Finding Faith in Cardiff
Welcome to the third in a series of walks guiding you through Butetown and Cardiff and sharing the significant religious jewels of the past and present.
This walk begins in the city centre at the far corner of the Parish of St Mary’s, near Central Railway Station, at a present day pub with history beneath its feet.
We invite you to stand around for a while before we wander through St Mary Street and some of its side streets, and eventually turn right into Church Street towards St John the Baptist Church and the Hayes, completing almost a full circle.
Distance: 1.4 miles / 28 minutes (excluding stops)
Starting Point: The Prince of Wales Pub, St Mary Street/Wood Street (Google Link)
Parking: There is ample parking in the city centre.
Public Transport: the walk begins close to Cardiff Central Bus Station and the main bus routes.
Terrain: Pavements, flat, no hills or steps
Religions discovered: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism
Meet me at Betty’s statue!
Perhaps we could rename this walking trail, ‘Meet me at Betty’s Statue!” Unveiled in October 2021 this amazing piece of art in Central Square was created by Eve Shepherd and is the first statue in a public place in Wales of a named woman!
Betty Campbell (1934 – 2017) was a resident of Butetown and is renowned for, amongst many other things, being the first black headteacher in Wales – at Mount Stuart Primary School in Butetown.
She taught Black History in the curriculum decades before it took its formal place in teaching. She fought throughout her life for the community known as Tiger Bay.
As a child, she told her own headteacher that she wanted to be a headteacher. The response she received filled her with tears as she was told that she should get the idea out of her head as the ‘obstacles were insurmountable.’
She overcame them.
Betty was a member of the congregation at St Mary’s Church whose beginnings we see in the side of the nearby pub. We’ll go there now!
Priory Church of St Mary the Virgin
We’re outside the pub. The Prince of Wales. On Rugby International Day, Westgate Street (which runs opposite) is awash with colour as rugby fans with painted faces spill out from pubs, gripping plastic pint glasses, the pavement soaked with beer, to raise the roof of the Principality Stadium, and fill the space with hymns they, perhaps, do not sing elsewhere.
At one time, water flowed here before the River Taff was rerouted by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in the 1840s to make dry land for a new Railway Station which opened a few years later.
The river had often licked the graveyard and spilled into the sometime Priory Church of St Mary which stood where the pub now stands – a subtle sandstone shape sliced into its Wetherspoon side marks the spot.
Then came the great flood of 1607 when the water did its worst. There had been prior warnings and earlier floods but the money meant for the upkeep of the weirs and walls, the bridges and quays had already been diverted elsewhere. Add to this the bashings it received during the Civil War that followed and the Priory Church’s days were numbered.
And so the Norman Lord, Robert Fitzhammon, who crossed the border into Wales, emerging hot on the heels of King Harold’s demise in 1066, took residence in the castle, and rebuilt the walls around him.
By the beginning of the twelfth century, he had built the Priory Church of St Mary. The Normans made their presence felt in stone. Here, the Priory was peopled with Benedictine monks from Tewkesbury Abbey, although by 1221 they were withdrawn, leaving just a Prior. Eventually, Simon, the last known Prior, was recalled to Tewkesbury and left the care of the parish to a Vicar, the church having become the Parish Church of Cardiff some time before.
Now, the only known solid remains of the Norman Priory Church is a well weathered, stone corbel-head fixed into the wall at the new St Mary’s Church at the top of Bute Street which was built in 1843.
A Muslim Connection
If you’re not in a rush to move on there are some connections to be made, so maybe wait a while!
Forty miles away to the west, Fitzhamon sliced his border with one of his own twelve knights, his brother Richard de Grenville, who gave rise to Neath Abbey in 1129.
The Abbey was reputedly designed by an architect called Lalys, a Muslim hand and mind put to work, cultures exchanged, technology shared. Whether he was a convert or a conscript is left only to our imagination.
Meanwhile, fly to North Wales and one can see the hand of a Muslim convert in some of the churches of Anglesey, with Muslim inspired patterns in windows and tiles in churches fashioned from the pocket of Lord Stanley of Alderley who took to Islam in 1862.
