Cardiff Bay Transforms – Late 1980s To Early 1990s

The transformation of Cardiff Docks to Cardiff Bay is remarkable. In the last 30 years it has changed from a rambling, dirty and derelict industrial area to a tourist destination and desirable place to live. Slowly but surely, the Bay has risen from its past with a swaggering pride and purpose to the place we know today. I’m certain there’s still more transformation to happen in coming years, but this post is all about an interesting period for the area when this new life was just beginning.

The late 1980s to mid 1990s was a period where things were just starting to turn. In the late 1980s I’d often cycle down to the Welsh Industrial and Maritime Museum, via Splott and on past the working girls on Tyndall and Bute Street. It was a good trek from Stacey Road, but one I enjoyed quite frequently. Initially there was little going on as far as the redevelopment was concerned. There were loads of old empty industrial buildings that you could easily access. Some were back down on Herbert Street and Tyndall Street, and the roads that run up to the graving docks in the bay. I’d often take a look through these buildings, sometimes riding my bike right into them, so open were they.




Had this been today I would have had my iPhone out and been snapping away indiscriminately, recording the sights. Those days though I didn’t routinely have a camera so much of what appealed to me down there exists only in my memory, and not as photographs. Later I made the odd trip with one of the school’s 35mm Prackticas that I had on almost permanent loan, furnished with black and white film that was provided free of charge by our school’s photography teacher. Some of that stuff has already featured on the site, but sadly I took very little during the late 1980s that is of use today.

However, here’s what’s still of use from those Black and White shots in the late 1980s. All the photos tend to concentrate around the Mount Stuart Graving Docks, the Pier Head building and the old Welsh Industrial and Maritime Museum. They show a very different place, with some familiar features, but lots that is long gone and served an industrial purpose. There were some big old buildings on the side of the Mount Stuart Graving Docks, and if you could get past the bracken and overgrowth there you could get to the sea gates at the docks entrances.

Another view of one of the gates on the Mount Stuart Graving Docks (circa 1989)

Looking across the Mount Stuart Graving Docks towards the building that became Techniquest (circa 1989)

Another view of one of the gates on the Mount Stuart Graving Docks (circa 1989)

Another view of one of the gates on the Mount Stuart Graving Docks (circa 1989)

Hut and sleepers on the side of one of the Mount Stuart Graving Docks (circa 1989)

Hut and sleepers on the side of one of the Mount Stuart Graving Docks (circa 1989)

Benches outside the old Maritime Museum.

Looking towards the Pier Head Building from the Maritime Museum (circa 1989)

Benches outside the old Maritime Museum.

Benches outside the old Maritime Museum (circa 1989)

One of the gates at the entrance to the Mount Stuart Graving Docks.

One of the gates at the entrance to the Mount Stuart Graving Docks (circa 1989)

Benches outside the Maritime Museum, looking towards the Mount Stuart Graving Docks (circa 1989)

Benches outside the Maritime Museum, looking towards the Mount Stuart Graving Docks (circa 1989)

The dolphins in Cardiff Bay with the tide out (circa 1989)

The dolphins in Cardiff Bay with the tide out (circa 1989)

The Pier Head Building (circa 1989)

The Pier Head Building (circa 1989)

In the early 1990s I took a number of colour shots as reference materials for artworks I was making during my fine art degree down in Falmouth, Cornwall. I’ve scanned the best of them that I think will be of interest here. They provide an interesting viewpoint into a time when Mermaid Quay was still a twinkle in the developers eye, Doctor Who wasn’t any more and the Millennium Centre was still a decade away.

At this point my friend had moved into a shared house on Windsor Esplanade, and I’d often stay over following a boozy night. We’d often drink in the Eli Jenkins, opposite The Pilot. At that time there was no one down there in the nights, and we’d be the only people in the pub, wondering when the landlord would sling us out. The pub did well in the day with the office workers around Mount Stuart Square and Bute Street, but at night there was no-one there other than the odd local from one of the more modern housing estates in the area, and most of them drank in The Pilot. The Eli always felt like it was holding out till the good times came, but that was a long wait of quiet nights over many years.

