The Royal Arcade, Cardiff

button-theme-crimeThe Royal Arcade, Cardiff

photo_of_the_royal_arcadeIt may be hard to believe today, but the Royal Arcade replaced slum housing when it was created in 1858. In medieval times the land here was divided into burgage plots (narrow parcels of land at rectangles to the street). By the mid-19th century many of the plots had become alleys lined with cramped residential huts.

The Cardiff Arcade Company bought plots leading off The Hayes and St Mary Street to create the Royal Arcade. The ends of the plots furthest from the street ends did not match up with each other perfectly, and to this day the arcade makes a small sidestep where the plots met.

This was the first full-scale shopping arcade in Cardiff. The proposal put to the Cardiff Board of Health outlined a glass-roofed arcade lined with shops and offices “kept under similar arrangements with the principal arcades in London”.  One of the first tenants, a “fancy drapery”, advertised in August 1858 for a young lady assistant, preferably with knowledge of millinery (women’s hats).

The arcade was reopened in January 1870 after remodelling. A newspaper commented: “The Arcade is a very considerable improvement to that part of the town. When lighted with gas the Arcade has a very pretty appearance.” Days after the opening, a “rather heavy man” was walking through the “new Royal Arcade” when a trapdoor gave in and he fell into the coal cellar below, bruising himself.

The arcade was a popular meeting place for young people, judging by a letter in the Cardiff Times in 1871. The writer saw groups of girls and boys “hugging and racing, and further similar disgraceful proceedings”. The young ladies’ morals were being contaminated, and “their parents should endeavor to restrain them from loitering in this, the Royal Arcade of ‘gentle lovers’, to the hindrance of passengers and annoyance of residents”.

In 1902 Augusta Hiestand, a young Swiss governess living in Newport, consulted Madame Marriott, a “lady palmist” who worked at Royal Arcade Passage (leading to Morgan Arcade). The governess was in love with the rector of Panteg, near Pontypool, and the palmist told her his initials were written on her hand. She bombarded the priest with amorous letters, culminating in one where she threatened to buy a pistol to shoot them both – for which she was tried and bound over to keep the peace.

However, Madame Marriott was later charged with forging the threatening letter. To the press’ delight, the intimate evidence was heard in detail at the Cardiff Assizes in 1904. Louisa Marriott, aged 40, was acquitted because the handwriting in that letter was similar to the ones Hiestand had admitted writing.

Postcode: CF10 1AE    View Location Map

Website of the Royal Arcade

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