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We truly were a world-class city.

Byline: Dan O'Neill

In the summer of 1932 Cardiff Corporation published a 22-page pamphlet aimed at telling the rest of the world how great we were. To read it now is like travelling by Tardis to some distant past, where we stumble over the ruins of a lost civilisation. That is the gulf between Cardiff 2012 and Cardiff 1932.

Just 80 years, but it might be 800, since so much has changed, so much commerce and industry vanished, so much that made our town tick gone for ever. In 1932 we didn't have to dream of becoming what today's movers and shakers are forever calling a Great European City. Or for the more optimistic, a World-Class City. We were that already.

"Cardiff," the pamphlet boasted, "is the first port in the world for the shipment of coal." Yes, coal was still king. We had a vast working docks, not a bouncing Bay, and because of that we could also boast we were "first port in the world for the importation of pitwood and iron ore". Entire forests, it seems, grown to provide pit props for the hundreds of mines feeding our docks.

So there you go, two world titles already. Naturally, Cardiff has changed physically since 1932 when the City Hall was the tallest building in town, the town centre a place to live in, not play in, the Vulcan maybe the last reminder of those times past.

Behind Queen Street, running down to the railway station, row after row of terraces, self-contained communities where now you find towering office blocks and luxury flats - always "luxury."

The pamphlet, called Cardiff Facts Worth Knowing, advised readers looking for more information to write to the Development Agent at the City Hall. His phone number was Cardiff 7940, another vivid reminder of changing times - there were only 12,550 telephones in the city along with 97 phone boxes. Eighty bikes Cardiff as Cardiff in 1932 was "the Market City-Port of a Wealthy Industrial Area, for a population of four million within a radius of 50 miles." And not only was it an Attractive Centre for Holiday Tourists (the pamphlet was addicted to capital letters) but it was also an increasingly Popular Venue for Annual Conferences - as our town's salesmen are till saying.

We had 160 "places of worship", 21 cinemas and theatres (closed on Sundays), but the real difference between then and now was set out by the development agent: "It will be seen from the following list of principal industries carried on in Cardiff that the commercial activities cover a wide area."

He wasn't exaggerating. That list, from animal foods to waterproof garments, with an impressive 80 other different industries in between, showed this was a real working town.

Apart from the docks the city was one of the largest centres of the Milling Industry (agent's capitals) and our iron and steel works were "world famous, occupying an area of 90 acres producing pig-iron, steel ship plates, boiler plates for every part of the globe". We also owned one of the largest steel pipe works in the country, bringing real, productive work for thousands.

Eighty years ago you'd see as many bikes leaving docks and factories as you see in Holland today. Not much danger on the roads, parking spaces for only 1,750 cars in the whole of town and no wardens to worry you if you parked outside the Royal Hotel while popping in for a pint. Travel was by bus and tramcar, 46 million passengers that year when the population was 222,600.

Among those long-gone industries were tinplate and wire and rope works and one of Britain's largest paper mills. We had malt houses, vinegar works, jam and sweet-making factories and, our Agent proudly proclaimed, we were "the centre of the Welsh Flannel Trade".

Heavy industry? Foundries and girder and bridgeworks; iron and steel works and a steel window factory; carriage and wagon works, chain-making and copper smelting. Plenty of work in biscuit-making, basket-making and brush-making and in the chemical works, the clothing factories, the mineral water manufacturers and the gas works.

Then there were saw mills and soap works, the cigar factory, the vinegar factory and the brick and tile works. We made concrete products, clothes and cardboard boxes, blinds and cabinets, all alongside bacon-curing and breweries, spices and peppers, paint and perfume, patent fuel and paper.

We still buy all these products. The question is - who makes 'em? Once upon a time, we did.

CAPTION(S):

* Queen Street looking towards Cardiff Castle in a picture taken in around 1930
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 31, 2012
Words:763
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