Centuries later, a single coin from Offa’s reign in the second half of the eighth century with Muslim Arabic inscriptions came to light in Rome – casting further light on an earlier interaction with people across the seas, religions rubbing shoulders. The minting of the coin has many possible reasons, some more fanciful than the other.
(Photograph by John Armagh – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6745587)
A Jewish Thought
Talking of 1066 and all that, the new King William brought with him Jewish workers and financiers from across the waters to help build a nation.
Their labour and the linings of their pockets were put to work in the castles of Wales, and there is evidence that there were Jewish settlements in Caernarfon and Beaumaris back in the thirteenth century.
However, in 1290, they were expelled by the King nicknamed Edward Longshanks. Out of pocket, and out of the country, they returned 400 years later with the inglorious Oliver Cromwell!
A new chapter emerged in the nineteenth century with Industrial growth, economic migration, and communities fleeing Russian pogroms – a foretaste of even worse to come.
We’ll be discovering more about Judaism in Cardiff, which dates back to 1813, further along the journey!
Straddling the corner of Wood Street and Westgate Street, just across the road from the pub, is Southgate House, a sign that here we stand outside the Medieval town walls as Cardiff.
Here, we also stand on the edge of once-upon-a-time Temperance Town, with the largest congregational church in Wales which stood where Southgate House now stands although Colonel Wood’s desire for an alcohol free community has long disappeared.
Wood Street Congregational Church began with unfortunate scandal, though, as fraud interfered with faith. William Watkiss was the minister who cast his eye upon the building which had initially been a music hall and a circus – and where the like of Charles Blondin took to the high wires. He thought it would make an ideal building for his growing congregation.
From the wings walked Mr Ashton, a prominent member of his congregation. He helped to purchase the building by proffering funds from local business men and other locals who lent their life time savings. But in a twist of drama, when payment was due, Ashton simply left the stage, disappeared, never to be seen again. He left behind £3 and a carpet bag containing an old grey coat – his wallet heavy with £600 cash (equivalent to about £50,000) and about the same amount in goods, all on credit.
His disappearance made it to the stage, played out in drama in a play called ‘Ashton’s Little Game’ and performed to a full house at the Theatre Royal, Cardiff’s first of many theatres, opened in 1827 in Crockerbtown – now Queen Street.
Fortunately, another church community, together with donations from generous individuals, saved Wood Street Congregational for Watkiss, and the church opened on 28 September 1868.
St Dyfrig’s Church
At the crossing of the rerouted Taff, at the other far end of Wood Street, stood the short lived church of St Dyfrig , built in 1888 a by-product of St Mary’s Church but pulled down half a decade later to give way to one of many re-imaginings of this part of town.
The area had become poor – too poor to attract investment to the Great Western Railway which had opened a new station in 1930, and so the houses were emptied, people moved elsewhere. But more about St Dyfrig’s Church is to be discovered on another walk, and the sixth century Bishop from whom it took its name and patronage.
Now this area has been re-imagined again. The new BBC Wales Studios stands squat and bold surrounded by a splatter of office buildings to create a new Central Square. The Prince of Wales pub was once a Theatre before bowing out to the silver screen and many other uses since – from Laser play to adult films and bargain basement shops.
Many historic buildings across Cardiff have disappeared, whilst others take new inhabitants, find new uses, fulfils new needs.
The bulldozers have moved in again, and post war buildings have succumbed to the growth of the city. St David’s House has been pulled down – although the name of the Patron Saint of Wales sticks to several buildings, sacred and secular, across the city.
We move on, turning left into St Mary Street.
Three metal monkeys chime each hour from the glazed clock-tower at the junction of Wood Street and St Mary Street. The mischievous monkeys are copies of those carved in wood in Cardiff Castle where they cavort around the Tree of Knowledge.
William Burges, their creator, gives a dig at Darwin’s Beagle adventures, and carves into his work the controversies and discoveries of the day. Darwin returned home in 1836 with ground breaking ideas.
