This website acts as a permanent repository of Cardiff waterways information gathered during a yearlong research period. It is available to use as a resource for those interested in Cardiff history, geography, ecology, city development and art that responds to the waterways.
The larger project has also included a number of events and new work by artists and architects, a limited edition waterways publication, Cardiff waterways walk with the writer Peter Finch, a tour of the Glamorgan archives and visits to the Waterfront museum Swansea and Nantgarw with volunteers, a talk by the Author Stephen Rowson, co-author of ‘The Glamorganshire and Aberdare Canals’, conversations with individuals and local groups such as the Cardiff Rivers group and a beautiful waterways iced cake. All of this information has helped to build up a better picture of Cardiff waterways, how they were formed, activity around them and their changing shape and usage. Much of the information gleaned from these events and activities has found its way onto this site in one form or other.
By including a number of different types of visual, audible and textual information relating to objects, people and places on the maps, a better picture of the waterways may be formed. For instance historical paintings that look at the waterways and other waterways related art, fill in gaps in information, offering detail and helping to capture the ‘spirit’ and feel of the waterways, whereas street names give clues as to where a brook might have once flowed, though nothing might be apparent on the maps. This project does not profess to be a comprehensive piece of research and there will be inconsistencies (see research notes), the history of the waterways is complex and they are of course ever changing.
Extract from ‘Cardiff as a watery place’ by Peter Finch (limited edition booklet commissioned as part of the project):
“Cardiff is a city built on a river delta. Most of its bulk lies on the roughly fan-shaped deposit of alluvium formed by the Roath Brook and the River Rhymney in the east, the Taff in the centre and the River Ely to the west. The coast has constantly moved out into the Severn Estuary, taking the township with it. At first the Romans had their fort where Cardiff Castle now stands, a fort built near a Taff river crossing where that river met the sea. Later tides came in across the water meadows that finished just south of the bottom of St Mary Street. The mediaeval walled township had watch towers right along its southern flanks from which guards would look out across the sea-filled fields waiting for Viking invaders.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the town developed quays along the Taff and the Ely, snaking ever-shifting rivers, which washed away Cardiff’s walls and drowned the market town’s churches. The port which eventually developed as a result of the industrial revolution largely occupied land recovered from the oceans. Sea walls protected the Cardiff landscape. Successive docks – first the Canal sea lock pound, then the Bute West, The Bute East, The Roath Basin, The Roath Dock, and finally The Queen Alexandra – each pressed further out into the waters, reclaiming territory, pushing the sea back. This process has continued right up to the building of the great Bay Barrage, impounding fields of mud and ending the wading birds ever south.
The industrial revolution linked Cardiff with its mining and iron making hinterland by Canal. The Glamorganshire and Aberdare Canal drew a wet line right through the heart of the booming town. Bute dug a dock feeder along the line the old castle mill leat, taking water to his new docks. The Docks themselves were linked by a complex of junction canals and connections. There were timber floats, repair docks, pills, sea inlets, streams and outfalls.
Cardiff was afloat. It still is, although most of us barely recognise the fact.”