It’s now almost three years since we moved to our current premises in Cardiff’s city centre in March 2010. We are still delighted to have a presence in the Welsh capital, and have been investigating the history of our new surroundings…
BLS occupies the entire length of The Cottages in Jones Court off Womanby Street. These terraced cottages were built in the 1830s to house labourers imported by the Marquis of Bute for the construction of the docks. Each house had just two rooms and there was no water supply or drainage so they were perfect breeding grounds for disease. Sadly, 396 Cardiffians died in a cholera outbreak in 1849.
Cardiff City Council acquired Jones Court at the turn of the twentieth century; the site was then renovated as office accommodation and officially opened in its current form by the Lord Mayor of Cardiff in February 1982. The office building to the East stands where traces of occupation of the site from the twelfth to the late seventeenth century have been found; for most of its history this area was occupied by the rubbish pits belonging to the High Street houses. Our neighbours to the South and West of the court occupy the former site of the city’s Weights & Measures building. Jones Court is now the last remaining example of the 50 or so 19th century housing courts in Cardiff.
Womanby Street has its own historical significance as one of Cardiff’s oldest streets, leading from the bottom of Quay Street northward to Castle Street. But how did the oddly titled thoroughfare get its name? The records of the County Borough of Cardiff indicate that it is early Teutonic and signifies “the abode of the foreigners”. It was probably the “strangers’ quarter”, the place where Welsh and outlandish settlers in the Anglo-Norman burgh were permitted to live together under the shadow of the castle. There have been several derivations of the name, including Hundmanby (1270), Houndemammeby (1310), Hunmanby (1550) and Homandby (1731), all thought to mean “the dwelling of the houndsman or keeper of hounds”.
Dennis Morgan, the author of Discovering Cardiff’s Past, suggests: “While there is no archaeological evidence of a Viking presence in Cardiff, Womanby Street is a name of Scandinavian origin and it is possible that the Danes sailed their longboats up the Taff and established a base in this vicinity.” Dumballs Road, south of the city centre, is another example of a Norse street name, and where a further Viking camp is thought to have been stationed.