If you arrive at Cardiff Bay by train a derelict building greets you, Cardiff Bay railway station, the Southern terminus of the short Butetown Branch Line which runs from Cardiff Queen Street station. It’s sad to see this Grade 2* listed building deteriorating before our very eyes, it needs to be restored to it’s former glory! This is such an important building for Cardiff, just for being the origin of the first steam-powered passenger train service in Wales, if nothing else. It was built as the headquarter offices of the Taff Vale Railway in 1841-43 next to the Bute Dock station which became the ‘Cardiff Docks’ station in 1845.
Rumoured to have been designed by Brunel himself, certainly its design is very similar to a sketch drawn by the great man himself, it is one of the earliest purpose built railway buildings in the world, still standing. The large bay window on the first-floor of its South elevation was the board room, how many important decisions were once made here!
The station was renamed ‘Bute Road’ by the GWR in 1924 before finally becoming Cardiff Bay Railway Station in 1994. The three storey building has already been restored once, in the mid 1980s when it also acquired a canopy, for use as a railway museum by the Butetown Historic Railway Society and although it was one of the historic buildings that actually made Cardiff, the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation wanted nothing to do with it when they planned their re-development of the docks. This branch line into Cardiff Bay is the sole survivor of the rail network that served, what was once the busiest port in the world!
Over recent years the building has started to deteriorate badly, numerous holes have appeared in the roof which have been repaired by the owners (I presume), at their own pace. There is a large hole in the roof that has appeared since September 2012 which looks more worrying than the others, as it is right next to one of the chimney stacks. The chimneys themselves are looking tired, leaning and in desperate need of re-rendering, with cracks appearing. Part of the deteriorating render around the front door has been removed (displaying the words ‘Consulate Chambers’), presumably to protect the wall from further water ingress.
Many old buildings in Cardiff have been demolished in the name of progress, in particular down in the bay (old docks). There was the ‘Pierhead Chambers’ in Bute street, demolished to make way for the bland Mermaid Quay shopping centre, the ‘Merchants’ Exchange’ built in Flemish Renaissance style in 1895 and demolished in 1975 to make way for the short-lived Welsh Industrial & Maritime museum, which in turn was demolished to make way for the shopping centre. In the centre we have lost numerous buildings, Taff Vale Railway Offices & Station, Capitol Theatre, Cory Memorial Hall, Dutch Cafe, all replaced by bland modern buildings. The Cardiff developers surpassed themselves in the late 60s by demolishing the ruins of Herbert House (1582) and the Friary (13 Century) in Greyfriars road, both excavated in 1892-6 by the 3rd Marquess of Bute. None of these buildings can return, but there is time to save Brunel’s Taff Vale Headquarters. In 2017 the Victorian Society placed the building on it’s 10 most endangered buildings list.
What people forget is that if it was not for the railways, Cardiff would just be a small market town and the ‘Bay’ would still be a salt marsh mud flat!
That’s how important this building is.
The great news is that finally restoration of the old headquarters, together with plans to build an office and apartment block next to it, have been approved… the bad news is, the office and apartment block!