Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Gone - and in danger of being forgotten?

Writing about the Cardiff episode of Alice Roberts' Britain's Most Historic Towns back in June, I noted that it was "a reminder not only of what was gained as a result of the Edwardian expansion but also what has since been lost, in the wake of the razing of most of Butetown and the creation of Cardiff Bay - a subject worthy of a documentary all of its own". Another reminder popped up in my social media timeline in the last week: this (very) short BBC film by Cardiff resident Mo Janneh, produced to mark Black History Month in the UK.

As he explains, the busyness of the docks and the extent of the city's connections to the wider world meant that Butetown and Tiger Bay developed into extraordinary, vibrant, multiracial places. This created a sense of local pride and community that crossed ethnic and cultural lines, but residents often found themselves cast as scapegoats when times were hard. The authorities showed little understanding or appreciation for the uniqueness of life there, all too often seeing only "problems" that could be solved by destroying old buildings and constructing characterless high-rise flats.

Butetown survives today, albeit much changed from its heyday, but Tiger Bay was bulldozed to make way for the yuppie flats and chain restaurants that are depressingly believed to constitute progress. The Butetown History & Arts Centre was founded to keep the memory alive, but scant funding meant that it was reliant on volunteers and eventually forced to close in 2016. Surely that rich history deserves better than a small corner at the Museum of Cardiff?

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