Then and Now: The History of Cardiff in Pictures - Exchange Hotel Cardiff

Then and Now: The History of Cardiff in Pictures

Today Cardiff is a fast growing, high tech, modern city, but it hasn’t always been that way.  Cardiff, like many other cities, has a wealth of history that deserves to be explored and remembered.

So, we thought we would delve into the past and reveal some of the best pictures from then and now of this brilliant city.

Cardiff Castle

First stop in the city is the magnificent Cardiff Castle. Built in the late 11th century by Norman invaders on top of a 3rd-century Roman fort, Cardiff Castle is a medieval castle and Victorian Gothic revival mansion located in the city centre. This photo, taken from Castle Street, shows the castle in 1910.

History of Cardiff - Cardiff Castle
Source: Walespictures

In the mid-18th century, Cardiff Castle passed into the hands of the Marquesses of Bute. John Stuart, the first Marquess renovated the main range and turned it into a Georgian mansion, landscaped the castle grounds and demolished many of the older medieval buildings and walls.

During the first half of the 19th century the family became extremely wealthy as a result of the growth of the coal industry in Glamorgan. The third Marquess, John Crichton-Stuart, used this wealth to back an extensive programme of renovations.  The castle was remodelled in a Gothic revival style and the resulting interior designs are considered to be amongst “the most magnificent that the Gothic revival ever achieved”.

The grounds were re-landscaped and, following the discovery of the old Roman remains, reconstructed walls and a gatehouse in a Roman style were incorporated into the castle design.

Cardiff castle

In the early 20th century the fourth Marquess inherited the castle and construction work continued into the 1920s. When the Marquess died in 1947, the castle was given to the city of Cardiff. Today the castle is run as a tourist attraction, with the grounds housing a museum and interpretation centre. It has also served as a venue for events, including musical performances and festivals.

Roath Park

The land for Roath Park was donated to the city in 1887 by the Marquis of Bute and was officially opened to the public in 1894. Throughout the years several improvements were made to the land, including creating a lake from an area of marshland and in 1915 a lighthouse was constructed in the lake containing a scale model of the Terra Nova ship.

The picture below shows the park in 1910 on a busy day after a concert was held in the bandstand.

Roath Park
Credit : Old UK Photos

Today, Roath Park is still one of Cardiff’s most popular parks and is owned by Cardiff County Council. It retains a classic Victorian atmosphere and has been awarded the prestigious Green Flag award to recognise its high quality and importance to Cardiff and its people.

Roath park

St Mary’s Street

St Mary Street is one of the major commercial streets in the Castle Quarter of Cardiff city centre. Named after the 11th-century church of St Mary’s, which was the largest in Cardiff until it was destroyed by the Bristol Channel floods of 1607, this picture shows the main road in the 1900s with horses and carts and a tram system.

St Mary's Street
Credit : Old UK Photos

Today the stretch of road is the home of a number of bars, night clubs and restaurants as well as branches of many major banks. Also fronting onto the street is Howells department store, which stretches from just after Cardiff Market to the corner of Wharton Street.

St Marys Street

Further up St Mary’s Street is the Great Western Building, which was a hotel that served the nearby Great Western Railway station. You can also see the Western Mail Express building shown in the 1900s below.

Great western
Credit: Old UK photos

Today, the Great Western is a pub owned by JD Wetherspoon, much of the facade of the building has remained the same.


Queen Street

The picture below was taken in the 1900s and shows Queen Street, one of Cardiff’s main high streets. Back then traffic and trams were allowed to operate and it was a hub of activity with traders and locals stopping to chat.

queen street
Credit : Old UK Photos

However, 1975 this busy road was pedestrianised to make it safer for shoppers. It remained a jewel of Cardiff’s shopping crown, bristling with high street giants like BHS, C&A and Marks and Spencers.

queen street

Today many of these giant chains have closed, however Queens Street remains one of the main high streets in Cardiff.

Duke Street

In the 1930s, Duke Street was a hustle and bustle of arcades that sat opposite the impressive Cardiff Castle, shown below. The Duke Street arcades date back to 1902, making them the only Edwardian arcade of the trio, Castle, Duke and High Street arcades. They formed a collection of many specialist shops of the era – drapers, apothecaries, tailors, jewellers and fortune tellers.

duke street
Credit: Old UK photos

The picture below shows Duke Street and the arcades in the 1950s, still a very busy street and popular with shoppers.

The Castle Quarter has grown and adapted to the needs of a modern shopping environment without losing any of it old world charm. Castle, Duke and High Street Arcades all boast private chambers that are now in use as offices, studios and residential suites.

duke street

The Pierhead Building

The Grade One listed building was built in 1897 and designed by the English architect William Frame as offices for the Bute Docks Company, whose original headquarters had burnt down. It took nearly three years to construct and cost approximately £30,000.

It was was later renamed the Cardiff Railway Company in 1897. A coat of arms on the building’s façade bears the company’s motto “wrth ddŵr a thân” (by water and fire) encapsulating the elements creating the steam power which transformed Wales.

The Pierhead became the administrative office for the Port of Cardiff in 1947.

The 1897 clock mechanism, by William Potts & Sons of Leeds, was removed, being replaced with an electronic motor. It was auctioned off by British Rail and sold to an American collector in 1973. In 2005 the original clock was returned to Cardiff and, in 2011 was restored by Smith of Derby Group and installed as a piece of contemporary art created by artist Marianne Forrest in Cardiff city centre.

pierhead cardiff
Source: camilleri

The Pierhead building was re-opened in May 2001 as ‘The Assembly at the Pierhead’, which was a visitor and education centre for the National Assembly.

On 1 March 2010, the building re-opened again to the public as a Welsh history museum and exhibition. It contains a number of films and exhibits exploring Welsh history as well as spaces to function as venues for public debate and assembly-sponsored events.

pierhead cardiff

Artefacts on display include the original binnacle (the stand housing the ship’s compass) from Scott of the Antarctic’s ship Terra Nova, and the Pennal Letter sent by Prince of Wales Owain Glyndŵrto Charles VI of France in 1406. Another feature is an audio-visual display of Welsh heroes who have made significant contributions to Wales’ cultural and political identity, such as former Prime Minister David Lloyd George, fashion designer Laura Ashley and the late rugby player and broadcaster Ray Gravell.

The Coal  Exchange

Finally in our picture history of Cardiff is the stunning Coal Exchange.

The building was built in the late 1800s and has enjoyed a long history of industrial excitement and intense trading, with up to 10,000 people passing through the doors each day at the height of business.

The building was built by Edwin Seward with pale cream limestone, with inspiration being drawn from French Renaissance style. The entrance side is flanked by two wings and all enclose a stunning forecourt that gives space to appreciate the full beauty of the building.

Coal Exchange

Despite being left to rot and in a desperate state of disrepair, the Coal Exchange has been given a new lease of life as The Exchange Hotel.

After taking on the rapidly declining building in 2016, Signature Living have pledged to keep the building’s DNA and restore it to its former glory, maintaining many of the original features and the grand hall in which the first million pound cheque was signed.

Exchange hotel

Cardiff is a fascinating city with a rich and varied history, which we are glad to be a part of.

We hope you enjoyed our picture history of Cardiff, if you think we’ve missed any great history, let us know in the comments!