Archive for Cardiff Castle

The canals of old Cardiff

Posted in Cardiff, History with tags , , , , on January 8, 2013 by telescoper

I came across this old map of Cardiff the other day and thought I’d post it to make up for the fact that I’ve not posted much about the local history of this fascinating city over the years.


I can’t find a date for the map, but I guess it is from the early 20th Century.

The most interesting thing about the map is the pretty extensive network of canals. The Dock Feeder Canal still runs down from the top of the map then turns East and past the North side of the Castle, and then South again towards Cardiff Bay. Some of its route is now underground, including the section that used to be Edward Terrace and Pembroke Terrace, which now form the two sides of Churchill Way  under which the canal still flows.

It’s worth mentioning in passing that most of the present Cardiff Castle is basically a late 19th Century folly, but it is the site of much older buildings, including a Norman Keep and a Roman fort. When the Romans occupied the location, the area from the Castle down to the sea was basically a swamp, flanked by the flood plain of the Taff to the West, with the salt marshes of Cardiff Bay to the South. Almost all of present-day Cardiff is reclaimed land.

The Dock Feeder Canal was constructed around 1840 in order to supply water to the Docks in Cardiff Bay so that they could be operated even when the tide was out. This gave  Cardiff one of the world’s first 24-hour docks and led to a rapid expansion of commerce and population in the city during the mid-19th Century.

Among the quite surprising facts about the City of Cardiff is 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 expansion 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. The Glamorganshire Canal can be seen on the map too, but has now virtually vanished, the route it used to follow now just being marked by new roads; for example, the route it used to take to the East of Bute Park is now covered by North Road.

Here is an old photograph of Mill Lane, now the site of a number of not-very-salubrious eating and drinking establishments. I suspect not many Cardiff residents know that less than half a century ago, these were canalside properties..


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 10.7 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.

Other random but possibly interesting points about the map are:

  • The site of the modern Cardiff University School of Physics & Astronomy is near the top right of the map, marked “Univers. Coll.”
  • Taff Vale Railway Station is now named Queen Street Station, and Great Western Station is now Cardiff Central.
  • Note that Cardiff Arms Park was actually surrounded by parkland when this map was drawn, but now the area around is built up (and of course the Millennium Stadium is now there too).
  • Much of central Cardiff has been replaced by modern malls and the like, but the Central Market is still there.

Leonid’s Shower

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on April 18, 2009 by telescoper

Yesterday (17th April) was the last day of our Easter vacation – back to the grind on Monday – and it was also the occasion of a special meeting to mark the retirement of Professor Leonid Petrovich Grishchuk.

Leonid has been a Distinguished Research Professor here in Cardiff since 1995. You can read more of his scientific biography and wider achievements here, but it should suffice to say that he is a pioneer of many aspects of relativistic cosmology and particularly primordial gravitational waves. He’s also a larger-than-life character who is known with great affection around the world.

Among other things, he’s a big fan of football. He still plays, as a matter of fact, although he generally spends more time ordering his team-mates about than actually running around himself. One of his retirement presents was a Cardiff City football shirt with his name on the back.

My first experience of Leonid was many years ago at a scientific meeting at which I attempted to give a talk. Leonid was in the audience and he interrupted me,  rather aggressively. I didn’t really understand his question so he had another go at me in the questions afterwards. I don’t mind admitting that I was quite upset with his behaviour. I think a large fraction of working cosmologists have probably been Grischchucked at one time or another.

Later on, though, people from the meeting were congregating at a bar when he arrived and headed for me. I didn’t really want to talk to him as I felt he had been quite rude. However, there wasn’t really any way of escaping so I ended up talking to him over a beer. We finally resolved the question he had been trying to ask me and his demeanour changed completely. We spent the rest of the evening having dinner and talking about all sorts of things and have been friends ever since.

Over the years I’ve learned that this is very much a tradition amongst Russian scientists of the older school. They can seem very hostile – even brutal – when discussing science, but that was the way things were done in the environment where they learned their trade.  In many cases the rather severe exterior masks a kindly and generous nature, as it certainly does with Leonid.

I also remember a spell in the States as a visitor during which I heard two Russian cosmologists screaming at each other in the room next door. I really thought they were about to have a fist fight. A few minutes later, though, they both emerged, smiling as if nothing had happened…

Appropriately enough Leonid’s bash was held immediately after BritGrav 9, a meeting dedicated to bringing together the gravitational research community of the UK and beyond, and to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas. It aimed to cover all aspects of gravitational physics, both theoretical and experimental, including cosmology, mathematical general relativity, quantum gravity, gravitational astrophysics, gravitational wave data analysis, and instrumentation. I chaired a session during the meeting and found Leonid in characteristic form as a member of the audience, never shy with questions or comments, and quite difficult to keep under control.

I enjoyed the meeting because priority was given to students when allocating speaking slots. I think too many conferences have the same senior scientists giving  the same talk over and over again. Relativists are also quite different to cosmologists in the level of mathematical rigour to which they aspire.  You can bullshit at a cosmology conference, but wouldn’t get away with it in front of a GR audience.

On the evening of 16th April we had a public lecture in Cardiff by Kip Thorne on The Warped Side of the Universe: from the Big Bang to Black Holes and Gravitational Waves and Kip also gave a talk as part of the subsequent meeting on Friday in Leonid’s honour.


Kip and Leonid are shown together a few years ago in the photograph to the left here. The rest of the LPGFest meeting was interesting and eclectic, with talks from mathematical relativists as well as scientists in diverse fields who had come over from Russia specially to honour Leonid. We later adjourned to a “Welsh Banquet” at the 15th Century Undercroft of Cardiff Castle for dinner accompanied by something described as “entertainment” laid on by the hosts. That part was quite excruciating: like Butlins only not as classy. Heaven knows what our distinguished foreign visitors made of it, although Leonid seemed to think it was great fun, and that’s what matters.

Once the dinner was over it was time for Leonid to be showered with gifts from around the world and, by way of a finale, he was serenaded with a version of From Russian With Love, by Bernie and the Gravitones. Now at last I understand what the phrase “extraordinary rendition” means.