Cardiff owes much of its history to the Industrial Revolution. The rapidly increasing iron and coal trade was the catalyst for the construction of a number of docks during the 1830s. These included the Bute West Dock, which was the first dock to be opened by the 2nd Marquis of Bute in 1839 and its seaward entrance known as the Oval Basin, the Bute East Dock in 1855, Roath Basin in 1874, Roath Dock in 1887 and the Queen Alexandra Dock in 1907.
During this time, Butetown and the surrounding dockland area grew into a cosmopolitan community, with seafarers from all over the world making Cardiff their home. It’s estimated that at least 50 different nationalities settled in this area, which became known as Tiger Bay. This kaleidoscope of settlers assisted with the building of the docks, worked aboard the ships and helped to service this industrial and maritime city.
By the 1880s, Cardiff had transformed from one of the smallest towns in Wales to the largest, and its port was handling more coal than any other in the world. In 1913, the year before the First World War began, exports reached their peak at over 13 million tonnes. At this time, the international price of coal was struck in the Coal Exchange building, and it was here that the world’s first £1 million deal was signed!
1940 to 1970
After the Second World War, however, demand for coal slumped and international deals suffered as other countries developed their own steel industries. Also, trade was increasingly lost to container ports and by the 1960s coal exports had virtually ceased. In 1978, East Moors Steelworks closed with the loss of 3,200 jobs, which dealt a further blow to South Cardiff.
By the early 1980s, Cardiff Bay had become a neglected wasteland of derelict docks and mudflats. Its population suffered from social exclusion and had above average levels of unemployment.
The docklands had given the city its wealth, but had then been disinherited.
The Cardiff Bay Development Corporation was set up in April 1987 to regenerate the 1,100 hectares of old derelict docklands of Cardiff and Penarth. It was part of the British government’s Urban Development Programme to regenerate particularly deprived and run-down areas of British inner cities.