbed

The Cardiff Railway trackbed between Coryton and Longwood Drive runs through this cutting. At the northern end of the cutting stands the bridge featured in earlier photos in this set.

The Cutting of Cardiff Railway

On a sunny day like today, the light reflects off of the many leaves and plants that line the route once taken by the Cardiff Railway. They present a formidable challenge to anyone wishing to capture the scene with a digital camera.

Watch Your Feet!

Along the old trackbed of the Cardiff Railway, there are a few raised manhole covers such as this one. Be careful not to trip over them as you walk!

A Lovely Day For A Stroll

Unlike the Glamorganshire Canal Local Nature Research to the west, the path along the trackbed of the old Cardiff Railway is much less crowded ๐Ÿ™‚

Tree Cutting

These initials, carved into a tree trunk, caught my eye whilst out walking along the old trackbed of the Cardiff Railway.

Bridge At The Southern End Of The Cardiff Railway

After a relaxing walk that takes about twenty minutes, the Cardiff Railway trackbed passes under a smaller bridge. The route over the bridge goes to Melingriffith in the west, but is very overgrown and no fun at all to walk.

This photo is taken looking north along the trackbed of the Cardiff Railway.

The Route Out

South of the bridge, between here and Coryton Station, the trackbed has become completely overgrown. The best route out is along this path to the A4054. Unfortunately this path can be very muddy indeed. Sensible footwear is highly recommended!

Welcome To The Glamorganshire Canal Local Nature Reserve

The old trackbed of the Cardiff Railway sits within the Glamorganshire Canal Local Nature Reserve. At each entrance to the reserve, there are identical signs showing visitors a map of the nature reserve.

Coryton Station

Today, the surviving track of the Cardiff Railway ends here at Coryton Station.

Looking Along The Cardiff Railway

To finish the walk, I went down to the first bridge over the surviving track, and took this photo of whatever it is that’s growing on the bridge.

View the photos from A Walk Along The Cardiff Railway as part of my Merthyr Road collection on Flickr.

Thoughts On The Day

I have something to confess. As a regular commuter between the valleys and Cardiff, I often wondered why the Coryton line didn’t connect up to the main route at Radyr Station. I often expressed the opinion that this would be A Good Thing(tm).

Now, thankfully, I know better.

The basis of this ignorance was the mistaken belief that the Coryton line must once have been connected to the main route at Radyr Station. I’d never heard of Cardiff Railway, and I had no idea at all that the Coryton line was the remainder of a railway that had made its own independent route up to Trefforest. I’d never heard of the Glamorganshire Canal, or the Local Nature Reserve at Forest Farm, and didn’t know that the Coryton line would have to take a destructive route through the Local Nature Reserve in order to reach Radyr.

Time has moved on and consigned the Cardiff Railway route to the history books. North of the M4, very little of the route survives at all. It was the last railway to be built in direct competition with the Taff Vale Railway. It had to jump through the most hoops in order to snake its way north, the most favourable land having already been taken up by the Glamorganshire Canal and the Taff Vale Railway.

In retrospect, the futility of the Cardiff Railway is best summed up by the viaduct over the Taff built immediately behind the Treforest Tin Works. Built in 1907, only a single token train ever crossed Rhydyfelin Viaduct, because north of the Tin Works the Taff Vale Railway did everything they could to prevent the Cardiff Railway ever connecting to it (a temporary connection was put in place in 1909, which allowed the single train to cross Rhydyfelin Viaduct, but this connection at Treforest Junction was removed in the same year after a merger between Taff Vale Railway and Cardiff Railway collapsed). Unused for 31 years, Rhydyfelin Viaduct was taken down in 1940 to be recycled for the war effort.

What’s left today is a pleasant walk, taking about half an hour, between Coryton Station and Longwood Drive. We parked on Longwood Drive itself, and made our way down the steps beside a surviving bridge to the cutting where the Cardiff Railway once ran. From there, we made our way south to Coryton, before returning via the same route.

