Research notes

The Cardiff Waterways Map project

Over the course of the project a number of events and works by artists and architects have been commissioned.  These include a to-scale model of the Glamorganshire canal by Amber Mottram and ‘The Boat Studio’, a limited edition waterways publication and 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’ and a waterways inspired iced cake. These activities, events and conversations have helped to introduce and draw into the project a wide variety of people with an interest in the Cardiff waterways, which in turn has helped to build a better picture of the waterways from many vantages, how they were formed, activity around them and their changing shape and usage.


The data collated as part of this project was collected by a number of different volunteers and partners and although care was taken to ensure as much consistency as possible,  the way data was gathered and logged may vary.  The data was primarily collated from museum and archive visits, as well as a number of sources further detailed below. Comparable data sometimes varies from year to year in format, due in part to changes in logging information, for instance each of the waterways maps are made of between 1 map and 16 quarter sheet maps, which were joined to make a patchwork of the Cardiff area.  The maps were lined up using the old Cardiff docks area to be the consistent, so that the differences would fan out from there.


Once the digital maps had been joined, the waterways were traced by hand, this was a lengthy process and involved both good local knowledge and use of intuition, as it wasn’t always clear with some of the smaller historic ponds, streams and drainage ditches, what was and wasn’t a body of water.  Simon, one of our project volunteers drew up these great working sketches (below) that illustrate some of the challenges that the project faced, including the changing boundaries of Cardiff and OS map numbering systems. 

Scan 24 Scan 25


We were grateful to receive a large quantity of scanned historic postcards, from the personal collection of one of our volunteers Bernice.  These were of great interest for a number of reasons, firstly a number of the postcards were of the same subject and even taken from the same place / angle, but years apart, so this gave us the opportunity to compare the same body of water over time.  The ones of Roath Park Lake are of particular note, as they are so numerous and they (and their backs) can also be viewed on Flickr. The postcards have mostly been grouped by subject to allow for comparison.  Many of the postcards had been posted, and although faint, they have watermarks on them which gives us the exact year that they were in circulation. 

Street names

The project found over 50 Cardiff street names that referenced water in Welsh and / or English (there are probably many more). Street names that refer to a body of water, suggest that water may have once been there, even though it now no longer exists, on top of the land at least, or that can be seen even on an historic map.  This is a Glossary of some of the Welsh and English watery street names found on the 2015 map:

 Melin – Mill       Glan – Bank
 Nant – Stream / brook / creek       Fawr (mawr) – Big
 Fordd – Road         Afon – River
 Llyn – Lake        Camlas – Canal
 Aber – Mouth – estuary – firth        Ffynnon – Spring / well / fountain
 Ty – House        Pont- bridge


Brook     Canal
Well     Mill
Quay     Seawall
Lock keepers     Riversdale
Taff Embankment     Saltmead
Foreshore     Tidal sidings


A number of adverts were found in ‘South Wales Ports, 1960 British Transport commission’ on a visit to the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea.  These relate exclusively to the industry and maintenance of the docks area during the 1940’s/50’s. There is room for future research in this area across the other eras.

Objects, sculptures and artifacts

These items range from an unidentifiable stone found in the wall of Art Shell HQ to a post medieval canon found while developers were excavating a pipe trench on the site of the former in-filled Glamorgan canal.  The Cardiff Rivers group have also found a number of interesting items during their regular clean ups of the Cardiff waterways.

Paintings, drawings and illustrations

A number of paintings, drawings and illustrations were collated from various sources, including books, online museum collections and archives. These offer a similar, but subtly different take on the waterways to the postcards, in so much as they record places of interest at that time and they are also mostly grouped according to their location on Flickr to allow for comparison. However this group of images offers a more detailed and romantic take on the waterways, and the ones which look at the tidal Taff beside the castle are particularly fascinating, showing the unwalled Taff with its naturally gently sloping banks as a working space, with small boats being used to fish, horses and cattle grazing.

Articles, texts and documents

The Glamorgan Archives, British Library Online and Cardiff Library were the primary sources for these articles, texts and documents.  The texts offer waterways information on flooding, loss of life, acquisitions and ownership, maintenance, building, trade, misdemeanors, swamps, disease and pirates.

Bernice, one of the project’s valued volunteers, points out that articles printed in the 1700’s were printed using the Early Modern English Alphabet.  It was not until 1800 that the Modern English Alphabet which we still use today was adopted.  This means that those printed in the old style would have been more difficult for many people to read. The main difficulty with the older alphabet was confusion with the letter ‘f’ and letter ‘s’.

Printed as ‘depofited’     now typed as     ‘deposited’

‘floop’                                  ‘sloop’

‘finifh’                                ‘finish’

‘Glamorganfhire’                  ‘Glamorganshire’

‘muft pafs’                          ‘must pass’

An ‘s’ was used when the word ended with a double ‘s’ with ‘f’ used for the first ‘s’ but ‘s’ always used for the second.  ‘s’.  In the same way we write pounds in money as £ followed by the number.  Some articles used the number followed by an ‘l’ in italics.

All of the texts are also available on Flickr.


A number of audio recordings were recorded of first hand accounts of waterways memories across the city, which represented a number of bodies of water and reach out across the time periods of human living memory today. The project considered it important to add the personal accounts of individuals to the map for several of reasons, not least that memories die and dilute and that micro accounts bring the historic waterways alive in a way that facts and figures or a flat image of a map does not.