The same was true around what we now know as Mermaid Quay, there was no one around or making an effort to go visit. You could walk around the front of the Welsh Industrial and Maritime Museum and the Pier Head there, but it wasn’t as prettified as it is now. Things were starting to happen down in the docks though. I remember there were some good free music festivals run down in the Bay in the summer. I recall seeing Pop Will Eat Itself and the Mock Turtles play live down around the back of the Big Windsor or the Pier Head circa 1990/91, along with many other bands. Sadly I was typically working on Sunday nights when the concerts were on so ended up missing the rest of the nights as I had to disappear back to the Gaiety in City Road to call the bingo.

Those concerts later became the Big Weekend which were moved to the city’s civic centre, but back then it was a big draw for the docks, and showed that there were plans for its future. Perhaps one of the biggest signs of change came when they opened the Harry Ramsden’s in Stuart Place. Suddenly people had a reason to go to the Bay. Well, my parents and grandparents did, at least, being big fish and chips fans! Techniquest was another big draw to the area situated at that time in its first location in the docks. Personally I always loved the Welsh Industrial and Maritime Museum and would often visit that. It used to be good to go on the boats and trains in the yard outside the museum, some of which you’ll see in the photos below. It was a real shame when they closed that one down, especially as they never replaced it.

The following colour photos were mainly taken around 1992/1993. They show marked changes from the Black and White photos above. The Techniquest building has been stripped out and the Atradius Building is taking shape. The Welsh Assembly was still a dream at that point, and many of the old buildings in the docks are still visible. Compared to today, it’s a completely different place back then, despite the beginning of the attempts to make the bay accessible to all.

One of the Mount Stuart Graving Docks' sea gates.

One of the Mount Stuart Graving Docks’ sea gates (circa 1992/93)

The tide's out in this one of the Mount Stuart Graving Docks.

The tide’s out in this one of the Mount Stuart Graving Docks (circa 1992/93)

Another one of the Mount Stuart Graving Docks' sea gates (circa 1992/93)

Another one of the Mount Stuart Graving Docks’ sea gates (circa 1992/93)

The Pier Head and the beginnings of the new office building currently occupied by Atradius (circa 1992/93)

The Pier Head and the beginnings of the new office building currently occupied by Atradius (circa 1992/93)

A cross the bay signs of life as the new office currently occupied by Atradius (circa 1992/93)

A cross the bay signs of life as the new office currently occupied by Atradius (circa 1992/93)

The beginnings of the new office building currently occupied by Atradius (circa 1992/93)

The beginnings of the new office building currently occupied by Atradius (circa 1992/93)

The Maritime Museum and Pier Head (circa 1992/93)

The Norwegian Church and industrial docks (circa 1992/93)

The Norwegian Church and industrial docks (circa 1992/93)

Early attempts to make the dock accessible by the side of the Graving Docks (circa 1992/93)

Early attempts to make the dock accessible by the side of the Graving Docks (circa 1992/93)

Early attempts to make the dock accessible by the side of the Graving Docks (circa 1992/93)

Another view of the early attempt to make the dock accessible by the side of the Graving Docks (circa 1992/93)

View across the Mount Stuart Graving Docks and the stripped out Techniquest building (circa 1992/93)

View across the Mount Stuart Graving Docks and the stripped out Techniquest building (circa 1992/93)

View across the Mount Stuart Graving Docks and the stripped out Techniquest building (circa 1992/93)

The yard at the back of the Welsh Maritime Museum (circa 1992/93)

The yard at the back of the Welsh Maritime Museum (circa 1992/93)

The old filled in entrance to the Bute Dock (circa 1992/93)

The old filled in entrance to the Bute Dock (circa 1992/93)

Techniquest's first location in the docks (circa 1992/93)

Techniquest’s first location in the docks (circa 1992/93)

The back of the Big Windsor and Pilotage buliding (circa 1992/93)

The back of the Big Windsor and Pilotage buliding (circa 1992/93)

The end of Windsor Esplanade (circa 1992/93)

The end of Windsor Esplanade (circa 1992/93)

Comments 5

  1. Tone 9th July 2017
    • David 9th July 2017
  2. Anthony mcquade 15th July 2017
  3. Anthony mcquade 21st July 2017

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