Post Production

Combining photos taken on two separate visits to form a single set of photos can be tricky, given the variance in the British weather. The main problem is always the same – skies and contrast. My main tool for dealing with any tricky situation is conversion to black and white. It feels like a bit of a cop-out, but sometimes I think the results look better than the original colour images.

To try and improve the quality of the black and whites this time, I’ve boosted the brightness and contrast on all of these shots, and then adjusted highlights and shadows to try and even out the differences between the shots. Overall, I’m very happy with the results, and I’ll probably try the same technique again the next time I publish a black and white set.

See Also

As always with these articles, I’m indebted to the information that has already been published about Cardiff Railway. Here’s a list of the sources that I used to compile this article:


If youโ€™re reading this in the RSS feed, my original blog post also includes a Google map showing where this photo was taken. Unfortunately I havenโ€™t managed to get the map to appear yet in the RSS feed, so for now youโ€™ll have to click through to my blog if you want to see the map. Sorry.


Celsa UK, Cardiff

Enjoy The View From The Garth as part of my Merthyr Road series on Flickr.

If there’s one part of the landscape that dominates views of both Taff Vale and Cardiff, it has to be the Garth. But what can you see from up on the Garth? That’s what I went up there to find out.

Thoughts On The Day

The day was a tale of two directions. To the south, towards the Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff, conditions were very difficult for landscape photography, with the sun reflecting off the Bristol Channel beyond the South Wales coastline. The photos shot facing that way all suffered from limited contrast and colour; I ended up converting those to black and white to make the most of them.

To the east, towards Caerphilly and Taffs Well, the light was much better (well, in between the rain drops ๐Ÿ™‚ ). I was able to get nice, crisp shots of most of my subjects, and I was able to leave those photos in colour.

To get up the Garth, I recommend hiking up the road from Gwaelod-y-Garth. A couple of sections of the road are steep, and like me you might find using a walking stick helps with these bits, but for the main it’s not too hard on the legs or the knees! You can reach Gwaelod-y-Garth easily from Taffs Well railway station car park by using the footbridge to cross the River Taff. Don’t be tempted to try a short cut through the new housing estate on the site of the former Pentyrch Iron Works; I couldn’t find a way through from there to the old village behind it, and had to double back ๐Ÿ™

And, as to what you can see once you get up there …

Celsa UK, CardiffCelsa UK, CardiffCardiff Barrage and PenarthAberthaw Cement WorksThe Millennium Stadium and The Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Radyr SidingsGarth Quarry, CardiffHill In The DistanceTaff ValeWar Memorial, Ynysangharad Common, Pontypridd

Trig Point, The GarthRailway Bridge over the TVRRailway Bridge over the TVR With TrainGeneral Electric, NantgarwCraig Yr Allt, Nantgarw

Railway Viaduct, Taffs WellPentyrch Iron Works and Garth Works, circa 2007Walnut Tree Station, circa 2007Walnut Tree Viaduct, circa 2007

Panoramic Shot

Favourite Photo From The Shoot

General Electric, NantgarwThis photo of the General Electric plant at Nantgarw is my favourite photo from this shoot. Being up on the Garth provided the perfect elevation to show how GE’s factory dominates the entire hill side and the communities that it surrounds.

I also like the photo of the War Memorial (simply because it’s a great demonstration how just how much reach the Sigma 80-400 mm lens has) and my shot of the Millennium Stadium in the heart of Cardiff (because it shows just how central the stadium is).

Post Production

Whilst I was up on the Garth, I also took 14 shots of Taff Vale to stitch together into a single panoramic image of Taff Vale. At Jon Pearse’s recommendation, I bought a copy of Calico to do the stitching, and I’m very happy with the result. The beautiful thing about Calico is that it does all the work for you, and (unlike some competing tools) it doesn’t complain when you want to stitch 14 images together ๐Ÿ™‚

Now, getting the final panoramic shot uploaded to Flickr … that was far harder than generating the shot in the first place!

Found On Flickr

This old postcard provides a great view of the Walnut Tree Viaduct with the Garth beyond it. With a lot more care and thought into how the heritage of the South Wales valleys could be protected and developed, this could have been the view that greeted visitors leaving the M4 bound for the Brecon Beacons.

