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Cardiff's Coal Exchange: architecture and the social life of trade in 'black gold'

Davis, Juliet ORCID: 2017. Cardiff's Coal Exchange: architecture and the social life of trade in 'black gold'. Presented at: Society of Architectural Historians, annual architectural conference, Glasgow, UK, 7-11 June 2017.

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The Cardiff Coal and Shipping Exchange was built between 1883 and 1886, designed by the architect Edwin Seward who built extensively in the city in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. Architectural history has been fairly reticent on Seward’s achievements and he is little known outside Cardiff. Where the Coal Exchange itself has been written about, it has not been particularly applauded as a result of its variable quality and asymmetric form, the compromises evident in shifts in materiality and ornamentation around its facades and its curious siting in a former Georgian square. Local history has compensated to an extent by often emphasising the Coal Exchange’s importance in the production of financial capital during this era – it was the place where the first million pound cheque was written, a place where wealth accumulated in the hands of merchants and financiers. This paper addresses what is not told or explained in either of these accounts, drawing of archival records, photographs and survey materials. First, it sets out to explain the resulting architecture, including deviations from plan and vision, as a manifestation of wider politics and volatility in the price of coal. Second, it aims to explain its complex and labyrinthine floor plates in terms of a complex social life focussed on the trading hall where ship owners, agents and many others interested in the coal trade met daily, but also including dining spaces, a temperance bar, a coffee tavern, billiard and smoking rooms that together testify, not just to the production of wealth, but to the wider culture of Victorian commerce in the heyday of industrial capitalism in South Wales.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Architecture
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Last Modified: 02 Nov 2022 10:19

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