The History of Cardiff – Told through Tweets

Cardiff has evolved into a hub of creativity in the last decade, and has recently been ranked by Creative Boom as one of the UK’s most creative cities to live in. The Welsh capital is steeped in rich historical and cultural attractions dating back to the 19th century. Numerous top universities are based in Cardiff, attracting thousands of students from across the UK, and while we may know all the best takeaways and club nights, but just how much do we know about the city we call home? A number of industries have shaped the city of Cardiff over the last century, but the coal industry played an important role in generating the conditions necessary for creativity to flourish.

From humble beginnings, Cardiff grew from one of the smallest towns in Wales into a bustling shipping port, transporting coal from the Welsh mines to the rest of the world. The night before Britain entered World War I, coal exports peaked. 

The Cardiff Docks and Butetown area was known to the locals as Tiger Bay. The dockland district is home to Wales’ oldest multi-ethnic community, with Somali, Yemeni and Greek sailors settling in the area. The area had a powerful reputation, notorious for their slice of the red-light district and gambling dens.

However, the price of Welsh coal began to fall, and a series of strikes and industrial action led to the long, slow decline of the industry. This was felt in the docks and shipping industry of Cardiff, forcing shipping companies to close one by one, freeing up large areas of land for redevelopment. The 1960’s saw the neglected wasteland of docks and mudflats levelled, displacing the local community. Residents of Tiger Bay faced social exclusion and high unemployment levels.

However, an influx of refugees from conflicts across the globe from the 1970’s onwards led to the renewal of the area. At a similar time, the seeds of Cardiff’s creative field were sown. Cardiff was snowed in during the blizzard of 1982, and community owned Cardiff Broadcasting Company became the voice – and spirit – of the population. Phones rung off the hook to exchange local stories and advice such as where milk could be bought. The radio worked to prevent antisocial behaviour and profiteering, and the city of Cardiff became known as the creative, resilient and warm community it is today. 

Today, the bay is home to the Welsh Assembly building and Wales Millennium Centre. A number of acclaimed national and long established cultural organisations as well as a plethora of artists, groups, galleries, events and festivals call the city of Cardiff home. The creative industries are key to the city’s modern identity, with broadcasters such as BBC Cymru Wales, S4C and ITV Wales nestled in the heart of the city. They are joined by a sea of creative hopefuls, from independent producers, developers, architects, journalists and craftsmen, all instrumental to Cardiff’s thriving creative economy. Investment in the creative economy ensures strong connections to global markets, trends and talent pools.

A spokesperson for the Welsh Government said:

“This is an exciting time for the creative industries in Wales. The sector is now one of our fastest growing, employing nearly 50,000 people and generating a £1.6bn annual turnover.”

Hartley’s Creative City Index (2012) highlights the importance of cultivating a creative city to inspire regeneration and the reuse of old and derelict buildings, bringing new life to regions like Tiger Bay. Creative cities attract a diverse range of people who help to breed a rich cultural identity, benefiting the tourism industry. Cardiff’s industrial past paved the way for regeneration projects that transformed the city into a creative capital. The industrial roots that built Cardiff into a prosperous one should be remembered to fully embrace our creative future.