I think it’s a shame that it isn’t so.

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Past, Present and Future In Cardiff

I liked my original black and white shot so much that I went back a few days later and took this early morning shot with the Nikon. I took five separate exposures, and combined them into a single HDR image using Photomatix.

Cardiff’s Past: In the foreground is the Bute Dock Feeder, which took water from the River Taff and brought it down to the Bute West Dock. The Bute Dock Feeder was built sometime between 1830 and 1836.

Cardiff’s Present: Dominating the skyline is the futuristic-looking apartment block recently featured in the BBC’s Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood.

Cardiff’s Future: See those cranes just poking out above the bushes on the left? They’re hard at work creating the St David’s 2 Shopping Centre.

Want to know more? Read the blog entry that accompanied my original black and white shoot as part of my Merthyr Road series on South Wales history.


Escaping The Canal

View “Cardiff’s Little Venice” as part of my Merthyr Road project on Flickr.

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

The Bute Dock Feeder Hides AwayI 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.

Post Production

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™ 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.

City Hall Reflection

Earlier in the year, I headed down to Cardiff to take some early morning shots of the Bute Dock Feeder. I spotted this reflection of Cardiff’s City Hall on the rear window of my car after parking up, and couldn’t resist taking a shot of it with my beloved Canon Digital IXUS.

It doesn’t look so great at 100% (hey, it’s a reflection on a less-than-spotless window ๐Ÿ˜‰ ), but I still find it a lovely little shot that I wanted to share.

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Windsor Esplanade, Lecuna, and the A4232 across the River Taff

View this set of photos as part of my Merthyr Road project on Flickr.

For most of its life, the Glamorganshire Canal reached the Bristol Channel via a Sea Lock built at Lower Layer, part of the tidal estuary formed by the mouth of the River Taff. Authorised by a second Act of Parliament (the Glamorganshire Canal Act, which passed through the Lords on 26th April 1796, a year which included such notable company as the Duty on Hats Act), this Sea Lock replaced an earlier lock (also known as Sea Lock) which had been operating since the 29th of June, 1793. (The earlier lock had stood on the river bend to the north of where Clarence Road now crosses the Taff). The new lock opened on 27th June, 1798.

Between the new Sea Lock and the southern end of St Mary’s Street was the stretch of canal known as Sea Lock Pond. Here, the wharves were built to transfer iron and coal, from the canal boats to the larger, ocean-going vessels that came into the Pond through the Sea Lock. Some of the land for these wharves fell under the compulsory purchase provisions of the Act, but most of it did not, guaranteeing local landowners (principly the Marquess of Bute) good incomes on what had previously been open moorland.

The northern end of Sea Lock Pond terminated at Cardiff’s South Gate. (Cardiff was a small walled town of little importance before the Canal and docks arrived). In 1802, permission was given to remove the Gate, and connect St Mary’s Street with the canal wharves beyond.

Trade down the Canal was to transform both Cardiff itself and the moorland south of the town. Bute Street was laid down in around 1830, forming the eastern edge of Butetown (work on which began in 1846). The new TVR railway (which still exists today as the rail link between Cardiff Bay and Cardiff Queen Street Station) made its way directly to the east of Bute Street. This, in combination with the two huge docks built by the Bute Estate to the east of the Canal, was eventually able to ship millions of tonnes of materials and goods from Cardiff Docks, as opposed to just hundreds of thousands of tonnes through the Canal.

Although the Canal gradually fell into disuse from the late 1800’s as both iron and coal began to run out, it was the aquisition by the Cardiff Corporation on 1st January 1944 which spelt the end of Sea Lock, and hence the Canal as a whole. The City of Cardiff looked on the Sea Lock Pond as prime land for redevelopment. By now much of the Canal was unpassable, effectively leaving Sea Lock Pond (or Sea Lock Pound as it was now known) as just another harbour in the Cardiff docklands, but wartime decree forced the Corporation to continue to run Sea Lock Pond until the early 1950’s.