A small number of Christians still cling to some anti-Darwin doctrines but they are very few and far between. People have moved on.
Baptised and schooled in the Church of England, Darwin died an agnostic.
On the corner of the street, the belly of the Royal Hotel has been carved up between bars, surrounded by many others, all of whom give a wry smile to the memory of Temperance Town. Here, in the hotel, Sir Robert Scott took his final grand dinner before he pushed out his Terranova Ship into choppier waters, never to return.
Continue down St Mary Street. You will pass Golate, a street on the left whose name is often mistakenly attributed to the belief that those who left it almost too late to return to the docks by the canal that once flowed here could hop on and make the ship about to sail out).
It’s was sometimes called the Golly Gate (1786) and the Goleet. The name is a variant of Gully-yat, meaning gully passage, an allusion to a stream which ran down here into the Taff which was flowed the length of Westgate Street which these days flows with traffic.
‘Let the fire be lit‘
On the right is James Howells’ Department Store which swallows up what’s left of Bethany Church within, where the walls still hold the memorial to Rawlins White, burned at the stake in the street outside, and who wept when he saw his family as the crowds called for fire and flame. “Burn him, let the fire be lit.” It was 30 March 1555 and Queen Mary I was on the throne.
White gave no resistance to the soldiers who escorted him, carefully arranged the wood and straw around his own body hoping that the flames would burn quickly.
As a fisherman, he had lived off the Taff, pulling salmon from the river upstream. Unable to read and speaking only Welsh, he became familiar with Scriptures through the help of his son who read to him each night.
Inspired by itinerant preachers who regularly called at Cardiff during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VII, he passed on the preaching to others willing to hear.
Despite resistance, White’s silence could not be won until he was confined to Cardiff Castle and then the dark, damp, disgusting cell of the Cockmarel Prison from which he is led to death.
Chained to the stake, the fire was lit, his legs burnt quickly, his body slumped forward. On the same day in Carmarthen another Martyr, Robert Farrar, the Bishop of St David’s, also breathed his last.
On another walk, we’ll discover two other religious martyrs, this time catholic, Saint Phillip Evans and Saint John Lloyd, who, a hundred years or so later, swung from the gallows at what is now a busy crossroads in Cardiff.
Swallowed by Commerce
If you have time, you may want to slip into James Howells store to see the original features of Bethany Particular Baptist Church which have been incorporated into the shop.
The church began humbly in the Kings Head Hotel in 1806, as three friends baptised in the Taff met for prayer there before moving on to a stables which were subsequently enlarged.
Bethany was built in 1807 and rebuilt a number of times accommodating over 900 people and with its own burial ground until, in 1965, swallowed up by the commercial properties which swamped it, the congregation moved to new premises in Rhiwbina where they continue to this day.
The old church is regarded as the first English Baptist Church in Cardiff. Incidentally, the Kings Head Hotel (1719, 1792) in St Mary Street was pulled down in 1850 – but there are plenty of other watering holes around and a reminder that it’s not simply places of worship that come and go as a town or city reshapes itself.
Whilst stones may topple or buildings find a new use, communities of faith remain offering a unique contribution to society.
Faith in Public Life
Further up St Mary Street on the left is Guildhall Place, the site of the fourth Town Hall. It was here, in 1905, that Alderman Robert Hughes opened the letter from the King giving Cardiff city status.
Robert Hughes was a parishioner of St Mary’s Church on Bute Street, and a life-long friend of Fr Griffith Arthur Jones who had retired just a year or so before. Hughes arrived in Cardiff at the age of 15 years, with a job at Nell’s Brewery arranged by Fr Jones. He was a Sunday School teacher there, and a sponsor for many boys who were baptised and confirmed.
Letter in hand, he is congratulated by the gathered crowd, elevated now as he is to be the first Lord Mayor of Cardiff. His portrait hangs beyond the Castle in County Hall, built the following year. After applause and celebratory speeches, they take to the balcony to share the news, and then there is a torchlight procession to St Mary’s back in Tiger Bay to celebrate the centenary of Lord Nelson’s death.
