Cardiff Records: Volume 4. Originally published by Cardiff Records Committee, Cardiff, 1903.
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Councill minutes, 1835–1880.
Entering upon the period of modern municipal government, we pass through an interesting series of Minutes which record the inauguration of a new epoch in urban affairs. The last remnants of feudalism were abolished by one Parliamentary enactment; and, from a borough of the mediaeval type, Cardiff suddenly became a municipality in the modern sense— with an extended franchise, a freely-elected Council and an enlarged executive. Henceforth the Lord's dominum over the Borough as a whole was little more than a legal fiction, consisting for the most part in his scarcely tangible ownership of the soil, or in a few shadowy and rarely-exercised manorial rights. From this time onwards, the influence exercised by the Castle over the Town lay no longer in a Constableship, or in a Mayor as representing the Lord, but in the genuine interest constantly taken by the Crichton Stuarts in the progress and welfare of a place so long and so intimately associated with the fortunes of their house. It is to elected representatives, in the first place, that the Burgesses now look for the protection of their liberties and for the advancement of the public weal; but the antiquary may be pardoned for looking fondly back to the quaint, poetic town life which vanished at the dawning of Municipal Reform.
On the last day of 1835 the old Council hold their final Meeting. They elect a Chairman in the person of Walter Coffin, and choose six Aldermen for the new Chamber. After a vote of thanks to their Chairman, they adjourn.
On the first day of January 1836 the Municipal Corporations Act comes into force, and the new Council assemble at the Guildhall. They appoint Richard Wyndham Williams as Chairman, and designate Thomas Revel Guest to be the first civil and elective Mayor (fn. 1) of Cardiff; who thereupon takes the Chair in place of Mr. Williams. Next it is resolved that the Mayor be the Judge of the Borough Court of Record, and then that the Council shall meet quarterly to transact the public business of the town. They also appoint temporary Committees to consider the questions of the Police and of the conservancy of the River Taff.
A fortnight later, the Council meet again and appoint a Finance and Property Committee, a Watch Committee, and two Common Attorneys. They also order payment of the Lord's yearly fee farm rent of £5. 13. 7½.
On 1 February 1836, they appoint a Water Bailiff; and, on 1 March [Town Clerk Nicholl Wood having died], they nominate Edward Priest Richards his successor— a notable appointment of a remarkable man, as may be gathered from the history of his tenure of that office. Another important nomination was that of Jeremiah Box Stockdale, the organiser of the Cardiff Police force which, none too soon, supplanted the old watchmen. In the following month a Borough Treasurer was for the first time added to the permanent municipal staff.
A token that the old state of things had not been rudely broken off is to be seen in the Resolution of June 23, that the Corporation are to attend Saint John's church in state one Sunday in each month.
In 1837 some steps were taken to assert the rights of the Burgesses in and to the waste ground on the Canal banks in the parish of Saint Mary. It does not seem that the claim was ever enforced, though it has several times been raised since then.
In 1838 the Corporation very properly required a knowledge of the Welsh language in the person who was to be appointed Clerk of the Markets. At that date Welsh was still spoken by a large proportion of the natives of Cardiff, though the time was at hand when the sudden and, at first, purely material and utilitarian development of this town was to swamp the old nationality and obliterate all the native picturesqueness of the place. The next generation was to begin to readjust matters in this respect.
In 1839 the Town Clerk was directed to recover possession of those parts of the ancient Town Wall which were in danger of becoming by prescription the private property of lessees. This was, however, the prelude to the destruction of the Wall; which soon shared the fate of the Town Gates and disappeared.
This year there were great apprehensions of a Chartist rising, and much calling out and swearing in of Special Constables. Other apprehensions soon followed— of the Chartists' persons— and Cardiff voted thanks to Newport for the manner in which the rebels had been suppressed in the latter borough when they rose in open revolt.
The formation of the Bute Docks, and the consequent development of the Port of Cardiff, necessitated the emancipation of Cardiff pilots from the control of the Bristol authorities, who had the appointment and governance of them. It was not long before the efforts of the Cardiff Council succeeded in securing to itself the management of the local pilotage.
The continuation of the Great Western Railway from Cirencester to Gloucester, and the formation of the South Wales Railway, from Gloucester through Chepstow, Newport and Cardiff to the west, completed the revolution which was now being effected in the commerce of this town and neighbourhood, by placing Cardiff in direct and rapid communication with London.
Another important event which took place at the middle of the 19th century was the diversion of the Taff from Canton bridge to the river's mouth. Then it was that the old-world epoch in the local history, when salmon were caught at Cardiff by fishermen in ancient British coracles, finally gave place to the present era of a straightened river, whose muddy waves plash around the iron piers of a railway-bridge.
It would be both impracticable and unnecessary for the Editor to call attention, in a dissertation, to the very numerous points of historical interest which occur in the course of these Minutes. The reader will find that the task of looking through the following pages will be well repaid.