Late at night on 5th December 1951, the sand dredger Catherine Ethel collided with the lock gates at Sea Lock. With the lock gates destroyed in this unfortunate accident, the Canal waters (which, by this time, appear to have only been the water left in the Sea Lock Pond) emptied out into the Taff in a tidal wave.

The Canal’s 158 years of operation had finally come to an end. Within 50 years, the rest of the Cardiff Dock area too would close, leaving Cardiff – a small town that became a capital city on the back of its links between the industrial valleys and the sea – to once again revert back to being a market town.

(As always, I’m indebted to the historical research published in the excellent Glamorganshire and Aberdare Canals – Volume 2, by Stephen Rowson and Ian L. Wright. If you want to know a lot more about Sea Lock, or any other aspect of the Canal, I can’t recommend their award-winning books highly enough).

The Photos

Windsor Esplanade, Lecuna, and the A4232 across the River Taff

The search for the location of Sea Lock starts to the south, in the newly-created Cardiff Bay Wetlands. Like Hamadryad Park further up the river, this area is largely land reclaimed after the construction of the Cardiff Bay Barriage.

One of my personal disappointments about Cardiff Bay is the complete lack of effort to make the new development blend in with existing housing. I don’t think anywhere shows this as well as Windsor Esplanade, with its row of older housing, and the modern Lecuna development tacked on the end like an afterthought.

Looking Towards Sea Lock

This is the view of Sea Lock today, standing at the southern end of what is now Canal Park. I’m looking at the eastern end of the A4232 road bridge across the River Taff. Sea Lock would have been where the bridge now touches down.

Because the whole area has been redeveloped, there’s nothing left today of Sea Lock itself, nor the channel that went out from Sea Lock into the tidal estuary formed by the River Taff and Bristol Channel. This is my best guess, based on comparing photos published in GaAC Volume 2 (especially the very last photo in the book) with modern day views from Google Earth.

In Sea Lock

This is the underside of the A4232 road bridge across the River Taff, looking west towards Grangetown.

Sea Lock itself would probably have been a little ways behind me, with the channel cut from the lock to the River Taff roughly following the line of the modern bridge.

Murial at Canal Park

This murial stands at the southern end of Canal Park – at the southern end of what would have been Sea Lock Pond during the days of the Glamorganshire Canal.

I’m afraid I couldn’t tell you what the different scenes on the murial mean. To me, it looks like a telling of the history of the Cardiff Docks, and doesn’t seem to mention the Canal at all. That’d be a bit odd if so, given where it’s located!

Canal Park North to James Street

Canal Park stands on some of the land reclaimed after the closure of the Glamorganshire Canal in 1951.

This is a view of Canal Park, looking north towards James Street.

Canal Park North to James Street

Canal Park stands on some of the land reclaimed after the closure of the Glamorganshire Canal in 1951.

This is a view of Canal Park, looking north towards James Street.

Royal Stuart Warehouses and Douglas Buildings

Most of the buildings that used to flank the canal are gone, swept away in a frenzy of regeneration. Two of the surviving buildings are the Royal Stuart Warehouses and the Douglas Buildings.

Canal Park South To Sea Lock

Canal Park stands on some of the land reclaimed after the closure of the Glamorganshire Canal in 1951.

This is a view of Canal Park, looking south from James Street.

The James Street Swing Bridge

Today, there’s nothing left, but back when the Glamorganshire Canal still existed, James Street had to cross the Canal over a swing bridge.

Canal Park Entrance, South of James Street

This is the entrance to the length of Canal Park that stands to the south of James Street.

The words in the murial on the ground are "Glamorganshire Canal 1794 – 1951".

1794 is an odd choice of date. From surviving records mentioned in GaAC Volume 2, we know that the original Sea Lock opened in 1793. Back then, the canal didn’t come this far south; the original Sea Lock opened up onto the River Taff further upstream, at the site of the new Century Wharf housing development. The Glamorganshire Canal Act of 1796 authorised the canal company to extend Sea Lock Pond south, through the point in this photo, to a new Sea Lock. The new Sea Lock didn’t open until 1798.