Pushed, as it often is, outside of public life we can often forget the faith which nurtures the lives of some of our leaders, or overlook the beliefs of those who turn their lives to the service of others.
Despite being multicultural, Cardiff had to wait some years before Councillors of other religions emerged. Much has changed, and local politicians now represent more realistically the people they represent.
In 1993, Jaz Singh became the first Sikh Cardiff Councillor, and was Deputy Mayor in 2008. The first Sikh Gurdwara in Cardiff had its humble beginnings in a terraced house at Ninian Park in 1956.
When eyeing up land for a purpose built Gurdwara years later in the 1980s, he notes with gratitude the help given by Mohammad Javid, who was chairman of the Pakistan Welfare Association and a Member of Woodville Mosque, although there was some criticism by some people – reminiscent of the Jewish-Christian comments of the Church Times a century before when they questioned the Anglican Vicar of St Stephen’s Church in the Docks for attending the opening of a Jewish synagogue.
(Painting by Margaret Lindsay Williams (1880-1960), Photo: Cardiff Council)
Julian Hodge House
On the site of this former Victorian Town Hall is Julian Hodge House, built in 1915 for the Co-operative Wholesale Society in a style reminiscent of the Edwardian buildings of Regent Street, London.
Julian Hodge was one of Wales’ most famous financiers. Two ambitions dominated his life: to found a bank and to build a cathedral.
The boy from a poor background became a merchant banker and established the Commercial Bank of Wales but failed to convince the Roman Catholic hierarchy to accept his £3m offer for the building of a new Metropolitan Cathedral in Cardiff.
‘Oh Lord, here is iniquity’
Here, in the street, many people were publicly hanged from the gallows for Cardiff Market (on the right) was once the site of the 16th century Gaol.
It was expanded in 1770, and continued as a town gaol until 1877, years after the County Gaol moved across the city in 1832. It remains there still, served by a multi faith chaplaincy.
One of the most famously executed was Dic Penderyn caught up in the political and social unrest which washed through industrial Wales.
Working conditions and wage cuts, redundancy and debts led to riots in Merthyr Tydfil where buildings were ransacked to destroy debt records held by the courts. One of the Highland Regiments stationed at Brecon was sent in. Soldiers fired into the crowds. Sixteen people were slaughtered.
One solider, Donald Black, was stabbed in the leg by a soldier’s bayonet. Uncertain of his attacker, a young man called Richard Lewis, known as Dic Penderyn, was arrested. He was charged and imprisoned in Cardiff Gaol, taken to the gallows at 8am on 13 August 1831 at the age of 23 years.
His final words were: ‘O Arglwydd, dyma gamwedd’ meaning ‘Oh Lord, here is iniquity.’ He is buried in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church, Aberavon.
‘When they sneeze, we cough’
The valleys have their own stories to tell but they are inextricably linked to the growth of Cardiff. Today, 1.6 million people live within a 45 minute drive to Cardiff, and thousands from the valleys join the Cardiff work force each day.
In a novel retelling of the story of Jim Driscoll (1880-1925), the catholic and Cardiff born, Irish boxer from the long gone Newtown area of Cardiff, Alexander Cordell writes with Driscoll’s voice in the winter of his seventh year: ‘A strike of coal miners was going on in a place called Tonypandy, and when they sneeze we cough, said Gran.’
The boom began with the Glamorganshire Canal, completed in 1794, which escalated the journey of iron and coal from the valleys to Cardiff. It was swiftly followed by the Taff Valley Railway in 1840 which further enabled the growth of what was once a small town and which, at one time, had been described merely as being “near Llantrisant.”
At the forefront of this industry was Walter Coffin, a Unitarian Christian, who had moved from Bridgend to Cardiff in 1809. Recognised as the first person to exploit the rich coal fields of the Rhondda Valley on an industrial scale, he became one of the wealthiest coal mine owners in the world.
Coffin became Wales’ first Non-Conformist Christian Member of Parliament in 1852, although during his five years as MP he never addressed the house!
