A day on the town

I don’t often go into town but needs must – I haven’t a thing to wear so a shopping trip to rectify the situation. Cardiff is full of Victorian and Edwardian arcades and I love wandering through them –  but not so much their recent cousins, the huge shopping malls.

At the outset of my studies I took an Access course in art & design and one piece of writing I did was on the arcades. I’ve dug it out  and here it is – no great academic work but the first I’d written in many a long year.

A Leap from a Lily Pad into the Sky
An Architectural Comparison of the
Shopping Arcades of Cardiff
Dorcas Frazer
Contextual Studies
Access to Art & Design
The Beginning
At the start of the nineteenth century the population of Cardiff was 1870; half a century later it had increased to 23,085.  This rapid swell continued at a great pace and by the beginning of the twentieth century Cardiff had become the fastest developing city in Britain with 172,639 individuals. This meant the town had increased nearly one hundred fold in one hundred years. The reason for this huge rise was due to the demand for labour to serve the mines, railways, ports and later the steel works; these businesses were flourishing because of the Industrial Revolution. In turn this meant that other services, such as shops, also had to develop to supply the needs of the rich and poor alike.
As can been seen by the  map below on the left, drawn in the late 1830s by John Wood, the centre of the town was small and the shops, as today, were based mainly around St Mary’s Street, High Street and  Duke Street. Shops at this time were more like private dwellings or workshops with an area for business. Large display windows were unheard of as manufacturing the panes of glass had not yet been achieved. Also, there were not a great number of people using them, nor was there a huge array of goods on offer so there was not the need for large quarters.
                      Cardiff Centre 1830s                                      
 Cardiff Centre 1850s
But thirty years later things had changed a great deal as shown in the map above. It was around this time that architects prospered, designing both housing and retail properties.  A method of producing larger panes of glass, using a roller, had been developed in Germany so the architects were quick to exploit this when purpose built shops were erected.
Sir Joseph Paxton (1801 – 1865) was an eminent architect and had a huge influence on the design of many towns, including Cardiff, during this period. On studying a lily pad Paxton came up with the idea of prefabricating a structure made from glass and iron which could be ready assembled ‘in situ’. He designed the Crystal Palace in London and Cardiff wanted to be in vogue as well so the first Shopping Arcade was built in 1856 based on his design.
The Arcades
Exterior of the Royal Arcade 

Interior of the Royal Arcade
The Royal Arcade was built in 1856 and is relatively plain; the shop windows have no embellishments on them which would be in complete contrast to the interiors which were packed with the heavy, over-ornate artefacts and clothes of the late 1850s. However the architect clearly demonstrates the use of wrought iron and plate glass.
Wyndham Arcade was built nearly thirty years later, in 1887, but the interior is very similar to the Royal Arcade as can be seen in the picture below. However the exterior reflects the Queen Anne Style that was becoming very common in the city.
Exterior of the Wyndham

Interior of the Wyndham Arcade
Castle Arcade was built the same year as Wyndham Arcade but differs greatly in style. There are still small shops inside but the ornamentation, both in the arcade and on the street, has developed as the Victorian taste for highly decorative surfaces was satisfied by the ability to manufacture complex cast and wrought iron designs.
  Exterior of the Castle
of the Castle Arcade
Until 1891 many goods, especially perishable ones such as fruit, vegetables, meat and fish were sold at the outdoor markets. William Harpur, the Borough Surveyor of Cardiff changed that when he designed the indoor market. Internally he used Paxton’s principle of design as can be seen in the roof structure. Likewise the exterior demonstrates the height of Victoriana but another radical style was soon to be seen in the city centre.
      Exterior of the Indoor Market       


Interior of the
Indoor Market
Overall buildings were becoming far plainer, simpler and cleaner in style. A comparison between the exterior of the indoor market and Duke Street Arcade, built just 11 years later, shows this perfectly. This arcade, designed by Edward Seaward, was opened in 1902 and the influence of Art Deco is very apparent. The motifs on the glass are very geometric, as are the symmetrical patterns above the arches on the exterior lower floor windows, with deliberate angles and curves. Some of the windows were decorated with stained glass. This was made commercially possible due to the use of copper strips instead of heavy lead ones; far more delicate work could be produced.

           Exterior of Duke Street


Interior of Duke Street Arcade
By the beginning of the twentieth century shopping habits had changed and the arcades had to compete with larger department stores. The First World War halted the erection of new build so it was another twenty years before the next arcade was commissioned.
Dominions Arcade promised a lot of the up-to-the minute 1920s style on the outside but inside followed the same pattern the Royal Arcade. Unfortunately it is impossible to see the original roof as it has been covered during refurbishment.
There is very little evidence of typical architectural styles since the building of the Dominions Arcade in 1921. Many of the buildings erected in the 1960s and 1970s have been or are about to be demolished. However, there are two larger distinctive arcades or malls which are worth mention.
St David’s Centre was built in the late 1970s and the exterior is a fine example of Bauhaus style. There is a great economy of line and form with no curves to distract the eye. Everything is functional and this design ideal is extended to the inside as well. Even so, there is still a great similarity to the arcades of a hundred years before; the glass vaulted roof and balconies running over the top of the shops.

          Exterior of St David’s


Interior of
St David’s Centre

In the 1980s small older shops were demolished in order to build the next arcade, the Capitol Centre. The advancement of glass technology meant that the architects were able to produce walls made almost entirely of the material. Internally there is also a departure from all the previous arcades as it is lit entirely by artificial light; this is also the first one to be built without a glass roof.
         Exterior of the Capitol
I’ve not included the end of the essay as it is now outdated. St David’s Centre II has been opening for a while – a temple to consumerism.

A quiet time in the evening – relaxing after a hard day’s shopping – arcade stitch ……………….what else!


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