Can anyone else explain why the date chosen for this murial is 1794?

Canal Park Entrance, North of James Street

This is the entrance to Canal Park on the north side of James Street.

The murial says "Sea Lock 1798".

Canal Park Entrance, North of James Street

This is what the Canal Park entrance on the north side of James Street looks like, if you stand in the Canal Park entrance on the south side of James Street.

When the Canal still operated, there would have been a swing bridge where the road now stands.

Canal Park, North of James Street

Taken just inside the entrance, this shot shows the first section of Canal Park heading north from James Street towards Cardiff City Centre.

Canal Park stands on ground reclaimed when the Glamorganshire Canal was filled in during the 1950’s. This section of the canal was known as Sea Lock Pond, and later as Sea Lock Pound. Essentially, it was a large dock, with Cardiff Town at its northern end, and Sea Lock itself at the southern end.

Play Area, Canal Park

This play area in Canal Park provides a memory of the Glamorganshire Canal – albeit not a very realistic one! The four capsterns are placed to represent the old towpath, whilst in the gray paving, the outline of a narrow boat can just be made out.

In reality, this section of the canal – known as Sea Lock Pond – was the widest section of the Canal. This area was, from the beginning, built to support the transfer of iron and coal onto the ocean-going vessels of the day.

Canal Park

A view of some of the play areas in Canal Park today. Looking south towards James Street.

Canal Park

Looking north, the play areas in Canal Park give way to playing fields. There were plenty of soccer posts, but I don’t remember seeing any rugby posts up.

Canal Pier Crane Post and Base, Canal Park

If the four capsterns and narrow boat outline are the most obvious reminder of the canal’s days preserved in Canal Park, this must surely be at the other end of the scale as the most obscure!

This is a crane post and base, used on the wharves of Sea Lock Pond for loading and unloading boats. To the best of my knowledge, it is the only one that survives today. I believe that there would have been many more, but the old photos published in GaAC Volume 2 only show one at any one time.

Canal Park and Butetown

Here, I’ve used the telephoto end of my Nikon 18-135mm lens to flatten this shot of Canal Park and Butetown at the end of the park.

Old Buildings Beside The Sea Lock Pond

Redevelopment has swept away most of the old buildings that used to stand on the canal wharves at Sea Lock Pond. These two look like they might be survivors from an earlier time.

Northern End of Canal Park

Canal Park finally comes to an end quite a bit shy of where Sea Lock Pond would have ended. The housing at this end is modern, modern enough that a lot of it doesn’t show up on Google Earth yet.

In the distance are the buildings of Callahan Square, and the Mariott Hotel on Mill Lane. The hotel also stands on land reclaimed from the Glamorganshire Canal, as it made its way through Cardiff City Centre.

Looking South Down Canal Park

This is a shot of Canal Park, taken from its northern end. From here, there’s nothing at all that I can see to indicate that this was once a thriving sea port!

Canal Parade

We may have run out of Canal Park, but the journey north towards the northern end of Sea Lock Pond continues along Canal Parade.

Canal Parade

Taken from the northern end of Canal Parade, looking south towards Canal Park.

The Northern End of Sea Lock Pond

We know that Sea Lock Pond’s northern end was at Custom House, which stands at the other side of the railway bridge in the middle of this shot. The Swansea to London railway came to Cardiff in 1850, and ever since Cardiff has been divided in two.

Cardiff was originally a walled town. The southern wall would have stood a little to the north of the railway bridge, at the end of St Mary’s Street. It was removed at the request of the Glamorganshire Canal Company to allow easier access between Cardiff town and the wharves of Sea Lock Pond.

The Northern End of Sea Lock Pond

This bridge is where Sea Lock Pond’s northern end would have been. Note the distinctive way in which the road dips under the bridge. This appears to be a common feature of roads that run under surviving railway bridges along the old canal route, although it’s by no means unique to railway bridges over the canal!

