At the heart of our parish is the community of Butetown whose other names of Tiger Bay and The Docks give even more away. Orginally built by John Crichton Stuart, the Second Marquess of Bute, whose title gave the area its name, it soon became one of the UK's first multicultural communities with people from over 50 countries settled here by the outbreak of World War I, working in the docks and other associated industries. In the 1960s, most of the original housing was demolished, including the historic Loudon Square, the heart of Butetown. It was replaced with a housing estate of low rise courts and alleys and two high rise blocks.
In the 1980s, the new Atlantic Wharf development was built on the reclaimed West Bute Dock, situated just over the raised railway line which runs the lenght of Bute Street. The construction of 1300 new houses further increased the population of the parish, pushing the city further outward This is no new thing. Claiming and reclaiming land, reinterpreting its use, allowing the landscape to be reshaped by the people it has welcomed is part of how Cardiff has grown. It is how Butetown was born.
You can discover more about Butetown and how faith has been an important part of its community life by clicking here
'Streets come and go, and drawn lines on a map sometimes have a job keeping up with the reshaping of a city'
weather and water permitting, parishioners from St Mary's make the choppy journey across the channel'
'At the heart of our parish is the community of Butetown, whose other names of Tiger Bay and The Docks
give even more away!'
The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin is the Parish Church of the 11th century Parish of Cardiff. The present church, opened in 1843, replaced the original St Mary's which stood in what is now Great Western Lane at the rear of St Mary's Street, between the back of two Wetherspoon pubs. You can find out more about its past in History and Faithful Butetown.
There is, of course, a certain fluidity and free flow between the boundaries of inner city parishes. Streets come and go, and drawn lines on a map sometimes have a job keeping up with the reshaping of a city which continues to grow in all directions. Our parish is no different in this respect, but the boundary is worth exploring!
The Northern Lights
The parish boundary in the north extends to Wood Street where the original St Mary's stood, a stones throw away from the street of the same name, busy with shoppers by day and, by night, the lights and sights of bars and clubs. The site sits behind two Wetherspoon pubs, now deep in the belly of a building site, as the new BBC Wales headquarters and the Cardiff Transport hub slowly grow upwards.
The boundary continues across the bottom of St Mary, crossing the busy bend of a road and cuts through the centre of Caroline Street (or 'Chippy Lane' as it's affectionately known by many, and drunkenly known by some) just missing out on the Brewery Quarter with its stacked and eclectic assortment of bars and resturants, but embracing on the right the slightly renowned Dorothy's Fish Bar and its boneless chicken curry claim to fame.
The boundary meanders across Hayes Place, leaving behind the green-blue glass of Central Library on your right, and into Tredegar Street which slips through the heel of St Davids2 shopping centre deep in the shadow of John Lewis.
It turns left around the new Admiral Insurance office block, through a street often filled with queuing music fans waiting in all weathers for entry to the latest performance at the Motorpoint Arena. From here, we are onto Bridge Street which cuts across Churchill Way, with a sneaking glance at the Masonic Hall on the right, which serves a certain secret purpose to some!
At Her Majesty's Pleasure
The boundary wraps itself around the high stone walls of Cardiff Prison (or 1 Knox Road as many wedding entries in our parish registers puts it, the official residence of many a groom who marries his bride in the prison chapel, all at Her Majesty's pleasure).
Leaving the Victorian prison behind, and across the busy jumbled junction of a crossroads, Windsor Road Bridge takes us over the railway line to the 'Magic Roundabout' where, across Ocean Way with its industrial units, the parish boundary flirts with that of St Saviour's Splott before it leaves for sea, across the vestiges of Cardiff Docks, not half as busy (or big) as they used to be.
As if by Magic
If you were to turn right at the Magic Roundabout, across the flyover, and drop down into Tyndall Street, you'd find what was once one of the five historic towns of Cardiff, Newtown. By the late nineteenth century, growing industry had transformed the landscape with railway lines, goods yards, the docks, and a predominantly Irish population fleeing the potato famine and seeking work. There was once a Welsh speaking Anglican church here, All Saints, Tyndall Street (or more appropriately Eglwys yr Holl) but Welsh services were soon dispered across various parts of the town, settling for a while in Howard Gardens in Adamsdown and these days finding a final home at Eglwys Dewi Sant back across the other side of town. The only other church in that particular area at the time was St Paul’s Roman Catholic Church which thrived on the presence of the Irish. There were many more pubs.
There is now only a small memorial garden to the former inhabitants of this part of the city (next to the Ibis Budget Hotel) often overlooked, etched into paving slabs. History under your feet.
But rather than continuing along this route to Bute Street, we're back, as if by magic, to the Magic Roundabout and Ocean Way where through the canal of industrial units you'll find one of the entrances to Cardiff Docks.
These days, Industry gives way to pleasure and lesiure and entertainment, splattered out in the development of Cardiff Bay's Mermaid Quay and Roald Dahl Plas with the Millenium Centre and other attractions, although politics and media splendidly share the spot, with both the BBC and ITV Wales finding a foothold, and the Welsh Assembly Government building looking out to sea, and where you can see the island of Flathom in the Bristol Channel.
Each year, weather and water permitting, parishioners from St Mary's make the choppy journey across the channel to celebrate St Cadoc whose association with the island was steeped in deep devotion and disaster, as his companion St Baruc was drowned in these waters, his body later washed up on the shoreline of Barry Island.
Westward, the brown flowing water which is the River Taff, and whose swollen banks in 1607 destroyed the former St Mary's before it was redirected iduring industrial expansion, provides another hem to the parish boundary, until it empties itself into the sea.
As Cardiff's industry grew, so did its population. Dockworkers and sailors from across the world settled in neighbourhoods close to the docks, creating a colourful community, which soon became known as Tiger Bay, a name which reflected the fierce currents around the local tidal stretches of the River Severn. In Victorian times, the name "Tiger Bay" was used in popular literature and slang (especially among sailors) to describe any dock or seaside neighborhood which shared a similar notoriety for danger!
For some, Tiger Bay's reputation left a lot to be desired. Tough, dangerous, lurid. Merchant seamen arrived in Cardiff from all over the world and only stayed for as long as it took to discharge and reload their ships. Like many other ports in history throughout the world, the area became a Red-light district. Various crimes, including murders, went unsolved and unpunished, the perpetrators' having sailed for other ports. However, locals who lived and stayed in the area describe a far friendlier place, and there are many stories which show a vibrant, diverse and tight knit community, which many people continue to be happy to be associated with to this day,
In Victorian times, the name "Tiger Bay" was used in popular literature and slang (especially that of sailors) to denote any dock or seaside neighborhood which shared a similar notoriety for danger
Hayley Mills, in the choir stalls at St Mary's Church, in the 1959 film, "Tiger Bay"
Sir Hassan Suhrawardy speaking to the audience during the civil opening ceremony of the new Mosque in 1943
(Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer, Richard Stone from the collections of the Imperial War Museums., Public Domain)