Words from Signature Living Chairman, Lawrence Kenwright
Before the Exchange existed, Mount Stuart Square was a popular residential area with family homes and business surrounding the central garden. The city was experiencing a turn in fortunes with an influx of business in the coaling industry and so local merchants would chalk up their trading prices on the square and the area unofficially became a hot spot for coal deals. With a growing demand for the cities coal, Edwin Seward constructed the Exchange between 1883 and 1888, as the base and headquarters for Cardiff’s ever popular coaling industry.
The completion of the Exchange was a significant milestone in Cardiff’s history. This magnificent building was to lead the way for the coaling industry. The city quickly became the biggest coal port in the world with thousands of coal owners, ship owners and their agents using the Exchange to do business and make their fortunes. It was estimated that up to 10,000 businessmen would pass throughout the building each day, the Exchange quickly became known as the Coal Exchange and the term has stayed with the building ever since.
The west wing extension is constructed with quality materials and workmanship, transforming from bath stone to fair faced brickwork with stone dressings.
In 1901, a deal was struck within the Exchange which truly put this iconic building on the map. It has been claimed the world’s first £1 million business deal was made to transport 2,500 tonnes of coal to France with the cheque being written within the Exchange itself. It is undeniable that the Exchange played an integral part in establishing Cardiff as an industrial leader and the writing of this cheque furthermore supported that.
In 1911, the Exchange was given a glamorous makeover under the direction of architect, Edwin Seward. After a number of years trading at a fast pace, the central areas of the building were starting to wear and with so much global attention, Seward decided some areas of the Exchange needed a revamp. This renovation included the interiors including the main trading and shipping hall. The hall was adorned with opulent carved wood and featured impressive tidal clocks mounted at the foot of the sculptured lion and the infamous Dragon Clock.
Following WWI, the price of coal began to decline and with that came the closure of a number of local mines within the region. Cardiff was utterly reliant on the coal industry and with coal exports falling below five million tonnes, the city was officially in the depths of depression. The world was also feeling the effects of the coal price plummet and the UK as a whole suffered tremendously with a great loss of jobs. Trading within the Exchange was noticeably different with many merchants and traders being put out of business following the plummet.
Cardiff and the world never recovered from the demise of the industry and many locals who relied on the trade to work and feed their families, decided to emigrate in order to survive, opting for wealthier areas such as the Midlands and south-east England. The docks furthermore went into decline and in 1958, the Coal Exchange ceased trading and in 1964, coal exports from Cardiff completely stopped.
In recognition of the Coal Exchange’s contribution to the industry and the magnificent building which was its home, the Coal Exchange became a Grade II* listed building in 1975. This was a momentous moment for the city and building as it ensures the magnificent structure would be kept as it were.
Four years after the Coal Exchange received listed status, it was earmarked as the new home of the Welsh Assembly. Once this news was released into the public spectrum, locals indefinitely rejected the devolution plans in a referendum and the plans went no further. There were numerous proposed uses for this magnificent building including Welsh TV station S4C, who considered using the grand building as their headquarters, again these plans fell through and the Exchange continued to fall into disrepair.
The Coal Exchange was given a new lease of life at the beginning of the millennium when it was refurbished with the sole purpose of being a live music venue. Bands such as the Manic Street Preachers, Arctic Monkeys and Stereophonics all played within the Coal Exchange but the music and dancing weren't enough to save this colossal building from inevitable damage. Only certain sections of the building were in use and the rest was simply left to rot.
Following many years of service as a music venue, the Coal Exchange was again forced to close its doors to the public. This time, the building was closed due to significant safety concerns. The many years of neglect had finally caught up with the Coal Exchange and it was simply unfit to be open to the public. Highlighting the fact that a building like the Exchange requires a lot of work and attention to save it from falling into an unimaginable state.
After a further few years of dereliction and suggestions to pull the Coal Exchange down, in 2016 it was announced that hotel developer Lawrence Kenwright of Signature Living had purchased the building. With plans to fully restore and refurbish the building Signature Living put forward plans to transform this iconic building into a luxury hotel which celebrated the history of both the local area and the Exchange itself. Signature Living have a history of developing heritage buildings and transforming them into magnificent hotels which don’t stray too far from the true DNA of the building.
The Exchange Hotel opened its doors to the public in May 2017, just two months after being granted planning permission. The Exchange Hotel is a celebration of the building's unique history and its impact on the city of Cardiff. Signature Living has worked hard to keep the true DNA and footprint of this building intact and are proud to have restored it so it can once again be enjoyed by the public.
We were then told that the Exchange would cost £42 million to restore and upon completion, it would be valued at £35 million, meaning we were essential signing away £7 million before we had even begun. But the decision to purchase this building wasn’t about making profits and I truly believe that no one else could have done what we have.