Behind the bridge, on the right, is the York Hotel and Customs House, marking the end of the journey up from Sea Lock.

Thoughts on the Day

It will come as no surprise to hear that Sea Lock itself, and the whole Sea Lock Pond are no more. Sea Lock, the Pond, and Butetown have suffered that most terrible of fates – they have been redeveloped. Despite numerous efforts – including such extreme lengths as siting the Welsh Assembly down in the Cardiff Docks when it should have been sited somewhere like Aberwyswyth) – the whole area south of Cardiff’s old town wall continues to feel disconnected from the rest of the city. I’ll look at the regeneration of Cardiff Docks in a later article in this series.

Sea Lock itself probably lies underneath the bridge that carries the A4232 across the river estuary. That matches up with the last photo published in GaAC Volume 2, on page 352. To the south of the bridge lies the Cardiff Yacht Club and the new wetlands created as part of the official vandalism that created the Cardiff Bay Barriage, whilst the river bank immediately north of the bridge has been redeveloped into Hamadryad Park. It’s actually possible to get from the wetlands to the park by walking under the bridge, and I highly recommend it; the park is a very peaceful place indeed.

Trying to trace the route of the Sea Lock Pond by the surviving buildings is very difficult indeed. Unlike in Taff Vale, where many of the original buildings that were built along the side of the Canal still exist, down here redevelopment and regeneration has swept most of the history away.

The majority of the length of Sea Lock Pond has been turned into an open space called Canal Park. You won’t find this space listed on Cardiff City Council’s website, but it’s there. From Sea Lock at the southern end up to the back of St Mary’s Church in Butetown in the north, Canal Park runs along the route of the old Canal and its wharves, and if you look closely enough, there are memories of the former canal hidden away in plain sight.

Sadly, I couldn’t find a single sign to commemorate the canal. What signs there are are notice boards for the local community. The kids growing up in the area today, and playing in the park itself, have nothing to read to remind them of the past. All that’s left to stimulate an interest in the history of the Canal is the name of the park itself, the names ‘Sea Lock’ and ‘Glamorganshire Canal’ laid out in brick at the point where James Street crosses the Park (the sight of a former swing bridge across the Canal, although to look at it today I think anyone would be amazed to learn that there was once a bridge at that spot), and not much else.

Heading north through the park towards Cardiff city centre, I found a few things to remember the canal by, ranging from the obvious to the obscure. At the obvious end of things is this play area flanked by mooring capsterns. If you look closely at the paving, the outline of a narrow boat has been incorporated into the design. About half-way between obvious and obscure are some of the old buildings that border onto the park. There aren’t many left, but there are just enough to show where the wharves might have originally been. My favourite item, though, is this obscure post set into a concrete base. This is the base and crown post from one of the canalside cranes (see GaAC p. 293), although how anyone growing up in the area is supposed to know that isn’t immediately obvious.

I’m not sure what the merit is of preserving a piece of history whilst at the same time not leaving a message to tell the next generation what has been preserved. It’s a maddingly frustrating story that’s repeated all along the route of the canal, and one that the folks I meet on each of these trips wish would come to an end.

Cardiff should be proud of what the Canal (and the railways that came afterwards) did for the place.

Three Lessons From The Shoot

  • It often pays to go back to the same place two or three times before doing a shoot. I’m not someone who can just look at a location in a book, and then head straight there to get everything in one go. I’d been down to Sea Lock a couple of times before, and matched up what I’d seen for myself with what I’d read in GaAC Volume 2 before heading down for the final shoot. I’m glad I did – I wouldn’t have thought to include the shots of the A4232 bridge (which stands on the old Sea Lock location) otherwise.
  • Google Earth is a real gift for projects like this. It was instrumental in matching up photos published in GaAC with the street layout today to help me find Sea Lock itself.
  • During a shoot, take as many photos as you can. Don’t ignore something just because you don’t know what it is at the time. I didn’t find out what the canal crane post was until leafing through GaAC Volume 2 several days after the shoot. It would have been very easy for me to have not photographed it.