Faith in Action
Here, in 1852, Cardiff welcomed the YMCA at 100 St Mary Street, eight years after George Williams and Co of London formed the ‘Drapers Evangelistic Association’ and which later changed its name to ‘Young Men’s Christian Association.‘
It is the largest and oldest youth charity in the world and today, in South East Wales, they support more than 250 young carers (aged 7-16) and provide sexual health outreach programmes to young people throughout the city.
They also offer childcare, youth clubs, and health and wellbeing opportunities every day of the week and provide accommodation for nearly 120 homeless people in Cardiff, supporting them into independent living.
The YMCA moved from St Mary Street to purpose built premises to sit snugly next to Cory’s Temperance Hall opposite Queen Street Station, but both buildings have long been demolished, and the site now sports the Capitol centre. These days, you’ll find their offices in Roath.
Meanwhile, across the other side of the city, the Church Army works with homeless young people aged 16 and 21 years, offering short term accommodation, helping them with housing, and supporting them in a variety of ways at their base in Fairwater. Faith in Action.
(Photograph: ST Mary Street in 1893 / People’s Collection / Cardiff Library, CCL)
At the end of St Mary Street before it becomes High Street, on your right is Church Street leading to St John the Baptist (which we’ll come to soon) and on the left is Quay Street which is luring us on!
Towards the bottom of Quay Street (on the right) you’ll discover Womanby Street, one of the oldest streets in Cardiff dating from the 12th century. It used to be known as ‘Hummanbye’ street, the name thought to derive from an old Norse word meaning “dwelling for Dog Keepers” or Houndsmsen.
It is here that Trinity Presbyterian Church, the first non-conformist church in Cardiff was built in 1696 by the strong group of sympathisers of William Erbery some time after his death.
Erbery had been the Vicar of St Mary’s but lost his living for refusing to read the King’s “Book of Sports”. His curate, Walter Craddock, also felt the sweep of the episcopal hand!
Today the street is a discreet home to clubs and bars and the odd restaurant and is peopled by queues of music fans waiting to spill in or out of Clwb Ifor Bach.
Incidentally, the club is named after was a twelfth century leader in South Wales who scaled the walls of Cardiff castle held by William FitzRobert (The second Earl of Gloucester). He kidnapped his wife and son, fled to the woods at Senghenydd and ransomed them as recompense for the lands that he owned which had been seized by English rulers.
Nestled beyond the pub on the corner of the street on your right is Jones Court, a sensitively restored street of old houses, now home to various offices. It looks extremely attractive now: no sign of poor sanitation or overcrowding which characterised its past. Womanby Street has survived in some way: and it is one of the loveliest streets in Cardiff.
We’re moving back to Quay Street, crossing St Mary Street, and straight into Church Street.
In Church Street you’ll see the Medieval tower of St John the Baptist Church ahead of you. However, before you arrive there, as you walk down the street, take a look at the first floor windows of the white buildings at 3 and 4 Church Street on the left (above the Tapas Bar and now inhabited by a hair studio).
The building was once a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel built on the site of the first Wesleyan meeting room in Cardiff built between 1742 and 1743 (and enlarged in 1829). John Wesley (1703-1791) preached here and his diary for 6th May 1743 reads: ” I preached at eleven in the new room which the society had just built in the heart of the town, and our souls were sweetly comforted together.”
His first invitation to preach here came from Howell Harris (1714-1773) on 18 October 1739. He had hoped to preach at St. John’s but being a weekday the vicar, Rev Thomas Colerick, would not allow him.
It was, however, the first of many preaching visits, and people travelled long distances to hear him. He preached regularly in Cardiff Castle – in the Shire Hall, or from the Castle steps. He also preached in the Town Hall, and at the prison which he described as a “stifling den.”
Indeed, both John and Charles Wesley were veteran workers with prisoners. Charles Wesley’s Journal for September 12th, 1741, gives an account of the execution of two condemned men at the “Gallows Field” which was situated at the lower end of Crwys Road in the Roath area of Cardiff.
