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Tiger Bay, Cardiff

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Tiger Bay, Cardiff




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Tiger Bay is the former dock area of Cardiff. It was rebranded as Cardiff Bay due to the building of the multi-million pound Cardiff Barrage which dams the tidal rivers Ely and Taff to create a body of water. This renaming has not proven popular with all local residents.

In 1794, the Glamorganshire Canal was completed, linking Cardiff with Merthyr, and in 1798 a basin was built, connecting the canal to the sea. Increasing agitation for proper dock facilities led Cardiff's foremost landowner, John Crichton-Stuart, 2nd Marquess of Bute, to promote the construction of the West Bute Dock, opened in October 1839. Just two years later, the Taff Vale Railway was opened. From the 1850s coal supplanted iron as the industrial foundation of South Wales, as the Cynon Valley and Rhondda Valley were mined.

Exports reached 2 million tons as early as 1862, with the East Bute dock opening in 1859. In 1862, 2,000,000 tons of coal were exported from Cardiff Docks; by 1913, this had risen to 10,700,000 tons. Frustration at the lack of development at Cardiff led to rival docks being opened at Penarth in 1865 and Barry, Wales in 1889. These developments eventually spurred Cardiff into action, with the opening of the Roath Dock in 1887, and the Queen Alexandra Dock in 1907. By then, coal exports from Cardiff totalled nearly 9 million tons per annum, much of it exported in the holds of locally-owned tramp steamers.

Cardiff's first steamship was the Llandaff of 1865, and by 1910, there were some 250 tramp steamers owned at Cardiff, by prominent firms such as Cory, Morel, Radcliffe, Tatem and Reardon Smith. Each day, the principals of these companies would meet to arrange cargoes of coal for their ships in the opulent Coal Exchange in Mount Stuart Square. This trade reached its pinnacle in 1913, when 10.7 million tons of coal were exported from the port. After the First World War, there was a boom in shipping in Cardiff, with 122 shipping companies in existence in 1920. The boom proved short-lived, however; oil was growing in importance as a maritime fuel, and the terms of the Treaty of Versailles soon flooded Europe with cheap German reparation coal.

Decline and resurrection
By 1932, in the depths of the depression, coal exports had fallen to below 5 million tons and dozens of locally owned ships were laid-up. It was an era of depression from which Cardiff never really recovered, and despite intense activity at the port during the Second World War, coal exports continued to decline, finally ceasing in 1964.

Tiger Bay was notorious for being a tough and dangerous area to be in. Merchant seamen arrived in Cardiff from all over the world, only staying for as long as it took to discharge and reload their ships. Consequently many murders and lesser crimes went unsolved and unpunished, the perpetrators having sailed for other ports. It also had a well-integrated multi-racial community, its most famous former resident being Shirley Bassey.

Today, the port of Cardiff and what is now known as Cardiff Bay has been totally transformed by the Cardiff Barrage that impounds the Rivers Taff and the Ely to create a massive fresh-water lake. Only two docks, the Roath and the Queen Alexandra, remain in use, and just two shipping companies remain, albeit buoyant with their world-wide interests. There is still some trade in timber, oil, scrap and containers.


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