Post Production

It was a cheery sunny morning, and I wanted these photos to reflect that. Butetown is one of those parts of Cardiff that has a certain reputation, and I was very worried that another black and white set would do nothing to show a different side to the place. Canal Park is the major open space in Butetown, and for that I think it’s fantastic.

Looking at the photos a week or so after processing them, I’m not happy with the colour. It’s too eye-popping, and doesn’t sit well with all the black and white shots from other sets in the Merthyr Road series. Time for a re-think before I publish my next article!

Found On Flickr

Whilst there are plenty of photos on Flickr about Cardiff Bay, I had no luck in finding many modern pictures of Canal Park. But I did manage to find a photo of the Sea Lock area taken from a kite, plus two older photos that also appear in GaAC Volume 2.


If youโ€™re reading this in the RSS feed, my original blog post also includes a Google map showing where this photo was taken. Unfortunately I havenโ€™t managed to get the map to appear yet in the RSS feed, so for now youโ€™ll have to click through to my blog if you want to see the map. Sorry.


Tearing Down Cardiff

View these photos as part of my Cardiff set on Flickr.

It was a crazy week at work (I clocked up 56 hours last week, and I was by no means the only one), but there was still time to pop over a couple of streets to where the demolition of Bridge Street is well under way. The whole area is being cleared to make way for the St Davids 2 shopping centre complex, which is due to open in 2009.

Aim Of The Shoot

Although I’m currently looking around for a good urban landscape shot, the real aim of the shoot was to switch off from work for a few minutes and give myself a little recharge over lunch.

Thoughts On The Day

The demolition team have erected screens around the doomed buildings. Whilst they protect the public from stray bits of rubble (and some – but not all – of the dust created by the work), the screens also prevent photographers from seeing much of what is going on.

Fortunately, this is what car park roofs are for ๐Ÿ™‚

The only downside was that the car park stairwells were full of beggars and junkies obliviously shooting up. The lifts were still in working order, but I think that the safest way to do this would probably be to drive up onto the roof.

Favourite Photo From The Shoot

Goodbye DillonsMy favourite photo from the shoot is a close-up shot of the muncher about the tear up a little bit more building. I think it’s an appropriate metaphor for the way that our worship of the great God of Commercialism continues to eat away at everything that has gone before. It is relentless in its pursuit of hoovering up more money. The thing that gets me, though, is that I’m not sure who is going to be doing the spending once all the new stops have opened. The shops aren’t replacements – they are additional units. There’s only so much money to go around, and folks can’t live off credit forever …

Three Tips From The Shoot

  • If you’re trying to photograph a static subject, keep an open mind on where you can move to to find the right view. At street level, everything was obscured by the safety screens, but by finding a high vantage point, it was possible to get a much better view.
  • To find the right pictures, pick a print medium (book or newspaper) and imagine what sort of photos would go in that medium. This time, I was trying to imagine what sort of photos would accompany an inside spread for a newspaper article. As I rarely read newspapers, I don’t have much of an idea about this, and I think that comes through in the photos that I took ๐Ÿ™
  • The extra reach of a larger telephoto zoom is rarely needed, but there are times when nothing else will do. My Sigma 80-400mm lens takes up a lot of room in my camera bag, it’s heavy, the optical stabilisation drains the batteries on my D200 like nobody’s business, and most of the time there isn’t enough light to capture sharp images. But it stays for moments like this, when there’s only one chance of getting the shot, and I can’t get close enough to use a faster (or lighter) lens.

Post Production

Although I’d taken my camera in hoping that the damp conditions would improve, they didn’t. I ended up converting the photos to black and white in the hope of adding a little more depth to the images.

Unfortunately, this is one set of shots that it will be impossible to reproduce when the light does start to improve as we go into March and April. By then, Bridge Street should be cleared … but they still have to demolish the Central Library building ๐Ÿ™‚

Flickr Favourites

I didn’t manage to find any other photos showing the demolition work going on that I liked, but here are a few other photos of Cardiff that did make it into my Flickr Favourites.

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