Some of the early Methodists also attended the Independent chapel in Womanby Street which, you may remember from earlier in the walk, was the first Nonconformist place of worship in the town.
Portrait of John Wesley by George Romney (1789), National Portrait Gallery, London
St John’s Church
Now onto St John’s, built as a chapel of ease to St Mary’s with its own chaplain sometime during the twelfth century and rebuilt, in part, during the thirteenth.
It soon became popular with the inhabitant’s of the castle and town. After the Reformation of the 16th century the right to appoint clergy to St Mary’s and St John’s passed to the Dean and Chapter of Gloucester Cathedral until, in 1920, disestablishment created The Church in Wales.
St John’s Church was damaged during the rebellion of Owen Glyndwr at the beginning of the fourteenth century (there’s a pub of the same name next to the church—one of the oldest inn sites in Cardiff, occupied since 1731 and once upon a time called The Tennis Court, and also the site of Nell’s Brewery where Alderman Robert Hughes, the first Lord Mayor of the City of Cardiff first worked as a boy.
After services ceased at the Priory Church of St Mary’s, the congregation worshipped here, accommodated in a gallery. They retained their own wardens, accounts and identity.
The West Tower was built in 1473. A section of the south choir arcade is all that remains of the original stone building of St John the Baptist.
The church is open during the day and is popular for concerts and exhibitions; there is a coffee shop, too, if you wish to stop awhile and take some refreshment. The church describes itself as “a Diverse, Liberal and Inclusive Church with a heart for social justice.”
In the midst of the market place the church remains: subtle, resolute, unmoved.
St John Ambulance
Each year, there is a service here for the Most Venerable Order of St John of Jerusalem (Priory for Wales). Its origins are in a mediaeval religious military order of Knights Hospitalers, founded in 1180 during the Crusades in Jerusalem. Then they provided hospices and medical care for pilgrims and travellers.
Revived in Britain in 1877, and given a separate Welsh identity in 1918 (St John Cymru-Wales) it is the organisational foundation of volunteer ambulance teams providing emergency First Aid care in various places across Wales, including large public events many of which take place in Cardiff.
With its Welsh HQ at Ocean Way just off Tyndall Street, today it has 5,500 volunteers, 60% of whom are under 18, and who treat 10,000 people annually in Wales.
This is just one example of an organization which serves the wider community with its roots in religion.
The first Jewish settlers arrived in Cardiff in 1813 in the persons of Michael and Levi Marks, both born in Neath not far from Swansea and the place of the oldest Jewish Community established in Wales, and here, in Trinity Street, was the first Jewish prayer room in rented rooms.
The first purpose built synagogue in Cardiff was opened in East Terrace (near the modern day Motorpoint Arena) in May 1858 (closed in 1897) with its first Rabbi, Nathan Jacobs.
After its consecration and during the celebrations, toasts were drunk ‘to the army and navy‘ and ‘to Christian contributors to the synagogue.’ Different religions supporting one another is nothing new!
In 1888 the synagogue had been renovated. Although it had space for 120 people, it was struggling by the 1890s to be able to accommodate all worshippers.
Soon, an additional synagogue would be built in 1889 not far away in the old Edwards Place (alongside the Churchill Way of today) and the East Street Synagogue replaced by a new build in Cathedral Road in 1897 but that’s for another walk, where we’ll also discover something of Colonel Albert Edward Williamson Goldsmid who arrived in Cardiff and took the Hebrew congregation by storm!
Today, there are two synagogues to be discovered in Cardiff – in Cyncoed and, a shorter distance away, in Adamsdown.
Continue down Trinity Street, passing the entrance to Cardiff Market and eventually arrive at the area know as The Hayes with the Old Library (at one time the site of Seion Calvinistic Methodist Church built in 1827).
You can discover more about Cardiff in an exhibition in the Library called Cardiff the Story.
On the other side of the Library and the outdoor cafe, you’ll see the statue of John Batchelor (1820-1883) and unveiled on 16 October 1886. His hose contribution to Cardiff was both significant and controversial, as was the erection of the statue.
