Archive for December 4, 2009

The Curve of Growth

Posted in History with tags , , on December 4, 2009 by telescoper

While I was indisposed earlier this week, I had the chance to read some interesting books about local history. Among the quite surprising facts I turned up about the City of Cardiff was its spectacular population growth. The first official census was held in 1801 and it  showed Cardiff to have a population of 1,870 – much smaller than other Welsh towns like Merthyr Tydfil (7,700) and Swansea (6,000). Every ten years another census was carried out, with the figures for Cardiff growing as follows:

1801 – 1,870
1811 – 2,457
1821 – 3,251
1831 – 6,187
1841 – 10,079
1851 – 18,351
1861 – no data
1871 – 57,363
1881 – no data
1891 – 128,915
1901 – 164,333
1911 – 182,259
1921 – 222,827
1931 – 226,937
1941 – no data
1951 – 243,632
1961 – 283,998
1971 – 293,220
1981 – 286,740
1991 – 296,900
2001 – 305,353

The growth of the docks in Cardiff Bay, driven by the export of coal from the valleys, seems to have been the main factor in driving the population increase, and this accelerated markedly from the middle of the 19th century until the early 20th century.

Early on in the industrial revolution the South Wales valleys were primarily concerned with the production of iron. In February 1794, the 25-mile-long Glamorganshire Canal was opened between Cardiff and Merthyr Tydfil to bring iron products down to the coast and for nearly 50 years was unchallenged as the main transport link between the two towns.  It was later to become the primary route for carrying coal to the Bay.

In October 1839, the Bute West Dock covering 19 acres with 9,400 feet of quays was opened, and the construction of the Dock Feeder to regulate the water supply to the dock from the River Taff was completed.  Entirely paid for by the second Marquis of Bute, this new dock set in motion Cardiff’s amazing growth to become the world’s biggest coal exporting port. The Taff Vale Railway was opened in 1841 between Cardiff and Abercynon and soon overtook the Glamorganshire Canal in economic importance. Coal shipments from Cardiff exceeded one million tons for the first time in 1851. In December 1855, the first historical trainload of Rhondda steam coal arrived at Cardiff, where the Bute East Dock was opened. By 1883 the docks handled six million tons of coal and by 1913 this figure had grown to a staggering 107 million tons.

Much of the labour needed to handle this volume of coal came from immigrants, including very large numbers of Irish but also lots of other people from all around the world. By 1850 there were no less than 20 foreign consulates in Cardiff and the city quickly established the cosmopolitan reputation it has kept to this day.

After the end of the First World War the coal trade suffered because the market was flooded with cheap German coal used for war reparations. That, and the subsequent depression, led to a decline in Cardiff as a port, although it was very busy during the Second World War. About 75 per cent of the supplies for the American forces in Europe were shipped out through Cardiff docks following the D-Day landings in June 1944.  This was a short-lived renaissance; the last ever shipment of coal left Bute Dock in 1950.

Finally, another thing I hadn’t known. Cardiff was only officially recognized as the capital city of Wales in 1955. Prior to that Wales had no separate legal existence, was entirely governed by English Law and was run entirely from Westminster. The strong local rivalry between Cardiff and Swansea largely stems from this time, as Swansea – a much older city – was an unsuccessful contender for the title of capital.

For a whole load of other interesting facts and figures about Cardiff, see the Cardiff Timeline.