The UK is filled with many historic buildings that are unfortunately lain derelict and unused. My goal is to revive a building’s architecture and history to create a unique space that can benefit a community’s landscape, tourism, economy and social activity.
As many people will know, coal and Cardiff are synonymous with one another. The city has undoubtedly been shaped by its coal exportation history – and myself and my team are passionate about preserving Cardiff’s history in this remarkable building.
I’m not just a hotel owner or a property developer; I’m a storyteller. I want to showcase the building’s intriguing history, whilst creating a beautiful hotel and wedding venue that highlights the building’s beautiful architecture. People from across the globe will learn about Cardiff’s industrial journey to the present day, which will resonate with guests long after they’ve enjoyed a stay with us.
Before the Coal Exchange was constructed on Mount Stuart Square, the land was used as a residential square with a central garden. As the city began to grow, with Cardiff quickly becoming the biggest coal port in the world, the Coal Exchange was built between 1883 and 1886 by Edwin Seward, within walking distance of the Bute Docks. Its purpose was to offer a headquarters to conduct trade negotiations regarding the coal mines of the South Wales Valleys, as a significant amount of coal was shipped to the Welsh capital city for distribution.
Coal owners, ship owners and their agents would meet daily on the trading hall floor at the Coal Exchange, making agreements in person or via the telephone. The building’s peak time was one o’clock, where up to 200 men would shout and gesticulate in the trading hall, whilst it was believed as many as 10,000 people would pass through the building every day. As Cardiff’s exports began to grow, so did the city’s population, with dockworkers and sailors settling in neighbourhoods close to the docks.
The Coal Exchange undeniably played a central role in industrial Cardiff during the 19th century and, at one point, even determined the price of the world’s coal. A landmark deal was made in The Coal Exchange in 1901, as it has been claimed the world’s first £1 million business deal was made to transport 2,500 tonnes of coal to France.
However, the Coal Exchange’s success was not to last, as the price of coal plummeted following World War I. Cardiff was reliant on the coal industry, which made the Bute Docks at risk to any downturn that was in demand for it. Coal exports fell below five million tonnes and the city was officially in the depths of depression. There was a world slump in industrial and trade production, causing a rise in unemployment across Great Britain. By 1933, 30 million people across the world were unemployed, with 3 million of them being British. The worst hit areas were south Wales and the north east of England, as unemployment affected four basic heavy industries: coal, cotton, shipbuilding and steel. Unemployment soon became a way of life.
Dora Cox, an eyewitness, said in a 1985 interview: “Living in Wales, one could see much more clearly the absolutely humiliating and devastating effect of unemployment on people, particularly in the valleys, where all hope seemed to be gone. Men were standing on the street corners not knowing what to do with themselves – people were really hungry. Well you couldn’t not take part in any activity, which would make people themselves feel that, at least, they were fighting back and, also, you felt it was absolutely essential to get other people to understand the enormity of the situation.”
Due to unemployment, many individuals and families relocated in search of work, migrating from south Wales to wealthier, less affected areas of the Midlands and the south east of England during the 1930s.
Sadly, the docks went into decline by the end of World War II, as other countries developed their own steel industries. As a result, the Coal Exchange closed its doors in 1958, with coal exports ceasing in 1964.
Aware of the Coal Exchange’s role in Wales’s industry in the late 19th century and early 20th century, the building became a Grade II* listed building in 1975. Four years later, plans emerged for the Coal Exchange to become the home to the Welsh Assembly; however, the Welsh people rejected the devolution plans in a referendum. S4C, a Welsh language TV station, considered using the building as their headquarters in 1983, but the plans soon fell through. However, the building continued to serve a purpose, as The Exchange Hall was used on multiple occasions as a filming location. The Coal Exchange was acquired and refurbished in 2001, with the sole aim of transforming the Coal Exchange into a music venue, where it played host for acts such as Arctic Monkeys, Stereophonics, Manic Street Preachers, Ocean Colour Scene and Biffy Clyro. However, the historic building was closed indefinitely on 7th August 2013 following building safety concerns.
Cardiff is bursting with life – and just seems to improve day-by-day. Not only is full to the brim with amazing history, but it also offers the famous Millennium Stadium, the historic Cardiff Castle and the city has just recently opened St David’s Shopping Centre. There just seems to be no stopping the city, which offers amazing culture, sport and entertainment. Whilst Cardiff is very much defined by its past, there is definitely a bright future ahead for the city – which we would be honoured to play a part in.
No-one can deny The Coal Exchange has one interesting story to tell – and we wish to bring that story to life at our hotel and wedding venue. We firmly believe The Coal Exchange belongs to the people of Cardiff, and we are just lucky enough to become part of the building’s history, keeping the building alive through restoration and regeneration. The building is full of such amazing potential, but will fall into disrepair and ruin if not rescued. Our sole aim is to revive the building to create a hotel and wedding venue that perfectly complements modern Cardiff, which will play an important role in the city’s tourism and economy. Our goal is to attract people back to the city time after time, and we believe a building that celebrates where the city has been and where it is now will help to do just that.