Batchelor was a staunch Congregationalist Christian and 1848 saw him in conflict with the Anglican Church when he refused to pay the Church Rate.
Involved in local politics as a Liberal, he was a significant disputant with the Butes, made worse by being a leading figure in the formation of Penarth Dock and Railway Company, and therefore a threat to the their Industrial monopoly.
Batchelor masterminded the building of what is now Ebenezer Chapel in Charles Street, where he also lived, and where we’ll go next. Just take the route via Hill’s Street and Cathedral Walk to the right of the statue and wind your way around the shops and the back of St David’s Metropolitan Cathedral.
In this area each evening after 8pm, the Paradise Run offers free food to those who are homeless and disadvantaged and anyone who is in need. Clothing support, advice It is organised by Rainbow of Hope, a registered charity and supported by many churches across Cardiff, handing out along with food, clothing, support, advice and guidance.
(Photograph: Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net)., CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
St David’s Cathedral
At one time, Charles Street, was a rather illustrious row of grand houses, built by the apothecary Charles Vachel in the mid 1800s, and the Roman Catholic Cathedral was once a large parish church.
It was only in 1829, that the Catholic Emancipation Act meant that many restrictions on Roman Catholics were lifted, and the original church of St David was built in 1842. The church was originally located just around the corner on David Street.
The current building was constructed between 1884 and 1887 and served as the principal Catholic church in Cardiff.
In 1905, when Cardiff was raised to the status of a City, Bishop Hedley, anticipating that Cardiff was destined to be the administrative centre of South Wales, advised Rome about ecclesiastical changes to be made for Wales.
In 1915, after his death, Cardiff was established as an Archdiocese, requiring a Cathedral. Plans had been proposed for it to be built on the old Greyfriars’ site (which we will come to in another walk) but it never materialised and so, on 12 March 1920, St David’s Church was declared to be the Cathedral.
Opposite the cathedral is the significantly smaller Ebenezer Chapel of Batchelor, built in 1855, with its variegated collection of stones collected from around the world which makes it a rather warm and attractive looking building.
The architect, RG Thomas, apparently wrote to every head of state in the world requesting a stone to represent their nation and hence provide a symbol of God’s universal power.
In recent years, the church was bought by the Archdiocese of Cardiff, and renamed ‘The Cornerstone.’ Why not pay a visit?
Quakers Meeting House
Walk further down Charles Street and on the left you will find the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Cardiff whose home has been here since the 1960s, abiding as they do in the Victorian mansion originally built, in the 1870s, as the Vicarage of St John’s.
By about 1657, Cardiff was a strong centre of Quakerism. William Erbery, the errant Vicar of St Mary’s Priory Church didn’t himself convert, but his wife and daughter played a significant part in establishing the first Quaker Community in the town. There was also a seventeenth-century Quaker burial ground outside the South City Gate possibly where the new BBC Cardiff offices.
Today, the home of Cardiff’s Society of Friends is used daily not only by their own community but by many others and there is an impressive variety of social, pastoral and community activities.
The rest of the street is a mix of clubs and hairdressers, bars and offices, a discreet gallery and the home of Cardiff’s Big Issue. There was also, once, a Wesleyan Chapel in Charles Street, built in 1850 but destroyed by fire on April 12, 1895.
We’re almost full circle, as we turn right out of Charles Street, skirting the back end of St Davids2 via David Street and Bridge Street, and eventually squeezing behind the John Lewis store and into the bottom of the Hayes with Cardiff Central Library.
We’re walking left into Bridge Street and towards Churchill Way. At the crossroads ahead of you, we’re turning right but, when you get there, look left into this street, with its wide row of shops, restaurants and pubs leading to Queen Street. Here people walk on water – for beneath the streets lies the Dock Feeder Canal, with plans for it to be given the light of day again in a fresh reimagining.
It was here, in Edwards Place (as it was known back in the day, astride Pembroke Terrace), that the second synagogue of Cardiff was built in 1889. It had been formed by a group which had separated themselves from the East Street Synagogue, which would have stood somewhere in the street on your right.
Differences had begun in 1887, and despite attempts at reconciliation, a group rented their own rooms and began to collect funds for a new synagogue to be built which emerged just a year or so later and by 1890 they had acquired their own burial ground and minister.
It was a relatively poor congregation, and soon became known as the “Furriners Schul” with a strong Lithuanian element whilst the synagogue which emerged on Cathedral Road, a successor East Street, became known as the “Englishe Shul” with its Polish majority.
In 1918, the Edwards Place synagogue would move to Windsor Place. Years later, in 1947, it would merge with the Cathedral Road congregation and to form a Reform Synagogue. But we’re moving on too fast – and there is plenty of time to discover these on another walk. This particular journey is almost at an end.
The Pembroke Terrace Methodist Chapel on the corner has been reopened with a new name and new purpose, 1877 – an indication of its date of opening. The chapel was modified in 1903. By 1999 it had become an architect’s office, and is now a restaurant pub.
Opposite is the Masonic Hall, occupying the former United Methodist Church built in 1863 by John Hartland who also designed Bethany Baptist Church (the one swallowed up by James Howell Store) and Tabernacl in the Hayes and which we’ll come to very soon. The Church could seat 800, and was sold to the Freemasons in 1895.
Continue walking around the back of the Motorpoint Arena and John Lewis department store. Outside the Radisson Hotel on the other side of the road, you’ll see the statue of Jim Driscoll, standing proud at the edge of what once was Newtown.
But we’re not lingering here – we’re turning right towards the Hayes with Cardiff Central Library and Tabernacl Church.
Here, in the Hayes, is Tabernacl Welsh Baptist Church built in 1821 and rebuilt in 1865, and still home to a Welsh speaking community of faith.
It faces the new complex of shops and apartments that has raised its head from the ground as St David’s 2 Shopping Centre. It challenged the developers who sought a road closure order for the Hayes during construction.
Tabernacl claimed the closure would prevent worshippers driving to services. The council agreed. Perhaps the one-eyed preacher Christmas Evans (1766 – 1838), who was based here for four years from 1828 to 32, would have been pleased! Evans was one of the powerful preachers of his day. He lost his eye during a fight in his youth and was – reputedly – seven feet tall!
At Christmas, the Chapel is home to Christmas the Story, a daily, free dramatic performance of the Nativity of Christ, and it also works with St Mary’s Church and South Wales Islamic Centre in the Community Sponsorship of Syrian Refugees.
And so we end our journey, back within the boundaries of the Parish of St Mary’s which runs across St Mary Street, and through Wood Street, where we started our journey outside the Wetherspoons pub and which is just at the other end of the street known formally as Caroline Street and, more locally, as ‘Chippy Lane!’
On weekends it is usually crowded late at night with pubbers and clubbers grabbing something to eat after a night of revelling, perhaps a few requiring the services of the Street Pastors Team which operates from Tabernacl’s premises.
Street Pastors minister to thousands of party people, some of whom step and dance and limp their way through the late nights and early morning at weekends. The Pastors are there to care for, listen to and help people who are out on the streets.
An initiative of local churches, Cardiff Street Pastors are trained volunteers who work together with the police, Cardiff County Council, University of Wales, South Wales Health Board and local businesses, and is part of a larger national initiative run by a charity called The Ascension Trust.
From here, soon, you’ll be able to continue with one of two walks currently being planned. The first will take you down Wood Street, where we started, across the River Taff and out of the city centre to Grangetown. The second walk will take us to the Castle Walls. Or perhaps it’s just time for a cuppa!
Butetown, Tiger Bay, the Docks, Cardiff Bay—whatever, you call our area and community—has changed much over the years, but it still retains pride in its multi-cultural and multi-religious past and present, and in the contribution it has made and continues to make to Cardiff.
This is the third of a series of walks created by St Mary’s Church to share and celebrate the part that faith and religion has played and continues to play in the life and growth of Cardiff, and to celebrate the community of Butetown.
We welcome feedback, corrections and suggestions for additional information, and hope to extend this series of walks to continue to give more insight into the past and present of our communities.